Many Coptic Christians come from the agricultural communities of Upper Egypt. Over half of the population there is under the age of 29; 80% of severe poverty is concentrated in this region; and half of the youth are unemployed. This area has long been neglected by successive governments, lacking in transportation, healthcare, education services, and political representation. A collective identity of victimhood has led to violence as a way to restore honor.
Due to limited opportunities, many young men migrate out of Upper Egypt. If they don’t have birth certificates, they are ineligible for many jobs, and thus end up in one of the many garbage slums around Cairo, or in construction and factory jobs in neighboring Libya. Once settled into the garbage slums, they bring wives and children, all of whom take on the job of sifting through mountains of garbage daily to earn a living. This is a highly dangerous task without any protection as they sift through metal, glass, plastic, hospital waste, and organic matter.
The home visitation program is at the heart of the Stephen’s Children ministry. They currently employ over 1,700 home visitors to be a light to these families – to listen to them, pray with them, encourage hope, build healthy relationships, curb violence, promote education, improve health, and help school-age children embrace their God-given gifts and dreams.
The community education centers began when staff realized children needed to be reached at a much earlier age. In the classrooms, preschool students learn a new bible story each week, building skills in literacy, art, drama, and Christian values and character. A total of 95 centers have been built across Egypt so far. Students graduating from these centers are ready to enter the public school system – strong in their Christian faith and confident in their abilities.
The education centers also double as free medical clinics and classrooms for mothers to learn about hygiene, healthy relationships, and proper care for their children. In the garbage slums of Helwan, just south of Cairo, a young boy came in with a respiratory infection. While there, the doctor carefully and thoroughly washed the boy’s hands. Under layers of grime he uncovered a wound left untreated and gently asked questions about his activities. This boy helps his mother to collect discarded plastic bags from the street, which they melt down over a fire to sell to make plastic clothes hangers. 20 kilos of plastic earns them about $1.25. Some of the melting plastic had fallen on the boy’s wrist. Smoke from the burning plastic also caused the respiratory problems.
Farah Philomena Farm is located north of Cairo in Wadi Natroun. It was built to be a place of refuge for the ministry. It is a working farm where children and staff from Cairo can stay to enjoy the wide open space, fresh air, quiet, and solitude.