VOICES: Dr. Layla Al-Hayas

<h5>Executive Director, Monitoring and Innovation Sector at the Department of Community Development in Abu Dhabi</h5>
Executive Director, Monitoring and Innovation Sector at the Department of Community Development in Abu Dhabi

Could you briefly introduce your organization to our readers?

The Department of Community Development in Abu Dhabi (DCD) was established in 2018 to regulate the social sector in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and is committed to supporting every member of the Abu Dhabi community. Its foundations are built on the vision of our nation’s founding father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.  He recognized the importance of social welfare and community development in the country’s overall prosperity. Guided by the values of respect, credibility, empathy, responsibility, passion for giving, and kindness, we aspire to provide a dignified life for all. 

What prompted you to launch the ‘Listen First’ initiative in the UAE?

We constantly strive to implement initiatives and campaigns with the relevant authorities and entities, including the UNODC.   Evidence suggests that families play a critical role in the development of children. Hence the UAE pays special attention to children and families and has strategies, infrastructure, and programs to boost family cohesion. We at DCD work closely with families to empower them with relevant knowledge and skills. For example, children mainly learn the art of hearing and listening through the interactions between family members. The family is the social environment or “the first life school,” teaching the foundations of life, and effective communication skills. Hence, we use ‘Listen First’ materials and videos to raise awareness among families and caregivers about the importance of actively listening to children, monitoring their daily routines, participating in their activities, and being patient with them.

Could you describe the steps you took to launch ‘Listen First’?

The ‘Listen First’ campaign was launched in UAE on June 26 this year. The first phase includes disseminating a set of educational materials, including the science sheets and videos. After that, we are planning to distribute these materials more widely through other venues such as nurseries and schools. This will help us increase awareness about the importance of active listening and other topics to prevent risky behaviors. Additionally, the initiative highlights the important role of parents in educating their children about the digital world and listening to their opinions and concerns,  to better protect them from online abuse and bullying.

What other organizations or associations did you partner with to roll this initiative out?

The ‘Listen First’ campaign was launched in cooperation with the UNODC,  the Family Development Foundation, and Abu Dhabi Early Childhood Authority.

How do you foresee utilizing ‘Listen First’ in the UAE?

At DCD, we focus on people and invest in them to create sustainable social development and build a cohesive and happy community. We strive to develop an active and responsible society that embraces children of all ages. Through ‘Listen First,’ we try to increase family awareness on the need to allocate time to children and their important role in supporting children, listening to them, and attending to their social and emotional needs.  ‘Listen First’ is one of the tools to raise awareness among families and caregivers about active listening. Other tools include parenting programs and targeted programs for vulnerable families.

Do you have some tips or recommendations for countries that might be interested in launching the ‘Listen First’ initiative?

We are happy to collaborate with our partners in this significant initiative to raise awareness among community members in general and families in particular, about the need to listen to children early.  Research shows that listening to children is one of the most critical factors in effectively preventing them from indulging in dangerous behavior, notably bullying, substance abuse, and violence. Furthermore, these studies emphasize that parents who listen to their children help them in their proper development of personality and self-confidence, which enables them to avoid risky behavior, especially in adolescence. From our point of view, the family is the main building block of society from which several concepts contribute to achieving sustainable development goals, such as education and health, in addition to the most important societal values such as trust, respect, responsibility, affection, justice, equality, tolerance, and coexistence. Moreover, the family can provide sound education to children that support their mental and physical development. Children are our future; they are a pillar of our society. With this in mind, we advise nations to launch the ‘Listen First’ initiative.

Dr. Layla Alhyas received her Ph.D. in Public health and primary care from Imperial College London and her Master's in Clinical pharmacy international practice and policy from UCL. An experienced professional in social policy and strategies development, design, and management of public health and social intervention, she is currently the executive director of the social monitoring and innovation sector in the Department of Community Development (DCD) Abu Dhabi

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