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!
“We used to be shy girls who withdrew from participating in community activities and didn’t face our problems — in fact, we were never even aware of our own community’s problems.”
I wanted to share that quote from one of the young women participating in Tamkeen, a Coptic Orphans project that nurtures female voices, especially in rural Egypt. Tamkeen’s former “shy girls” are doing some incredible things, and that’s why I’m writing to you today.
Tamkeen, which is funded by USAID, operates at four sites in Minya, Sohag, and Assiut. You probably already know that parts of these governorates are hard-hit by poverty. What you might not know is that they have hard-working community development associations.
We’re partnering with these associations. Tamkeen helps them with capacity-building and makes small grants for activities that encourage young women to get involved in their communities.
I think the young women who are taking part in Tamkeen will earn your respect. Here are four stories of how they’ve put themselves on the line by speaking up:
Sexual harassment is a real problem in Beny Abed in Minya. Through Coptic Orphans’ local partner, the Institute for Comprehensive Humanitarian Development, the young women there decided to launch an awareness-raising initiative among young people and community members. Their initiative resulted in the formation of a committee of several dozen young men and women who agreed to work together to tackle the problem. Local leaders agreed to implement some of the participants’ proposed solutions, and asked them to hold awareness-raising workshops in the local schools and youth center.
In Assiut, a group of young Tamkeen participants not only discussed sexual harassment in public — they presented 90 minutes of songs, videos, and testimony about how they were seeking solutions to social problems. Their presentation reached a much larger group of girls, all of whom had taken part in the project’s workshops and other activities. The combination of music, theater, and story-telling conveyed how they had become active in their communities on issues of mutual concern.
About 60 young women in the village of Nazlet Emara in Sohag, determined to end the blight in their neighborhood, took part in planning and executing a campaign to plant trees at the local school and clean up their area. The campaign emerged from dialogue on community problems at a civic education training session run by a Coptic Orphans partner, the Horus Association. Carrying out the campaign required them to get buy-in from local officials, but in the end, they succeeded. “One of the most important lessons we’ve learned and practiced through Tamkeen is how to make a group decision,” said one of the girls.
In the village of Tahta, a group of girls involved with Coptic Orphans’ partner, Nour El Mostakbal for Sustainable Community Development, held a dialogue to identify “the biggest problem… affecting the whole community.” They singled out ineffective literacy courses as the biggest obstacle to progress in their village. They decided that the best solution to the problem would be to offer better training for teachers in collaboration with the Literacy Classes Department in Tahta. With the encouragement of Tamkeen coordinators, they convinced local education authorities to provide them with a letter of authorization to start implementing their proposed curriculum.
After reading these stories, I hope you’re curious about these brave young women. If you want to know more, I invite you to check out our new Tamkeen page. It’s got all the details: Where we’re working, what we’re doing, what the goals are.
It’s a chance to learn more about these real heroes — the “shy girls” who are speaking up for a better future for themselves, their communities, and Egypt!
The big day — the Coptic Orphans 25th Anniversary Gala in the U.S. — is just hours away! I hope to see you all in Reston, VA on Oct. 11! (Tickets are still available here.)
By now, you’ve probably seen the Gala’s slogan, “25th Anniversary, Celebrating 30,000 Children Empowered.” But if you’re like me, you may react to slogans something like this:
“Hmmm… ‘30,000 Children Empowered’ … 30,000? Exactly 30,000? Where’d they get that number? It sounds made-up. And ’empowered’ …what does that even mean?”
After all, who’s going to believe that Coptic Orphans went out and counted exactly 30,000 children? And “empowered” … you could define that lots of ways, right?
So if you’re like me, you read that slogan and say, “You’d better be able to back that up.”
Fortunately, I love backing things up, especially with long (and my children would say, occasionally boring) explanations. So here and now, I’m going to explain exactly what “30,000 Children Empowered” means.
Why? Because slogans aren’t enough. They get a point across, but you always need the data to back them up. So below, I’m going to share the numbers that show how we got to 30,000.
And to give meaning to “empowered,” I’m going to use the Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition: “empower: verb \im-ˈpau̇(-ə)r\ to promote the self-actualization or influence of.”
All that said, here’s how the 30,000 figure adds up, and here are the details of how the children have been empowered:
Not Alone Program
Total children empowered:18,862
Nearly 10,000 kids were enrolled in our flagship program, Not Alone, in 2013 alone. And the program’s been going since 1992. The reality is, if you walk into any Coptic community from Assiut to Alexandria, the odds are good you’ll meet fatherless children and widows who have benefitted from Not Alone.
