Helping Hand at The Height of Crisis
The H&M Foundation helps UNICEF's to reach out to children and parents remotely
All Egyptian parents of young children will remember mid-March 2020 when all nurseries were closed as part of the nationwide lockdown imposed by the government, a precautionary measure to curb the COVID-19 pandemic in Egypt.
Imperative as it was, the decision was a major challenge for parents who rely on nurseries for daycare and developing their children's skills during the first years of life when their little brains are developing at a pace never repeated again.
Committing to the state’s decision to close nurseries while preserving the right of children to education, the Early Childhood Development (ECD) voluntary center established inside the Anfoushi youth center in Alexandria had to adapt. It shifted from the “business-as-usual” in the nursery to an inclusive new system, where parents play the role of facilitating the home learning.
Parents were contacted to explain the importance the continuation of learning during lockdown. WhatsApp groups were created to support parents with age-appropriate lesson plans and activities and to exchange experiences.
Among the most interacting parents were the Amal, mother of 4-year-old Narovan. Amal used to volunteer, before the crisis, in a comprehensive program developed by UNICEF to encourage mothers to have an active role in their societies. The program trains mothers to promote for ECD through volunteering in nurseries and training other mothers on home-made toy making and enriching the educational environment for children in the nursery.
“I don't work a lot with my hands because I studied law. I always believed that doing something for my daughter at home will be difficult and expensive", says Amal, "but it turns out that I can create simple toys and games at home with learning goals that develop the skills of my daughter."
After a period of closing the nursery, Israa – one of the center's facilitators – received a message from a parent saying: "Ezz is giving me hard time. He's very nervous, cries for almost no reason, lost his appetite and keeps asking about you."
Reading this, Israa was in tears. She felt committed to help 3-year-old Ezz cope with the stress he and all children who are forced to stay at home are undergoing.
Israa made a short video using photos of Ezz inside the nursery with his most favorite song in the background. Sending the video to Ezz's mother, she replied: "Seriously, thank you! Ezz watched it, smiled and laughed. You brought back a smile that was lost for quite a long time."
Israa had mixed feelings of happiness and responsibility towards other children. The impact of this minimal-resource initiative was profound and prompted her to expand such remote support to more mothers and children.
On the WhatsApp group of her class, Israa suggested that every mother records a video for her child while speaking and expressing what he or she feels, then shares the video on the group for children to watch each other. Israa and other facilitators also recorded videos showing their love and support to the class children.
This idea was very well-received and appreciated by parents who shared some positive changes in their children’s behavior.
Israa said: "I felt that the children did not need us only. They needed each other. They needed the nursery's atmosphere that they have been missing for a while."
More interaction with parents
The WhatsApp group was not the only means that Isra and her colleagues chose to communicate with parents. The facilitators also paid more attention to the center’s page on Facebook and posted content with learning tips to support parents in this critical period. In addition, Israa held a competition for children, based on their activities with their parents, and encouraged them to send their photos and videos to be published on the page.
About her interest in continuing to communicate with parents via the Internet, Israa says: "we were interested in providing various educational activities that could be done at home with simple materials. We aimed at making the child happy, develop their different skills and get them engaged in activities with their parents to create a supportive family atmosphere to cope with the crisis we're all going through."
About the ECD voluntary centers
The ECD voluntary center is a model designed in partnership between UNICEF and the Ministry of Youth for Sports with the support of H&M Foundation (H&MF) to provide children with play-based learning opportunities and enhance the role and participation of parents, youth and local communities in childcare. It also promotes the economic and social empowerment of women by taking advantage of jobs in newly created nurseries.
This innovative model capitalizes on the already-present human resources in youth centers (male and female volunteers) to support the expansion of early childhood development services in Egypt.
As of 2020, 25 ECD voluntary centers were established within youth centers in areas in most need of childcare services in Alexandria (5 centers), Cairo (5 centers) and Aswan (15 centers). 100 facilitators and volunteers (25% of which are males) and 75 nannies and administrators were trained to ensure the quality of the services provided.
Find out more about these centers in this video: