Over the past 30 years, Egypt's population nearly doubled in size. From 57 million in 1990 to a over 98 million Egyptians today, the country's development plans continue to dramatically fall short to catch up with this mind-boggling growth rate. Numerous family-planning initiatives over the years have crumbled down in the face of a deeply-ingrained culture of more is better. You see, giving birth in Egypt is rarely about the actual desire to bring someone into the world with a fair chance to reach their full potential; it's rather seen as a blessing and somewhat prestigious to have your own tribe of sons and daughters, who are born into the world with 'their own fortune', according to misguided popular belief.

In an effort to tackle the self-destructive phenomena, four prominent Egyptian athletes are taking on the challenge of walking across the entirety of Egypt's Nile valley, from Aswan all the way down the river to Cairo, in an effort to promote healthy living, social inclusion, and raise awareness on the downsides of Egypt's booming population growth.

Leading the team is renowned athlete Helmy El-Saeed, the holder of Guinness World Record for the fastest crossing Europe crossing by bike, who is embarking on this new adventure alongside Cairo Runners' cofounder Abdullah Hussein, multi-sport athlete Omar Hashem, and Development Professional and Sports Enthusiast Jomana Ismail. The four has set out on the expedition with the support of The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Egypt's Ministry of Youth and Sports. Along their route, the tam of athletes will engage in debates with youth in neglected towns and villages to shed light on the matter along with other crucial issues such child marriage and FGM (Female Genital Mutilation)."We need the leadership of Egypt's government to mobilise young people to change the norms around the size of the family and invest in the well-being of adolescents and youth," says UNFPA's Egypt's Representative Aleksandar Bodioroza. 

Helmy El-Saeed

The extended journey, which took off last Tuesday, will last 23 days before the athletes get to Cairo. Upon learning about the initiative, the prolific athlete and Nike's first Hijabi brand ambassador Manal Roustom hopped onto the first Aswan-bound flight to show her support and kick-start the adventure before heading back to Dubai to prior commitments. " When I left Egypt around 2006, the sight of a woman walking or running in the street was not just frowned upon; but rather mocked and ridiculed," tells us Manal Roustom. "To witness this massive change now in the scene and this huge movement of young athletes coming together and taking on sports and using it to raise awareness on such crucial issues is so amazing to me. Which is why I basically dropped everything and went out there to support these amazing athletes and I'm planning to join them once again on January 31st for the last 8 days of the journey."

Manal Rostom

"I've always been passionate to use sports as a medium to raise awareness about social issues. In this expdition, we'll tackle issues like family planning, early marriage and family size with the youth along the way," says Helmy El-Saeed, adding that working on dispelling societal myths regarding population growth is extremely important for Egypt to have a better tomorrow.

Main Photo courtesy of UNFPA.