‘These Kids Began to Love Education’ — Phoebe Azer Recalls Serve to Learn Stories

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Phoebe Azer’s students linger after class. “These kids never wanted to leave the classroom without us.”

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 Phoebe Azer’s words and photo. If you enjoy them, I invite you to read the “1,000 Words” post by Ryan Wasson.
— Nermien

Who’s in this photo?

From left to right — Mary, Mira, Michael, Mark, Yousef, Samuel and Kirollos*

Where was it taken?

In the classroom.

What’s happening in the photo?

This was after class one day. These kids never wanted to leave the classroom without us and so would wait until we had packed up and would walk down with them. Some of the best times in Armant were with these kids hanging out after class.

How did you feel when it was taken?

So happy! I just love these kids!

Why do you want to remember this moment?

Because it is a reminder of how much love we were shown by the people of Armant, in particular the kids of Armant.

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

Only one of the seven kids in this picture has a decent level of education. Three of them couldn’t read or write Arabic. However, throughout the Serve to Learn program, these kids began to love education and show an incredible amount of eagerness to learn.

Mary couldn’t read or write Arabic. However, this did not stop her from trying her hardest in class. I was so impressed with her determination and the confidence she had by the end of the program. It was also so incredible to see her become inspired by the program, as Serve to Learn not only introduced Mary to English, but also encouraged her to dream of becoming more. This proved true as she looked at me almost awestruck as we discussed dreams and opportunities.

Mira also had a very basic level of education despite being in year seven. At the start of the program, Mira refused to speak out loud in class and to interact with any of the boys in the class. However, by the end of the program she was confident enough to join in and was even laughing and hanging out with the boys!

Michael is such a loving boy who every day would insist on a photo with myself and his younger brother Michel. He is one of the kids in the Coptic Orphans program and I had the absolute pleasure of being welcomed into his home where we played pickup sticks, laughed, and drank the most delicious fruit cocktail made by his mother Marina. The love shown by his family and other families we visited with the volunteer rep, Mama Senaa, was immense. They even gave us gifts on the last day and just welcomed us with so much love into their homes.

On the second day of class I had asked the kids to write a sentence and I had instructed that those who knew how to write the sentence in English should do so and if they didn’t then they were to write that same sentence in Arabic and then beneath it I would write it in English. Mark then exclaimed, “Marafsh aktab araby wala english ya miss” (I can’t write in Arabic or English ya Miss). Mark, however, was never limited by this and was always the most excited student in the class. In our first week we were learning how to ask “What is your name?” Mark ended up taking over the class and started clapping to a beat and repeating “What is your name?” In no time the whole class, including Andrew and I, had joined in, and thanks to Mark, these kids in Armant will all know how to ask you what your name is in English.

Yousef and Samuel were always eager to get involved, especially when there was the incentive of a sticker. They, along with Mark and Kirollos, were the class clowns. When looking at the world map one day, Yousef asked us to show him where Kuwait was. When we pointed it out he excitedly exclaimed, “So that’s where my dad is.” I soon learned that a lot of the fathers in Armant have all gone to Kuwait for work to earn money for their families — another challenge these amazing kids faced.

Kirollos was one of the most loving humans I have ever met. He would come an hour before class to wait for the volunteers and leave at 3pm even though class ended at 12pm. He also came on the last day before we left and waited three hours to see us off. He was always smiling and loved class. Kirollos always bought joy to the volunteers and I learnt so much from his love and his joy.

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