Looking back at 2015, which had the children’s many academic successes, our meeting with His Holiness, the anniversary gala in Cairo, and a conference of nearly 500 Church-based volunteers, I can only express deep gratitude to God for making everything possible.
As together we step into 2016, I’m reminded of these words I love: “Let us give thanks to the beneficent and merciful God, the Father of our Lord, God, and Savior, Jesus Christ, for He has covered us, helped us, guarded us, accepted us unto Him, spared us, supported us, and brought us to this hour.”
We also owe so much to our supporters worldwide for enabling these remarkable steps forward, especially by ensuring access to quality education for thousands of children. We’re deeply grateful to everyone who’s made a commitment to the academic success of these brilliant, heroic kids.
As we close out 2015, Coptic Orphan has reached over 40,000 children in Egypt since 1988. Here are some of the ways your love, prayers, and support made an impact this year:
• Almost 25% of Coptic Orphans youth, who come from some of Egypt’s most poverty-stricken communities, earned senawiyyah 3amma (high school final exam) grades of 85% or higher.
• Children enrolled in Coptic Orphans programs were more than three times more likely to complete their secondary education than their average Egyptian peers.
• For the second year running, 10 Coptic Orphans children beat tremendous odds to win prestigious LOTUS and AMIDEAST scholarships to Egypt’s best universities such as the AUC and the British University.
These academic achievements of Coptic Orphans children would not be possible without the Church. We’re incredibly grateful to the Church for partnering with us in 55 dioceses across Egypt.
We felt especially blessed in 2015, because His Holiness Pope Tawadros II met with the volunteers in our Serve to Learn program on July 25, telling them of the value of their service for the children and for Egypt. We’re thankful beyond words for His Holiness’ inspiration and leadership.
Overall, in 2015, 37 Serve to Learn volunteers from around the world traveled to Egypt for three weeks of serving, teaching, and forming close bonds with children in communities such as Armant, Luxor, and El Barsha, Mallawi.
Another key step forward in 2015 was the conference of nearly 500 Church-based volunteer “Reps,” the backbone of Coptic Orphans’ work with the children. The highlight of the August event in Hurghada was intensive training in how to build rapport with the children served by Coptic Orphans.
Coptic Orphans capped the year on Oct. 11 with a silver anniversary gala celebrating 25 years of serving God and the children. Among the speakers and honored guests at the Cairo event were Deputy Minister of the Cairo Governorate Gihan Abdel Rahman Ahmed, former Minister of Urban Development Dr. Laila Iskander, and Dr. Raouf Ghabbour.
At the event, which was attended by over 150 guests, Coptic Orphans presented its Leading by Example Award to Eng. Hossam El Kabbany, chairman of the Al Orman Association, to honor his tireless work to improve the lives of Egypt’s most vulnerable citizens. The award honors people whose character and achievements make them role models in Egypt and around the world. Past recipients include Dr. Farouk El Baz, His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, and Ola Ghabbour, founder of the Children’s Cancer Hospital.
With God’s grace, we’re looking forward to a fantastic 2016 that builds on these achievements and brings better lives to even more children. And as we finish a wonderful 2015, I want to say to everyone in the Coptic Orphans family: “Thank you, and may you have a blessed and Happy New Year!”
Dear Friends, Today, my family and I are celebrating a special time of remembrance for God’s blessings — Thanksgiving Day. It’s a pause for reflection and gratitude for people we’ve known and experiences we’ve shared. For that reason, I’d like to share an article our staff wrote about a great humanitarian, our friend Ola Ghabbour. Although she passed away last year, to the sorrow of all who knew her, we continue to give thanks for her work for the children of Egypt. — Nermien
Ola Ghabbour, who passed away last year, was not a person to waste time. The first week after her honeymoon, recalls her husband Raouf, she asked him for buses.
“Buses?” asked Raouf, one of Egypt’s leading businessmen. “What do you need buses for?”
To Ola, it was very clear. At only 19, she was already caring for children with special needs through a foundation set up by one of her best friends, Magda Moussa.
“These kids are locked in the house all week,” Ola told her new husband. “At least on the weekend I could take them to the zoo or the aquatic gardens. It would make them happy.”
And so Ghabbour company buses began spending weekends on the road, pressed into service for Egypt’s children.
That was Ola’s approach: She had her work cut out for her, and so did anything or anyone who could help a child. That is how she created — out of thin air — Egypt’s largest and most advanced hospital for children, 57357, which treats 12,000 active patients annually and has saved countless lives.
It was an approach that won her respect and recognition both in Egypt and abroad. Someone once asked Sir Magdi Yacoub, the pioneering Egyptian heart surgeon, “Who are the two people who’ve influenced you most in life?” After some thought, came his reply: “Nelson Mandela and Ola Ghabbour.”
That recognition continues to today.
“I’ve never seen anyone work the way Ola worked for the children of Egypt,” said Nermien Riad, founder and executive director of the Christian development organization Coptic Orphans.
Riad’s organization presented Ghabbour with its Leading by Example Award in 2008. Other recipients of the award include businessman Naguib Sawiris, former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs Liz Cheney, and in 2014, His Holiness Pope Tawadros II.
