Category Archives: Issues That Impact Children in Egypt

‘Stop Killing Egyptian Girls!’ Said the Court. After This Victory, What’s Next?

Bedor Ahmed: One of too many victims of FGM.
Bedor Ahmed: One of too many victims of FGM.

I awoke yesterday to good news: In Egypt, a doctor was sentenced to prison for carrying out female genital mutilation (FGM) that resulted in a girl’s death. It was a historic moment when the court said, essentially: “Stop killing Egyptian girls! Enough is enough — you’re going to pay the price for causing her death by this barbaric ritual.”

We should all rejoice in this victory for justice. But the joy is weighed down with sadness, and is tied to a determination to fight on, because this victory came too late for so many girls. Let me tell you about one victim of FGM whose life touched Coptic Orphans.

Bedor Ahmed was just a girl when she died — probably too young to even know what was going on. FGM killed her. How she must have felt as she died, I can’t even imagine. Betrayed? Terrified?  Heartbroken?

After Bedor died in 2007, 20 girls from Coptic Orphans’ Valuable Girl Project marched in her memory in Assiut.  With others from the community, including local officials and members of other nonprofits, they marched past the governorate office carrying banners denouncing FGM. At the head of the march was a car with a coffin decorated with flowers and Bedor’s photo.

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Valuable Girl Project participants march in Bedor’s memory, and for their future.

It’s important to march, it’s important to remember the dead. But it’s also important to educate the living. That’s why the march for Bedor was part of a wider campaign by Coptic Orphans to teach mothers, daughters, and community leaders — indeed, all people — about the dangers of FGM.

This kind of campaigning is critically important, because although Egypt banned FGM in 2008, it’s still everywhere.  Government data show that over 90% of Egyptian women under 50 years old have suffered it.

Here’s what we’ve done, by God’s grace and with your support, to combat this evil. To date, over 1,500 mothers and daughters have taken part in workshops and conferences that lay out the dangers of FGM. Both the Valuable Girl Project and the Not Alone program have been key to holding those events. More than that, over 400 church-based volunteers — the “Reps” who are our backbone in Egypt — keep up a constant fight against FGM.

That fight takes many forms. Sometimes it involves spreading the word among community leaders that FGM is disastrous for children’s health. Sometimes it’s as simple — and difficult — as persuading a single mother to refrain from having FGM carried out on her daughter.

We do know that we see results from this work. For the workshops, we’ve brought in clergy and experts whose precise knowledge demolishes the myths of FGM.  In those events, at times, we’ve had dozens of mothers announce that they’ve decided against having FGM performed on their daughters.

At other times, achieving results takes a combination of workshops and hard work by the Reps. One story in Sohag comes to mind: Two little girls in grades 6 and 5 took part in a Coptic Orphans workshop, and afterwards resisted undergoing FGM. They asked their Rep to talk to their mother. He did so, inviting her to attend a seminar on the topic. Following the seminar, the mother declared that she now understood that FGM was wrong, and expressed regret that she had insisted on having it done to three of her other daughters.

Of course, a critical element in all this is the participation of the mothers and girls themselves. It’s powerful when nonprofits and government officials speak up. But that power is multiplied by thousands when Egyptian women and their brothers in Christ take to the streets to proclaim that FGM must be stopped. The deciding factor in eliminating FGM will be when ordinary people echo the court’s decision, saying “Enough is enough!”

And indeed, the “Enough is enough!” sentiment is beginning  to take root. In some areas, the knowledge of FGM’s dangers is seeping into the consciousness of entire communities. As a former Rep, Abouna Botrous, told us last summer: “With the help of Coptic Orphans, I was able to completely overcome some of the harmful village habits, such as female genital mutilation.”

Of course, we are not alone in this. There is a powerful movement among people from all walks of life to eliminate this deadly practice, and members of the Church are playing a key role. As one abouna from Sohag told us, “We’ve managed to eliminate FGM, to a large degree, through the Church’s efforts.”

So we’re making progress. This week’s landmark court decision is a good sign. If Bedor were able to know of the movement that’s building to stop FGM, perhaps she would take comfort. In the meantime, we will keep fighting, because we owe it to her memory. Most of all, we owe it to the girls who we can still save from dying by FGM.

If you would like to learn more about what you can do to stop FGM, please write to us at info@copticorphans.org

‘God’s Presence Infiltrated Life’ — Andrew Awad Recalls Serve to Learn

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His Holiness Pope Tawadros II speaks with Andrew Awad on July 12, 2014, at a special meeting with Serve to Learn volunteers.

Heads up! The last day to apply for the Jan. 16-Feb. 7 Serve to Learn is November 15!

Serve to Learn is a life-changing , three-week trip to Egypt that brings together youth from all over the world to teach loving, inspiring, and adorable children basic English.  Arabic and teaching skills are helpful but not necessary; just be ready for some hard work, lots of love, and to be forever changed!

Today, so you can hear about the program from someone who did it, I’m bringing you an interview with 2014 Serve to Learn volunteer Andy Awad from Houston.

Andy went to the University of Texas at Austin and studied kinesiology and health science. He’s currently in Pittsburgh studying dentistry, and he plans to use his profession “to serve the Lord.” Andy has a “personal conviction of the importance of the lay person in the function of the Body of Christ” that drives his quest for service.

Andy’s thoughts are part of a series of interviews on Serve to Learn, a program we’ve been running for over a decade. Here, in addition, are interviews with volunteers DavidBen, Kirollos, MariamAlex, and Mirelle.

