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Young people seize the spirit of change to help local schoolchildren and learn valuable lessons about the importance of people power

Modern English School Cairo, Egypt

With its dramatic scenes of mass protest, violence and cowed dictators, the events of last year’s Arab Spring gripped people across the world. But for children in Egypt, the revolution was scarily close to home. Students at the Modern English School Cairo (MES Cairo) were personally affected by events and are dealing with the aftermath by dedicating themselves to making a positive difference to their country.

When we returned to the classroom after the enforced enclosure, we could not ignore what had happened and return to normal, says CAS Coordinator Alice Allsop. Students were full to bursting with stories of what they had done to help others during and following the revolution cleaning and painting the streets, bringing water and bread to Tahrir Square and helping local families who had lost loved ones.

This enthusiasm for helping out locally led to the school rebranding its Make a Difference initiative to become Make a Difference in Egypt. The main beneficiary of the new focus: a nearby government school, the uninspiringly named Military Factory Number 18.

Run-down and poorly equipped, Number 18 now has a new tarmac schoolyard and play area, thanks to MES students fundraising.

IB Diploma Programme students organized a Football Fun Day for younger pupils, raising more than US$1,800, and are selling cakes through a Cupcakes for classrooms initiative. Families have also been getting involved, donating money and resources including a new photocopier and printer.

As well as raising cash, MES students have got their hands dirty, painting colourful murals around the schoolyard. Painting in the Egyptian sun in the height of summer was a challenge, says Alice. But it was a real highlight when a group of schoolchildren came by to help with the painting and have a quick game of football using the new goalposts.

The first chunk of money raised has been spent on bags and stationery supplies for the school, which MES volunteers distributed one hot Monday morning. Nothing can describe the joy on the faces of the children as we handed the bags to them, says student Seif Abdel Ghaffar.

Despite the groups hard graft, there still remains plenty to be done. The next steps include improving classrooms by repairing desks, boards and walls and repaving and painting the middle-school yard. But MES students are more than up to the challenge.

When I started this project I had no idea that the conditions in local schools could be that bad, says MES student Ahmed Dahawy. It made me appreciate all the things our school has. I hope in the future I can look back at this school and see the smiles on the children’s faces and say: I did that.