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Catherine Exists: Philanthropy Through Photography

We speak to the the photographer and social entrepreneur dedicated her life and her lens to supporting, integrating and promoting understanding of the Bedouin community with creativity...

For years, Saint Catherine has been facing discrimination. Neglected, forgotten and misconceived, the Bedouin communities of South Sinai struggle to subsist in the midst of a crisis that has depleted their source of income, as tourism has dramatically dropped since the 2011 revolution.

Rehab Eldalil is an enthusiastic photographer and entrepreneur who set out to change that. Having lived and visited the communities of Saint Catherine for the past four years, the young artist created the campaign ‘Catherine Exists’ aiming to break stereotypes and raise funds to support their livelihood.

“I belong to a travelling community focused on discovering hidden areas, so I started visiting the area regularly, creating a strong bond with the people of South Sinai. They have become my second family,” Eldalil tells CairoScene. “There are two nomad tribes in the area who regularly move, but they are at the same time known by everyone. They are the kindest people you can find.”

Frustrated by the prejudices surrounding Sinai’s dwellers, Eldalil set off to portray a different face to Sinai, in an effort to honour and restore the glory of Saint Catherine’s guardians. “It is frustrating when you ask people in Cairo if they know Saint Catherine and they show awful misconceptions,” she says. “A lot of people are still hung up on the hikers who died last year in the mountain and have negative feelings towards the area. They usually link them to drug-dealers or kidnappers,” she adds.

Living in one of the most stunning yet extremely weathered areas in Egypt, the Bedouin communities lack medical and educational assistance, and are economically deteriorating as tourism - their main source of income - dramatically dropped in the aftermath of the January 25 revolution. “Yet, their positive spirit inspires many. They are the keepers of the land.”

Astounded by their unbreakable ethos and their mesmerising traditions, the young photographer began documenting their lifestyle in 2009 and, through exhibitions across Egypt, has been aiming to spreading her message and raising funds. “The initiative started as a still photo project to depict the natural and cultural heritage of the land, its people, and their struggle for survival,” explains Eldalil, who began selling her photos and allocating 60% of the profit to the benefit of locals.

But her commitment and determination soon led her to expand the campaign’s impact, to “benefit the community on a larger scale and support them on different levels.” This June, the entrepreneur launched a crowdfunding campaign in order to raise funds to renovate El Karm, an eco-lodge located in El Tarfa which would financially support the local community.

“El Karm is an eco-lodge located in the heart of the mountains in El Tarfa, 30 minutes away from the city of Saint Catherine's. The eco-lodge is managed by the locals, providing its visitors a unique taste of the desert and eco-tourism,” says Eldalil. The decline of annual visitors to the area, however, have led to the deterioration of the lodge.

“The pledges coming from this campaign will be invested in the renovation of El Karm and marketing initiatives to encourage the public to visit and support the locals of El Tarfa, providing the people a sustainable source of income,” she says.

The campaign, which aims to raise $1,800 by June 27th, was launched through Tennra, a newly released Egyptian platform dedicated to gamified crowdfunding, a trend labelled as “2015’s big thing” that allows users to play and, while doing so, pledge money to support a project.

An adventurous traveler and an independent photographer, Eldalil has been working her way into photography for social projects since 2007. In 2013, the 25-year-old photographer co-founded AlQomrah, a social art venture that aims to support the coming generation of visual artists in Egypt.

A winner of the Pioneers of Egypt Award, the agency works on different programs. “We are a creative agency that hires qualified freelance artists and protect their intellectual rights during the process, while delivering the best quality service. We also have a mentoring programme for photographers and painters, choosing five artists from every discipline each year to train them. We also conduct workshops as well, for photographers to raise the ethical and professional standards on the market in Egypt,” she explains.

 

In 2013, her Catherine Exists project was launched to the public as a touring exhibition, relocating three times from one city to another to spread awareness and fundraise. By 2017, the photographer expects to allocate the funds collected to launching a community center in the heart of Saint Catherine, offering residency programmes for travelers, serving locals of all ages, and providing educational and artistic activities as well as medical checkups “in the hope to develop the quality of their life and to create an intercultural dialogue between locals and visitors,” while preserving the heritage of the land.

“I came up with the idea to present the project as exhibition to create an interactive medium for the audience, so that they can view the images while reading stories from the land and being able to instantly contribute by buying an art piece,” says Eldalil, who also aims to turning her campaign an online platform to expand the range of supporters worldwide. 


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