21 August 2013
Worshipers pray in the Chaldean Basilica of Our Lady of Fatima in Cairo on 18 August. Christians, making up 10 percent of Egypt’s 85 million people, have coexisted with the majority Sunni Muslims for centuries. Violence erupted periodically, especially in the impoverished south, but the attacks on churches and Christian properties in the last week were the worst in years. (photo: CNS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh, Reuters)
Young Muslim: We can only rebuild Egypt together with Christians (AsiaNews) Muhammad Elhariry, a young Muslim businessman from Cairo, speaks about the growing unity between Muslims and Christians who want to rebuild a nation where different ethnicities and religions have lived together for 1,400 years. “Muslims were impressed by the attitude of Catholics, Coptic Orthodox and Protestant victims of the violence of the Muslim Brotherhood,” Elhariry said. “The Christians did not ask for help from other countries of the same religion, instead they believed in themselves and in the Egyptian people. … We Muslims offered to protect churches and religious buildings, but our Christian brothers and sisters said: ‘Do not waste your souls, they are so precious to us. We have closed these buildings for now. Together we will rebuild our churches once we have eradicated terrorism.’ … What is sacred to one of my neighbors is also sacred for me. I have respect for him and his free will…”
Bishop says Christians and Muslims united against Islamists (AsiaNews) “Egyptian Christians and Muslims are united to change the country,” says Yohanna Golta, Coptic Catholic bishop of Andropoli and auxiliary bishop of Alexandria. In contrast, he notes: “The Muslim Brotherhood is an international movement that is not aiming for the good of Egypt.” The prelate describes the dramatic climate of violence that pervades Egypt and criticizes those who ignore the views of millions of Egyptians and reduce the conflict to a political struggle between the military and Muslim Brotherhood…
Syria opposition alleges chemical strike (Al Jazeera) Syrian activists accused President Bashar al Assad’s forces of launching a gas attack that reportedly killed hundreds, according to the Syrian Revolution General Commission — an umbrella organization for at least 40 opposition groups Wednesday. The attack would, if confirmed, be the worst reported use of chemical arms in the two-year civil war. The government attacks reportedly took place in the Ghouta region, east of Damascus, in suburbs including Zamalka, Arbeen, and Ein Tarm. Video footage from districts east of the capital showed people choking, some of them foaming at the mouth, and many bodies with no signs of injuries. The country’s main opposition group, Syrian National Coalition, accused the regime of killing more than 650 people in the attack: “Over 650 confirmed dead result of deadly chemical weapon attack in Syria,” the National Coalition said on Twitter…
Syria divided: Crossing a bridge where a sniper waits (Los Angeles Times) The Karaj al Hajez crossing that spans Aleppo’s Queiq River is a 300-yard stretch of no man’s land that divides the two Aleppos: one held by the rebels, one by the government. Every day, a government sniper holed up in city hall picks off at least a few people. On good days, no one dies. People call it the crossing of death. The first time Battoul crossed, she kept replaying all the terrifying stories she had heard. But once across safely, her fear slipped away. “Life has to go on,” she says. “People cross and someone gets shot and they pick up the martyr and keep going…”
Gaza faces environmental disaster (Al Monitor) People driving through the municipalities of the Gaza Strip can easily tell when they have reached the Wadi Gaza Bridge. They are forced to hold their noses to avoid inhaling the odor of waste and sewage coming from the valley, which has turned into an environmental disaster. Wadi Gaza is one of the main natural features of the Gaza Strip. It stems from the hills of the Negev and the southern highlands of the city of Hebron. It is about 65 miles in length, and it extends from the armistice line east of Gaza to the Mediterranean coast. Not many citizens live on the banks of the valley anymore due to municipal neglect. Furthermore, the Palestinian families there live in constant fear that Israel will open the dams it has set up on its borders with the Gaza Strip, causing a major humanitarian disaster. In January 2010, the Israeli authorities opened the dam of Wadi Gaza without prior warning. This led to the inundation of dozens of houses and the displacement of about 100 Palestinian families. Gaza’s Civil Defense reported having to save seven people from drowning. Fred Bleiha, a local shepherd, says: “The area has transformed from a natural reserve that attracts tourists into a high-risk environmental disaster…”
