Tag Archives: Serve to Learn

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.

‘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.

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

150706_Serve Winner 1 for Blog
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.