Valuable Girl Project: Empower 1000 Girls in Egypt

by Coptic Orphans
Vetted
Valuable Girls learn about the power of art.
Valuable Girls learn about the power of art.

Many times, art can divide, with particular designs and motifs singling out one group of people as opposed to another.

But art can also unify. In fact, many of the Valuable Girls’ day-to-day activities use art to teach. For example, making model pyramids in Big Sister-Little Sister teams is a way of conveying both artistic skills and pride in Egypt’s shared heritage.  

Here’s the surprising way these values changed the life of one Valuable Girl, Dima, who approached me with this story:

 “My university professor asked our class to make a drawing for our exam. He told us to choose between an Islamic design and a Coptic design. All the Muslim students chose the Islamic design and all the Christians chose the Coptic one.

“Everything I’d learned came rushing back to me, and I started thinking about how we’re all the same regardless of religion.”

“I told my classmates that I was choosing the Coptic design and that I’d need partners. I started talking with them about Valuable Girl and the trainings we had there, and I gave them a summary of what I had learned. I saw people changing — they were touched by what I said.”

Dima said the resulting conversation gave her “a very nice feeling, the first one like it I’ve ever had in my life.”

“Most Muslim students changed their mind and chose the Coptic design, and so did the Christians. The students kept applauding me and I was over the moon. I felt change was possible. I’d never have imagined that I could speak confidently in front of all these people and earn their admiration.”

“I can’t believe that me, Dima, who used to say everyone should stick to friends of their own religion, could do all that.”

Dima’s story embodies much of what the Valuable Girl Project aims to contribute to each girl’s life. As individuals, the project boosts their belief in themselves, and their capacity to do things they never dreamed possible. As community members, the Valuable Girls are encouraged and prepared to create bridges that join people from different backgrounds.

Multiplied across project sites and hundreds of participants each year, the Valuable Girl Project is building respect from the grassroots up, powered by brave and creative young women. Thank you for your generosity, which makes it possible.

Never underestimate the girls of Egypt!
Never underestimate the girls of Egypt!

Your support for the Valuable Girl Project means a group of determined girls were able to send a big message about their power to make change – through the mail! 

What's more, in the process, they helped their fellow villagers avoid sexual harassment and the dangers of a perilous highway. Here's how it unfolded:

After the young women in the Mahaba Coptic Orthodox Association for Development & Environment received civic education training through the Valuable Girl Project, they started to contribute to solving their community’s problems. These 20 youths, aged 15-26, believed that they could make one of their neighbors’ dreams come true, there in the village of Al Amodain.

The village, with a population of 30,000, lacked a post office. As it happens, the mail is a lifeline for the community members — it’s the means by which they can get their government pension, transfer money, and receive letters from loved ones.

Without a postal facility in their own village, they had to go to the post office in Atsa, 5km away. It cost the Al Amodain villagers too much to go back and forth, and on top of that, Atsa’s post office was often crowded. Things were apt to heat up inside, especially after a vendetta sparked tensions between the two villages.  In fact, the Al Amodain villagers were forced to go to an even more distant post office just to avoid potential conflict. 

The Valuable Girls took the initiative to raise people’s awareness about their rights. They also addressed the local government officials, advocating for a post office in Al Amodain. It took many discussions with the officials, but in the end, they approved the construction of a post office. The girls and the local authorities took on the cost of building the new facility, and they raised 100,000 EGP.

When, in the end, the new post office officially opened in February 2016, it was proof to the entire village that despite the obstacles society place in their path, girls can indeed make history as much as men can!

“My mom suffered 2-3 times per month when she went to the post office to get the money sent by my dad, who works in El Suez,” said Mary, adding, “My mom now tells me: 'Finally, I don’t have to suffer from traveling and sexual harassment each month!'”

“The way to the nearest post office used to be called ‘The Way to Hell’ because of the many accidents that happened to people traveling on this highway,” said another Valuable Girl, Salma. “Now I’m proud of myself as well as the other girls that we were able to positively contribute to our community.”

Thank you for continuing to support for the Valuable Girl Project, and let’s keep educating Egypt’s brilliant children!

The Valuable Girls learn and laugh together.
The Valuable Girls learn and laugh together.

What happens when you awaken someone's understanding of their own rights and self-worth?

Valuable Girl Project coordinators know that awakening, because they've seen it on the faces — and heard it in the words — of young women in some of Egypt's poorest, most tradition-bound villages.

Lara, a Valuable Girl in Luxor, describes her own awakening this way: "I've learned that girls and boys are equals, and that there's no difference between us. I've also learned about my rights and duties."

