All posts by Nermien Riad

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.

When Preparations Replace Desperation

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Mothers and daughters can both benefit from Coptic Orphans programs.

“B’edaya has had a big impact on my life; it makes me feel that I’m not a burden on my kids, and I’m able to manage my household finances and prepare for my daughter’s marriage.”

When Shereen, a budding small businesswoman and micro-loan recipient, said these words to our staff, what stood out was her mention of preparing for her daughter’s marriage.

As we look ahead to launching a new round of micro-loans in March though our B’edaya microfinance initiative, I’m struck by how Shereen’s words show that just a bit of capital can change the life of a female entrepreneur. Her family members also feel the positive impact, with potentially life-changing results.

Her observation particularly sticks in my mind because, with economic hardships rising sharply in Egypt, Coptic Orphans field staff have noticed a serious increase in young girls being married off early. They usually end up in that situation because families – particularly those without male heads of household, whom this project serves – can’t cope with feeding “extra” mouths.

Early marriage, as anyone who’s familiar with it knows, can devastate the life of a child. The repercussions for a girl’s health, education, economic security, and happiness can be impossible to overcome.

As just one example of early marriage’s traumatic outcomes, a 2014 study by the American University in Cairo’s Social Research Center, in partnership with the Ford Foundation, found that 27% of women who were married before they turned 18 had been physically abused by their husbands.  

So the ability to prepare for a daughter’s marriage, as Shereen points to with pride, is hugely important.  

Widowed mothers who are able to start or build up their small business with micro-loans are able to do something that’s almost impossible without financial stability: prepare for the future.  In Shereen’s case, that translates into being able to get ready for her daughter’s marriage, rather than being pushed headlong into arrangements that her whole family may later regret.

These are the kinds of results we count on from the micro-loans. As important as they are to filling stomachs with food and bank accounts with savings, the biggest changes often become apparent over time. The girl who doesn’t get forced into early marriage, the mother who feels her own self-worth — those are the real payoffs.  

We’ve had fantastic applications for the upcoming round of this project, and we plan to disburse these 0% interest micro-loans to coincide with Mothers Day and International Women’s Day in March. I look forward to sharing details of some of the new business projects we’ll be supporting in the months ahead.

For now, we’re grateful for your support, and we continue to count on it to achieve the results Shereen speaks of. We believe in mothers who can prepare for the future, and in freeing young girls from early marriage!

‘His Light Is In These Children’s Smiles’ — Jessica Ayob Recalls Serve to Learn

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Jessica Ayob and some of the Serve to Learn students she taught.

Dear Friends,

Sometimes people ask me, “I’m very busy with work but I’d love to serve in Egypt, can I just do one week of Serve to Learn?” I always disappoint these people  and answer no. But let me explain, this isn’t just bureaucratic, it’s about the relational nature of Serve to Learn. Yes, Serve to Learn brings volunteers from all over the world to Egypt for three weeks to teach basic English, and that has real value for children who’ve never been taught by a native speaker. However, Serve to Learn is also about the relationships among people who live together, have tea together,  laugh together, and are there for each other. In Serve to Learn, you’re there to spend enough time with the kids in Egypt that they keep a piece of your heart. Read this interview with Serve to Learn volunteer Jessica Ayob and you’ll understand.  

So — are you ready for the adventure of a lifetime? Applications for the June 18-July 9 trip are available online here and are due by April 1 (March 15 to take part in the brand new medical initiativeapply here). Apply now, because slots are limited!

— Nermien 

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For you, what was the most moving or life-changing part of Serve to Learn?

The most torturous part of the trip was saying goodbye to my kids. When they said “please don’t forget me” it tore my heart into pieces.

Did Serve to Learn deepen your understanding of Egypt, your ancestry, and your roots? 

I now have a deeper understanding not only of Egypt, but the people of Egypt. Never will you meet people who are so welcoming and loving to the “aghaneb.” It makes you want to be like them and show them off as the most amazing people you’ve ever met. No matter the little money they have or how small their house is, they will be the most giving people.

Given the chance, what would you have done more of during the program?

On the last day we played real soccer in the dirt, with rocks and no shoes on, and it was GREAT! They have a real passion for soccer and they are soooooo amazingly talented!

What advice would you give anyone considering applying for Serve to Learn?

GO. APPLY. RIGHT. NOW.  I’m so glad God brought me for whatever his plan may be for me. These kids will make you cry, will give you hope, will drive you insane, and ultimately will love you like no one has ever loved you before on Earth. His light is in these children’s smiles and you could feel it every second you are with them.

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Interested in learning more about Serve to Learn? Check out our page and video, which gives a snapshot of the program! 

If this blog makes you want to read other Serve to Learn stories, here are those of Marianne SawiresJessica HannaJessica AyobPheobe, and Ryan. If that’s not enough, you can read Serve to Learn  interviews with:

 ToniJohnGabyMinaAndyVeronikaDavidBen, Kirollos, MariamAlex, and Mirelle.

You may also enjoy these video interviews with NadinePeter and Mary.  Any questions you’d like to ask a real human being? Call or email Mira Fouad, who runs Serve to Learn, at 703-641-8910 or at mfouad@copticorphans.org

How the Girls’ Love and Tolerance Awakened a Community

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The Valuable Girl Project honors young women’s voices.

I’m writing today with sadness, because Leila, one of the participants in the Valuable Girl Project, recently passed away. Like all of the Little Sisters in the project, Leila is someone we cherished. Her loss is felt deeply by staff, family, and her friends.

Yet, I also want to share the remarkable way the girls united after Leila’s passing, and how that also brought together their Christian and Muslim parents.

Leila (not her real name) was struck by heart problems while traveling out of Upper Egypt. By the time she could be treated, it was too late to save her life. In the wake of this tragedy, her fellow Little and Big Sisters were sad, but consoled each other. And, amazingly, they decided that they should be part of the public mourning.

“All of the girls wanted to be present at their sister’s funeral,” said Susan, coordinator of the project site.

I can’t tell you how unusual that is, not just in a town in Upper Egypt, but in all of the country. Cemeteries are, as a rule, just about as segregated as it gets. For the girls to unite around the memory of their friend, and persuade their parents to permit their show of collective grief and solidarity, was an extremely rare event.

Leila’s family was really overwhelmed by the girls’ decision to come together, and as a group including both Christians and Muslims. And, somehow, this brought the community together in a way that hadn’t happened before. It seemed to make them value the project even more, and increase their determination to sustain it.

“We really want to see this project continue,” Rana, the mother one of the Valuable Girl Project participants, told Susan. “Even if it means we have to keep it going without funding, somehow.”

Thanks to generous donors whose specially dedicated contributions provide all the support for the Valuable Girl Project, there’s no danger of the project shutting down. In fact, we’re just as committed to it as the parents, and we’re identifying participants and sites for 2016.  We’re spreading the messages that girls and young women are a benefit to themselves and society when they have access to education, that Christians and Muslims can overcome the obstacles facing them. And we count on everyone who shares these values to stand with us.

This work makes a difference. We can see it in the way the girls came together when Leila passed away, surprising their community with their love and unity. We can see it in their parents’ desire to continue the project, no matter what stands in the way. Together, we’ll keep spreading tolerance and access to quality education for these valuable girls!