CATHERINE HARBOUR, Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, London, U.K.

 In

008-2009 U.S. Fulbright Student, National Population Council, Cairo, Egypt

My name is Catherine Harbour. I was born and raised in Lexington, Kentucky, where my parents have lived in the same house since 1971. I earned my BA in Environmental Studies from Brown University, my Masters in Public Health from UNC Chapel Hill, and my Ph.D. in Health Communication from Johns Hopkins University. I applied for the Fulbright while writing my dissertation on social norms affecting youth in Minya, Egypt.

In Cairo I was affiliated with the Population Council and with the Communication for Healthy Living (CHL) project of the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs. With a Critical Language Enhancement Award (CLEA), I studied modern standard and colloquial Arabic at the International Language Institute (ILI), Al Diwan and with tutors. Once I arrived in Cairo, I adapted my research plans so as to contribute to ongoing research efforts at the Population Council and CHL – research that I knew would continue after my Fulbright ended – rather than to conduct individual research with little hope of follow up after my Fulbright ended. I worked on the Population Council’s 2010 Survey of Young People in Egypt (SYPE) and on evaluation research of CHL’s work in Egypt generally and Minya specifically.

Catherine Harbour at Abu Simbel Temple, Upper Egypt and at the pyramids in Giza

Friends and family in the U.S. were curious about my experience in Egypt. I tried to share it with them through seven “newsletters” I wrote recounting my experiences, and through what my Population Council colleagues called my second job as a dalila (tour guide). Between October 2009 and April 2010, 21 people from the U.S. visited me in Cairo. I helped them plan their trips and made sure they experienced something of contemporary Cairo, beyond the tourist brochure bubble. They, like I, had a lot to learn about modern Egypt. Several visitors made jokes or offhand comments about terrorism. Some equated the hijab (muslim women’s headscarf) and niqab (head and face cover) with women’s oppression. I introduced them to Egyptian friends and took them to neighborhoods with fewer tourists. I encouraged visitors to be open-minded and make an effort to interpret their Egyptian experience with some nuance, empathy, and self-reflection.

Before coming to Egypt I had read how Egyptian men must amass a small fortune and be able to support a family before they can marry; about how social norms restrict young women’s mobility; about the abundance of youth and the lack of jobs and the love of humor and pride in Um Kalthoum (A famous classic Egyptian singer). I had read about Egyptians’ support of Palestine. Spending 14 months in Egypt with Fulbright put these isolated statements into context, and added many more factors to my understanding of Egypt past and present – including hospitality, colonial forces, trade, faith, migration, and family.

During the Fulbright grant, I learned some Arabic and developed a more nuanced and better-informed understanding of Egypt; though I still have a lot to learn. My Fulbright experience taught me about the U.S.’s role in the Middle East and how the U.S. is perceived in Egypt. It also deepened my interest in immigration and refugee resettlement.

Many observers have commented on Egypt’s “youth bulge” or “demographic gift” – the fortuitous situation that working-age people outnumber the young children and post-working age people who depend on them, offering a unique window for social and economic development. My Fulbright experience heightened my commitment to do something – delwaqti (now) – to improve opportunities for young people. I’ve continued to conduct research that informs policy and programming designed to improve health and opportunities for youth.

In May 2010 I left Cairo and returned to Baltimore. I collaborated with Population Council researchers on the final report of their Survey of Young People in Egypt (SYPE), which was published in 2011. I continued working for the Center for Communication Programs at Johns Hopkins and have published several academic papers about youth in Minya. In February 2012, my husband and I moved to London for my job with BBC Media Action. In January 2014, I joined the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, also based in London. My Arabic language skills, albeit limited, come in handy in my work on health and development issues in Africa.

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