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Salesians in Egypt Empowering Refugees, Vulnerable Persons with Entrepreneurial Skills

Credit: Salesian Missions

Members of the Religious Institute of the Salesians of Don Bosco (SDB) ministering in Egypt are empowering refugees and vulnerable Egyptians in the country’s capital, Cairo, with skills to initiate businesses.

Funded by the U.S based development arm of SDB, Salesian Missions, and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM), refugees and vulnerable Egyptians receive training through the Sunrise Project for Cairo’s Urban Refugees and Vulnerable Host at a Salesian technical and vocational training center in Cairo.

In a Wednesday, February 2 report, SDB officials say between September 2020 and September 2021, at least 426 people graduated from the project, which is "popular among refugees". 

In addition to the graduates, SDB officials say, "65 trainees received a seed grant and one-on-one mentoring, and 16 microentrepreneurs and past alumni received small business development grants."

“The project also rented tables at three local bazaars so that microentrepreneurs could market their wares and services," Salesian officials say, adding that "these bazaars were particularly helpful for female micro entrepreneurs who could display their sewing and handicrafts products or offer hairdressing or henna services."

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SDB officials further say that the markets enabled the 15 beneficiaries who participated in the bazaars to distribute their business cards for networking and potential future customer sales.

Apart from providing the beneficiaries with physical resources, officials of the Sunrise Project for Cairo’s Urban Refugees and Vulnerable Host also helped the microentrepreneurs build brand partnerships with local businesses to display their products.

"Using the Sunrise Project’s network of partners, the team screened potential local partner stores and then matched small business owners based on product type, customer target, and quality," SDB officials say in the February 2 report. 

In 2014 when the Sunrise initiative started, two Sudanese microentrepreneurs, one who crotches stuffed dolls, and another who makes handicrafts, were connected with the Souq Al Foustat shops that sell local artisanal goods, SDB officials recall. 

In the report, Horreyan Mohamad, one of the refugee beneficiaries of the project says she learnt many skills at the Salesian centre. 

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"Through the microenterprise training, I learned how to market my products, how to calculate my profits and how to deal with customers. This training changed a part of my life, and I am now more confident and can pay all of my bills," Mohamad says. 

Apart from entrepreneurship skills, SDB members involved in the Cairo project provide life skills training, health awareness, violence prevention, and seed grants to trainees. 

The trainees are also given additional social services that include fully funded transportation vouchers for travel to and from their training venues, gender-specific hygiene kits, and vouchers to purchase groceries and other essentials from a local store, SDB officials say in the report.

"Each participant also receives a primary care checkup and eye exam with a doctor who comes to the school. Some medicine prescriptions are included as are referrals for secondary care as needed," they say. 

SDB officials say the food vouchers ensure the trainees' nutritional needs are met while the additional training helps the vulnerable persons to build the skills needed to succeed in the workplace and adjust to their new urban environments. 

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In the report, SDB officials say the North African nation serves as both a destination and a transit country for refugees and asylum seekers.

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), as of December 2021, there were 271,102 people of concern from over 60 countries in Egypt. 

Syrians comprise more than 50 percent of the total number of people of concern. The remaining percentage comprises people from Sudan, South Sudan, Eritrea and other countries, according to UNHCR.

The UN agency has further reported that majority of the people seeking refuge in Egypt have fled conflicts in their homelands and are seeking shelter and safety in the Northern African nation before moving on to their next destination. 

In the February 2 report, SDB officials say many people of concern "end up in Cairo’s slums without the means to make a living due to restrictive national labor laws for refugees and discrimination by Egyptians."

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"Many of these refugees are women and children who have been forced into poverty with little means to provide for themselves," SDB officials say.