A best start in life for children in the remote villages of Ayeyarwaddy Delta
By Sandar Linn
Daedayae, Myanmar, 23 April 2011– Mary Myint, a six year old girl with a infectious big smile, warmly greets her friends, teachers, visitors at the Zalet Kone village’s Early Childhood Development (ECD) centre in Daedayae Township, Ayeyarwaddy Division.
Children leave the ECD centre at five years but Mary Myint is an exception. Her growth was not at par with other children of her age. She suffered developmental delay due to lack of proper nutrition and care as a newborn. Mary Myint comes to the centre everyday with her mother, Daw Than Nwet, 40, by boat from their home across the river.
Daw Than Nwet admits that taking her daughter to the centre everyday is not an easy job, however, she has been doing it for a year now and is determined to continue what is needed until she sees major changes in Mary’s growth. “That my daughter can walk and talk now is a miracle in itself.
“She also sings songs and tells stories that truly fill our home with joy and laughter,” said Daw Than Nwet, a mother of four, as her eyes welled up with tears.
Daw Than Nwet thinks if her older daughter, who suffers from major physical and mental disability, had similar access to the ECD centre on time, she could have probably enjoyed a healthier life now. Daw Naw Le Htoo Whar, 29, a facilitator at the village ECD centre agrees with Daw Than Nwet on the progress made by Mary Myint since joining the centre.
“I still remember how it was when Mary Myint first came to the centre. She could not walk or talk. She acted timid and afraid in front of people, defecated openly and her hygiene behavior was very poor,” she said.
With patience and persistence, Daw Naw Le Htoo Whar and other facilitators at the centre, worked on Mary Myint’s case in every way possible. She is now an example to the community of children participating in ECD programmes who register improvements in health, cognitive abilities and social and personal skills.
The facilitators at the centre work as volunteers. They receive a token amount of 25,000 Kyats (equivalent to US$25) once a year as an incentive made through community contributions.
Daw Naw Le Htoo Whar, a mother of two, joined the centre as an assistant in 2008 when the former facilitator left.She subsequently attended ECD training conducted by UNICEF.
“The ECD training I received was a turning point in my life. I knew nothing about early childhood development before and the skills I learnt from the training contribute so much to my ability to help children like Mary Myint,” she said.
The centre was also provided with ECD kit, play materials and books for the children to join and they are one-time support. Then community has to initiate and create play materials for children. At present, there are not enough outdoor play things for children.
She stressed on the need for investing more time and effort to raise awareness and understanding among villagers on the importance of early childhood development and early learning stimulation at home. This is not a common practice.
“We all have the best intention for our children; we just need to do more to offer them the best support to start their lives. Living in poor communities, many children have no support or access to early learning and development,” said Daw Naw Le Htoo Whar.
At present, about 26 children from Zalet Kone village and nearby villages attend the ECD centre. The centre began functioning as a pre-school established by the Kayin Baptist Church in 2005.
In 2007, the pre-school was transformed into an early childhood development centre supported by UNICEF. Despite the devastations endured by the village by Cyclone Nargis thress years ago, life has slowly came back to normal and the ECD Centre located in the village are unrelenting in its effort to in spite of its limited resources, to give children the best start in their lives.