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Egypt's first shelter for young mothers living on the street

© UNICEF Egypt/2005/ Todros-Whitehill
A nurse examines Hadir's baby Ahmed. Medical care is one of the services offered by the shelter.

By Simon Ingram

CAIRO, Egypt, 8 November 2005 - Just a few months ago, the only place 16-year old Hadir could call home was the crowded and dangerous streets of Cairo.  On the run from problems with her family, Hadir found herself alone, vulnerable – and pregnant.

Hadir's story is unfortunately common. She is one of a growing number of youngsters who, for a variety of reasons, are forced to fend for themselves in the brutal environment of Egypt's major cities.

But Hadir is more fortunate than many. Four months into her pregnancy, she became one of the first residents at a new shelter for young mothers living on the street, set up with UNICEF support in 10th Ramadan City, about an hour's drive east of Cairo.  Cradling her baby, Ahmed, in her arms, Hadir looks contentedly around her new surroundings.  “I don’t know what I would have done if there hadn't been this centre," she says. "The staff was so helpful before and during my delivery."

Operated by the local NGO Hope Village Society, the shelter is the first of its kind in Egypt. It was set up with funding raised by UNICEF Germany Goodwill Ambassador Ann-Kathrin Linsenhoff.  Once fully occupied, the shelter will provide 30 young mothers and pregnant girls with a protective environment in which to raise their children and – hopefully – find a route back to a stable life.

© UNICEF Egypt/2005/ Todros-Whitehill
The UNICEF-supported shelter provides a protective environment for the young mothers and their children.

Health care and education

Essential services like medical care are provided by a resident nurse and a visiting doctor. Almost as vital is the support the girls are given in sorting out problems with the authorities, including obtaining birth certificates for their children – a task complicated by the fact that the child's father is usually absent.  Also on offer are classes in reading and writing, child-rearing, and awareness-raising about the various dangers the girls will face if they ever return to the streets.

Twenty-year-old Nesrine came to the centre soon after discovering she was pregnant. Tears fill her eyes as she remembers the world of violence, drugs and sexual abuse that she left behind. "I know a lot of girls who delivered their babies in the streets and sleep there with them. Sometimes the police take their children away from them. If this place wasn’t here the same would happen to me."

© UNICEF Egypt/2005/ Todros-Whitehill
A computer room offers both entertainment and the chance to learn useful skills that will help the girls once they leave the shelter.

Support for a new start

The shelter is a temporary home only. Once they reach the age of 21, the young mothers are expected to leave, but hopefully with a real chance of making a new start in the world outside.

"A vital part of the project consists of helping the girls reintegrate into mainstream society by finding them jobs, housing, reuniting them with their families, or helping them set up a small income-generating project," explains Salma Wahba, Assistant Project Officer with UNICEF Egypt. "While they're here, the girls can learn new skills like hairdressing, carpet weaving and candle-making, so that when they leave they can earn an income and support their children."

For all the benefits the shelter provides, it can accommodate only 30 young mothers at one time. The challenge now is to reach out to the many others on the streets, still desperately in need of help.





3 November 2005:
UNICEF’s Simon Ingram reports on the opening of Egypt's first shelter for young mothers living on the street.

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