Tag Archives: orphans

The Libya Martyrs’ Children: An Update on the Difference You’re Making

The 21 martyrs of Libya. Icon written by Tony Rezk.
The 21 martyrs of Libya. Icon written by Tony Rezk.

I’m writing to update you on Coptic Orphans’ support for the children of the 21 martyrs in Libya.

This story actually begins 16 years ago, when we met with H.G. Bishop Pevnotios. Most of the Libya martyrs’ children weren’t even alive then. But today, you will find nearly all of them in His Grace’s diocese in Samalout.

That day 16 years ago, by God’s grace and with your partnership, a seed was planted. His Grace agreed that we would work in his diocese, and he recommended Church-based volunteers to serve as Coptic Orphans Reps.

The Reps worked hard and enrolled more kids. And so, over these past 16 years, we’ve served 1,095 children in Samalout.

Which brings us to today. We have 23 Reps in His Grace’s diocese. Each has relationships of love and mentorship with the orphans who are “their” kids. In regular face-to-face visits, they nurture the kids’ character and talents — and above all, their education.

These Reps know Samalout, they’re trained as a team, and they know that people like you are behind them with support and prayers. Their 16 years of service are just the beginning.

Promoting literacy and love of reading at a Coptic Orphans event in Samalout.
Promoting literacy and a love of reading at a Coptic Orphans event in Samalout.

In other words, the seed that was planted 16 years ago, with God’s help, has grown into a tree with branches strong enough to support the Libya martyrs’ children.

With this strong structure in place, we were able to begin investigating the kids’ needs immediately after the massacre. We learned that 10 of the martyrs had left behind a total of 19 children. Of the 19, two live in Mattay and 17 in Samalout. We decided to focus our energies on Samalout, where our strengths and nearly all the kids are.

We spent a lot of time carefully looking at the children and their situations. And because we’re committed to accountability and transparency, I’m reporting what we’ve learned to you.

We discovered that all of the families, by God’s grace, are benefitting from great generosity. Churches, businesspeople, individuals, and other services have supplemented strong support from the Egyptian government. These families now actually have a lot of resources, especially in the short term, even divided among many family members, that will help meet their day-to-day needs. Much of what has been donated from these sources must be shared among the deceased’s wife, his children, his parents, and his unmarried siblings.

We’re grateful that God touched the hearts of so many people and made this outpouring possible. We also know that these children’s needs will continue — and even grow — in the 4, 8, even 10 or more years before they reach adulthood.

That knowledge forced us to do some soul-searching. You, the Coptic Orphans family, decided to sustain the martyrs’ children by donating US$91,902. For a child who is in our program for a normal amount of time, for example, about 8 years, that’s US$676 a year — not a huge amount, but very significant, for Egypt. And clearly these kids are a special case. We couldn’t have anticipated it, but now they’re not “low income” — a prerequisite for being in our program.

We’d committed to standing with these children. But what did they need us for now, with all this money? We studied, discussed, argued, and decided on enrolling them in our program anyway.

To explain why, I need to tell you about a rich woman who approached us, years ago. She was taking care of her two orphaned nephews. She gave them everything, but something was wrong. Compared to other orphans in her area — kids in our program — her nephews were troubled and undisciplined.

She came to us and said, “I want you to enroll my nephews in your program. You don’t have to spend anything on them; I’ll pay for everything. I just want them to have what the other kids in your program are getting. I want them to have the love, the guidance, so they grow up to be healthy people.”

We’ve heard this before, and it echoes what we believe the Coptic Orphans family is really about. Meeting basic needs should be a given. With your partnership, we do that.

But what’s really valuable — and transforming — is the Reps’ work to mentor the child, promote their self-discipline and resilience, instill a strong work ethic, and support their education. That’s real long-term development, not charity.

Therefore, there is a long road ahead with the martyrs’ children in Samalout. Our Reps will give each one the love and mentoring they need. Their families will also receive the wider support we offer to all of the program’s families, such as workshops to help widows manage their finances, and to empower them to support their children. But in terms of your donations, we’ll focus on what we do best: Education.

How that looks will depend on each child. But all of them will need the tutoring that Egypt’s decaying school system has made indispensable. All will need constant guidance that education, not a pension, is the road to independence. Some will advance to university, and we’ll support them by paying tuition and fees.

We’ll only know the final results of these efforts when these children grow up. The seed planted 16 years ago, in the meeting with H.G. Bishop Pevnotios, is still growing.

But however this turns out, the Coptic Orphans family will have done everything possible to make sure that the children of the Libya martyrs are loved, supported, mentored, and educated.  Thank you for partnering with us, with God at the center.

Related Posts:

What Could We Have Done to Save the 21? A Lot More
Act Now to Prevent More Massacres
The Copts Martyred in Libya – How You Can Help
Remembering the Children Who Lost Their Fathers in Libya
Charleston and Samalout: The Connection That Surprises the World

4 Biggest Myths About Coptic Orphans

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We love the kids we serve, and their families, so it’s important that everyone knows what we actually do.

People get a lot of ideas about Coptic Orphans, some of them reasonable, some of them nutty. Here are the four most common things I hear about Coptic Orphans that make me want to explain, or point to things in our annual report, or tear out my hair.

1. Coptic Orphans runs orphanages.

There’s a microscopic grain of truth to this myth, but you’d have to go back decades to find it. The grain is that I founded Coptic Orphans to support 45 girls in a Cairo orphanage. But that was back in the 1980s, and it didn’t take me long to discover that orphanages aren’t the best solution.

