Category Archives: Issues That Impact Children in Egypt

What Do Moms Want? This Mother’s Day, It’s Valuable Daughters

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The Valuable Girl Project’s effects reach beyond the girls to their families.

“Can we do anything to make sure the Valuable Girl Project continues?” a group of mothers recently asked us.

The mothers, whose daughters take part in Big Sister-Little Sister mentoring at our site in Sohag, said they’d seen remarkable changes in their girls. They wanted to help keep those changes going.

For Egypt, which doesn’t have (to put it politely) the strongest traditions of women’s empowerment or civil society, this was something striking. The mothers’ offer to help also highlighted something that we don’t talk about much — the wider effects of the Valuable Girl Project.

Most of what we describe to supporters is the project’s core: Meeting young women’s needs for education and skills, nurturing their sense of self-worth, encouraging them to steer clear of harmful traditions such as FGM and early marriage, and offering them safe spaces to interact in an atmosphere of religious tolerance.

But the project’s effects radiate outwards beyond the girls, and no one feels the benefits more strongly than mothers.

For example, we regularly survey participants, who range in age from 7 to 22. Nearly all report that their lives have changed because of the project, citing a greater belief in their own sense of responsibility, discipline, punctuality, self-confidence, and study skills.

What mother doesn’t want her daughter to become more responsible, confident, self-disciplined, and studious? It’s traits like these that the mothers in Sohag said they were noticing in their daughters.

But as important as these personal traits and skills are, the project also has tangible benefits for each family’s bottom line.

For example, any mother who’s struggled with bureaucracy knows the value of having paperwork in order. In places like Egypt, a lack of this stamp or that document can create immovable roadblocks to basic rights and government services. And too often, poverty, discrimination, and other obstacles prevent “our” girls from obtaining a government identity card.

The Valuable Girl Project educates and advocates for young women as they navigate Egypt’s maze of red tape. By the end of their first year of participating in the project, nearly 30% more “Big Sisters” have government identity cards — the key to unlocking significant rights and services.

In other words, mothers of Valuable Girl Project participants can see their daughters grow in maturity, confidence, and skills, while making progress in securing their rights and resources.

That’s a combination of benefits that’s hard to come by in Egyptian society, and one we’re excited to provide through the Valuable Girl Project. And, with Mother’s Day fast approaching, it’s worth remembering that these valuable girls are also valuable daughters.

We salute the strong mothers of our participants, and we’re grateful for their offer to help the Valuable Girl Project keep building and succeeding!

What the Media Needs to Know About Reporting on the Middle East

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Speaking at National Press Club event on March 18, 2015 in Washington, D.C.

 

Dear Friends,
Today, I’d like to share my statement at the panel discussion on “Sensitivity Rather than Sensationalism: Western Media Coverage of Human Rights and Religious Issues in the Middle East,” which took place on March 18, 2015 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The event was organized by In Defense of Christians, on whose board I serve. It was an honor to participate alongside H.G. Bishop Angaelos and other eminent speakers.
— Nermien

 

I’d like to thank the organizers of this event, In Defense of Christians, for bringing us together for this productive conversation.

I feel my co-panelists have already shed important light on how Western media coverage of human rights and religious issues in the Middle East must be done with sensitivity rather than sensationalism.

The perspective that I’d like to add today comes out of experience with working “on the ground” in the Middle East, engaged in humanitarian aid, education, and development projects.

My goal for providing that perspective is to help our friends in the media understand how, together, we can do more to build the peace and prosperity that we all want for the region.

As my colleagues have touched on, minority religious groups are an important part of the Middle East’s social fabric.

To take Christians as an example, we are carrying on Christ’s example of educating and healing through our networks of schools, hospitals, and non-governmental organizations.

These institutions play a key role in maintaining social harmony. This role is often under-reported in the Western media. I’d like to give you an example from Egypt, where the Christian nuns called the Sisters of Maadi treat 200,000 needy people each year in Cairo. 90 percent of those treated are Muslims. As you can imagine, this has a huge affect on interfaith relations at the grassroots, where it counts, and where other actors often struggle to have an effect.

Coptic Orphans is one of those non-governmental organizations, serving nearly 10,000 Egyptian children and their families and communities. We work through church volunteers in their own communities.

We are among the people “on the ground.” We work in many religiously mixed neighborhoods. When there’s tension, the solutions in these neighborhoods are not always as black-and-white as they might appear to outsiders.

