Egypt: Wataneya Society’s response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Wataneya Society for the Development of Orphanages has been trying since its foundation in 2008 to “Create a future of equal opportunities for children and youth without parental care, through unifying the standards and applying all aspects of care and services in alternative care”. To be able to reach this goal, Wataneya Society had to lead the reform of the alternative care sector in Egypt. 

As a leading organization in the alternative care field, Wataneya Society had a key role in supporting children without parental care residing in care-homes. At the beginning of April 2020, after a few weeks from the COVID-19 outbreak in Egypt Wataneya Society did the following:

  • Communicated with 100 care-homes for children without parental care to identify their needs and the ways Wataneya Society can support them. The care homes mainly requested cleaning and sanitizing supplies, food supply, and solutions for the children’s education and entertainment. Wataneya Society coordinated with several entities to provide these supplies.
  • Conducted several online training sessions to provide ideas on how to deal with children during the lockdown and the kinds of useful activities that can be conducted. 
  • Launched a social media campaign: “#their safety comes first” to: 
    1. Provide tips and ideas for care-homes on how to keep children and caregivers safe and take care of their physical and psychological wellbeing, and how to invest the free time during the lockdown. 
    2. Promote the role of the siblings inside the care-homes and how can older youth support their younger siblings (children and youth residing inside the same care-home consider themselves siblings, they are not necessarily biological siblings). 
    3. Gather and disseminate information, resource manuals, articles, and educational videos about COVID-19 and disseminate to care-home via emails, WhatsApp, and social media.
    4. Post-Social media posts for the donors and volunteers with tips on how they can donate and keep their donations and volunteering activities going during the crisis while keeping the children safe
  • Worked with UNICEF, and several local NGOs through the Alternative Care Task Force Committee to develop an emergency plan for children and youth without parental care to be shared with MoSS (Ministry of Social Solidarity). The key areas in the plan included: awareness about the COVID-19 virus, cleaning supplies, food supply, psychological support for children and caregivers, children’s education, and internet connection solutions for the care-home to stay connected. 
  • Held the youth forum weekly instead of monthly to provide more support to the youth during the COVID-19 time. Conducted a weekly book club for youth without parental care to provide an informal support community for the youth.  The youth forum started in 2017 for the “Forsa” meaning opportunity in Arabic (a youth development project delivered by Wataneya) graduates and other youth without parental care to create a safe supportive environment and platform for their voices and their stories to reach the society, and to equip them with the needed skills to become agents of change of their cause. 
  • Hosted an online forum which was attended by 10 care-homes to start the conversation on how to best respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and to identify the needs of the care-homes. It was also a platform for care-homes to exchange knowledge and expertise on how to cope with the pandemic. The outcomes of the forum were to develop online training sessions to help caregivers deal with children during the pandemic, psychological support sessions to the caregivers, and to provide online child protection workshops to the children. Conducting online training sessions for caregivers to assist them in dealing with the children was also confirmed by the learners who were already enrolled in training programs offered by Wataneya Society, who were asked by Wataneya Society’s team about their needs during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. The caregivers declared that they needed support in dealing with children during the COVID-19 pandemic time and they specified certain topics that they needed to learn more about.
  • Partnered with experts in child protection and in child psychology to offer a series of interactive sessions to caregivers working in care-homes. The training sessions were open to all caregivers not only the learners enrolled in the training programs offered by Wataneya Society. The training sessions included 7 sessions given on the duration of 2 months (June and July 2020), that included topics related to children’s behavior management during the COVID-19 pandemic, crisis management inside care-homes during the COVID-19 pandemic, providing emotional support to children during a time of a crisis, keeping children safe online, understanding and managing one’s emotions.
  • Provided online psychological support sessions to two groups of caregivers.
  • Conducted online child protection workshops with 60 children, the workshops included interactive activities to raise children’s awareness of the COVID-19 virus and how to protect themselves from it. Additionally, it included activities to raise children’s awareness of physical and sexual abuse.
  • Held the 3rd cycle of the Beit El Helm Award ceremony (the dream home award) virtually. This award was launched in 2014 in partnership with Drosos and MBC Hope to identify and acknowledge care-homes applying the Quality Standards in Egypt. Participants from Egypt, as well as from the Arab region attended the ceremony. 
  • Conducted 3 webinars related to sustaining care-homes activities in light of COVID-19, these webinars were accessible to other Arab countries.
  • Gathered good practices from care-homes who were able to respond to COVID-19 effectively, the good practices will be shared as stories in a media campaign in September to educate care-homes to be able to cope better with emergency situations.
  • Developed the Quality Standards for Alternative care to respond better to crises similar to COVID-19.

