One of the most special things about hiking trips, or expeditions of any kind, is the locals you meet along the way and the generosity you encounter from them – a generosity that does not involve anything materialistic but just a pure heart and genuine caring. That’s what Leena El Samra experienced after her first-ever hiking experience with Sinai Trail back in March of last year when they organized a hike led by the bedouin tribeswomen. Since then, Leena has been on a mission to raise funds to organize a medical convoy for the people of Serabit el Khadim and its resident tribes of Al Hamada, Al Sawalha, Alegat, and the Muzeina.
After growing close to them and hearing about their struggles, particularly when it came to access to adequate healthcare, she was moved to try and help the residents in some way. “I’ve seen kindness, humility, perseverance, and gratitude in its purest form, but I also saw struggling on economic, health, educational and identity grounds. With your support, I am looking to give them a glimpse of hope for their medical well-being through fundraising to make a medical convoy a reality on the 8th of February 2020,” she shared on her crowdfunding page.
And so she went on her second hike with the Sinai Trail in November 2019 to raise the funds necessary for a medical convoy, organized through the Ibrahim A. Badran Charitable Foundation. “As usual, I was treated like family and over countless cups of tea, the ladies chatted away and it wasn’t long until the monster came up: access to healthcare,” she shared upon her return from the hike. Her plea throughout her crowdfunding campaign was to “treat them like they treat strangers – like royalty!”
After fundraising through the crowdfunding campaign, bake sales, and selling handmade bags, then matching the total donations through the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) where she works, all the hard work finally paid off when the medical convoy arrived in South Sinai earlier this month. This also marks the first medical convoy in South Sinai to be organized by the Badran Foundation, who regularly organize convoys around Egypt. Sinai is a logistical nightmare to enter nowadays, as anyone who’s travelled to any of the countless beautiful destinations available in South Sinai knows, so for the foundation to have someone on the ground to help them navigate that on their first foray into Sinai was essential. “[Sinai Trail’s] expertise was critical for the charity in helping them identify where to come, how to do it, and giving them the contacts they needed for the security – but also in getting the word out to the Bedouin community,” says Sinai Trail’s Ben Hoffler.
The convoy visited the remote communities of South Sinai, where 667 medical examinations took place, exceeding the expected 400. A total of 28 patients received referrals, a minor operation was performed on the spot and a baby girl was referred to a hospital for an emergency procedure. “The Badran Foundation was skeptical about people showing up because all the tribes are scattered around the desert, but we exceeded expectations," says Leena. "A lot of people were so happy with the convoy; for them, doctors coming all the way from Cairo was a treat.”
All of this came to life thanks to the collaborative effort of Leena, the Badran Foundation, the Sinai Trail team, and their efforts to help and provide medical help to the Bedouins of the Sinai desert. But it won’t stop there. Ben hopes to continue encouraging people who’d like to start similar initiatives for the people of South Sinai who have been such an integral part of the Sinai Trail experience. “One thing we’ll try and do is encourage any hikers coming on the Sinai Trail and create a donation platform on our website so people can donate directly or give them a sponsorship form for hikers who want to raise funds from people," he shares. "We’ll try to give money to Ibrahim Badran Foundation as well and then it will be good people like Leena or other hikers that will be responsible for continuing to do that.”
The same goes for Leena, who while very happy with the outcomes of this convoy is hoping to take her plans to the next level. “They are very ill-treated and they finally got the medical attention that they need, but one of the things that I really don’t like about convoys is that they're unsustainable because it’s a one-time thing,” says Leena. “Illness doesn’t come conveniently when the medical convoy comes. So I felt like it’s not the final step for me.” Next steps for Leena include looking into a sustainable healthcare solution for the people of Serabit el Khadim. “They have a clinic there in Wadi Ramla, which is not equipped at all. What I want to do is see how I can bring equipment to this clinic or, if that doesn’t work out legally, we can permanently position a general practitioner there and have a rotation of specialized doctors visiting every month. Like the Catherine Exists model. A more sustainable solution for the people in the region.”