Tag Archives: education

Education, Education, Education — That’s the Key

STL with VGP
The girls and young women of the Valuable Girl Project site in Matay meet volunteers with the Serve to Learn program.

It’s a muggy day in Matay, but no one hesitates to hug and crowd together for a photo. Here in Middle Egypt, girls and young women are used to the heat. It’s just another challenge for these participants in the Valuable Girl Project, like coping with run-down schools, making ends meet in a tough economy, and making their voices heard in a male-run society.

Only a few of these challenges are familiar to today‘s visitors to this Valuable Girl site they’re volunteers from abroad, here in Egypt to take part in Coptic Orphans’ Serve to Learn program. They‘re spending three weeks teaching English to kids in Matay, and they may have gotten used to sweltering heat. But because they’re from places where the schools are more functional, the economy more developed, and patriarchy less pronounced, it’s harder to familiarize them with what it’s like to be a girl in Egypt.

Nevertheless, the two project coordinators, Sawsan and Doaa, do their best. There are smiles on both sides as their description unfolds of the Valuable Girl Project. In Port Said, Matay, Armant, Sohag and Luxor, the volunteers learn, 142 Little Sisters and 142 Big Sisters meet twice a week. The older sister mentors the younger one in schoolwork and life skills; the coordinators teach them the value of teamwork, creativity, planning, and accepting others. Many times, the Big-Little Sister relationships are Christian-Muslim, offering an important bridge between people whose paths might not otherwise cross.

The Valuable Girl Project participants, in turn, find out what brings this gaggle of foreigners to Egypt. They hear how the volunteers are lured from around the world by the chance to see the real Egypt, form close relationships with Egyptian children, and be transformed by their love. They learn how the volunteers are inspired by the kids, even as they teach a love of learning with fun educational activities.

The most interesting thing about today’s encounter is how it reflects the fruition of three projects. The Serve to Learn volunteers have also been meeting the mothers of the fatherless children served by Coptic Orphans. It’s precisely because of those mothers that the Valuable Girl Project exists.

The story is this: The more Coptic Orphans staff got engaged with the orphans’ families, the more they began to see a really striking trend. Mothers were dying — denying themselves medical care — because they felt valueless and were using what little money they had to meet their children’s needs. But of course, a healthy child requires a healthy mother. Stopping this destructive cycle seemed desperately important, so a decade ago the Valuable Girl Project was founded.

Since that time, the Valuable Girl Project has been working with girls to ensure they stay in school, believe in themselves, and become healthy mothers.

So now the Serve to Learn volunteers have the full story: from the fatherless children they’ve met, to their mothers, to the young women that the Valuable Girl Project aspires to put on a different path. It’s a path that’s heavy on studying, and soon the girls head back inside to continue learning together. Meanwhile, the volunteers are back on the road to the school where they teach their kids. Education, education, education — that’s the key.

Empowering Girls & Strengthening Partners, Tamkeen-Style


Tamkeen's young women turn their energy on finding positive solutions to challenges in their community.
Tamkeen’s young women turn their energy to finding positive solutions to challenges facing their own communities.

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!

‘I Saw God’s Hand Clearly Working in My Life’ — Serve to Learn Contest Winner Julianne Youssef

Julianne Youssef, Serve to Learn essay contest winner and volunteer.

Dear Friends,
Good news from Egypt — Serve to Learn is happening right now, in classrooms and homes in Egypt! To give you an idea of the volunteers’ motivations, today I’d like to share part of a winning submission to our essay contest by Julianne Youssef.  She’s an artist who wants to share her passion for art with the children, and one of two eloquent people who won a free trip to Egypt. Today, she’s part of the 26-person team from around the world that is serving in Egypt and feeling the children’s love! We’re very proud of them, and we’re thankful to all the people who submitted essays. We’re also grateful to the generous donors who supplied the two “scholarship” trips to Egypt! By the grace of God, let’s keep educating our kids! 
— Nermien Riad

Having grown up in the Coptic Orthodox Church, I ventured out to explore what I can learn about God outside of my comfort zone. In 2011, I was going through a particularly tough time after my favorite and closest aunt, my dad’s youngest sister, passed away of breast cancer. She was like an angel in my eyes. I was devastated for a long time and I remember praying to God earnestly, asking Him to please guide me out of my heavy grief. I knew that if I focused all my attention on helping others, that I’d have no time to contemplate my own pain. As I searched the internet for different avenues, I came across a mission trip departing exactly one year from the day of my aunt’s passing. I received it as a sign on where God wanted me to go—rural Argentina.

There were many challenges throughout this experience. One was that I didn’t speak the language, and second, I had never evangelized anywhere to anybody. But it was through that journey that I saw God’s hand clearly working in my life! I witnessed Him and felt His presence more as a stranger in a foreign land because I was relying on Him completely. I was expecting the five other ladies that accompanied me to lead the way, especially because they spoke fluent Spanish. But to my surprise, the people we encountered were really interested in hearing from me, because I am Coptic.

It was an important time for me because, as I learned about the Argentinian people and culture, I also learned about myself and how I’m perceived in a different part of the world. There, I was not looked at as an American—I was looked at as a Copt. I felt the responsibility of representing the Copts in a place where no one had ever met a Copt before. My message was simple: be open and kind to others, and people reciprocated.

As an artist, I participate in events that help broadcast to the world what is happening in Egypt. My art becomes my voice. My theme is usually human rights and equality. It is my responsibility to speak out for those that cannot. The purpose of these events is to raise awareness of the Coptic minorities being persecuted in Egypt. One of the events I took part in, “I Am Egypt,” featured an art exhibit, which over 300 people attended.

For me, preserving my heritage is a very real, tangible goal, fearlessly using my art and talents as catalysts to bring peace and understanding in a land where hostility is bred. This is the true meaning of my Coptic identity, dare I say, my calling.

Since my inspiration comes from God, my role then becomes to listen and imitate Him, by evangelizing the Coptic word through my art.

In the words of Saint Paul, 1 Corinthians 13:13, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” As the body of Christ, we can reach far many people through love than by any other means. I am a Copt because we are Copts; it no longer matters if we descend from pharaohs. Together—and only together—can we preserve our heritage by using our talents and voices to spread the true meaning of being a Coptic: love.

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 can also check out the other winning essay, by Crestin. 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.