Tag Archives: women

How the Girls’ Love and Tolerance Awakened a Community

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The Valuable Girl Project honors young women’s voices.

I’m writing today with sadness, because Leila, one of the participants in the Valuable Girl Project, recently passed away. Like all of the Little Sisters in the project, Leila is someone we cherished. Her loss is felt deeply by staff, family, and her friends.

Yet, I also want to share the remarkable way the girls united after Leila’s passing, and how that also brought together their Christian and Muslim parents.

Leila (not her real name) was struck by heart problems while traveling out of Upper Egypt. By the time she could be treated, it was too late to save her life. In the wake of this tragedy, her fellow Little and Big Sisters were sad, but consoled each other. And, amazingly, they decided that they should be part of the public mourning.

“All of the girls wanted to be present at their sister’s funeral,” said Susan, coordinator of the project site.

I can’t tell you how unusual that is, not just in a town in Upper Egypt, but in all of the country. Cemeteries are, as a rule, just about as segregated as it gets. For the girls to unite around the memory of their friend, and persuade their parents to permit their show of collective grief and solidarity, was an extremely rare event.

Leila’s family was really overwhelmed by the girls’ decision to come together, and as a group including both Christians and Muslims. And, somehow, this brought the community together in a way that hadn’t happened before. It seemed to make them value the project even more, and increase their determination to sustain it.

“We really want to see this project continue,” Rana, the mother one of the Valuable Girl Project participants, told Susan. “Even if it means we have to keep it going without funding, somehow.”

Thanks to generous donors whose specially dedicated contributions provide all the support for the Valuable Girl Project, there’s no danger of the project shutting down. In fact, we’re just as committed to it as the parents, and we’re identifying participants and sites for 2016.  We’re spreading the messages that girls and young women are a benefit to themselves and society when they have access to education, that Christians and Muslims can overcome the obstacles facing them. And we count on everyone who shares these values to stand with us.

This work makes a difference. We can see it in the way the girls came together when Leila passed away, surprising their community with their love and unity. We can see it in their parents’ desire to continue the project, no matter what stands in the way. Together, we’ll keep spreading tolerance and access to quality education for these valuable girls!

Giving Girls Education and Respect: It Works

The Valuable Girl Project creates a safe space for learning.
The Valuable Girl Project creates a safe space for learning.

This time last year, I wouldn’t have expected to be able to deliver an update like this one on the Valuable Girl Project. But here it is:

Not only did Samia get excellent grades, but her Big Sisters improved the literacy rates in her hometown!

You may remember Samia from my blog post “Breaking the Cycle” last November. She’s the kid who entered the Valuable Girl Project with a chip on her shoulder — cursing, stealing, and hitting the other girls.

The project’s Big Sister-Little Sister model, which creates one-to-one mentoring relationships, seemed to do Samia a world of good. She stopped hitting people, learned social skills, and started making friends.

Samia’s transformation, which I mentioned last fall, reached another milestone this summer. During my visit, one of the project coordinators handed me Samia’s report card, which she’d proudly shared with her role models.

“EXCELLENT” grades in Arabic, math, and science!

When I saw those grades, I wondered if Samia’s father knew about this huge achievement. Her dad is behind bars for life, more or less.  Would he be proud that Samia is making progress toward escaping his generation’s cycle of violence and poverty?

Seeing Samia’s grades confirmed for me, once again, that kids from the poorest households (even those where they’re more likely to be hit than hugged) can be transformed by education, love, and respect.

But girls can’t flourish in a community that’s crumbling. That’s why the Valuable Girl Project also aims to be a resource to the cities and villages where it operates.

It’s a good start to provide, as the project does, a safe space for the Big Sisters and Little Sisters to learn together, particularly when the pairs are Christians and Muslims.

But to really have an impact, other effects have to ripple outward from the project’s five sites in Upper and Lower Egypt. This summer, I found out about an exciting way that this aspiration became a reality.