Brief about Wataneya Society for the Development of Orphanages:

Wataneya Society for the Development of Orphanages has been trying since its foundation in 2008 to “Create a future of equal opportunities for children and youth without parental care, through unifying the standards and applying all aspects of care and services in alternative care”. To be able to reach this goal, Wataneya Society had to lead the reform of the alternative care sector in Egypt. 

Wataneya Society is one of the leading organizations in promoting and assisting the government in its journey of de-institutionalization. However, due to the fact that residential care is the most prevalent alternative care form in Egypt and that there were more than 500 registered care-homes when we started our journey, an action had to be taken to ensure that children inside care-homes received quality of care. They need intensive and constant technical support to be able to provide a healthy environment that promotes the physical and psychological well-being of children and youth without parental care secures their good education, employment, and social integration. As a result, since 2008, Wataneya has pioneered the development of Quality Standards for the Alternative Care sector in Egypt to ensure a better future for children and youth raised in care-homes. It continues to assist care-homes to apply the Quality Standards to be able to provide a safe environment for children and youth to grow up. These standards were driven from 1) the Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2009, 2) best practices in the field of alternative care, and 3) Wataneya Society’s field experience in piloting the standards with 7 care-homes for four years starting in 2009. Prior to that, in Egypt there were no standards, there was only a set of outdated guidelines and regulations dating back to 1977. In 2014, Wataneya Society created a breakthrough in the field of alternative care when those standards were mandated nationwide by the Ministry of Social Solidarity. Care-homes often don’t have clear policies and procedures, caregivers lack fundamental knowledge and skills about child care and are incapable of responding to child abuse cases, and children are not aware of their own rights, nor have the skills of how to report an incident or defend themselves. As a result, in 2017 Wataneya Society developed a child protection toolkit contextualized to the alternative care context in Egypt. The toolkit addresses the Quality Standards for Alternative Care from the child protection perspective. It is a holistic multifaceted program targeting everyone responsible for the child.

Believing that the best place for a child is a family, in 2016, Wataneya Society extended its efforts to include another form of alternative care which is alternative families (Kafala) by joining the Higher Committee of Alternative Families at the Ministry of Social Solidarity and helping in developing the Alternative Families/ Kafala system. Wataneya also established the first internationally accredited learning and development center in the Middle East; Amaan (meaning safety in Arabic) it aims to build the capacities of alternative care and child protection workers, as well as alternative families, volunteers, and youth without parental care by providing training programs to be able to provide children and youth with appropriate care. Furthermore, Wataneya Society intervenes at the societal level by launching media campaigns to change the societal perception of children and youth without parental care to facilitate their integration into society.

Wataneya Society develops strengths-based programs for children and youth that promote their well-being and enhances their social skills to help them integrate into their communities. In the next four years, Wataneya Society will be focusing on formalizing the preparation for independence and aftercare in Egypt. The system is currently still in an early stage and extensive efforts need to be made to provide youth in care with the necessary support to experience a smooth transition from care and an untroubled aftercare period. The program tackles leaving care in a holistic manner, namely; by empowering care-homes to adapt their systems and mindsets to prepare children for independence since childhood, equipping youth with the needed skills to transition from care to self-reliance and independence. Finally, advocating for an enhanced ecosystem that supports care leavers. This will be done through media campaigns to support care leavers’ rights as well as advocacy efforts to amend laws and regulations.