Monday,27 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1143, 11 - 17 April 2013
Monday,27 May, 2019
Issue 1143, 11 - 17 April 2013

Ahram Weekly

Children, not orphans

Work is proceeding to improve the quality of care provided in Egypt’s orphanages and to change the way society looks at orphans, writes Omneya Yousry

Al-Ahram Weekly

“We’ve put more effort into helping folks reach old age than into helping them enjoy it.” — author Frank A. Clark

This quotation, about old age, also describes an orphan’s life, indicating that what is important for them is not just shelter, food and a minimum level of education. The subject has taken on a new importance, since, according to UNICEF, there were an estimated 56,000 orphans living in Egypt in 2007. Even if an orphan is lucky enough to be taken in by a loving family or orphanage, the time will come when he or she must face the world alone.
For reasons such as this the Wataneya Society for the Development of Orphanages is hoping to bring about changes in the way Egyptian orphans are treated. The society, together with members of civil society, academics, and representatives from the Ministry of Social Affairs, institutional homes, and of the educational company Edexcel, organised a press conference in Cairo recently to launch a new BTEC advanced certificate in children’s development, which will be Egypt’s first skills-based accredited vocational qualification in childcare.
The hope is that this will be a giant step forward in developing Egyptian orphanages, childcare facilities, and implementing standards of quality in the childcare sector as a whole.
“Our aim is to develop a strong professional workforce in the childcare sector, which has long been neglected,” said Yasmine Al-Hagri, external relations officer at Wataneya. The step comes within the framework of the society’s mission to develop, implement and apply minimum quality standards of care in Egyptian orphanages, based on international best practices, Al-Hagri added.
Edexcel is a company working to provide qualifications for people preparing for the workplace across a range of industries. “It works closely with governments and associations to ensure that its programmes are relevant to workforce needs and to equip learners with the skills they need to succeed,” Al-Hagri said.
During the project, she said, a team of sociologists and psychologists had carried out in-depth interviews, surveys and focus groups with caregivers and management teams to discover present needs and what they missed in their work in integrating orphans into society. Seven out of the 40 orphanages surveyed were selected for training programmes. “The most common result was that caregivers acknowledged the gap between their theoretical study at the School of Psychology or the Institute for Social Services, for example, and what they actually faced in their work,” Al-Hagri said.
Aside from its own Amaan Training Centres, which specialise in managerial and caregiver training, Wataneya has other plans to reach targets in enhancing the country’s orphanages, among them development initiatives like the Chance Project. This programme aims to help promote self-confidence among young people from 15 to 25 years old, in order to help them build positive beliefs in themselves and be active in their communities.
The “Get to know me: I’m not just an orphan” project is another campaign that is being carried out by students from seven different universities in Egypt. The idea behind the campaign is to help reclaim the word orphan and help people see the real person inside each child in the country’s orphanages.
Assy Girah, a consultant on curriculum development at Wataneya, explained that the accrediting of the training centres and other matters could take a significant amount of time. “Wataneya has spent two years preparing for this day, and it has ensured that proper quality standards are followed in providing professional certification,” she said. The training materials themselves were prepared by an Amaan and Wataneya team under the supervision of Edexcel, in order that the materials should reflect the social and cultural needs of Egyptian society.
As a result, the Amaan Centres have now been approved as an accredited organisation offering vocational qualifications in childcare for the first time in Egypt and the Middle East to providers in institutional homes and other childcare sectors. This is seen as a breakthrough in the profession of childcare in general, and in implementing best practices in Egyptian orphanages in particular.
“The skills-based qualifications that the centres deliver will ensure that caregivers have the knowledge, understanding and skills necessary to deliver high-quality care to children,” Girah said. “An external verifier and assistant have made visits to the centres to ensure that the requirements for accreditation are complete, including experienced and efficient employees, a website and professional trainers in the childcare field,” she added.  
Would-be trainees have to demonstrate special competencies, she said, including working for an orphanage or childcare institution for at least one year and having the ability and willingness to pass on what they have learned to others. In order to receive the qualification, trainees have to take 80 special credits after 120 basic credits, and agreements are now underway to initiate projects with the Masr Al-Kheir charity, a public-sector association with direct contact with orphanages and the Ministry of Social Affairs.
Under the agreements, the ministry will nominate some 40 trainees from governmental orphanages. Certification materials will also be adapted for e-learning, using the same content and practice-based system as for direct participation.
Islam Mohamed, a trainee who has been working in childcare for 13 years, highlighted the importance of vocational qualifications, as these could help solve many of the challenges facing jobseekers in Egypt, including a shortage of vocational skills, the gap between theory and practice, outdated course content, lack of effective quality assurance processes, and the sometimes negative perceptions attached to vocational learning in general.
Wataneya’s vocational programme started in February and it is being offered to learners working in institutional homes and in the field of childcare in general. The programme takes nine months to complete, and it is intended to provide learners with in-depth knowledge and understanding of the growth and development of children from birth to 16 years. Three instructors from the Amaan Training Centres are training the learners, and it is hoped that graduates will stand out as professionals in their field, improving their job prospects and earning capacities.  
“Graduates will have the opportunity to undertake a further diploma in childcare, further enhancing their prospects for career advancement,” Mohamed said. By providing individual attention to a needy child, the idea is that they can make a direct difference.  
“A hug and a smile give meaning to the lives of kids who have grown up deprived of love and care,” he added. Even adopted children can sometimes face social stigmas, which can sometimes result in a lack of acceptance and respect, meaning that efforts are often made to keep a child’s true origins secret. However, giving them the name of their adoptive fathers can not only isolate them psychologically, but can also have ramifications on their respective futures.
Another trainee in the programme, Fouad Mohamed Fouad, presently quality auditor at the Al-Doha Company for Alternative Care Orphanages, said that there was a need to develop the profession of childcare provider and improve the level of care in Egypt’s orphanages and childcare facilities. This would have a positive impact on wider Egyptian society, he added.
“The importance of high-quality childcare cannot be overstated. These children are the future of Egypt, and their care and education will have ramifications for Egyptian society for years to come,” Fouad said.
While Fouad’s current position as an auditor means that he has little direct contact with childcare, he is keen to refocus his career and has been keen to engage in the training programme. Up until now, sessions have concentrated on working with children and changing ways of problem-solving and combating bias in dealing with them. But there is much more to learn and apply.
“I’m concerned with childcare on the African continent, where orphans are considered as coming from a lower social category. As a result, there is little provision made for their integration into society, meaning that adjustment to life outside institutions is not always easy for them,” Fouad concluded.

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