A Serve to Learn Volunteer’s Reflection from El Barsha

Serve to Learn just ended in Egypt. There was a lot of talk of cancelling Serve to Learn when ripples of the January 25 Revolution shook the basic security infrastructure in many areas of Egypt, and the military had their hands full with more important matters. Would anyone go? Would it be safe? Certainly, some from the Western world expressed anxiety about going. But other courageous volunteers still wanted to go.

In the end, it was a wonderful experience for everyone who shared their lives with the children of Egypt during these three weeks in El Barsha. Here’s a story from one such volunteer, Kirollos Barsoum from the USA:

 

For the past 5 days I have been part of a service trip in El Barsha, Egypt with Coptic Orphan’s Serve to Learn (STL) program.

El Barsha is a beautifully scenic town with all the charm and troubles of a rural village in a developing nation. The town is rich in spirit but poor materially and in hope, which makes it the most suitable place for an attempt to “Serve to Learn.”

Coming from the United States, I am blessed with having abundance of education and material resource, but in my opinion, a lack of spirituality and “humanity.” El Barsha is in need of the education that we so often overlook in our daily lives, and is full of the spirituality that we are in need of. And Coptic Orphans facilitates the exchange!
Throughout these five days my partners and I have been thanked countless times for giving up a part of our summer to teach English to children in El Barsha, but every time I feel that I am the one who is thankful.  We have been invited to dinner daily by different local volunteers, and each time we are treated like family, and shown gratitude that I personally feel undeserving of. The beauty in the way people in this town treat us, a group of strangers from a different country, is inspiring. Life in the U.S. lacks the beauty of hospitality, and the sense of family that these amazing people give off, even to strangers. The side of El Barsha we are staying in is a completely Christian area, which is a rarity here in Egypt, and the School we teach at is one of the few, if not the only completely Coptic School in the country.

We started teaching three days ago on Monday, but I feel like I have a stronger connection with these kids then with the Sunday School kids I have been teaching for over 2 years. Maybe this is because I am a poor Sunday School teacher (God help me) and maybe this comes from the spirit of El Barsha. Even the children are infected with a beautifully gracious and loving spirit more so then back home. Three days and I feel that I am attached to these kids. Today some of the boys, (Kirollos and Kirollos) waited for me after class and we walked home together in the street with our arms around each other and laughing at nothing, and singing nonsense. The spirit of El Barsha has blessed our three day relationship and has caused love to grow in such a short time, I really don’t even want to think about what will happen on the last day. We are not only getting to see children in school, we are also making home visits in which we split up and go in threes to several of the children’s homes to see their family life.

So far I have only visited three homes, one of which is the home of one of my students, Makari. Makari is 13-14, he is the eldest of four, and his father is dead. Makari’s home seemed to be 2 rooms, with a thatched roof it had a tv, a washing machine and several couches/beds. Makari’s little brother was running around, his sisters were silent, his mom only spoke only when we asked her questions, there were neighborhood boys in the street shooting foam arrows in the house from the window, a donkey had defecated on the front door while we were there, and there were flies everywhere. While the lack of monetary resources is obvious, what also stood out was a sense of helplessness. Makari’s family seemed resigned to its condition. This type of attitude is also evident in some of the students in the class, who seem to refuse to try and constantly repeating “I don’t know how to do this.” These students and Makari’s family all seem stagnate in a realm of “I can’t because I can’t,” and while it may be hard to rescue entire families from this thinking, I truly feel that we can make a difference with these children in the class rooms.

Overall, these past five days have truly been full of service learning. I am rediscovering God’s commands to be gracious, hospitable and charitable, while at the same time trying to give the gift of hope disguised in form of the English Language. Honestly, just seeing the Children realize that they can actually learn, and can accomplish things, makes me feel like I am having some type of positive impact on this world.

About Nathan Hollenbeck

Nathan joined Coptic Orphans in 2006. It was his response to a call to help return Egypt’s hospitality to the Holy Family on behalf of Christ Emmanuel and the Theotokos, after they changed his own life as a youth. He has a passion to fulfill God’s command to “bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” (Isaiah 1:17, ESV)