In Egypt, a push to get more orphans families, fight stigma

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Foster mother Yasmina El Habbal kisses with her 7-month-old daughter Ghalia, at their apartment in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. Egyptians who have taken in children under the Islamic system of guardianship known as Kafala are turning to social media to raise awareness as part of a push to provide orphans with permanent families. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

Yasmina El Habbal long dreamed of giving birth to a daughter and planned to name her Ghalia, Arabic for “precious.” She never got married, and never did.

But in an Egyptian orphanage at age 40, she finally found her Ghalia: a fussy baby girl with large brown eyes who promptly fell asleep in her arms.

“God has created her for me,” El Habbal said. “There’s no way I could have loved her more or become more attached to her had I given birth to her myself.”

Adoption in the strict sense of the word, with children taking on all the legal rights of biological offspring, is not allowed under Islam, which emphasizes the importance of preserving blood lineage. Instead there is Kafala, an alternative care system under which adults can become guardians of orphaned children.

But elements of Egyptian society have not historically been aware of or enthusiastic about the practice of parents taking orphans into their homes and families, sometimes attaching a stigma to children assumed to have been born out of wedlock or abandoned. Today, El Habbal and others are trying to change that by sharing their Kafala stories on social media, demystifying the practice and challenging such societal prejudices.

Since taking Ghalia in, El Habbal has been sharing snippets of their lives on her blog-style Facebook page: The girl giggling as El Habbal rocks and sings to her; bundled up by a campfire; mother and baby sporting matching Superman T-shirts. An initial post was widely shared, and she has also spoken out in Egyptian media.

The message: “Louli” — her nickname — is an ordinary child like any other, who laughs, cries, gets sick and gets better, with no reason for shame.

“I sometimes just look at her and wonder how our lives would have been like this day if we hadn’t found each other?” El Habbal once posted. “I don’t even remember a life without her.”