Awakenings like Lara's come despite huge obstacles. As she says: "In my village, we have solid customs and traditions that girls shouldn’t finish their education, and we're not even allowed to go out of the house. Most of the girls in my village can only make it till middle school, and then they're forced to get married." 

"And then the only thing anyone cares about is that they give birth to boys!" adds Lara, who has now spent over a year as a Big Sister in the project's mentoring program.

Even more exciting is when these awakenings lead to action, as they have in Lara's case. Now 22 years old, she has made her point to the doubters.

"I'm older than all my brothers, and I've always felt that my father wished I'd been a boy in order to help him farm and be his backbone," she says. "I was like any other girl — I just used to listen to how he felt about it without doing anything about it!"

After learning of her own equality and rights, Lara says she became more confident. 

"I decided to go talk to my father and asked to help him on the farm. His jaw dropped — he didn't know what to say, and I insisted that he give me a chance to prove myself."

"I went with him and I drove the tractor, harvested the crops, mowed the field, and even fed the cattle. My father was amazed at what I could do; I've practically proved to him that girls are the equal of boys and even better!"

Not content with the horizons of the family farm, Lara has set her sights on higher education. Since finding her own confidence — and her father's — she has moved on to study graphic design at a local college. 

This is how the Valuable Girl Project sets about and succeeds in transforming girls and young women. Involving them in the Big-Little Sister mentoring is only the first step; beyond that are leadership training and coaching that instill even greater confidence and self-worth.

The results become evident in how the girls think of themselves and others. 

For example, monitoring the attitudes of the Valuable Girls over time reveals that nearly every one experiences an increased sense of self-efficacy — the belief in their capacity to act and thereby achieve what they want to achieve. Overwhelmingly, they also report increased agreement with the concept that males and females should have equal access to social, economic, and political opportunities.

These changes in attitudes are crucial to transforming not just individual lives, but also communities and societies. As Lara says:

"I've proved to my neighbors and other community members that girls are not weak and useless; they're human beings of equal value and have the same rights and duties."

With your support, Lara and our Valuable Girls will continue making progress towards claiming the same rights and opportunities as their fellow citizens. In doing so, they'll make a better world for their daughters!

The Valuable Girl Project builds self-worth.
The Valuable Girl Project builds self-worth.

You know how strongly traditions have a hold on parts of Egypt, particularly remote villages in poverty-stricken areas. It's hard for girls there to speak out.

Fortunately, as more and more young women begin to feel empowered, this is changing. And you have a role in this change, because your support has allowed initiatives like the Valuable Girl Project to strengthen their courageous voices. Thank you!

Today, it's great to have the chance to share the results of the Valuable Girl Project through the personal testimony of Salma. Her experience sums up so much of what the project aims to achieve by promoting education and nurturing self-worth and self-expression. Here's what she recently told Coptic Orphans staff:

"My name is Salma. I am 21 years old. I am from Assiut.

There are many oppressive traditions and customs where I live, especially for girls my age. Fathers use these traditions and customs to dominate their daughters and control their future. I didn't really realize that's how it is, until I finished my high school education exam with a score that allows me to go to law school.

It has always been my dream to be a lawyer and stand before the court. Although I submitted my application to enroll in law school, I couldn't go, because of my father. He decided to ignore my dream of going to college so that he could afford to put my brothers through high school. I had to stay at home, and I was psychologically distressed and didn't like talking to anyone. I stayed at home for a long time.  

After a while, I heard from a neighbor about the Valuable Girl Project. In the beginning, I didn't feel like taking part, but when my mother saw me dejected about seeing my friends enrolled in college, she told me to go as a way of having fun.

I was accepted into the project and became a Big Sister. At first, I was kind of an introvert, but as the sessions went on, I started to engage in conversations and express my own opinions. I began building relationships with other girls in the project, and I got very interested in discussions and learning about my rights.  

Step by step, I began to regain my self-confidence and come out of my shell. What encouraged me the most is that my Little Sister started to make real progress with her education. I started to like the project, and the stipend for Big Sisters was my only hope of pursuing my university education. I saved money to be able to enroll without having to ask for financial aid.

The way I learned to mentor my Little Sister helped me pass an interview with a childcare facility. Now I save money from my stipend and from that job, and I can pursue my education, even after I'd lost hope. I re-submitted my application to law school and was accepted, and I'll start classes in September. Girls aren't helpless anymore. I will learn and teach others."

Stories like Salma's confirm that what Egypt's young women need is not handouts, but a chance - a chance that you provide when you support the Valuable Girl Project to bring them educational opportunities. Thank you!

*Name changed to protect the privacy of the Valuable Girl.

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!
 

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Organization Information

Coptic Orphans

Location: Merrifield, Virginia - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.copticorphans.org
Project Leader:
Nermien Riad
Merrifield, Virginia United States

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