Category Archives: Issues That Impact Children in Egypt

Stop Killing Little Girls! New Campaign Points to Need for Unity in Fight Against FGM

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Participants in Coptic Orphans’ Valuable Girl Project take part in 2007 march in Assiut in memory of FGM victim Bedor Ahmed.

A new campaign to stop female genital mutilation (FGM) in Egypt is adding urgency to our efforts to stop this lethal and barbaric practice.

The government is enlisting doctors and judges in a “National FGM Strategy” with the aim of reducing FGM by 10-15% over the next five years.

At a launch event in Cairo on June 14, officials also unveiled a media campaign to raise public awareness of the dangers of FGM, which still affects over 92% of Egyptian women ages 15-49 who have been married.

It’s a great beginning, and now non-governmental organizations have to step up and fill in where there are gaps.

Why is it crucial for civil society to partner with the government on FGM? I recently heard a story that shows how powerful and lasting the anti-FGM message can be when women hear it in their own community. Just this month, a staff member told me, an anti-FGM workshop that Coptic Orphans organized five years ago actually “saved” one of our children from undergoing this horrible, dangerous experience.

The mother of a little girl in our program took her to a doctor who advised carrying out FGM. The mother refused to listen to him, or her neighbors, simply because of what she heard 5 years ago in the workshop. And she’s just one of over 1,500 mothers and daughters who have been in these workshops and conferences that denounce FGM for the crime it is.

In fact, it’s not too strong to call FGM child abuse, and that’s one reason it’s not surprising that we can rely on the Church for support in this fight. Some of our best workshops have been led by abounas.

Imagine being a mother and hearing from a trusted leader of your own community that FGM is wrong. No wonder the mother I was told about chose to protect her daughter from pain and possibly even dying, as has happened to so many girls subjected to FGM.

When I look to the future, here’s what’s exciting. We have more than 400 Church-based volunteers — the “Reps” who are our backbone in Egypt — who keep up the fight against FGM by advising mothers about its dangers.

Furthermore, we know we’re not the only non-governmental organization that can reach mothers and young women with the anti-FGM message. So it’s exciting to think how civil society and the government could really partner in the next few years to stop FGM.

It’s not that an easy victory is coming. We face powerful opposition. Doctors and other medical “professionals” (to use that term loosely) carry out the vast majority of these mutilations. To make money, they keep these old traditions alive.

If only they cared as much about keeping little girls alive.

Regardless, their time is coming, and we’re proud to bring the fight to them. Let’s look at the new government campaign as one more opportunity to bury FGM.

National Review Interview on Coptic Orphans, Egypt & Christians in the Middle East

NReviewI’m glad to share the news that  Kathryn Jean Lopez, senior fellow at the National Review Institute, recently interviewed me on the situation in Egypt.

This came about because I was fortunate enough to meet her at the March 18, 2015 press event of In Defense of Christians, where I spoke on a panel with H.G. Bishop Angaelos.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online, and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. Below are excerpts from the interview, which ran under the headline “A Coptic Charity Empowers Egypt’s Orphans.” I hope these excerpts encourage you to read the full interview, which covers more topics about Christians in the Middle East.

We touched on the importance of the Middle East’s Christian communities:

LOPEZ: Why must Copts and other Christians continue to exist in the Middle East?

RIAD: From my perspective, we must continue to exist in the Middle East in order to keep bearing witness to Christian love and the message of Jesus in the region of His birth. That, and we need to preserve a tradition of Christianity that dates back to the time of Christ himself. The roots of our faith are precious.

I also had the chance to spotlight some of the incredible work being done by others in Egypt.

One story I’d point to is the Sisters of Maadi … The sisters treat hundreds of thousands of Egyptians in Cairo each year, 90 percent of them Muslim, and they really model Christian love in action to poor people. I’d also point to the Catholic school system in Egypt. Someone should really write a whole book — not even a TV segment, but a whole book — on their role in promoting tolerance and peaceful coexistence in Egypt by educating generations of future leaders. And then there’s the work of Father Dawood Lamey, who inspires many to use their professional skills in the service of holistic village development.

I was grateful to Kathryn Jean Lopez and National Review to have this opportunity, because, as I mentioned in the interview:

It’s important that Westerners understand our role in shaping and defining Christianity, and our determination to be a positive presence in a region of the world where Christians are increasingly threatened.

Great News from Egypt This Mother’s Day

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Love, healthcare, better education… these are things we all pray for for our families on Mother’s Day.

Good news about Egypt is precious these days, so I wanted to share a few wonderful developments that give me a feeling of hope.  

I came across the following news this morning in Save the Children’s new State of the World’s Mothers report, and I thought,  “What a perfect Mother’s Day gift for someone who loves Egypt as much as I do!”

To make a long story short, Egypt still has a long way to go to improve healthcare. But if you’re a mother or child in an urban area, there is extremely good news. The report reveals (emphasis added):

Egypt has made good child survival gains among its most affluent urban residents (47 percent reduction in under-5 mortality between 1995 and 2008) but even better gains for the poorest (66 percent reduction over the same time period). As a result, the poorest urban children in Egypt have gone from being 3.7 times as likely to die before their fifth birthday (in 1995) as the urban best-off to 2.4 times as likely to die (in 2008).

The report (the section on Egypt is a good read — I recommend it) also describes successes in immunizations, family planning, and clean water.

What’s most interesting about this news is that it points to Egypt’s potential to solve problems. For some people, it’s fashionable to talk about Egypt as hopeless. Well, this kind of progress shows that it’s not.

So how did this progress come about? The report asks that question:

How did Cairo achieve success? The city’s remarkable progress is the result of national health system reforms, specialized programs and the persistent efforts of civil society organizations.

I want to bite on that last bit again. Not only does Egypt’s health ministry deserve some long-overdue respect, but some of the thanks for this progress are also due to non-governmental organizations. Partnership!

As you know, here at Coptic Orphans, we see everything through the lens of using education to break the cycle of poverty. So this report has big implications.

We all know the bad news about Egypt’s schools — overcrowded, underfunded, in decay. But we have to stop thinking of education in Egypt as being in unstoppable decline, and start thinking big.

Solutions are out there. If they’re anything like the ones for healthcare, it will take smart and strategic partnerships between Egypt’s government and civil society. Not to speak of the force behind all transformations — God — and our willingness to let Him guide our work.

This is something Coptic Orphans has given a lot of thought to. With your support, we’ve accumulated decades of experience in supporting kids, both in and out of the classroom. Where lessons can be learned from our experience, we’re ready to step up. The gains that we make will be for the kids, and the benefits will  reach the mothers.

On future Mother’s Days, if we want good news like this for moms and children, we’re going to have to make it happen. It will take partnership, support, and good will from everyone in Egypt and the diaspora who wants to see progress. If it could be done for healthcare, let’s do it for education!