Two of our UCC partners in Egypt – The Coptic Evangelical organization for Social Services (CEOSS) and the Coptic orthodox bishopric for Public, Ecumenical and Social (Bless) are utilizing One Great Hour of Sharing gifts to employ a model of integrated community development – where a community with needs is identified, the natural leaders are called forth and the community itself is empowered to help themselves create a better life.
In July, Peter Makari, Global Ministries Executive for the Middle East and Europe and Susan Sanders, One Great Hour of Sharing Administrator, visited Tella, a farming village in Upper Egypt, along the Nile, where CEOSS is involved. The community leaders – Muslims and Christians – about 12 men and 2 women – decided they needed to work on sanitation issues. As a first step, they organized to have the open sewer in their village paved over. For as long as anyone could remember, animals roamed free through the village – donkeys, goats, chickens – leaving their waste throughout the community. Our partners suggested the Tella villagers build pens to contain the animals and their fertile manure in one place. The manure has now replaced the expensive commercial fertilizer used for the crops, and because organic produce is highly valued, the Tella farmers are now selling their produce at a higher price. With the extra income, families are able to send their girl children to school and to pay for regular visits to the mobile medical clinic.
In the nearby village of Nazlat Abd al-Masih, three generations of women gathered in the St. George’s Coptic Orthodox Church to testify to how involvement in the community development project was changing their lives and to thank the United Church of Christ for accompanying them with our gifts and prayers. The women and girls testified to how their lives are being transformed. They expressed gratitude that their children were now healthier because the Nazlat Abd al-Masih community was cleaner. The girls were excited and happy to be able to go to school and learn to read and write, "just like the boys". Finally, having women involved in the leadership of this community development project empowered other women to "find their voice" and register and VOTE for the first time ever in the recent Presidential election.
By coming together, sharing what they have in community, and relying on God's promises – these faithful folks in Egypt are witnessing to what it means to love our neighbors.