Sunday,24 March, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1434, (14 - 20 March 2019)
Sunday,24 March, 2019
Issue 1434, (14 - 20 March 2019)

Ahram Weekly

‘Elegance comes from inside’

Maggie Gobran, the Mother Teresa of Egypt, received an international award for her role in combating poverty, Thomas Gorguissian attended the ceremony

 

‘Elegance comes from inside’
‘Elegance comes from inside’

Despite coming from an affluent family, working first as a marketing expert and later as a teacher at the American University in Cairo (AUC), Maggie Gobran, better known as Mama Maggie, has dedicated the last 30 years to serving the poor in Egypt’s shanty towns.

Last Thursday US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hosted the Annual International Women of Courage (IWOC) Awards at the State Department to honour 10 extraordinary women from around the world. Mama Maggie was one of them.

Gobran, who was nominated for the Nobel peace prize in 2012, received the award after being presented to the audience with these words: “Mama Maggie of Egypt is being honoured for her visionary commitment to serve the lives of the poor and forgotten in her community, realising the value of those seeking vocational training in order to contribute to society, and providing economic salvation and spiritual direction for impoverished children in her country.”

“I believe courage is one of the qualities we need most in society,” First Lady Melania Trump said in a short speech after being introduced by Pompeo. “It is what propels us forward. Courage is what divides those who only talk about change from those who actually act to change. Courage takes sacrifice, bravery and humility — it is the ability to put others first.”

Magda Gobran Gorgy was born in 1949 in the town of Naga Hammadi in Upper Egypt. The daughter of a prominent physician, she was raised in an affluent family. She worked as a marketing executive for large companies in Egypt and later taught computer science at AUC.

In 1987, after a long and productive life devoted to working with the poor, Magda Gobran’s beloved Aunt Matilda — Teda — died. Teda’s death was a turning point for Maggie. She always said that Teda was her “sunshine”, her spiritual mother who taught her how to pray, read the Bible and serve the poor. Mama Maggie, a book written by Mary Makary and Ellen Vaughn and published in 2015, quotes Magda saying: “I had enjoyed an affluent lifestyle. I always liked to be elegant. But now I know that elegance comes from the inside….”

In 1989 she gave up her academic career and set up the charity Stephen’s Children to help underprivileged children from all backgrounds in the Zabbaleen (garbage collectors) area of Moqattam. 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. It now serves more than 33,000 children.

“I am honoured and blessed from God that I am serving this noble aim — to help needy children,” Mama Maggie told Al-Ahram Weekly. “I felt, and still feel, happy because I realise that God took me away from the elite of society and promoted me to a world I was not aware of — a wider and richer world where there is real happiness in serving God and the people. This promotion — something I never dreamed of receiving — filled me with happiness.”

Mama Maggie, frequently called the Mother Teresa of Egypt, has been nominated more than once for the Nobel Peace Prize. President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi honoured Mama Maggie last year on Mother’s Day as one of Egypt’s Mothers of The Year. She was the 2018 Charles W Colson Conviction and Courage Award recipient and in 2017 received the Arab Hope Makers’ Prize, awarded by the emir of Dubai. She thinks that these recognitions help the cause of her organisation.

“More people are becoming aware of and interested in helping the needy,” she told the Weekly. “Help is needed to provide love and dignity. Human beings need somebody to extend a hand to bring them up. They need bread, yes, but also love to restore dignity.”

“I hope what we have done and what we are doing will serve as a model for younger generations. It can help them to discover themselves and their ability to help others.”

Jennifer Cate, executive director of HANDS (Hands Along the Nile Development Services), attended the ceremony. She told the Weekly “we had heard about Maggie’s charitable initiatives for years because she works in areas where our organisation works.”

“One of the things that impresses about Mama Maggie is that she invests in long-term change by empowering people to help themselves and others in their communities through education and vocational training.”

The secretary of state’s International Women of Courage Award, now in its 13th year, recognises women around the globe who have demonstrated exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality and women’s empowerment, often at great personal risk and sacrifice. Since the inception of the award in March 2007 the State Department has recognised more than 120 women from 65 different countries. The 10 2019 International Women of Courage awardees included women from Bangladesh, Burma, Djibouti, Jordan, Ireland, Montenegro, Peru, Sri Lanka and Tanzania.

Egypt’s Ambassador to Washington Yasser Reda was present at the ceremony.

The United States Embassy in Cairo issued a press release congratulating Mama Maggie as someone who “epitomises the courage and leadership required to lift up the disadvantaged, promote social inclusion and advance the status of women in Egypt.”

She is the first woman from Egypt to receive the award.

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