“It’s important that the world continues to learn from Ola’s leadership and incredible spirit of volunteerism, so we honored her at our 25th anniversary gala in Washington, D.C. this October,” said Riad.
But awards and recognition were not what drove Ghabbour, and her work exacted a price.
“When I’d see Ola in the hospital with the children with cancer, I would see her treating them as if they were her own children,” said Raouf Ghabbour. “The baby would be looking at her while she carried him around, but she wouldn’t show anything. But every day when she came home, she would cry — the moment she came back.”
“Most people who do charity do it in addition to other things,” Ghabbour said. “Ola dedicated her whole life to it. Charity, for her, was not just about supporting people in the physical sense. She believed in supporting people who had no one else to support them in both the body and the soul.”
The story of Ola Ghabbour’s transformation into the champion of Egypt’s children begins around 1995, when, according to her husband, she learned about the “blue babies” — children born near death because of perforated hearts.
“In the 80s, they used to die,” said Ghabbour. “Someone told her this, and she found a doctor in Europe and convinced him to come every month and do a week of free surgeries. With the Cairo University faculty of medicine, she put in a team of teachers. And in no time, children stopped dying.”
This success gave Ola even bigger ideas, including one that was the genesis of Hospital 57357.
“The same thing happened with lots of children in the 1980s who had cancer,” said Ghabbour. “The moment they had cancer in one of their limbs, they’d amputate it. She brought in a French doctor. We used to pay his airfare and hotel. He’d come one a month for a week or 10 days, do lots of surgeries, but no amputations. And again, this stopped being a problem.”
According to Ghabbour, his wife’s next stop was the Cancer Institute.
“She came back very depressed,” he recalled. “‘What’s wrong, Ola?’ I asked. She told me: ‘There are very good doctors and nurses, but they don’t have the money for medicines, so people are dying.’ I told her, ‘OK, look into it, then give me the names of the people who need support.’ She came back and said that the monthly amount is x, to buy medicines, to buy beds.”
Ola Ghabbour’s fundraising for the institute was a success, and changed the lives of countless patients. But she still perceived greater needs of children with cancer, and she was only getting started.
“She came back after that, saying, ‘I want to do a cancer hospital for children,'” Ghabbour remembered. “And although everything Ola did was great, this was the greatest.”
Networking through her friends and family, Ola Ghabbour raised hundreds of millions of pounds and convinced the government to donate the necessary plot of land.
At one point, when many donations had come in, there was a pause as the building campaign caught its breath. But once the foundations had been poured, the campaign picked up speed once again, and by July 7, 2007, Children’s Cancer Hospital 57375 (so named for the number of the bank account receiving donations) opened its doors.
“It all started like this. This is how Egyptians are — they’ve been tricked so many times, they need to see something real,” Raouf Ghabbour said of the tangible foundation that spurred the campaign onward. “But the moment they see, their hearts are huge, and they begin giving.”
The results of Ola’s efforts are visible today. Children’s Cancer Hospital 57375 is a gleaming beacon of glass and steel in Cairo’s Sayeda Zeinab neighborhood. With 250 doctors and 1,332 nurses for inpatients, an advanced computer system for record-keeping, and 35 outpatient clinics, the hospital is amply prepared to treat thousands of patients each day.
The doors of the hospital are open to sick children aged up to 18, who, in keeping with Ola Ghabbour’s vision of “giving back” to the community, are treated for free.
“This is an astonishing legacy for one person,” said Riad. “If you take even the rough numbers of children treated through her work over the years, you have to be looking at an enormous number of Egyptian kids who owe their life, in some fashion, to Ola Ghabbour’s efforts.”
And though the fame of Hospital 57375 brought her honors and accolades, they never went to her head. Humility and stubborn resistance to high living remained her hallmark traits until she passed away in 2013.
“She always refused to get anything for herself, to the extent that I used to take her out and buy things for her,” said Raouf Ghabbour. “If something was expensive, she would say ‘no’ to it. On our wedding anniversary or her birthday, I would bring her jewelry. She used to make a big fuss, saying, ‘Take these things back to the guy. Give me the cash, and I’ll give it to charity x, y, z.'”
And though she fought and lost to cancer — the foe she’d beaten so many times for the children — to the very end, she retained another of her traits: humor.
“Ola was the funniest person on Earth. She used to love laughing, and she made us all laugh. She was jadda3,” said Raouf Ghabbour. “She was someone you could rely on in all situations — she never lost her lucidity or judgment, even in the most difficult circumstances.”
In Egypt, where an estimated 8,400 children develop cancer each year, countless families lean on the the strength and the vision of Ola Ghabbour.
“Ola Ghabbour changed Egypt for the children, making it a more humane, more advanced, more caring place,” said Riad. “All of us who work for the children owe her a huge debt, because she changed Egypt for them, and for everyone who loves them.”
By the grace of God, and thanks to a spectacular team effort by volunteers, staff, and supporters, our 25th Anniversary Galas achieved everything we’d hoped and prayed for!
