Category Archives: Approaches to Charity and Development

Great News from Egypt This Mother’s Day

150508_Mothers Day FB
Love, healthcare, better education… these are things we all pray for for our families on Mother’s Day.

Good news about Egypt is precious these days, so I wanted to share a few wonderful developments that give me a feeling of hope.  

I came across the following news this morning in Save the Children’s new State of the World’s Mothers report, and I thought,  “What a perfect Mother’s Day gift for someone who loves Egypt as much as I do!”

To make a long story short, Egypt still has a long way to go to improve healthcare. But if you’re a mother or child in an urban area, there is extremely good news. The report reveals (emphasis added):

Egypt has made good child survival gains among its most affluent urban residents (47 percent reduction in under-5 mortality between 1995 and 2008) but even better gains for the poorest (66 percent reduction over the same time period). As a result, the poorest urban children in Egypt have gone from being 3.7 times as likely to die before their fifth birthday (in 1995) as the urban best-off to 2.4 times as likely to die (in 2008).

The report (the section on Egypt is a good read — I recommend it) also describes successes in immunizations, family planning, and clean water.

What’s most interesting about this news is that it points to Egypt’s potential to solve problems. For some people, it’s fashionable to talk about Egypt as hopeless. Well, this kind of progress shows that it’s not.

So how did this progress come about? The report asks that question:

How did Cairo achieve success? The city’s remarkable progress is the result of national health system reforms, specialized programs and the persistent efforts of civil society organizations.

I want to bite on that last bit again. Not only does Egypt’s health ministry deserve some long-overdue respect, but some of the thanks for this progress are also due to non-governmental organizations. Partnership!

As you know, here at Coptic Orphans, we see everything through the lens of using education to break the cycle of poverty. So this report has big implications.

We all know the bad news about Egypt’s schools — overcrowded, underfunded, in decay. But we have to stop thinking of education in Egypt as being in unstoppable decline, and start thinking big.

Solutions are out there. If they’re anything like the ones for healthcare, it will take smart and strategic partnerships between Egypt’s government and civil society. Not to speak of the force behind all transformations — God — and our willingness to let Him guide our work.

This is something Coptic Orphans has given a lot of thought to. With your support, we’ve accumulated decades of experience in supporting kids, both in and out of the classroom. Where lessons can be learned from our experience, we’re ready to step up. The gains that we make will be for the kids, and the benefits will  reach the mothers.

On future Mother’s Days, if we want good news like this for moms and children, we’re going to have to make it happen. It will take partnership, support, and good will from everyone in Egypt and the diaspora who wants to see progress. If it could be done for healthcare, let’s do it for education! 

The Faith We Have in Common With Those About to Die

A ship overloaded with migrants drifts in the Mediterranean. Photograph: Italian Navy/AP
A ship overloaded with migrants drifts in the Mediterranean. Photo: Italian Navy/AP

Flying over the Mediterranean this week, it was hard to forget the sight of the 21 martyrs’ blood mixing with the sea as they gave up their souls to Christ.

During this Feast of the Resurrection, I was struck by another sea image. It was one of a boat, which I saw with this headline: “Record number of migrants expected to drown in Mediterranean this year.”

Nearly 500 people have drowned already, I learned, trying to reach a dream of work and safety in Europe. Thousands more will die as 2015 goes by.

Later, I came across another article — this one by a researcher who says Copts and other Christians are among the unlucky people who attempt this dangerous journey.

Reading both articles, I was struck by how the sea, already red with our blood, could turn redder. And I understood what I have in common, besides our faith, with those about to die:

My family, too, journeyed across the sea.

The journeys weren’t the same. Not at all. By God’s grace, my family didn’t travel in an overcrowded boat that capsized. We didn’t struggle with choking waves that finally closed over our mouths.

We flew. We passed over the water. Perhaps your family’s story is the same.

So when I read that a record number of precious human lives will disappear into the sea this year, and contemplate the fact that Copts may be among them, I’m haunted by this question:

Did we do everything we could to save them?

