Category Archives: “The Widow’s Cause”

Egypt as Reality TV Show

Samah, an Egyptian businesswoman, shows off her products on the "set" — her home showroom.
Samah, an Egyptian businesswoman, shows off her products on the “set” — her home showroom.

Some days, in Egypt, you just wish the TV crews were there to record what you’re looking at. Great material for reality shows is everywhere. Who needs the Kardashians when you have real live Egyptians doing the most amazing stuff, often while talking on their cell phone and driving 77 mph?

The most amazing Egyptian I’ve met lately is Samah. She’s perfect for a reality show in the style of The Apprentice, that goopy drama where Donald Trump eliminates his protégés by shouting “You’re fired!” Samah is an up-and-coming businesswoman herself — although she’s a widow raising a young girl, she’s paying her bills by retailing blankets, bathmats, and other household goods.

But really, Samah could have a show of her own — Real Businesswomen of Egypt ? — because she needs no Trump to hire or fire her. She’s doing it her way, with the help of a loan from Coptic Orphans’ B’edaya microfinance initiative.

In fact, the closest person to a Donald Trump in Samah’s life is the Coptic Orphans “rep” who works with her.  Reps, you’ll remember, are the Church-based volunteers who guide and mentor the orphans in our Not Alone program, and who support their mothers in acquiring life skills. This particular rep, whose name is Isis, has been a source of inspiration and coaching for Samah.

From the moment you meet Isis, you know she’s no Trump-style caricature of what a mentor should be. She’s not looking to create a money-making empire;  instead, Isis is all about building strong, faithful, self-sufficient families by serving the Church and “her” orphans. She exudes patience and kindness, qualities she has used to walk Samah through the process of starting her business. She’s also got two other essential ingredients: determination and business savvy.

150206_Samah B'edaya Nermien (1)
“Hilwe! I’ll take 10!” (That’s me on the left.)

With Isis’s help, and lots of hard work, here’s the enterprise that Samah has gotten up and running. After looking around her neighborhood to see what her customers really need, Samah buys a load of household goods from a wholesaler. These, she sells out of her own home, which doubles as a showroom. The income she generates is of enormous benefit to raising her daughter, and allows her to keep them — and her home — in a healthy state. She’s even sewed new curtains for her windows.

Samah, who credits part of her success to good people skills and strong business ethics, is a “graduate” of B’edaya now. She’s paid off her loan, yet she continues to receive income from the business she’s built. It’s steady money — something she can rely on. Not only that, she reports that her income from the business has increased sevenfold since 2010. For B’edaya, that’s right on target, because the goal is to foster family independence and self-reliance.

Things have not always been so rosy, especially in 2004, when Samah’s husband died after five years of battling liver cancer. The illness was emotionally and financially draining; the family spent every pound they had and borrowed more to pay off medical bills. It has taken a long time to get past the initial stages of mourning and recovery.

But handling these challenges, and encouraging a move to family self-sufficiency, is what B’edaya is all about. It’s a microfinance initiative that tailors small no-interest loans to the needs of widows in our Not Alone program, giving them an income, more skills to feed their children, and more control of their lives. In the second round of loans, from the beginning of 2013 through January 2015, B’edaya disbursed US$14,067, with 29 of an initial group of 37 mothers seeing the process through to fruition. The loan recipients are in Sohag, Minya, Alexandria, Monofiyya, and some less well-off areas of Cairo.

When I visited Samah this month, I met her daughter Amira. She’s at the top of her 12th-grade class and doing exceptionally well, with all kinds of honors. She’s well-positioned to be accepted into a competitive university.

“She’s the angel who God has sent me,” Samah tells me.

I have to think: Wouldn’t that be a much better ending for a reality TV show than Donald Trump yelling “You’re fired!”?

 

More information about B’edaya is available here. You can also check out these “notes from the field” —  “Ambition vs. Tradition: How Egypt’s Widows Are Claiming Their Future, 1 Business at a Time” and “She’s Not on the Cover of Forbes. Yet”

You Reap What You Sew

Madame Nadia: widow, mother of a child involved in Coptic Orphans, B'edaya participant, and businesswoman.
Madame Nadia:  Minya businesswoman, widow, mother of a Coptic Orphans child, and B’edaya participant.

I’m always struck by how microfinance is truly one of those things where you get back what you put into it. That’s what makes it part of a transformational approach to development, as opposed to a “handouts” approach. This kind of approach is critically important when it comes to widows in Egypt. Historically, these women have experienced charitable approaches that have met their immediate needs without empowering them to break the cycle of poverty.

Every business-starting widow who takes out a loan with the B’edaya microfinance initiative commits to paying back the money so it can be ploughed back into the community. They also agree to save some of their profits to build a stable foundation for their family. In that sense, each entrepreneur is also agreeing to steer her own future, and that of her community. I’ve met these women, and they take these obligations very seriously.

Madame Nadia is one of the widows who’s taken out a B’edaya loan, and she’s out to prove that the headline of this update is not a typo. She’s a seamstress. For the past 20 years, Madame Nadia has been supporting her family and caring for her ailing husband using a small sewing machine that she operates on the floor. She learned her trade by sewing her children’s undershirts and eventually their clothing. When her neighbors caught on to her work, she began to accumulate customers and has been making clothing for others ever since.

When her husband passed away, Madame Nadia continued to be the main provider for her family. Life didn’t get any easier with the loss of her loved one, and since then she has been looking for ways to break the cycle of poverty.

