On The Ground: Biblelands

Mathew Little

Scheme: Four-year Egyptian village transformation programme

Funding: £80,000 from Biblelands' Easter fundraising appeal

Objectives: To improve literacy, reduce infant mortality, and train farmers in Beni Khalil village, south of Cairo

In the village of Beni Khalil, 75 miles south of Cairo, Egypt, 90 per cent of the 750-strong population lives below the poverty line. Most are illiterate and many are sick from malnutrition and dysentery. Half of the villagers live in cramped conditions, with up to eight people sharing one room.

But the village is being transformed thanks to a major four- year development project by Christian charity Biblelands.

Working with project partners - the Development of Upper Egypt Trust and the Coptic Organisation for Services and Training - the charity aims to improve literacy rates, reduce infant mortality and introduce basic systems for sanitation and clean water.

Houses are being replastered and will be connected to water and electricity supplies. A family healthcare training programme has been launched to provide advice on feeding babies, nutrition, dealing with household insects and basic family hygiene. A small loans programme helps farmers buy cows, chickens, goats or start a shop selling their produce. Veterinary training helps farmers treat their animals.

There are also literacy classes and training for village leaders.

Biblelands says the Ben Khalil villagers, who are Christians, have been fully involved in developing the project from the beginning, identifying achievable goals that will benefit as many people as possible.

A young woman who graduated from the literacy class said that her ability to read and write would enable her to apply for a birth certificate. "For the first time I will be able to become a real person," she said.

The charity's director, Nigel Edward-Few, said : "The programme is not just a temporary 'Band-Aid solution' to overcome grinding poverty or need for a short time - it is about changing the whole pattern of life permanently, for present and future generations."

The project has been funded by the charity's Easter Appeal, which has so far raised more than £80,000 - £25,000 above the fundraising target.

"The cycle of self-perpetuating poverty experienced by people such as the villagers of Beni Khalil is one issue we believe we can help to overcome," added Edward-Few. "These people need the resources, training and encouragement to enable them to escape their situation once and for all, after which we hope that they will be able to finally move forward to a new and permanently better future."

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