Our beloved sponsors and donors can tell you how Not Alone works. Over 400 Church-based community leaders, the “Reps,” serve as advocates and mentors to our children. The Reps come recommended by their own bishops and priests, and our staff in Egypt offers them regular trainings in how to support and protect the children. Day in and day out, year after year, each Rep builds a long-term relationship with the children they serve, connecting with each child through home visits, life-skills workshops, and community activities. They work to achieve Not Alone‘s goal of increasing each child’s academic achievement, building a well-rounded personality, and nurturing their sense of volunteerism as future leaders of Egyptian society. By connecting the children with these building blocks for a successful life, Not Alone helps prepare them to break the cycle of poverty. In the Not Alone Program, that’s what we call “empowered.”
Valuable Girl Project
Total children empowered: 3,796
The Valuable Girl Project aims to promote the academic retention, education, and literacy tutorship of girls and young women in high-poverty areas of Egypt. To achieve these goals, the project supports young women in their efforts to stay in school and gain dignity at home, in the classroom, and in the community. The project, which has been running for 12 years and peaked at 15 sites around Egypt, uses a model of one-on-one mentorship. Through it, young women in secondary school, the “Big Sisters,” become role models for girls in primary school, the “Little Sisters.” Local coordinators based in partner organizations oversee these mentorship programs.
The Valuable Girl Project has a unique twist, in that it serves both Christian and Muslim young women ages 7-22. The Big Sister-Little Sister relationships formed through the project offer a bridge to understanding among Christian and Muslim community members whose paths might otherwise never cross. In fact, one of the sentiments expressed by project participants is simply that they had no idea what the others’ lives were about, much less that they could be “nice.”
In this way, Coptic Orphans aims to do more than simply stand with disadvantaged girls as they attempt to break the cycle of poverty. Through the Valuable Girl Project, we boost these young women’s life chances, but just as importantly, we increase the overall level of Christian-Muslim tolerance and understanding in Egyptian society. Through the project, participants become self-actualized, and influence social change in their communities. For young women in a tough society like Egypt, that’s “empowered.”
Serve to Learn
Total children empowered:5,810
Serve to Learn is a program through which young Copts living abroad can benefit Egypt’s communities by volunteering in Egypt, while becoming more strongly tied to their Coptic faith and cultural heritage. Nearly 190 volunteers have served over the program’s 11 years of existence, teaching more than 5,800 young Egyptians basic English skills. This year’s team was even blessed to meet with His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, and to receive a spiritual orientation from Abouna Dawood Lamey.
The volunteers report that the trips have ignited their love for Egypt, stirred their spirit of service, and deepened their dedication to their cultural roots. Most importantly, the children come away having learned English skills from native speakers — no small thing in rural Egypt. Knowledge is power, and English has become a global language with applications in everything from the local tourism industry to multinational corporations. By sharing this knowledge, Serve to Learn is empowering the children.
Total children empowered:2,995
The two-year-old TAMKEEN project aims to build the capacity of community development associations that support girls and young women in Upper Egypt through work with 40 community development associations in Assuit, Minya, and Sohag. TAMKEEN, whose name actually means “empowerment” in Arabic, mobilizes 15- to 23-year-old women to become active in their communities. These activities range from discussion seminars to youth parliaments. Many of the activities expose participants to the value of volunteerism. One key objective is to nurture new and often unheard voices, especially in remote villages. In such areas, poverty is rampant, and young women are at a particular disadvantage. So the activities carried out through the USAID-funded TAMKEEN, and the skills learned through them, are vital to empowering these young woman.
When you add up all the numbers, the real total of children is actually 31,463. That’s how we got the 30,000 figure — by rounding down.
And in terms of what it means to empower the children, I would suggest that what each of these initiatives accomplishes is very much within Webster’s definition of promoting “the self-actualization or influence of” the children.
So that’s it. I’m not big on slogans. I much prefer the long answer, backed up by data. But if you have to summarize what Coptic Orphans has accomplished, by the grace of God, in a quarter-century of work — as I’m often asked to do — then “25 years, 30,000 children empowered” pretty much says it all.
Hope to see you on Oct. 11 at the Gala in Reston!
To learn more details about the Coptic Orphans 25th Anniversary Gala in Reston, Virginia on Oct. 11, and to obtain tickets, please visit our Gala web page. There, you can also view a video of His Holiness at our Gala in Canada, including his remark: “Bravo for your service. And I’m not sure who’s happier — you, or the children you serve.” Details about the Nov. 9 Australia Gala are also available there!