Church must be a safe place where sinners are welcome to learn and change, and where the wounded can share their pains and find refuge, says Maria Dous, a medical student from Egypt. In July, she participated in a seminar organized by the Pan African Women’s Ecumenical Empowerment Network (PAWEEN), a project of the Ecumenical Theological Education department of the World Council of Churches (WCC), at the WCC's Ecumenical Institute Bossey. The following interview is part of a series featuring insights by some of the participants.
Maria Dous is a lay member of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt. She volunteers in her local church in various ways, for example as a Sunday school tutor and helping to organize spiritual and social development summer programs for hundreds of youth and children. Her volunteering experiences also include two years with People to People International's Nile of Peace Student Chapter, where she worked on orphanage visits and fundraising events.
Q: Have you experienced solidarity from other women of African descent in your life path? How has it empowered you to contribute to the ecumenical movement and/or to sustainable development?
Well, in Egypt we do not commonly get acquainted with people of African descent of different origins, like I did during the seminar, so all the ladies that shared in my empowerment are Egyptian ones, and they are many to be honest.
I remember for example Ms Haidee Kamil, my music professor and an icon in musical education in Egypt and the Middle East; Dr Basma Gregory, my IGCSE English professor; and of course my mother!
Those three ladies have had a hand in empowering me through my education and all the hardships I faced. They always believed in me, even at times when I could not believe in myself.
Q: What learning are you taking away from this PAWEEN seminar?
PAWEEN was the very first Pan African event I ever attend and it was quite a new experience to me.
First of all, getting acquainted with this diversity of great women of African descent was an inspiring experience, for I got to know the story of each of them, and to get a glimpse of the struggle each one passed through along her personal path.
Another enlightening experience was sharing the prayers with everyone else, each in his or her own way, and feeling that God is able to reach for us all equally, each in her own tongue and in her own way. This was a very powerful message to me, although it is common sense; I had never fully understood it until I shared prayers with people who prayed differently than I did.
If I am to summarize what I learnt, I would say that I need to learn even more about what fellow African women worldwide are going through every day and work to be of help to them someday.
Q: What are your intentions for empowering other Pan African women in the future? How will you follow up on this seminar?
As outlined in the seminar, I will be addressing the church leaders and possibly the governmental representatives with requests to make the necessary changes in policies, laws and developmental plans.
Personally, I think I became more aware, and am feeling more personally responsible for the welfare of my fellow Egyptian and African women, so whenever there's a chance to empower a wounded girl or raise awareness among some illiterate women or to fight against an unjust behavior or practice, I will definitely work my way through it.
Q: Are there areas where you still see a special need for solidarity with women of African descent?
Speaking of my homeland, I think we need to be more acquainted with other women of African descent. Most of us are not aware of their struggles or their wounds; neither are we aware of their successes and vice versa.
I would say, yes we need to have this solidarity among us in all fields.
Q: What is the specific role of churches and of the Christian faith in empowering Pan African women?
From all of what I heard and discussed during the seminar, I think the greatest role of the church is to convey Jesus the right way, to convey Christianity and Christian faith for what it is, so as not to become an obstacle between people and their Heavenly Father; not to repel people from their loving God.
Church must also be a safe place where the sinners are welcome to learn and change, and where the wounded are welcome to share their pains and find refuge. And whenever injustice, false beliefs or wrong practices are common, the church must actively step in to stop them. At all times the church should be praying for all who have been wounded and all who have sinned.
Recordings of several panels at the PAWEEN seminar are available on the WCC YouTube channel