Tag Archives: Serve to Learn

‘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.

Would You Call Yourself a Copt?

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Two Copts take a break during Serve to Learn 2014 in Egypt.

Not long ago, many of the staff here at Coptic Orphans sat down to talk about what it means to be a Copt. We also tried to figure out how Copts and our identity are intertwined with Egypt. As you can imagine, we talked a lot about molokhia.

We started from the premise that we weren’t trying to define a Coptic identity, because that’s for theologians and other people far more knowledgeable than we are. We ended with a deeper appreciation for the rich religious and cultural heritage that we have, as Christians rooted in a land where Jesus walked.

One thing we learned is that, without a doubt, “Lots of people have lots of opinions.” In fact, as often as we tried to throw something into the basket of things labeled “Copt,” someone would try to grab it and throw it out. That was true, for example, with the idea of Coptic language. Some saw knowing Coptic as a critical aspect of being a Copt. Others found that idea mysterious.

Actually, the more we looked at the word “Copt,” the more we realized that there were people using it in multiple ways. There was certainly the religious meaning — that was indispensable. But there were also cultural meanings. And even if we managed to group all these elements in an orderly way, who were we to decide who was a Copt and who was not?

In fact, the more we talked, the more we realized that we weren’t even sure how many people saw themselves. In a few cases, we wondered if the simplest thing wasn’t simply to ask people, “Would you call yourself a Copt?”

For we who are not theologians, this makes all kinds of sense. First, because it’s not up to us to judge. And second, because the unfolding of the Coptic diaspora has created people whose complex backgrounds don’t fit neat definitions.

It’s no longer that you’re simply a Copt from Minya or Sohag or wherever. An Ethiopian Copt living in the United States considers themselves just as Coptic as the Copt from Shobra. Another person may be Australian born and bred, without the faintest conception of Egypt, yet they come to the word “Copt” by way of conversion. And then there are people who see themselves as Christians within One Body in Christ, whose Coptic roots come with their Egyptian heritage.

In short, we have a lot of thinking to do, together. It’s not an abstract conversation, though, because it has real-world consequences. We discovered this the other day when we posted the rules to an essay contest connected with Serve to Learn. Probably with much less thinking than was merited, we wrote: “To apply for one of these two free trips you must be of Coptic ancestry.”

“Coptic ancestry.”


So we’re going to have to revisit those two words, or at least better define what we were not talking about. With apologies to anyone who might have felt excluded. In using the words “Coptic ancestry, ” here’s what we, non-theologians and non-social scientists that we are, were trying to convey:

Would you call yourself a Copt?

If so, please take part in the essay contest. We’d love to have you enter.

That leaves the question of why we’d limit the contest to people who think of themselves as Copts. There are a few reasons.

The first is that the contest prizes — essentially, scholarships to take part in Serve to Learn for free — were donated by supporters who asked that they be designated as such, as tools to help tie future generations to Egypt.

The second is that we’re trying to make these scholarships accessible to young people whose families arrived not long ago from Egypt, and who may be facing the same financial challenges that most new immigrant families face.

And third, we’re looking to make the scholarships more accessible to people who already have a cultural or religious tie to Egypt that they’re trying to strengthen — because, let’s face it, there aren’t any other resources out there to help them connect with that heritage.

So, with that in mind, and in good faith that we’ve done a better job communicating this time, we’re looking forward to some amazing essays.

Win a Free Trip to Egypt!

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Serve to Learn is a chance to build personal relationships of love with children in Egypt!

I’ve just received great news: Through the grace of God, two generous donors are offering to send a pair of volunteers on our Serve to Learn trip to Egypt — for free!

These donors have agreed to cover the program fee and airfare for two volunteers to take part in the July 3-25 session of Serve to Learn, our unique initiative to connect volunteers from around the world to Egypt.

To qualify for this opportunity, you’ll need to do two things. First, submit an application for Serve to Learn by the April 15 deadline. Second, enter our essay contest about strengthening and preserving our Coptic identity (details below)!

Free trip or no free trip, if you take part in Serve to Learn, you can count on having a life-changing experience serving God’s children! Here’s how your three weeks in Egypt will look:

  • First, you’ll see the real Egypt, because you’ll stay in a village along the Nile — Manfalout, Matay, Gerga, Abnoub, Tema, or Barsha — and live among the people.
  • Second, you’ll have the area’s bishop on your side — he’ll provide you with hospitality and watch out for your safety.
  • Third, you’ll make a difference in the lives of kids in the diocese by teaching them basic English skills through fun, interactive games and activities.
  • Fourth, and most importantly, you’ll visit the children at home, learn about their lives, and build deep, loving relationships with them.

Serve to Learn is also an opportunity to connect more deeply with the Church. Last year, the volunteers were also blessed to be called to a special meeting with His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, and they received a spiritual orientation from Abouna Dawood Lamey.

Are you ready for this life-changing experience in Egypt? Returning volunteers say Serve to Learn really transforms the way they look at the world. Join Serve to Learn, and you’ll come home changed in ways you could never predict.

But remember, the April 15 deadline is coming fast, so apply now, because spots are limited!

Essay Contest Rules:

To qualify to win one of these two free trips you must:

  • Be of Coptic ancestry
  • Apply for the July 2015 Serve to Learn trip by April 15
  • Submit the essay on Coptic heritage to mfouad@copticorphans.org by May 1, 2015

Please write a 1,500-2,000 word essay answering the following:

The Coptic identity developed in an environment of persecution which nurtured a unique and tenacious Christian faith. For millennia, Copts have been able to maintain their identity and faith in spite of those hardships. Why is preserving our Coptic heritage so important? Where do you see your role in preserving that unique identity?

PS: Want to hear more from people who’ve been part of Serve to Learn? Check out the reflections of two people who served this January, Peter Wassef and Mary Loka:


You can hear His Holiness speak on the importance of serving in Egypt in this video, which gives a snapshot of the whole Serve to Learn experience: