Tag Archives: education

‘Egypt Truly Is a Land of Miracles and Blessings’ — Serve to Learn Essay Contest Winner Crestin Andrews

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Serve to Learn contest winner Crestin Andrews. (Dressed up for winning something else, and let’s face it, we’re jealous.)

Dear Friends,
Serve to Learn is now under way in Egypt! To celebrate, today I’d like to share with you part of a winning submission to our essay contest by one of the Serve to Learn volunteers. The writer, Crestin Andrews, is one of two talented people who won a free trip to Egypt. Today, she’s one of the team of  26 people from around the world who are serving in Egypt and feeling the love of the children! We’re so proud of them, and thankful to all the people who submitted great essays. And also to the generous donors who supplied the two “scholarship” trips to Egypt! By the grace of God, we’re eager to keep educating and being transformed by our amazing kids!
— Nermien Riad 

Because I am Egyptian and we are all one body in Christ, I feel a tremendous sense of solidarity with my fellow Copts in Egypt. We are all the same but have been dealt different hands in life. While God has granted me abundant blessings, my fellow brothers and sisters in Egypt have faced countless hardships and continue to struggle to survive. Sometimes I feel guilty because it’s not fair. I know that God grants each one according to His will, but I feel a sense of responsibility to help them, just like I feel a sense of responsibility to take care of my own family. I want them to have everything I have, and I want to share my blessings with them. As Egyptians, I believe it is important to maintain our loyalty to our church and our country and serve those in their times of need.

Coptic Orthodoxy is more than just a religion. It has an extensive history, with traditions that are rooted within me. Being an Egyptian is an enormous part of my identity and being part of the Coptic Orthodox community has been the single most influential factor in shaping my life. Although I live in the United States, my identity is that I am a Coptic Orthodox Egyptian. It is easy to say that I would not be the person I am today without my culture, religion, and society that comes with being a Copt. For me personally, I equate being Coptic with being Egyptian. I could sit here and write for days about how much I love Egypt. I think it’s the most amazing country in the world, not just because it has so much history, but also because the Egyptians are such an amazing people. Every time I visit, I am blown away by the amount of blinding hope they have for a better future, even when it seems like there is not much to hope for. I’ll never forget when my grandparents and I accidentally got stuck in traffic in Tahrir Square during the riots and I was able to witness some of that raw burning zeal for life in the eyes of all that were there. Or when I visited a poor Christian village with my uncle and saw real humility and appreciation for every small act of compassion.I learn so much about myself and about how to actually live a life of Christianity every time I visit; Egypt truly is a land of miracles and blessings.

Egypt has given me so much and my only desire is to try to give back to it in what little ways I can. I want to be with my fellow Copts to teach them and learn from them. This is where I see my role in preserving this unique Coptic identity. While my efforts are definitely tiny and insignificant in comparison to the innumerable sacrifices made by my ancestors and by those like the 21 martyrs, I believe I can still be a part of making change happen through my service. I want to be a part of carrying on the traditions that our ancestors passed down to us, and I want to have a hand in instilling the love of Coptic Orthodoxy in others. The bible tells us, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace inits various forms” (1 Peter 4:10). God has granted me countless gifts, like the gifts of education, time, and above all, love. I am called to use these gifts in service, and I consider it the very least I can do to use these gifts in the service of Copts in Egypt. The way I see it is that through this service, I can be a part of the continuation of the efforts of the martyrs to preserve our Coptic heritage.

I think I finally understand what my parents were trying to tell me about the 21 martyrs. They were trying to say that they are not only just like the martyrs in the history of our faith, but they are just like me. They are just like all of us who call ourselves Coptic Orthodox Christians. We all bear their sufferings and we are all obliged to continue their fight. By fearlessly proclaiming their faith they sent a shock wave throughout the world, that furthered people’s awareness of our religion and its ongoing tortures. They, like every one of us at some point in our lives, were called and chosen to make a difference. Whether it be in the life of just one child, or in the lives of the countless souls affected by their actions, we can all make a difference. We owe it to them, to ourselves, and to our faith to never forget their sufferings. We owe our service to our homeland that has been nurturing our heritage for centuries,and we owe it to each other to teach, grow, and learn from each other’s experiences. I want to make a difference and be a part of preserving our Coptic heritage, and having the opportunity to serve my brothers and sisters in Egypt would be the greatest honor in fulfilling that calling.

If this essay excerpt inspires you to want to read other Serve to Learn stories, here are interviews with ToniJohnGabyMinaAndyVeronikaDavidBen, Kirollos, MariamAlex, and Mirelle. You may also enjoy these video interviews with Nadine Roffaell and Peter Wassef. Any questions you’d like to ask a real human being? Call Mira Fouad, who runs Serve to Learn, at 703-641-8910.

