Monday, 2 July, the walls of the main hall of Egypt's Ministry of Social Solidarity (MSS) were adorned with posters that spoke of a new message.
The posters were addressed in general to Egyptian fathers, showing men chatting with their very young children, telling them stories and sharing meals and playtime, with captions that relate to studies and statistics presented by UNICEF.
"Fifteen minutes of play with your child can significantly generate neuroconnection in his brain," said one banner. "In his first three years, the activity in the brain of the child is double that in an adult's brain," stated another.
The messages form the backdrop of an endeavour endorsed by different stakeholders launching the #EarlyMomentsMatter awareness campaign, tackling the role of the father and promoting positive parenting skills in Egyptian society.
Ghada Waly, minister of social solidarity, hailed the collaboration between the ministry and UNICEF in Egypt that tackles the topic of positive parenting for fathers amid general cultural conceptions that fatherly responsibilities begin when children are well into their teens.
"There is no time more critical for brain development than the first 1,000 days of a child's life. When fathers bond with their children early in their lives, they provide them with bigger opportunities to develop their cognitive and psychological abilities," Waly said.
She added: "It is our collective responsibility, as government, international and national organisations, civil society and the private sector, to work with all communities to give parents the best start in life."
On a parallel note, Waly mentioned the role of icons and role models in establishing positive attitudes towards children, mentioning Egyptian footballer Mohamed Salah and the way he involved his young daughter when receiving the "Golden Boot" prize in England, and how this would encourage fellow Egyptian fathers to be more involved with their children in their tender years.
After Waly announced the launch of the campaign, Ahram Online spoke with Bruno Maes, UNICEF representative in Egypt, about the new initiative. He explained that the new campaign intends to remind fathers that when they nurture their early stage young ones, the children learn better, have less behavioral issues, and become more successful human beings.
Asked about the core of the campaign he said: "This campaign promotes the positive role of the father through mainly social media, along with various endeavours including TV programmes, entertainment series, and other means."
"The campaign offers parenting tips, information, as well as training material, explaining the importance of protection, stimulation and good nutrition for healthy brain development. It also engages fathers to share their parenting experiences and encourage their peers," he continued.
Asked about the difficulty of introducing change into social norms, he pointed out that consistency is a key factor.
"We have to acknowledge that it takes time to introduce change into harmful practices and behaviours that are not in the best interest of the child. The behavioral change strategy adopted by the campaign matches latest updates and research and relies on the core idea of launching efforts that are consistent for all key stakeholders, including media, to promote the right attitude and behaviour model, and this leads to change," he told Ahram Online.
Maes hailed the efforts of goodwill ambassador Ahmad Helmi, who was part of advocating this campaign and sharing his experience. "People tend to listen and take advice and recommendations from famous figures that are close to their hearts, like him," Maes said.
Asked about whether schools universities will target younger generations within this campaign, Maes told Ahram Online that Minister of Education Tarek Shawky is undertaking reform in the education system and that UNICEF is working with his strategy to translate life skills and civic education into new curricula.
One of the means adopted by the campaign is bringing different content to rural areas in comparison to urban ones. "Societies in general tend to be diverse, and any campaign has to embrace this diversity in order to succeed in connecting with the people, so the content takes this into consideration, and adjusts to the public," he commented.
Maes concluded by underlining that UNICEF is working in more than a hundred countries and that this campaign is a global initiative, stating that Egypt is one of the countries displaying a strong commitment to it, and that UNICEF appreciates the leadership and cooperation shown by the Egyptian government to support such initiatives.