Category Archives: Diaspora

Coptic Orphans Founder Nermien Riad Wins Leadership Award from ADC Women’s Empowerment Forum

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His Excellency, Ambassador Yasser Reda and Coptic Orphans Executive Director Nermien Riad at ADC Women’s Empowerment Forum, March 16, 2016.

Dear Friends,

I was deeply honored to accept the Women’s Leadership Award from the ADC‘s Women’s Empowerment Forum. I was able to deliver the keynote speech (below) on March 16 at the Egyptian Embassy in Washington, D.C. and receive the award along with a wonderful group of committed leaders. I’m grateful to God that Coptic Orphans has reached this point, and to every one of you, who have supported and made possible this exciting journey for the children!

One Body in Christ,
Nermien

It is a great honor to accept this award from the ADC Women’s Empowerment Forum.
In truth, I stand here today on behalf of thousands of heroic women — and men — in Egypt and beyond, who have dedicated their lives to our shared vision of a tolerant, and just world.

I am grateful to our hosts, His Excellency, Ambassador Yasser Reda, and Mr. Ayman Youssef, for putting forth the incredible effort to make this annual event what it is: a powerful forum from which we can celebrate our community’s achievements, heritage, and progress. A special thanks to Ambassador Reda for facilitating Coptic Orphans’ International Registration Renewal. We were just notified of it yesterday, so thank you.
I want to thank the WEF for honoring and highlighting the work of these amazing women here: Dr. Soad Bin Amer, The Hon. Dr. Mariann Azer, The Hon. Dalia Yousef, Ms. Laura Rozen — you make us all very proud.

For my part, let me accept this award with deep thanks to the ADC and Dr. Doaa Taha, chairwoman of the Forum, and pause to lift up the thousands of women, young and old, who, by God’s grace, are truly the reason I can take this stage tonight.

I am speaking of the women of Egypt, without whom Coptic Orphans, the organization I founded 27 years ago, would have quickly vanished into obscurity.

Those of you in the audience tonight, honored guests of the ADC, will recognize these women, because your own countries, your own communities, your own civil societies, also owe so much to these heroes:

First, the mothers. Coptic Orphans, as a unique Christian development organization, works to keep families together after the loss of a father. When tragedy strikes, it’s the mother who has to carry the tremendous burden on her shoulders. We support them in many ways, but they are the real heroes.

Second, community volunteers, who for us number over 450 and cover more than 700 towns and villages. A good half of them are women, and together with their male colleagues, they have moved Heaven and Earth by loving and mentoring the over 40,000 children we’ve reached in these 27 years. We owe the world to them, and in them, we see the spirit of volunteerism that transforms lives.

Third, girls and young women. The unsung heroes. Let’s stop for a moment and reflect on the obstacles that stand between these girls and young women, and the future they deserve. For one thing, they contend from birth with a patriarchal culture that is so deeply embedded that their very being female is considered flawed and inferior. The birth of a girl is at times occasion for mourning. Then there’s early marriage. One of our field staff went into a home in Maghagha to enroll a new family, and he found a 16-year-old girl, a toddler, and an infant. He asked the teenager: “Where’s Mama?” She replied, “I am Mama.”
He told me: “I was so taken aback — I didn’t know whether to deal with her as a child or as a widow.”

We can’t forget the brutal practice of FGM. Yes prevalence rates are decreasing, they are down to 91%, and all indications say that it will continue to decrease; but there are still places like Armant, a village not far from Luxor, where I was just last month, where the rate still stands at 100%.

All this translates into countless barriers, both visible and invisible, to a women’s attempt to better her life.

Nowhere is this more visible than in education. Entering into the school system, for girls in the Arab world, could fairly be compared to entering the arena for single combat. Or, more accurately, a combat of one against a legion of foes. We all know who gets called on in class, who is channeled into what area of studies, who is favored with scholarships and other opportunities. We all know who is blamed and held back, and who is shamed for “unwomanly” assertiveness simply for claiming her own rights. We all know, in short, that it is only through heroic determination, and extraordinary good fortune, that a girl can grow to be a well-educated woman and leader in the Arab world.