That’s where B’edaya comes in. With her micro-loan, Madame Nadia has purchased a new and larger sewing machine, one with a table. She has high hopes that her small business will grow.

And of course she has high hopes – otherwise, she wouldn’t have taken out a loan of US$377, a large sum in her hometown of Minya in Upper Egypt. But this is the dynamic of B’edaya. It allows widows without any capital to mobilize resources for business projects that would otherwise be out of reach. It allows them to aim for a better life, in defiance of a world that arrays immense forces against them.

She’s showed that she works hard and is not afraid to take calculated risks. Those are key ingredients of a successful entrepreneur, so I’m confident that Madame Nadia will reap what she sews.

I’ll be visiting Egypt this month. I’ll be sure to ask how Madame Nadia is doing, and keep you updated. 

‘Religion, Pure and Undefiled’

140616 Pure Religion

Dear Friends: I’m glad to have another opportunity to share the insightful writing of Stephen Kopalchick, who this spring traveled with Coptic Orphans to Egypt to observe the challenges facing ordinary people. This post originally appeared on the blog of the The St. Charles Institute, an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan human rights agency dedicated to providing information and analysis on anti-Christian violence and persecution, and to promoting religious freedom and human rights around the world.  — Nermien Riad

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:27 ESV)

I remember receiving the dreadful call from a weeping family member as if it was yesterday.

“Stephen. I don’t know how to tell you this. But… your dad has died.”

In 2008, my father passed away suddenly and unexpectedly from a massive heart attack. To many he was a picture of health. To me, my father was a rock and a covering that I could always run to for safety and comfort.

I was 31 when my dad went to be with the Lord. I remember the feelings of vulnerability and insecurity that accompanied that moment. To this day, particularly when times are hard, I still long to hear his voice of strength. He taught me what it was to be a man. He taught me how to be strong in the face of great adversity.

While it’s never easy to lose your father, I struggle to imagine what it is like to lose your father in your youth. Even more difficult for me to comprehend is what it must be like to lose a father in a country such as Egypt, where decades of social, cultural and legal pressures have left many Christians strong in faith but often victims of marginalization and persecution.

During a recent trip to Egypt, I saw first-hand the obstacles that orphans in Egyptian society must overcome. Not only have these families lost their fathers, the patriarch of their family, they’ve also lost their social covering. Many of these children’s mothers lack the skills, training, or education needed to work or find employment. Culturally, it’s not really acceptable for them to remarry. Many are poverty stricken.

Yet during my time in Egypt, I was privileged to observe and witness first-hand how one dynamic ministry was empowering widows and orphans to overcome these challenges.

Since its founding in 1988, Coptic Orphans has provided a powerful covering for Egypt’s fatherless orphans by serving over 30,000 Egyptian Christian youth who have lost their fathers through either death or abandonment. Today, through their Not Alone program, the organization uses their network of over 400 highly capable volunteers and mentors to help meet the educational and practical needs of over 10,000 children and their families. These volunteers invest their time and concern in each individual child and family so to help them rise to and achieve their fullest potential.

The results of the Not Alone program speak for themselves. Students who could have been defined as merely “orphans” are being transformed into successful, confident children. Some go on to college and gain the skills they need to land a job. Recently, one young student who had been a recipient of Coptic Orphan’s love and support received a full scholarship to American University of Cairo, a significant accomplishment for anyone.

The mothers of these children receive support, too. They participate in trainings to help them sharpen their parenting skills. They receive financial assistance to help meet their basic needs and manage their home. Some may receive help in repairing their home or starting a small business to help strengthen the household.

And the benefits of the program don’t just stop with the families being served. Volunteers are finding joy in serving Christ through serving children. One volunteer expressed how the Not Alone program had become such a central, life-giving aspect of his walk with God.

One evening, shortly after my arrival in Cairo, I journeyed through the center of Egypt’s capital to arrive at the village of Ezbet El Nahkl. I was there to see the work of Coptic Orphans up close. As I walked into the simple meeting space, I saw a group of about 15 women, dressed in mostly black and engaged in what clearly was a process of deep learning and reflection. These widows being served by Coptic Orphans were engaged in a lively discussion with two volunteers. Though the volunteers had families of their own,they had come to invest their time, wisdom and understanding to help these women hone their abilities as heads of household..

The night’s topic of discussion was “The Five Love Languages.” The mothers were there to discover how they might better communicate and connect with their children. Each woman shared her personal joys and struggles that had come with raising children on her own.

I noticed one young boy, Fadi, sat quietly while the discussion was taking place. After the program had ended, I introduced myself with a handshake and a smile. Fadi came alive as he found a new opportunity to practice his English. He rehearsed with me his English ABCs, and made me laugh with his best Donald Duck voice.

It quickly became apparent that Fadi was not just a forgotten orphan. Fadi was a confident young boy who, with the help of Coptic Orphans, was developing the skills he needed to be successful – both now, and in the future.

The challenges facing the Church in Egypt are significant. If you are like me, you often wonder, “What I can do to truly make a difference?” In James 1:27, we receive perhaps one of the most tangible action steps in the entire Bible that any of us can take.

Coptic Orphans is so much more than a human development organization. It is more than an organization that provides a helping hand to widows, or teaches kids to read.

Truly, the work of Coptic Orphans is love in action. It is a hope preserved.

In every way, it is religion pure and undefiled.

 If you would like to sponsor a child through Coptic Orphan’s Not Alone Program, click here. Sponsorship of a child through Coptic Orphans provides the resources these children and families need “to break the cycle of poverty and the courage to become change-makers in their communities: all according to each individual child’s need.”