Early Birds at The Youth Center
Mustafa and Iskander join a unique nursery inside The Sayyida Zainab Youth Center
At the gate of a youth center, it's expected to see teenagers and young people who come for sports activities. But at the Sayyeda Zeinab Youth Centre, things are a little bit different.
At 8:00 in the morning, parents bring their young children to the nursery established inside the center, one of 25 model nurseries in the "Voluntary Center for Early Childhood Development" which is a joint initiative between the Ministry of Youth and Sports and UNICEF, supported by the H&M foundation.
At the nursery, we meet with Seham, one of the mothers. As soon as she approached the gate, Seham's two children let go her hands to run towards Ms. Israa and Mr. Ahmed, their favorite teachers, with joy and enthusiasm. They forgot to say goodbye to their mother, who seems to have become used to it.
Seham is a journalist and mother of two boys: Mustafa (4-year-old) and Iskander (2-year-old).
Mustafa and Iskander's journey with the nursery of the Sayyeda Zainab Youth Center began immediately after the nurseries reopened in 2020. Their mother was reassured by the remarkable care for cleanliness. Another important factor is that this particular nursery, unlike many others visited by Seham, has open areas that allows physical spacing and well-ventilated closed spaces.
The year before the two children entered the nursery was not easy for all children and parents in Egypt. Because of the pandemic, the nursery had to close for months, but this did not stop supporting children remotely.
During the lockdown, UNICEF supplied the nursery's facilitators with high-speed internet connecting devices to facilitate communicating with parents at home. A digital library was developed as a repository for information, teaching and learning material for facilitators and families. 819 hard copies of books on making toys and play activities with children were distributed for families who do not have access to internet. Facilitators made follow-up phone calls to encourage and guide parents on how to have fun with their children. All centres received hygiene kits (including masks, chlorine, soap, etc.) and training for facilitators on recommended hygiene practices to support reopening.
"You can't take your children to any nursery after COVID-19," said Seham, "here, there is someone washing and sterilizing their hands all the time. My son once told me while I was spraying his hand with alcohol: "you're doing like Mr. Ahmed?" They bring healthy behaviors from the nursery to home."
Mustafa preceded his younger brother Iskander in the nursery, but Iskander was very excited to join his older brother. Seham believes the little boy is too attached to the nursery because there's always something to be busy with and explore.
In the nursery, children enjoy physical activities in the youth center's playgrounds and LEGO games that develop different skills. They also participate in individual and group games created by facilitators and volunteers trained by UNICEF among 608 others in Cairo, Aswan and Alexandria to provide early childhood care services. In addition, 72 volunteer mothers were trained to participate in some nursery activities such as trips and birthday parties, and to offer support for other mothers.
Seham constantly tries to create a healthy relationship between her two sons. She believes that many parents fall into the trap of holding the eldest son overly responsible for his younger brothers, which makes the former feel jealous and left out. Instead, the mother, according to Seham, should focus to develop the child's self-confidence and praise his positive behavior.
To help mothers like Seham, UNICEF Egypt launched in 2021 the "Parenting Hub", a guide to equips parents and caregivers of children aged 0-18 with practical tools and techniques to help them bring up a child who is self-disciplined through connecting and listening while at the same time setting clear boundaries and structure.
At the end of the day, Seham came to pick up Mustafa and Iskander. She met for the first time with the mother of Karma, Mustafa's colleague. Warmly greeting her, she said: "When Mustafa first came to the nursery, he didn't talk at all. After some time, we were walking in the street and I found him holding my hand and saying: "Mom, Karima said to me today that I'm very nice, so I told her she's very beautiful and I love her, and that I want to bring her a dress and a veil and to live with her in a big house. It's good that we met just in case we became stepmoms in the future!"