Hoda*, a university student in her third year at the Faculty of Social Services, and also a Big Sister in our Valuable Girl Project, lives in a settlement in Bani Shukair. In this settlement, there are only five females who have continued to university; Hoda was the first girl from her village to join the Valuable Girl Project. Hoda joined the Valuable Girl Project since its launch in 2002, and has since actively participated in all of the trainings provided by Coptic Orphans and the Community Development Associations.
At first, Hoda’s father would not allow her to travel to the various cities to attend the workshops and camps, but one of the Valuable Girl Project staff members explained the benefits and positive impact the trainings would have on Hoda. Since then, he has been supportive.
Being a Big sister in the Valuable Girl Project has had a positive impact on Hoda and inspired her in ways to dream about how she could develop her community. She took her initial ideas and dreams of making her community a better place, and put them into action by first sharing them with her VGP coordinators and staff members. With their support, Hoda and her peers launched an initiative where they began to provide literacy lessons for some of the illiterate children living in their settlement.
Hoda was able to obtain a list of 25 at-risk elementary-aged students who would likely drop out of school, and designed a literacy test for them. She implemented the exam for the students and after seeing what level they were each at, began giving them Arabic lessons. Hoda recruited three of her colleagues to help with this initiative. Hoda and her peers worked with the children out of Hoda’s home, and they would encourage their students by giving them candy and balloons. Since they began, the children’s literacy has much improved.
With time and after the lessons with the children, Hoda conducted another round of examinations to ensure the students were in fact literate. Hoda and her colleagues have since been working with these children on improving their skills in their other subjects including science, social studies and English.
Hoda is just one of the Big Sisters in the Valuable Girl Project making a positive and real difference in her village.
Other Valuable Girl Project highlights from the last two-year cycle that are worth noting are that little and big Sisters have showed academic improvement which qualified many of them to receive honors and recognition from their schools.
Big and Little Sisters achieved success on various levels including:
1- A majority of 800 Little Sisters improved their school scores. More than 45 came in first places in their grade; nine of them had a drastic change in their scores from 160s in their first year of participation to 580 by the end of the project cycle.
2- More than 30 Little Sisters improved their performance at school bringing them to the top of their classes or schools.
3- Fifteen of Big Sisters in Qena were chosen to participate in a World Bank discussion to survey social and economic needs in their areas for a new World Bank project.
4- Thirteen girls in Qena worked on El-Ayaisha Platform Renovation Initiative.
5- Eleven Big Sisters in Qena helped light a road that stretches for 7 kilometers in an effort to reduce car accidents and increasing casualties in Higaza Village.
6- 350 Big Sisters in Assiut worked on cleaning 7 villages, removing trash from streets, painting and decorating public areas in their villages.
7- Six Big Sisters served their community in Matarya by creating a class for children with low performance and special needs to improve their school performance.
8- 800 Big Sisters implemented 63 community Initiatives across 16 sites.
*Name and image changed to maintain the privacy and dignity of the child.
Big Sisters from Coptic Orphans' Valuable Girl Project in collaboration with seven Community Development Associations (CDAs) in Assiut, Egypt joined forces on a street cleaning campaign in their villages this past summer.
The story began on June 30th at the Awlady Community Development Association, El-Nikhela. It was time to assess the village needs before launching this great initiative. The Big Sisters extended an invitation to a group of official public leaders and representatives. The girls introduced the Valuable Girl Project and discussed the challenges, shortfalls and dreams they still have for their villages. The lack of a garbage collection system was the most pressing challenge they discussed. This apathy for the environment evidenced by garbage littered on their local streets, was something they wanted to change.
In some areas, these girls received praise and support for their efforts and initiative, while unfortunately, in the village of El-Nekhila, their efforts were met with sarcasm and belittled. When voicing their concerns to the head of El-Nekhila municipality for not implementing a working system for sanitation for this village, his response to the girls was: “I see that one cleaning worker is more valuable than 100 useless girls.” The girls felt humiliated and requested an apology from him. He apologized, though he was still convinced that the girls were not serious about this initiative. Despite the criticism they received, the girls’ remained resilient.
The girls decided to divide and conquer; they facilitated roles, mobilized their resources and broke up into different groups, so that they could have greater reach in the village. Before launching their initiative, the Big Sisters visited the head of the municipality once more to share their plan of execution. He was impressed by their organizational skills and commitment to this project. They were, to their own suprise, met with encouragement. The Head of the municipality provided the girls with extra tools, tractors, hauling equipment and extra aide workers so they could remove all the garbage from the streets they identified and begin paving.
For two consecutive days, Big Sisters and Little Sisters engaged all the residents of the village to work side by side with them and lend a helping hand. People of all ages, from young children to the elderly, participated in cleaning up the streets. The girls ignited a subject that was formerly taboo in the area--and provided a wake-up call to all, that a woman's role in improving society in Egypt is vital. In response to these activities, the head of the municipality made a public admission that the girls played a positive role in the community and sent a video message to all the girls in this project acknowledging their efforts.
