A brighter future beckons for Mohamed
For Mohamed Ali, childhood came to an abrupt end at the age of six.
That was the year Mohamed’s father lost his job in a local bakery and the young boy was sent out to help earn a living for the family of ten, who live in the run-down suburb of Farahada, in Egypt’s second city, Alexandria. Today, eight years on, Mohamed is still hard at work in a car-part store.
“When I first started work here, many of the parts we sold were too heavy for me to lift,” says Mohamed, surveying piles of shock-absorbers, radiator grills, and wheel hubs. He’s a stocky fourteen-year old now, with tousled hair and a ready smile. Even so, he says, “there are times when I need the other boys to help me shift some of the big pieces, like wheel axles.”
In Alexandria, as in Egypt’s other big cities, there are thousands of children like Mohamed, who have been forced into the workplace tragically early. The rewards are slim. Mohamed makes less than LE200 (US$32) a month, and the risk to his health and safety are significant. This is why the activities of support groups like the Alexandria Regional Maritime Scouts Association are so important. Mohamed first heard about the Scouts from a friend who told him that the centre, run by the group in a nearby suburb, was a good place to play football.
“I love football and sports in general, so I didn’t need any persuading to go,” recalled Mohamed. “But when I got there, I realized the centre offered much more than that. The staff immediately registered my name, then took me to a hospital for a medical check-up. That was something no-one had ever done for me before.”
Scout coordinators pay regular visits to the boys at their work-sites, where they discuss working conditions with employers and supply safety equipment like gloves and welding goggles. The coordinators also encourage the boys to open savings accounts at the local post office. Mohamed has opened an account and has saved LE51.50 so far. He wishes he could save more, but most of his income has to go to his mother to help cover food and other expenses at home. It’s not all work, however. Mohamed recently went on a Scout-organized day trip to Cairo (a two-hour bus ride away) and speaks proudly of his performance in a mini-marathon held in Alexandria last July, in which he came second in his age category.
Now Mohamed is preparing for literacy classes at the Scouts learning centre. “I don’t find class-work so easy,” Mohamed admits. “But I can write my name now, and I’m determined to succeed.
If I can read, I’ll be able to find out so much about the world.” Meanwhile, he’s planning for the future. “One day I hope I’ll have my own workshop,” he says. It’s dreams like that which help him as he prepares for another long day at the parts store.