4 Surprising Stories About Egypt’s ‘Shy Girls’ — And Their Power to Make Change

Young women work together to tackle community issues with Coptic Orphans' Tamkeen project.
Young women work together to tackle community issues with Coptic Orphans’ Tamkeen project.

“We used to be shy girls who withdrew from participating in community activities and didn’t face our problems — in fact, we were never even aware of our own community’s problems.”

I wanted to share that quote from one of the young women participating in Tamkeen, a Coptic Orphans project that nurtures female voices, especially in rural Egypt.  Tamkeen’s former “shy girls” are doing some incredible things, and that’s why I’m writing to you today.

Tamkeen, which is funded by USAID, operates at four sites in Minya, Sohag, and Assiut. You probably already know that parts of these governorates are hard-hit by poverty. What you might not know is that they have hard-working community development associations.

We’re partnering with these associations. Tamkeen helps them with capacity-building and makes small grants for activities that encourage young women to get involved in their communities.

Young women learn skills such as planning and group decision-making in Tamkeen.
Young women learn skills such as planning and group decision-making in Tamkeen.

I think the young women who are taking part in Tamkeen will earn your respect. Here are four stories of how they’ve put themselves on the line by speaking up:

  1. Sexual harassment is a real problem in Beny Abed in Minya. Through  Coptic Orphans’ local partner, the Institute for Comprehensive Humanitarian Development, the young women there decided to launch an awareness-raising initiative among young people and community members. Their initiative resulted in the formation of a committee of several dozen young men and women who agreed to work together to tackle the problem. Local leaders agreed to implement some of the participants’ proposed solutions, and asked them to hold awareness-raising workshops in the local schools and youth center.
  2. In Assiut, a group of young Tamkeen participants not only discussed sexual harassment in public — they presented 90 minutes of songs, videos, and testimony about how they were seeking solutions to social problems. Their presentation reached a much larger group of girls, all of whom had taken part in the project’s workshops and other activities. The combination of music, theater, and story-telling conveyed how they had become active in their communities on issues of mutual concern.
  3. About 60 young women in the village of Nazlet Emara in Sohag, determined to end the blight in their neighborhood, took part in planning and executing a campaign to plant trees at the local school and clean up their area.  The campaign emerged from dialogue on community problems at a civic education training session run by a Coptic Orphans partner, the Horus Association.  Carrying out the campaign required them to get buy-in from local officials, but in the end, they succeeded.  “One of the most important lessons we’ve learned and practiced through Tamkeen is how to make a group decision,” said one of the girls.
  4. In the village of Tahta, a group of girls involved with Coptic Orphans’ partner, Nour El Mostakbal for Sustainable Community Development, held a dialogue to identify “the biggest problem… affecting the whole community.” They singled out ineffective literacy courses as the biggest obstacle to progress in their village. They decided that the best solution to the problem would be to offer better training for teachers in collaboration with the Literacy Classes Department in Tahta. With the encouragement of Tamkeen coordinators, they convinced local education authorities to provide them with a letter of authorization to start implementing their proposed curriculum.
Young women's civic engagement becomes visible with Tamkeen.
Young women’s civic engagement becomes visible with Tamkeen.

After reading these stories, I hope you’re curious about these brave young women. If you want to know more, I invite you to check out our new Tamkeen page. It’s got all the details: Where we’re working, what we’re doing, what the goals are.

It’s a chance to learn more about these real heroes — the “shy girls” who are speaking up for a better future for themselves, their communities, and Egypt!

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.