Today is such an important day: The marking of the day our Savior found refuge in Egypt, and blessed our land and people. June 1, when we reflect on the Flight of the Holy Family, is an incredibly meaningful day for all Copts. So I’m excited to share, once again, the reflections of Dr. Joseph Faltas. Dr. Faltas holds a Ph.D in Philosophy from the Faculty of Theology, Athens University in Greece. He also has a postgraduate degree from the same university in Patristic Studies, and he has spent over 30 years conducting highly specialized research on the early Church fathers. Dr. Faltas has worked with the Orthodox Patristic Center; beyond this, he led the Ecumenical Studies Unit of the Coptic Center for Social Studies, Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate. I’m very grateful for the Church history and wisdom that Dr. Faltas shares with us on an almost daily basis; it shapes our work for the children.
— Nermien Riad
Fleeing … Escaping
On the fast-approaching date of June 1, our Coptic Orthodox Church throughout the world celebrates one of its seven minor feasts of Christ: the Feast of His Entry into the Land of Egypt, escaping from Herod.
The minor feasts of Christ commemorate events of Our Lord Christ’s life. The Church always sets them before us to enhance our spiritual life and our salvation, so that we live as Jesus did.
The Holy Family sought refuge in Egypt to avoid the evil wrath of Herod, who killed the infants of Bethlehem. However, the advent of Our Lord Christ to the Land of Egypt granted it divine peace and reassurance. Everyone who believes in Him will always live in peace regardless of all circumstances; he’ll be a witness to the living faith of the Mighty God, the Pantocrator.
Christ’s Flight to Egypt
We wonder: If the flight of the Holy Family to Egypt was an escape, was it then an indication of Christ’s passive flight? Certainly not; it was a temporary escape from evil, an initiative of His salvation of humankind and an overwhelming blessing to the entire world. This escape resulted in having a faithful people and Church across the ages — a deep-rooted faith in Egyptians’ hearts, especially among ordinary people. His escape proved to the contemporary world their devotion to Him, who fled for them. Indeed, there is not a trace of doubt associated with His blessed flight.
An Alternative Escape
In stark contrast with Christ’s positive escape, there is a negative kind of escape manifested in rejecting responsibility, cooperation, or even feeling for others. This kind of escape has nothing in common with Christ’s flight to the Land of Egypt. Hence, this type of escape implies a rejection of the blessings of the flight to Egypt, a flight which empowers large numbers of present-day children to avoid the darkness of ignorance. This is the flight that, through faith and the Church, enables girls and young women to stand fast against pressures to drop out of school, lifts up high achievers to pursue success, and supports fatherless families in leading a secure life, instead of escaping into the unknown.
Let’s celebrate Christ’s entrance into the Land of Egypt; let’s flee to the Land of Egypt and share together the rejoicing in His escape — for our sake, and for us in the Land of Egypt.
I’m excited to share this news with the whole Coptic Orphans family: Round III of the B’edaya microfinance initiative for mothers has officially launched!
Coptic Orphans recently held ceremonies around Egypt honoring the 42 widowed mothers who will receive LE243,500 (US$27,400) in microloans for income-generating projects.
These mothers are heroes to all of us at Coptic Orphans, and by God’s grace, we’re honored to provide them with both microloans and coaching in entrepreneurial skills to develop their inborn perseverance, ingenuity, and business-savvy.
An Egyptian woman who wants to start a business faces barriers that would make Donald Trump cry. But Egypt’s widows face even huger challenges. How they dress, who they talk to, where they go — all of these are subject to scrutiny and control based on tradition. Frequently, they can’t even leave the house to work, even if their children are malnourished.
It’s exactly these hostile conditions that B’edaya is designed to handle — the everyday life of some of the most disadvantaged widows in Egypt, particularly those in remote villages. It tailors small loans to the needs of the mothers of orphans. The aim is to give them an opportunity to generate income, more ability to feed their children, and more control of their lives.
The 42 mothers were selected from among a pool of 143 widows whose children are enrolled in Coptic Orphans’ education-focused Not Alone program. Seven of the mothers are receiving B’edaya loans for the second time, after running and expanding their income-generating projects, and one is receiving a loan for the third time.
“When my husband died, I felt alone and helpless. I was about to sell his photography studio, because according to the traditions in my village, as a widow, I can’t run the business and deal with the public,” one B’edaya client from Kom El Dab’, Menoufeya said at the ceremony.
“After I enrolled my kids with Not Alone, Coptic Orphans representatives encouraged me not to sell the business, but instead to stand up for my right to work and raise my kids with pride and dignity,” she said. “So I re-opened the studio and ran the business to ensure a dignified life for my kids. With this new loan, I’m going to buy a digital camera so I can photograph weddings, which is very profitable in our area.”
