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03/18/2020 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern)Over 200 Egyptian children gather around in small circles, their fingers gripping crayons as they draw faces on pieces of paper. Some draw happy faces, others sad, and still others angry. No one had ever explained to them what emotions are and how to express them. But at ICC’s Hope House Center, students learn more than school subjects. They learn life and relationship skills.

Many Egyptian parents lack the knowledge of how to care for children. Mothers are often only a little older than their children themselves, and fathers struggle to earn a living, often resorting to hard labor under dangerous conditions. Families are stretched thin. For Christian families, who are subjected to persecution, the pressure is even harder. The knowledge of building healthy relationships is often a mystery.

The Hope House Center Coordinator had recognized these problems in his own childhood and sought out ways to address them as an adult. “I learned a lot about emotional management, abuse, psychological needs, and dependability,” he says. “What I learned helped me in my life. I decided to share that with the team of teachers at the center. The goal was to balance our feelings and manage them together as a team, to support and encourage spaces that are safe.”

This speaks directly to the goal of ICC’s Hope House program: creating safe spaces for persecuted Christian children where they can learn the skills needed that would grow into highly effective adults. While the center mostly focuses on education, the need to learn about emotions is important. The children are often experiencing hard circumstances, and without addressing their emotions in a healthy way, school is made more challenging.

For example, one child is often singled out by bullies because he is a Christian. A Hope House mentor working with him observed that “he is being beaten by bullies at the public school.” But Hope House has also helped him address the emotions created by this experience. “(He is) learning to love and be kind to everyone, including his enemies. He is learning how to love them (the bullies) despite this.”

This transformation comes through special sessions held by Hope House, which teach the children how to manage and express their emotions in a healthy way. “We gathered the kids and made songs at the beginning of the day. Then we presented a short segment about feelings,” explains the coordinator. “Then we divide the kids into workshops. The aim is to gain awareness about the child’s (individual) psychology and help him to express what he is feeling and what the names are of different emotions. The children received the subject with enthusiasm.”

Both teachers and students found the workshop a healing experience. For many, this was the first time that they had ever given serious thought to their own emotions. Several children described difficult personal experiences they had encountered, experiences that they had before kept silent. Some spoke of physical abuse they experienced or witnessed. Others spoke of difficult family situations, like a relative’s death, that they were going through. This knowledge helps the Hope House staff treat the children with extra kindness and love. It also helps the students know they are not alone.

“It is clear in watching the kids that they (now) express what they feel, either happy or sad,” said the coordinator. “This shows that they feel safe and comforted to express their feelings, although some of it was difficult. This is a beginning. We will continue to serve them to reach maturity and grow in a healthy atmosphere. We encourage this generation to mature psychologically, spiritually, and educationally.”  

Through this, the teachers have also expressed how their own lives and teaching experiences are transformed. “This subject was important and interesting. I am making room for the kids. They are expressing their feelings, and I am hearing them with focus,” says one.

“It is a personal gain,” adds another. “My feelings are appreciated. Also, (I am) hearing someone else help and (realized) I was not helping.”

“I have to hear the other one so I can know his feelings. For the kids, now they know what feelings mean and how to express them to someone who is safe,” says a different teacher.

By caring about every aspect of a child’s life, Hope House has brought new opportunities for Egypt’s beleaguered Christian community. Opportunities to grow as a person emotionally, educationally, and spiritually. Opportunities for families to grow closer together. As the center’s coordinator says, “Thanks for all of the support and encouragement of the Hope House.”

To sign up as a sponsor or support ICC’s Hope House program, give us a call at 800.422.5441 or consider donating today.