Category Archives: Diaspora

‘We Don’t Need Fancy Shoes or Phones…’ — Jessica Ayob Reflects on Serve to Learn

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Dear Friends,

A few weeks ago, 25 Serve to Learn volunteers from five different countries came together in Egypt for three weeks to serve, teach, and play with the world’s greatest kids! A lot of things happened during those three weeks… including an epic water fight in a village called El Barsha… but I’d rather let Jessica Ayob — one of the volunteers — tell you what happened that day and what she ended up learning.

— Nermien

Who’s in this photo?

Volunteers from Serve to Learn, some people from the Coptic Orphans office, and a bunch of my kids.

Where was it taken?

This was taken right in front of our classrooms.

What’s happening in the photo?

We had just finished a massive water fight. The kids had no mercy on us and we were completely drenched, water bottles, hoses, and buckets all came out! Kids were running around everywhere pouring tons of water on each other. Never had I seen such a chaotic scene of all the kids smiling and laughing so hard because water was poured on them. After we finally got them to stop, we went upstairs because there was no possible way “Teta” Mina (the local coordinator) was going to let us walk back home drenched. The kids followed and as the picture was taken we all yelled out “Jamoooosaaa” (cow). I think they make fun of me because of how I pronounce it, but whatever makes them happy :)

How did you feel when it was taken?

For some reason, I felt so proud of them. No matter what happens to them or what they’re going through, God’s light shines so brightly through them.

Why do you want to remember this moment?

I need to remember this picture because I have to remind myself of the simple little things that make the world go round.

If you could help people understand one thing with this photo, what would it be?

We don’t need fancy shoes or phones. We just need a couple of crazy kids yelling out “cow” to be happy.

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

If this “a picture is worth a 1,000 words” blog makes you want to read other Serve to Learn stories, here are Pheobe Azer‘s and Ryan Wasson‘s. 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 Nadine RoffaellPeter Wassef and Mary Loka.  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

The Libya Martyrs’ Children: An Update on the Difference You’re Making

The 21 martyrs of Libya. Icon written by Tony Rezk.
The 21 martyrs of Libya. Icon written by Tony Rezk.

I’m writing to update you on Coptic Orphans’ support for the children of the 21 martyrs in Libya.

This story actually begins 16 years ago, when we met with H.G. Bishop Pevnotios. Most of the Libya martyrs’ children weren’t even alive then. But today, you will find nearly all of them in His Grace’s diocese in Samalout.

That day 16 years ago, by God’s grace and with your partnership, a seed was planted. His Grace agreed that we would work in his diocese, and he recommended Church-based volunteers to serve as Coptic Orphans Reps.

The Reps worked hard and enrolled more kids. And so, over these past 16 years, we’ve served 1,095 children in Samalout.

Which brings us to today. We have 23 Reps in His Grace’s diocese. Each has relationships of love and mentorship with the orphans who are “their” kids. In regular face-to-face visits, they nurture the kids’ character and talents — and above all, their education.

These Reps know Samalout, they’re trained as a team, and they know that people like you are behind them with support and prayers. Their 16 years of service are just the beginning.

Promoting literacy and love of reading at a Coptic Orphans event in Samalout.
Promoting literacy and a love of reading at a Coptic Orphans event in Samalout.

In other words, the seed that was planted 16 years ago, with God’s help, has grown into a tree with branches strong enough to support the Libya martyrs’ children.

With this strong structure in place, we were able to begin investigating the kids’ needs immediately after the massacre. We learned that 10 of the martyrs had left behind a total of 19 children. Of the 19, two live in Mattay and 17 in Samalout. We decided to focus our energies on Samalout, where our strengths and nearly all the kids are.

We spent a lot of time carefully looking at the children and their situations. And because we’re committed to accountability and transparency, I’m reporting what we’ve learned to you.

We discovered that all of the families, by God’s grace, are benefitting from great generosity. Churches, businesspeople, individuals, and other services have supplemented strong support from the Egyptian government. These families now actually have a lot of resources, especially in the short term, even divided among many family members, that will help meet their day-to-day needs. Much of what has been donated from these sources must be shared among the deceased’s wife, his children, his parents, and his unmarried siblings.

We’re grateful that God touched the hearts of so many people and made this outpouring possible. We also know that these children’s needs will continue — and even grow — in the 4, 8, even 10 or more years before they reach adulthood.

