Chiyeh supports pioneering programme at the forefront of positive parenting change

In a project funded by the government of Norway, UNICEF and Arab Resource Collective team-up with the Chiyeh Social Committee to empower parents in the greater care of their children

Simon Balsom
People are gathered at Chiyeh Municipality's building.
UNICEF

14 August 2019

Being a parent is the most important job in the world, but many parents don’t get the time and support they need to be at their very best for their children. In 2018, UNICEF Lebanon, with funds from the government of Norway, partnered in support of the Beirut-based Arab Resource Collective's 'Parent to Parent' initiative that aims to empower the role of parents in the care and education of their children.

Providing a framework of concepts, knowledge, and exercises that help in developing the practices of parents in the nurturing of their children, the initiative provided a course of 16 sessions during which mothers and fathers joined others from their community in group discussions led by a facilitator which covered parenting skills topical from pregnancy up to six years.

"The purpose of the course is not to tell them how to raise their children, but rather to invite them to open another more contemporary approach, and to have them better understand their child’s development in an informed way, so they know how to react."

For Grace Boutros, Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Programme coordinator and Capacity Building Program coordinator at the Arab Resource Collective, the value of providing a structured course for parents of young children is extremely high.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about how best to raise children in today’s Lebanon”, she says, adding, “but the purpose of the course is not to tell them how to raise their children, but rather to invite them to open another more contemporary approach, and to have them better understand their child’s development in an informed way, so they know how to react”.

Once a week, couples gathered in a private room at Chiyeh Municipality’s Primary Health Care Centre and, led by a trained facilitator, covered topics including the importance of a mother’s welfare during pregnancy, breastfeeding, nutrition, infection prevention, personal hygiene, and behavioural issues such as inclusion and equity, and the use of positive enforcement to provoke behavioural change.

Chiyeh residents Michel and Rita Swaidy are parents to three children aged between 2 and 17 years. They were amongst the first group to benefit from ARC’s UNICEF-supported and Chiyeh Municipality-facilitated programme.

"We were lucky to be among the first group to benefit from these sessions."

For both, and similarly, for other parents in their group, this was the first opportunity they’d been given to improve their parenting skills.

“The only previous resource we had for learning about parenting was online or through books. We were lucky to be among the first group to benefit from these sessions”, they comment.

“During the first session, we both felt a little reserved to talk in front of people we didn’t know. Our children and our behaviour with them are very intimate subjects, but the focus and our priority were our children. So, we opened up for their sake”.

Ultimately, the Swaidy’s found the group sessions to be incredibly beneficial. "We learned by listening to the stories of other parents," they recall, "and through hearing their examples of the challenges of being a parent.

“Lebanon’s society has changed so quickly for our generation. Family ties are still strong, but people are often forced to find work away from their home village, and moving to an inner-city municipality such as Chiyeh disrupts generations of tradition and customs when bringing up children. Close family members aren’t necessarily around today to help and give advice”.

While early sessions covered the basics of good parenting, as the course progressed, areas of more significant challenges were covered. Equity and inclusion for all children, communication (with and between parents, as well as between peers), the importance of play, the reinforcement of positive behaviour, and the value of critical thinking all provided the Swaidy’s with food for thought. “Some of what we discussed was simple, but some of it provoked a conversation. We had plenty of time to discuss things with the session leader and, importantly, amongst all parents. We learned from others – we parents didn’t always agree on things – but it was a great way to debate and, yes, we believe we became better parents”.

As the second round of this UNICEF-supported programme kicks-off shortly, Michel and Rita will play a valuable role as 'sanad’ – literally 'support’ - to the next wave of Chiyeh’s parents as they join the programme. The couple’s experiences with 'Parent to Parent' this year and their direct connection to the community creates in them both the ideal mentors.

Mayor of Chiyeh, Edmond Gharios, delivering certificates.
UNICEF

"We are happy to be able to work with partners in support of positive parenting for one straightforward reason: to help parents and caregivers give their children the best start in life."

Mayor of Chiyeh, Edmond Ghariyos, threw his personal support – and that of his municipality – behind ARC and UNICEF’s combined initiative. “We are a progressive municipality, one that has grown over recent decades and that has become unrecognisable from the place I grew up in," he recalls. Born in Chiyeh, and a lifelong resident, he is a committed advocate in support of its positive social evolution. “We’ve always valued family here, but we recognise the shape of today’s families is not the same as that of the past. Many of our newer residents are dislocated – and we are happy to be able to work with partners in support of positive parenting for one straightforward reason: to help parents and caregivers give their children the best start in life”.

As the government of Norway-funded programme continues, and with a continuation of UNICEF and ARC’s mentoring and technical assistance, the Municipality will deliver direct support to parents through its social workers.

For ARC's Grace Boutros, the real value of the programme may well reveal itself over time. For sure, it has delivered measurable change to the families involved so far, but she is clear that for it to have an enduring value, it is a programme that must continue from one year to the next, and from one community to another.