‘Pray for Me’

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Gabrielle Salib (front row, third from right) in Cairo with the Serve to Learn 2014 team.

Dear Friends,
I’m excited about the upcoming Serve to Learn trip, which runs July 3-25! In the run-up to that trip, and the next one in early 2016, I’d like to share one of the most moving accounts I’ve ever read about Serve to Learn. Gabrielle Salib sums up the best of the experience in the piece below, which first appeared on her wonderful blog here. I’m grateful to Gaby for her beautiful writing, and most of all for loving and serving the children!
— Nermien Riad

July 18, 2014 — We’re now on the Thursday of our second week in Abnoub and I can say with confidence that I know the children I’m teaching. I’ve taken on this new perspective of each of them, because I’ve gotten to see what they like, what they don’t like, and how they live their lives on a daily basis. This was all very difficult to do, by the way. It was all very emotional; and the more I get to know them, the more emotional it gets to see the circumstances that they’ve been allotted.

Not only have the children made me emotional, but I’ve gotten to take in the beauty of El Sayeed, which touches my heart as well, because of my love for nature. I’ve seen and learned of true simplicity.

I’ve seen my children in their homes, met their mothers, and been inspired by the love of my Savior to reach each child the way they need to be met by a willing American-Egyptian during this three-week, English lesson, summer excursion.

As a matter of fact, everything is different now. I’ve listened to my people’s needs, seen their affliction, felt their love, and loved them back. Egypt will never be the same to me.

There’s this thing I do during class where I stop everything and sing “If You’re Happy and You Know It”, so that I can turn even a single child’s frown upside down. That’s one of the most important lessons I learned during this trip. Make people smile, because a lot of people feel they don’t have reason to do so otherwise.

Pray for me.

If Gaby’s post makes you want to know more about Serve to Learn, you can check out our page and our video, which gives a snapshot of the program. The next trip with available slots is January, so it’s a good idea to start planning now.

If you want to read other Serve to Learn stories, here are interviews with ToniJohnGabyMinaAndyVeronikaDavidBen, Kirollos, MariamAlex, and Mirelle. You may also enjoy these video interviews with Nadine Roffaell and Peter Wassef. Any questions you’d like to ask a real human being? Call Mira Fouad, who runs Serve to Learn, at 703-641-8910.

Great News from Egypt This Mother’s Day

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Love, healthcare, better education… these are things we all pray for for our families on Mother’s Day.

Good news about Egypt is precious these days, so I wanted to share a few wonderful developments that give me a feeling of hope.  

I came across the following news this morning in Save the Children’s new State of the World’s Mothers report, and I thought,  “What a perfect Mother’s Day gift for someone who loves Egypt as much as I do!”

To make a long story short, Egypt still has a long way to go to improve healthcare. But if you’re a mother or child in an urban area, there is extremely good news. The report reveals (emphasis added):

Egypt has made good child survival gains among its most affluent urban residents (47 percent reduction in under-5 mortality between 1995 and 2008) but even better gains for the poorest (66 percent reduction over the same time period). As a result, the poorest urban children in Egypt have gone from being 3.7 times as likely to die before their fifth birthday (in 1995) as the urban best-off to 2.4 times as likely to die (in 2008).

The report (the section on Egypt is a good read — I recommend it) also describes successes in immunizations, family planning, and clean water.

What’s most interesting about this news is that it points to Egypt’s potential to solve problems. For some people, it’s fashionable to talk about Egypt as hopeless. Well, this kind of progress shows that it’s not.

So how did this progress come about? The report asks that question:

How did Cairo achieve success? The city’s remarkable progress is the result of national health system reforms, specialized programs and the persistent efforts of civil society organizations.

I want to bite on that last bit again. Not only does Egypt’s health ministry deserve some long-overdue respect, but some of the thanks for this progress are also due to non-governmental organizations. Partnership!

As you know, here at Coptic Orphans, we see everything through the lens of using education to break the cycle of poverty. So this report has big implications.

We all know the bad news about Egypt’s schools — overcrowded, underfunded, in decay. But we have to stop thinking of education in Egypt as being in unstoppable decline, and start thinking big.

Solutions are out there. If they’re anything like the ones for healthcare, it will take smart and strategic partnerships between Egypt’s government and civil society. Not to speak of the force behind all transformations — God — and our willingness to let Him guide our work.

This is something Coptic Orphans has given a lot of thought to. With your support, we’ve accumulated decades of experience in supporting kids, both in and out of the classroom. Where lessons can be learned from our experience, we’re ready to step up. The gains that we make will be for the kids, and the benefits will  reach the mothers.

On future Mother’s Days, if we want good news like this for moms and children, we’re going to have to make it happen. It will take partnership, support, and good will from everyone in Egypt and the diaspora who wants to see progress. If it could be done for healthcare, let’s do it for education!