Monday July 8, 2019 By: May Allam
In 2003, Flavia Shaw-Jackson founded FACE for Children in Need, to help Egypt’s homeless children. Since then, the Belgian mother of three has dedicated her time, effort and resources, and with the help of local authorities and ministries – to reintegrate orphans, babies and street children into loving foster families.
With no official records, the number of homeless children in Egypt is estimated between 300,000 – 1 million. On the streets, they are exposed to rejection from society, police arrests, organ trafficking and sexual abuse.
In her interview with Women of Egypt, Flavia tells us about her journey with FACE, the challenges, successes, aspirations and dreams for homeless children in Egypt.
Women of Egypt: Why did you choose Egypt for your project?
Flavia Shaw Jackson: I adore children and have always hated the idea of children suffering. The groundbreaking moment came when I saw a documentary on BBC about children in China dying in orphanages. That’s when I felt I needed to do something. China was not an option as it was too far for me being a mother of three young children. I wanted to help children wherever needed without ‘abandoning’ my own. In 2003, I decided to go to Cairo to see how I could help. Cairo was not too far and therefore I didn’t have to leave my children for too long at a time, going once a month as well as working from home with the teams. When I visited, I realized that, despite the situation of children in the country was not highly mediatized, there is a large number of babies abandoned in the streets, others victims of domestic violence, rejected by society and a very high number of children living without family care, in very poor quality institutions. I wanted to partner with Egyptians, to bring new initiatives to improve children lives.
WoE: Who manages the organization in Egypt? How do you manage your time between Belgium and Egypt?
FSJ: I work with an amazing and very committed team. Our organization is run in Egypt by 180 Egyptian staff and managers, supported by a small team including myself and two experts (in finance/administration and in social work/child protection and other technical fields) who are supporting and monitoring our projects in Cairo. I have a very busy and intense life and long days between Cairo and Brussels but I am immensely lucky to be supported by an amazing and professional team dedicated to improve children lives’ and by a great network of supporters in Egypt and Belgium. I am also very proud that a majority of our staff are women, and the large majority of our management as well.
WoE: What solutions has FACE presented to try to solve or help reduce the problems and dangers homeless children encounter in Egypt?
FSJ: The main innovation brought by FACE in its approach to support and protect children in street situations is to consider these children as victims of a situation they did not control. FACE teams have to adapt to the situation, needs and rhythm of each individual child. There isn’t one solution to help all children, but a mix of many different actions adapted to the needs of each child depending on their situation.Thus, FACE created a diversity of services, to support or answer the needs of each child individually (or with their family). These services include medical support, hygiene (shower, laundry, hygiene education), access to protection on the streets or in FACE centers, legal support, educational support, access to safe lodging, to vocational training, family support, emotional, psychological and social support.
Also, FACE teams reach out to the children in their environment; on the streets, in poor communities, in detention centers. FACE social workers have been working daily (night and day) on the streets of Cairo since 2007. They provide basic support to children while they live/work on the streets. Reaching out to them helps to establish non-judgmental and positive relationships between children and social workers as well as trust. We innovated this approach in Egypt and it is now being used by other local NGO’s. Moreover, FACE supports children and youth in street situation to reconcile with their families when possible, as well as supports them towards their social reintegration. It is important that children, when going back to live with their families, have the possibility to also reintegrate schooling, or for older children, to integrate a vocational training or employment.
Finally, since 2015, we started developing preventive activities, with the objective to work at the source of social issues. Our teams work in some of the poorest communities in Cairo to support the most vulnerable children and families (especially with mothers) and help children at high risk of ending up working or living on the streets. Of course FACE cannot solve a social issue of this size on its own, that’s why we collaborate with other NGOs and with local and national child protection authorities.
WoE: How has working with these underprivileged children changed your general outlook on life and its hardships?
FSJ: Working with children who have worked and lived sometimes for years on the streets and in the most difficult and violent situations would of course affect anyone. It is heart breaking to see the immense suffering these children have to go through. The more I see and feel their distress the more I feel determined to continue. There are no words to describe holding a child or a baby in your arms that has a total lack of love, affection or protection and often in physical pain too. It is really horrendous. Our social workers and staff are confronted with these situations every day and I need to give them the reward for their dedication and for committing their lives to these children. It is only thanks to them that children are being saved every single day.
