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Originally from São Paulo, Brazil, Sister Maria Laudis Gloriae lives and works at one of the larger houses, just down the road from the school. For the 37 girls and 9 boys who live there, it is home. One of the girls — a bright-eyed, curly haired 2-year-old — has lived at the home since the tender age of 2 months. Her parents, both of whom are poor and mentally ill, abandoned her on the doorstep of a rectory in Upper Egypt. The parish priest entrusted the infant to the sisters’ care.

Holding the bouncy child in her arms, Sister Maria explains that parish priests referred many of the children now living in King Mariut.

“Sometimes local priests know the history of the family, know the children and know if there is a problem. There are sisters who travel a lot in Upper Egypt, so the priests know us and know our work.”

The complex of school and houses in King Mariut make up what the priests and sisters of the institute call the City of Charity. According to Father Luis, the mission of the foundation is “to care about those whom no one else cares about.”

“In Egypt,” he says, “there are some great schools for rich children, but nobody cares about poor children. That’s why we care about them.

“We care about the most desperate cases,” he continues, “and it is a challenge. When we welcome them here, we do everything we can to bring them back to a feeling of a normal life and a happy childhood.”

A key aspect of a child’s healthy and happy development is a well-rounded, rigorous education. This is something the priests and sisters have had to build from the ground up.

In the early days, the community simply accommodated the children in its houses, sending them to public schools in the village. The sisters, however, soon discovered that some of the older children had never been to school. And, if they had attended school, many had fallen through the cracks.

“Sometimes, we may get a 15-year-old who does not know how to read or write at all,” says the priest. “They have been going to school, but that means nothing.”

To bring these children up to grade level, the sisters designed a basic literacy course. Once at their appropriate reading level, the children were then re-enrolled in the local public school. But the sisters noticed another disturbing trend.

“We discovered that the kids in the literacy program were learning more than the kids in the state school,” adds Father Luis.

From that moment, he and his community decided to establish their own school — St. Aloysius Gonzaga, named after the Italian Jesuit — which the Egyptian government has yet to accredit officially.

“After we saw what the state-run schools were like, we decided to expand our program into an unofficial school,” he says.

“We learned from experience. Running an entire school by ourselves was never something we planned in the beginning.”

St. Aloysius School follows the country’s standard academic curriculum, preparing students for the thanawiya ‘amma — Egypt’s tough high school exit exams. But teachers have their work cut out for them.

“It is very difficult for some of the kids to pass their exams because they come from the south, which is resource poor,” he says.

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