Lisbon, Portugal: Taking its call to elevate the emirate of Sharjah as a leading global model for child-friendly cities, the Sharjah Child Friendly Office (SCFO) undertook experiential field trips to child-friendly centres in the Portuguese capital of Lisbon earlier in May.
The SCFO delegation led by its Executive Director, HE Dr. Hessa Khalfan Al Ghazal, met with officials from the Municipality Council of Lisbon, including Fátima Pereira, the City Mayor’s Advisor; and Marisa Mateus, Head of the Division for Social Intervention and UNICEF team (Portugal), who explained the process in which Lisbon became a child-friendly city. The Portuguese officials presented positive experiences from a few projects developed and implemented locally within the UNICEF’s Child Friendly Cities Initiative (CFCI). The two parties also discussed their respective achievements in implementing child-friendly strategies and identified collaboration opportunities.
The delegation visited a primary school in the Bairro Madre de Deus district, where they interacted with school representatives and children who presented work done as part of Rights of the Child projects. The delegation also toured Centro Social Paroquial S. Maximiliano Kolbe, a local youth-based organisation, to study its work done with children and youth. Presentations and workshops were organised in four stations – day care, preschool, first cycle of primary education and with young people – for the benefit of the visiting delegates.
The SCFO officials also went on thematic field trips – cultural, mobility and sustainability – to see child-friendly projects in action in Cascais. In addition to visiting the city’s museum district, bicycle paths for children, and the EcoToy Library where children and youth are encouraged to make toys and games from recycled materials.
HE Dr. Hessa expressed her happiness in collaborating with Portuguese entities to share best practices and learn from each other. At the end of these visits, I can confidently say that both Sharjah and Portugal have benefitted from each other’s experiences and have a wider perspective for action. Our discussions with child welfare stakeholders from a variety of fields in Portugal have offered us rare insights on child-friendly policy planning, which I am sure will help us take greater strides in transforming Sharjah as a city dedicated fully to nurturing children and their future aspirations. The networking opportunities here opened our minds to new and innovative strategies, which will enable us to create better infrastructure and facilities to promote children’s mental health and overall wellbeing.”
Reinventing cities by creating ‘childhood cultures’
On the side-lines of the networking visits and field trips, SCFO attended the Child in the City International Seminar 2022 in Cascais, Portugal, receiving first-hand insights from children’s professionals, university lecturers, researchers and city planners on ‘How to make Children’s Rights Mainstream in Local Policy Planning’, a topic which has assumed greater significance in the Covid-19 era. The seminar, inaugurated by the Cascais city Mayor, Carlos Carreiras, highlighted the need for greater awareness about children’s rights and ways to integrate it into local public policies. Other discussions focused on the pandemic’s impact on children’s everyday life, play and movement, and looked into ways to reinvent the city by creating ‘childhood cultures’.
Dr. Hessa affirmed that the seminar ensured that children and young people are the first to be involved while developing policies and practices that positively support their growth process. “The seminar was a pioneering effort to understand the real and actual challenges and problems that every child in every home faces. Sharjah through the SCFO has worked successfully to improve the future of children, and it is wonderful to see that so many other cities worldwide are making concerted efforts to secure the wellbeing and security of their young generations.”
Sharjah’s elevation as child-friendly city
SCFO has succeeded in putting policy initiatives into action on the lines of the vision of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, and the directives of Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed al Qasimi, wife of the Ruler of Sharjah and Chairperson of SCFA. SCFO runs several projects to strengthen Sharjah’s status as a child, youth, and family-friendly city.