Sports Day for Manfalout Ladies
Young ladies encourage older ones to exercise for boosting immunity
In February 2021, there was a first-of-a-kind event at the Al-Salam Youth Center in Manflout district of Asyut governorate in Upper Egypt. A sports day only for ladies.
In that part of Egypt, there is a general perception that girls and women are barely allowed to leave the house to study or work, and when they can, it is with many reservations. Any physical or sports activity, especially by married or elderly women, seems to be an unreachable dream for many of them. But what happened on that day was quite different.
At the center's play court, a female fitness coach stood in front of a group of housewives from surrounding cities and villages to explain how they could do some light exercise at home without having to go to the gym or join a team. The majority of the age group were elderly women, but they were very responsive and started exercising and enjoying their time with a lot of fun.
All this would never have taken place without the leadership of two young girls who participate in the UNICEF-supported initiative “Youth Parliaments”. In February 2021, together with other girls from the same village, Habiba, 19 and Omnia, 16, came up with "My Immunity is My Strength" initiative, to educate the elderly about ways to increase immunity against COVID-19.
The girls had the chance to develop such idea during a training they received at the youth center. They were trained on how to identify problems and plan initiatives to solve them at one of the many youth centers where the "Youth Parliaments" program took place. This is an initiative under the cooperation between UNICEF and the Ministry of Youth and Sports, with the support of the Arab Council for Children and Development to support youth and adolescents.
The girls started by knocking at the door of every house in the village, talking about healthy, immune-boosting food and invited housewives to attend a ladies-only sports day at Al-Salam Youth Center to encourage them to engage in physical activity. They were received by mixed reactions at first, but many were driven by curiosity and attended the event.
The girls chose a female trainer, Captain Aya, so that the participants would not be embarrassed to exercise for the first time in front of a male trainer.
"We agreed with Captain Aya that she will give them light exercises because they are old and it is the first time they ever do sports in their lives" Habiba said.
More than thirty ladies participated on that day, among them is Fawzia, one of the housewives who joined the event who's above 60 years old.
"I was always tired with many health troubles," says Fawzia, "when I came back from the sports day, I did the exercise at home by myself and felt a difference. Now, I eat and sleep way better than before."
Omnia says: "This initiative is one of the best things that happened to me in my life. In the past, I was very shy to even talk to the cashier in the supermarket. I went out, talked to people, grew my self-confidence and learned."
Omnia hopes that the perception about girls in Upper Egypt would change. According to her, Upper Egypt girls are seen as oppressed, forced into a certain lifestyle or old-fashioned. She has a strong belief in her and her friends' ability to make a difference in their society by volunteering in similar initiatives.