In the busy area around Cairo University in Giza, thirteen-year-old Osama sat on a blanket and played around with wooden Arabic letters. Then, for the first time in his life, the teen was able to spell out his name. As the rest of the street children clapped, and Osama spilt happy tears, one volunteer looked onto the scene, with the look on the boy’s face forever engraved in his memory.
Ahmed Khattab's reaction to that moment led him to join FACE for children in need, and become the executive assistant to its founder. FACE was launched in 2003 by South-Africa born Flavia Shaw-Jackson, who had come to Cairo for a visit and decided to work with the estimated two million street children in Egypt.
"Flavia feels the pain of children," says Khattab simply.
FACE runs two main programs. The first is the Early Child Development program, composed of six orphanages, one for each stage of their lives. FACE's Maadi orphanage is the only place allowed to look after babies under two years old in Egypt. As the children grow up to be between two and four, they reside in a home in Benha, and their following two years in Obour City. After the age of six, the law specifies the separating of boys and girls.
Orphanages serve 480 meals every day with the preeminent quality consideration being: "if you had a child, would you feed them this?" according to Khattab. The quality of care offered is pushed throughout the orphanages—these are the only places where babies get massages and individuals undergo psychometric sessions. They also receive regular medical check-ups and vaccination from the doctors attached to each center, as well as free medical treatments at Al Salam International hospital, one of the sponsors of FACE. Those who are of school age all get a chance at education and are registered at local schools.
"Some people visit and say we wish we grew up here," said Khattab, proud of the way FACE's kids get to grow up. However, their main aim is reintegration. "We do not believe that any orphanage could be as good for a child as a home," he states. In Egypt, adoption does not exist, and is replaced by a guardianship system, Kafala, similar to adoption but without the creation of legal ties between child and carer. In the light of this, FACE has begun a pioneering study on Kafala, researching the discrepancies between law and actual practice and developing recommendations for potental adaptations to the law. It is significant that the Government, so far, are open to considering the recommendations.
FACE's second program is the Street Children program, composed of an outreach team, a day drop-in center, a transitional home, a case management/reintegration team, an education team, and a medical team. The drop-in center is located in Cairo's suburb in Medinat El Salam. Education, medical, counseling, legal support, arts, sports, and games are all daily services provided to street children and youth for facilitating their reintegration. The transitional home, at the same location, is a shelter for those wishing to pursue a life away from the streets and follow either vocational training or full-time education, whilst being prepared for social reintegration into a family.
Over the years, FACE has served over 30,000 children in Greater Cairo. Going from four to 150 employees, between carers, social workers, nurses and psychometricians, FACE has won awards and recognition both locally and internationally. The FACE Salam Street Children program was one of the six winners of the 2014 Wise Awards World Innovation Summit for Education, and the organization won best run childcare NGO in Egypt in 2013. Its success partly depends on the high training of its staff, which is then passed on in training provision within civil society and Government partner programs.
FACE also excels when it comes to sports. During the football world cup, they partnered with NAFAS Sport to send three children to Rio de Janeiro; and some of the NGO’s children are also international champions in taekwondo. But running an NGO for orphans and street children is not easy task in Egypt.
Khattab states that dealing with abandoned children is not an easy job, especially those who have encountered sexual abuse and drug addiction. Society's take on this is often unsympathetic. "We wanted to make a drop in center for street center in Sayeda Aisha district," recalled Khattab. After they got the place, the residents refused to allow them operate so as not to bring in "'those with criminal records. '
"People are not aware of what we do or how to treat a street child," says Khattab. "People treat them like they are the enemy while they are victims."
Aside from the human issues, there's also the bureaucratic difficulties. Three or four months are required to get an official birth certificate for a child, Khattab said, and processing finances depends on the Ministry of Finance's pen-and-paper systems. Their partnerships with the Ministry of Social Solidarity and the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood, which provide them with buildings, progress in installing water and electricity are also naturally slowed by state bureaucracy. Restricted resources and funding also hinders FACE's activities. Looking after a baby costs 600 euros a year, not including the salaries of their carers. 60% of their funds are raised within Egypt.
Nevertheless, FACE continues to draw future plans to impact more lives, one being to open up centers in Dweika and Shourouq city before the end of 2016. FACE's ambassador, actor Mohamed Sobhy, sums it up: “FACE is a shining, open face full of compassion. FACE shows the face of a miserable child deprived of tenderness, education and love and helps the child to become a worthy citizen of his country.”