Category Archives: Issues That Impact Children in Egypt

‘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 Launches B’edaya Microfinance Initiative Round III

Bedaya ceremony
Widows celebrate receiving their B’edaya microfinance loan packages at a private ceremony in Luxor.

I’m excited to share this news with the whole Coptic Orphans family: Round III of the B’edaya microfinance initiative for mothers has officially launched!

Coptic Orphans recently held ceremonies around Egypt honoring the 42 widowed mothers who will receive LE243,500 (US$27,400) in microloans for income-generating projects.

These mothers are heroes to all of us at Coptic Orphans, and by God’s grace, we’re honored to provide them with both microloans and coaching in entrepreneurial skills to develop their inborn perseverance, ingenuity, and business-savvy.

An Egyptian woman who wants to start a business faces barriers that would make Donald Trump cry. But Egypt’s widows face even huger challenges. How they dress, who they talk to, where they go — all of these are subject to scrutiny and control based on tradition. Frequently, they can’t even leave the house to work, even if their children are malnourished.

It’s exactly these hostile conditions that B’edaya is designed to handle — the everyday life of some of the most disadvantaged widows in Egypt, particularly those in remote villages. It tailors small loans to the needs of the mothers of orphans. The aim is to give them an opportunity to generate income, more ability to feed their children, and more control of their lives.

The 42 mothers were selected from among a pool of 143 widows whose children are enrolled in Coptic Orphans’ education-focused Not Alone program. Seven of the mothers are receiving B’edaya loans for the second time, after running and expanding their income-generating projects, and one is receiving a loan for the third time.

“When my husband died, I felt alone and helpless. I was about to sell his photography studio, because according to the traditions in my village, as a widow, I can’t run the business and deal with the public,” one B’edaya client from Kom El Dab’, Menoufeya said at the ceremony.

“After I enrolled my kids with Not Alone, Coptic Orphans representatives encouraged me not to sell the business, but instead to stand up for my right to work and raise my kids with pride and dignity,” she said. “So I re-opened the studio and ran the business to ensure a dignified life for my kids. With this new loan, I’m going to buy a digital camera so I can photograph weddings, which is very profitable in our area.”

Coptic Orphans launched B’edaya Round III in March, in order to honor International Women’s Day (March 8) and Egypt’s Mother’s Day (March 21), with the following three ceremonies:

• Ma3adi, March 4, to honor 12 mothers from Lower Egypt and Greater Cairo
• Bani Mazar, Minya, March 11, to honor 18 mothers from Middle Egypt
• Luxor, March 18, to honor 12 mothers from Upper Egypt

The ceremonies represent the culmination of nine months of preparatory work to ensure proper planning, training, and an effective selection process. At the events, loan recipients received their checks, took part in basic financial training, and were familiarized with additional details about B’edaya. The events also provided an opportunity for the mothers to network, share experiences, and trade contact information. Previous loan recipients appeared onstage to present their advice and experiences to the Round III participants.

“This is my second time taking out a B’edaya loan,” said a client from Ezbet El Nakhl, Cairo. “I started my first project two years ago with a B’edaya loan to sell bedding and bed sheets.”

“Back then, I was so shy and afraid to take the risk, but the Coptic Orphans representative encouraged me and I succeeded in overcoming my fears and establishing a strong network of clients,” she said. “From the income I generated, I was able to pay back my first loan, and renovate my kitchen, bathroom, and living room. This made me feel proud of myself for the first time. I’m taking out the second loan to expand my business by adding the sale of women’s accessories. I’m much better now at marketing and communicating with my customers, so they’ve ask me to sell them these things.”

B’edaya microloans are offered at 0 % interest for 26 months, with the first six months considered a grace period for loan repayment, followed by six equal installments spaced four months apart. The loans disbursed to each recipient vary in size according to the amount requested in the application process, up to a maximum of LE7,000. The amount is also subject to the assessment of the selection committee, which is made up of the Coptic Orphans program management team.

The LE7,000 ceiling is a significant increase compared to Round II, when the total amount of loans dispersed was LE91,000 disbursed to 29 mothers, with a maximum sum of LE4,000 and a 14-month repayment period.

B’edaya Round III encompasses 13 type of projects ranging from selling livestock feed (4), selling groceries (11), selling women’s accessories (2), selling fabrics, bedding, and sheets (1), selling cleaning products (1), raising and selling cattle (5), raising and selling poultry (3), selling machine-sewn products (8) running a photo studio (1), selling upholstery (1), selling shoes and accessories (2), running an ironing service (1), and styling hair (2).

B’edaya Round III activities in 2016 and beyond will include quarterly home visits to the entrepreneurial mother by Coptic Orphans staff and volunteers, who will monitor the progress of the projects and provide regular coaching.

B’edaya shows what we can do when we pull together, as a community, and set our minds on achieving dignity and self-sufficiency — not dependence on charity — for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Children who grow up in a household where B’edaya is working can see their mother in a whole new light, as a creative, hard-working businesswoman. This can make a huge difference for the whole family!

I’ll keep you posted as B’edaya unfolds further. All of us, as the Coptic Orphans family, are grateful to God for the blessing of working alongside these strong, determined mothers. They are role models for their kids! 

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

Winners 02a
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.”