How can one hour each week away from your normal working environment help develop your skills and give you a fresh outlook? Meet three BP volunteers whose weekly visits to Cairo schools have given them increased confidence, positive energy – and insights on a different generation…
BP has supported the work of education charity Injaz in Egypt’s schools for more than a decade. The non-governmental organization aims to ‘close the gap’ between the private sector and the education system by training volunteers from companies, such as BP, and placing them in public school classrooms to act as mentors from the workplace. The volunteers work with students aged 12 and up, in middle schools and high schools. Injaz programme manager, Yasmine Wilson, explains: “Our programmes cover areas such as financial literacy, entrepreneurship and work readiness that are not usually taught in schools. The students learn a lot, as often it’s their only opportunity to interact with adults who are working in the corporate world.” Learning is not just a one-way street; the BP volunteers – who visit each class in pairs – come away with new skills as well.
Finance reporting analyst Nour Selim is now participating for the sixth semester
“Volunteering has given me a new, positive energy and makes me feel like I’m contributing to wider society. It’s about change – I’ve always wanted to help create change, but I wasn’t sure how. When I heard about this opportunity with Injaz, it was extremely auspicious, since education is one of the areas in Egypt where we need to bring about change. Sometimes, school and university curriculums don’t necessarily encourage a different way of thinking or prepare students for working life. Injaz programmes promote leadership and teamwork, as well as encouraging kids to think about entrepreneurship and even environmental awareness. It’s important to offer a broader perspective on life beyond just their exam subjects.
When I first went into a class, it was a bit difficult to control the sessions and make sure everyone is paying attention. Group sizes vary between 40 and 50 middle schoolers (grades seven to nine, or ages 12 to 15) but I’ve seen up to 70 pupils in a classroom. They’re used to teachers being tough on them, but we’re not there for that. Instead, we enter into an agreement from the outset about expected behaviour and how we’ll interact with one another.”
Aly El-Halaby, global supply chain logistics coordinator for Lubricants, is a new volunteer to the programme, with one semester now completed
“Education is an important issue in Egypt, so what attracted me to Injaz is their mission to support young adults. It’s important to give students ‘life skills’ beyond their traditional studies.
For example, one course called More than money teaches about debit, credit and how to open bank accounts. They won’t learn these things in any other class.
Teenagers are certainly a tough crowd. Volunteers effectively become teachers for one hour each week – and just getting the full attention of the class is a skill in itself. It’s a rare opportunity and not something that is comparable to giving a presentation in an office environment. I’ve learned how to adapt my approach, depending on the personalities in the room – you need to manage the leaders to make sure they’re not too dominant and then think about how to encourage the shiest child to interact. It's similar to BP's principle of listening to the quietest voice in the room. The BP volunteers have the full support of managers in the office – mine has shown a keen interest in what I’m doing. Members of the leadership team are also participating this semester – it’s great to see that level of commitment from the top.”
Ranya Habib is business manager for the East Nile Delta and is now in her fourth year of volunteering
“I work in Finance and our lives revolve around numbers which are quite rigid; in my volunteer role with Injaz, I’ve learned the art of flexibility! I have a plan when I go to class, but I might need to change that quickly, depending on the circumstances or behaviour that day. Sometimes, when we take the last class of the day, the bell rings, the students can leave but they don’t go anywhere because they’re really engaged in what we’re doing. I try to relate what we’re talking about to examples in pop culture – a song, a TV show, a film. When you help to make a subject relevant to them, they start listening. It’s very rewarding to see their faces light up, to feel that you’ve made a connection at a sensitive age, when they don’t always get treated like the young adults that they are. For me, it’s a privilege to volunteer – many people want to help their communities but don’t always get to do so.
BP offers us an incredible opportunity in allowing us to participate during working hours – and even provides transport. On the return journey to the office, everyone is drained but the mood is happy and energised.”
In the spotlight...
BP Egypt supports several educational initiatives, including funding scholarships for top Egyptian graduates to pursue post-graduate studies at Cambridge University in the UK, as well as scholarships through the Chevening scheme. To date, some 90 Egyptian graduates have received scholarships, including eight students in 2016. The business also partners with local prominent non-governmental organizations to provide training and skills development.