A Unique Mother

How did a mother who supports 10 family members help others?

Dalia Younis
How did a mother who supports 10 family members help others?
UNICEF/Egypt 2020/Ahmed Mostafa
02 November 2020

Taking care of 10 family members, this is the huge responsibility that Emtethal and her husband were up to for the last years.

Emtethal lives with her five children, husband and family in Aswan, Upper Egypt. She worked different jobs to support her husband, some of them were tough ones, like when she was butcher assistant. With 5 children to care for, Emtethal had to leave many employments as she was perceived as not taking care enough of her children.

One day, on the mosque bulletin, she saw a job opportunity for mothers in the new nursery inside the youth center.

The right care for the crucial phase

It is not easy for mothers to find a suitable nursery for their children in Upper Egypt and across the country in general. Children’s access to Early Childhood Development (ECD) services in Egypt is still very limited, where only 8% of children under the age of four have access to nurseries.

The ECD voluntary center was created to address such issues: 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.

How did a mother who supports 10 family members help others?
UNICEF/Egypt 2020/Ahmed Mostafa
It is not easy for mothers to find a suitable nursery for their children in Upper Egypt and across the country in general. Children’s access to Early Childhood Development (ECD) services in Egypt is still very limited, where only 8% of children under the age of four have access to nurseries.

Emtethal was excited about this opportunity, especially because her son Ahmed needed a nursery while she needed a job that fits her family commitments.

After being accepted, Emtethal attended a training delivered by UNICEF on the importance of early childhood development, positive parenting and how to use games and toys to develop children's skills.  She was one of the most promising trainees and she soon started advocating among neighbors about the importance of enrolling their children in this unique new nursery.

Simple and useful games

Emtethal was especially interested in creating toys by recycling things in the house so they would be more affordable. She had an eye for many details while making these toys following what she learned about their educational benefits for children, she says: “Instead of just giving children photos of animals to color, I started making stuffed animals for them to grab and develop their sensory skills."

How did a mother who supports 10 family members help others?
UNICEF/Egypt 2020/Ahmed Mostafa
"We created a puzzle by drawing an image on wooden sticks then shuffling the sticks. While he tried to put them back in order, he learned about numbers, colors, and how to create the toy he wants," Emtethal said.

Emtethal created many great toys with minimal resources. She began to involve her son in making new toys and adjusting his own toys to be more educative and skill developing. "We created a puzzle by drawing an image on wooden sticks then shuffling the sticks. While he tried to put them back in order, he learned about numbers, colors, and how to create the toy he wants."    

Emtethal was chosen to be a trainer for mothers in more than one ECD voluntary center. This made her more enthusiastic to create more toys and videos of how to make them targeting mothers. The result was a special corner in each nursery with many toys made by Emtethal and other mothers. This 'Mothers' works corner' was both entertaining for children and inspiring to their parents for more creative toys.

Pandemic time

One of the parental challenges Emtethal faced during the peak of COVID-19 pandemic and staying home was the long time her children spent holding mobile phones. She eagerly tried to guide them to useful content that could develop their skills and amuse them at the same time.

Emtethal also made use of the age gap between her oldest son Khaled, 19 years old studying Engineering, and the youngest four-year-old Ahmed. She encouraged Khaled to help his little brother memorize the Qur’an and introduced Ahmed to basic geometric shapes such as circle, square and rectangle to feel he is an "engineer" like his older brother.

She found great support through communicating with other mothers via Facebook and WhatsApp. They were all interested in sharing their experiences and advice to deal with this difficult time.

During Lockdown, through partner NGOs, UNICEF continued building capacities among mothers for the sustainability and sensitivity of their role in children's lives when nurseries and schools were shutdown.

Training of Trainers (ToT) for mothers of the ECD voluntary centers continued online during the pandemic as explained by Reham Khattab, head of trainers at a partner NGO: "We want the nursery to become something beyond a place to provide daycare services. We want the mothers themselves to have an active role in developing nurseries and the whole community to help them provide better services."

How did a mother who supports 10 family members help others?
UNICEF/Egypt 2020/Ahmed Mostafa
Emtethal introduced her son Ahmed to basic geometric shapes such as circle, square and rectangle to feel he is an "engineer" like his older brother

About the ECD voluntary centers

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), 75 nannies and administrators were trained to ensure the quality of the services provided and 72 mothers were trained to take an active role as support staff in the ECD Centers.

Find out more about these centers in this video:

UNICEF/Egypt 2019
Early Childhood Development voluntary centers in Aswan is one of the unique projects of UNICEF Egypt in collaboration with the Ministry of Youth and Sports funded by H&M Foundation.