Albania seizes Orthodox church (Greek Reporter) Tension still prevails in Përmet in Albania, where hundreds of Orthodox residents of the town came into conflict with police outside of the Church of the Virgin Mary. The church was forcibly taken over some days before following the orders of the municipal authorities. Photos of the scene showed crews building a brick wall at the entrance to prevent people from using the church as well as using sheet metal around columns. The municipality sent police to the church in order to implement a controversial Supreme Court decision that the church property belonged to municipal authorities…
20 August 2013
Tags: Egypt Syrian Civil War Violence against Christians Gaza Strip/West Bank Albania
For those bemoaning the August heat: An elderly woman braves the harsh winter in Nyírascád, a village in Hungary of 4,400 people. To read more about life in Nyírascád, read Jacqueline Ruyak’s Holding on in Hungary, from the May 2006 issue of ONE. (photo: Balasz Gardi)
20 August 2013
Tags: Cultural Identity Village life Hungary Greek Catholic Church Hungarian Greek Catholic
The caskets of 25 policemen killed in an ambush near the north Sinai town of Rafah lay on the ground after arriving at a military airport in Cairo on 19 August. Attacks by Islamist militants in the lawless north Sinai region have intensified since the overthrow of President Muhammad Morsi. (photo: CNS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany, Reuters)
Egyptian police arrest spiritual leader of Muslim Brotherhood (New York Times) The Egyptian police arrested the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood early on Tuesday, hours after a court ordered the release of former President Hosni Mubarak. The arrest of Muhammad Badie appeared to represent a red line the police never crossed during Mr. Mubarak’s own crackdowns on the group. Taken together with the fact that the former president’s release for the first time seems conceivable, the developments offered a measure of how far and how quickly the tumult shaking Egypt in recent days and weeks has rolled back the changes brought by the revolution of 2011…
Bishop of Luxor concerned with isolation, dwindling supplies (Fides) “Muslims and Christians who reside in [the area] have nothing because food supplies are running out and people are afraid to leave the house. Even those who are well off cannot buy food because all the shops are closed. I would like to reach them to give them help but I cannot because I am also segregated at home,” says Coptic Catholic Bishop Youhannes Zakaria of Luxor. On Friday, 16 August, demonstrators chased the bishop away from the center of Luxor. Police are standing watch at the bishopric…
Christian-Muslim animosity becomes incendiary subplot in Egypt (Los Angeles Times) Tensions between Muslims and Christians since the coup that overthrew Islamist President Mohamed Morsi have become an incendiary subplot to the intensifying battle for the nation’s future being waged between Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement and the military-backed government. Two Christians have reportedly been killed in recent days. Churches, schools, convents and at least one Christian orphanage have been attacked, torched or robbed, many of them in the southern deserts. Vestments have been scorched, statues shattered. Police have often provided little protection; parishioners said security forces didn’t arrive at St. George’s Church until three hours after the gunmen had fled…
Coptic church in Minya cancels Sunday liturgy for first time in 1,600 years (The Times of Israel) Amid escalating violence against Egypt’s Copts, churches in Minya, located in upper Egypt, canceled the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. Other churches in Minya have also canceled prayer services. “We did not hold prayers in the monastery on Sunday for the first time in 1,600 years,” says the Rev. Selwanes Lotfy of the Virgin Mary Monastery. He said supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi destroyed the monastery, which includes three churches, one of which is an archaeological site. “One of the extremists wrote on the monastery’s wall, ‘donate [this] to the martyrs’ mosque,’ ” Lotfy added…