Furthermore, when he learned that the CDA where the Valuable Girl Project holds its activities was nearing the end of its contract, he designated a venue and fully equipped office in the municipality for them to continue their work. He remarked: “I’m ready to help in any way you require. You made us work actively. There is nothing more uplifting than seeing the community change their negative attitudes towards women, not out of rebellion, but because of acts of kindness."
The Big Sisters in El-Nekhila implemented a call to action and a remarkable change in their community. We are excited by the prospects of a ripple effect that is to follow in other communities throughout Egypt.
Also on November 5, 2019, we celebrated the Valuable Girl Project in Assiut at a closing ceremony and event that was very successful.
Several studies have proven that incorporating engaging and fun exercises in lessons increases the probability of students’ knowledge retention after class time. Unfortunately, methods aimed at increasing student retention are not part of the curriculums used in the Egyptian educational system. Due to overcrowded schools, limited resources, and outdated curriculums, Egyptian children typically do not expect to have any "fun" in school. Rote learning is all that is expected and enforced.
For this reason, the Valuable GIrl Project designs distinct activities aimed towards building a lively, engaging, and fun experience for its participants.
The Valuable Girl Project incorporates diversified tools and activities in Big and Little sisters’ mentoring sessions to make learning a truly enjoyable experience. First, the Valuable Girl Project cultivates and nurtures safe spaces where Big and Little Sisters feel emotionally secure, valued, and free to interact with their peers on a more personal level.
Second, all programmatic activities incorporate one-on-one interaction and are age apprioriate; activities include playtime, singing, arts and crafts, trivia, journal writing, special projects, team presentations etc.
Big Sisters, in particular, are always keen to find the next most engaging exercise or "challenge.". Together, Big and Little Sisters are comfortable enough to create their own world where they overcome artifical barriers and learn to be themselves. Valuable Girls discover their talents, improve their study and writing skills, acquire new abilities and internalize positive attitudes that will nurture their growth as women and as citizens. The changes observed in self-confidence and optimism levels have been widely observed and noted by family members and school teachers.
For example, we bring to you Nemaa’s story and the changes her mother noticed after Nemaa joined the Valuable Girl Project as a Little Sister at the Qena site. Nemaa’s mother shared the story with Coptic Orphans in her own words:
“I’m Salwa. I have been a teacher for over 20 years. I teach Arabic at a primary school where my daughter Nemaa is also enrolled. Nemaa is my youngest child. Her grades were consistenltly mediocre to poor although I’ve tried every possible study method to help her improve. At the beginning of 2017 school year, I learned that the local community development center in our neighborhood hosted tutoring classes for free. I immediately enrolled her in the tutoring classes. Honestly, I thought Nemaa would most likely get bored from the activities and would quit like she had so many times before.
But I was surprised this time. I found her to be so committed and eager to attend each and every session on time, and never letting anything take precedance over her meetings/sessions with her Big Sister. I was so surprised by Nemaa’s improvement at school, and her new attitude at home that I decided to visit the CDA where Nemaa receives her tutoring. When I visited the CDA, I found an interactive and friendly learning environment. I met this intelligent, mature, and polite young lady who served as Nemaa's Big Sister. She walked me through their study exercises and discussed all the teaching strategies she would use to keep Nemaa engaged and focused, particularly in the areas where she was weak.
After speaking with her for over an hour, I immediatey recognized that so few of these advanced learning strategies were used in Egyptian classrooms; I know -- I am a teacher and had always been trained to use lessons that focused on rote learning. The lessons used by the CDA were entirely focused on bringing the child's focus to the lesson through a fun or engaging opener like a brain teaser, or trivia, or an icebreaker they could do with their peers.
So, believe it or not, I asked CDA's Management if I could borrow some of the lessons in their curriculum for my own use in the classroom. Most importantly, I was so grateful to the staff and to Coptic Orphans for doing something different in Egypt -- finding ways to motivate our girls to be the very best they could be."
In time, Salwa volunteered to become an Ambassador for the Valuable Girl Project in her district. She encouraged other mothers to enroll their daughters as Little Sisters, so they could receive the same academic support, personal mentoring, and self-esteem training. Salwa knew this program was not only vital for her daughter's growth but also for the girs who were her daughters' peers who also received the short end of the stick due to the deficiencies of the local school systems.
Thanks to Salwa and her daughter and the hundreds of other girls who have participated in the program, the Valuable Girl Project continues to broaden its reach in Egypt, giving thousands of girls the opportunity to unlock their potential, fulfill their dreams, and in turn, garner respect from their families and communities.
The Valuable Girl Projects aims to build a culture of tolerance and appreciation by celebrating the days of observance / religious holidays for members of both faiths.
Themes of religious tolerance and engagement have been central in international development, particularly in the Middle East, where minorities are still at risk of being targeted.. Despite global efforts to create safe spaces for all religious affiliations, communities still suffer from gaps in knowledge about people of an alternate faith and few opportunities exist for positive engagement. The lack of civil society actors sponsoring community events focused on dialogue and celebration of share identity also contributes to an environment where prejudice against minorities prevails.
