As schools have closed in communities all over the world, many parents are facing the same challenge: how do I keep my children engaged and learning when we’re all staying home?
And for those parents who are out work: how do I continue to provide for my family?
Lareen is in this situation. Originally from Yemen, she is a refugee in Egypt. She is a single mom to her three children, who are 6, 7 and 11 years old.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, Lareen was taking tailoring classes to improve her skills and further her career. But those classes stopped, along with all group gatherings. Her income has dried up, so Lareen has been reaching out to refugee service providers in Cairo for support.
Two of Lareen’s children are on the autism spectrum. They used to go to a center that specialized in education for children with autism to make sure that they were getting the care and interactions that they needed. Now, the center is closed, and the family is at home together. “Since the beginning of the lockdown, I have kept my children at home. We have been going through a lot, the anxiety and fear are paralyzing. My older son is not accepting this situation. He wants to go out to play and do outdoor activities, while my other two children’s progress is eroding,” she explains. “My children are suffering emotionally, and there is nothing I can do for them. I have no resources to buy anything for them to keep them engaged and I cannot leave them and go work. I barely manage to pay for life essentials. I might not [be able to] pay for the internet next month, which is the only thing that is keeping my children and me afloat. I try to find useful resources online, but still it’s not enough.”
Our partner in Cairo is St. Andrew’s Refugee Services, or StARS. StARS holds a support group for refugee mothers of children with special needs. It’s a place for moms to learn about resources available to them, share their experiences with people who understand what they are going through, and just feel seen. The groups have been suspended during the pandemic, but the StARS team is continuing to reach out to these moms to make sure they still feel supported.
The staff at StARS put together education packages for families, to help them cope with their time at home. The packages are full of craft supplies like paint, ingredients to make slime, glittery foam, scissors, coloring books and colored pencils. They also include snacks and information about COVID-19. When parents come to pick up their supplies, the StARS team checks in with them on handling the pandemic and what activities to do with the different materials.
“The package I received helped a lot, as my youngest child loves drawing. It helped us to sit together and make activities like making accessories. My children made me a beautiful bracelet with my name on it. Having the items in the package and its variety assisted me in engaging my children in something fun, which in return made my children’s concentration better.” Lareen says. “These activities made me closer to my children, and I appreciate [StARS Groups and Activities Senior Officer] Bushra and StARS for everything they have done.”
For decades, StARS has been a welcoming support network for Cairo’s refugee population. Clients can receive an array of support, from legal aid to medical, educational, counseling and other services. During this pandemic, the team has expanded parts of StARS programming to meet new, urgent needs. With support from CWS, StARS has distributed more than 2,000 packages of food and hygiene supplies to particularly vulnerable clients. They have also provided $20,000 in cash grants to clients to help them pay rent and meet their basic needs.
For families like Lareen’s who were already living in vulnerable situations, the impacts of the pandemic and resulting lockdowns can be extreme. But with your help, we can continue to provide moments of light and hope in the darkness, and we can help more families make it through this.
To donate to the CWS Coronavirus Response Fund, visit cwsglobal.org/coronavirus.