Coptic Orphans launched B’edaya Round III in March, in order to honor International Women’s Day (March 8) and Egypt’s Mother’s Day (March 21), with the following three ceremonies:
• Ma3adi, March 4, to honor 12 mothers from Lower Egypt and Greater Cairo
• Bani Mazar, Minya, March 11, to honor 18 mothers from Middle Egypt
• Luxor, March 18, to honor 12 mothers from Upper Egypt
The ceremonies represent the culmination of nine months of preparatory work to ensure proper planning, training, and an effective selection process. At the events, loan recipients received their checks, took part in basic financial training, and were familiarized with additional details about B’edaya. The events also provided an opportunity for the mothers to network, share experiences, and trade contact information. Previous loan recipients appeared onstage to present their advice and experiences to the Round III participants.
“This is my second time taking out a B’edaya loan,” said a client from Ezbet El Nakhl, Cairo. “I started my first project two years ago with a B’edaya loan to sell bedding and bed sheets.”
“Back then, I was so shy and afraid to take the risk, but the Coptic Orphans representative encouraged me and I succeeded in overcoming my fears and establishing a strong network of clients,” she said. “From the income I generated, I was able to pay back my first loan, and renovate my kitchen, bathroom, and living room. This made me feel proud of myself for the first time. I’m taking out the second loan to expand my business by adding the sale of women’s accessories. I’m much better now at marketing and communicating with my customers, so they’ve ask me to sell them these things.”
B’edaya microloans are offered at 0 % interest for 26 months, with the first six months considered a grace period for loan repayment, followed by six equal installments spaced four months apart. The loans disbursed to each recipient vary in size according to the amount requested in the application process, up to a maximum of LE7,000. The amount is also subject to the assessment of the selection committee, which is made up of the Coptic Orphans program management team.
The LE7,000 ceiling is a significant increase compared to Round II, when the total amount of loans dispersed was LE91,000 disbursed to 29 mothers, with a maximum sum of LE4,000 and a 14-month repayment period.
B’edaya Round III encompasses 13 type of projects ranging from selling livestock feed (4), selling groceries (11), selling women’s accessories (2), selling fabrics, bedding, and sheets (1), selling cleaning products (1), raising and selling cattle (5), raising and selling poultry (3), selling machine-sewn products (8) running a photo studio (1), selling upholstery (1), selling shoes and accessories (2), running an ironing service (1), and styling hair (2).
B’edaya Round III activities in 2016 and beyond will include quarterly home visits to the entrepreneurial mother by Coptic Orphans staff and volunteers, who will monitor the progress of the projects and provide regular coaching.
B’edaya shows what we can do when we pull together, as a community, and set our minds on achieving dignity and self-sufficiency — not dependence on charity — for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Children who grow up in a household where B’edaya is working can see their mother in a whole new light, as a creative, hard-working businesswoman. This can make a huge difference for the whole family!
I’ll keep you posted as B’edaya unfolds further. All of us, as the Coptic Orphans family, are grateful to God for the blessing of working alongside these strong, determined mothers. They are role models for their kids!
I was deeply honored to accept the Women’s Leadership Award from the ADC‘s Women’s Empowerment Forum. I was able to deliver the keynote speech (below) on March 16 at the Egyptian Embassy in Washington, D.C. and receive the award along with a wonderful group of committed leaders. I’m grateful to God that Coptic Orphans has reached this point, and to every one of you, who have supported and made possible this exciting journey for the children!
One Body in Christ, Nermien
It is a great honor to accept this award from the ADC Women’s Empowerment Forum.
In truth, I stand here today on behalf of thousands of heroic women — and men — in Egypt and beyond, who have dedicated their lives to our shared vision of a tolerant, and just world.
I am grateful to our hosts, His Excellency, Ambassador Yasser Reda, and Mr. Ayman Youssef, for putting forth the incredible effort to make this annual event what it is: a powerful forum from which we can celebrate our community’s achievements, heritage, and progress. A special thanks to Ambassador Reda for facilitating Coptic Orphans’ International Registration Renewal. We were just notified of it yesterday, so thank you.
I want to thank the WEF for honoring and highlighting the work of these amazing women here: Dr. Soad Bin Amer, The Hon. Dr. Mariann Azer, The Hon. Dalia Yousef, Ms. Laura Rozen — you make us all very proud.
