The Libya Martyrs’ Children: An Update on the Difference You’re Making

The 21 martyrs of Libya. Icon written by Tony Rezk.
The 21 martyrs of Libya. Icon written by Tony Rezk.

I’m writing to update you on Coptic Orphans’ support for the children of the 21 martyrs in Libya.

This story actually begins 16 years ago, when we met with H.G. Bishop Pevnotios. Most of the Libya martyrs’ children weren’t even alive then. But today, you will find nearly all of them in His Grace’s diocese in Samalout.

That day 16 years ago, by God’s grace and with your partnership, a seed was planted. His Grace agreed that we would work in his diocese, and he recommended Church-based volunteers to serve as Coptic Orphans Reps.

The Reps worked hard and enrolled more kids. And so, over these past 16 years, we’ve served 1,095 children in Samalout.

Which brings us to today. We have 23 Reps in His Grace’s diocese. Each has relationships of love and mentorship with the orphans who are “their” kids. In regular face-to-face visits, they nurture the kids’ character and talents — and above all, their education.

These Reps know Samalout, they’re trained as a team, and they know that people like you are behind them with support and prayers. Their 16 years of service are just the beginning.

Promoting literacy and love of reading at a Coptic Orphans event in Samalout.
Promoting literacy and a love of reading at a Coptic Orphans event in Samalout.

In other words, the seed that was planted 16 years ago, with God’s help, has grown into a tree with branches strong enough to support the Libya martyrs’ children.

With this strong structure in place, we were able to begin investigating the kids’ needs immediately after the massacre. We learned that 10 of the martyrs had left behind a total of 19 children. Of the 19, two live in Mattay and 17 in Samalout. We decided to focus our energies on Samalout, where our strengths and nearly all the kids are.

We spent a lot of time carefully looking at the children and their situations. And because we’re committed to accountability and transparency, I’m reporting what we’ve learned to you.

We discovered that all of the families, by God’s grace, are benefitting from great generosity. Churches, businesspeople, individuals, and other services have supplemented strong support from the Egyptian government. These families now actually have a lot of resources, especially in the short term, even divided among many family members, that will help meet their day-to-day needs. Much of what has been donated from these sources must be shared among the deceased’s wife, his children, his parents, and his unmarried siblings.

We’re grateful that God touched the hearts of so many people and made this outpouring possible. We also know that these children’s needs will continue — and even grow — in the 4, 8, even 10 or more years before they reach adulthood.

That knowledge forced us to do some soul-searching. You, the Coptic Orphans family, decided to sustain the martyrs’ children by donating US$91,902. For a child who is in our program for a normal amount of time, for example, about 8 years, that’s US$676 a year — not a huge amount, but very significant, for Egypt. And clearly these kids are a special case. We couldn’t have anticipated it, but now they’re not “low income” — a prerequisite for being in our program.

We’d committed to standing with these children. But what did they need us for now, with all this money? We studied, discussed, argued, and decided on enrolling them in our program anyway.

To explain why, I need to tell you about a rich woman who approached us, years ago. She was taking care of her two orphaned nephews. She gave them everything, but something was wrong. Compared to other orphans in her area — kids in our program — her nephews were troubled and undisciplined.

She came to us and said, “I want you to enroll my nephews in your program. You don’t have to spend anything on them; I’ll pay for everything. I just want them to have what the other kids in your program are getting. I want them to have the love, the guidance, so they grow up to be healthy people.”

We’ve heard this before, and it echoes what we believe the Coptic Orphans family is really about. Meeting basic needs should be a given. With your partnership, we do that.

But what’s really valuable — and transforming — is the Reps’ work to mentor the child, promote their self-discipline and resilience, instill a strong work ethic, and support their education. That’s real long-term development, not charity.

Therefore, there is a long road ahead with the martyrs’ children in Samalout. Our Reps will give each one the love and mentoring they need. Their families will also receive the wider support we offer to all of the program’s families, such as workshops to help widows manage their finances, and to empower them to support their children. But in terms of your donations, we’ll focus on what we do best: Education.

How that looks will depend on each child. But all of them will need the tutoring that Egypt’s decaying school system has made indispensable. All will need constant guidance that education, not a pension, is the road to independence. Some will advance to university, and we’ll support them by paying tuition and fees.

We’ll only know the final results of these efforts when these children grow up. The seed planted 16 years ago, in the meeting with H.G. Bishop Pevnotios, is still growing.

But however this turns out, the Coptic Orphans family will have done everything possible to make sure that the children of the Libya martyrs are loved, supported, mentored, and educated.  Thank you for partnering with us, with God at the center.

Related Posts:

What Could We Have Done to Save the 21? A Lot More
Act Now to Prevent More Massacres
The Copts Martyred in Libya – How You Can Help
Remembering the Children Who Lost Their Fathers in Libya
Charleston and Samalout: The Connection That Surprises the World

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.