(Akko) — The gentle stirring and stretching of little arms and legs from beneath a sea of fluffy pink comforters means it’s wake-up time at the Ahab Diab Day Care Center, the only center for Arab toddlers in Akko.

The clean scent of fresh laundry and the tinkling of gentle music permeate the cheerful center, strategically located near a community health clinic. Director Igbal Swaed practices grassroots marketing: On the broad sidewalk out in front, she encourages pregnant women on their way to prenatal checkups to have a look at the fee-for-service day care center she has created. She knows that many modern Arab women are eager to break the old-fashioned mold of leaving their children with a grandmother, seeking instead a more enriching environment.

At this center, named for an Arab student at the Technion who drowned at the age of 25, children learn English, movement, and music as part of their preschool curriculum. A speech therapist, a child psychologist, and an infant masseuse make regular visits and consult as needed. Hot breakfast and lunch are served each day. While the scenario sounds standard to an American consumer, it offers a courageous innovation in an Arab community. As testimonial to the timeliness of Igbal’s idea, the center opened with 35 children ages three months to three years. Six months later, it was fully subscribed with 52 children cared for by 12 employees.

“There’s a different approach to child care here,” she explained. “Here you have to pay, and yet people still prefer to come here.”

Igbal and her husband used their savings to secure the location and mortgaged their home to realize this dream, but it was the loan facilitated through KIEDF’s Arab-Israeli loan program that “made the difference in giving me the confidence to open,” she said.

“It would have been very difficult to open without the loan,” Igbal said. “We waited for it so we could do it right.”