|© UNICEF Geneva/2004/Vergara|
|Facilitator Ra’ed Mohsen with a group of participants in the Better Parenting workshop at the Al Rida mosque|
A unique UNICEF project works with imams in Jordan’s mosques to help fathers become better parents…in turn helping children have better lives.
By Marc Vergara
AMMAN, Jordan, 23 July 2004 – At first the gathering looks very ordinary: Just some Jordanian men and their sons, sitting, talking and writing. When told to do so by the bearded facilitator, the workshop participants quickly jot down some ideas: “It is important to give the baby a good name.” “We must provide the best health care.” “There must be mutual respect in the family.” So far, this is all very ordinary for anyone familiar with the world of workshops, flip charts and group discussions.
But not so ordinary are the setting and the participants. This workshop is taking place in the Al Rida mosque, in eastern Amman. The participants are mostly adult males, and the facilitator, Ra’ed Mohsen – a man with a splendid beard – also works for the Jordanian Ministry of Islamic Affairs.
“The use of the mosques has been a breakthrough to reach men,” says UNICEF Early Education and Protection officer Maha Homsi.
This is one of the achievements of the ‘Better Parenting Project’, a UNICEF initiative involving 16 organizations, which has reached 40,000 parents since its creation in 1998. The project is guided by the idea that the best way to create a caring environment for a child is for the family to do so within their own home.
Only 25 per cent of Jordanian children go to kindergarten; the remainder are at home. Similarly, only 14 per cent of women work; the remaining 86 per cent stay home and help raise their children.
With women and children at home together, where are the men? To convey the message that child care is also the responsibility of men, UNICEF started a partnership with Islamic associations, such as the non-governmental organization (NGO) ‘Abu Thur Gafari’, led by Fawaz Mazrawi. Originally reluctant to become involved, Fawaz saw the benefits for the community. “Thanks to him, 13 more NGOs came to work in this deprived area,” explains Maha Homsi.
To win over the imams and other influential religious leaders, UNICEF produced The imam’s guide to early childhood development, used by today’s facilitators in the Al Rida mosque. The booklet includes the ‘Twelve Friday Sermons’ and relevant sayings from the Koran and quotes from the Prophet, such as “Who does not like a child does not have a heart.”
The success is spreading. “UNICEF started with training 10 imams in three mosques,” says Maha Hosmi, “and now in this area we work with 30 imams in 40 mosques.”
Some fathers have come with their sons. It is common for both generations to debate issues which they would probably not mention at home, such as the rights of children, the rights of parents, the needs of adolescents, or the impact of smoking on their health.
“Better Parenting” sessions also take place in other locations, such as community centres, schools and health centres. UNICEF Jordan finances two-thirds of the cost of the courses. UNICEF also supports the production of essential tools such as videos and booklets on child development.
|© UNICEF Geneva/2004/Vergara|
|Najah, 13, and her sister Hannan, 12, with their father Abu Khaled, 63, at their home in the Al Nasser area, eastern Amman, Jordan|
“I started this course because I wanted to learn more about hygiene,” explains Abu Khaled, 63. He has seven children from his marriage with Um Abdallah and two more from a previous marriage. Abu and his wife both started the training sessions three months ago. Both parents say they now sit down and talk with their children, which they did not do in the past.
“When my baby had a rash, I used to spread salt on the skin,” remembers Um Abdallah, “but I learned at one of the sessions that it did more harm than good, so I stopped doing this.”
Two of their daughters, Najah, 13, and her sister Hannan, 12, are keen to explain how this project changed their own daily routine. “Before, we were in the streets and our father did not really care. Now he wants to know what we learn at school and he even reads to us,” says Najah. “We are more together, more like a team,” adds Hannan, “and we also play a lot more with our brothers.”