Category Archives: Serve To Learn

‘These Kids Began to Love Education’ — Phoebe Azer Recalls Serve to Learn Stories

Phoebe Azer’s students linger after class. “These kids never wanted to leave the classroom without us.”

Dear Friends,
In January, 12 young people from around the world  spent three weeks in Armant, a rural village near Luxor, teaching children basic English skills and offering them character-building mentoring. They went to Egypt as part of Coptic Orphans’ Serve to Learn program. The volunteers came back bursting with stories… hence this series, based on the idea that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Each volunteer is sharing a photograph from the trip, accompanied by a few words about why that moment moved them. Today, I’m proud to share Phoebe Azer’s words and photo. If you enjoy them, I invite you to read the “1,000 Words” post by Ryan Wasson.
— Nermien

Who’s in this photo?

From left to right — Mary, Mira, Michael, Mark, Yousef, Samuel and Kirollos*

Where was it taken?

In the classroom.

What’s happening in the photo?

This was after class one day. These kids never wanted to leave the classroom without us and so would wait until we had packed up and would walk down with them. Some of the best times in Armant were with these kids hanging out after class.

How did you feel when it was taken?

So happy! I just love these kids!

Why do you want to remember this moment?

Because it is a reminder of how much love we were shown by the people of Armant, in particular the kids of Armant.

If you could help people understand one thing with this photo, what would it be?

Only one of the seven kids in this picture has a decent level of education. Three of them couldn’t read or write Arabic. However, throughout the Serve to Learn program, these kids began to love education and show an incredible amount of eagerness to learn.

Mary couldn’t read or write Arabic. However, this did not stop her from trying her hardest in class. I was so impressed with her determination and the confidence she had by the end of the program. It was also so incredible to see her become inspired by the program, as Serve to Learn not only introduced Mary to English, but also encouraged her to dream of becoming more. This proved true as she looked at me almost awestruck as we discussed dreams and opportunities.

Mira also had a very basic level of education despite being in year seven. At the start of the program, Mira refused to speak out loud in class and to interact with any of the boys in the class. However, by the end of the program she was confident enough to join in and was even laughing and hanging out with the boys!

Michael is such a loving boy who every day would insist on a photo with myself and his younger brother Michel. He is one of the kids in the Coptic Orphans program and I had the absolute pleasure of being welcomed into his home where we played pickup sticks, laughed, and drank the most delicious fruit cocktail made by his mother Marina. The love shown by his family and other families we visited with the volunteer rep, Mama Senaa, was immense. They even gave us gifts on the last day and just welcomed us with so much love into their homes.

On the second day of class I had asked the kids to write a sentence and I had instructed that those who knew how to write the sentence in English should do so and if they didn’t then they were to write that same sentence in Arabic and then beneath it I would write it in English. Mark then exclaimed, “Marafsh aktab araby wala english ya miss” (I can’t write in Arabic or English ya Miss). Mark, however, was never limited by this and was always the most excited student in the class. In our first week we were learning how to ask “What is your name?” Mark ended up taking over the class and started clapping to a beat and repeating “What is your name?” In no time the whole class, including Andrew and I, had joined in, and thanks to Mark, these kids in Armant will all know how to ask you what your name is in English.

Yousef and Samuel were always eager to get involved, especially when there was the incentive of a sticker. They, along with Mark and Kirollos, were the class clowns. When looking at the world map one day, Yousef asked us to show him where Kuwait was. When we pointed it out he excitedly exclaimed, “So that’s where my dad is.” I soon learned that a lot of the fathers in Armant have all gone to Kuwait for work to earn money for their families — another challenge these amazing kids faced.

Kirollos was one of the most loving humans I have ever met. He would come an hour before class to wait for the volunteers and leave at 3pm even though class ended at 12pm. He also came on the last day before we left and waited three hours to see us off. He was always smiling and loved class. Kirollos always bought joy to the volunteers and I learnt so much from his love and his joy.

*Names changed to protect the privacy and dignity of the children

Interested in learning more about Serve to Learn? Check out our page and our new video, which gives a snapshot of the program! Time is running out to apply for our July 3-25 session, and spots fill up fast, so please get your application in by the April 15 deadline. 

If you want to read other Serve to Learn stories, here are interviews with ToniJohnGabyMinaAndyVeronikaDavidBen, Kirollos, MariamAlex, and Mirelle.

