After realizing that the quality of Egyptian orphanages were subpar, Wataneya Society began in 2008 with the sole purpose of improving the quality of care and living standards of Egypt’s orphaned youth.
“In the beginning it was very difficult, because we were fighting for quality standards and no one understood what that meant. In Egypt, when we say [taking care of the] orphans, it refers to celebrations like orphans day, giving them food, clothes and that was it,” Yasmine El Hagary, Deputy Executive Director of Wataneya Society shares before adding that “Development is different than charity, and it takes time but it is more effective. It is more beneficial for the children with long-term effects as opposed to a hit and run event, party or trip.”
For projects to have a trackable impact, they need to be implemented for a few years. In an attempt to introduce this concept in Egypt, Wataneya Society collaborated with the Swiss NGO Drosos Foundation and launched “Quality of Care for Children without Parental Care” project. The five year project aimed to improve the capacities of institutional care homes by collaborating with the Egyptian Ministry of Social Solidarity,” in order to improve the quality of services provided to children without parental care.”
The project set guidelines for the optimal care standards the orphaned youth should receive. The ministry’s staff had to become familiar with these standards to ensure that all the institutional homes are following the new rules and regulations set by Wataneya Soceity and Drosos Foundation.
This also included the quality of caregivers that are hired at these institutions. Caregivers vary from alternative mother to managers, founders, volunteers and social workers.
“The level of involvement of the care givers determines whether they’re a caregiver or not. Social workers such as alternative mothers who are in direct, day-to-day contact with the children and provide them with care. Psychologists and volunteers who visit the children regularly and have a close relationship with them are also considered caregivers,” El Hagary explains.
The importance of the role of caregivers stems from their impact on the child. If caregivers are well trained, this will ensure the best care for the child. In order to achieve this, Wataneya Society launched several programs and training sessions to help caregivers improve their services to the children.
These programs teach caregivers how to protect the child, how to teach the child how to protect themselves, how to handle the pre-teen phase, how to handle the teenage years and more so.
One program is ‘Hamzet Wasl,’ which is an intensive course for fresh graduates, that was launched to teach them the practical side of the theoretical skills they learned in school.
Over the past 10 years, the NGO trained over 2000 caregivers and implemented quality control standards in at least 120 orphanages in 13 governorates across Egypt.
Nahed Hegazy, the director of Resala Organization, believes that the most impactful person in an orphanage is the caregiver. “In order to further enhance the orphanages in Egypt, I really wish that those who choose to take on this profession really want to have an impact and enjoy what they are doing rather than view it as any other job,” she emphasizes.
This is why follow-up visits by the ministry’s staff are important at the orphanages to assess the living conditions and care quality the children are receiving.
According to a census the UNICEF did in 2015, there are 1.7 million orphaned children in Egypt. Egypt has been actively improving the living conditions in orphanages following years of reported abysmal management of orphanages, which are often overcrowded, and child abuse.
However, Egypt’s Ministry of Social Solidarity announced, in late 2018, that all orphanages would be closed by 2025. A recent study by the ministry revealed that the number of orphans has vastly decreased which nullified many existing orphanages’ licenses.
The ministry believes that children will receive the best care if placed in foster homes because it is better for their psychological well-being. It is important to note that in 2014, Wataneya Society introduced alternative families’s assessment standards to the Ministry of Social Solidarity by joining the Higher Committee of Alternative Families in the ministry.
With this, the Minister of Social Solidarity Ghada Wali wants to create a new selection committee after the amended child’s law to assess the foster families. The ministry also launched a hotline 19828 to answer any questions foster parents may have.