Coptic Orphans

Coptic Orphans is an award-winning international Christian development organization that unlocks the God-given potential of disadvantaged children in Egypt, and so equips them to break the cycle of poverty and become change-makers in their communities. Coptic Orphans works through grassroots partner and volunteer networks to strengthen local communities for sustainable impact. Since 1988, Coptic Orphans has equipped over 30,000 children throughout Egypt.
Feb 9, 2016

Microfinance: When Preparations Replace Desperation

Micro-loans benefit mothers and daughters alike
Micro-loans benefit mothers and daughters alike
“This [microfinance project] has had a big impact on my life; it makes me feel that I'm not a burden on my kids, and I'm able to manage my household finances and prepare for my daughter’s marriage.”
 
When Shereen, a budding small businesswoman and micro-loan recipient, said these words to our staff, what stood out was her mention of preparing for her daughter's marriage. 

As Coptic Orphans looks ahead to launching a new round of micro-loans in March, I'm struck by how her words show that just a bit of capital can change the life of a female entrepreneur. Her family members also feel the positive impact, with potentially life-changing results.

Shereen's observation particularly sticks in my mind because, with economic hardships rising sharply in Egypt, Coptic Orphans field staff have noticed a serious increase in young girls being married off early. They usually end up in that situation because families - particularly those without male heads of household, whom this project serves - can't cope with feeding "extra" mouths.

Early marriage, as anyone who's familiar with it knows, can devastate the life of a child. The repercussions for a girl's health, education, economic security, and happiness can be impossible to overcome. 

As just one example of early marriage's traumatic outcomes, a 2014 study by the American University in Cairo’s Social Research Center, in partnership with the Ford Foundation, found that 27% of women who were married before they turned 18 had been physically abused by their husbands.

So the ability to prepare for a daughter's marriage, as Shereen points to with pride, is hugely important.

Widowed mothers who are able to start or build up their small business with the micro-loans you're helping to provide are able to do something that's almost impossible without financial stability: prepare for the future.

In Shereen's case, that translates into being able to prepare for her daughter's marriage, rather than being pushed headlong into arrangements that her whole family may later regret.

These are the kinds of results we count on from the micro-loans. As important as they are to filling stomachs with food and bank accounts with savings, the biggest changes often become apparent over time. The girl who doesn't get forced into early marriage, the mother who feels her own self-worth - those are the real payoffs.

We've had fantastic applications for the upcoming round of this project, and we plan to disburse these 0% interest micro-loans to coincide with Mothers Day and International Women's Day in March. I look forward to sharing details of some of the new business projects we'll be supporting in the months ahead.  

For now, we're grateful for your support, and we continue to count on it to achieve the results Shereen speaks of. We believe in mothers who can prepare for the future, and in freeing young girls from early marriage!
Jan 29, 2016

How the Girls' Love and Tolerance Awakened a Community

The Valuable Girl Project honors girls
The Valuable Girl Project honors girls' 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 sisters' 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 continue 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 the generosity of donors like you, there's no danger of the project shutting down. We're just as committed to it as the parents, and we're identifying participants and sites for 2016. But we can't do it alone. To spread the kind of messages we're spreading - 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 - we count on everyone who shares these values to stand with us. 
 
We're grateful to you for continuing to support this work. It 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. Please give today, and thank you for supporting these valuable girls!
Nov 10, 2015

Two Blankets in Wintertime (Aren't the Most Wondrous Thing)

Imagine the sense accomplishment you'd feel at being able to buy blankets for your children when before they'd shivered on chilly nights. Furthermore, imagine being able to buy your kids a new mattress to keep them off the cold tiled floor of your home.

That's the sense of accomplishment that Salma has — and she's a widow who's never before experienced economic empowerment.

Salma, a mother of two young children, lost her husband eight years ago in a traffic accident. Her troubles were compounded by health problems.

I met Salma in the Upper Egyptian city of Sohag, where up until recently, she and her family endured the brief but chilly winter nights as best they could. Her sense of what she had to put up with in life, though, has changed since six years ago. That's when she got involved with B'edaya.

Using a small loan provided by the project, she started a hairdressing business in her home. B'edaya allowed her to develop her enterprise by buying modern equipment. With that boost, she went from having to travel to her clients, to having them come to her house for appointments.

"The equipment is what attracts the ladies to come to me," she told me, showing off the neat wooden shelves where she stacks her hair dryer, combs, and hair care supplies.

"Salma is very wise in how she manages the profits from her business," said Susan, the Coptic Orphans staff member who oversees Salma's loan. Indeed, the money from styling her neighbors' hair has purchased the new mattress and blankets that keep Salma's kids warm at night.

This is all part of the B'edaya strategy, which emphasizes empowerment over handouts. For all of the widows who take out loans, the capital and the income it helps generate are good things. But the loan is only a catalyst — a means for Salma to harness her inner drive and latent abilities, and in the process, be transformed.

It's especially important to focus on transformation in the society where Salma is from, because traditions about widowhood in Upper Egypt are piled on top of other patriarchal constraints. The end result is that widows are often house-bound and kept helpless. To see a widow in this situation evolve into a businesswoman, therefore, is quite extraordinary. The blankets and mattress, in this context, are the smallest wonders I can see in Salma's home.

As is proper, B'edaya can't take credit for this transformation. That credit goes to Salma herself. And that's how it should be.

*Name changed to protect the privacy of B'edaya participant.

 
   

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