Al-Ahram Weekly Online   11 - 17 October 2012
Issue No. 1118
Front Page
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

A Nobel for the voice of the poor?

The Mother Teresa of Cairo, Maggie Gobran, may win a Nobel Peace Prize tomorrow. Egypt, and Rasha Sadek, are crossing their fingers

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Maggie Gobran

White-clad and soft-spoken, Maggie Gobran exudes a quiet charisma. Her presence is palpable. Gracious yet humble, Mama Maggie, as she likes to be called, has dedicated her life and resources to the service of the inhabitants of impoverished shanty towns. The Coptic Orthodox ministry leader founded Stephen's Children organisation -- named after the first Christian martyr -- in 1989. The outreach mission has helped 25,000 destitute families so far, beginning its work among the zabbaleen, Cairo's garbage collectors.

The foundation, which provides education, vocational centres, clinics and camps to Christians and Muslims, subsequently expanded its work across Egypt, with a particular focus on the south. The charity now employs 1,500 workers and volunteers.

Born into an upper-middle class family, Gobran was a marketing manager and computer science professor at the American University in Cairo until chance and curiosity led her to visit Cairo's worst slums. The exposure to poverty and misery was life-transforming for Gobran.

"I liked to be elegant. But I found to be elegant comes from the inside, to love. True love is to give and forgive, to give until it hurts. With God's grace I left everything and found Him shining, waiting for me with a crown of love," she said at the 2011 Global Leadership Summit at Willow Creek Church in Chicago.

Mama Maggie's nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize comes after five US Republican congressmen sent a letter to the Nobel Committee asking that she be considered for the award.

"Ms. Gobran is a woman of the utmost integrity and her tireless work has served thousands of Egyptians, including countless children. She has given voice to the poor," the letter said. "It is through her deep religious and moral commitment that Mama Maggie has succeeded in creating an organization that serves the most poor, desperate and vulnerable population of Egypt."

Comparisons have been drawn between Mama Maggie's tireless efforts to help Egypt's poorest and Mother Teresa, who for 45 years ministered to the poor, orphaned, sick and dying in the slums of India. Mother Teresa received numerous honours, including the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize.

"We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature -- trees, flowers, grass -- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence... We need silence to be able to touch souls," said Mother Teresa.

"Silence your body to listen to your words," says Mama Maggie. "Silence your tongue to listen to your thoughts. Silence your thoughts to listen to your heart beating. Silence your heart to listen to your spirit. And silence your spirit and you will listen to His spirit. You know in silence you leave many to be with the One."

Other candidates nominated for this year's Nobel Peace Prize include American political theorist Gene Sharp, Burmese President Thein Sein, the Russian rights group Memorial and Cuban human rights activist Oscar Biscet.

If she wins Gobran will join four other Egyptian Nobel laureates, Naguib Mahfouz in literature; Anwar Al-Sadat and Mohamed Al-Baradei in peace and Ahmed Zewail in chemistry.

In her Nobel lecture Mother Teresa said: "When I pick up a person from the street, hungry, I give him a plate of rice, a piece of bread, I have satisfied. I have removed that hunger. But a person that is shut out, that feels unwanted, unloved, terrified, the person that has been thrown out from society -- that poverty is so painful and so much, and I find that very difficult."

Mama Maggie, too, consoles the excluded.

"This is all I want to be," she says of her mission, "a mother to all."

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