The Tennessean (July 9) -- In the already uncertain world of child care, while other parents searchfor a safe, nurturing environment, the women at the end of Donna KayDrive worry about pork.

They fear that their children, too young to know better, might eat someof the meat forbidden by their Muslim religion if a day-care workerserved it.

They worry adult caretakers won't bathe the youngest children accordingto custom after they use the bathroom.

Workers at secular or Christian-based day cares most certainly won'tlead the older children in the Muslims' series of daily prayers, saidthe women gathered in the living room of Sarab Naqshabandi's house. "We don't know any women who take their children to child care," thehostess said.

Her neighbor, Tavga Rashid, nodded. The women, all professionals, haveput their careers on hold and their families into financial strainbecause of the situation, they said.

"We would like to be working," Rashid said.

Nashville-area Muslim parents, including a growing number of immigrantsand refugees, say a lack of religiously and culturally appropriate childcare is creating special hardships for their families. There are 442home-based and larger, commercial child-care facilities in DavidsonCounty licensed by the state's Department of Human Services. Stateworkers said they were not aware of even one specifically geared towardthe Muslim faith.

Although Midstate Muslims are trying to create a solution, their mostimmediate hope fell through this summer when a grant request drawn up bya consortium of agencies did not get funding from the local United Way. The proposal, led by the Kurdish Human Rights Watch, the Iraqi House,the Nashville New Americans Coalition, Sudanese Community Association ofTennessee and Somali Refugee Community, asked for funding for a "FamilyResource Center." The applicants say it would have been used toestablish a series of at-home day-care facilities run by and for Muslimmothers, which could eventually lead to the opening of a licensedchild-care center in a commercial or school setting.

Along lower Donna Kay Drive, a stretch of duplexes off the NolensvillePike corridor, at least one of the 20 or so Kurdish families could haveopened its home as a state-licensed Muslim-run child-care facility.

They need it, the women said, because of experiences like Naqshabandi's.

Six months ago, she had specifically told Head Start workers that herson Ahmed was not to be fed any pork, she said. The mother said shetalked directly to teachers and administrators, specifying the request.Still, dropping in to visit during a meal, she found her 4-year-oldwith a fistful and mouthful of the meat. She snatched it away and turnedon his caretakers.

"I got mad -- whew!" Naqshabandi said later. "And he was crying becauseI took it from him."

The religious rules forbidding pork also apply to pork byproducts, whichcan be hidden in gelatin, some cookies, and candy, say Muslim mothers.Neighbors who visited Naqshabandi's house to discuss the day-careproblem know to search the fine print on food packages to weed outproducts with the offending ingredients.

The mothers removed their shoes and settled onto the living room couchesopposite a woven Islamic verse that hangs on the wall. At their feet,the youngest children played.

They are eager to get out, back to their professions, the women said. Intheir hometowns in Iraq, Naqshabandi was an X-ray technician. Rashidtaught at an elementary school, and Aesha Maroof worked in a healthdepartment.

Along Donna Kay Drive, the women have learned to work together, watchingeach other's children if one mother needs to run an errand. They firstgot to know each other in a refugee camp in Guam before they settled inNashville four years ago. Even in the camp, they had heard throughKurdish women that the child-care situation in Nashville was bad, theysaid.

Other Muslim women living here said they had no such warning. ZulfatSuara, a certified public accountant who moved from Houston toWashington, D.C., and then to Nashville three years ago, said MiddleTennessee was the first place where she could not find a Muslim-runday-care center. Suara said she "went out of her way" to find otherMuslim women willing to take her children into their homes.

"My kids have never been part of the mainstream," said the mother, whoseyoungest child is 4.

There is still hope of United Way funding to start a Muslim-run program,said Renata Soto, who works with the agency. Soto said a selectioncommittee decided against offering the Muslim coalition $20,000 to funda director's position and start its work this year, but United Way wantsto work with the group to do more research and encourage it to submitanother proposal for the 2003 funding cycle, she said.

In the meantime, Kurdish Human Rights Watch Program Director TahirHussain said the problems faced by Muslim families will persist.

Mainstream child care can keep the children occupied, but "if they don'tstart learning their language, their culture and their religiousrequirements, they're going to miss it," he said.

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