Augustine's Luxor Photo Journal - January 5-12, 2005
photos and text ©copyright Natalie d'Arbeloff 2005
YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE, LUXOR
It was my ancient past - real or imagined - that I went to find in Egypt and it certainly came up and hit me in the eyes. But it was the present which unexpectedly grabbed my heart and is holding on to it.
On the day before leaving Luxor I was leafing through a Thomson travel agency folder in the hotel lobby and became intrigued by the description of a local charity which they are supporting. It's called the Sunshine Project International and rather than my retelling its history I urge you to read about it now on their website.The folder mentioned that any left-over toiletries, change etc. would be welcome and I decided to visit the orphanage and bring them a small bag of such items.
Not trusting myself to find the place amidst the chaotic and nameless back streets of the city, I stepped out of my hotel towards the gaggle of drivers and other entrepreneurs always waiting hopefully for us tourists - their life-blood, their daily bread. Usually I would wave them away with a smile, saying I don't at present need a car or guide or boat or camel or papyrus or cotton or gold or silver or alabaster. But this time I did want a taxi and they all rushed forward. Having in one week learned the art of anti-haggling, I knew that 5 Egyptian Pounds (about 50 pence UK) was the cost of a short journey and declared I would pay that and no more to be taken to Sunshine. When it became clear that I meant it, all but one of the drivers dropped away and he, as we walked to his car, said with a big smile, "Give me the 5 pounds and I'll walk you there". A sense of humour is built into every Egyptian and makes them delightful company, however rascally they may appear. So I was driven in a rattling taxi through the crowded streets and dropped in front of a grim tenement building.
Suspicious, I climbed two or three flights of dark, dirty, wet concrete stairs but suddenly the Sunshine logo appeared on a beautiful carved wooden door. Next to it sat an elderly Arab who smiled, shook my hand and knocked at the door. It was unlocked and I was welcomed by a young Egyptian woman to whom I explained my interest. She went to fetch a guide, a tiny girl of about six who in very good English asked me to remove my shoes before following her on a tour. In total contrast to the grim exterior and the chaos of the streets, this place was a haven of peace, colour, simplicity and a palpable sense of love and dedication. My little guide lifted clean duvets to show me babies sleeping in their cots and took me into another room where older children, just waking up, waved hello to me enthusiastically. The woman who greeted me at the door then took me around the busy kindergarden, game rooms for older children, a small computer room, cozy dormitories for boys and for girls, all the furniture handmade, fresh bright colours and artwork everywhere.
This little boy looked at me with infinitely sad eyes as I pointed my camera. I wanted to take so many more photos but did not dare, in case it seemed intrusive.
It's me they're smiling at and I'm so moved the camera shakes.
A member of the Sunshine staff with some little artists.
If you read their story, you'll see that the Sunshine Project came about because one individual, an English woman named Pearl Smith, came to Luxor on holiday in 1992 and took the desperate condition of Luxor's street children to heart. She sold her house in England, moved to Luxor and with the help of Dr. Amr Taha of the Egyptian Doctors Association, founded the Project. She died last year and is much missed but the undertaking has grown, is now registered as a charity in the UK and is raising funds for a new building.
I fell completely in love with every one of the children, the staff and Sunshine itself and will do my best to help in whatever way I can (I'm thinking about auctioning off most of my artwork for their benefit). I know and you know that there are countless people in need all over the planet and countless charities worthy of help, not least those now working to relieve the suffering of survivors of the tsunami. Whatever we do is only a drop in the vast ocean of need but the Sunshine Project in Luxor, perhaps because it's small and not so well known and touches me in a very personal way is the one I choose to become involved with. If you feel similarly moved, after you've read all the information, I hope you'll get involved too.