This young girl received a micro loan from HANDS to start a small store selling products like those on the shelf behind her.

An organization that funds community development projects in Egypt and works to foster understanding about the Middle East is extending its reach to Atlanta.

Hands Along the Nile Development Services, or HANDS, is hosting a dialogue event here April 5-6 on the role of media in relations between the region and the United States.

Based in Washington, the nearly 20-year-old organization usually holds such events there or in other nearby cities like Philadelphia

But for a variety of reasons, Atlanta seemed like a good place for a change of pace that would give the organization’s Egyptian partners a better view of America, said Jennifer Cate, HANDS executive director.

“We wanted to be in an urban center, just one that wouldn’t be typical, one that our group would not have been to before, that maybe didn’t have as much Egypt exposure but that still had great media and universities and people that would want to host and invite our group to come to speak,” Ms. Cate told GlobalAtlanta.

It also helps that a HANDS board member, Linda Johnston, is an associate professor in the Center for Conflict Management at Kennesaw State University


The private dialogue event will feature university professors, media professionals and civil activists.  Other public events are planned but have not yet been finalized. 

HANDS believes that funding community development projects in Egypt can build stability there, which will have far-reaching positive regional effects. 

“We think first of all Egypt is a key country to engage with, just because it is a leader in everything, in media, in education definitely, plus just the population is so large,” Ms. Cate said.

Social instability often leads young people toward radicalism, which can be prevented in many instances by creating opportunity, Ms. Cate said.

HANDS usually does not initiate projects.  It goes into an area, finds a reputable organization already working on a project and helps facilitate it by raising money and providing support, Ms. Cate said.

Though HANDS was started by Presbyterians in Egypt and the U.S., development projects span entire communities, involving young people and village elders, men and women, Christians and Muslims, she added.

The work takes many forms. HANDS does job skills training for women and helps people make and sell handicrafts.  Currently HANDS is helping build an eye-care center.

It also provides micro loans, usually from $250-$500, to help start small businesses like hairdresser shops and grocery stores.

“In some cases it’s a widow who wants five chickens so that she can sell eggs in the village,” Ms. Cate said.  “That’s on the micro end and then you go up more to the $250 where someone wants to buy a little store in their neighborhood.”

Dr. Johnston of Kennesaw State has been affiliated with the organization for about five years and just started her second year on the HANDS board of directors.

Through vision trips and development work, the organization’s values and activities feed into what her department teaches: how to promote understanding and avoid international conflicts.

“Just this person-to-person understanding I think is so important,” Dr. Johnston said.

She took 22 students to Egypt last year on two separate Kennesaw State trips.

“They said, ‘What did you want us to get out of that?’ and I said, ‘I want you to love Egypt like I love Egypt.  I wanted you to get to meet people,’” she said.

The trip built lasting connections, and the students who participated likely won’t ever start conflict with Egypt, she added. 

Travel “builds basic understanding between human beings.  It’s not about what’s happening at the global level, but it’s about when they go, they then tell their families all those things that they hear on the news are not necessarily true,” Dr. Johnston said. 

Although she hasn’t found a huge Middle Eastern community while researching Atlanta, Ms. Cate said there are pockets of interest and a variety of international organizations that actively promote positive relations with the region.

During her trip to Atlanta, she visited the Carter Center to talk about possible collaboration. She also noted that CARE, an international community development organization with goals similar to those of HANDS, is based here.

For more information on HANDS, visit  

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...