Unfulfilled by her corporate career, Rose-Marie Henri sought (and found) meaning and purpose in the disenfranchised neighbourhood of Hayy El Zabballeen where she is giving children there a fighting chance.
Egypt’s biggest asset has always been its human capital. This centuries-old land has remained young throughout the years with the help of its ever youthful demographic. Yet, for the past 5 decades or more, we really haven’t tapped into this infinite pool of potential. If anything, our youngsters have always had the short end of the stick, with subpar education and health care.
Some of us understandably click their tongues and shake their heads in disapproving despair; Rose-Marie Henri rolls her sleeves and gets to work. Unfulfilled by her corporate career, Henri sought meaning and purpose in the disenfranchised area of Hayy El Zabballeen (Garbage City) – one of the world’s most efficient and sustainable waste-recycling communities.“I went to the Life Vision director, an NGO that runs the area’s youth development centre, Oasis, and I told her, ‘you have programs targeting age groups from 7 to 18, but you don’t have a nursery,’” Henri recounts.
We teach them their rights and obligations.
And just like that, she had secured an entire floor in the complex to build a sanctuary for the area’s neglected youngsters, Hadanet El Beit (El Beit Nursery). Steadfast in adhering to her vision for the development of these young and receptive minds and, by extension, the area, Henri introduced a unique educational program that combines early childhood education and age-appropriate social and economic pedagogy.
“It’s a very consumerist community, so we teach them to look inward and examine themselves and society around them,” Henri explains. “We teach them their rights and obligations and we teach them that resources are valuable, they learn to plan.” How do children aged three to five retain teachings we adults struggle to? Practice. At the end of the program, students are required to submit a school project that puts the theories they were taught into practice by fulfilling their dreams – quite literally – with a little help from faculty members, who help each student to plan and budget to achieve something they want.
Throughout the program, Henri tries to ensure that no other area of her students’ lives interferes with their education, and in Hayy El Zabballeen, the pitfalls are many, chief among them, however, is malnutrition. “We offer them two meals throughout the school day; breakfast and lunch. They come to us with their chips and snacks, but we try to replace that with healthy and nutritious food,” she explains. “Breakfast is usually heavy on dairy and lunch usually comprises of protein, carbohydrates, and vegetables.”
Her commitment to the children is a lifelong one, as she is keen on the seamless continuation between her preschool program and the Oasis’ extracurricular youth development and creative learning ones. Yet, she constantly lives with the fear that the country’s notoriously inadequate and outdated education system will reverse her life’s work. “I worry about that a lot, but I believe that everything you teach a child stays with them,” she says passionately. “I just know they’ll be better equipped to cope with later educational stages.”
Want to help Hayy El Zabballeen's disenfranchised children claim their places in the future? Donate or volunteer. For inquiries, check out El Beit nursery on Facebook.
You can deposit your donations in EGP on Royat Haya (Life Vision)'s CIB bank account. (Account No.: 100010455795, Swift Code: CIBEEGCX014).