Book Review: Mother Maggie

Mama-Maggie-Book-CoverBy Courtney Lott-

She is known as the Mother Teresa of Egypt, but it’s unlikely you have heard of her. A once successful marketing executive, recognized for her fashionable clothing and wit, Maggie Groban gave up glamour and comfort to serve the poor in Egypt. The book Mama Maggie, written by Marty Makary and Ellen Vaughn, seeks to tell her story and the stories of those whose lives she touched.

Born to a privileged Coptic Christian family, Maggie Groban had every opportunity to live a life of ease. Ambitious and smart, she excelled in both school and business and eventually went on to teach computer science at American University in Cairo. In this venue she worked with the brightest of students, encouraging them to reach their goals, challenging them to consider what they were doing with their lives. All the while, she contemplated the path she had chosen.

The death of her Aunt Teda, a woman who had spent her life ministering to the poor, served as a turning point. “I had the best students, the smartest in the whole country,” Maggie said. But in the wake of Teda’s passing, she sensed that “God wanted to promote me. He said, ‘Leave the best, the smartest, and go to the poorest of the poor.’” Though she already volunteered occasionally in the slums, Groban felt the tug to do something more significant, something that would require great sacrifice on her part. So Maggie exchanged her fancy clothes and finery for a simple white skirt, shawl, and t-shirt. With the support of her husband, Ibrahim, they formed Stephen’s Children. In spite of government resistance – it takes a year to get approval to start a Non-Government Organization if things go well – their ministry to the children of Garbage City received generous support from friends, family, and churches the Grobans had supported in the past.

Their first task was to tackle education. According to the book, one study reveals “the base illiteracy rate in Egypt is 24 percent for non-poor families and 41 percent in poor families.” Moreover, women receive even less education than men, often not being sent to school at all. They are expected to grow up, get married, and have children. The ability to read is not considered important for them, as they do not see it as something that will make them valuable or socially acceptable. Stephen’s Children works to combat these attitudes that often perpetuate the cycle of poverty.

Using a Montessori school model, Mama Maggie established schools for children as young as preschool age. Here they are given a basic education and taught about hygiene, as well as their religious heritage, whether Christian or Muslim. Families who attend the schools are also given access to free medical clinics. Many of her students eventually go on to her vocational schools, where they learn to work on looms or make shoes. “In these settings,” write the authors. “They could begin a new way of thinking and living, a bit of empowerment rather than shame and dysfunction.”

The next step Stephen’s Children takes with its students is the bi-annual summer camp in which the children can escape from their difficult home environments for a few days. As Mama Maggie’s assistant Youssef says, “We can harvest what we’ve been doing all year.” Stories of repentance and healing mark these events. Children are given the opportunity to learn, to discuss their struggles, to sleep in a bed. They are taught to dream big dreams. Many are rescued from abusive home lives. Some are convicted of the abuse they have wreaked on others.

After twenty years of daily working in the poor cities of Cairo, raising awareness all over the world, and being nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, Mama Maggie has started to draw back and allow others to take over. Those she has poured into are now stepping up to take the reins and continue the mission to the poor, to carry out Maggie Groban’s God-given vision.

“I want to go on with our work for the poor more and more,” she says. “Until it spreads all over Egypt, the Middle East, and the whole world, to make a better future for humanity-especially the children. This is the real love story, the one that lasts forever. How many love stories on earth end or change within just a few years? As we set our minds on God, who loved us, and gave himself for us, we are filled up. In the poor areas, we provide simple work, but with great love. We draw a smile in the heart and spirit of every deprived child. I hope this goes on from generation to generation to generation.”

Courtney Lott is the editorial assistant at Good News. 

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