Sometimes, innocent drawings are windows to tragedy. When Heba* started drawing and her Coptic Orphans Rep asked the right questions, a horrifying event unfolded.
The ancient African practice of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting, (FGM/C) known in Egypt as “female circumcision,” is illegal in Egypt but widely practiced, especially in rural areas. Medical professionals and others who perform it risk imprisonment and fines, so when Heba’s mother wanted it for her daughter, even the village barber refused to perform the procedure.
One day her mother took a razor blade and did it herself.
“I have visited them for years. I never would have discovered it if it wasn’t for this training,” Heba’s Rep said.
Over the past two years, Dirk Coetsee of the Petra Institute in South Africa have provided all training at no cost to Coptic Orphans. Dirk quotes art therapy expert Dr. Gary Landreth to explain why this approach works: “Play is a child’s language and toys are his words.”
“So many of our children have traumas, and are thirsty for people who can listen,” one of Coptic Orphans’ volunteers reported after applying the training.
At the very least, all the children of Coptic Orphans have one thing in common: the death, loss, or abandonment of their father. Dirk and Talita say in the Walking with the Wounded Child manual, “Any form of loss is experienced as traumatic, and trauma is always experienced as some kind of loss.” (p. 4)
Besides the experience of losing a father that all the children of Coptic Orphans face, being orphaned and poor in Egypt also means being left with many layers of other trouble. Malnutrition, illiteracy, child labor, child marriage, disease, exploitation, and life-long poverty all crouch at the door of families who lose a father.
“The issue of fatherlessness is close to me because I worked in the community in South Africa where there were no fathers, or in many case without both father and mother because of HIV,” Dirk says.
His experience in South Africa led to an insight that Coptic Orphans shares: healing comes by rebuilding a ruptured family.
“We discovered one of the ways is to create substitute families, [especially where a child can find the mentorship of] at least one male figure. They would become like a substitute father. That doesn’t diminish the role of mothers, because they are the strongest in the community, usually. I see the same potential with Reps… I’ve heard repeatedly with Coptic Orphans volunteers in Egypt that ‘the volunteer becomes a father in the absence of the father.’”
Dirk also says that Coptic Orphans’ approach when building up the mother of an orphaned family is exactly the other key they discovered in South Africa. “Most organizations think you can just deal with individuals.” His wife Talita adds, “if we don’t transfer these skills to the mother, we won’t accomplish our mission.”
So far, Coptic Orphans Reps in Greater Cairo and Middle Egypt have been applying this training during home visits. Reps in Lower and Upper Egypt will receive it in the months to come. We are working towards the day when we can reach everyone in Egypt like Heba to uncover and address whatever is holding them back from building a brighter future. Then, this generation of Egypt’s fatherless will transform the communities around them.
As Dirk says,
[When] Christians start caring for one another the way that Coptic Orphans does, they can’t help but impact their neighbors. Their neighbors will in turn start coming to them because of the trust built.
*Names changed to protect the privacy and dignity of children.