Girls pose in karate program in Hope Village, Cairo

“Hope Village…which way?”  Our driver yells in Arabic to the 3rd bread seller in three blocks.  “Keep going and then take a left,” the vendor answers and waves us off with an arm adorned in bangles of pretzel shaped bread. This is GPS Cairo style.

We soon pull up to the Mokattam branch of Hope Village, our first pre-production stop in Cairo. A pack of lively and curious little kids descends upon us and small fingers start to poke at our camera gear.  They immediately become our crew for the day, helping us unpack our bags and set up the cameras. I wonder if they’re union.

We learn that these are the children of the children that Hope Village serves. Hope Village is an organization, affiliated with UNICEF, which helps the overwhelmingly large population of street children in Egypt. This particular branch takes in girls who have become pregnant while living on the streets of Cairo. The center provides them shelter from the streets and teaches them all manner of survival skills, from trade skills to self-defense.

Which leads us to our next stop at Hope Village: the karate class. In this conservative society sports, and especially contact sports, are considered haram, forbidden for girls. But it seems like self-defense classes are exactly what many of these girls need.

Orange belted girls in karate program in Hope Village, Cairo

Cobra Kai they’re not, but standing before us are some tough girls. They’ve already survived the mean streets of Cairo with the daily threat of assault. Now, they’re learning how to rebuild their confidence as they learn to defend themselves.

Six teenage girls are dressed in their karate whites and proudly show us why they have earned their orange belts. After giving us a demonstration of their newest skill set, almost in unison they all answer that they love their karate classes because it makes them feel so much safer when they go out on the streets.

But then I am taken aback when one girl, 15 year-old Samah, pulls me aside to tell me she loves karate because “it teaches me discipline and patience that I can use in my other school classes and in life.” Karate is doing more than teaching her how to throw a punch, it’s building within her a fire to rebuild her life.

When asked that proverbial question of what she wants to be when she grows up, Samah answers: “to be a clothing designer…or a doctor.” With the education she’s gaining in the classroom and the spirit she’s developing at the dojo, I’m guessing she can be anything she wants.

With every belt Samah earns, the girl effect grows in her. A brighter future for her means a brighter future for her children—and her children’s children. Soon, Samah will be creating her own village of hope.