That knowledge forced us to do some soul-searching. You, the Coptic Orphans family, decided to sustain the martyrs’ children by donating US$91,902. For a child who is in our program for a normal amount of time, for example, about 8 years, that’s US$676 a year — not a huge amount, but very significant, for Egypt. And clearly these kids are a special case. We couldn’t have anticipated it, but now they’re not “low income” — a prerequisite for being in our program.

We’d committed to standing with these children. But what did they need us for now, with all this money? We studied, discussed, argued, and decided on enrolling them in our program anyway.

To explain why, I need to tell you about a rich woman who approached us, years ago. She was taking care of her two orphaned nephews. She gave them everything, but something was wrong. Compared to other orphans in her area — kids in our program — her nephews were troubled and undisciplined.

She came to us and said, “I want you to enroll my nephews in your program. You don’t have to spend anything on them; I’ll pay for everything. I just want them to have what the other kids in your program are getting. I want them to have the love, the guidance, so they grow up to be healthy people.”

We’ve heard this before, and it echoes what we believe the Coptic Orphans family is really about. Meeting basic needs should be a given. With your partnership, we do that.

But what’s really valuable — and transforming — is the Reps’ work to mentor the child, promote their self-discipline and resilience, instill a strong work ethic, and support their education. That’s real long-term development, not charity.

Therefore, there is a long road ahead with the martyrs’ children in Samalout. Our Reps will give each one the love and mentoring they need. Their families will also receive the wider support we offer to all of the program’s families, such as workshops to help widows manage their finances, and to empower them to support their children. But in terms of your donations, we’ll focus on what we do best: Education.

How that looks will depend on each child. But all of them will need the tutoring that Egypt’s decaying school system has made indispensable. All will need constant guidance that education, not a pension, is the road to independence. Some will advance to university, and we’ll support them by paying tuition and fees.

We’ll only know the final results of these efforts when these children grow up. The seed planted 16 years ago, in the meeting with H.G. Bishop Pevnotios, is still growing.

But however this turns out, the Coptic Orphans family will have done everything possible to make sure that the children of the Libya martyrs are loved, supported, mentored, and educated.  Thank you for partnering with us, with God at the center.

Related Posts:

What Could We Have Done to Save the 21? A Lot More
Act Now to Prevent More Massacres
The Copts Martyred in Libya – How You Can Help
Remembering the Children Who Lost Their Fathers in Libya
Charleston and Samalout: The Connection That Surprises the World

Charleston and Samalout: The Connection That Surprises the World

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Yesterday, an intolerant, hate-filled extremist murdered nine Christians — most of them women — as they prayed in their church. Our prayers are with them and their families.

It happened in Charleston, South Carolina. But as a Copt, I had to think: “Sounds too familiar.”

From Alexandria to Libya, we, too, are targeted by terrorists for being different. Our loved ones, too — sometimes the youngest — come home in coffins.

But here’s what amazes me. The most important thing about what happened in Charleston — and what connects families there to families in places like Samalout who lost loved ones in Libya — is not the crime.

The most important thing, and what is amazing about our faith, is forgiveness.

The entire world sat up in shock when family members of the Copts killed in Libya said: We forgive.

“Who are these people?” they asked. “Are they crazy?”

No… Christians.

By forgiving the ISIS killers, the families of the Libya martyrs honored the belief in forgiveness that is central to Christ’s teachings. And as H.G. Bishop Angaelos made clear after the massacre:

“As Christians, we remain committed to our initial instinct following the murder of our 21 Coptic brothers in Libya, that it is not only for our own good, but indeed our duty to ourselves, the world, and even those who see themselves as our enemies, to forgive and pray for the perpetrators of this and similar crimes. We pray for these men and women, self-confessed religious people, that they may be reminded of the sacred and precious nature of every life created by God.”

When I heard the news from Charleston yesterday, I was dragged down by the same sadness and shock as everyone. But I was floored when I heard the son of one of the murdered women say this about the killer:

“We forgive him for what he’s done, and there’s nothing but love from our side of the family.”

I am grateful beyond words to that young man. He reminded me that we are truly One Body in Christ.

We are so blessed to know love, not terror, and forgiveness, not fear. To a lot of the world, this can be surprising. But this is what I feel connects us, as Christians, from Charleston to Samalout.