Today, what Coptic Orphans actually does is make sure that a child who’s lost a parent can stay with a family member. In Coptic Orphans, that usually means staying with their mother. That’s the situation we’ve managed to sustain for most of the nearly 10,000 kids we currently serve.

Lately, I’ve been relieved to read the latest research on what’s really beneficial to children. The studies confirm what I could feel in my gut. Everyone from Save the Children to Lumos now agrees that putting kids in institutions, except in extreme cases, is actually harmful. In fact, we’ve seen horrible examples that confirm the damage that institutionalization can do to a child, including a high-profile case in Egypt.

So there are no Coptic Orphans orphanages, for one simple reason: Keeping a child with his or her family is, as a rule, far more healthy than placing them in an institution.

2. Coptic Orphans only benefits Copts.

It’s true that all the children in our flagship program, Not Alone, are Copts. We’re constrained by a lot of factors in who we can enroll in Not Alone, not least by the need to be sure we’re never perceived as proselytizing. Egyptian law strictly forbids that, and believe me, we don’t want to tangle with that law.

Since each child in Not Alone is visited at home by a Church-based volunteer “Rep,” we clearly have a limited pool of children we can serve without risking misplaced accusations that get us in trouble. On that basis alone, we’ve never considered expanding Not Alone to non-Copts.

But there are important ways in which Not Alone benefits not only Copts, but also the wider Egyptian society. It’s hard to contain the positive effects of a program like Not Alone, because the kids we serve grow up to be more productive citizens. No society can function without well-educated, civic-minded adults, and it’s exactly those people that Not Alone aims to nurture and support.

Just as importantly, we also directly serve both Christian and Muslim girls and young women ages 7-22 through our Valuable Girl Project. While the project serves many Not Alone kids, it functions independently and is funded by a different pool of donors. It’s been running for over 12 years, focusing on academic retention, education, and literacy, and it peaked at 15 sites around Egypt. Through it, young women in secondary school, the “Big Sisters,” mentor girls in primary school, the “Little Sisters.” Local coordinators based in partner organizations oversee these mentorship programs.

The project offers a bridge to understanding between Christian and Muslim community members whose paths might otherwise never cross. In this way, we do more than simply stand with disadvantaged girls as they work to break the cycle of poverty. We also increase the overall level of Christian-Muslim understanding and mutual respect in Egyptian society.

So it’s a myth that our work benefits only Copts. In both direct and indirect ways, we serve the wider Egyptian community — and we’re proud of it.

3. Coptic Orphans is a charity.

It’s easy to mistake Coptic Orphans for a charity. After all, like a charity, people give money for a good cause and expect results. What makes Coptic Orphans different, however, is the results we expect and deliver. These results come from taking a “transformational,” rather than a “charity,” approach.

The “charity” approach relates to people as victims who depend on handouts. The “transformational” approach is proactive and defines people as equal partners in transforming their lives and developing their communities. We who are blessed to walk with them on this journey are also transformed, as part of One Body in Christ. When we talk about Coptic Orphans as a “development” organization, it’s largely in terms of this transformation.

What makes our approach “transformational” is acknowledging that God is at the center. All true change comes from the Holy Spirit, and flows from and points to the Kingdom of God.

I’ve seen the transformational approach make huge changes in people’s lives. One example is our B’edaya initiative, which provides the widowed mothers of our Not Alone children with loans and skills to start businesses.

In B’edaya, income generation for the widow’s family is important, but it’s just the beginning. The big picture — and what’s transformational — is each widow’s change from passivity and hopelessness to feeling fulfilled, valuable to herself and others, and in control of her own destiny. This contrasts with the charity approach, which would involve simply giving the widows money or material goods.

So with Coptic Orphans, there are no hand-outs. We work so that people’s lives are transformed, by God’s grace, and they can stand on their own two feet.

4. Coptic Orphans has insane overhead costs.

This is both a good laugh and my least favorite myth.

Here’s a related story: Once, I heard that a particular individual was telling people that Coptic Orphans spends some ridiculous sum on things that don’t directly benefit the kids, like administrative costs, fundraising, and so on. I got so ticked off, I went to his house and knocked on his door to tell him what I’m about to tell you (but here, I’m going to sound a great deal calmer).

The truth is, in 2014, the last year for which we were audited (and we’re independently audited every year) 90% of what we spent went directly to program expenses for the children. Only 7% went for fundraising, and only 3% for management and general expenses.

For the nonprofit field, this is excellent. Research on nonprofit overhead finds that 20% is considered the norm. And as for ordinary people’s perceptions of what’s normal — “the average American believes that a charity should spend no more than 23 percent on overhead.”

In other words, Coptic Orphans spends far, far less on overhead than what is considered normal by the experts, or by the average person. That’s a key reason why Charity Navigator, North America’s largest independent evaluator of nonprofit financial effectiveness and accountability, has given us their highest 4-star rating for two years in a row.

I’m proud of that. We accomplish this low overhead by all kinds of cost-saving measures. The main one is that there are no luxuries associated with working at Coptic Orphans. People who work here believe passionately in spending everything on the kids, so they go through all kinds of contortions to save money. So, for example, when we travel to make a presentation at a church or partner organization, if there’s any way possible, we stay at the home of a supporter rather than at a hotel. Over time, these savings add up to a large sum of money that goes for the kids.

So that’s the myth about our overhead. The bottom line is, don’t apply for a job here expecting to ride around in a limo, fly around in the company blimp, or stay at the Cairo Sheraton. The biggest perk anyone gets from working at Coptic Orphans is an occasional bowl of my shorbet el ads.

Those are the four biggest myths about what Coptic Orphans does. Thanks for reading.

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!