So in many cases, it’s critically important to us that the media refrain from screaming headlines and reporting that doesn’t give the full context of a story.

Why? When reporters don’t present the facts of an issue in a sober, straightforward way, it can create the climate for violence. It puts our staff and the people we serve at risk.

This is especially true as the world becomes more interconnected. The Internet makes it harder and harder to distinguish between a “Western” and a “non-Western” media.

The most violent images and videos cross the world at light speed. Texts are mistranslated and misquoted. Social media platforms offer torrents of misinformation.

In this context, the most important thing the media can do is help people distinguish between sensationalism and reality. They can do this by reporting more on minority faith communities, especially our efforts to build bridges with our neighbors, before a crisis erupts.

Every day, there are a thousand good stories to tell about the work of our schools, hospitals, and aid groups in the Middle East. Telling those stories before a crisis will help people on all sides screen out the sensational and focus on the beneficial.

Coptic Orphans’ experience on the ground is that the more people learn about their neighbors, the less fearful they are, and less prone to extremism. The media can crush that positive tendency with sensationalism, or nurture it by covering the good work being done in communities.

After all, what’s going to be more beneficial to people in the Middle East? Sensational reminders of religious differences, or sensible reminders of good-faith efforts to fight poverty, hunger, and disease?

In closing, I would observe that it’s tempting to focus the TV camera on extremists. Those extremists exist in every community, and they will always be willing to say something outrageous on camera.

But the media’s role should be to cover people of all faiths, in every country, who are working for better relations with their neighbors.

That kind of sensitivity, not sensationalism, will truly benefit all people in the Middle East.

If you care about this topic, please see How Can We Defend Christians? (a speech at the inaugural summit of In Defense of Christians), as well as Copts Are Targets. Here’s How We Are Protecting Them (regarding efforts to secure the homes of orphaned Christians in Egypt) and What Could We Have Done to Save the 21? A Lot More (on the subject of the Christian martyrs in Libya).

Beaten to Death for Not Doing His Homework

No child should fear violence, much less death, while trying to learn.
No child should fear violence, much less death, while trying to learn. Coptic Orphans participants like this boy are treated with dignity.

Who was Islam Sharif, and what does his death mean for Coptic Orphans?

We know little about him, except that he died after a severe beating from his teacher. He was punished for not doing his homework. He passed away on Sunday in Cairo, at 12 years old, of a brain hemorrhage.

What does his death mean to Coptic Orphans?

First, we mourn the death of a unique human being, who was God’s creation. No child deserves to die in this way.

Second, we hear the crashing alarm bell set off by his death. It tells us to work harder to protect and educate the children in our programs.

His death particularly concerns us because education is central to everything we do, together with you, to support children’s transformation into well-rounded and self-sufficient adults. This process of transformation requires something different from the traditional charity approach of handing out money, which only creates dependency. Education, as many studies confirm, is the real key to breaking the cycle of poverty.

So when we are confronted by a school system in which a boy can be beaten to death by his teacher, what are we to do? Surrender?

In reality, I believe we’re morally bound to do three things. The first is to never give up. Our children are brave and smart, and we can’t leave them to fight alone, even when we hear this kind of grim news.

The second is to be a voice for a fair, safe, and effective school system. That means, in our talks with officials, that we present policy options and argue for education reform. And not only for reforms that would put Copts on better and fairer footing, but for changes that would benefit all Egyptians.

The third is to spread our model of advocacy and mentoring to as many children as possible. A child alone in the system is more vulnerable than a child with an advocate to lean on for support.

This is where our more than 400 Church-based volunteer “Reps” make a huge difference. They listen carefully to each widow and her children, provide them with access to resources such as tutoring, tuition, and school supplies, and intervene on the child’s behalf with school authorities when needed.

I can’t say for sure what would happen if a Coptic Orphans child was stuck with a teacher with violent tendencies, like the one who beat Islam Sharif to death. I can say with confidence that our mentoring teaches the child to have a sense of self-worth and to speak up. In Islam Sharif’s shoes, one of our kids might very well have talked to his Rep, who in turn would have demanded that school officials take action against the teacher.

This is the kind of protection we strive to provide to our kids. On a day of sad, sad, news for Islam Sharif’s family, and for all of Egypt, I pray that someday we’ll have schools where no child loses their life.