Global Education Motivators (GEM) Connects Youth in Egypt and the U.S. to Discuss Volunteering and Community Action


Mahmoud Elmansour, Jocelyn Voorhees and Lisa Parker -- On April 18th at Chestnut Hill College (CHC), about a dozen students from CHC and St. Joseph’s University participated in a video conference with young people from Alexandria, Egypt. The two groups discussed the topics of volunteerism, community action and the choices young people make to get involved as citizens of the world.

The young citizen participants from Egypt represented Oyoun Masr Association (OMA), a Non-Governmental Organization working for peace and non-violence through intercultural dialogue as well as cultural and social development activities.

The event was sponsored by Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Global Education Motivators (GEM), and Peace Day Philly.

The spirited hour-long exchange was facilitated at CHC by Jocelyn Voorhees, a senior Political Science major at St. Joseph’s University. Jocelyn is also an intern at Project for Nuclear Awareness. The facilitator at the Egypt site was Mahmoud Elmansour, a community organizer for OMA who is now in his first year as a faculty member at Cairo University.

Here are a few of the highlights from the dialogue:

When students from CHC asked how their Egyptian peers chose causes in which to get involved, an Egyptian participant responded that “after the revolution, streets were not clean at all, the walls were covered with graffiti. Many NGOs were interested in helping through something called 'Rebuilding Egypt.' As individuals, we felt an interest in getting involved. There were community needs related to children, elders and the homeless. We also want to raise awareness about democracy, equality and human rights – many people here do not know their rights. Once you know your rights, you can decide for yourself.” That final statement evoked many nods and agreements from participants at the US site.

A U.S. participant reflected in response: “What you are saying is so inspiring. In this country, if we see graffiti, we often think the government is going to take care of it. We take for granted the democracy we have. As an American, I have many freedoms such as freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. I am fortunate to live in a free society.“

Although the conversation focused on volunteering, there were some exchanges related to the inspiring nature of Egypt’s revolution, the US Occupy movement and current social and political issues that participants of both Egypt and the U.S. were concerned about. Both groups identified unemployment and poverty as two significant challenges to their societies.

Both sites also discussed their perspectives about Syria.

Mahmoud Elmansour described Egypt as “surrounded by countries in turmoil. We are pivotal in the pursuit of peace for the region.“ Another Egyptian participant reflected: “With a President that cares about our country, not money or power, Egyptian citizens will believe more in their country. “

When asked by the Egyptian group about getting involved in something inspiring, a CHC student commented: “I think the revolution in Egypt began giving others the idea that you can go into the street and speak up for what you believe is right.” Another stated, “We need to use our voice, especially through available social media, to share our opinions and ideas. We may start as one person, but then an idea can spread like wildfire.”

“Anyone can raise awareness about the biggest concepts – equality, human rights,” an Egyptian participant reflected. “Volunteering helps me gain confidence in myself, and I am contributing to my country becoming stronger.” Professor Senders, a CHC faculty member whose students participated in the video dialogue, emphasized that volunteering is a vital global activity, and that it is an integral component of CHC’s program.

A CHC student described the dialogue as “an amazing experience. I'm still thinking about it and I'm very honored that I was able to participate.”

Jocelyn Voorhees reflected: “It was so inspiring, and made me realize how vital it is to be a thoughtful citizen with a will and desire to improve my community and country.”

The two sites have set up a Facebook Page, “Intercultural Dialogues for Peace,” to continue the dialogue and to contribute to the planning of future video dialogues.

Global Education Motivators (GEM) is a Philadelphia based non-profit organization that uses video conferencing to encourage a greater global perspective, especially among high school and college youth, through a wide range of intercultural dialogues and exposure to the work of the United Nations. Global Education Motivators is a GPA Member organization.