Who was Islam Sharif, and what does his death mean for Coptic Orphans?
We know little about him, except that he died after a severe beating from his teacher. He was punished for not doing his homework. He passed away on Sunday in Cairo, at 12 years old, of a brain hemorrhage.
What does his death mean to Coptic Orphans?
First, we mourn the death of a unique human being, who was God’s creation. No child deserves to die in this way.
Second, we hear the crashing alarm bell set off by his death. It tells us to work harder to protect and educate the children in our programs.
His death particularly concerns us because education is central to everything we do, together with you, to support children’s transformation into well-rounded and self-sufficient adults. This process of transformation requires something different from the traditional charity approach of handing out money, which only creates dependency. Education, as many studies confirm, is the real key to breaking the cycle of poverty.
So when we are confronted by a school system in which a boy can be beaten to death by his teacher, what are we to do? Surrender?
In reality, I believe we’re morally bound to do three things. The first is to never give up. Our children are brave and smart, and we can’t leave them to fight alone, even when we hear this kind of grim news.
The second is to be a voice for a fair, safe, and effective school system. That means, in our talks with officials, that we present policy options and argue for education reform. And not only for reforms that would put Copts on better and fairer footing, but for changes that would benefit all Egyptians.
The third is to spread our model of advocacy and mentoring to as many children as possible. A child alone in the system is more vulnerable than a child with an advocate to lean on for support.
This is where our more than 400 Church-based volunteer “Reps” make a huge difference. They listen carefully to each widow and her children, provide them with access to resources such as tutoring, tuition, and school supplies, and intervene on the child’s behalf with school authorities when needed.
I can’t say for sure what would happen if a Coptic Orphans child was stuck with a teacher with violent tendencies, like the one who beat Islam Sharif to death. I can say with confidence that our mentoring teaches the child to have a sense of self-worth and to speak up. In Islam Sharif’s shoes, one of our kids might very well have talked to his Rep, who in turn would have demanded that school officials take action against the teacher.
This is the kind of protection we strive to provide to our kids. On a day of sad, sad, news for Islam Sharif’s family, and for all of Egypt, I pray that someday we’ll have schools where no child loses their life.