Category Archives: Approaches to Charity and Development

Egypt as Reality TV Show

Samah, an Egyptian businesswoman, shows off her products on the "set" — her home showroom.
Samah, an Egyptian businesswoman, shows off her products on the “set” — her home showroom.

Some days, in Egypt, you just wish the TV crews were there to record what you’re looking at. Great material for reality shows is everywhere. Who needs the Kardashians when you have real live Egyptians doing the most amazing stuff, often while talking on their cell phone and driving 77 mph?

The most amazing Egyptian I’ve met lately is Samah. She’s perfect for a reality show in the style of The Apprentice, that goopy drama where Donald Trump eliminates his protégés by shouting “You’re fired!” Samah is an up-and-coming businesswoman herself — although she’s a widow raising a young girl, she’s paying her bills by retailing blankets, bathmats, and other household goods.

But really, Samah could have a show of her own — Real Businesswomen of Egypt ? — because she needs no Trump to hire or fire her. She’s doing it her way, with the help of a loan from Coptic Orphans’ B’edaya microfinance initiative.

In fact, the closest person to a Donald Trump in Samah’s life is the Coptic Orphans “rep” who works with her.  Reps, you’ll remember, are the Church-based volunteers who guide and mentor the orphans in our Not Alone program, and who support their mothers in acquiring life skills. This particular rep, whose name is Isis, has been a source of inspiration and coaching for Samah.

From the moment you meet Isis, you know she’s no Trump-style caricature of what a mentor should be. She’s not looking to create a money-making empire;  instead, Isis is all about building strong, faithful, self-sufficient families by serving the Church and “her” orphans. She exudes patience and kindness, qualities she has used to walk Samah through the process of starting her business. She’s also got two other essential ingredients: determination and business savvy.

150206_Samah B'edaya Nermien (1)
“Hilwe! I’ll take 10!” (That’s me on the left.)

With Isis’s help, and lots of hard work, here’s the enterprise that Samah has gotten up and running. After looking around her neighborhood to see what her customers really need, Samah buys a load of household goods from a wholesaler. These, she sells out of her own home, which doubles as a showroom. The income she generates is of enormous benefit to raising her daughter, and allows her to keep them — and her home — in a healthy state. She’s even sewed new curtains for her windows.

Samah, who credits part of her success to good people skills and strong business ethics, is a “graduate” of B’edaya now. She’s paid off her loan, yet she continues to receive income from the business she’s built. It’s steady money — something she can rely on. Not only that, she reports that her income from the business has increased sevenfold since 2010. For B’edaya, that’s right on target, because the goal is to foster family independence and self-reliance.

Things have not always been so rosy, especially in 2004, when Samah’s husband died after five years of battling liver cancer. The illness was emotionally and financially draining; the family spent every pound they had and borrowed more to pay off medical bills. It has taken a long time to get past the initial stages of mourning and recovery.

But handling these challenges, and encouraging a move to family self-sufficiency, is what B’edaya is all about. It’s a microfinance initiative that tailors small no-interest loans to the needs of widows in our Not Alone program, giving them an income, more skills to feed their children, and more control of their lives. In the second round of loans, from the beginning of 2013 through January 2015, B’edaya disbursed US$14,067, with 29 of an initial group of 37 mothers seeing the process through to fruition. The loan recipients are in Sohag, Minya, Alexandria, Monofiyya, and some less well-off areas of Cairo.

When I visited Samah this month, I met her daughter Amira. She’s at the top of her 12th-grade class and doing exceptionally well, with all kinds of honors. She’s well-positioned to be accepted into a competitive university.

“She’s the angel who God has sent me,” Samah tells me.

I have to think: Wouldn’t that be a much better ending for a reality TV show than Donald Trump yelling “You’re fired!”?


More information about B’edaya is available here. You can also check out these “notes from the field” —  “Ambition vs. Tradition: How Egypt’s Widows Are Claiming Their Future, 1 Business at a Time” and “She’s Not on the Cover of Forbes. Yet”

Copts Are Targets. Here’s How We Are Protecting Them

150207_Secure Blog
By the grace of God, and thanks to your efforts, I have good news to share.

As you know, in many areas of Egypt, our brothers and sisters in Christ have been suffering because their unsecured homes offer no protection from a surge in kidnappings and robberies. This lack of safety has left whole families in real danger, and caused everyone — from parents to children — to lose sleep and live in fear.

