Camps a lifesaver for working parents

Keeping children occupied during the school holidays can be tricky, especially when both parents have jobs and cannot afford to take the summer off.

United Arab Emirates - Dubai - July 8th, 2010:  James Masterman works with children in a summer camp at the Sports Hall at Hayya Meadows Club.  (Galen Clarke/The National)
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DUBAI // Mothers who at one time would have fled the heat with their children to relax in cooler climes now have one eye on the clock as they drop off their little ones at summer camps and head to work.

Rather than going away for the summer break, many children are now staying in Dubai because their parents have a limited period to take holidays. Summer camps are a lifesaver for many parents, particularly working mothers, who fret a little less about keeping hyperactive children occupied away from the blazing sun. The camps offer daily and monthly packages and cost about Dh500 for five days on average.

"This year we get away for a week, no more. Last year we went home as soon as school let out in July and returned two weeks before school began," said Joni Davis, from Scotland, who began work as a manager in a department store four months ago. Her daughters, aged seven and six, run off to dance on a stage and cut out butterfly shapes in a sunny room at a centre run by Dubai Holiday Camps near Festival City.

While the older girl bops to the beat of Billy Jean, the younger girl sprinkles glitter over a large sketch on a table in front of large windows. "I don't worry so much when my kids are here," said Ms Davis. "I know they are having fun with kids their age and they come back full of stories of what they did at camp." Ms Davis, an economics graduate, returned to work after an eight-year break after three friends left Dubai last year when their husbands lost jobs in the construction industry.

"This job is my back-up," she said. On a nearby court, boys yell and run on to a bouncy castle. Chris Wind, the managing director of Dubai Holiday Camps, blows a whistle and they immediately file into a queue before bounding on to the castle again. One of the emirate's oldest camps, this is its first year at its new venue near Festival City. Despite the new location, 100 children turned up when schools shut last month.

While most camps run until late afternoon, there are activities here for children until 5 pm. "We try to make it easier for parents," said Mr Wind. "We offer flexibility." He said in earlier years mothers and children returned to Dubai just before school resumed. "Now it's normal for them to stay the summer," Mr Wind said. "What has changed over the past year is that there are more families with both parents working. They have limited holidays and don't want to take all the holidays at the same time. They prefer to space it out."

At the Summer Sports Camp in Dubai's Hayya Meadows Club, Andrea D'Aniello, a Canadian, watches over her son as coaches from SoccerKids divide children into groups. She recalls worried phone calls to her husband a month ago while she was on an internship with an international aid agency. "I was in New York on business and calling him up to ask: 'Can you check this camp or that one?' We need good programmes for children in summer when both parents are working," she said.

Ms D'Aniello is also studying for a course in fundraising. Checking again that her son had settled in, she said: "He looks as if he is fine. I can run off and study." Her son kicks a football around in a spacious indoor court where children also play basketball and dodgeball. Others go for a swim with coaches. James Masterman, the head of SoccerKids Dubai, which runs the camp, said eight years ago there were sufficient numbers only for a three-week camp.

"Now we can do the whole nine weeks," he said. "Earlier, there were never enough children around in August." He attributed the shift to an increasing trend of working mothers. "Dubai is an expensive place for accommodation, tuition fees. For parents to survive here both parents have to work." Behind him children squeal with laughter as a coach targets them with the ball. "We try and make it fun, enjoyable," said Mr Masterman. "They have done nine months of education. They need fun time."

The camps also help children make friends. Another working mum, Ingrid Jacob, from Britain, chatted with a group of boys to find students from Emirates International School, which her son joins next term. "I'm hoping familiar faces at summer school will ease his breaking in to a new school."