“I have a one-year-old son who is diagnosed with Down syndrome. Other than barely being able to survive living conditions with the high price jumps, we have to wait for six months on a list in order to join the governmental physical therapy programme. This leaves us no option but heading to one of the NGOs that fund similar programmes in private hospitals. However, most of them stopped accepting new cases saying that donations no longer cover their expenses,” said Alaa Farag, a doorman in his mid-twenties, who has been struggling to find a non-governmental organisation to admit his son in a hospital which provides physical therapy in order to help him move his body.
Other than Down’s syndrome, Farag’s son, Yassin, suffers from a hole in his heart. Both of the defects affect the child’s natural growth process, making him—at the age of one—incapable of sitting, moving his hands, or even recognising certain things like moving toys.
With less than EGP 2,000 income in a month, Farag, like many other families, depends on NGOs to help him with his son’s treatment including financing the physical therapy. The treatment should start immediately, as waiting for six months—until he is let into governmental hospitals—will render the treatment ineffective. Nonetheless, with several NGOs—which mainly survive on private donations—closing their doors in his face, he currently has no other option but to silently suffer and wait.
Since the pound’s floatation, unbearably increasing prices have been Egyptians’ main struggle. With inflation hitting its peak in 2017, many Egyptians halted or reduced their donations, jeopardising the existence of NGOs that have no other source of income, and decreasing the number of cases they accept treating.
Medical treatment is one of the fields NGOs support in Egypt. Yet, despite also adopting orphans, educating the underprivileged, and providing water pumps to citizens who do not have basic living needs, medical treatment is the most expensive of their expenses.
For months, Farag has been looking for an NGO to accept his son’s case, however, constant rejection is all he is met with. “This sort of treatment requires a long time and a lot of money, and we are only restricted to a small budget due to lack of donations,” he explained.
In order to overcome the lack of donations, many NGOs started establishing their own projects through which they earn money, thus reducing their dependence on donations, in order to sustain the number of patients who mainly depend on them for their survival.
Mersal is an NGO specialised in the treatment of terminally ill or late stage patients who are rejected by every other NGO or governmental institution for requiring extremely expensive treatments or due to their very poor health conditions.
For three years, the organisation, founded by Heba Rashed, has been focusing on treating late stage cancer cases, providing prosthesis to victims of congenital conditions and rehabilitating them, and implementing children’s cochlear implants.
Providing hope to people who have been met with rejections just because their cases need huge amounts of money that they cannot afford, is the main cause of Mersal, even if each case requires tremendous amounts of money.
Mainly focusing on conditions that require a lot of money, self-sustainability is Mersal’s main key in overcoming the struggle of donation shortages.
“I volunteered at different NGOs before establishing Mersal, besides earning several project management diplomas. This allowed me to clearly see that surviving on donations only is a risk factor, especially with the country’s economic situation,” Rashed told Daily News Egypt.
Rashed decided to focus on critical cases, despite each case’s need for a huge amount of money, because “they have no place else to go to, and being poor is not a justification for leaving them abandoned.” So, she established specialised centres for tumours, kidney failure, and artificial limbs.
Mersal established four main projects, from which they maintain coverage portions for their fixed expenses, beside donations.
“I knew I needed a source of stable income, from which I guarantee at least the payment of rent, flyers, and treating some cases, and this could not have happened without a sort of project investment,” Rashed said.
She stressed that even if donations were not reduced in 2017, the expenses of medications and the number of patients requiring urgent medical care have at least doubled, hence, donations lost more than 50% of their value.
The first project the organisation established was Mersal Academy. The academy allows people with limited budgets to take courses with “expensive” trainers in several fields, who agree on their part to reduce their rates in order for the organisation to make a larger profit.
The academy hosts some of the most famous trainers in the fields of time and project management. They have a huge base of students who would delightfully pay less money than they normally spend in order to attend the trainers’ courses.
“The money we gain either goes to supporting a certain case, or to paying some of our fixed monthly expenses, upon the request of the trainer,” Rashed added.
The second source Mersal guarantees having an income from is the Mersal online store, through which the organisation sells different kinds of stationery, books, or handmade products. The proceeds from all of the purchased products are also allocated based on the buyers’ requests.
“We are the first NGO in Egypt to launch an online store for our customers. Instead of purchasing a book for a certain price, our customers pay a little extra money, knowing that the extra money, which probably does not hold a huge value to them, is saving someone else’s life,” Rashed pointed out.
Also, advertising for different companies through the organisation’s Facebook page is another source of income Mersal uses in order to cover the required expenses forof their patients. With over 80,000 followers, Mersal offers an alternative option of Facebook sponsored ads, also with the aim of making a difference in the underprivileged people’s lives.
As for offline services, Mersal offers their premises as a coworking space for courses and workshops, or as a place for people to rent for various activities.
“With every payment, people receive a donation receipt to let them know that the money they spend is helping us survive, alongside donations,” she added.
From Rashed’s point of view, the established projects helped a lot in covering some of the organisation’s essential needs and succeeded in helping several cases.
In 2018, Rashed plans to establish the first children’s hospital covering all aspects of children’s needs. The hospital will have a private section from which profit will be used to cover other cases similar to Yassin’s.
“We target establishing a smaller version of Abu El-Rish Hospital, where all sections of child treatments exist. This will reduce the stress on the hospital so that no one has to be on a waiting list for years anymore,” Rashed added.
Namaa is another NGO that started taking its first steps towards establishing sustainable projects in order to make profit that can be channelled to other charity projects. Unlike Mersal, Namaa focuses on providing basic living needs for the underprivileged in Upper Egyptian villages.
This includes building roofs for the almost falling kiosk-like lodges they live in, paying school tuitions for those who cannot afford it, facilitating water pumps to many of the villages where people have to walk for miles in order to reach the nearest source of drinking water, as well as distributing blankets for homeless people in one of Egypt’s coldest areas.
Established by a group of friends, Namaa’s founders believe that the unlivable circumstances of Upper Egypt residents are the least highlighted despite being the worst and the most in need for support.
The NGO mainly depended on people’s donations in 2017, before realising their need for larger income to support their planned projects to help the largest possible amount of people.
Buying handmade products from women in Upper Egypt and selling them in Cairo with a slight difference in price is one of the sustainable projects the NGO applies in order to guarantee a minimum monthly income that can help with its cases.
“Most of the time, these women are the bread winners of their families. Yet, since poverty is the region’s main problem, no market is available to sell their products as no one in the nearby area would buy them,” Amal Farag, one of the founders, told Daily News Egypt.
By buying their masterful, well-designed products, Namaa helps these families to have a stable source of income instead of giving them stipends. At the same time, the organisation sells the uniquely crafted trinkets in a wider, more varied market in Cairo, where they are more appreciated and well paid for.
“We have been doing this for a short period of time now. So far, only a few ladies are working with us. Yet, we are planning to expand and create a larger network in order to sustain and help these women on the one hand, and sustain other projects on the other,” Farag added.
The handmade products sold vary from sewed blankets and embroidered gowns to scarves, based on what crafts the women master.
The NGO is currently seeking a fund to establish its first small handmade product workshop, where they hire underprivileged women seeking a stable income and sell the products to cover other charity projects’ expenses.
“We dream about the day we will be able to do so. We believe this is one of the best ways to support ourselves and the people we have currently become sort of responsible for,” Farag concluded.