Here’s what Andy had so say about Serve to Learn 2014:

What would you say are the biggest differences between life as an Serve to Learn volunteer and your life back home?

One of the differences I noticed right away is that I was almost never bored. Our schedules were filled and there was rarely a dull moment. However, the main difference I noticed and enjoyed was that there weren’t many distractions and very little to worry about. This was amazing. Back home, there are 100 different things demanding my attention on any given day. When there isn’t, I have 100 different ways to just throw my time away. In Egypt it was different. I had a sense of purpose and God’s presence infiltrated life as I met the humble, loving people of El Barsha.

Did you find any similarities between your family at home and some of the people you saw while you were in Egypt? Did that surprise you?

One difference that I noticed immediately was that their g’s turn to j’s. This took some getting used to and by the end I was definitely more fluent in sa-eedy. The food and sense of humor, however, were the same. Egyptians always find a way to get their daily dose of laughter.

When you tell your friends about your summer, what stories do you tell most? Why?

I tell the stories of meeting Pope Tawadros, swimming in the Nile, el tar, eating mangos, Ansena, and about Akh Jerjes, the painter. Last but not least, I share the story of doing yoga on the rooftop as mohajabeen to scare away some boys spying on the ladies.

What was your favorite thing about the trip?

My favorite part of the trip was meeting the children we taught at their homes. Although, if there was a way to meet all the kids specifically from my class it would have been better. Meeting and connecting with them on a closer level in their homes allowed me to imagine myself in their shoes.

For people unsure about going on Serve to Learn, how would you convince them?

I would tell them this: Serve to Learn was a very enlightening experience. It forced me to reconsider what was important to me, and even helped me to better understand God’s purpose for me here. Also, by the end of the trip my views on Egypt changed drastically. I found it to be a much more beautiful place. Not because of its economy, political turmoil, or corruption, but because of its people and how God worked in them. The memories I made there will definitely last.

You can apply now for Serve to Learn; the November 15 deadline is practically here! Don’t forget that applications for the July 3-25 session are also out! If you still have questions, you can learn more by reading the Serve to Learn FAQ, or by writing to us directly at info@copticorphans.org.

Also, you can watch His Holiness encourage young people to serve the children in Egypt in this video made at one of Coptic Orphans’ recent 25th Anniversary Galas. Lastly, you can check out  the “Top 5 Myths Why You Can’t Take Part in Serve to Learn Debunked.” 

PS  Please go to the top of this post and hit the “Like” button, then share the post, tweet it, email it to everyone you know, print it out and pass it out to five of your friends, and finally, stand in the middle of a busy intersection with a megaphone and shout it out!  

We Talk About ‘Breaking the Cycle’ — These Girls Are Doing It

Valuable Girl Project participants share a laugh during a learning activity in Matay, Upper Egypt.
Valuable Girl Project participants share a laugh during a learning activity in Matay, Upper Egypt.

Paper crowns and graduation caps — bright orange and red, they decorate this airy, sunlit room overlooking the dusty streets of Upper Egypt. Hand-written on each, in black marker with silver flourishes, are the words “Valuable Girl!”

I’m back here in the town of Matay, at this site of the Valuable Girl Project. Here, Big Sisters and Little Sisters ages 7-22 learn together in a safe space. Both Christians and Muslims are paired in these Big-Little mentoring relationships, and at the moment, there’s mayhem as they get set to play a game.

A moment later, though, order is restored. The 20 or so young women and girls get themselves arrayed in a circle, and all eyes are fixed on one young woman, Maryam. She leads the group into a mathematics game, soaking up all their youthful energy in hopping, gesturing, and laughing.

Once the game winds down, Maryam joins me on a balcony to bring me up to speed on the site’s accomplishments and challenges. It’s private there, so she’s able to be frank about some of the more difficult things she’s encountered here in Matay.

As manager of this Valuable Girl Project site, she says, she deals with the hard cases. Not every girl who walks through the door is an angel. But Maryam still has to bring out the best in them.

One young woman comes to mind — Samia. “She used to hit,” says Maryam. Her father, a known criminal, was behind bars for what amounted to life. For her part, Samia seemed to be following in his footsteps, in a cycle of violence and poverty passed from generation to generation.

“She cursed a lot, stole, and was pretty violent,” Maryam says. “She didn’t have any friends.”

As Maryam tells it, she decided to tackle Samia’s problems — but without singling her out for shame. Instead, she did things like involve all of the girls in an activity on the importance of honesty. She gave Samia opportunities to practice not stealing. And she kept Samia close to role models, the kind of teens who would introduce her to healthy behaviors.

In short, a community of sorts was surrounding Samia, perhaps for the first time in her life. The young women of the Valuable Girl Project were opening her eyes to a way out of the cycle she was trapped in.

And these days? Samia’s not an overnight miracle, Maryam observes. There are still times when old habits creep back. But overall, she’s a happier girl, she’s stopped hitting, and she’s holding onto friends.

“The other day, she saw one of the girls return something that had been lost, and get praised for it,” says Maryam. “Not long after, she found 300 Egyptian pounds and brought it to me. I started to thank her, and do you know what she said? ‘Miss, this is my responsibility. I shouldn’t be rewarded for it.'”

It’s not a small thing to break — or even bend — the cycles of violence and poverty that afflict families, in Egypt or anywhere. But I was seeing just that in Matay. Consider Samia’s transformation through the multiplying effect of seven sites and 420 Valuable Girl Project participants, and you’re looking at many lives changed.

Lots of people talk about breaking the cycles of poverty and violence. As I stand there talking to Maryam, I think to myself, I’ve caught a group of young women who are doing it.

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