In conversation with HANAA SAMUEL
- In collaboration with Petra Institute
In Cairo, Egypt, many children face challenges similar to those found in countries around the world: poverty, violence, and sexual abuse.
“But the problem on top of that is we don’t have a system to help the children. We don’t have laws to support the children or help them. Kids are beaten, bruised, severely tortured but there are no laws, no system.”
Hanaa Samuel is the director of Eye on the Child, a Christian organisation based in Cairo. Eye on the Child provides training on child and family issues including training on how to effectively communicate and interact with children and women who experienced sexual and other abuse.
Eye on the Child partners with Petra Institute, while Hanaa is also an associate of Petra Institute and often works as co-facilitator on joint projects.
In conversation with Hanaa she talks about her own journey with Petra Institute, and how their paths crossed 18 years ago in 2002. She also shares how her journey motivated her to go from a degree in Computer Science to obtaining her masters in counselling women who were sexually abused as children, to what she is currently doing: her PhD in child sexual abuse.
Hanaa and her husband Ayman
and their two children, Andrew & Karen.
“I didn’t choose it. If you told me before that I would work full time with children, I wouldn’t believe you”.
After her studies in Computer Science Hanaa explains that she was ready to work and make money.
“Eye on the Child had a crisis back then. They had training coming up and needed anyone to help with the Arabic. So I was asked to help for just two weeks. So I thought let me just help them for two weeks and then I’m done.”
“During one of the devotions, up to that point, my view of mission work was that it is not for me as an Egyptian, it was for missionaries who we imported from other countries.”
“Then one day God spoke to me saying ‘when are you going to take responsibility for your own country and stand in the gap and how long are you going to count on people from other countries to do your job?’”
“That was my calling; to continue working with Eye on the Child full-time.”
“We started with Walking with Wounded Children; basic training provided by Petra Institute to council children through play. We discuss different things during this training. One of it is causes of trauma, and sexual abuse being one of the causes, we started to teach the Walking with Wounded Children. We started to get so many requests for counselling”.
Hanaa explains that although the focus was mainly on children, the requests included women who were sexually abused when they were children, but never had the opportunity to speak about it.
Training of mothers in Cairo
“Counselling is a foreign concept. Especially counselling children. It doesn’t exist in the whole country. It is very rare and only in the Christian communities and in the capital and bigger cities. People with trauma; they should just deal with it completely on their own. We have a man-dominant culture, women are less, kids are even less than women. So it becomes very difficult.”
It is within this context that Hanaa describes how important child counselling is.
“It’s the only help they receive. Most of the time the mother wants to keep it a secret, because of the shame. Family is more valuable to the individual. For the shame and the family, they keep it a secret.”
And ‘if you have never been exposed to something different then you just follow what your father and grandfather did.’
“So counselling is the only thing you can give the child a little bit of hope”.
Through counselling and discussing, issues such as sexual abuse Hanaa and her team are crossing borders that few people in their culture have ever done before. Consequently, doors opened to discuss these challenges on television and radio platforms.
“We were one of the first organisations to talk about it [sexual abuse] and they wanted to know how bad it is, how do we deal with it, and how do we teach our children to protect themselves.” Hanaa’s academic background, together with the training, material and courses Petra Institute provides, enables her to counsel and support women and children within their cultural environment.
Training at Ard el Golf, one of the wealthiest Coptic churches in Egypt.
Through Petra Institute Hanaa learnt the value of experiential learning as a way to teach people – instead of the traditional one-way teaching style, participants discover principles and develop skills through guided experiences. Hanaa explains this with reference to the time Eye on the Child was invited to train a group of Sunday school teachers in a village and they decided to try out the new style of experiential learning.
When it was time for the teachers to apply their newly taught skills, Hanaa and her team found a long stick one of the teachers claimed was the only way of controlling the children. When they wanted them to line up, stand up, or keep quiet they normally used the stick.
“We said we are going to keep the stick, and started to play with the children. It was just transformational. The children you could see the shock on their faces. In their wildest dreams they did not imagined this would happen one day.”
Hanaa shares that there was a teacher who didn’t join them until the last day of training and this specific teacher experienced the transformation first hand when she saw the other teachers and children playing that afternoon. She was in awe to see the children sitting quietly, listening, and being attached and responsive to the teachers.
“This was just a motivation to us to keep using the same kind of style in teaching,” says Hanaa.
Petra Institute’s mission is to help build communities where children are welcome. This calls for changes in the attitudes and skills of parents and community leaders. The institute works in partnerships with local organisations, helping to bring about attitude changes and building capacity to the benefit of children, families, faith communities and society. To read more, visit the Petra Institute website here.
* This article is in collaboration with Petra Institute and all photos were provided by Hanaa Samuel.