That feeling of excitement, when you board the plane to go on a new journey of discovery, to see a new place, new faces and a completely different reality, is magical. Travelling helps people grow, and gives them experiences they would probably never have in their homes. It is also one of the ways to build bridges across cultures for global peace and understanding; that is exactly what Safarni does, but from inside a non-conventional classroom in Artellewa.
The Safarni workshop (Arabic for "Take me Traveling") is held twice a month at the Artellewa gallery in the heart of Ard El-Lewa, one of Cairo's most densely populated residential areas. Like the space in which it is hosted, Safarni attempts to bring something to the community that is otherwise inaccessible. Artellewa does it through art, and Safarni through travel. The workshop takes a small group of children through the experience of travelling, from boarding a plane to reaching their destination and back on the plane, ultimately to a safe landing in Cairo.
With a lot of excitement, the children participating in the workshop (aged 8-16) start off by playing a variation of pin the tail on the donkey, where one of the children is blindfolded and has a pin and the others have to lead him or her to pinning the right location of the country they are about to visit on a map. This exercise, besides allowing the children to learn the location of the country, also teaches them valuable lessons such as teamwork, trust, and alternative communication.
Each child gets a boarding pass and they go into a room where they hear the sounds of plane engines and learn to put on their seatbelts and are guided through "the plane meditation". Then, following their arrival, they take a bus ride from the airport where they see many photos of what the country looks like, and the facilitators give them space to draw similarities and differences between Egypt and the country they visit.
"It looks exactly like Egypt!" one child exclaimed during the workshop on India.
Next, the facilitators give the group a quiz on the country and teach them some simple words to be able to communicate with the visitors from that country.
"It wouldn't be a Safarni day if they didn't meet people from the country, the whole point of getting to know the country is for the kids to make connections with humans," Raphaelle Ayach, a filmmaker who is one of the founders of Safarni, told Ahram Online. "We want them to realise that the abstract name of a country is not just a word they hear, it has humans that have cultures."
Once they are done learning to communicate with their new friends, the visitors play music from their country, teach the children some dances and traditional games. Safarni ends with having a meal from the place they are visiting, and finally engaging in the plane meditation to come back home after the three-hour trip.
"The first time we did it we didn't do the plane meditation on the way back, and one of the kids asked 'when are going to go back to Egypt?'" explains Khalil El-Masry, supporter of Safarni, and founder of the workshop's umbrella organisation Silmeya (Arabic for Peaceful), an initiative working towards building a culture of peace in Egypt.
The idea for Safarni has been in the works since Ayach moved to Egypt three years ago. A globetrotter herself, she realised that the first step to intercultural understanding is to understand and embrace diversity. After several scattered talks and brainstorming sessions with El-Masry, Safarni was launched in Artellewa last September.
"The project is really about breaking down why we have the opinions we have and doing it through connecting to each other through games to bring out these ideas we're talking about without actually talking about them, through experiential learning," Ayach concluded.
So far the Artellewa children have travelled to Colombia, France, Italy, India, Brazil, and the Ivory Coast. In January, they are scheduled to go to Spain and Germany.
Ahram Online's reporter attended the India workshop, and was amazed by the positive energy the Safarni facilitators poured into the room and their ability to pass this to the children who were excited and full of energy from start to end.
The Safarni team is currently just Ayach and her co-facilitator and good friend Tony. However, they are trying to get more volunteers to come as active observers and eventually take up facilitating themselves, to train and maintain the sustainability of the project. They are currently working on launching a crowdfunding campaign and training more facilitators to run the programme.