Aswan, the ancient city of Swenett on the banks of the Nile and frontier town on the southernmost border of Ancient Egypt, is the focus for the work of the Om Habibeh Foundation (OHF) in Egypt. The OHF, established by Mata Salamat in 1991 and formally registered in 2006, is an affiliate of the Aga Khan Foundation-Egypt (AKF-E). AKF-E’s program portfolio includes early childhood, civil society and rural development. All these programs function within the Governorate of Aswan, which has a population of 1.5 million people in Upper Egypt.

Yasmin Shariff, a highly accomplished architect, visited Aswan in March this year for her TKN assignment.  She describes what it was like landing at the Aswan airport terminal, “seeing the shimmering image of what looks like an ancient Egyptian Queen in the tilework reminded me of my family friend, Seeham El Gohary - the wife of architect Farouk El Gohary, who designed the terminal. That was over a decade ago and now I was returning to the same place, far from home, but all strangely familiar. This time, not visiting as a tourist with family, but in a different role as an experienced professional wanting to share knowledge and contribute to the valuable work being done by so many dedicated people.”. 

In 2010, OHF launched the Continuing Education Centre (CEC), which provides practical, industry-relevant training to unemployed and under-employed youth. Since its establishment, the CEC has served over 2,850 young student trainees with an impressive female enrolment rate of 67%.  Its target is to reach over 6,000 beneficiaries from the local communities by 2020.

The OHF and CEC are currently working out of a converted residential block, a significant improvement on their previous office space. The recently renovated facility, with solar panels on its roof, is due to generous funding provided by Global Affairs Canada for the Aswan Skills Development Program.  Although the current classroom space is tight, there is room available for creative co-working areas and inspiring spaces for collaborative teams to launch ideas and projects.  Yasmin explains, “as an architect, I could immediately see how the current configuration was creating fragmented work spaces.  A new professionally designed and purpose built structure has the potential to break out of cellular offices and closed door layouts and transform this working environment”.

OHF has a large site in downtown Aswan and, before embarking on construction based on a design that was developed in 2010 (prior to the CEC launch), OHF asked Yasmin if she could advise on the suitability of these proposals. After discussions with Yasmin, it became clear to all that there is an excellent opportunity to develop a new collaborative centre for the CEC, OHF and the people of Aswan.

“We have a very special site with great potential for an exciting new integrated centre with ample  space for a public square large enough for a vast array of different uses, from cultural events to football screenings in an open air theatre,” Yasmin added. “There could be a digital park, outdoor pop-up business spaces, co-working areas, and the outside of the building itself could be home to seedlings on the terraces, herbs dried in the solar ovens on the rooftops and more……..the ideas just kept on flowing. These dreams are not just flights of fancy but easily deliverable options.”

Working in the shadow of Mawlana Sultan Mohamad Shah’s mausoleum, with its majestic presence on the banks of the Nile, made this TKN experience very special for Yasmin, “Aswan is a truly magical place and it is a great privilege for me to volunteer on this project. With nursing, entrepreneurship, English language and IT as the main focus of CEC programmes, there may be future opportunities for other TKN volunteers to serve on this inspiring project.”

Shams Alibhai, CEO of AKF Egypt, says, “Yasmin’s rich architectural experience and substantial work on education projects in the UK is being leveraged for the CEC in Aswan.  We are fortunate to have her skills and competence influence the new purpose built space for the CEC in Aswan. She has shared a vision for an exciting multi-user space that includes educational, recreational, artistic, and entrepreneurial spaces! We look forward to continuing this journey.”