The Family Strengthening Programme of the Egyptian Society for SOS Children’s Villages was started in 2004. “The Egyptian Society for SOS Children’s Villages is registered with the Ministry of Social Solidarity and aims at saving children in danger of losing family care. It also works on supporting and empowering families at risk of disintegration, helping them to achieve stability and protect their children,” says Manal Badr, director of the programme.
Various studies have been done on children in Egyptian society, and in 2009 the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood in cooperation with the UN children’s agency UNICEF looked into the issue of street children in Cairo. The studies agree that family disintegration can be a leading reason for children not receiving the care they need, notably because of the absence of the father as a result of illness, death or addiction.
Family violence, a bad social environment, fears of punishment, negligence and the absence of role models all have their parts to play. Parents may have insecure work, pupils may drop out of school and children may feel obliged to abandon their studies in order to work to gain money or help their parents. Peer pressure may also have a negative influence on their lives.
“These studies were collected and analysed and their recommendations incorporated into the programme,” Badr said. It aims at providing for the basic needs of children, including for protection, good nutrition, educational support and healthcare for flourishing and natural growth. It hopes to build children’s abilities and increase family awareness and knowledge to help in raising children.
Strengthening the role of state institutions concerned with children is another issue the programme works on, as well as networking and uniting the whole community to support neglected children and to give them proper healthcare and protect them from school or home violence.
Aya Younis, responsible for media relations at the programme, says that at the beginning it focussed on fulfilling basic needs. “We worked with children at risk of losing family care as orphans or being abandoned by divorced parents or family members who suffered from serious health conditions. The aim was to help children to grow up within a caring family environment,” she says.
More than 3,000 families identified by different NGOs were presented to the programme. “We spent a whole year choosing, interviewing and meeting families. At the end, we chose up to 100 families to work directly with the programme,” Younis said. The NGOs participating in the programme are in Cairo, Giza and Alexandria and include the Nikla Al-Enab Association for Development in Shubra, the Zawyat Jarawan Association in Sharabeya, the Mounira Local Development Association in Imbaba and the Community-Based Rehabilitation Association in Smouha.
“We are going to start working with three other NGOs in Bulaq Al-Dakrur and Manshiyet Naser in Cairo and Dekheila in Alexandria,” Badr added.
At the same time, the Egyptian Society for SOS Children’s Villages has run awareness seminars helping to educate mothers on how to deal with their children and literacy classes to continue their education. They aim to develop children’s abilities and talents through activities such as acting, singing, storytelling, theatre, pantomime, and drawing and painting.
“First, we began with theatre and then painting and drawing. In the last three years, we have added activities like pantomimes, storytelling and choir practice. These have had a positive impact on children’s behaviour and helped them to grow up in a positive way,” Younis adds.
PERSONAL TESTIMONIES: Hamdiya Ibrahim, known as Um Anas (mother of Anas), is a Cairo widow who has three children: Mariam,14 years old, Habiba, 11 years old and the youngest child Anas, two years old.
What encouraged Um Anas to join the programme in her district, she said, was the feeling she had of needing support. “I felt I needed back up and support as a mother. Being a single mother, I have to play the role of father and mother at the same time, which can be difficult,” she said.
Her daughters Mariam and Habiba joined the drawing workshops three years ago. “They helped my daughters to spend their spare time on something useful. They also gave them tools to express and release their energies, increase their educational attainment, improve their behaviour and how to deal with others,” Um Anas said.
Since 2009, the programme has included psychotherapy and counselling for family members and at the same time private sessions for children in need. “We are serving 1,150 children in the programme, and around 20 to 30 additional families with their children use the activities it provides. They have become more independent economically and psychologically and resumed their lives. We have helped them set up some 300 successful small or micro enterprises since 2008,” Badr commented.
The programme makes small or micro loans to increase the income of the families and help them achieve economic independence.
The monitoring and evaluation is done under the supervision of a specialised consultant in small and micro businesses.
Leader and volunteer at the Nikla Al-Enab Association for small and micro business projects for families Fatma Sobhi said that “one of the main aims is enabling the children’s mothers, usually the sole breadwinners of the family, to become economically independent and have a stable income to promote the stability and economic security of their families and raise their children.”
“We teach them everything from how to start up micro businesses to how to improve their standards of living. Even if the women have no ideas for small projects, we propose some, and they can then choose something that suits them.”
Um Anas, for example, took out a loan and opened a small business for pastries and food processing called the “Pastries of Um Anas.” She likes cooking and has her own special recipes. Eventually, she will leave the association umbrella and continue to work on her own.
To guarantee the project’s continuation after the programme ends, “we have given specialised training and courses for 21 women leaders from different NGOs. They were volunteers and received an allowance to cover their expenses, such as communications and transportation. They are educated and lived in the same district as our target families and children. Each leader is responsible for 10 to 15 families. They have followed up, paid several visits to them at their houses and written monthly report about each family,” Badr said.
“The programme also started projects inside the associations to cover budgets and expenses. We have tried to do this gradually. This year, for instance, the NGOs participated at a rate of 40 per cent, and the programme paid 60 per cent of the budget. Last year, it was 20 per cent and 80 per cent. The projects included things like gyms, medical centres, durable goods exhibitions, workplaces for sewing machines, handicrafts industries and kitchens for preparing food products for sale.”
Neama’s mother Hayat Ali is a participant in the programme in the Nikla Al-Enab Association, and she is the mother of four children, Ahmed, Youssef, Neama herself and Mohannad.
