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Mama Maggie’s vision shared by Canadians

Mama Maggie, right, with some of her Canadian friends (from left): Fr. Angelos Saad of the Coptic Church, Christine Henein and Ghada Melek.

He Heals The Brokenhearted And Binds up Their Wounds. 

Cairo, Egypt – By Susan Korah


It’s a long way from Canada to Cairo.

But a recently opened hospital in the city in the Egyptian capital’s trash-filled slums, and Stephen’s Children, the non-profit organization that started it, have special links with Canadians who share the vision of its founder, Maggie Gobran.

Known affectionately as Mama Maggie, Gobran has been dubbed the Mother Teresa of Cairo, a city that most people see as an exotic tourist’s paradise of pyramids and palaces. But far from its five-star hotels and opulent mansions of the ultra-rich is Ezbet El Nakhl, the notorious slum district on the outskirts of Cairo, where people known locally as Zabbaleen (garbage people) live in dark, reeking alleyways in the most unsanitary conditions, sorting mountainous piles of trash for a subsistence living.

Among them are millions of Egyptian Christians, some of the most marginalized and oppressed people in the country.

True to Mama Maggie’s inclusive vision, Stephen’s Children reaches out with Christ’s love to all of Egypt’s unloved and abandoned, regardless of their faith affiliation, an important marker of identity in her country. The newly opened hospital, which serves its patients, free of charge, has a walk-in clinic that provides primary care, including dental services and a pharmacy. As soon as funding is available, the administration hopes to provide beds for patients who need in-hospital care.

“Mother Maggie, the Mother Teresa of Cairo or Mama Maggie as we call her, is a living example of how we as Christians can transform our world by embracing the mission God has anointed each of us for,” says Ghada Melek of Mississauga, Ont., a community activist who was the federal Conservative Party candidate for her riding in the 2019 election.

Born and raised in Egypt, Melek, who emigrated to Canada as a teenager over 32 years ago, is a committed supporter of Stephen’s Children. 

“I met Mama Maggie for the first time in 2014. I didn’t know much about her then but was struck by her calm and peaceful manner. The peace she embodied reflected a spirit of humility and steadfastness of faith,” she said. 

The story of Maggie Gobran’s transformation from Cairo socialite, businesswoman and fashionista to Mama Maggie — healer and washer of feet in the foul-smelling slums of the city — is a miracle in itself.

Daughter of a well-to-do Coptic Christian family, Maggie had an eye-opening experience while on a casual visit with friends from her church to Ezbet El Nakhle, a world far removed from her own comfortable life.

Deeply disturbed by the poverty and suffering she saw around her, she returned several times and discovered more about the miserable lives of the Zabbaleen.

A chance encounter with a destitute widow and her daughter selling corn in the middle of a narrow, stinking street shook her to the core. When she took the barefoot child to buy shoes for her, the little girl begged her to purchase a pair for her mother instead.

When Maggie returned home that day, she had made up their mind. She had never walked in their shoes, but she could sense in a very real way, that their feet were worn and weary from walking the roughest path in life. She decided to trade her own fashionable clothes and high-heeled shoes for a simple white outfit, and to give up her glamorous life and her career as a businesswoman and professor, to hold the door open to a new life of dignity and hope for the poorest of the poor of Cairo.

With the support of her husband, she founded Stephen’s Children in 1997, named after St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr.

Gathering a team of helpers, she began a ministry to break the cycle of poverty, illiteracy and disease that plague the lives of the Zabbaleen. She established a program of home visits, educational centres and training workshops. The new hospital is the latest addition to these projects.

Cathie Orfalie of Ottawa, Chair of the Board of Directors of Stephen’s Children Foundation, Canada, first heard of Mama Maggie on CTV’s Canada AM program eight years ago. 

Asked what drew her to Stephen’s Children, she said: “My faith. We are called on and are drawn through prayer to where we should be placed, whether it’s for boots-on-the-ground service or helping with finances.”

She has visited Cairo and the Zabbaleen settlements several times with her Egyptian-born husband Paul, and has met Mama Maggie.

“The time I spent with Mama Maggie has been imprinted on my heart, and I reflected on the question of what I can do with the blessings bestowed on me to help ease the suffering I witnessed,” she told The Catholic Register.

Starting out as a donor, she became increasingly involved and has served on the board of the foundation for many years.

“Since 2010, I’ve been there five or six times, and in the summer of 2018, Christine Henein (Canadian director of the foundation) and I went with one of the local workers to visit the land where the hospital was to be built, and prayed on the land,” she said.

Orfalie visited again in November 2022, and was happy to find that the hospital, the first of its kind in Ezbet El Nakhl, had become a reality and plans are underway to expand its services.

Another Canadian actively engaged in the ministry is Dr. Mahassen Ghobrial, a pediatrician in Ottawa, who also serves on the board of the foundation.

“What impresses me about Mama Maggie is that she is genuine, completely committed to this organization and the kids she helps in Egypt, and several other places in the Middle East and Africa,” she said.

Soon to retire from her 60-year career, Ghobrial plans to visit Egypt for two weeks in October with a team of medical specialists to work at Mama Maggie’s facilities or at the new hospital, she said.

Orfalie expressed the hopes of Mama Maggie and the entire Stephen’s Children community for the next phase of the hospital.

“God willing, Stephen’s Children will be able one day to provide the critical care services that a full-fledged hospital offers once we have the funds to buy the needed equipment and finish the upper floors,” she said.

Further information about Stephen’s Children is at its website, stephenschildren.org.

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