Egypt: How One Woman is Helping Refugees Using Social Media


The number of refugees seeking asylum in Europe continues to climb. Over 20,000 refugees crossed into Croatia since Hungary closed its border with Serbia on September 17. The statistics are overwhelming.

Citizens from around the world are organizing direct assistance to help refugees. People power is providing immediate relief as government bureaucracies trip over themselves while war-torn refugees languish in train stations.

Trying to provide help to tens of thousands of people may seem like an insurmountable task. Those of us not located in Europe may feel helpless to contribute. If you can’t assist directly on the ground in Europe, there may be smaller things that can be done in your local area. Helping one or two refugee families can save lives. One woman is doing exactly that in Egypt.

British-Egyptian, Nelly Ali is a lecturer currently writing a PhD about street children in Egypt. Her blog is a window into the mostly invisible life of homeless children in Egypt. She currently has over 124,000 readers in 185 countries, some 2500 facebook connections and 24,000 twitter followers and she is harnessing the power of her social media networks to help refugee families in Egypt.

In 2013, there were 14,156 refugees registered in urban areas of Egypt. As of 2015, there are now over 130,000.

On September 4, 2015, Ms. Ali started an initiative on facebook to help two Syrian families, one in Cairo and one in Alexandria, whose children were working on the streets to pay for their schooling. She launched a direct action campaign using her networks on facebook and twitter to help.

The response was swift.

This little girl (from Syria) is on our Egyptian streets working to support herself through school. From the way she…

Posted by Nelly Ali on Friday, September 4, 2015

Offers to help poured in from social media as you can see in the original thread posted here.

Alexandria: we have

– full school fees for girl in Alex
– full year rent for the family in Alex
– uniform and supply fees in Alex
– food sponsor for the family

Cairo: we have

– a volunteer for school shopping
– a sponsor for school uniform & books
– rent negotiator
– school fees for a year
– home food sponsor and shopper
– a job offer for the child’s mother

Seeing how quickly people came together to help, Ms. Ali started brainstorming what else needed to be done. The text of her progress status on facebook is posted below:

Let’s start small so we can pilot and then make this grow.. We’ll start with 2 children first (one in Cairo and one in Alex)

So quick quick let’s form a team. We need one of the following from each city:


– someone to identify the child & parent
– school negotiators (to secure a place)
– flat negotiators (to secure a home)
– shopper (for uniform)
– shopper for monthly food supply
– liason (with child and sponsor or me)

The volunteers won’t need to provide the money. Their contribution is the direct work.


– school fees for a year
– school uniform / books / stationary
– rent for the child and mum
– food for the family


Now most likely the sponsors won’t be living in Egypt so I’ll need volunteers who are willing to provide receipts and photos for proof of purchase to the sponsor etc.

If we can get this to work for 2 families we’ll keep at it…
Yalla.. May the magic of kinship, kindness and love begin
Who’s sponsoring and who’s volunteering for the roles?

Someone just contacted me to say they’ll secure a job for a Syrian mum of the kids we take off the street into school….

Posted by Nelly Ali on Saturday, September 5, 2015

I bloody LOVE social media!!

Just managed to connect two people – one offering an admin job to a Syrian and a Syrian…

Posted by Nelly Ali on Sunday, September 6, 2015

Just thinking ahead.

If I can start matching Syrian refugee women with jobs (there’s something coming up in the pipe…

Posted by Nelly Ali on Monday, September 7, 2015

Please share

My IT guru friends…

Who is willing to invest their time and money in creating some sort of app / Web…

Posted by Nelly Ali on Monday, September 7, 2015

Offers to help continued to flood her inbox and timeline…

Woke up to many beautiful messages of people offering help… This one really touched me:

“I have been looking for…

Posted by Nelly Ali on Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Someone has just offered an employment opportunity (a receptionist) for a Syrian refugee. If you know a lady who speaks some English who could be suitable for the role, in Cairo, please get in touch

Posted by Nelly Ali on Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Ms. Ali publicly answered questions she received privately regarding what she was doing and why…

I’ve been privately asked some questions that I would like to answer publicly in case some others want to ask

Q. – why don’t you set up an NGO?
A. – Because the world is full of these and the problems they set out to solve still exist. The only charities or NGOs I fully support, are those who have an “end by” date where they work to sustain the people they support before a certain date and their goal is to make themselves redundant. I also am a bit old fashioned in the sense that I believe in community. In the olden days people helped each other without the bureaucracy just fine. In the years I’ve worked with Street kids, the girls now off the streets are off it by organising it this way

Q. – How do you work?
A. – I work on impulse, I rely on people’s passion. I 100% believe people are intrinsically good.

Q. – why is it so hard to convince you to take donations?
A. – I don’t believe money is the solution to human misery and vulnerability. I believe community and love and connecting people is. Most of the work I’ve done has been based on this premise and we’ve done incredible things together. People’s time and skill and privilege shared is the most valuable thing to give someone in need. The other reason is because I truly believe those in need, in accepting our hand in friendship and assistance are doing the giver the favour and privilege of creating a better world not the other way round. So it’s us, in position of privilege that actually benefit from this work. This is something money can’t do for you.

For the Syrian initiative, I appreciate money will be needed to pay school fees and rent. However, I believe the less number of people involved the better. So if you would like to sponsor something, unfortunately I do not get involved with the money handling. You can pay the school or the landlord directly, or liase with the negotiating volunteer for the agreed task to pay it for you and send you proof of where the money has gone.

Q. – why don’t you write your statuses in Arabic?
A. – Because my written Arabic is absolutely rubbish. So if you would like to help, please translate my English posts and I will take your kind translation and update the status with it

Q. – why have you turned to working with Syrians?
A. – I’ve turned to working with Syrian children that are now appearing on the streets. Because their children are starting to sell paper tissues on the street and that’s how it all starts. It’s the kids that are just arriving on the street that have the highest chance of coming off it. If you want to fix the street kids problem it doesnt work by focusing on the kids on the street, but those just arriving on it. You can provide relief and support and services for those who have taken the street as their home, but getting them off is more realistic and more successful if you can get to them within the first few days of their arrival on it. There is hope for everyone, but the children who are just about to drop out of school to take to the street are the ones we can save from the horrors of it, including gang life, crime, rape, childhood pregnancies, grievous bodily harm, early death, drug addiction etc.

Right. Now back to work

You can follow the progress Nelly Ali’s refugee initiative on facebook and twitter and please read her wordpress blog regarding the amazing work she has already accomplished helping street children in Egypt.

About Author

Erin Gallagher is a multimedia artist, translator and writer for Revolution News.