WoE: In overpopulated and overcrowded Cairo, many families, not just children, are forced to be homeless because of high rent, collapsing buildings or lack of space, how hard is it to build and provide shelters to the children?
FSJ: Our aim is only to provide temporary shelter to children. We strongly believe that nothing can replace a caring family, not even the best institution or center. Our goal is to offer a safe shelter to children during the time they need to prepare their social and family reintegration.We also do not accept children when they can be staying with their family or relatives/extended families. We have created gatekeeping policies not to take children in our centers when it is not necessary.
Our organization aims at reintegrating orphans and street children into their families. We work hard to keep children in families and we often provide support to families, to help them solve their problems to avoid placing their children in institutions; sometimes with counselling or legal support, or financial support to start income generating activities.
I also need to explain that shelters and transitional homes are only a part of our projects. We also work with a very large number of children who are not living/sleeping with FACE, but receive the services and support that we provide.
WoE: How does FACE help children with education, especially many of them have neither been to schools or they are dropouts?
FSJ: At FACE we believe in developmental approaches, education and empowerment. The majority of our work consists in providing recreation, education, life skills information and skills training, so they have options for their future and so they can have access to concrete alternatives to their life on the streets.
We also initiate or upgrade their education in our Child Friendly School to then reintegrate them into the Egyptian school system. FACE has been very innovative in creating non-formal education tools and approaches, adapted to the needs and rhythm of children who have often dropped out of school for years to help them
go back to schools.
WoE: Has your organization met any difficulties working with governmental bureaucracy and red tape in Egypt? How have you managed to overcome this?
FSJ: Of course it has not been easy to work with governmental bureaucracy, however I have to be honest and say that we have always had positive and fruitful working relationships with authorities. Our aim is not to replace or overlap with government child protection services. On the contrary we are doing everything we can to support authorities and contribute to the improvement of the child protection systems and laws in Egypt. Thus, we have no problem in dealing with any difficulties or adapting to any situation as long as we are able to see our long-term objectives in favor of child protection progressing.
WoE: Do you think that FACE has contributed to reducing the number of homeless children in Egypt?
FSJ: Yes, I strongly believe that FACE has contributed, and keeps contributing, to the reduction of this social issue in Egypt.
Since 2003, our teams have reached over 23 000 abandoned children and babies and youth on the streets, close to 1000 children have stayed in our transitional home and close to 2000 children have reintegrated their family, public school, vocational training or employment. Each child has received regular and systematic follow up visits for at least 18 months in order to prevent relapse after their reintegration.
WoE: Has FACE impacted the field of childcare and child protection in Egypt? How?
FSJ: FACE has indeed been very influential among local and international NGOs working with street children in Egypt, setting standards of quality and supporting authorities to adapt their strategies to reduce the number of street children in Cairo. FACE has for example influenced the Ministry of Social Solidarity to create (and train) several outreach units and drop in centers in Cairo and in other governorates in Egypt. I believe that FACE has been a leading actor since 2003 in showing actors of child protection in Egypt that a positive, supportive, voluntary based approach of social work was more efficient to support street children than purely and exclusively repressive and detention measures.
WoE: What are your aspirations for FACE and how do you think you will achieve them?
FSJ: I dream that FACE, together with the Egyptian authorities, can improve the system of placement into Kafala families, in order to promote alternative family care in Egypt, so that thousands of children don’t have to be raised up in orphanages where they are inevitably victims of violence, neglect and where they always lack appropriate emotional care and love.
I dream to see the closing of the last orphanages in Egypt, that FACE does not need to run long-term residential centers but small transitional units, where a team of well-trained social workers can select and support families willing to take children in Kafala and take care of them as their own children.
I dream that FACE will be run 100% by Egyptians and won’t need me anymore.
And to be a little more pragmatic, I also dream to meet new long-term Egyptian donors and partners, willing to support our cause and actions allowing us to concentrate on our work with the children and not to have the incessant worry and immense stress of being able to feed the children and pay the salaries every month.
Photos credit FACE For Children In Need
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