The investment in community development and early childcare is expected to pay off in the long run with a healthier and happier community.
Leading way to better life
Bhutan's model villages set up to promote basic health, sanitation and general living conditions will soon take on a larger role -- that of community development at the village level.
A joint UNICEF-Bhutan initiative, model villages are given basic amenities for safe drinking water and proper waste disposal, and a healthier living environment is encouraged as an example for neighbouring communities.
While the impact on people's lives have varied from village to village, the model village has introduced some of the important basics of healthy living.
"The model village concept has been instrumental in improving the hygiene and sanitation of some of our villages," said the District Health Officer in Wangduephrodang, a district in western Bhutan, "this is probably the most important step towards giving our children healthier living conditions."
Model villages are encouraged to build footpaths,latrines,and garbage pits, maintain their water supply systems and to establish kitchen gardens to improve nutrition.
Other practices introduced in model villages are encouragement of immunization and the enrolment of children into schools. Much of the success of model villages is dependent on the commitment and motivation of village health workers and community leaders, who are responsible for directing the activities that will make their villages a showcase for others.
Such models are now established in almost all the 202 geog (sub-district blocks) in the country and have become adopters of a variety of health and education programmes. Its initial success has prompted UNICEF Bhutan to expand the model village experience into a more general community-development programme.
"We will strengthen public health care activities and introduce early child care and development in these villages," said a spokesman for UNICEF Bhutan, "We will continue to focus our work on schools and religious institutions where more than one sixth of the population is enrolled."
There will be three components in the proposed programme: institutional water supply support; environmental sanitation; and child-based village development. Activities will be launched to improve personal hygiene and environmental sanitation as a step towards achieving health goals.
There will be an emphasis on behavioural change by integrating hygiene practices/awareness with limited hardware support in the form of water supply facilities.
A new area of focus is early childhood care (ECC) which emphasises the holistic development of the child from birth till eight yers of age. ECC is based on recent findings which show that the quality of care a child receives in the earliest years of life, from birth to age three, influences how the rest of childhood and adolescence will turn out.
"Early child care and development turns our attention to the wider development of the child," said child care specialist, Cassie Landers, "It covers essential and often neglected skills like social, cognitive and motor skills of the child."
UNICEF will assist the community to analyse the situation of children in their village, define areas for improving early childcare and providing a rich and stimulating environment for the child, and support the relevant training and motivation for parents and care-givers.
"We plan to move into communities in the model villages to help them help themselves," said UNICEF Representative Alegria Mendoza. The aim is to lessen disparities and help the communities build up confidence in solving their own community priorities and needs.
UNICEF expects to be working with village health workers, non-formal and formal multigrade education teachers, water committee caretakers and religious practitioners in a variety of programmes ranging from water supply and sanitation, health and hygiene, and early childcare and development.
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