Here’s what happened: The community development association that hosts Samia’s site discovered that many students in the area couldn’t read or write, despite being enrolled in school. In response, they organized a special training program in literacy tutoring skills.

The association approached the project’s Big Sisters, and 18 of them participated in the training. Next, the girls volunteered in a local literacy initiative. Together, they taught reading and writing to 200 kids! A pre- and post- evaluation of the children’s reading skills showed an average improvement of 60%.

It felt good to hear this, knowing that literacy has a huge positive impact on a child’s life chances. Not only that, but the Valuable Girl Project had benefited not just one girl, Samia, but an entire community.

I love that the Valuable Girl Project’s effects are beginning to radiate outward, from individual lives to communities. That’s the power of education and respect. When we give them to girls, they shine!

Here’s another post about these girls and their site: Girls, Tolerance, Pyramids (And Other Wonders of the World)Stay tuned to learn more about the Valuable Girl Project by subscribing to this blog! More updates coming soon.

* Names and identifying details in story are changed to protect the privacy of the young women in the Valuable Girl Project.

A Woman Who’s Not Waiting for Handouts — And Proud of It

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Susan, who knows the pride of self-sufficiency through hard work, and her daughter.

A giant drawing of St. George looms over visitors to Susan’s home, but she’s not waiting for heroes on horseback to save her family. She’s taking her fate into her own hands — she’s had to, since the artist, her husband, passed away two years ago.

When I first met Susan this August, she was still grieving for her husband. But, as she says, the time came when she had to decide how to support her 8-year-old daughter.

It wasn’t going to be easy, there in her marginalized neighborhood on the outskirts of Minya in Upper Egypt. From an already hardscrabble existence, her husband’s death dropped her down even farther on the economic ladder. For Susan’s family, some necessities quickly became luxuries.

Added to the economic blow of widowhood came the restrictions imposed on her by Egypt’s male-dominated society. Expectations are that widows will stick to the home and rely on charity to survive.

Certainly, the last thing anyone in Egypt expects a widow to do is to go into business. Better, the thinking goes, that they live on handouts. Yet, says Susan, “I knew I had to do something productive.”

It was an uphill battle to scrape together what remained of her savings, borrow bits and pieces here and there from family and friends, and turn a room of her house into a dry goods store. But Susan did it.

Today, people from the neighborhood pop in for their bags of detergent and other household needs. Their small purchases earn a thin margin of profit that helps put bread on the table for Susan’s daughter.

Talking to Susan, I came to understand the pride she takes in this achievement, and the depth of her drive to succeed despite huge, huge obstacles.

It’s for people like Susan that B’edaya, Coptic Orphans’ microfinance project, exists. I’m proud that we’ve begun the process of selecting a new group of 50 mothers to receive B’edaya loans of up to 7,000 Egyptian pounds (around US$1,000).

For those who have already started a business, the money may foot the bill for improvements that offer a competitive advantage in the market. For others, the loan may be the first step towards financial self-sufficiency, and fund the foundation of the enterprise they’re envisioning.

B’edaya mothers — all of them the widowed mothers of orphans in our Not Alone program — have successfully run everything from feed stores to photography studios to home furnishings outlets.

This next round of B’edaya builds on the achievements of 30 mothers in Sohag, Minya, Alexandria, Monofiyya, and Cairo who received the most recent round of loans in 2014. So thanks to generous support from all over the world, we’re getting closer to our goal of empowering Egypt’s women through microfinance!

The next round will begin in March 2016, and the widows selected to participate will receive ongoing coaching and skills-building to ensure that they can use their loans to best effect.

We hope that all of the Susans of Egypt will apply for B’edaya’s next round, and we’re encouraging them to do so. Because as she can tell you, there’s a difference between waiting for a handout and being your own boss.

The difference is pride.

 

*Names and personal details changed to protect the privacy and dignity of the family.