On this point, the Valuable Girl Project stands out as an innovative program in Egypt, a part of the Middle East where religious tensions are still high. Based on a mentoring relationship that pairs Little and Big Sisters (of both faiths), Valuable Girl incorporates the critical theme of celebrating the identity of the other. Site teams use religious occasions, including Christmas and Ramadan, to teach the girls how to learn about their sisters’ faith and develop a true bond of affection with each other.
For example, in April and May of this year, both Christian and Muslims sisters celebrated major holidays with each other. Just recently, Copts celebrated Palm Sunday and Easter. On Palm Sunday in particular, Copts collect the leaves of Palm trees to decorate their homes and their churches in honor of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. Parents and children typically make crafts together and have them blessed during Palm Sunday services.
This year, we were pleased to see all of our sisters, at each of our 16 sites, make beautiful crafts with their Muslim sisters. One of the Muslim Big Sisters said “It’s the first time I’ve ever used palm leaves to make handicrafts. Every year, I used to see the palm leave decorations in the street but never really understand why they were there or how they were made. Now I know and it was really a lot of fun.” Our sisters made necklaces and bracelets for each other and genuinely enjoyed the opportunity to be creative.
Similarly, just this month, all 16 sites are celebrating the month of Ramadan. During Ramadan, the streets of Egypt are even more animated, with decorations, bright lights, and joyful gatherings at every corner. Our Valuable Girls joined in the festivities. Together, they celebrated Ramadan’s Iftar (a meal that breaks the day’s fast at sunset) and also participated in acts of service to benefit the more needy members of the community.
For example, the Big and Little Sisters (Muslims and Christians) took it upon themselves to use their saved allowances towards the purchase of food supplies for poor families who did not have enough for an evening meal. This exercise showed that the Girls, rather than concentrating solely on their own enjoyment, used the holiday to bring relief to neighbors of both faiths. Moreover, our Valuable Girls refused to take any photos of their service activities during the month, in order to protect the identity of recipient families and prevent any awkwardness or embarrassment.
One of our Muslim sisters said “My father passed away 5 years ago. Since he died, I’ve haven’t really felt the joy of Ramadan, but now with Valuable Girl, I feel happier and some of the joy I used to feel when he was around.”
In closing, we’re grateful that more than 450 of our girls participated in Ramadan Iftar meals, and we still have many more gatherings planned.
Also, local newspapers covered Valuable Girl’s Ramadan Iftar meal in Assiut. Community religious leaders also praised the Valuable Girl Project impact and the role the program played in unifying communities.
Together, these young girls have shown adults in their community that it is very much possible to honor neighbors of different faith and use Days of Observance to celebrate shared identities, not only as Egyptians but also as children of God.
We’re continually grateful to our sisters and their families. We’re also grateful to the partners who make the creation of this safe possible. Of course, we believe God, who loves all His children, has blessed our work and made real progress possible in a social issue that many believe to be intractable.
“Education is the premise of progress, in every society, and every family” Kofi Annan. Transforming children’s attitude towards the importance of education is one of Coptic Orphans main goals for the children participating in its programs. The Valuable Girl Project works on encouraging girls to embrace education as essential to their personal prosperity and development. Girls in Egypt, especially in high poverty areas, encounter daily challenges that stand in the way of their academic advancement. The harsh economic conditions, social oppression to women and girls, and the general societal inclination to support boys more than girls in education are deep-rooted issues that VGP tries to remedy one day at a time. In this report, we bring to you some testimonies about VGP’s role in changing the girls’ performance at school and self-growth in one of the villages in Upper Egypt.
In one of our field visits, we met with Father Abanoub Ibrahim, the CEO of the Better Life Association for Community and Sustainable Development, in Assiut governorate. Fr. Abanoub told us about the huge transformation that VGP made in the village where it is implemented. “The project achieved positive results and surpassed all my expectations,” said Fr. Abanoub. The story he told was of a little girl in primary school called Magda who used to hate going to school. Magda’s mother used to have a very hard time encouraging her to study, and the best she could hope for was for her daughter to pass her exams with no ‘F’ grades. After being a participant in VGP, Magda was able to pass her exams and came in first place among her classmates. This is very impressive. Can you believe it?! From a girl who didn’t want to go to school to a passionate student pursuing the highest grades!
Not only was the impact of VGP evident in the academic advancement of girls, but it also showed in their general demeanor and outlook on life and towards themselves. Fr. Abanoub said that the families are impressed by the positive change they see in their daughters who look happy, clean, proactive, and creative in implementing the project activities. “Girls became expressive, optimistic and passionate about their future and themselves. I’ve never seen their potential before, but now I can testify to their talents and capabilities” said Fr. Abanoub.
Witnessing such significant impact is what drives us to keep working on and pushing for girls empowerment in Egypt. We believe that education is a fundamental tool to equip our children with the skills and characteristics to become proactive and successful in their communities and society at large.
Thank you for your partnership with us, donations to our cause, and trust in the impact we can make in the lives of those precious girls and young women.
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