Her elder son Ahmed graduated from the School of Catering and Tourism in Cairo. Youssef is a student in the third year of secondary school for catering and tourism, while Mohannad is a student in the first year of preparatory school. “Three of my children participated in the association. My daughter Neama loves singing. She joined the choir three years ago. And my son Mohannad joined the drawing workshop,” Ali said.
“I knew about the association from one of my neighbours. I presented my papers and met Badr, who accepted me and took care of my children.”
Ali is a divorced mother, and Youssef earlier refused to continue his studies, wanting to get a job to earn money for the family. “The psychiatrist and leaders of the association helped me to persuade my son to resume his studies. I already have a small grocery project, and the association helped me with goods, materials and equipment to enlarge it,” she said.
CELEBRATIONS: The Egyptian Society for SOS Children’s Villages recently held its annual celebration at the Al-Hanager Theatre in Cairo and included two plays, Oscar and XO, a choral show, singing, pantomime and a drawing exhibition.
XO was directed by Mahmoud Mokhater, and Oscar was directed by Mustafa Hozayen. The music was written by musician Maged Suleiman and the choreography was by Adel Nasr. The paintings and drawings were done under the supervision of artist Ahmed Al-Fadi. The two plays had collective starring roles.
XO tells five different stories. The first is about a young girl who wants to go to the sea with her family in summer but can’t. She dreams that one day she will go to see the seashore. The second is about having hope for tomorrow. Another story is about a Syrian refugee boy who died off the Turkish coast. Another is about the love of belonging to the homeland.
Actor Abdallah Mahmoud played the lead role in Oscar, a play about a young author and scriptwriter who dreams of winning an Oscar in the US. But each child in the plays tells about the real problems and incidents faced in daily life. The children participated in the choice of ideas, subjects, songs, designs and decoration for the shows.
One actress in XO, Neama Abdel-Maksoud, 12, is a pupil in the first year of preparatory school. She has an angelic voice and comments that “I love singing. I am soloist, but I also sing with the rest of the choir. My favourite singer is [the Lebanese singer] Fayrouz.” She was rehearsing for a year in preparation for the show.
“This year, we tried to integrate all our artistic activities into two plays and at the same time give the children the opportunity to work together as one team. The idea is to help the children to express and deal with their problems and at the same time find solutions for them. The overall number of children in the two plays is 77, aged between five and 21 years old,” a volunteer in the Nikla Al-Enab Association, Intisar says.
She adds that “these artistic activities have been going on now for five years. The whole team is called Harakat (movements) and is divided into two groups. One group was responsible for the Oscar play and the other one was responsible for XO.”
One promising member of the cast of XO, 17-year-old Ahmed Attia, is a student at high school in Cairo. Asked what encouraged him to participate, he said that “I liked the idea. Artistic activities are important, and they develop abilities and talents. They have helped me to improve my way of thinking and how to express myself. I love all the arts, but singing is my favourite.”
He has been training for three years, and he hopes that he can continue his education side by side with his hobby. “My dream is one day to be like superstar [Iraqi singer] Kazim Al-Saher, the ‘Caesar of Arab song’. I am going to specialise and study music in order to sing professionally,” Attia said. “If you follow your passion and love what you do and work hard, whether in singing, acting or any field, you will excel in it. This is the secret of success.”
Attia has also composed the music to a song called Heaven of Dreams by young poet Mohamed Ragab, an 18-year-old student at high school. He has loved writing poetry since he was at preparatory school. He said that he liked reading stories and had a particular fondness for Arabic pre-Islamic poetry.
Ragab took part in the Oscar play. “I wrote a poem in the play about belonging to my country, Egypt. I want to present a message through the song that Egypt is still beautiful despite its current problems,” he said.
Children’s Villages International
SOS Children’s Villages is an independent non-governmental development organisation for children. The first SOS Children’s Village was founded by Hermann Gmeiner in Tyrol, Austria, in 1949. As a child welfare worker, Gmeiner saw how children had been orphaned as a result of World War Two, and he was committed to helping them by building loving families and supportive communities. His idea soon spread to every continent as a proven childcare concept.
Today, SOS Children’s Villages International is active in 134 countries and territories around the world, helping hundreds of thousands of children each year through family-based alternative care, schools, health centres, family strengthening programmes and other community-based work.
It respects varying religions and cultures and works in different countries and communities. Its mission is to contribute to development in the spirit of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, promoting these rights around the world.
Egypt was also a pioneer in the field of providing alternative care for homeless children even before the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child was negotiated. The first Egyptian Children’s Village was established in 1977 in Cairo, and there are now three in Cairo, Alexandria and Tanta. The Children’s Villages serve more than 240 children, and the youth hostel programme helps young people who have graduated from the villages, assisting them in becoming independent.
Egypt has paid special attention to children since its ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It was one of the first countries to ratify it, and its stipulations were incorporated into Law 12 of 1996, amended by Law 126 of 2008, which deal with the rights of children.
The National Council for Childhood and Motherhood was established as the main state body entrusted with making plans, policies and programmes for the advancement of children and women in Egypt, as well as instituting a national programme to that end within the framework of the country’s comprehensive plans for economic and social development.
Egypt has implemented many programmes and projects for children, helping them to develop their abilities and enhance their lives. From here came the idea of the Family Strengthening Programme as part of the SOS Children’s Villages.