|© UNICEF/2008/ Susanti|
|The UNICEF-supported Early Childhood Development Centre in Aceh helps prepare tsunami-affected children for school.|
By Ivy Susanti
ACEH, Indonesia, 22 September 2008 – The massive destruction caused by the December 2004 tsunami has left almost no trace in the Paya Baru sub-district. New, permanent houses are sprouting along the arterial street connecting this area to western towns along the coast of Aceh, while small businesses are beginning to flourish.
In a temporary shelter located a few metres away from the street, 10 toddlers sing happily with some trained staff members while other young children are engrossed in a story. On this day, the children have been learning about colours, shapes and numbers at this early childhood development (ECD) centre.
The maximum age for a child at this ECD centre is four, so these children were all born shortly before or since the tsunami. After attending the centre, their parents will register them in a state-run kindergarten, where they will continue their formal education.
Changing attitudes about school
Dewiyana accompanies her sons, Mohamad Rizki, 3, and Amiruddin, 2, to the ECD centre every day. She says that after four months there, she noticed a change in her sons.
“My sons can sing and draw pictures. They can distinguish colours and tell stories. Moreover, I also noticed that they are more independent. I am very happy to see their growth progress,” she says.
At the centres, children are taught to develop fine motor skills through activities such as playing with blocks and drawing. They also sing songs and are introduced to numbers and the alphabet.
A welcome initiative
Nuraini, 34, is the Coordinator at the Paya Baru ECD centre. After she lost her husband in the tsunami, she attended an ECD training session conducted by UNICEF and, approximately one month later, started the centre.
“Children who graduate from the ECD centre are not afraid to go to school for the first time,” says Nuraini. “This is one main reason why the ECD programme is attractive to parents.”
Once the impact of the programme became clear, the Aceh Jaya authority began requiring children to attend the ECD programmes before they enrol in the formal school.
“After I returned from the training, I called the village head who gathered the villagers for a meeting,” says Nuraini. “I spent some time to make the villagers understand about the importance of early childhood development and early learning stimulation at home and in the local community, because they had never heard about it.”
Returning to normalcy
About 45 children from three sub-villages in Paya Baru, as well as neighbouring sub-districts, attend the ECD centre at present. In the near future, the centre will be permanently stationed at a nearby community health facility that is being built with support from UNICEF.
Many parents say that children who take part in the ECD programme develop their skills faster and are more independent than those who don’t. They feel that these children are more receptive to teaching and learning when they get to elementary school.
Despite the destruction the villages of Paya Baru endured, life is returning to normal here, and young children are getting the head start they deserve.