12 February 2018
At St. Vincent de Paul School in Alexandria, Egypt, the Daughters of Charity provide a nurturing environment for children. (photo: Roger Anis)
In the current edition of ONE, journalist Magdy Samaan chronicles the remarkable story of the Daughters of Charity in Egypt. Here, she adds some personal reflections of her experience covering the story and meeting the sisters.
Alexandria is a beloved city for Egyptians. Once, it was the main destination for summer holidays vacationers. Everyone, especially the older generations, keeps happy memories for the city. For me, it was the city where I saw the sea for the first time — a stunning memory. I have written many stories from there, but most of them were sad — covering the demolishing of a villa or the sectarian tension between Muslims and Copts.
But during my most recent visit to Alexandria I had the chance to write about something positive: The Daughter of Charity a Catholic community of women serving in Egypt since 1844.
The Daughters of Charity in Alexandria manages the Saba Banat dispensary and St. Vincent de Paul School. After I finished my interview with Sister Simone Abdel Malek, the superior of the community and the manager of the dispensary, I asked her to go with my colleague, photographer Roger Anis, to speak with some patients, who were waiting in the hall outside her office to see doctors. She suggested coming with us. “They will feel safe when I’m with you,” she said.
Sister Simone walked with us in the long hall. With a kind smile, she asked the people if we can interview them and take pictures. Her presence made our job easier because the people trust her. When we visited the place again, Sister Simone was out of the country, and we had to do the interviews without her help. Not everyone wanted to speak.
For me, it was impressive how five religious sisters are able to run such big ministry. But as I talked with them, I learned that they depend on a tradition of more than 170 years; they have earned respect and trust across many decades.
One of the people I met in Saba Banat is Mohamed Goda, a 41-year-old farmer, and his wife, Aliaa Ibrahim. Mr. Goda is a conservative Muslim. He talked with a lot of gratitude about the dispensary which helped him to treat his two-year old son. The workers of the dispensary and the school do not ask anyone about their religious background, and those who come seeking the services leave any religious prejudice outside the doors.
The situation at St. Vincent de Paul School was similar. Sister Eman Fawzy, the manager of the school, shows patience and firmness — but her firmness doesn’t conflict with the spirit of the Daughters of Charity, whose work is based on love for the poor. It was not only the tradition and the trust that helped the sisters; they were also equipped with education. Each sister has a degree or two in her field of service. The local community treats them with respect and trust — and people seem to know the sisters are raising the standards for everyone.
A mother of a student in the school told me that her family relocated to a flat nearby when her son was accepted as a student there. She did it because she knows he will get a good education. She believes any sacrifice will be worth it.
Read more about Charity’s Daughters in the December 2017 edition of ONE. And watch the video below for a personal glimpse of the sisters at work.