‘A Life-Changing Experience’ — Mena Hanna Reflects on Interning at Coptic Orphans

Staff at the Coptic Orphans headquarters in greater Washington, DC had a wonderful chance to meet with Bishop Benyamin on May 8, 2014 - and reunite with Mena Hanna, fourth from the right.
Staff at the Coptic Orphans headquarters in greater Washington, DC had a chance to meet Bishop Benyamin on May 8, 2014 – and reconnect with Mena Hanna, fourth from the right.

Dear Friends: I’m pleased to share the reflections of Mena Hanna, who showed his great skills in the summer of 2013 as an intern at our headquarters in the greater Washington, DC area. We’re grateful for his hard work and dedication to the children of Egypt. — Nermien Riad 

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “One of his children graduated from the Coptic Orphans program and was going to study at the American University in Cairo on a full scholarship,” said the Coptic Orphans Rep, his voice coming down the long-distance line from Egypt. I’d phoned just to thank him for his years of work for the children in Beni Suef. Yet, here he was telling me that one of the children he had patiently mentored was going to receive “the best education in Egypt.”

Being relatively uninvolved in nonprofit work before my time at Coptic Orphans, I had no idea what to expect when I was accepted for an internship there in the summer of 2013. With no real nonprofit work on my resume, I was a bit hesitant to be involved with such an influential organization right off the bat. Four months later, it turned out to be a life-changing experience for me.

The first thing that stood out to me at Coptic Orphans was the strong chain of command and organization that connects all staff members. It is the largest Coptic non-governmental organization in the world, with offices in the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom. In running this global operation, Coptic Orphans makes sure that each employee understands their role and what’s expected of them, to the degree that if something unexpected were to happen to a key team member, things would go on as usual. I’d worked at corporations before, where this was not the case. Knowing that everyone was on the same page brought a certain relief and comfort to me that enhanced my experience as an intern.

Coptic Orphans offered me a unique internship experience in that every day, I learned something new. There were never two days that were the same, and each moment presented an opportunity to learn something valuable.

My work began with calling to thank the more than 400 “Reps” who make up Coptic Orphans’ volunteer base in Egypt. I couldn’t think of a better way to immerse myself in the Coptic Orphans culture. Besides holding some of the most entertaining conversations I’ve ever had, those calls gave me a crucial understanding of just how decimating and dire the situation in Egypt had become. My first week of calls really put things in perspective for me, and provided the momentum to carry on for the rest of my internship. Hearing from countless Reps thanking us so much and hearing numerous success stories of seemingly helpless children was invaluable to me, and seemed to confirm the wisdom of my decision to become a Coptic Orphans intern.

One of my favorite things about Coptic Orphans was that their U.S. headquarters is conveniently close to Washington, D.C. Being a short commute away from the epicenter of the political world allows Coptic Orphans staff to be in constant contact with the world’s most influential policymakers, think-tanks, and organizationsa special characteristic that really sets it apart from other Coptic nongovernmental organizations. Two to three days a week, I was in D.C. attending conferences, panel discussions, and speeches by some of the most influential figures in the world. It was not uncommon for me to work on the database in the morning, attend a speech by a head of state in the afternoon, and come home to prepare talking points for a Coptic Orphans presentation at a key branch of government such as the Department of Defense.

It was uplifting to see that, no matter how high-level the gathering, so many people recognized Coptic Orphans. It was clear to me that Coptic Orphans’ 25 years in close proximity to the nation’s capital had allowed it to build a solid reputation with key players in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors.

Being the world’s largest, most established Coptic non-governmental organization provides many benefits to Coptic Orphans. I was struck, for example, by how their team was able to organize and host a three-day series of meetings with His Grace Bishop Angaelos. These meetings included high-level talks with influential U.S. policy makers and their staff members, and eventually led to His Grace Bishop Angaelos becoming the first Coptic clergyman to testify in front of the U.S. Congress. Accompanying him to give his testimony was a watershed moment for me, and absolutely one of the most memorable experiences I had while interning at Coptic Orphans.

Looking back at my four months at Coptic Orphans, the only thing I wish I could change is that I would have liked to stay longer. Every day, I was helping the Copts in Egypt. Whether it was gathering different perspectives on U.S. policy towards the Middle East, entering data into our database, or networking at invite-only events, I knew that I was contributing to changing the lives of countless other people for the better.

I was also able to gain an insider’s perspective on how non-governmental organizations accomplish their mission, knowledge that recently led me to be accepted for the exclusive Governors Internship in Michigan. It’s not lost on me, therefore, that interning at Coptic Orphans was good for my individual career aspirations. But if there’s one thing I learned at Coptic Orphans during those four months, talking to the Reps and working for the kids in Egypt, it’s that what we accomplish together that counts most.

Would you like to intern at Coptic Orphans? Send an email to info@copticorphans.org telling us why you’d like to be part of the team, what skills you’d bring, and what you’d hope to learn.

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.