To everyone who helped create the Galas in Canada, the United States, and Australia — and to the more than 1,000 guests who came and supported the children of Egypt — please accept our heartfelt thanks.
The biggest accomplishment is that our guests sponsored 150 new children. This was an enormous leap forward, in just 7 weeks. It’s as if we were able to enroll over 20 kids each day — something unheard of!
But numbers alone don’t tell the 25th Anniversary story. So I want to share 5 specific moments when I said to myself, “Wow, this is really happening… we’re really doing this, thanks to God.”
His Holiness Pope Tawadros II smiling as he tells us ‘Bravo for your service’
I got chills during the Canada Gala, watching His Holiness smile as he said these words to staff and sponsors: “Bravo for your service. And I’m not sure who’s happier — you, or the children you serve… you’re all happier. Say it loud! Yes… And I’m with you.”
I never imagined His Holiness would one day say such a thing, and with a big smile. After all, we started out so small — just a few volunteers and a dream. But there I was, listening, and later we even got to present His Holiness with the Leading by Example Award to show our gratitude.
It reminded me of feeling blessed and grateful on another occasion, when His Holiness said Coptic Orphans is “a good and outstanding example of a ministry with specific characteristics: Administratively, it’s excellent. 10 out of 10. From a practicality angle, and perceiving people’s unique needs, 10 out of 10.”
Egypt’s Consul General in Washington, D.C., revealing his own experience of fatherlessness
God has an astonishing way of connecting us to the right people, at the right time. This was made clear to me once more at the Gala in the United States.
Can you imagine a speaker revealing that he’d lost his father at an early age? And not just any speaker, but Mr. Ayman Aldesouky Youssef, Consul General of the Arab Republic of Egypt in Washington, D.C.
When he explained that to us, from the podium, I felt so grateful for his courage. It takes a lot to talk about a huge personal loss. He didn’t have to do that — I believe it showed a real love for the kids.
Most of all, I was shocked by the beauty of that moment. How God had, unbeknownst to us, sent us a speaker so deeply and personally connected with our work for fatherless children.
The Canadians mobbing the sponsorship table
Might sound odd, but at one point in the Canada Gala, it felt amazing to see people rush the table where you could sign up to sponsor a child. We’ve had lines at sponsorship tables before, but not like this.
I could tell that something incredible was happening, and it did. By the end of the night, over 70 children had sponsors. This means we’ve committed to providing those kids with years of love and support.
Why’d it happen that way? Because of God’s grace, I think, and the inspiration of His Holiness’ presence. Or maybe Canadians are in a class all their own. All I can say is, at that moment, I felt blessed and grateful beyond words…
Egypt’s Ambassador to New Zealand congratulating the Coptic Orthodox Church
The Church — the center of our community — leads the way for orphans. So you can imagine how great it felt to hear a top Egyptian diplomat express deep admiration for the leaders of our faith.
Here’s what His Excellency Mahmoud Zayed, Ambassador of the Arab Republic of Egypt to New Zealand, said at the Australia Gala:
“Let me also take this opportunity to highlight the fact that the work and achievements of Coptic Orphans were facilitated by a great church, which is the Coptic Orthodox Church, the largest Christian Church in the Middle East. The Coptic Orthodox Church is a pioneer church in reaching out to its communities both in Egypt and around the world and in bringing them together and safeguarding their values and their heritage. Therefore, I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Coptic Church for its achievements and to wish the Coptic Church continued progress under the leadership of His Holiness Pope Tawadros II.”
This was a wonderful message to hear!
Thabet, a Coptic Orphans graduate, lighting up the future
This last moment really struck me, because I think it points the way for the future of our community.
Here’s the story: To show our Galas guest what we do — take them right into the midst of the daily work in Egypt — we had a video made. The first time I saw it, I was floored by one particular person, Thabet.
He’s one of “our” kids — someone who flourished as a child in our programs, made it through his education against great odds, and now has a good job. He seems happy. That’s huge, and makes it all worthwhile.
But something else really moved me. I know it moved many people at the Galas, too, because they came up to me after the video was screened and talked about how they felt. They told me they were moved — and I felt this way, too — because Thabet’s giving back. He’s gone from being one of our kids, to being a volunteer himself and working to improve the lives of his kids.
This is something extraordinary, even though I know Thabet’s story is not unique. Seeing him on the screen, visiting his children, I really understood why we do this work. It’s about more than helping kids survive. It’s about encouraging them to be transformed — by education, by love, by the Church — and to become people who give love back to our community.
That’s the future, I believe. That’s why I share this with you.
So those are 5 of the moments — by no means all of them, but 5 — when I felt amazed and moved during this 25th Anniversary. I’m so happy to recall them with you, to share the results and the joy.
And so here we are, 25 years into this work, together. We’ve empowered 30,000 children in Egypt, making sure they have access to higher education, providing them with better healthcare and housing, and meeting other needs as they arise.
All I can think is, we are the ones who are blessed. His Holiness knew of what he spoke when he said “And I’m not sure who’s happier — you, or the children you serve.” Thank you to everyone who was part of our 25th Anniversary, and thanks above all to God, who makes all things possible.