“Sister Emmanuelle … from the City of Light to the slums of Cairo,” ‘Azmī Na‘īm begins his article. He writes about the activities and achievements of the French nun, Sister Emmanuelle, who spent almost 20 years of her life serving poor Egyptians in the slums of Cairo.
Sister Emmanuelle was born in 1908 in Brussels, to a French father and a Belgium mother. When she grew up she decided to join a nunnery, leaving her family, friends, and society in order to worship God. On account of her intelligence, devotion, and humbleness, her convent decided to send her to Alexandria to teach Philosophy and Psychology at the Notre Dame School.
In one of her visits to Cairo, she was shocked upon seeing a poor child pulling a garbage cart. Following him to his residence, which was in ‘Izbit al-Nakhlah, a slum area in the north of Cairo, she was moved by the poor and unhealthy conditions of garbage collectors residing in dirty houses. Her pure nature and sensitive personality made her decide to help to improve the conditions of garbage collectors in this area.
Sister Emmanuelle began to searching for an Arabic-speaking partner to assist her in the new mission. Sister Emmanuelle found in Sister Sarah of the Monastery of the Daughters of Mary in Beni Suwayf her long-sought partner.
In 1976, they started to improve the conditions of garbage collectors. Moving from one suburb to the next, they managed to establish many social and medical societies that provided health care, education, and social services for the residents. The two nuns collected donations from personalities in Egypt and abroad and succeeded in setting up many hospitals; such as the Mahabah Hospital in Munsha’at Nāsir, social clubs for youths, schools for primary and secondary students, as well as many other useful projects.
Sister Emmanuelle was greatly concerned with the conditions of females in these slums. She managed to change stereotypes among people. For example, she fought for the rights of girls to continue their education and tried to break the habit of girls marrying at the early ages of 12 and 13.
Egyptian society highly appreciated the services that Sister Emmanuelle provided. However, the crown of this appreciation was in President Mubārak’s decision to grant her Egyptian nationality as a token of appreciation for her efforts.
In 1993, her convent called her back to France to rest after the great results that she achieved in Egypt. Sister Emmanuelle is now 99 years of age, living in France but her memories of Egypt are continue to live on in her heart.