Cardinal Sandri on Egypt: anti-Christian violence unacceptable (Vatican Radio) The prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, has condemned violence against Christians in Egypt, and called for national reconciliation, justice and lasting peace through dialogue. Speaking in French to Vatican Radio, Cardinal Sandri said, “The destruction of Christian churches is unacceptable.” Cardinal Sandri went on to say, “The revival of the country must take place in respect of the human person, in the mutual respect of all religions, in respect for religious freedom.” Cardinal Sandri said that faith or religion may not ever be used to justify violence…
Pope sends message to Hungary for feast of Saint Stephen (Vatican Radio) On Tuesday, Pope Francis sent a message to the president János Áder of Hungary to mark the feast of the nation’s founder and first king, Saint Stephan, which is celebrated each year on 20 August. The Holy Father wrote: “I ask God that the Hungarian people might find within themselves, and their human and spiritual heritage, the moral resources necessary in order to build a future of peace and fraternity…”
Ecumenical patriarch asks Turkey to end stalemate on seminary (Al Monitor) Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I has expressed his hope that the Turkish government will reopen the theological seminary on Istanbul’s Halki Island. Speaking at an iftar dinner recently, Bartholomew looked his host — Istanbul’s top Muslim clergyman Mufti Rahmi Yaran — in the eye and said: “Religious officials should be properly educated and set examples based on their training. Now that we are entering a dangerous stage of lacking qualified religious officials, we would like to emphasize the gravity of the situation at the Halki Seminary…”
19 August 2013
Tags: Egypt Violence against Christians Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I Hungary Coptic Catholic Church
CNEWA President Msgr. John E. Kozar plays with students at the Atse Tekla Ghiorgis School in Ethiopia. (photo: Thomas Varghese/CNEWA)
In his story on the Atse Tekle Ghiorgis School in Ethiopia, Don Duncan points out one of the key programs contributing to the institution’s success:
Part of the school’s ethos of instilling dignity and respect among the poor children is a policy of financial contribution. While it is the only school in Addis Ababa to target the poorest of the poor, offering virtually free education, the school does require an annual contribution of $5 — $3.50 for a uniform and $1.50 for tuition.
“These contributions change nothing for us financially,” says Sister Mary, “but what is important is that the families make some kind of contribution, for the dignity of the child and the dignity of the family. We don’t believe in hand-outs.”
In extreme cases of destitution, contributions can be waived. The school is also helping a handful of families with rent assistance, to coax them away from sending children out to work and encourage them instead to send them to school. Still, these gestures are always done in exchange for help in the school — a weekly chore of cleaning a classroom, for example, undertaken by a member of the beneficiary’s family.
The $1.50 contribution toward tuition covers a feature unique to this school: a free lunch for every student each day.
“It’s very important for most of the children,” says Sister Baleynesh Wolteji, an Ethiopian who took over from Sister Mary as principal in 2011. “Their parents are often beggars in the streets and most of these children come to school without having breakfast. So to get one meal a day is very good for them and, in addition, it enables them to concentrate on their studies.”
The menu is simple: rice on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday and injera, an Ethiopian flatbread, on Wednesday and Friday. Along with education and the clean and safe surroundings of the school, the daily meal contributes to the school’s high attendance rate.
It may also be a key to the students’ excellent academic record. In the past 10 years, only one of the students has failed the state exam required at the end of eighth grade. And Sister Mary explains that this “failure” had an excuse of sorts: The student was absent frequently to care for a handicapped sister.
To learn more, read ‘It’s Not Just Talk and Chalk,’ appearing in the Summer 2013 issue of ONE.
