It’s Friday afternoon and Hauneida is preparing a special feast for Saturday lunch. She recites a litany of Lebanese foods that will grace the table – hummus, laban (home-made yogurt), mezze (a variety of hot and cold little dishes), kibbeh (a national lamb dish that resembles pate), chicken with rice, pine nuts and sultanas, honey-soaked baklava and a big cake to boot. For this is no ordinary meal, but a special event that must be marked: the first birthday party ever for her foster son, Bashir,* turning eight.
“Imagine. He has never had a party before. I think that is so sad. So I am making this day very special for him,” says the 47-year-old foster carer.
Hauneida, of South-West Sydney, has always loved kids and worked for 20 years in the day care industry. She and her husband Rachid have a 14-year-old daughter, Miriam. Hauneida couldn’t have any more children afterwards and she and Rachid decided to foster to extend their family and help their local community.
“I was nervous after I did the training and waiting for that first phone call. I wondered if I could actually foster and be any good at it,” recalls Hauneida.
The call wasn’t long in coming. She provided short-term care for a three-week-old baby who later went to live with his grandparents, and then she was given three lively and gorgeous Lebanese siblings: two boys aged 12 (Fadi)* and eight (Bashir)* and their sister, Jamila,* 13. Two of the children have special needs.
The children had been neglected and only attended school sporadically before coming to Hauneida and Rachid. The boys were rude in the beginning; Jamila was withdrawn. They had to be constantly told to shower, get dressed or to brush their teeth.
“It was like having three newborns in the house. I had never looked after boys before and these two were a handful. I did find it hard in the beginning, but we are getting there. The boys are learning to respect boundaries and Jamila is also getting more confident,” says Hauneida.
“Our focus is to give them lots of love and a good education.”
The rewards are small, but important. “I love seeing them settle in bed at night, looking happy. They know they are being looked after, with lots of cuddles, a talk, a comfortable bed, hot meals and a story at bedtime. I love helping them with their homework and seeing them smile or laugh. That’s my reward,” she says.
She finds a lot of praise works wonders for the foster children. “They’ve never had it before and it’s a wonderful confidence builder.”
There are many challenging days with the children, but Hauneida starts each day with an optimistic outlook. “Even if they have had to be disciplined for being naughty and sent to bed early, I tell them I love them. I don’t carry on.”
She has been busy teaching the children about their Lebanese culture. “When there are Lebanese festivals happening, we go to them. We recently went to a Lebanese wedding and Jamila asked a lot of questions about it. She had never been to a wedding before so it was an eye-opener for her.”
The family also observes feasting and fasting at Ramadan and once a week the children are given religious instruction into the Muslim faith.
As for their own daughter, Hauneida admits she didn’t really enjoy having the children around at first.
“She was disappointed that we didn’t get a baby to look after which is what we all thought we might get,” says Hauneida candidly. “She had to make her point about it which I respect. But she has grown fond of the children and now she’s like a mother hen with them. It’s working out for her, for all of us.”
And with that, she heads back into the kitchen to make more mezze for Bashir’s birthday feast.