Category Archives: Issues: The Girl Child

‘My Father Was Amazed at What I Could Do’

Girls who grow up believing in themselves can achieve great things!
Girls who grow up believing in themselves can achieve great things!

What happens when you awaken someone’s understanding of their own rights and self-worth?

Valuable Girl Project coordinators know that awakening, because they’ve seen it on the faces — and heard it in the words — of young women in some of Egypt’s poorest, most tradition-bound villages.

In fact, these awakenings have been happening since 2002, when the project was founded. Then, as now, it was funded by a special pool of donors, separate from other Coptic Orphans programs. It operates from the principle that, in order to truly be the salt of the earth, Christians must be proactive about loving their neighbors, as Christ taught us.

Lara, a Valuable Girl in Luxor, describes her own awakening this way: “I’ve learned that girls and boys are equals, and that there’s no difference between us. I’ve also learned about my rights and duties.”

Awakenings like Lara’s come despite huge obstacles. As she says: “In my village, we have solid customs and traditions that girls shouldn’t finish their education, and we’re not even allowed to go out of the house. Most of the girls in my village can only make it till middle school, and then they’re forced to get married.”

“And then the only thing anyone cares about is that they give birth to boys!” adds Lara, who has now spent over a year as a Big Sister in the project’s mentoring program.

Even more exciting is when these awakenings lead to action, as they have in Lara’s case. Now 22 years old, she has made her point to the doubters.

“I’m older than all my brothers, and I’ve always felt that my father wished I’d been a boy in order to help him farm and be his backbone,” she says. “I was like any other girl — I just used to listen to how he felt about it without doing anything about it!”

After learning of her own equality and rights, Lara says she became more confident.

“I decided to go talk to my father and asked to help him on the farm. His jaw dropped — he didn’t know what to say, and I insisted that he give me a chance to prove myself.”

“I went with him and I drove the tractor, harvested the crops, mowed the field, and even fed the cattle. My father was amazed at what I could do; I’ve practically proved to him that girls are the equal of boys and even better!”

Not content with the horizons of the family farm, Lara has set her sights on higher education. Since finding her own confidence — and her father’s — she has moved on to study graphic design at a local college.

This is how the Valuable Girl Project sets about and succeeds in transforming girls and young women. Involving them in the Big-Little Sister mentoring is only the first step; beyond that are leadership training and coaching that instill even greater confidence and self-worth.

The results become evident in how the girls think of themselves and others.

For example, monitoring the attitudes of the Valuable Girls over time reveals that nearly every one experiences an increased sense of self-efficacy — the belief in their capacity to act and thereby achieve what they want to achieve. Overwhelmingly, they also report increased agreement with the concept that males and females should have equal access to social, economic, and political opportunities.

These changes in attitudes are crucial to transforming not just individual lives, but also communities and societies. As Lara says:

“I’ve proved to my neighbors and other community members that girls are not weak and useless; they’re human beings of equal value and have the same rights and duties.”

Lara and our Valuable Girls are claiming the same rights and opportunities as their fellow citizens. In doing so, they’ll make a better world for their daughters!

Coptic Orphans Canada Office Director Speaks at Int’l Women’s Day Dinner

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Yamaska Valley Optimist Club International Women’s Day Dinner organizers, guests, and honorees. (R to L): Leonore Dudley – YVO President; Connie Barr – YVO honoree; Manal Bedwany – Keynote speaker; Shelley Judge – YVO honoree; Lindsay Tuer – YVO honoree; Ilze Epners – YVO chapter founder and event coordinator.

Manal Bedwany, the director of Coptic Orphans’ Canada office, was the guest speaker for the International Women’s Day Dinner of the Yamaska Valley Optimist Club (YVO) this Saturday, March 12. The event was held in the beautiful town of Knowlton, Quebec at the Lac Brome Community Centre.

“It was a great privilege to share the stage with the courageous women who were honoured by the YVO at their annual dinner,” said Manal. “I was grateful to have the opportunity to speak on the struggles that women, particularly girls and young women, face in the Middle East and beyond.”

“We were so honoured to have you as a guest speaker. Our young ladies certainly realized how fortunate they are…” llze Epners, founder the YVO chapter and coordinator of the event, said after the dinner.

Optimists Program

Funds raised at the event will support the club’s activities for local youth.

“I’m glad to have had a part in raising money for such an important cause,” Manal said. “As women, and leaders in our communities, we have a role to play in addressing human needs here in Canada, and wherever else in the world our talents and relationships give us the ability to make a difference.”

When Preparations Replace Desperation

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Mothers and daughters can both benefit from Coptic Orphans programs.

“B’edaya has had a big impact on my life; it makes me feel that I’m not a burden on my kids, and I’m able to manage my household finances and prepare for my daughter’s marriage.”

When Shereen, a budding small businesswoman and micro-loan recipient, said these words to our staff, what stood out was her mention of preparing for her daughter’s marriage.

As we look ahead to launching a new round of micro-loans in March though our B’edaya microfinance initiative, I’m struck by how Shereen’s words show that just a bit of capital can change the life of a female entrepreneur. Her family members also feel the positive impact, with potentially life-changing results.

Her observation particularly sticks in my mind because, with economic hardships rising sharply in Egypt, Coptic Orphans field staff have noticed a serious increase in young girls being married off early. They usually end up in that situation because families – particularly those without male heads of household, whom this project serves – can’t cope with feeding “extra” mouths.

Early marriage, as anyone who’s familiar with it knows, can devastate the life of a child. The repercussions for a girl’s health, education, economic security, and happiness can be impossible to overcome.

As just one example of early marriage’s traumatic outcomes, a 2014 study by the American University in Cairo’s Social Research Center, in partnership with the Ford Foundation, found that 27% of women who were married before they turned 18 had been physically abused by their husbands.  

So the ability to prepare for a daughter’s marriage, as Shereen points to with pride, is hugely important.  

Widowed mothers who are able to start or build up their small business with micro-loans are able to do something that’s almost impossible without financial stability: prepare for the future.  In Shereen’s case, that translates into being able to get ready for her daughter’s marriage, rather than being pushed headlong into arrangements that her whole family may later regret.

These are the kinds of results we count on from the micro-loans. As important as they are to filling stomachs with food and bank accounts with savings, the biggest changes often become apparent over time. The girl who doesn’t get forced into early marriage, the mother who feels her own self-worth — those are the real payoffs.  

We’ve had fantastic applications for the upcoming round of this project, and we plan to disburse these 0% interest micro-loans to coincide with Mothers Day and International Women’s Day in March. I look forward to sharing details of some of the new business projects we’ll be supporting in the months ahead.

For now, we’re grateful for your support, and we continue to count on it to achieve the results Shereen speaks of. We believe in mothers who can prepare for the future, and in freeing young girls from early marriage!