‘The Love These Kids Give Is Indescribable’ — John Wassef Reflects on Serve to Learn

Serve to Learn volunteers say good-bye to the children in Armant.
Serve to Learn volunteers say good-bye to the children in Armant.

Dear Friends,
In January, 12 young people from around the world  spent three weeks in Armant, a rural village near Luxor, teaching children basic English skills and offering them character-building mentoring. They went to Egypt as part of Coptic Orphans’ Serve to Learn program. The volunteers came back bursting with stories… hence this series, based on the idea that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Each volunteer is sharing a photograph from the trip, accompanied by a few words about why that moment moved them. Today, I’m proud to share John Wassef’s words and photo. If you enjoy them, I invite you to read the “1,000 Words” posts by Ryan Wasson and Phoebe Azer. And just a reminder: The deadline to apply for the next Serve to Learn trip is April 15. We’d love to have you with us!
— Nermien

Who’s in this photo?

One of the kids from our class (Michael) and me.

Where was it taken?

Just outside of the school doors.

What’s happening here?

This was on our last day of school after a massive water fight. As I said good-bye to all of the kids in the courtyard, he came running towards with me a massive smile on his face. As usual I would walk to the gate and say good-bye to the kids and tell them to make sure they came the next day. I put my hand over Michael’s shoulder and told him I’d miss him as we were walking. Just then he started crying uncontrollably and wouldn’t let go of my arm. As we got to the gate I gave him a massive hug and he didn’t want to let go. I just kept telling him that I’ll be back as soon as I could to see him again.

How were you feeling when this was taken?

The feeling I had during this particular moment was really overwhelming. I never thought that the shy boy from day one who wouldn’t talk or want to answer any questions would have changed so much in three weeks. I could tell from the first day that his level of education was poor and he would be too shy to answer any questions. By the end of our time there he was so eager to answer every question and wouldn’t stop smiling. We brought these kids into an environment they had never really experienced before. During their school holiday if they don’t have a job they’re out on the streets with people who aren’t a good influence. During this moment it really started to dawn on me that these were our last moments together. The love these kids give is indescribable. So, I guess it was a moment of happiness and sadness. To know that we could have this effect on these kids and in return the massive impact they made on us. To sum up I felt happy, loved and so touched.

Why do you want to remember this moment?

I want to remember this moment so I can remind myself of how much love all these kids showed me. We gave so little but were rewarded with so much in return. It’s also a memory that I never want to forget.

If you could help people understand one thing with this photo, what would it be?

Our main purpose travelling to Armant was to teach the kids English. In return they taught us how much a smile can change your whole day. All day we would hear the “Thank God” from the youngest child to the oldest adult. It really puts into perspective how appreciative these people are with the little they have. It was a really touching experience that is so hard to put into words.

The people in Armant are amazing. They appreciated our time with them. They have so much to offer even though they have so little. Something I learned looking back on my time there is that we really did make an impact on these children. Our daily program there was a safe haven for them. Somewhere they could laugh, play and learn in a safe environment. These people have no one to look after them so we need to do as much as possible to help. Some one said to me before I went to Armant, “You’ll learn more form these people than you’ll teach them.” It could not have been any more accurate than that. You really do serve to learn. They need to be reminded that the world hasn’t forgotten about them. I have been telling everyone from the moment I arrived home, if you’re thinking about serving go to Egypt. It was something that changed my life and I can guarantee if you go, you will have life long memories. The people in Armant will always be in my heart and I will definitely be back as soon as possible. In the words of his H.H. Pope Shenouda, lll “Remember those who have no one to remember them.”

*Names changed to protect the privacy and dignity of the children

____


Interested in learning more about Serve to Learn? Check out our page and our new video, which gives a snapshot of the program! Time is running out to apply for our July 3-25 session, and spots fill up fast, so please get your application in by the April 15 deadline. 

If you want to read other Serve to Learn stories, here are interviews with ToniJohnGabyMinaAndyVeronikaDavidBen, Kirollos, MariamAlex, and Mirelle.

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.