19 August 2013
Tags: Ethiopia Children Education Poor/Poverty Catholic education
In this 18 June photo, Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac prays during the liturgy in Rome. In an 18 August statement, he said the violence and unrest in Egypt are “not a political struggle between different factions.” (photo: CNS/Massimiliano Migliorato, Catholic Press Photo)
Catholic, Orthodox leaders in Egypt deny Christian-Muslim conflict (CNS) Speaking on behalf of Catholics in Egypt, Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac said the violence and unrest in his country are “not a political struggle between different factions, but a war against terrorism.” While mobs began attacking Christian churches, schools and convents, claiming the Christians supported Morsi’s ouster, there also were reports of Muslims forming cordons around Christian churches to protect them from the mobs and of Muslims offering shelter to their Christian neighbors. The Rev. Rafic Greiche, spokesman for the Egyptian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, confirms this (Fides), noting that despite attacks against about 60 churches throughout Egypt, “Muslims who live in the vicinity of the affected churches have helped men and women religious to put out the fires.” Father Greiche adds: “The majority of the population is against terrorism and religious extremism.” Coptic Pope Tawadros II issued a statement yesterday (AINA) along similar lines. “The attacks on government buildings and peaceful churches terrorize everyone, whether they be Copts or Muslims,” he said. “These actions go against any religion, any moral code and any sense of humanity…”
Egypt police killed in Sinai ambush (Al Jazeera) At least 24 Egyptian police officers have been killed in a rocket-propelled grenade attack in northern Sinai, security officials say. The officials said the Monday morning attack took place as the officers were driving through a village near the border town of Rafah in the volatile Sinai Peninsula. Egypt shut the Rafah border crossing after the deadly attack, a border official has told AFP news agency. Rafah is the sole crossing into the Gaza strip…
Syrian Palestinians pack Lebanon refugee camp (Los Angeles Times) Palestinians are a minority among the more than 600,000 Syrian refugees who have come to Lebanon. But their stateless status as lifelong refugees now forced to flee relatively secure lives in Syria has complicated the regional humanitarian crisis. Most were born in Syria, descendants of parents and grandparents who left ancestral homes in what is now Israel. While camp residents, including several relatives, have been welcoming, the Syrian Palestinians say the garbage-strewn squalor of this and other Palestinian camps in Lebanon has stunned them. “This is the first time I’ve ever seen anything like this, I still can’t believe it: the dirty streets, the lack of electricity, the broken houses, the soldiers guarding the entrances, the walls, the overcrowding,” says Ammar, an emigrant from Damascus incredulous at the plight of fellow Palestinians. “Animals live like this, not humans…”
Ethiopian church helps those affected by drought (Vatican Radio) Caritas Italiana has applauded the Ethiopian Catholic Church’s Social and Development Commission for the successful implementation of the Drought Recovery and Rehabilitation Project. The project is designed to rehabilitate and improve drought-affected households in the targeted 19 districts…
16 August 2013
Tags: Egypt Violence against Christians Refugee Camps Palestinians Ethiopian Catholic Church
Supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi take part in a protest near Ennour Mosque in Cairo on 16 August, following clashes that left over 600 dead. (photo: CNS/Louafi Larbi, Reuters)
Islamists urge day of ‘rage’ in Cairo to protest military (New York Times) The Muslim Brotherhood, for decades the repository of Islamist sentiment, said it wanted millions to march on Friday to display “the pain and sorrow over the loss of our martyrs.” On Thursday, many of those waiting outside a makeshift morgue talked of civil war. Some blamed members of Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority for supporting the military takeover. A few argued openly for a turn to violence. “The solution might be an assassination list,” said Ahmed, 27, who like others refused to use his full name for fear of reprisals from the new authorities. “Shoot anyone in uniform. It doesn’t matter if the good is taken with the bad, because that is what happened to us last night.” Mohamed Rasmy, a 30-year-old engineer, interrupted. “That is not the solution,” he said, insisting that Islamist leaders would re-emerge with a plan “to come together in protest.” He argued that the bloodshed was now turning the rest of the public against the military-appointed government. “It is already happening,” he said…
Coptic bishop: No civil war in Egypt (America magazine) A Coptic Catholic bishop who served as a member of the assembly that drafted Egypt’s 2012 constitution said his country will not have a civil war, and foreign powers — including the United Nations — should not interfere. In a wide-ranging interview with Arab West Report, Bishop Youhanna Golta of Alexandria also said people must view Egypt as a whole and not just be concerned about Coptic Christians. He discussed the history of Islam and asked for patience for Egyptian democracy, reminding people that European democracy took four centuries to evolve, and Egyptians have only had two or three years. “Civil war is when a part of the country turns against the other part. This is not the case in Egypt. … In Egypt, the people are united against a certain group that doesn’t represent more than 2 percent of the country,” he said, referring to extremists within the Muslim Brotherhood. “With respect to the burning of the churches, I said today in the Akhbar newspaper that ’burning of the churches makes us [Christians] proud, because we are contributing to the liberation of Egypt,’ ” said the bishop, who serves as an assistant to the Coptic Catholic patriarch…
