El-Ayaisha is a small village of 16,000 in Qena, Egypt. Most working residents are farmers. The majority of well-educated young men immigrate to other provinces or cities looking for job opportunities.
Like other rural areas in Egypt, people in El-Ayaisha believe in female gentile mutilation (FGM) and have very traditional perceptions about women’s labor. They perceive women as housewives only, and they are excluded from social work. In addition, they do not give women their rights or share of legal inheritance, as they are viewed as inferior to men.
The Valuable Girl Project aims to elevate the status and perception of girls and young women in villages like El-Ayaisha by working on three areas: encouraging young girls to stay in school, fostering tolerance among Christians and Muslims, and building a spirit of volunteerism through the Valuable Girl Project community initiatives.
In this case, the girls of the Valuable Girl Project focused on improving perhaps the most important area of the village: the train station. The El-Ayaisha train station is a vital public service which serves hundreds of people on a daily basis as they commute to neighboring towns and villages in the pursuit of work, school, and various public and private services that are lacking in the village. The platform lacked basic services that are necessary to accommodate passengers’ needs. There was no shelter, no restrooms, and no seats where people can rest as they wait for the train. The platform was totally dark, and people had to pay close attention and count the stops so they didn’t miss their station in El-Ayaisha.
The girls decided to improve the station by equipping the platform with some seats and shelters to allow passengers to rest during the harsh midday hours. They met with a parliament member of the nearest large city to get his recommendation on the proposal and submit it to the proper authorities. Egyptian community development projects often get caught up in mounds of red tape, but the MP and regional railroad ministers were so impressed with the girls’ initiative that they were able to get the necessary approvals in just one week.
The girls invited community leaders to discuss their station renovation plan. They also communicated with different age groups on the El-Ayaisha community Facebook group to mobilize and build consensus among people to support them and participate in the project. In the end, the girls received a great deal of support from the community. People felt a sense of ownership of the project. The initiative also received many contributions: a builder donated his time to build the shelter and the seats, a truck driver moved building materials to the site free of charge, and merchants donated concrete and necessary materials to paint the seats and the shelter.
Incredibly, the official railway authority did not stop there. The railway authorities decided to do a complete makeover to the ticketing office, restrooms, painting, and entrances and exits.
Life in villages like El-Ayaisha can often feel hopeless for young girls, of whom little is expected other than to be married and raise children. But even in the remote places of the world, young girls can band together and accomplish great things. That is the goal of the Valuable Girl Project: to unlock the potential of girls across Egypt.
El-Matarya is a district located in northern Cairo. Historically, it was one of the most important and powerful centers in ancient Egypt. The area is famous for the obelisk of King Senusret the First, who ruled Egypt for 45 years, and “Mary’s Tree,” an ancient tree under which it is said the Holy Family rested during their time Egypt.
Unfortunately, in modern times El-Matarya has become a hub for extremists, which has led to a spread of violence, fanaticism, and discrimination in the area.
The Valuable Girl Project (VGP) aimed at empowering girls in El-Matarya by working on three areas: encouraging young girls to stay in school, fostering tolerance among Christians and Muslims, and building a spirit of volunteerism through the VGP community initiatives.
The project chosen for the girls of the El-Matarya branch of VGP involved helping students with special needs. Special needs children El-Matarya usually receive no specialized education to meet their unique needs. Egypt has special schools for children with special needs, but such schools are usually not affordable. As a result, students with special needs fall through the cracks at regular schools.
A group of the Big Sisters did the necessary research, pinpointed the local school with the highest population of special needs students without a classroom, and decided to build them a classroom. They went to the manager of the El-Matarya Directorate of Education to get the official approval to build a classroom on-site. Due to Big Sisters’ determination and sincere social responsibility towards their area, the Directorate granted their request almost immediately, without the usual red tape.
Next, the girls solicited financial contributions from the community to help cover the cost of construction. Their plan received an immediate positive response from concerned local parents, who donated enough money to build the classroom.
Within a matter of weeks, the girls were able to complete the classroom. They decorated the walls with colorful murals and the name of the VGP initiative: “It is my right to learn.”
Sadly, not everybody believes that it is indeed every child’s right to learn. At Valuable Girl, we are not only educating each girl, but instilling in her that education is not a privilege, but a right. As these girls grow into responsible women, they will teach this lesson to future generations.
The Coptic Orphans staff has taken an important step in restarting the new cycle of the Valuable Girl Project, which was put on hold in 2020 due to COVID. A new set of Egyptian community development associations (CDAs) has been approved as partners in the project, which is now slated to run from 2021 to 2023.
