How can culture provide employment, raise incomes, affect wellbeing, even restore pride and hope? Al-Azhar Park on the edge of historic Cairo, completed by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture in 2004, has for years created welcome opportunities for parallel rehabilitation efforts in Darb al-Ahmar, the impoverished and densely built-up district that borders the Park. These restoration efforts have in turn led to a renewed interest in and demand for traditional carpentry work and local craftsmanship in the neighbourhood. In response to this, between May 2016 and June 2019 a project funded by La Caixa Banking Foundation and the Aga Khan Development Network supported the Egyptian NGO Mezala for Social Development (Mezala) in its efforts to bolster employability and entrepreneurship around carpentry in Darb al-Ahmar. Through “Channelling E-learning for the Enhancement of Career Options and Employability”, Mezala sought to enhance the employability of the local workforce – particularly amongst youth and women – by placing on offer a suite of blended learning courses focused on carpentry and entrepreneurship.
Course development and delivery
The four blended learning courses Mezala developed as part of this project were “General Carpentry”, “Entrepreneurship”, “Windows and Doors Carpentry”, and “Mashrabbeya Carpentry” (“Wood Profiling”). All courses were delivered in Egyptian Arabic and tailored to the needs and context of the local community. The “Entrepreneurship” course was based on an Entrepreneurship Manual previously developed by La Caixa Banking Foundation volunteers. Mezala adapted the La Caixa curriculum for its students by drawing examples from the local community, addressing carpentry start-up issues specific to Cairo, and simplifying the content to meet better the needs of a poorly educated population.
In total 60 learners completed the “Entrepreneurship” course that blended video-based learning with in-person training. All trainees received CDs containing the video-based part of the course before the in-person workshop. The project also provided them with a basic set of equipment including electrical drills to help them start their own carpentry businesses.
Reach and impact
During the initial months of the project, Mezala received learn-by-doing training on how to produce and deliver effective blended learning courses. Subsequently, it created and delivered its suite of four courses tailored to carpentry skills and entrepreneurship to over 250 beneficiaries from the local community.
Beneficiaries mentioned that the trainings had a direct impact on the development of their craft projects, as evidenced by their graduation projects, enhanced creativity, enhanced teamwork skills, enhanced organisational skills inside craft workshops, new carpentry skills, an ability to recognise and work with different types of wood, and having experience with places that sell raw materials.
In all fours courses, the majority of trainees were youth. In terms of gender split, while enrolment in the three carpentry courses was predominantly male, in the “Entrepreneurship” course 98% of trainees were female.