Nothing is impossible for our God… as I was reminded by a story I heard in Egypt this summer.
A young woman in our program, Mary, fell two stories while hanging out laundry on a line high above the street. Her spine broke, leaving her bed-bound and in agonizing pain. The tragedy and medical expenses were a heavy burden for her widowed mother. Making matters worse, Mary’s fiancé began backing out of their marriage.
We helped pay for Mary’s badly needed surgery, as did her abouna. Her church-based Coptic Orphans volunteer “Rep,” Michael, also contributed a large amount out of his own pocket. It was a truly communal effort, including great support form Mary’s sponsor, and by God’s grace, the surgery helped her begin recovering.
When one of the plates in Mary’s back broke, requiring more surgery, Michael described her suffering to us. “We’ll send whatever you need,” was our response. Meanwhile, Michael began talking to the local police department. He found Mary’s fiancé a job that would ensure a stable family life, and this helped restore her marriage plans.
As this Christmas approaches, Mary has a lot to celebrate… she’s walking again, married, and Michael reports that she is happy! Truly, our God works miracles.
*Names and details changed to protect the privacy of the family
I’ve been interviewing our Serve to Learn volunteers so that everyone can hear about the program from those who’ve done it. Today, I’m proud to share the reflections of Gaby Salib, who took part in Serve to Learn 2014.
For those of you who don’t know, Serve to Learn is a challenging, life-changing, three-week service trip to Egypt. (By the way, you can find your application for the July 3-25 2015 Serve to Learn trip here!) Young people from all over the world answer their calling to make a difference in the world by signing up to serve. Once in Egypt, volunteers are immersed in the life of the community as they teach basic English to the children. Arabic and teaching skills are a great asset for volunteers, but what’s more important is to be ready for some hard work, lots of love, and to be forever changed!
Gaby Salib, who’s interviewed in today’s post, took part in the 2014 trip to Egypt. She lives in Baltimore, MD and is now studying computer engineering at the University of Maryland. Gaby has a strong passion for teaching languages globally — first English, next computer science!
Here’s what Gaby had to say about Serve to Learn 2014!
What was your favorite thing about the people and the kids you lived with while you were in Egypt? Have you brought a little bit of that back home?
The group that I lived with in Egypt made a very lasting impact on me. My favorite part of having my living mates was that though we had each come from fairly different walks of life, we all decided to do Serve to Learn to connect back to Egypt to see what we could do to give back. I’ve definitely taken the spirit and passion of the group back with me. We’ve kept in touch in order to continue encouraging each other spiritually and to remind each other that we need to continue to care for Egypt. As I’ve been back, my favorite topic of discussion is Egypt’s reformation and passion for renewal!
What were some things you found surprising about Copts or Egypt while you were doing Serve to Learn?
The trap that many Christians are destined to fall into is what I found to be surprising about Copts during my time doing Serve to Learn. But at the same time, I found their outlook to be surprising as well. They never spoke as if they were destined to poverty and lower education, but they spoke about what God had blessed them with and granted to them.
The mothers of our Not Alone program children were the ones who threw me off the most. There was one mother we visited who only had her 16-year-old daughter to rely on. But to bring in some money, she sewed and fixed clothes for neighbors or anyone who needed a good stitching. I saw such extraordinary strength in her confidence to use the gifts God has given her. Regardless of how small anyone else may see her skill to be, she has recognized God’s hand in her life and has done her best with what she’s been given. Now, how many people can say they’ve done the same? Bam!
What surprised me about Egypt was the reality of the mistreatment of women as a whole. This realization was so prominent and outrageous to me that I found more of myself and my value as a woman while being looked down upon by the Islamic culture. Since I’m a computer engineering major, I have had a glimpse of the male-dominated field. It felt good to be able to relate and to encourage the girls who were told they couldn’t go into certain professions, or wouldn’t be as good at engineering as a man would, for example. I pray to finish my degree and show them that women are just as intelligent and creative as men would be in such a profession.
When you tell your friends about your summer, what stories do you tell most? Why?
I definitely talk about my classroom experiences most often. It was such an interesting experience to see myself become the teachers I thought were so annoying! It was also extremely humbling to have a classroom of 30 children accept my broken Arabic, without chuckles or corrections! They were all so sweet and loving. Sometimes I would even ask them to teach me different tenses of verbs that I couldn’t quite pronounce! It was such a beautiful exchange of knowledge and creativity in our classrooms. We made them notebooks in which they could write and draw to express their creativity. And seeing the excitement and pride they felt for their work was the greatest gift I could have ever received. Writing this makes me realize how much love was jam-packed into those tiny classrooms.
What are some Serve to Learn things you would: Do? Do more of?
Do: I would continue to plan monastery visits and spiritual trips on the weekends; they really brought spiritual clarity to the trip.
Do more of: Informational and spiritual preparation by video sessions. Although we may be too busy to read all of On Wealth and Poverty before coming to Egypt, we should have some sort of interactive spiritual preparation on expectations of conduct and such.
If one of your friends was on the fence about going to Serve to Learn, what would you tell them to convince them to come?
I would ask them how well they know the hardship of their brothers and sisters in Egypt. If they respond saying they aren’t completely heartbroken about their conditions, then I would tell them they need to Serve To Learn. God tells us in Isaiah 58:6-9,
“Is this not the fast that I have chosen:
To loose the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the heavy burdens,
To let the oppressed go free,
And that you break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out;
When you see the naked, that you cover him,
And not hide yourself from your own flesh?
8 Then your light shall break forth like the morning,
Your healing shall spring forth speedily,
And your righteousness shall go before you;
The glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
You shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’”
PS Please go to the top of this post and hit the “Like” button, then share the post, tweet it, email it to everyone you know, print it out and pass it out 5 to five of your friends, and finally, go (cautiously) stand in the middle of a busy intersection with a megaphone and shout it out!
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.”