Witnessing the pressing need of an organization to protect the girls of the streets, a group of people from different backgrounds came together, sharing one passion: improving the living standards of children, especially girls who lived on the streets of Cairo. That’s how the established heart warming organization Banati came to being in 2009! We have talked to the well-known Pediatrician and Influential Founder Hana Abou El Ghar to tell us more about Banati, the stigma of the street, and more!
What first triggered you to start Banati?
We felt that there was a great need for an NGO dedicated to protecting girls since the few societies available serving children on the street worked with boys. The number of children on the streets is rising, their ages are getting younger and the ratio of girls to boys is nearing half. Once the girls get a chance for rehabilitation, it is very hard to integrate them because they carry the stigma of the street.
Is the community development field any different now from when Banati was launched in 2010?
The field of development has evolved a lot in the past 20 years, and even more in the past 10 years, people are becoming more aware of the presence of children on the street. There is a strong movement amongst young people to volunteer and help out in any possible way, and individual donors and national and international donors are willing to invest in rehabilitation and reintegration of the girls and without them, we would never have grown. This is a huge step forward since children in street situations 20 years ago were seen negatively and most donors would prefer to sponsor orphanages.
Can you tell us more about the different approaches that Banati takes to protect the girls from the streets and tackle the issue as a whole on a communal level?
We work through a four-phase program, a reception center in old Cairo with an outreach team that circulates in the areas of Cairo where the children gather. On the street, we serve girls and boys with food, clothes, first aid medical services and psychological and social support. The girls who spent a long period of time in the street are invited to our reception center for further services and support and later move to the main shelter with other 200 girls for schooling, psychological and social rehabilitation, and work shops. In case of major trauma, she is temporarily transferred to Imbaba center to focus more on mental health. The last phase is social reintegration with a family member and strong follow up. Adult girls are encouraged to get a job, highest education possible and later can share a flat with her friends in a nearby area where she is closely monitored by the social integration team.
Did the fact that you’re a female (with a team of mostly females as well) leading a community development project affect setting up Banati negatively or positively?
Since we work with girls, most of our staff are women who play the role of mother or sister with several male figures playing a father role. We emphasize the importance of gender balance in all our departments and some of our most experienced social workers and psychologists are women of great courage who do their work at night on the street usually with male colleagues working as a team in difficult and sometimes dangerous situations.
Based on your experience with girls and women who have lived on the streets, what are the most pressing issues that they have faced on a daily basis?
The primary reason for leaving home is abuse, and although it’s associated with poverty, it’s even more associated with family breakup, divorce, death of a parent, and to a great extent moving from the countryside to slums where the social support of the bigger family is lacking. Working on the development of slums in Egypt will greatly lower the still high rate of new cases of children on the street.
What do you think changed in you personally since you launched Banati?
When I talk with my friends on the board of Banati who’ve walked the long road with me, Mona Fayek, Iman Iskander, Adly Toma, Rehan Basharey, Mrs. Yousriya Loza Sawiris, Mrs. Sahar ElSallab, all prominent in their field of work, we all feel that Banati has blessed our lives, we have met wonderful people of different social and educational backgrounds, we have seen girls fight their fears, anxiety, hurt and pain, and do great things. Not every girl will be fully free of her past, but every day Banati helps them take a step forward. Seeing their smiles and enjoying their warm hugs is the best gift we could ever wish for.
What are your future expectations for Banati?
We hope to better develop Banati’s case management program, so we can tailor a rehabilitation program for each girl’s needs, including education, psychological support, and social rehabilitation. We hope to work on raising awareness on the issue of why children end up on the streets, that they do not choose this life and shouldn’t be blamed for it. They deep down are no different from our own children, they need unconditional love and acceptance. Lastly, we hope to work on an endowment to secure the financial future of this Establishment.
Not every girl will be fully free of her past, but every day Banati helps them take a step forward. Seeing their smiles and enjoying their warm hugs is the best gift