Eight years ago I was on my way to Cairo, Egypt, to observe a program developed by a Christian Egyptian physician who recognized a dire need for boys to learn to respect girls and for girls to learn to respect themselves. It is a culture where abuse of all kinds against women and girls is both exceedingly common and silently tolerated, where abuse is automatically assumed to be the fault of the woman…or young girl…or baby girl. Where family honor and silence are more important than a daughter.
The program was proving to be amazingly successful. So much so that many public schools in Egypt were including it along with their classroom study.
Flying over, I sat next to an Egyptian woman who spent half her time in Southern California and half in Cairo. I had just started to tell her about the program when we arrived in Dubai for a three hour layover. She told me she was a psychologist and wanted to hear more, so we sat in the airport and discussed it. At that time, 10,000 girls and boys had gone through the program. The goal was to increase the number by 15,000 each year.
Three hours later, when the plane to Cairo was announced, a pretty thirteen-year-old girl with huge brown eyes who had been sitting close by came over and shyly stood beside me. I smiled and said hello. She said, “Will you come to Syria, too?” I asked her what she meant. She said, “I’m from Aleppo, in Syria, and we have those problems too. I want to learn how to say no. Will you come to Aleppo and teach us?”
I said I was sorry, but I couldn’t. And I didn’t
Today Aleppo is in flames. The people who are still there are running for their lives. No one is talking about plain old abuse anymore. They’re talking about their prospects of living to see another day.
That girl would be twenty-one now. But every evening when I watch the news, I think of that lovely young girl with the huge brown eyes, and I cry.
“Hope is a waking dream.”