Category Archives: Issues That Impact Children in Egypt

Giving Girls Education and Respect: It Works

The Valuable Girl Project creates a safe space for learning.
The Valuable Girl Project creates a safe space for learning.

This time last year, I wouldn’t have expected to be able to deliver an update like this one on the Valuable Girl Project. But here it is:

Not only did Samia get excellent grades, but her Big Sisters improved the literacy rates in her hometown!

You may remember Samia from my blog post “Breaking the Cycle” last November. She’s the kid who entered the Valuable Girl Project with a chip on her shoulder — cursing, stealing, and hitting the other girls.

The project’s Big Sister-Little Sister model, which creates one-to-one mentoring relationships, seemed to do Samia a world of good. She stopped hitting people, learned social skills, and started making friends.

Samia’s transformation, which I mentioned last fall, reached another milestone this summer. During my visit, one of the project coordinators handed me Samia’s report card, which she’d proudly shared with her role models.

“EXCELLENT” grades in Arabic, math, and science!

When I saw those grades, I wondered if Samia’s father knew about this huge achievement. Her dad is behind bars for life, more or less.  Would he be proud that Samia is making progress toward escaping his generation’s cycle of violence and poverty?

Seeing Samia’s grades confirmed for me, once again, that kids from the poorest households (even those where they’re more likely to be hit than hugged) can be transformed by education, love, and respect.

But girls can’t flourish in a community that’s crumbling. That’s why the Valuable Girl Project also aims to be a resource to the cities and villages where it operates.

It’s a good start to provide, as the project does, a safe space for the Big Sisters and Little Sisters to learn together, particularly when the pairs are Christians and Muslims.

But to really have an impact, other effects have to ripple outward from the project’s five sites in Upper and Lower Egypt. This summer, I found out about an exciting way that this aspiration became a reality.

Here’s what happened: The community development association that hosts Samia’s site 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 association approached the project’s Big Sisters, and 18 of them participated in the training. Next, the girls volunteered in a local literacy initiative. Together, they taught reading and writing to 200 kids! A pre- and post- evaluation of the children’s reading skills showed an average improvement of 60%.

It felt good to hear this, knowing that literacy has a huge positive impact on a child’s life chances. Not only that, but the Valuable Girl Project had benefited not just one girl, Samia, but an entire community.

I love that the Valuable Girl Project’s effects are beginning to radiate outward, from individual lives to communities. That’s the power of education and respect. When we give them to girls, they shine!

Here’s another post about these girls and their site: Girls, Tolerance, Pyramids (And Other Wonders of the World)Stay tuned to learn more about the Valuable Girl Project by subscribing to this blog! More updates coming soon.

* Names and identifying details in story are changed to protect the privacy of the young women in the Valuable Girl Project.

Empowering Girls & Strengthening Partners, Tamkeen-Style

 

Tamkeen's young women turn their energy on finding positive solutions to challenges in their community.
Tamkeen’s young women turn their energy to finding positive solutions to challenges facing their own communities.

I’m writing to share exciting news about our work with grassroots community groups in Egypt. This is happening through a new phase of Tamkeen, a Coptic Orphans project that works with these groups to empower young women in some of Egypt’s most remote and impoverished villages.

Minya, Assiut, and Sohag, where Tamkeen is working, are home to 760 of Egypt’s poorest 1,000 villages. Young women in these economically stagnant areas are particularly disadvantaged. Furthermore, they’re largely cut out of the civic engagement and decision-making that might yield valuable resources for overcoming the challenges facing them.

It sounds like a bleak picture, but what might surprise you is the potential of the small community development associations in these young women’s villages. These associations, which are thoroughly familiar with the hardships their villages face, are key to achieving Tamkeen’s three goals: Creating an enabling environment for female school-aged youth to participate in their local communities, improving the communication capacities of local associations for networking and media engagement, and increasing the civic engagement of female youth ages 15-23.

We’ve already seen good results from the first phase of Tamkeen, a USAID-funded project, where these associations made it possible for young women to tackle everything from sexual harassment to urban pollution to illiteracy.

Now, Tamkeen has been reaching out to build capacity in several of the associations with whom we’ve partnered most successfully. Through workshops and other forms of training and coaching, Tamkeen coordinators and external consultants are making sure that these associations have the skills they need to take girls’ civic engagement to the next level.

Aida Abo, who heads Tamkeen in Assiut, said that in the period June 23-28 she trained five different local associations in the villages of Dairout Al Sheirf, Dairout, Manfalout, Alkousia, and Bani Shoukr. The trainings included sessions on financial management, project management, administration, measuring results, advocacy training, networking, and the management of funds.

Upcoming trainings will tackle the interrelated topics of denying children their rights to play and enjoyment, and the issue of children contracting illnesses after swimming in local ponds. One proposed solution for addressing these two issues is collaboration with youth centers in the villages of Manfalout and Dairout to build public swimming pools. This would protect children from schistosomiasis, a chronic disease spread by freshwater snails, while also upholding their rights to play and enjoyment.

It’s exciting to see capacity-building well under way, and to see Tamkeen’s girls and young women getting involved in issues that have a real impact on Egyptians’ health and lives!

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