Working-class Cairo neighborhood contemplates recent tragedy (New York Times) Egypt seems more divided than ever after a brutal day of violence here that left hundreds of people dead. Supporters of the ousted president, Muhammad Morsi, mourned those killed, vowed revenge, planned their next moves. Many other Egyptians, though, directed their ire at the protesters who had camped out in the streets for weeks. For them, what occurred made sense. “It was necessary,” Akmal William, standing in his auto-detailing shop on Talaat Harb Street, said of the raid by soldiers and police officers. “They had to be strict.” Witnesses described a disproportionate, ruthless attack. Condemnations came from human rights advocates, a few Egyptian political figures, and from abroad. But many Egyptians viewed things differently, focusing on what they said were continuing threats from Mr. Morsi’s supporters, who were frequently referred to as terrorists. In their view, the army was the only force standing in the Islamists’ way. Between the parallel realities, others were torn between the claims of the security forces of violent demonstrators who threatened the country — a view parroted by the state news media — and what they heard from Islamist friends about how the battle on the streets had unfolded on Wednesday morning…
Pope asks Mary to bring calm to Egypt (CNS) As the official death toll emerged from the 14 August clashes in Egypt and as the damage done to Christian churches was being assessed, Pope Francis invoked Mary, queen of peace, to bring calm to the country. In light of the “painful news” coming from Egypt on 15 August, the feast of the Assumption of Mary, Pope Francis said he was praying for “all the victims and their families, for the injured and those who are suffering…”
U.N. chief arrives to aid Israeli-Palestinian negotiations (Los Angeles Times) United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Ramallah Thursday in a bid to boost Palestinian-Israeli negotiations launched in Jerusalem the day before after three years of deadlock. Speaking at a news conference with his host, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Ban expressed strong support for efforts to revive the peace talks, promising to do everything he could as United Nations chief to reach the goal of two states for two peoples…
Beirut car bomb kills 21 (Washington Post) A powerful car bomb ripped through a busy shopping street in Hezbollah’s stronghold in the southern suburbs of Beirut on Thursday, killing at least 21 people and injuring hundreds in the deadliest attack to hit the Lebanese capital in more than eight years. The explosion early Thursday evening tore the facades off apartment buildings and set afire parked cars in the Ruwais neighborhood, an area of staunch support for Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite movement…
In India, people thirsty despite rain (The Hindu) “Whether monsoon or summer, the people of Upper Kuttanad are left to bear the bane of drinking water scarcity, despite being surrounded by water round the year,” says Sreedharan Nair, an elderly farmer in the Upper Kuttanad village of Nedumpram. Potable water has become a precious commodity, as the well water, reddish yellow water with a bad taste and odor, is unsuitable for consumption. The recent floods have further contaminated well water, leaving the people to depend solely on the Kerala Water Authority for their daily drinking water needs. A drinking water management and sanitation scheme of Bodhana, a social service organization associated with the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, has turned out to be a solace in some areas…
14 August 2013
Tags: Egypt Pope Francis Lebanon Middle East Peace Process Syro-Malankara Catholic Church
Supporters of deposed Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi carry a protester injured during clashes with riot police and the army in Cairo on 14 August. At least 95 people were killed nationwide, many of them during the assaults on sites where Morsi supporters are holding vigils. (photo: CNS/Asmaa Waguih, Reuters)
The situation in Egypt is becoming more volatile and dangerous, with reports circulating today that churches are under attack. From the Washington Post:
Amid the fierce clashes taking place in Cairo, numerous reports and images are emerging of churches that have been attacked and burned elsewhere in the country.
Egyptian news Web site Mada Masr has some details on the attacks:
In Sohag [a city on the west bank of the Nile 245 miles south of Cairo], Bishop Moussa Ibrahim of Mar Girgis told Mada Masr that the church was set ablaze by Muslim Brotherhood supporters at 9:30 am in the absence of police forces, despite repeated threats against the church.
The biggest church in the governorate, Mar Girgis is located in Thakafa Square near the Brotherhood sit-in. Three other small churches were also attacked in Sohag but Ibrahim could not confirm the extent of the damage.
A Coptic resident living near the church told Mada Masr that shops owned by Copts and Muslims in front of the church were destroyed. Live shots were heard in the area as citizens began forming popular committees.
There are additional details, and images that purportedly show destroyed churches, at the link.
