Egyptian man provides free rest house to children with cancer near hospital

“Free and without donations,” reads a big sign hanging on an old building at El-Sayeda Zainab neighborhood in the Egyptian capital of Cairo.

It is “Zaza Home,” which offers a free rest house for children with cancer who come from distant provinces to receive treatment at nearby Children’s Cancer Hospital Foundation (CCHF), known as 57357.

The entrance of “Zaza Home” looks more like that of a kindergarten, with colorful drawings on the walls and swings, mini scooters, rolling chairs and a cage of birds at its corners.

Zaza, a butcher whose real name is Siyam Abdo, thought of opening the rest house about four years ago, when he saw some neighbors rent apartments to people who came to 57357 hospital from other provinces.

He thought of providing free accommodation to those children and their mothers and sparing them the suffering and cost of housing during their visit to Cairo.

“The period of treatment may take from one week to 15 days, and the visiting families pay much money for that. So I decided to offer them a rest house for free and without donations,” Zaza says.

“I have an apartment on the ground floor, so I renewed it, painted it and furnished it to be suitable for accommodating seven cases, i.e. seven children with their mothers,” he added.

Zaza, 50, explained that the guests can stay as long as they need, noting some stayed for a month and others for two months.

“Every case received in this rest house has become a friend of mine, including the families of the children who survived cancer and those who couldn’t. We never forgot each others,” the man said.

Zaza, who is married with four children, was offered donations many times from Egyptians and foreigners, but he refused because he intends it to be “a pure act of charity.”

The air-conditioned apartment provided for children has two rooms with several beds and a reception with a TV. The walls have different colors with butterflies, natural scenes, dolphins, birds and fictional superheroes like Spiderman painted on them.

Farida Ahmed, a woman in her early 30s, came from Sharqiya Province north of Cairo to accompany her eight-year-old boy Mohamed while he is receiving chemotherapy at 57357 hospital.

“Zaza received us here with warm welcome and hospitality, providing everything we need for a comfortable accommodation. He is really such a good and kind man,” the woman said at the reception of Zaza Home.

“Everything my son and I need is available here in this rest house. My son is so happy here with the toys and everything that he doesn’t want to go back home,” she added.

Ahmed pointed out that her husband is a low-income worker and they can’t afford to rent an apartment every time they visit Cairo for their child’s chemotherapy.

Meanwhile, the hairless cute and innocent little boy Mohamed went out of the apartment to the entrance to play on the outdoor swings.

Mohamed has tumors in the chest and the backbone. He had a surgery a week ago through which his tumors were partly removed, but not completely because some of them are stuck to arteries and veins, according to his mother.

Still, the boy looked very happy.

“I love this place because it has WiFi and many toys, like this small car, mobile phone and magnifying glass. I love the swings at the entrance too,” the shy boy said with a smile on his face.

CCHF, the largest hospital of the kind in the Middle East and Africa, was established in 2007 through donations and civil society efforts. It has about 260 beds and is currently working on expansions to double its capacity.

The hospital managed to raise the survival rate among children with cancer in Egypt from fewer than 40 percent to 73 percent.

“Of course we welcome these charitable efforts to help our patients and we have no problem with that since the rest house is near the hospital,” said Magda Abdel-Salam, an employee of CCHF.