Child Centres – UNICEF's community spaces for mother and child
The teacher explains how a caterpillar turns into a butterfly as about 40 children under six make a wild stab at drawing a kupu-kupu (Indonesian for “butterfly”). Crayons fly off the page, attention wanders and a few toddlers start flapping their arms like wings. Smiling mothers sit at the back of the open walled room, watching their children having fun.
It’s the daily 2 hour session for the under 6 brigade at the Lapang Dua UNICEF Child Centre. There’s dancing, singing, drawing, counting and fun with the alphabet, six days a week. Most of the children come from the internally displaced persons camp right across the street, but any under 6 year old is welcome here, and it’s free.
UNICEF started building child centres like the one at Lapang Dua in the immediate aftermath of the 2004 tsunami. Initially the 21 centres in Aceh dealt with family reunification, family tracing and registration, gave out information about child abuse and trafficking, plus psycho social activities for children. The child centres now reach out to women’s and mother’s groups, youth groups and members of the community who wish to use the facilities. There are other organised activities such as feeding and nutrition classes.
“The centres have become very important to the communities,” says Hadi, the UNICEF Meulaboh Child Protection Officer. “They provide an important resource for the community where we can share information with people. And they have become real focal points for meeting and socialising and very important to women who do not have the same freedom of movement as men do.”
Riska, whose five year old son Iwan attends the Lapang Dua daily Child Centre group says that the classes have helped her son become more motivated.
“He hates to miss even one day,” she says. “Counting and painting are his favourite things and he has become very good at them, so I am pleased to have these activities.”
Shy Iwan agrees he likes “letters and numbers” and says he wants to play “every day”.
Riska usually drops Iwan at the group and then goes back across the road to do her chores and housework. “If he wasn’t at the centre he would just be wandering around the camp with no aim,” she says. “With these classes he is very busy and sleeps very well every night.”
UNICEF hopes that the centres will be come self supporting, says Zubedy Koteng, Child Protection Officer in Banda Aceh. He wants children and young people to develop roles in managing the use of the centres.
“Children should be given the opportunities to say what they want and how they want it done,” says Zubedy. “They should lead activities and have their own agendas. It’s important that children are able to work out issues for themselves.”
Such responsibility is a long way off for 5 year old Iwan. He ends todays session with a group dance and a raucous out of tune sing-along. The teacher checks to makes sure he has been washing his hands, he has a quick snack, and then it’s home to bed for a well earned nap.