From the age of six I have made many trips to Egypt. My father, who is a founder of the Makhad Trust, has worked in the Sinai Desert with local Bedouin people for many years and I have been lucky enough to share some time with him there.
I am seventeen now and even in my short lifespan I have seen a dramatic change all across the Sinai Peninsula. The huge growth in tourism along the Red Sea coast has had a drastic effect on the traditional Bedouin way of life. Many Bedouin have been attracted away from the mountains to work in the coastal hotels, while their own ancient gardens in the mountains have become less viable as the water table had dropped. Bedouin tribes therefore have to dig deeper wells and build higher dams to collect the water they depend on.
In 2004 eight students and I, all aged fifteen, were given the opportunity by the Trust to work alongside the Bedouin in an ancient monastery garden near Mt Sinai and St Katherine’s Monastery. Our project was to build a dam.
To make our trip possible we needed funds. The total required was around £7000 to include flights, food and the raw building materials. We formed a fund-raising group and quickly discovered that finding the money was a journey in itself. As far as possible, we wanted to use our own talents and spare-time and decided to split our fund-raising efforts two ways. We decided to stage an event that would involve our local community, a night of music featuring a variety of bands, including my own band …..
Secondly we would arrange a dinner party for around 120 people at which we would give a presentation of our proposed project, followed by an auction of donated items. This is where we hoped to make most of our money.
Our Big Gig was a sell-out. The more people learnt about our trip, the more enthusiastic they became and the more there were to help. Overall, it was great that we could exploit our own talents to raise part of the money and in addition to everyone enjoying the night, we also felt a tremendous sense of purpose and achievement. The music event raised £400 and we were now warmed up to take on the next larger and more challenging event.
We began our preparations by visiting the impressive Queen’s Hotel in Cheltenham. As our event was for charity, they were more than happy to host us. We found this was a frequent response whenever we asked for help. It seems if you are trying to do good things, most people will recognise this and do good things for you.
We spent our weekly meetings making phone call after phone call, selling tickets for the dinner and asking companies and individuals to donate items for our auction. The beauty of this idea is that people are so much more inclined to donate their product or service rather than an amount of money. In the weeks leading up to the event, to our surprise and delight, our list was looking more and more enticing, from motor powered mountain boards to adventure holidays, from works of art to maths tutoring. People very kindly gave their time and talent, such as the jazz band who agreed to play their music after the dinner and a professional auctioneer who skilfully entertained our guests and encouraged their bids. We were genuinely overwhelmed with the generosity that was shown.
I arrived on the big night and straight away was caught off guard by a journalist from the local BBC Radio station. I was interviewed and explained how strongly we felt about the issue, that we were determined to succeed and that we would raise the funds and complete our project with or without the success of the night. I really hoped this reflected the feelings of the group appropriately. That evening, we raised more that anyone had anticipated, a total of over £6,500.
We worked incredibly hard with the Bedouin and completed the dam in six days. Our journey had actually started months before when we set about raising the funds and eventually finished two months after our return when we were sent pictures of the dam brimming with water after the latest flash-flood. We had now made a full circle. We could physically see the change that our project had created. The benefits filtered down to so many people and a real difference was made, not only to the Bedouin families that received a fresh water supply, but by us, the group of students who had experienced such an immense sense of achievement. By completing the dam we felt a part of “the change” that we wanted to see in the world.