This, then, is the reason Coptic Orphans focuses on quality education: no single factor is more powerful in liberating women, and especially poor women, from the bonds into which they are born — than a solid education.

Can these obstacles be overcome? Can a difference be made? Yes, absolutely.
I’ll give you a sneak preview of how it’s already changing for the better, through the Valuable Girl Project.

So far, over 6,800 girls and young women have learned leadership and teamwork skills through the Valuable Girl Project, and we’re ramping up for 2016 to add 1,500 more girls. Not only has this resulted in remarkable improvement in academics, but it has changed the way the girl sees her self — as one who can improve the world around her.

Last year, the community development association that hosts the Valuable Girl Project in Sohag discovered that many students in the area couldn’t read or write, despite being enrolled in school. In response, they organized a special training program in literacy tutoring skills. The girls came together and volunteered to teach reading and writing to the village kids. Today, in the village of Hawawish, over 200 kids now know how to read and write because of these girls. You can just imagine how these girls felt about themselves.

So what’s the secret of the success? It’s quite simple.

It’s a new and unique approach to international development. Mothers, children, volunteers, staff, donors… what we are witnessing, in our age, is how an organization like Coptic Orphans — with feet planted firmly in both Egypt and abroad — in the diaspora — is making genuine, positive, lasting change in the motherland. This is known as a diaspora organization — one whose sole reason for existence is the homeland, and the homeland alone.

Diaspora organizations involve patriotic diasporians and bring together international and local expertise with funds that are raised abroad, all for the sake of tackling urgent issues in the homeland.

Such organizations offer the best of both words: local in-country knowledge, and international access.

So, a Diaspora organization is one part of the answer. The other is the passion and initiatives of every person in this room. You care, and you care deeply. The good book says “Seek justice. Defend the oppressed, plead the widow’s cause”. And this is what you do. Each and every one of you: Soad, Laura, Marianne, Dalia, Doaa… the ADC — you — plead the case of the oppressed — and this is powerful!

So I’m very grateful to stand here tonight, accepting this award for Coptic Orphans, and I’m humbled to be standing among giants. I am confident that we will make this a world of heroic and empowered women who will, in turn, lift up every man, women and child. Thank you.

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!”

‘I Can Do All Things Through Christ Who Strengthens Me’ — Andero Morgos Enters 10K London Run for Coptic Orphans!

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Dear Friends,
It’s always a huge source of encouragement when someone spontaneously dedicates a sponsored run or similar event to Coptic Orphans. So it was great to hear from Andero Morgos, our friend in the UK, that he was taking part in the Nov. 15 Vitality WestRun London 10k. We’re grateful for his love for the children of Egypt… and I managed to catch up with him for the interview below!
— Nermien

PS Please support Andero’s commitment to the kids by making a contribution to his Indiegogo campaign!

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What convinced you to run the Vitality WestRun London 10k in support of Coptic Orphans?

I have previously done four 5k, a 10k and a 1-half marathon run for local charities and one major charity being Cancer Research UK. At the moment the plan is to run alone, but I’m trying to get friends involved as I previously have done.

How long have you been training for this event, and how?

I run regularly and always try and keep fit but have been pushing myself in the last 3-4 weeks in training for this run and to keep up with my previous finishing times.

What experiences have you had in Egypt or elsewhere that make you want to connect your life with the lives of kids in Egypt?

I’ve seen and heard of a lot of the work that Coptic Orphans does and have always been interested in serving. I have done this before in Kenya and in Egypt with a charity that is based in my church at St. Mary and St. Abraam Orthodox Church in Brighton, England called A.C.T.I.O.N ( “Act Charitably Towards Incapable Other Nations”) and decided by the Grace of God I’d like to support this charity in a way that I can and enjoy and that is by dedicating a sponsored run to this charity.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about doing what you’re doing?

GO FOR IT! Don’t hesitate and push yourself to do it! Easier said than done, but going by the verse which said “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” never let anyone hold you back or make you doubt your abilities. It could be your first run or one in many but always keep the thought that you are doing this for a purpose and as a service to people who aren’t as fortunate you.
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