‘The Kids Loved Us Even Before We Arrived’ — Mariam Magar Reflects on Reasons to Serve to Learn

"It's a rare and priceless experience," Mariam Magar says of Serve to Learn, which she joined for the summer of 2010.
“It’s a rare and priceless experience,” Mariam Magar says of Serve to Learn, which she joined for the summer of 2010.

April 15 is the last day to apply for Serve to Learn. I want everyone to hear about the program straight from people who’ve actually done it, so I’m excited to follow up on interviews with Kirollos and Alex by talking with Mariam Magar

If you don’t already know, Serve to Learn is our unique summer program that brings people from all over the globe to Egypt to teach kids basic English through fun activities. This year, it’s July 4-26. Arabic and teaching skills are helpful but not critical. Respect, kind hearts, and high energy are most important!

Mariam, who was part of Serve to Learn in 2010 in Qus, Qena, was born in Cairo and moved to New York with her family when she was nine years old. She’s lived there ever since. Today, she is an attorney and works with a nonprofit organization in the neighborhood of Queens. Here are her reflections:

For you, what was the most moving or life-changing part of Serve to Learn?

The overwhelming, simple, innocent, selfless love we were shown by everyone we met, especially the kids. The kids loved us even before we arrived. I’ve never experienced that type of love before – the type where someone loves you for no reason and expects nothing in return. These kids didn’t have much, but that didn’t stop them from showering us with gifts, purchased and handmade, every day. I came home with a bag of treasures (gifts) that I have and cherish to this day. My treasures include new and used jewelry, handmade jewelry, key chains, pictures, hair scrunchies, and a handmade card in the shape of a heart.

Did Serve to Learn deepen your understanding of Egypt and your roots?

Yes. Although I was born in Egypt and still have strong ties to my family and to Egypt generally, Serve to Learn took me to a part of Egypt I’ve never been to before. Upper Egypt has its own traditions and culture, and the Serve to Learn experience immersed me in these traditions and culture. Had it not been for Serve to Learn, I would have had no reason to visit Qus, Qena, to stay there as long as I did, or to interact with the people there as personally as I did. Furthermore, I really enjoyed our excursions to surrounding towns and cities for religious visits and site seeing. Serve to Learn was the reason I visited Luxor for the first time in my life, and the reason I saw what I only read about in books. Needless to say, I was such an eager and excited tourist the day we visited Luxor and its temples.

Given the chance, what would you have done more of during the program?

Maybe spend more time with the kids outside of the classroom, if possible.

What advice would you give anyone considering applying for Serve to Learn?

  1. DO IT!!! Between school, work, and the changing events in Egypt, you never know when you’ll get another chance.
  2. Go with an open mind and heart.
  3. Prepare as much as possible before you leave your hometown. You won’t have a lot of free time during the program, and whatever time you do have, you want to spend with the kids, other service, interacting with the locals, or sleeping.

Any final thoughts?

Thank you Coptic Orphans for making Serve to Learn possible. It’s a rare and priceless experience.

I hope you’ll take Mariam’s experiences to heart and apply for Serve to Learn. If you still have questions, you can learn more by reading the Serve to Learn FAQ, or by writing to us directly at info@copticorphans.org.

Also, you can “see” Serve to Learn through our Serve to Learn video (courtesy of co-geniuses Fady Hanna and Mark Yacoub—thank you!) or have your illusions shattered by the “Top 5 Myths Why You Can’t Take Part in Serve to Learn Debunked.” 

PS  If you have a moment and want to help the cause, please go to the top of this post and hit the “Like” button. Or if you’re already post-Facebook, please push out this link thru whatever social media you use. Thanks!

About Nermien Riad

Nermien Riad founded Coptic Orphans in 1988 after volunteering for an orphanage in Cairo. When she saw that most of the children had living widowed mothers who simply couldn't afford to feed them, she gathered family and friends to sponsor children in Egypt. Today Coptic Orphans works through a network of 400+ church-based volunteers in Egypt, who visit fatherless families in their homes and make sure they get everything they need to unlock their full potential. That way, they don't have to get married off as child brides, work as 10-year old family breadwinners, or go to live at an institutional orphanage.