Coptic Orphans Founder Nermien Riad Wins Leadership Award from ADC Women’s Empowerment Forum

Ambassador and Nermien
His Excellency, Ambassador Yasser Reda and Coptic Orphans Executive Director Nermien Riad at ADC Women’s Empowerment Forum, March 16, 2016.

Dear Friends,

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.

Coptic Orphans Canada Office Director Speaks at Int’l Women’s Day Dinner

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Yamaska Valley Optimist Club International Women’s Day Dinner organizers, guests, and honorees. (R to L): Leonore Dudley – YVO President; Connie Barr – YVO honoree; Manal Bedwany – Keynote speaker; Shelley Judge – YVO honoree; Lindsay Tuer – YVO honoree; Ilze Epners – YVO chapter founder and event coordinator.

Manal Bedwany, the director of Coptic Orphans’ Canada office, was the guest speaker for the International Women’s Day Dinner of the Yamaska Valley Optimist Club (YVO) this Saturday, March 12. The event was held in the beautiful town of Knowlton, Quebec at the Lac Brome Community Centre.

“It was a great privilege to share the stage with the courageous women who were honoured by the YVO at their annual dinner,” said Manal. “I was grateful to have the opportunity to speak on the struggles that women, particularly girls and young women, face in the Middle East and beyond.”

“We were so honoured to have you as a guest speaker. Our young ladies certainly realized how fortunate they are…” llze Epners, founder the YVO chapter and coordinator of the event, said after the dinner.

Optimists Program

Funds raised at the event will support the club’s activities for local youth.

“I’m glad to have had a part in raising money for such an important cause,” Manal said. “As women, and leaders in our communities, we have a role to play in addressing human needs here in Canada, and wherever else in the world our talents and relationships give us the ability to make a difference.”

‘You’ll Be Able to Serve the Kids Through Love’ — Mina Awad Reflects on New Serve to Learn Medical Initiative

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Dear Friend,

I often hear people exclaim, “it’s such a small world!”— And I always think: “that is so true— especially in the Coptic community!” This guest blog post by Mina Awad, from Indianapolis, shows just how small the Coptic community really is, and how different parts of it often come together in mysterious ways to unfold God’s plan to serve his children. Mina Awad is part of a dedicated group of volunteers who have been working hard to put together a service trip for aspiring medical professionals. The Serve to Learn medical education initiative will be running alongside our normal Serve to Learn trip this June 18-July 9. Read Mina’s post to see how a mission trip to Nigeria introduced him to an organization called  the Coptic Medical Association of North America (CMANA) and how his friend Crestin‘s experience with Serve to Learn introduced him to Coptic Orphans; see? — “it is such a small world!”

—Nermien

“I see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself, this is hungry Jesus, I must feed him. This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene; I must wash him and tend to him. I serve because I love Jesus.” – Mother Teresa

This quote was the motive behind me wanting to serve overseas, and the inspiration for a journey that ultimately helped shape the new medical education initiative of Serve to Learn.

Here’s how the story unfolded:

Reading Mother Teresa’s quote made me want to go to Africa and help those less fortunate than myself. To make a true difference and have an impact on someone else’s life, whether by teaching young kids about God, sharing a word with a homeless man, handing out gifts, or even preaching the true faith. I saw myself living an incredible life here in the United States, and desired the opportunity to give back to someone else is in need. And what a better place to do that than in Africa?

In April of 2014, I got a call from a friend and I found out that there was a mission trip to Nigeria coming up in June with a very blessed group, and I knew that I had to go. I contacted the group and June couldn’t come quickly enough. Finally, my chance to make a change and an impact in someone else’s life was here.

I was very worried about the trip to Nigeria, and my parents were even more worried due to the security situation of the country. But my worry was about whether or not I could actually make a difference, or whether I was just wasting my time.

After speaking to a few people, I felt a very strong calling to go through with the trip. As soon as we arrived, I was greeted with an astonishing sight of poverty, more than I could’ve imagined. The village we stayed in, close to the city of Calabar, was made up of mud huts and a few tree branches. The circumstances that these people lived in were unsanitary, and hit me in a wave of surprises. People didn’t have any bathrooms, they had no running water, and their kitchen was almost always behind their house using a fire hand drill.

I couldn’t help but feel sorry for their way of living, especially compared to mine. Over the next two weeks, I spoke with these people, felt God’s hand shaping me, and learned many lessons that will stick with me for the rest of my life. Going in, I wanted to make a change, and impact someone’s life. Help feed a few people and preach the gospel to some kids. But in actuality, by the time I left Calabar, my life was changed. Each person that I had the blessing to speak with had impacted my life. The gospel was preached and fed to me through their unshaken faith, and their constant thanksgiving to God. I wanted to make a difference, but instead I left different.

My trip to Nigeria ignited my passion for mission work, for wanting to serve in order to be filled by Him, and shaped as His vessel. It also taught me a lot about an incredible organization called the Coptic Medical Association of North America (CMANA).

CMANA is a nonprofit organization that aims at uniting all Egyptian Christian healthcare providers by medically helping those in need, as well as through education and networking. CMANA coordinates multiple medical treatment mission trips all over the world, and is a leader in the Coptic mission in Africa.

A portion of the Nigeria mission trip focused on the medical treatment aspect of mission work. I was amazed at the lack of education that people in these countries had regarding simple medical knowledge such as hygiene and preventative medicine.

A year later, a friend of mine had the incredible opportunity to do a Serve to Learn trip for three weeks in Egypt with Coptic Orphans. She had a very similar experience to the one I had in Nigeria, and was also astonished at how little knowledge was available regarding simple medical issues.

At almost the same time that I talked to my friend about her experience with Serve to Learn, I received a call from my cousin, a third-year medical student. He told me that he wanted to use his medical knowledge to serve his brothers and sisters in Christ in Egypt. After a few discussions among the three of us, we arrived at the concept of a medical education service trip to Egypt through collaboration between Coptic Orphans and CMANA.

This three-week trip to Egypt, as an aspect of Serve to Learn, will focus on simple yet creative ways of delivering a health-focused curriculum to orphaned children of all ages in Coptic Orphans’ programs. We will focus on three medical topics: wound care, hygiene, and nutrition, providing instruction in English through fun activities that the kids can understand and relate to.

By putting our love for these children to work by teaching them basic health knowledge, we can help improve their lives, and build a more health-conscious generation of Coptic children.

By being a part of the medical initiative of this Serve to Learn trip, you’ll be able to serve the kids through love, compassion, hope, and education.

I encourage you to apply soon — the deadline is March 15 for the medical initiative, and April 1 to serve at one of the sites of the “regular” English-teaching Serve to Learn that Coptic Orphans has been running for over a decade. You can find the applications here.

You will make an impact on this trip, not just in each one of the children’s lives, but also in their homes and families. But that is not the only reason I would encourage you to go. I encourage you to apply soon because you will meet so many beautiful children who will touch your heart. They will look up to you as an older sibling, with nothing but love in their hearts and smiles on their faces. The love that you receive will leave you with no alternative but to open your heart and love them back. That is when the change happens.

Interested in learning more about Serve to Learn? Check out our page and our new video, which gives a snapshot of the program! Any questions you’d like to ask a real human being? Call or email Mira Fouad, who runs Serve to Learn, at 703-641-8910 or at mfouad@copticorphans.org