In 1976, there was no Hamad or Doha International Airport. In fact, the iconic Sheraton hotel hadn’t even been built, the Corniche was still a fish and vegetable market, the tallest building in Doha was Jamco Tower next to La Cigale and Roula Hadad was a young girl whose family had just moved to Doha after living in Dubai for four years.
“I remember very clearly when we first moved out here. We had a brown Daihatsu that was very stylish for my mom to drive. It was in the 70s so it was really cool to have a brown car. Every Friday we would go to the Inland Sea. There were places where we could go and park right by the sea and there would be nobody there. Nobody. There was nothing. Not Sealine. Absolutely nothing. But they were great days.”
Throughout her 39 years in Qatar, Roula has seen a lot of change. When she first began as an architect in Doha, it was unusual to see women on a construction site. Furthermore, families with two working parents had to contend with the fact that of the few nurseries available in Doha, all of them closed at 1 p.m. This left parents like Roula and her husband, who worked until 5 p.m., struggling to find qualified and trustworthy childcare for these after-hours.
“I thought, what better way to tackle the situation than to open a nursery that caters to mothers like myself and that remains open for longer hours,” she explained.
So in September 2006, she created Little Academy. At the time, there were a lot of female bank employees who finished work at 2:30, Roula explained. Little Academy’s day ended at 3:30, which left these mums enough time to finish work and make it to the nursery in time for pick up. These days Little Academy stays open until 5:00 pm, making it one of the only nurseries in Doha that holds hours in conjunction with a standard 9-5 working day.
This family-run business consists of three sisters-in-law who share a passion and drive to provide the most extensive and well-rounded childhood education possible. “The children at our nurseries are treated like our own. We provide the best for them no matter what it takes; it is our philosophy,” Roula said.
She recalled the first day they opened, “We thought we were going to have 16 kids. The first day we opened, we had about 40 kids, 40 crying kids. It was really overwhelming. My partners and I were carrying around two kids each because we were worried about them. It was very interesting to say the least. That first week I had to take off work and just spend it at the nursery to make sure everything was running smoothly.”
The Madinat Khalifa branch, which was designed by Roula and built from the ground up, is flooded with soft natural lighting. The bathrooms in the classrooms have child-sized, half doors so kids can practice their independence, but still have quick access to teachers and assistance if they need it. Each classroom has access to the outdoors, which creates a natural flow of energy from room to room to outside and even to the separate small buildings in the back of the nursery that house the dance studio, the kitchen, the gym room and the pretend play area.
Just as all parents want the best for their kids, you can see that Roula, now a mother of three, a 10-year-old girl and six- and four-year-old boys, has this same passion for the nursery and the children. She is adamant about safety and quality at Little Academy. Aside from the standard security guard, CCTVs and regular fire drills, all the nursery furniture and toys are handmade and meet international quality and environmental certifications.
Roula credits the government of Qatar with the country’s growth. “It’s lovely that the country is paying a lot of attention to the education sector. They’re investing a lot and it’s fabulous. They’re really developing the next generation of Qataris, non-Qataris and expats. Now we have so many options.”
No doubt it is the government that is pushing the rapid growth and development of Qatar, but it doesn’t take an expert to see that women like Roula, who push their own boundaries to solve problems for themselves and other working families, are another reason this country is flourishing.
Although originally from Palestine, Roula considers Qatar to be her home. Her parents had only intended to stay in Doha for two years but thirty-nine years later they are all still in Qatar. “I’ll be here forever. My husband is Qatari; my kids are Qatari. This is home. Even before I got married, it was always home.”
What is your favourite memory as a professional childcare provider?
Three years ago, the children got invited to Qatar TV to do their National Day dance. They had no problem being there in front of all of these strangers, in front of all the cameras and they were only three years old. They were tiny. Seeing them in the TV station, among all of these adults, they were so confident and independent and they knew what they were doing. It made me very proud to see that we had helped these kids become confident individuals.
What is the most important thing your kids have ever taught you?
‘Slow down,’ that’s what they taught me. Slow down, take it easy and chill. When you are a working mom, everything is so programmed and planned. We can’t waste five more minutes to eat or chew, but sometimes I just need to slow down and sometimes let go. As adults, we can program ourselves to work based on the schedule but kids sometimes they need time. Give them the exposure that you wish to give them but sometimes stop and just enjoy them and not be so eager.
What is the best parenting advice you’ve ever received?
Let them be happy. Let them choose. Don’t push them into anything but expose them to a lot, so they’re very cultured. Living in Qatar you get to meet a lot of different people from different nationalities. When you look around, people are from all over the place—it’s just an international hub. We travel a lot and so our kids need to be very understanding and respectful of different cultures and religions.
What’s your favourite children’s book?
How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? By Jane Yolen and Mark Teague
This is a funny and interesting read, which became part of my children’s bedtime routine. Throughout the book, it demonstrates amusing ways children try to avoid going to bed. Each page shows a different struggle that mums and dads all over the world face every night. It became a personal favourite as it is a fascinating twist on teaching appropriate bedtime behaviours to children from a young age. My favourite part is when it’s time to turn off the light; the little dinosaur gives his mummy a kiss and whispers, “goodnight.”
A Doha mum asks: My three year old has difficulty sharing. What’s the best way to encourage him to share with his younger sibling?
Parents need to set a good example for their children, so patience and communication during any sort of issue (including sharing) are crucial. Always explain the situation to your child and teach him or her the value of open and verbal communication. Do not force habits upon your child as this will lead to increased stress and tension. Instead, try to explain or physically show the benefit of the habit you are trying to enforce. For example, learning to play a simple game that involves two people communicating the positive benefits of sharing and learning. Another example is sharing a snack. It is important to start small.