In total, 96 CDAs applied to partner with Valuable Girl across four Egyptian governorates. The list was then shortened to 58 CDAs: 17 in Qena, 18 in Assyut, 13 in Minya, and 10 in Cairo. Coptic Orphans Area Program Managers visited all shortlisted CDAs in committees of two or three.
Final selections were made by the end of November. The managers selected 20 CDAs: 6 in Qena, 6 in Assyut, 4 in Minya, and 4 in Cairo.
CDAs are local grassroots nonprofits that focus on specific areas of development within their communities, such as women’s rights and agricultural training. Coptic Orphans provides each CDA with a grant and specialized training, and the CDA recruits the girls for each project. The lessons and projects are carried out at a CDA-affiliated venue, where the girls learn their skills 1-on-1 in workshops and in activities that tackle community problems.
“The Area Program Managers put each CDA through a rigorous selection process,” said Valuable Girl Program Manager Michael Marcus. “We interview the board of directors at each CDA to learn about their previous experience in development and compare what they say to the application they submitted. We then evaluate their technical abilities, such as the decision-making process they follow, their ability to manage big projects and their ability to recruit the girls from our target groups. Finally, we evaluate their financial procedures to ensure their transparency and honesty handling monetary grants like the ones we give for our projects.”
The Valuable Girl Project uses education and mentoring to support girls and young women so that they can stay in school, avoid early marriage, gain dignity in the classroom and at home, and become leaders in their community. The project brings together Christians and Muslims in a safe space where everyone learns mutual respect. Young women in secondary school are trained to be “Big Sisters” and role models for their primary school “Little Sisters.”
The Valuable Girl Project (VGP) tears down barriers between communities by bringing Christian and Muslim girls together to forge bonds of friendship and understanding.
One of the main conditions of each VGP activity is that each group must be comprised of a balance of both Muslim and Christian girls. These two groups learn together, partner in activities for the betterment of their communities, and celebrate each other’s religious festivals.
Father Nabil, who lives in a village in Upper Egypt, has already experienced firsthand the incredible impact VGP can have on Christian-Muslim relations at the local level. “The village where I serve is known for calm relations between Muslims and Christians,” he said. “Yet there are very limited types of social interaction between the two groups. People rarely communicate or make friends across religious lines.”
That all changed with the introduction of the Valuable Girl Project, according to the priest. “Now I feel I am more accepted among Muslims,” he said. “They greet me and some of them kiss my hands for blessings, as the Christians do. Muslims invite me to their houses for special occasions. Muslim girls greet me in the street with a smile, and I see better relations between our girls and Muslims.”
Father Nabil received a special honor in September when one of the Muslim girls who worked on a VGP project invited him to her wedding. “When I went to her wedding reception, her father walked to me to escort me to her seat to congratulate her and the bridegroom,” he said. “Her family members greeted me and appreciated my visit. On my way out, there was a child staring at me. I could see she was scared to greet me. His mother noticed that and came right away and urged him to greet me. She told her child: ‘Greet Abouna (our father). Don’t be scared, he blesses us.’ It was a touching moment for me.”
The Valuable Girl Project is bringing about moments like these in villages throughout Egypt, thanks to the efforts of wonderful Christian and Muslim girls who have been taught the ways of tolerance and love.
The names in this story have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals.
The COVID-19 pandemic has severely impacted the nation of Egypt, with thousands infected and millions under a lockdown order. This has forced us to postpone the 2020-2022 cycle of Valuable Girl Projects, which was slated to start in June. There remains great enthusiasm for Valuable Girl Projects in Egypt, however, as 96 Community Development Associations in four Egyptian governorates have applied to partner with the Valuable Girl Project in this new cycle.
It is easy to see why so many community improvement organizations would want to partner with the Valuable Girl Project. To date, 13,000 Christian and Muslim girls and young women have participated in the program at 16 different project sites across Egypt. The girls have organized and implemented massive improvement projects in their local communities.
More importantly, during this moment of extreme fear and uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, the Big and Little Sisters of the Valuable Girl Project represent a culture of unity and understanding. Christian and Muslim are joining together to solve the problems of their communities, and in doing so they are inspiring entire generations of Egyptians to work for a brighter future.
Project Reports on GlobalGiving are posted directly to globalgiving.org by Project Leaders as they are completed, generally every 3-4 months. To protect the integrity of these documents, GlobalGiving does not alter them; therefore you may find some language or formatting issues.
If you donate to this project or have donated to this project, you will get an e-mail when this project posts a report. You can also subscribe for reports via e-mail without donating.
We'll only email you new reports and updates about this project.
Support this important cause by creating a personalized fundraising page.Start a Fundraiser