For my part, let me accept this award with deep thanks to the ADC and Dr. Doaa Taha, chairwoman of the Forum, and pause to lift up the thousands of women, young and old, who, by God’s grace, are truly the reason I can take this stage tonight.
I am speaking of the women of Egypt, without whom Coptic Orphans, the organization I founded 27 years ago, would have quickly vanished into obscurity.
Those of you in the audience tonight, honored guests of the ADC, will recognize these women, because your own countries, your own communities, your own civil societies, also owe so much to these heroes:
First, the mothers. Coptic Orphans, as a unique Christian development organization, works to keep families together after the loss of a father. When tragedy strikes, it’s the mother who has to carry the tremendous burden on her shoulders. We support them in many ways, but they are the real heroes.
Second, community volunteers, who for us number over 450 and cover more than 700 towns and villages. A good half of them are women, and together with their male colleagues, they have moved Heaven and Earth by loving and mentoring the over 40,000 children we’ve reached in these 27 years. We owe the world to them, and in them, we see the spirit of volunteerism that transforms lives.
Third, girls and young women. The unsung heroes. Let’s stop for a moment and reflect on the obstacles that stand between these girls and young women, and the future they deserve. For one thing, they contend from birth with a patriarchal culture that is so deeply embedded that their very being female is considered flawed and inferior. The birth of a girl is at times occasion for mourning. Then there’s early marriage. One of our field staff went into a home in Maghagha to enroll a new family, and he found a 16-year-old girl, a toddler, and an infant. He asked the teenager: “Where’s Mama?” She replied, “I am Mama.”
He told me: “I was so taken aback — I didn’t know whether to deal with her as a child or as a widow.”
We can’t forget the brutal practice of FGM. Yes prevalence rates are decreasing, they are down to 91%, and all indications say that it will continue to decrease; but there are still places like Armant, a village not far from Luxor, where I was just last month, where the rate still stands at 100%.
All this translates into countless barriers, both visible and invisible, to a women’s attempt to better her life.
Nowhere is this more visible than in education. Entering into the school system, for girls in the Arab world, could fairly be compared to entering the arena for single combat. Or, more accurately, a combat of one against a legion of foes. We all know who gets called on in class, who is channeled into what area of studies, who is favored with scholarships and other opportunities. We all know who is blamed and held back, and who is shamed for “unwomanly” assertiveness simply for claiming her own rights. We all know, in short, that it is only through heroic determination, and extraordinary good fortune, that a girl can grow to be a well-educated woman and leader in the Arab world.
This, then, is the reason Coptic Orphans focuses on quality education: no single factor is more powerful in liberating women, and especially poor women, from the bonds into which they are born — than a solid education.
Can these obstacles be overcome? Can a difference be made? Yes, absolutely.
I’ll give you a sneak preview of how it’s already changing for the better, through the Valuable Girl Project.
So far, over 6,800 girls and young women have learned leadership and teamwork skills through the Valuable Girl Project, and we’re ramping up for 2016 to add 1,500 more girls. Not only has this resulted in remarkable improvement in academics, but it has changed the way the girl sees her self — as one who can improve the world around her.
Last year, the community development association that hosts the Valuable Girl Project in Sohag discovered that many students in the area couldn’t read or write, despite being enrolled in school. In response, they organized a special training program in literacy tutoring skills. The girls came together and volunteered to teach reading and writing to the village kids. Today, in the village of Hawawish, over 200 kids now know how to read and write because of these girls. You can just imagine how these girls felt about themselves.
So what’s the secret of the success? It’s quite simple.
It’s a new and unique approach to international development. Mothers, children, volunteers, staff, donors… what we are witnessing, in our age, is how an organization like Coptic Orphans — with feet planted firmly in both Egypt and abroad — in the diaspora — is making genuine, positive, lasting change in the motherland. This is known as a diaspora organization — one whose sole reason for existence is the homeland, and the homeland alone.
Diaspora organizations involve patriotic diasporians and bring together international and local expertise with funds that are raised abroad, all for the sake of tackling urgent issues in the homeland.
Such organizations offer the best of both words: local in-country knowledge, and international access.
So, a Diaspora organization is one part of the answer. The other is the passion and initiatives of every person in this room. You care, and you care deeply. The good book says “Seek justice. Defend the oppressed, plead the widow’s cause”. And this is what you do. Each and every one of you: Soad, Laura, Marianne, Dalia, Doaa… the ADC — you — plead the case of the oppressed — and this is powerful!
So I’m very grateful to stand here tonight, accepting this award for Coptic Orphans, and I’m humbled to be standing among giants. I am confident that we will make this a world of heroic and empowered women who will, in turn, lift up every man, women and child. Thank you.