14 August 2013
Tags: Egypt Violence against Christians Copts Sunni Arab Spring/Awakening
In this video, Al Jazeera’s Dominic Kane reports on the violence that erupted in Cairo today. At least 40 people were reportedly killed when security forces launched an operation to remove two pro-Morsi sit-ins. (video: Al Jazeera)
Security crackdown kills scores in Egypt (Al Jazeera) Security forces have stormed two Cairo protest camps set up by supporters of Egypt’s ousted president, Muhammad Morsi. The event quickly turned into a bloodbath, leaving dozens dead. Conflicting reports have emerged over the number of people killed on Wednesday. Al Jazeera’s correspondent counted 94 bodies in Rabaa al Adawiya’s makeshift hospital, while some members of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood say the death toll is was as high as 2,200, with about 10,000 injured. Al Jazeera could not independently verify the Brotherhood’s figure. Two journalists were also killed while covering the violence on Wednesday. Mick Deane, a cameraman for the U.K.-based Sky News channel, and Habiba Abd Elaziz, a reporter for the U.A.E.-based Xpress newspaper, died of gunshot wounds…
Coptic Church: Constitution’s Sharia provisions not all at odds with civil state (Egypt Independent) While the Salafi-oriented Nour Party has threatened to quit politics if articles on Islamic Sharia are modified, the Coptic Church declared that it had no objection in maintaining the second article of the document, which stipulates that Islam is the country’s official religion, that Arabic is its official language, and that Islamic Sharia is the main source of legislation. But Kamal Zakher, a Coptic writer, voiced reservations to Egypt Independent regarding Article 219 of the old constitution. “There is no objection to maintaining Article 2 of the 1971 constitution. The disagreement is not on the recognition of Islamic Sharia, but rather on its interpretation by various Islamic currents. Sharia respects our own religious laws and vows to protect them…”
Italian Jesuit seen as ‘icon’ of Syrian revolution (Al Monitor) Demonstrations were held in the Syrian city of Raqqa to demand the release of the Italian Jesuit priest, speculated to be held captive by Islamists affiliated with Al Qaeda. Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, who in the 1980’s rebuilt the Syriac Catholic Monastery of St. Moses the Abyssinian north of Damascus, has been a consistent voice for interfaith dialogue and peaceful coexistence founded on mutual respect and understanding. But his messages soon came under threat as a result of the civil war that even now ravages Syria — his adoptive home since the late 1970’s, when he resigned from the Italian army to embark on a journey of contemplation eastward. He once observed: “Why do you grieve when shells hit the Umayyad Mosque? We have the old maps and plans and we will rebuild and restore it once the regime falls. The most important thing is that the dictator leaves; the rest is easy.” Now, this icon of the revolution, first ejected from the country for his harsh criticisms of the Assad regime, is believed to be a captive of the very forces battling the regime…
Assyrian monastery attacked in Turkey (AINA) A group of Muslims attacked the staff of the St. Abraham monastery on Sunday, 11 August, in the city of Midyat in southeastern Turkey. The attack started when the staff turned away the visiting group, explaining that visiting hours had ended for the day. The visitors then began to threaten and curse the Assyrians. A fight then broke out as they tried to batter their way into the monastery…
13 August 2013
Tags: Egypt Syrian Civil War Violence against Christians Turkey Islam
The Atse Tekle Ghiorgis School teaches children from kindergarten through the eighth grade. (photo: John E. Kozar)
In the Summer 2013 issue of ONE, journalist Don Duncan writes about the Atse Tekle Ghiorgis School and how it is changing the lives of some of Ethiopia’s poorest children. Below, he offers some further reflections.
While reporting on the Atse Tekle Ghiorgis School in Addis Ababa, I was struck anew by the importance of civic education — especially in schools serving students from severely disadvantaged backgrounds.
The children of this school are among the city’s poorest. They mostly hail from the surrounding neighborhood, a slum and former leper colony called Kachene. The power education holds for these children is hard to overstate. Beyond literacy and access to a job market previously out of bounds, education provides them a sense of accomplishment, helping them to recognize the dignity that is their inalienable right.
