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Serve to Learn volunteer Monica Ghabour takes her selfie with His Holiness at the July 12 meeting. Could her smile get any wider?

Serve to Learn volunteer Monica Ghabour takes her selfie with His Holiness at the July 12 meeting. Could her smile get any wider?

I still get excited every time I think of July 12, the high point of this summer’s Serve to Learn program. What made that day so incredible is that His Holiness Pope Tawadros II held a special meeting with the volunteers, commending them for teaching children in Mallawi and Assiut.

As one of the volunteers, Mirelle Botros, said to me after the meeting in St. Mark’s Cathedral, “His Holiness Pope Tawadros II was incredibly warm and kind to us.”

“It was exciting to hear him encourage us and other Copts around the world to visit Egypt and serve the children,” she added.

The best part? I loved seeing all the young people line up, eager to take selfies with His Holiness. Their huge smiles showed how proud they were of their Coptic heritage.

But that’s what this is all about, right? Serve to Learn shows that young diaspora Copts can benefit Egypt’s communities by volunteering, while becoming more strongly tied to their Coptic faith and cultural heritage.

Coptic Orphans, Pope Tawadros, Serve to Learn

The group shot: His Holiness Pope Tawadros II meets with Serve to Learn volunteers in St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo.

The meeting with His Holiness was a great moment for Serve to Learn, which we’ve now been running for over a decade. His Holiness’s words were especially exciting for us, because Serve to Learn was founded on the belief that a strong and vibrant spirit of volunteerism can connect all Copts, benefiting communities, families, and the Church in Egypt and all over the world.

Speaking of volunteerism, you may already know that the volunteers are hosted by the local Coptic diocese for three weeks while they teach children basic English skills through fun activities. But have I ever mentioned that 188 volunteers have served over the years, teaching more than 5,800 young Egyptians?

The 2014 volunteers hailed from Canada, Australia, and the United States. Together, they taught nearly 500 children. During their July 5-24 trip, they also benefited from a spiritual orientation from Abouna Dawood Lamey and visits to Coptic holy sites.

It’s clear to me, from the many conversation I had with the volunteers, that Serve to Learn was both the volunteers’ chance to change children’s lives and an opportunity to connect more deeply with their parents’ birthplace and Church.

Before this summer’s program, another young volunteer, Gabrielle Salib, told me why she joined Serve to Learn: “With all the news articles about Egypt’s youth wanting to reform and better their country, I see that I need to go back to Egypt and match my passion with theirs.”

Gabrielle, who’s 19 years old, had been to Egypt three time on family trips and witnessed some of the economic hardships people there are facing.

“I hope that this program helps me gain wisdom and understanding of the troubles faced by my brothers and sisters in Egypt,” Gabrielle told me. “I mostly want to understand more, because I have grown to believe strongly in the words of St. Francis of Assisi, ‘Seek to understand rather than be understood.’

It’s words like Gabrielle’s, and experiences like meeting with His Holiness, that confirm to me that Serve to Learn is on the right track and meeting an important need.  To build on the great work of our 2014 volunteers, in 2015, Coptic Orphans plans to expand Serve to Learn to two sessions, one in late January to mid-February, and one July 3-25.

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We‘d love to see you in Serve to Learn in 2015!