Lent Appeal to help vulnerable women

Published: 7th March 2019

The Bishop of Lichfield, the Rt Revd Dr Michael Ipgrave, heard first-hand about how vulnerable women will benefit from one of his Lent Appeal projects when one of the coordinators visited from Egypt.

Bishop Michael hosted a tea party for two visitors, Su McClellan from the charity Embrace the Middle East and her guest, Sara Hanna from the Soteria project in Egypt, which the charity supports and which is one of the recipients of the Bishops Lent Appeal. Sara was visiting the UK to promote the work of Soteria.

Bishop Michael was fascinated to hear about Soteira and especially the projects they run from Anafora, a retreat house situated between Cairo and Alexandria. Anafora is owned by the Coptic Diocese of Qusiya in Upper Egypt and was founded and is keenly supported by their Bishop Thomas who also offers ongoing pastoral and practical support to the women and others who take their programmes. Anafora is a Greek word meaning to lift up and Bishop Thomas chose it because he saw that as the focus of his episcopal ministry from the beginning: lifting people up.

The Soteira project brings groups of mainly Christian women from rural areas in Southern Egypt up to Anaphora for retreats and leadership training. Often in these rural areas women are treated as walking, talking domestic appliances and they face all sorts of traumas and challenges, including sexual assault, abuse, forced marriage, and simply not being allowed the freedom to dress or act how they would like something that in itself can cause profound trauma.

Sara explained how Soteria chooses women from these areas who show particular leadership potential and bring them on courses and retreats where they seek to empower them. The women have some time away when they can dress and act however they like; for instance, learning to ride bicycles. They are also given lectures and seminars on womens rights and other important matters. They then go home more able to advocate for themselves and other women and they transfer this learning to others in their community, sometimes by starting groups or businesses involving other women. The project has also started running sessions for men, especially brothers and family members of the women, educating them on supporting womens rights and seeking also to empower them, and retreats for priests raising their awareness of the issues facing women and how they can help (for instance, in refusing to perform forced marriages and offering pastoral support to women in the problems they face). Its about transforming a whole community, Sara explained. Many of the women whove been on the courses have restarted their education and even gone to university, something that is very difficult for Egyptian women if they live outside the big cities.

Su commented that Embrace the Middle East is always concerned to support projects that show Christians being salt and light in their communities and Soteria is one that shows this principle most fully. The Bishop of Gloucester Rachel Treweek was a recent visitor and is enthusiastic about the project.

Sara told Bishop Michael a little of her own story: she grew up in Cairo and studied at the university there. While she was studying French and business, Bishop Thomas asked her to be a translator to a group of French-speaking visitors at Anafora and there she found the cause she was looking for she wanted to do something that gave back and helped her community. She is passionate about the project and the work they do to empower women, which not only transforms the life of individuals but, over a longer time period, will transform whole communities.

Find out more about this year's Bishop's Lent Appeal, and its focus on mental health and wellbeing, here.

Page last updated: Thursday 7th March 2019 8:47 AM
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