Saturday, 25 June 2016 21:11

Inspiring young mothers across Egypt

Shaymaa El-Gammal Thrwoing back her scarf - energetic as always Shaymaa El-Gammal Thrwoing back her scarf - energetic as always

I met Shaymaa when I was doing my teacher training in Cairo in 2003. She was one of my students and even though she also covered  her hair in colorful scarves the way it was and still is custom for women, she somehow seemed more ‘Western’, more modern and very aware and curious about all the cultural differences between us.

Her even then excellent English was just one indicator of her cleverness and her enthusiasm to ‘know more’. She was still in high school and preparing to study to be tourist guide - this was before the various events have basically wiped out any kind of tourism in Egypt. She showed me and some colleagues around just to get to practice her English, but somehow the two of us really hit it off.

She took me shopping, introduced me to restaurants, shared many fascinating insights about her culture and religion with me and even taught me some basic Arabic. I loved my time in Cairo, but had to return to my job in Austria after a 4-month break.

Hail to social media

Apart from a few ‘how-are-you messages’ on Facebook we lost touch. Until recently, when I was admiring a piece of art shared by a friend on Facebook and noticed that the person who had originally posted it was in Cairo and a mutual friend of Shaymaa.

I dropped her a line to tell her about the ‘coincidence’, we got talking, and on the same evening I booked a flight to Cairo for a long weekend. I spent a most fascinating, insightful and enjoyable time there, taking in the Ramadan atmosphere, and producing countless magical photographs of the wonderfully friendly people and most importantly, spent time with Shaymaa.

Against all odds

I find strong, independent women inspiring in general, but find Shaymaa’s career path especially admirable as she lives in a society with many rules and restrictions. She follows them all, does not offend anyone, and yet, it seems that with her strong will she manages to bend them ever so gently to give her more room to move.

She is a practicing Muslim and fortunate to have very religious but understanding parents who do not interfere with her choices and help her with childcare. Shaymaa got married early and lived in a remote area of Cairo with her in-laws.

Mother of three, writer and author

When she had her first child, her son Firas, she took him with her to work at a nursery. Thus began her journey into child development. She immersed herself in the world of motherhood, talked about her experience on social media, and was soon given the opportunity to write for a women’s magazine. She had always loved writing.

When four years later she became pregnant for the second time with her twins Malek and Nadeem and it became difficult to leave the house, she started a project at home: she wrote a ‘pregnancy diary’ entitled Ana7amel (I'm pregnant - diaries of Mama out of the box) which was published in Arabic. There was increasing interaction on her social media pages with mothers commenting and asking questions and the ‘home project’ brought forth a business idea.

An additional (brain) child

Together with a friend who was also pregnant, they launched their project ‘I am pregnant’ (Ana ha 7 amal.net) which was the first official online maternity club in Egypt. It provides information for pregnant mothers and offers marketing and content management opportunities for brands targeting young mothers and pregnant women. Renowned specialists from all areas of child development write for the magazine which appears quarterly and is sold at doctors' offices and selected kiosks and is handed out at events organized for mothers. It has a circulation of 3.000 and its social media pages reach audiences of more than 1 million fans on Facebook  and 40.000 followers on Instagram. The website registers about half a million visitors per month. 

When Shaymaa gave birth, she took 10 days off and then continued working from home. Blogging and writing come naturally to her and she enjoys sharing her experience with others. She also loves photography and interacting with people via social media.

Looking to grow in all areas of life

After her education in tourism she studied Marketing and  Media and Communications and since the launch of her project, she has taken courses in child psychology and child development.  “My partner Yasmien Shahien and I want to be sure we are up to date on the latest trends and discoveries in pregnancy and child development,” she explains.

When asked about how others see her work, the young mother explains, “Some people consider me clever and successful while others think I must be a bad mother and housewife.”

Something I can certainly confirm to be a misjudgment. During the days I was staying with her and her sons (she lives alone now),  I kept marveling at how many things she is able to do at once. I saw her sweeping the floor, phone under her chin, stopping to pour drinks for her children with one hand, working her way back towards her computer to reply to a comment, picking up clothes with I don’t know which hand – a true superwoman to my mind.

Three adorable little ‘monkeys’

Her boys sure are ‘very active’ and full of mischief the way little 4-year-old boys are, but they are well-raised and I often saw them clinging to their mom literally like little monkeys.

Usually the twins are at Kindergarten, but it being Ramadan and everyone getting up late and Kindergarten closing early like all businesses during that time, she kept them at home. They sure provided lots of good laughs and constantly had me asking Shaymaa “How do you do it?!”

Beyond society's limitations 

Somehow, she does it. In a most admirable, clever, determined and loving way - combining a successful career and raising healthy, happy children in a society where women are often still expected to ‘Just stay home and take care of the household and husband.’

I feel honored to have her as a friend and look forward to continue watching her develop her many projects and skills while raising her ‘little monkeys’ and inspiring other mothers to keep doing what they love while taking care of their a family.

You can find Shaymaa on Facebook and Instagram. 

 

Mary Anglberger

I’ve been travelling the world for over 20 years teaching English and am now taking time to follow my passion for photography and writing. I want to share all the things, events and people that have inspired and inspire me and spread those positive vibes all around.

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