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Hewidy ’17 Brings Self-Sufficiency to Egyptian Women


With a Levitt post-graduate research fellowship in hand, Hady Hewidy ’17 returned to his native Egypt after graduation to launch Arabesque, a project aimed at training local women to manufacture traditional handicrafts, thus empowering them to be self-sufficient. A native of Cairo, Hewidy has long been interested in finding solutions to societal problems in his home country.

 The Levitt Social Innovation Fellowship, a 12-month program, provides recent alums the funds to explore societal problems in disadvantaged communities and implement a social innovation venture to address a community need. 

After first visiting the St. Catherine region almost 10 years ago, Hewidy repeatedly returned to the area, establishing close bonds with various members of the community. The Jebaliya tribe, the people native to the St. Catherine region, became an integral part of his life.

 “Over the past three years, I have strengthened my ties with the leadership and many members of the Jebaliya tribe… the 1500 members of the tribe have become an extended family of mine and that the town of St. Catherine my second home,” Hewidy said. This strong connection with the Jebaliya tribe inspired Hewidy’s idea to implement “a sustainable for-profit initiative to employ the women and girls of the community in a workshop specializing in traditional handicrafts.”

After returning to Egypt last June, Hewidy started the five-week training session where he employed local women to produce hand-crafted clothing and wool carpets for markets in the U.S. and the EU. Hewidy and his team taught older women how, based on fashions created by the independent fashion designer in Cairo who specialized in ethnic clothing.

Hewidy explained his desire to work specifically with the women of St. Catherine. “While divorced or widowed women who own sheep could bring income from their herds, the majority of women do not fall into that category and have to rely on their extended family or charity for substance.”

A central objective of his initiative is to create job opportunities for women in the region, particularly widowed and divorced women because they represent the most vulnerable part of the community’s population, with no source of income except aid from their extended family or charitable donations from the tribesmen.

Hewidy also aims to revive cultural traditions in the area. With the invasion of cheap manufactured goods from other areas, he hopes to revive the millennia-old tradition of Bedouin handicrafts of Sinai, while simultaneously providing an economic outlet for the people in the St. Catherine community.

After years of drought, the area has faced many economic hurdles. In addition to providing jobs through Arabesque, Hewidy hopes to bring tutors and monthly medical convoys to the community to address the lack of educational and health services.

Olivia Northrop ’19 and Christina Plakas ’19 are spending this summer working in Egypt on Arabesque through a Levitt grant. They are seeking to establish business relations with boutiques and gift shops in the United States that might be interested in what Arabesque has to sell. They’ve familiarized themselves with Arabesque’s products, and the stories behind the artisans who create them. Northrop and Plakas also shadow client meetings, study Arabic Egyptian, and learn some accounting. 

Plakas studied Arabic at Hamilton and spent last fall semester studying in Amman, Jordan, in a program focused on Syrian/Palestinian refugees in the region and local/international humanitarian action efforts. “This shed light on how many of these refugees, particularly women, depend on local NGO's to help them generate an income as these NGO's give them the resources to produce and sell their own handicraft goods,” said Plakas.

She was intrigued with Arabesque “because it meant that I could once more study in the Middle East while helping out with a fair-trade marketplace that focuses on helping artisan men and women sustain a livable income from the sales of their handicrafts.”

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