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Jordan: Fathers included
By Adjnadine Samran in Amman
October 2006 - For the past ten years, a project has been helping parents in Jordan’s rural and underprivileged regions. Until now it focused mainly on mothers, but fathers have begun to participate, brought in by way of religion.
Eight o’clock in the morning. Samira Darwish is getting ready for her weekly get-together with neighbourhood women. We are in Abu Dhar Al Ghafaari, in the Palestinian refugee camp of Marka, north of the Jordanian capital. Like many other camps that materialized because refugees were flooding into the country in 1948 and 1967, Marka at the beginning was simply a collection of canvas tents donated by the United Nations. As time passed, tents were replaced by rough shacks, piled one against the other. Comfort is rudimentary at best. Unemployment, poverty and overpopulation have prevailed in the camps for as long as three generations.
Smira grew up in the neighbourhood. That is why she is accepted easily, despite her young age. At the development centre’s headquarters in Abu Dhar Al Ghafaari, a dozen women are sitting around the table. The topic of the day: the custom, which is still popular in the camp, of coating babies’ skin with salt to make them more robust. The heat is oppressive, but Samira’s smile never wavers. She explains that not only is the practice useless for increasing a baby’s vitality, it can even cause dehydration. A little later, she advises mothers never to use tap water, which in the camp is not fit for drinking, to cool off their baby bottles.
Samira is a trainer for the Better Parenting Initiative, launched by UNICEF in 1996 with the support of several Jordanian ministries (health, education, social development and religious affairs), the UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) for Palestine refugees, and the Noor al Hussein Foundation. Based on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the project encourages families in rural or underprivileged areas to acquire sound parenting skills from pregnancy on through early childhood. Recent studies in the country have indeed revealed glaring disparities in the care given to children under the age of three. In ten years, nearly 45,000 parents have benefited from the project and 1500 professionals have been trained.
Several times a week, at meetings like the ones organized by Samira, the group discusses such topics as weaning, the importance of communicating with children, or ways to identify possible developmental problems. Sessions are led by professionals – teachers, doctors, social workers or nurses – who receive training.
At the beginning, the project focused almost entirely on mothers. No more. Now 37% of the trainers are men, with 63% women. The only difference is that men get involved through their religious practice. The men’s sessions are held in certain mosques following Friday prayers, with the imam’s blessing.
“The number of male trainers is slowly growing,” observes Suzanne Salihi, deputy chief of the Better Parenting Initiative in UNICEF’s Amman office. She stresses the importance and impact of the training that takes place in the mosques. The project has produced a handbook about early childhood development for imams, and already 30 imams are participating. It’s a first step. “It still remains much more difficult to make contact with the men than with the women” adds Suzanne. “You have to push aside certain taboos, explain that playing with the child is not just for mothers, and changing a baby’s nappies is not degrading. This is not always self-evident.”
Yet the effort seems to be paying off. Samy, a trainer in the Marka camp, sees concrete results: “Some of the people who trained with me have changed their attitude towards their children.”
This article is from the October 2006 edition of the UNESCO Courier, “Learning is child’s play”. Reproduced from the UNESCO Courier and available at at: www.unesco.org/en/courier
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