‘They Had So Little, Yet So Much Love to Give’ — Nadine Roffaell Reflects on Serve to Learn

Nadine Roffaell  and her students on the playground after class.

Dear Friends,

January 2015 was a special month in Armant, a small, rural village near Luxor. What made it so special was the meeting of 12 volunteers from around the world with Egyptian children — the world’s most wonderful kids! The volunteers spent three weeks playing, teaching, and learning with the children as part of Coptic Orphans’ Serve to Learn program. Today, I’m excited to share another post from that meeting of hearts, on the theme of “a picture is worth 1,000 words.” To bring you the real feeling of the Serve to Learn experience, each volunteer chose one picture and described what that moment meant to them. This is Nadine Roffaell’s picture and 1,000 words!

— Nermien

Who’s in this photo?

Children from my very first Serve to Learn class!

Where was it taken?

The photo was taken at the monastery in the playground.

What’s happening in the photo?

Someone called out “PHOTO!”.. Then all of a sudden they jumped all over me. The children absolutely loved taking photos with us.

How did you feel when it was taken?

It was taken on the first day of the program and I had only spent an hour with these children. I was so happy. I couldn’t stop laughing when the photo was taken. I’ve always loved being with children, but they were something different. They had so little, yet so much love to give. It was day one and I already felt attached. Although I wasn’t confident with my Arabic at the time, a smile was all it took. I didn’t want them to go home that day. Being with them was home. I felt like they were my own.

Why do you want to remember this moment?

I want to remember this moment so I can remind myself of the value of a smile. A smile was all they gave at this moment, but it was worth so much.

If you could help people understand one thing with this photo, what would it be?

Look at the smiles on their faces. They were so happy. We say these children have nothing, or are less fortunate, but they have everything. They know simplicity, they have happiness and they are Love.

Interested in learning more about Serve to Learn? Check out our page and our new video, which gives a snapshot of the program! Time is running out to apply for our July 3-25 session, and spots fill up fast, so please get your application in by the April 15 deadline. 

If you want to read other Serve to Learn stories, here are interviews with ToniJohnGabyMinaAndyVeronikaDavidBen, Kirollos, MariamAlex, and Mirelle, as well as another 1,000 Words post by Ryan.

‘Serve to Learn was EASILY the Greatest Experience of My Entire Life’ — Ryan Wasson

Ryan Wassom with the drawing he created for Mahsoub.

Dear Friends,

This January, 12 Serve to Learn volunteers visited Egypt for three weeks to serve children in the village of Armant… and the friendships that sprouted are worth blogging about. Here’s one in a series of posts based on the idea that “a picture is worth 1,000 words.” I asked each volunteer to choose a photo that got to the heart of their Egypt experience, and to jot down what came to mind about it. Above is the image chosen by Ryan Wasson, and below are his 1,000 words… plus a few more, for which, along with his service, we’re grateful!

— Nermien 

I have a lot to say and 1,000 words isn’t enough, so I’ve been letting a few pictures marinate as the decision was clear from the beginning… my relationship with Mahsoub. There were hundreds of rich and beautiful moments captured during the three weeks I spent in service with the monastery, but only one image that encapsulates my gratitude towards the Serve to Learn experience this well.

Mahsoub was an all-around laborer at the monastery; if there was a job to be done, he was sure to be involved in it. He worked six days a week for well over 12 hours a day. He had given up his life in service to God, the monastery, and supporting his family back home. That’s what made Mahsoub stand out to me, his hard-working character… but even more so, the warm smile he allowed to shine through his seemingly endless workload and sometimes difficult living conditions.

This picture was taken of Mahsoub and me moments before boarding the bus to the airport on the final day of the program. I’m presenting him with a drawing I made of him showing my gratitude towards our friendship and his incredible character, hospitality, service, work ethic, and faith in God.

Due to the dynamics of my life and Serve to Learn, I applied to the program with multiple goals in mind:
-to lose my “self” in the service of others
-to step as far out of my comfort zone as possible
-to transcend my ego, self-defined limits, and my judgement towards myself and others
-to radiate love, light, comfort, and hope through despair and difficult circumstances
-to develop a sense of gratitude for the things I take for granted
-to allow my purpose, passion, gifts, and talents to rise to the surface
-to break language barriers and just “be” with someone from another way of life
-to strengthen my relationship with God

My relationship with Mahsoub allowed me to achieve all of these goals and so much more. Mahsoub never stopped showing me gratitude for my presence from the second I set foot in the monastery. Although I couldn’t understand his Arabic and he couldn’t understand my English, that never stopped our appreciation for each other from blossoming into a beautiful friendship.

