In collaboration with the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood in Cairo and several government ministries, FACE for Children in Need is a charity that works towards safeguarding and supporting some of the most vulnerable members of society; abandoned new born babies, street children and their families. Following a visit to Cairo in 2001, Belgium-based South African, Flavia Shaw-Jackson - a foster mother herself - went on to launch FACE in 2004. Since then, the charity's work has spread across the city and touched thousands of lives.
Though it is almost impossible to give an accurate figure, UNICEF has estimated that there are around 500,000 street children in Egypt. There are 238 legally recognised orphanages in the country, but the majority of these are understaffed, underfunded and terribly overpopulated, officially housing around 6500 orphans between them. The countless remaining orphans are incredibly vulnerable, left to fend for themselves on the streets. These young children are constantly at risk of crime, abuse, drug addiction and violence, growing up without education, love, affection or even basic human rights.
Children and newborn babies are abandoned for an immeasurable number of reasons. In Egypt in particular, religious and societal traditions lead to many 'illegitimate' pregnancies and the fear of being shunned by the community should the mother keep her child. Divorce rates are also particularly high, and in the event of remarriage (or not), children from previous marriages are often rejected. Alongside these factors, unimaginable poverty in some communities can also lead to abandonment; otherwise, out of desperation, many are forced to beg or work to help provide for the family, leaving them unprotected and deprived of their childhood - something many of us take for granted. The maternity death rate in Egypt is 20 times higher than in the west, and the death of one or both parents also contributes largely to the desertion of babies and young children.
In 2009, FACE signed an agreement with the Ministry of Social Affairs to identify the problems and propose solutions to the existing legislation. In Egypt, orphans are looked after by the Ministry of Health until the age of two, before being moved to another orphanage run by the Ministry of Social Affairs until they're six. After the age of twelve, the children are separated into multiple institutions, commonly resulting in traumatic separations and the deprivation of long-term emotional attachments.
FACE seeks out and aims to provide long-term, sustainable support for orphans, street children and their families; the organisation recognises the importance of secure relationships for young children and strategically works with individuals to tailor life plans via education and employment, and/or by repairing vital family relationships. To date, over 650 children have been successfully reintegrated into society, with some semblance of a childhood.
Through employing Egyptian nationals, and others who are able to dedicate their efforts over long periods of time, the children looked after in FACE orphanages are provided with some sense of stability. Staff and volunteers are retrained regularly to ensure a high standard of care. Also, by heavily involving the kids in organising projects and activities, these children gain a sense of responsibility and importance within a team, which are both crucial for healthy development.
In 2003, as part of the charity's initial work in the run-up to its official launch, FACE refurbished and modernised two orphanages; Zeitoun, for babies from 0-18months, and Hegazy, which takes in 120 abandoned babies a year, from 0-2yrs. In partnership with these orphanages, FACE opened its own orphanage in Maadi which houses babies until the age of two. After their stay at these homes, the children are kept together and moved to a renovated orphanage in Behna which allows the children to keep the same system of care which they are used to, and vice versa.
Years later, in 2009, a centre for street children was opened in El Salam. A year and a half prior to its completion, a team of outreach workers set about building relationships with street children, encouraging them to engage with, and trust, adults. The children were offered fundamental non-formal education, medical care and all important life-skills. Since then, over 33,000 children have been contacted by the outreach programme and 30,471 children have attended the drop-in centre to take part in sports, recreational and educational activities. On top of this, nearly 10,000 of the children have received medical care and over 1,000 have been accommodated in the five FACE institutions.
FACE also plans to open a child and mother support centre in Ghoussous; an area reported to be home to 2 million impoverished people. The centre will provide invaluable emergency support to mothers and their children, emergency accommodation, day care facilities, a nursery, and education programmes in order to help mothers find work. Sadly, due to the scale of the project, this life-changing development has been put on hold due to funding problems.
If you're unable offer your services, be it through volunteering or fundraising, donations are always welcome. Just 250LE is enough to feed a child for a whole month and 350LE is enough to care for a baby entirely, including medical care, for the same amount of time. 600LE will put a toddler through kindergarten for a year, while 870LE can support an older child through a year of school.
To find out more about FACE's work and how you can get involved, visit the FACE website or Facebook Page.