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.

‘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!

Welcoming the New Year, with Thanks to God & Our Supporters for 2015 Achievements

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His Holiness Pope Tawadros II meets with Serve to Learn volunteers, July 25, 2015.

Dear Friends,

Looking back at 2015, which had the children’s many academic successes, our meeting with His Holiness, the anniversary gala in Cairo, and a conference of nearly 500 Church-based volunteers, I can only express deep gratitude to God for making everything possible.

As together we step into 2016, I’m reminded of these words I love: “Let us give thanks to the beneficent and merciful God, the Father of our Lord, God, and Savior, Jesus Christ, for He has covered us, helped us, guarded us, accepted us unto Him, spared us, supported us, and brought us to this hour.” 

We also owe so much to our supporters worldwide for enabling these remarkable steps forward, especially by ensuring access to quality education for thousands of children. We’re deeply grateful to everyone who’s made a commitment to the academic success of these brilliant, heroic kids.

As we close out 2015, Coptic Orphan has reached over 40,000 children in Egypt since 1988. Here are some of the ways your love, prayers, and support made an impact this year:

• Almost 25% of Coptic Orphans youth, who come from some of Egypt’s most poverty-stricken communities, earned senawiyyah 3amma (high school final exam) grades of 85% or higher.

• Children enrolled in Coptic Orphans programs were more than three times more likely to complete their secondary education than their average Egyptian peers.

• For the second year running, 10 Coptic Orphans children beat tremendous odds to win prestigious LOTUS and AMIDEAST scholarships to Egypt’s best universities such as the AUC and the British University.

These academic achievements of Coptic Orphans children would not be possible without the Church. We’re incredibly grateful to the Church for partnering with us in 55 dioceses across Egypt.

We felt especially blessed in 2015, because His Holiness Pope Tawadros II met with the volunteers in our Serve to Learn program on July 25, telling them of the value of their service for the children and for Egypt. We’re thankful beyond words for His Holiness’ inspiration and leadership.

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A pair of the hundreds of kids the 2015 Serve to Learn volunteers were blessed to form bonds with and teach.

Overall, in 2015, 37 Serve to Learn volunteers from around the world traveled to Egypt for three weeks of serving, teaching, and forming close bonds with children in communities such as Armant, Luxor, and El Barsha, Mallawi.

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Nearly 500 Church-based volunteer ‘Reps’ meet in August 2015 to discuss serving the children and receive intensive training.

Another key step forward in 2015 was the conference of nearly 500 Church-based volunteer “Reps,” the backbone of Coptic Orphans’ work with the children. The highlight of the August event in Hurghada was intensive training in how to build rapport with the children served by Coptic Orphans.

Coptic Orphans capped the year on Oct. 11 with a silver anniversary gala celebrating 25 years of serving God and the children. Among the speakers and honored guests at the Cairo event were Deputy Minister of the Cairo Governorate Gihan Abdel Rahman Ahmed, former Minister of Urban Development Dr. Laila Iskander, and Dr. Raouf Ghabbour.

At the event, which was attended by over 150 guests, Coptic Orphans presented its Leading by Example Award to Eng. Hossam El Kabbany, chairman of the Al Orman Association, to honor his tireless work to improve the lives of Egypt’s most vulnerable citizens. The award honors people whose character and achievements make them role models in Egypt and around the world. Past recipients include Dr. Farouk El Baz, His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, and Ola Ghabbour, founder of the Children’s Cancer Hospital.

With God’s grace, we’re looking forward to a fantastic 2016 that builds on these achievements and brings better lives to even more children. And as we finish a wonderful 2015, I want to say to everyone in the Coptic Orphans family: “Thank you, and may you have a blessed and Happy New Year!”