Mahsoub restored a sense of gratitude for my God-given gifts and my ability to bring joy to someone through simple presence alone. At first, neither of us even knew each other’s real names. He was Mahsuul, the tea man, and I was Jimmy.

The days were long and packed with activities in Armant and we required lots of tea, coffee, sugar snacks, and energy to get by. Almost upon the mere thought of, “Man, I could really go for a tea…” Mahsoub would appear out of thin air with a tray of hot tea and sugar already prepared and waiting for me. Literally. This happened multiple times.

I never asked for anything… he just knew. It became clear he was just thinking of me throughout his days. He would go out if his way and even busier days to find me and make sure I was accommodated the Egyptian way.

Our conversations grew through translators and we fell further in sync as I realized everything he was talking about related to the present moment and the emotions created by the tasks and situations at hand. I learned some simple Arabic words but most of our one-on-one talks went by smiles, hand gestures, and awareness of each other’s mood and presence.

Mahsoub’s overwhelming presence, hospitality, and gratitude inspired me to offer all I had (aware attention) in reparation since I couldn’t express it through words. I was forced to dig deep for an ability I had to communicate sincere gratitude beyond language or money… and it was art.

I had been suppressing my artistic abilities due to a personal sense of expectations for myself… through schooling at Columbus College of Art and Design I had raised the bar for my artistic capacity and never lowered it when I fell out of practice upon graduating and not being able to find a job. I was afraid to become a starving artist and forced into a non-artistic job to pay the bills and common living expenses. I got caught up in my day-to-day tasks and the sometimes unhealthy release required to cope with my bottled and shelved passion… eventually I became frustrated and intimidated by my expensive and quickly rusting talent.

It took five years and my travels to Armant to finally buff off some of that rust. Here, in Armant, due to the sometimes scarce sense of external love and commodities, people are extremely grateful for whatever they can get… attention, food, toys, education, it’s all a blessing. I finally set my pride and expectations aside and just drew free of judgement.

At first I tried to keep the drawing a secret, working on it late at night when Mahsoub would be busy preparing rooms for the various guests who would be passing through the monastery. Eventually and naturally, I got caught up in the details and the drawing demanded more of my quickly fading free time. Mahsoub found me working on the drawing one night and his face lit up with joy… for days. My frustration and lack of pride quickly transferred into a great source of pride for Mahsoub and an appreciation for my artistic abilities grew with it.

I worked on the drawing until the very last minute (naturally). In my eyes, the drawing was incomplete, and I don’t like loose ends so it seems I’ll have to come back to put the finishing touches on it  : -). To wrap up the piece, I inscribed a message which quickly and organically flowed through me as follows:


May the smile of God shine through you and pass into Eternity.

Ryan Wasson


At last, the long-awaited moment was upon us… the presentation of the finished drawing. I handed it to him while a few anxious volunteers had their cameras ready and we captured this beautiful moment. I bottled my emotions until now, while Mahsoub was immediately overwhelmed with emotion and gratitude.

If there is one thing I hope people could understand from this photo it would have to be the scope of the universal language of love. That selfless love needs no language to give, receive or even be recognized.

Picture or no picture, this blossomed experience is one that I’ll never forget.

Serve to Learn was EASILY the greatest experience of my entire life. It was the culmination and collection of so many radiantly beautiful souls and experiences animated in just three short weeks.

It will truly take me a lifetime to repay my respect and gratitude towards the program, its volunteers, the children, and the unbelievably kind, loving, and strong people of Egypt.

I WILL be back and I WILL continue pursuing and sharing my artistic passion with the world.

With all of my heart,
Ryan (Jimmy) Wasson

Interested in learning more about Serve to Learn? Check out our page and our new video, which gives a snapshot of the program! Time is running out to apply for our July 3-25 session, and spots fill up fast, so please get your application in by the April 15 deadline. 

If you want to read other Serve to Learn stories, here are interviews with ToniJohnGabyMinaAndyVeronikaDavidBen, Kirollos, MariamAlex, and Mirelle.