Anne Marie McCarthy, Plan International Ireland’s Emergencies’ Coordinator reports live from Egypt.
Last week I was in Egypt to visit an ECHO/Plan International Ireland-supported programme working with Syrian refugees and Egyptian communities on education. We are working with small children on early childhood care, children in primary school and older children on vocational training. The types of activities include the following: remedial classes for kids to catch up; support to teachers in schools; improving the toilet blocks in public schools; parenting circles to help parents of small children; girls clubs for teenage girls; distribution of school bags and school supplies and hygiene items.
One of the activities that I visited there, which Plan International is supporting, is the training of facilitators of the girls’ circles which are for teenage girls. These are volunteer facilitators, but they told me that what motivated them to volunteer on this was that they had, or will have, teenage daughters and they wanted to help them and their peers, so that they would have a different future to their mothers.
One woman was 30 years old, was married at 16 and had teenage daughters and wanted the next generation to have more choices, so perhaps they would get married later.
They also felt that the usual teenage issues (they mentioned stubbornness quite a lot) were being exacerbated by the crisis and what they had lived through and they wanted to know how to deal with it.
Many parents talked about dealing with their children and their trauma. But the parents too are dealing with their own trauma. At one session, mothers told us about their lives, what they thought life was going to be like for them and for their kids, but with the crisis in Syria, they left everything behind, with no idea of what the future will hold for them.
The parenting circles allow the parents to share their experiences and how to answer their children’s questions in an age-appropriate way. They now feel more able to talk to their children and understand their behaviour better. These group include Egyptians and Syrians, which is also helping with social integration.
The other element of the programme is enabling their children to attend school. It is also very important for social integration.
Staying in school is so important to ensure that we don’t have a lost generation.
I met loads of fabulous kids – one nine-year old girl told me that she had no time for playing because she was busy with her studies, and another nine year old girl told me she wanted to be an astronomer so she could study the universe. We discussed their favourite subjects and what they want to be when they grow up. It was a pleasure to meet them.
Talking with them gave me hope for the future.