"Looking at our children on the street in a different way" was the slogan of Belady, an NGO dedicated to the aid of children living in street conditions. Belady used to be alive with reading, writing, arts and recycling classes. Usually deprived of such pleasures, kids would also get to watch movies for entertainment. The founder, Egyptian-American Aya Hijazi would spend time every day playing with the children as well.
But in May 2014, a mere three months into operation, Hijazi and her husband Mohammed Hassanein were arrested when a man claimed his son was at Belady. Although he did not find his missing son, the man returned with others and attacked the foundation to "free" the children. The founders called the police for their rescue, but the police vehicle that showed up took Hijazi, Hassanein and two volunteers away, along with all the children.
The founders' imprisonment has now extended four months beyond the two-year legal limit for imprisonment without trial. On Thursday, the US congressmen Don Beyer and Gerry Conolly, from Virginia, called for her release at a Capitol Hill press conference, according to the Associated Press. Dual citizen Hijazi grew up in Virginia and is considered a constituent of that state. "Aya should be praised as a hero, someone who has championed the neglected," AP quotes Beyer.
On Friday, the White House released a statement from the National Security Council, which after meeting with Hijazi's family "... calls on the Government of Egypt to drop all charges against Hijazi and release her from prison," acccording to the White House Press Office.
In 2009, after receiving a degree in conflict resolution from George Mason University, Hijazi returned to Egypt. With Hassanein she decided to spend their wedding money on starting the NGO.
Walking around big squares such as Tahrir, the now 29 year-old used to approach street children and tell them about the place she built where they can learn and develop their skills and personalities. Upon taking in a child, the parents would be immediately informed.
Charges against Hijazi include human trafficking, abduction, inciting homosexuality, sexual abuse for pornography, and torture. Evidence against the couple is several laptops and CDs, according to their lawyer Taher Abo El Nasr. Although the charges were denied by a forensic report on children inspected, the trial has been delayed multiple times, with a hearing scheduled for November.
Twenty-five Egyptian NGOs and human rights organizations have called for their release, including the Egyptian Coalition for Children's Rights, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, and the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information.
"We're worried that Aya's resolve is beginning to crack," Alaa Hijazi, Aya's sister, told AP.
In a letter to Hijazi, one of the fortunate 20 children who had come to be under her care wrote: "I listen to [what you taught me] and I do not beat my siblings. Take care of yourself and do not worry about me. I am okay." The little boy vowed that they would soon return to "the island of humanity," as Belady was dubbed.