This is the good news: For 33 families and 82 children, thanks to the efforts of generous donors, there has been real and enormous change. Their homes in Assiut are now secured by strong doors and windows, and new ceiling fans are making it easier for them to sleep indoors, in safety, during the stifling summer nights.

The project to secure these families began in February 2014, at a time when kidnappings, robbery, and other armed violence were common in Egypt. This insecurity persists, and Copts are still prime targets. But as the mother of one of these families told us, “We’re feeling secure now and we can sleep well.”

The project has even had an impact on spiritual life. Many families who had feared leaving home to attend liturgy because of break-ins are returning to the pews. “We’re going to church without being afraid, because we’ve got a good locked door on the house,” one mother told us.

150125_STO Cover for newsletter

I’d like to share with you this report, which gives a detailed description of the transformation that has been achieved through this project. You can download a copy by clicking on the cover above, or here.

As always, thank you for your love and prayers for the children.

4 Surprising Stories About Egypt’s ‘Shy Girls’ — And Their Power to Make Change

Young women work together to tackle community issues with Coptic Orphans' Tamkeen project.
Young women work together to tackle community issues with Coptic Orphans’ Tamkeen project.

“We used to be shy girls who withdrew from participating in community activities and didn’t face our problems — in fact, we were never even aware of our own community’s problems.”

I wanted to share that quote from one of the young women participating in Tamkeen, a Coptic Orphans project that nurtures female voices, especially in rural Egypt.  Tamkeen’s former “shy girls” are doing some incredible things, and that’s why I’m writing to you today.

Tamkeen, which is funded by USAID, operates at four sites in Minya, Sohag, and Assiut. You probably already know that parts of these governorates are hard-hit by poverty. What you might not know is that they have hard-working community development associations.

We’re partnering with these associations. Tamkeen helps them with capacity-building and makes small grants for activities that encourage young women to get involved in their communities.

Young women learn skills such as planning and group decision-making in Tamkeen.
Young women learn skills such as planning and group decision-making in Tamkeen.

I think the young women who are taking part in Tamkeen will earn your respect. Here are four stories of how they’ve put themselves on the line by speaking up:

  1. Sexual harassment is a real problem in Beny Abed in Minya. Through  Coptic Orphans’ local partner, the Institute for Comprehensive Humanitarian Development, the young women there decided to launch an awareness-raising initiative among young people and community members. Their initiative resulted in the formation of a committee of several dozen young men and women who agreed to work together to tackle the problem. Local leaders agreed to implement some of the participants’ proposed solutions, and asked them to hold awareness-raising workshops in the local schools and youth center.
  2. In Assiut, a group of young Tamkeen participants not only discussed sexual harassment in public — they presented 90 minutes of songs, videos, and testimony about how they were seeking solutions to social problems. Their presentation reached a much larger group of girls, all of whom had taken part in the project’s workshops and other activities. The combination of music, theater, and story-telling conveyed how they had become active in their communities on issues of mutual concern.
  3. About 60 young women in the village of Nazlet Emara in Sohag, determined to end the blight in their neighborhood, took part in planning and executing a campaign to plant trees at the local school and clean up their area.  The campaign emerged from dialogue on community problems at a civic education training session run by a Coptic Orphans partner, the Horus Association.  Carrying out the campaign required them to get buy-in from local officials, but in the end, they succeeded.  “One of the most important lessons we’ve learned and practiced through Tamkeen is how to make a group decision,” said one of the girls.
  4. In the village of Tahta, a group of girls involved with Coptic Orphans’ partner, Nour El Mostakbal for Sustainable Community Development, held a dialogue to identify “the biggest problem… affecting the whole community.” They singled out ineffective literacy courses as the biggest obstacle to progress in their village. They decided that the best solution to the problem would be to offer better training for teachers in collaboration with the Literacy Classes Department in Tahta. With the encouragement of Tamkeen coordinators, they convinced local education authorities to provide them with a letter of authorization to start implementing their proposed curriculum.
Young women's civic engagement becomes visible with Tamkeen.
Young women’s civic engagement becomes visible with Tamkeen.

After reading these stories, I hope you’re curious about these brave young women. If you want to know more, I invite you to check out our new Tamkeen page. It’s got all the details: Where we’re working, what we’re doing, what the goals are.

It’s a chance to learn more about these real heroes — the “shy girls” who are speaking up for a better future for themselves, their communities, and Egypt!