As the young crescent moon hung over the bustling boardwalk in Alexandria on Egypt’s north coast, crowds gathered for what seemed to be normal weekend party on the ocean. Replete with traditional music, dancers, and carnival foods, this event seemed to have all the makings of end-of-the-week revelry. However, unlike any other party, this was a blood drive sponsored by Ashoka Fellow Ali Hussien’s organization Gamayet Zakaat El Dam and the Red Crescent. Ali created an environment far away from the traditional, intimidating clinics where people usually donate blood. Instead, he sought to shift the individual obligation to give blood into community-driven initiative thereby providing the blood needs of the people through positively influencing the overall blood-donating culture in Egypt.
The event was situated next to the Alexandrian citadel, built during the time of Salah Al- Deen, which was a perfect metaphor for the importance of giving blood as a matter of security for the people of the city and, moreover, the country. The boardwalk, packed with people unaffiliated with the event proved an excellent location because Alexandrians, who otherwise would not have known about the event, were drawn into the celebrations and as result donating blood. His organization, Gamayet Zakaat El Dam, acquired two mobile blood donation vans, which were aptly equipped to deal with the constant influx of blood donors. While people were giving blood inside, the crowd was entertained by a number of acts and performances which helped instill a feeling of community bonding around this important work.
Ashoka interns with Ali Hussein
The performances were delivered by a dancing group which showcased the local dancing culture including a group dance, ‘dancing’ horse, and whirling dervishes who spun deep into the night and mesmerized participants. As the performers twisted and twirled across the stage, a wave of joy and brotherhood swept across the faces of all the Alexandrians, as they saw themselves not only as a community of people, but a group of interconnected changemakers who could make a real difference in their community by donating blood.
During the event, Ashoka was also honored with an award recognizing Ashoka’s commitment to its fellows, community, and social entrepreneurship. But it is Ali Hussein who deserved an award. He was first moved to pursue this project when, as a administrator in a hospital, he saw many people dying simply because of a lack of donations to blood banks- highlighting the dire need for blood donations. Despite his best efforts, this is a problem due to misinformation about the process of donating blood, and the vital role it plays in saving lives. Now in his third year as an Ashoka Fellow, Ali Hussein has done a superb job at executing his vision, but more importantly has made a real impact on his community. This one event provided life-saving blood for 235 people! The lesson we should learn from this successful event is that with a vision, initiative, and an excellent support network, anyone can become a powerful force of change in their community.
For more information on Ali Hussein’s important work, check out his profile on the http://www.ashoka.org/fellows, and more importantly, go to your nearest blood bank, and donate! A little blood goes a long way!
Blogger: Alex Thompson, Ashoka Intern