Three and half years ago, Mawda Hesham came across a Youtube video that inspired her journey with gymnastics. The complex and elaborate moves encouraged her to pursue this challenging sport. Now at the young age of eight, this girl from Dewan, a village in Aswan, has gathered the attention of people in the village, and of tourists, and is hoping to reflect the beauty and empowerment of the sport, and to demonstrate its coherence to her culture through a series of gymnastics moves.
“My parents were very encouraging. They signed her up for practice at the Faculty of Physical Education in Alexandria instantly,” Mawda’s bother, Mohamed Hesham recalls. “In the beginning, it was difficult for her because the moves required high flexibility. Sometimes, she would get so upset if she couldn’t get a move to the extent that she would cry. But she was so persistent to get the moves right, so she used to practice a lot until she was able to develop her flexibility,” he continues.
Mawda received three golden medals and one silver medal in various local competitions including the Faculty of Physical Education’s triple competition and Al Itihad Club in Alexandria’s quintuple competition.
“People in Egypt and especially from our village, Diwan, and across Aswan, were very happy with Mawda’s ambition, because, in Aswan, the sports kids participate in are limited football, volleyball and karate. Gymnastics is a sport that does not exist there to begin with,” Mohamed explains.
The young girl’s steps to success echoed a huge response from people on social media. Mawda’s photo series took the internet by storm. Her talent also sparked on ground reactions.
Her brother highlights how their photo session was disrupted by the crowds that formed when Mawda was practicing in the monuments of Aswan. “People would gather around in large numbers to watch her… Initially, we didn’t want to shoot while other people where present. But after talking to Mawda, we decided to change the idea to shoot around people to capture their reactions as well,” he mentions.
Although people were very confused as to what Mawda was doing, they were extremely helpful. In Gharb El Sheikh, Mawda was performing floor gymnastics. To avoid injury, people from the village offered her a mat, so her hands won’t get dirty or scrapped by the rough sand.
“In Phila Temple, there was an Italian crew who was touring the temple. When they saw us shooting and that drew their attention, they stopped and started cheering for Mawda,” Mohamed says. This response from tourists contributed to the project’s ultimate goal: to revive Aswan’s tourism through cultural practice.
Rowan Khaled and Abdelrahman Sherif, Mawda’s cousins, who are also the photographers, came up with the idea for the two months in advance. They considering various locations in Egypt to highlight the country’s dynamic culture.
“[However] we thought that if we were to shoot in Alexandria or Cairo or the rural city but it wouldn’t have complemented the original concept. The point was to reflect the Nubian culture and history through the new generation; a generation that can express our ancestors through their own exclusive interests. For, Mawda it was though gymnastics,” Mohamed emphasizes.
The Nubian community is one that encourages one another in everything one chooses to pursue. “We are proud of any success one achieves regardless of the nature of that success,” he concludes. As for the 8-year-old, her dream is to become a national heroine and wishes to pursue medicine as a career.