The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) had reached Egypt by mid-February this year. A month later, the country’s schools were closed and all activities were stopped as part of the government’s preventative measures to combat the virus’ spread.
This presented Egyptian mothers with young children, in one of the Middle East’s most populous countries, with a serious dilemma – how to keep children occupied at home and help them have some form of social interaction with peers.
Rania Genena, a mother to a one-year-old baby boy and 5.5-year-old son and works as Quality Manager for FieldCore in Cairo, started working from home in line with the company’s office response plan to ensure the safety of its employees. Rania’s husband, Essam, works as a video cameraman for BBC Arabia.
By the nature of his work, Essam is excluded from travel restrictions and during the day has to cover events. This leaves Rania to juggle the responsibilities of her job while being a mother, teacher, friend and a governess to her children.
“I had never imagined that one day in my life I would have to stay at home because of a virus. It’s just like in films,” says Rania.
When schools and day-care centres closed, like so many other mothers Rania’s life became more demanding.
“It’s been challenging to adapt working from home. Sometimes while I am on work calls, the kids are crying or making a terrible racket looking for attention. But I have to deal with it,” she adds. “I started saying to myself ‘What should I do to cope with the kids?’ My son has loads of energy! I then realised that there are hundreds of other mothers in the same position.”
Rania began thinking of a solution – a trait she has refined working as a quality manager who has to think on her feet and find quick-win solutions when unexpected issues threaten to jeopardise the level of customer service delivery during a project or an outage.
Within an hour, she says, she had her response to this societal impact of the virus – a Facebook page for Cairo mums dedicated to keeping children entertained and mums sane. Rania did not want to copy an existing page, so she searched online communities, only to discover that there was no such platform for mothers in her home city.
“My job is ‘quality’ and as quality is also one of our company’s core values, it has become entrenched in who I am. So, as I was exploring starting the page from scratch, I wore my quality hat to come up with a page that would add real value for its users,” Rania explains modestly.
She reached out to a friend and GE colleague who works as Lead Tender and Project Sourcing Specialist at GE’s Cairo office, Jasmine Ahmed Fouad, to discuss the idea.
The two women put their heads together and in a flash Wonder Momma Beats Corona! was brought to life.
Neither of them had previous experience in managing social media platforms, besides their own personal Facebook page, for which Rania says she seldom has time. They did not know what response they’d get. A thousand followers eventually would be nice, they thought.
During the first four days of posting videos and activities for kids, they had hoped that at least a few mothers and children would benefit.
As days quickly rolled on, more and more mothers joined the conversation, sharing ideas of activities to keep children busy. Some even posted videos of what their own children were doing to stay entertained. Within a month, the page had reached an enthusiastic 8,500 followers.
The page continues attracting scores of social media followers – not only in Egypt, but as far afield as Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Canada, the US, Germany, Australia and the UK.
More than 11,000 mothers are now engaged in sharing tips how to keep kids entertained with cooking lessons at home, painting ideas, planting seeds and caring for plants in the house – there’s even been activities getting children to restore things around the home.
The success of Wonder Momma Beats Corona! was not only noticed by a local toy store in Cairo that decided to sponsor prizes for a competition, but also caught the interest of the BBC TV’s news desk in London (not by any doing of Rania’s husband!). This resulted in a live interview with Rania being aired on the station’s Arabic channel.
This all goes to show how a simple act of kindness can spread its love across the world.