Philanthropic project goes for the creative touch in after-school activities
CAIRO | Ahmed Gabr
Arts education is believed to have many positive effects on children, with studies finding it has a substantial impact on students’ academic, social and emotional outcomes. It has also been associated with improved critical thinking abilities, increased compassion for others and a significant point reduction in disciplinary infractions in students who received such education compared to those who did not.
In MENA, arts education is not only important for students’ personalities, but it can also be transformational for their careers. Rabea Ataya, the founder and CEO of Bayt.com, was quoted in an op-ed published by The Brookings Institution as saying that “employers are searching for young people with good arts education and pay them well.”
CORRECTING EDUCATIONAL INEQUALITIES
An initiative driven by the Elisa Sednaoui Foundation (ESF) and Abercrombie & Kent (A&K) Philanthropy is tackling the educational inequalities in the region by offering after-school programming for children in a rural area of Upper Egypt. The programme targets kids between 4 and 16 years of age and focuses on strengthening confidence, communication and collaboration among young people through arts education in addition to other learning tracks, such as gardening, poetry, nutrition, health and coding.
ESF is a philanthropic organisation founded by international actress and model Elisa Sednaoui. The daughter of an architect and a fashion editor, she grew up in Egypt, Italy and France, spending much of her childhood in Luxor, the family’s home town. A&K Philanthropy is the philanthropic arm of luxury tour operator A&K. In Egypt, most of its guests will visit Upper Egypt and stop at Luxor during a Nile cruise.
“While the arts are indeed emphasised, really it’s the learning process that is so impactful,” says Keith Sproule, executive director of A&K Philanthropy. “The children are given the opportunity to design their own learning on a daily basis. The trained facilitators create an interactive, engaging learning environment. This is quite the contrast to the usual school day and school curriculum.”
Following a successful modelling career, Sednaoui’s vision became starting a youth programme to give back to the community where she spent her childhood. In 2016, ESF launched Funtasia, a cultural centre in Luxor that offers after-school classes, youth art workshops and adult training and leadership skills programmes.
The after-school programming attracts over 350 students per year in a creative learning experience. The adult courses have served a total of 60 people, some of them trained as facilitators that are redeployed elsewhere to extend the training programme to local communities outside of Luxor.
The Funtasia programmes bring together youth from both sides of the Nile – the more agricultural-based West side and the more tourism-centric East side. The aim is to build bridges of understanding and collaboration between these communities.
EDUCATION ADVOCACY THROUGH CULTURAL TOURISM
Being a luxury tour operator, A&K brings more than financial support to the project. Another aspect of its involvement is educating high-profile guests who travel to archaeological sites in Luxor about the challenges local communities face and how education can address those challenges.
“The opportunity to stop at Funtasia and see for themselves the creativity and dynamism – it’s always [the] highlight of their time in Egypt,” Sproule says.
Funtasia is working on expanding its training initiatives and going beyond the geographical boundaries of its headquarters in Luxor. Last year, the project used a donation of 30 mountain bikes and intensive training with a bike mechanic to offer young people the experience of repairing and maintaining bikes and operating a small enterprise for bike rentals. Recently, it started offering creative training and kids’ activities to youth all over Egypt through online virtual workshops.
“A&K intends to support the programme long into the future,” Sproule concludes.