Many of these children are the descendants of lepers. While leprosy is no longer the problem it used to be in Addis Ababa, their social standing has not improved; they are the lowest of the low in Ethiopian society, a marginalized group approaching India’s “untouchables.” They face numerous obstacles, many of them cultural in character. If the children are to have any hope of overcoming their stigmas, the first step is to learn to no longer give credence to them.
At the Atse Tekle Ghiorgis School, a significant part of the educational program is dedicated to civics and moral education. In these classes, the children learn they have a right to dignity. In working to ensure others acknowledge this dignity, the first step is that they themselves affirm it, and learn to comport themselves accordingly. They are strongly discouraged from begging and urged instead to pursue paid labor. The faculty seeks to instill in the children confidence in their own talents and worth, and help them see themselves as being capable of supporting themselves.
By teaching self-respect and self-actualization, the school hopes to see these lessons filter back to the parents, many of whom also resort to begging out of a sense of hopelessness. This is seen as just one of the cycles that perpetuate the poverty and misery in Kachene, and one that the Atse Tekle Ghiorgis School is trying to break through education.
Civic education also highlights the social dangers many of these children face, ranging from smoking at an early age to drinking, sniffing petroleum, child labor and even human trafficking and sex work. All these risks are present, to varying degrees, in Kachene. Once again, the teachers at the Atse Tekle Ghiorgis School do all they can to protect the children by educating them and strengthening their sense of self-worth.
As I mention in my article in ONE, youth unemployment in Ethiopia is rife and the overall quality of education is falling. In a country where extreme poverty is stigmatized, the fact that these children are educated, some to university level, is significant, even if it may not always bring significant material benefits to the students and their families. However, through the conversations I had with many of the students and their parents, the lessons in civics, self-respect and dignity are every bit as transformative as literacy and numeracy — but these lessons will always bear rich fruit, regardless of the economic or social climate.
13 August 2013
Tags: Ethiopia Children Sisters Education Poor/Poverty
An Egyptian girl wants a closer look at Verbo Encarnado Sister María de la Santa Faz. (photo: Mohammed El-Dakhakhny)
Several years ago, we reported on the remarkable work being undertaken by a congregation of sisters in Egypt seeking to help some of the poorest children in the country:
Amira still does not talk much, except with her eyes. A year after the sisters took her in, the 3-year-old is still recovering from the hell that was her home. Now her brown eyes are full of life and her expressive eyebrows, lifting and furrowing, say what she cannot: that she has been rescued, that she is lucky and that somehow she knows it.
Amira is from the dusty Egyptian town of Dekhela, near the coastal city of Alexandria. Here, the sisters of the Verbo Encarnado (Incarnate Word) Congregation, who hail from South America, have set up two homes for girls who used to live on the streets.
Some of the girls, like Amira, have escaped abusive families. Others seek an education, while some just want regular meals and a warm bed.
While the congregation’s Egyptian community is based in Cairo, “the smaller towns are where people really need help,” says Father Maurizio, one of the founders.
Father Maurizio helped set up the mission in eight years ago and was the first priest from the congregation to live permanently in the country.
“We wanted to learn more about this part of the world,” he says. “We recognize the value of Islam, but we also wanted to help support the Christian community.”
Approximately 10 percent of Egypt’s population is Christian, mostly Coptic Orthodox. Coptic and other Eastern Catholics number about 300,000 persons. Other Christians include Greek Orthodox and evangelical Protestants.
Whatever their faith community, most Egyptians live difficult lives far from the modern bustle of Cairo or the colonial grandeur of Alexandria.
The national average daily income is just over $10 a day. About 23 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. Due to overpopulation, a weak economy and high unemployment, the challenges facing Egypt’s youth are daunting.
Sister María Guadalupe, the superior of the community in Egypt, says the situation in Dekhela is especially bad. The town is poor; there are few social services.
“These girls were living with their families in one room,” she says. “No bathroom, no kitchen, just one room. Sometimes there would be a bed and that’s all. So the girls were spending all their time in the street.”
Many families consider education for girls a luxury rather than a necessity, she says. While some girls complete grade school, many are kept at home where their mothers teach them household duties. Such traditional attitudes prevail in both Muslim and Christian communities.
Read morea about Building a Brigher Future in Egypt in the November 2004 issue of ONE.
Tags: Egypt Children Sisters Education