Watch the Video Above Here
Did you know that there's a cycle of widowhood among the poor in Egypt?
Under economic pressure, widowed mothers often pull their daughters out of school and marry them off to older men. But that dooms those daughters to one day become widows without the education to provide for their children, either.
The solution is easy: find a way to keep girls in school, and out of marriage until they graduate.
That is the goal of the Valuable Girl Project. Younger girls gain the courage, tenacity, and practical help they need to stay in school through the support of mentors in their local communities. They not only resist family pressures to drop out; but often change their family's views in the process.
Watch Mariam from Egypt tell her story.
People sometimes ask why we place importance on building Christian and Muslim relationships through the Valuable Girl Project. After the revolution sectarian violence has escalated significantly. We see it as our responsibility to continue to build a bridge of understanding to keep our children safe.
In Egypt, many children and adults never interact with each other simply because of their religious differences. Separate cultural and religious practices often eliminate the opportunity to communicate for a basic understanding. As people get older their fear of the unknown can sometimes develop into a full blown hatred.
Aalia* happens to be Muslim and is a Big Sister mentor participating in our Valuable Girl Project. She shares her thoughts about interacting with other Christian girls through Coptic Orphans.
"Before participation in the program, I used to carry negative attitudes and feeling towards Christians in general. I never used to have any Christian friends or as much as talked to my fellow Christian classmates or neighbors, if I knew they were Christian. The reason I joined the project was exclusively driven by the motive to find a job…nothing else! However, upon the start of the project, I was personally touched by the love and respect my fellow Christian girls showed me. After participating in the Valuable Girl Project I started to feel a mutual love and respect for them as well. I felt that something changed in me and in how I lead my life just by observing how they treated me. Consequently, my family also changed their attitudes towards Christians in general. A few months after joining the project, our local VGP coordinators advertised an overnight trip to Assuit which included a visit to Saint Mary’s Monastery and I wanted to go. I wanted to spend time with my new friends and understand more about their life. When I asked my dad if he would let me participate in the trip he said I could go because he knew I would be safe and that I have nothing to fear with my new Christian friends. VGP helped change me and my family’s attitude towards Christians for the better."
*Names changed to protect the privacy of the families
*Names changed to protect the privacy of the families
Sherry served as a local coordinator for a Valuable Girl Project site. The experience of helping girls succeed in school and lfie who found themselves marginalized in their villages just for being girls--and some of whom had experienced the further marginalization of being fatherless, a serious circumstance in Egyptian culture--transformed Sherry's life. She decided to dedicate her life to work with paternal orphans as part of Coptic Orphans.
Late this September, was sitting at the back of an old microbus after spending a long day going from home to home, checking on the progress of orphaned children in Samalout, and delivering free health insurance cards to children.
The cards gave each child rare coverage for high quality medical care in a country where woefully inadequate government health systems often leaves children from poor families with debilitating chronic and terminal conditions.
She had cards for 250 more children in the bag she held tightly on her lap against the bustle of passengers stacked together—unbuckled—throughout the bus.
Just before they crossed a bridge to Mallawi, the bus’s breaks screeched. It hit the car ahead with a crunch and a jerk. Passengers slammed backwards and piled into Sherry as she felt the bus swing around. Their weight became crushing as the front of the bus tilted wildly. She knew they were falling in the Nile.
They hit the Nile with a smack. Glass shattered and poured into the bus with cascades of water.
She prayed and immediately thought: "The God who brought Jonah up from beneath the waters is my God, too." With that, she closed her eyes.
Men pulled Sherry out the window of the bus, and she emerged without broken bones or major injuries. Only the tenderness of minor bruises remained days later.
But the story doesn’t end here.
Two weeks later, the police called. They found a plastic envelope that had her name on it floating down the Nile. The envelope had the precious health insurance cards for the 250 children in her area who were still waiting for access to medical care.
Sherry draws on her faith when she reflects about what happened: “Because I am serving God’s children, He rescued me from drowning. And because Coptic Orphans’ children are His own, He returned their health insurance cards safely – 15 days later, and from the bottom of the Nile.”
Mona became a local coordinator for the Valuable Girl Project site in El Barsha, Minia several years ago. She received training on dealing with different personality types and identifying the unique needs of every girl, on setting individualized goals for each girl and then following-up.
When the Project ended at Mona’s site, she decided to take all the training she received to others.
So Mona applied to volunteer with another program of Coptic Orphans, Not Alone, among paternal orphans in her area of El Barsha. For a year and a half, she visited the homes of 25 children under her care.
She used her training and experience in the Valuable Girl Project to look around their homes during visits and ask just the right questions to reveal a family's most pressing needs, then set the right goals to move the family forward.
Coptic Orphans’ Area Program Manager, who oversaw Mona’s volunteer work in both the Valuable Girl Project and Not Alone, says,
"The basis of the Valuable Girl Project is the relationship between the Big Sister and the Little Sister. Mona showed through her work that she got exactly what it was all about, relationships, and that made a deep impact on not only all her girls, but also the fatherless children she has been visiting for the last year and a half."
Since 2010, Coptic Orphans has been handing its sites that have continued for an initial 4-year seed period over to the hands of local partners.
Local Egyptian schools, churches, NGO's, and community development associations - the unique public village volunteer associations that look after education, healthcare, economic and social needs of each community - have carried four Valuable Girl Project sites into permanent local supervision.
Among those most recently was our site in Luxor. The indigenous Egyptian Association for Development and Vocational Training carried the site forth.
This has been proof for us that when we plant these sites around Egypt, they do have the strength to grow on their own. Villages say that the sites change their way of thinking about girls. One girl said, "before the project, I was not allowed to even cross the street and buy a coke. But now my family asks my opinion on important decisions." Every contribution helps us transform another village and community.
In the Valuable Girl Project, Coptic Orphans builds self-esteem in girls at risk of dropping out of school in order to promote academic retention and access to civil and social rights through mentoring between “little sisters” in primary school and “big sisters” in secondary school and university.
Girls enjoy an oasis of social and educational freedom at local program centers. Advocacy visits to the homes and schools of participants help girls take this freedom with them into daily life.
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