It’s not an unfamiliar question to me. In response to a deep, aching need to be able to answer such questions “yes,” I founded Coptic Orphans over 25 years ago.

And I wrote, not long ago, that desperation is driving millions of Egyptians abroad to earn a living for their loved ones. This new Exodus is born of a lack of bread to fill a hungry child’s stomach.

It’s a crime that these Egyptian men end up dead, because they aren’t lucky enough or wealthy enough to secure a visa to work abroad, and because they love their families enough to risk their lives.

I wish I had been more aware of the people who are about to drown. And I wish we could use more of God’s gifts to save them.

By that, I mean that there’s more we could do — we who live in the diaspora, surrounded by abundance and success, enjoying lives we owe to Him who spared us from the waves.

What more could we do? To begin with, we can mobilize our diaspora’s wealth. What could our collective millions do if invested wisely in Egypt’s development? We could be fueling for-profit enterprises that create jobs and non-profit projects to improve education. In the long term, our engagement would enable many fathers and sons to choose life at home, rather than death abroad.

We could also recognize that we ourselves benefit from taking part in Egypt’s development. We could be taking service trips to Egypt — trips that not only help transform communities, but also reconnect us and our children with our Church and our rich heritage.

Yet, all across Egypt, more work remains. The same people who will drown this year are the same people who await our extended hand. Will we reach out to capable, hard-working Egyptians before they’re drowning?

Or will we continue as things are now: Our brothers and sisters in Christ sinking in the water, as we watch from the safety of the shore?

“If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” — I Corinthians 12: 26,27

Beaten to Death for Not Doing His Homework

No child should fear violence, much less death, while trying to learn.
No child should fear violence, much less death, while trying to learn. Coptic Orphans participants like this boy are treated with dignity.

Who was Islam Sharif, and what does his death mean for Coptic Orphans?

We know little about him, except that he died after a severe beating from his teacher. He was punished for not doing his homework. He passed away on Sunday in Cairo, at 12 years old, of a brain hemorrhage.

What does his death mean to Coptic Orphans?

First, we mourn the death of a unique human being, who was God’s creation. No child deserves to die in this way.

Second, we hear the crashing alarm bell set off by his death. It tells us to work harder to protect and educate the children in our programs.

His death particularly concerns us because education is central to everything we do, together with you, to support children’s transformation into well-rounded and self-sufficient adults. This process of transformation requires something different from the traditional charity approach of handing out money, which only creates dependency. Education, as many studies confirm, is the real key to breaking the cycle of poverty.

So when we are confronted by a school system in which a boy can be beaten to death by his teacher, what are we to do? Surrender?

In reality, I believe we’re morally bound to do three things. The first is to never give up. Our children are brave and smart, and we can’t leave them to fight alone, even when we hear this kind of grim news.

The second is to be a voice for a fair, safe, and effective school system. That means, in our talks with officials, that we present policy options and argue for education reform. And not only for reforms that would put Copts on better and fairer footing, but for changes that would benefit all Egyptians.

The third is to spread our model of advocacy and mentoring to as many children as possible. A child alone in the system is more vulnerable than a child with an advocate to lean on for support.

This is where our more than 400 Church-based volunteer “Reps” make a huge difference. They listen carefully to each widow and her children, provide them with access to resources such as tutoring, tuition, and school supplies, and intervene on the child’s behalf with school authorities when needed.

I can’t say for sure what would happen if a Coptic Orphans child was stuck with a teacher with violent tendencies, like the one who beat Islam Sharif to death. I can say with confidence that our mentoring teaches the child to have a sense of self-worth and to speak up. In Islam Sharif’s shoes, one of our kids might very well have talked to his Rep, who in turn would have demanded that school officials take action against the teacher.

This is the kind of protection we strive to provide to our kids. On a day of sad, sad, news for Islam Sharif’s family, and for all of Egypt, I pray that someday we’ll have schools where no child loses their life.