|In Bas Congo province, children and residents greet a Japanese Government delegation, including Ambassador to DR Congo Kanji Kitazawa and Global Issues Division Director Atushi Ueno.|
Earlier this month, a Japanese Government delegation visited primary schools and an early childhood centre in Kwilu-Ngongo, Bas Congo province, DR Congo. Here is a report on their visit.
KWILU-NGONGO, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 23 April 2009 – Like many other provinces in DR Congo, Bas-Congo province does not have enough kindergartens for children. Even where preschools exist, they charge fees that most parents cannot afford. Thus, many young children stay at home, often with older siblings or parents who otherwise could seek for employment.
So the early childhood development (ECD) centre here seems well appreciated by children, parents and the rest of the community. The centre, which charges a low monthly fee of $2, provides a communal space where children aged three to five can learn and play together, and be prepared for primary school.
The Japanese Government delegation that visited the province in early April – including Ambassador to DR Congo Kanji Kitazawa and Global Issues Division Director Atushi Ueno from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – saw what children were learning at the centre, including basic numeracy, literacy and handwashing practices.
Benefits of ECD attendance
A study conducted by UNICEF DR Congo in 2008 shows that ECD attendance helps preschool-age children make their transition to primary school – and not only in an academic sense.
|Handwashing is a key practice promoted through the ‘Healthy Schools, Healthy Villages’ initiative in DR Congo, which receives support from the Government of Japan.|
“When well nurtured and cared for in their earliest years, children are more likely to survive, to have fewer illnesses and to develop intellectual, emotional and social skills to their full potential,” said UNICEF Deputy Representative in DR Congo Steven Lauwerier, who accompanied the Japanese delegates.
“There is a lot of enthusiasm about ECD centres,” added Nickson Umba, who works for UNICEF partner ESSOR Congo on the early-childhood project. “Newly constructed, low-fee centres keep attracting children, and the enrollment rate rises. At the same time, the capacity of the community to keep the centres running properly, to ensure the quality of care, needs to be reinforced and sustained.”
‘Healthy Schools, Healthy Villages’
The delegation also visited two primary schools in the area, as well as the village of Mema, which is part of ‘Healthy Schools, Healthy Villages’ – a national strategy supported by UNICEF with assistance from the Japanese Government and the United Nations Trust Fund for Human Security.
Daniel Sidimonika, a fifth-grade student at one of the primary schools that has benefited from Japanese Government assistance, is a member of the school hygiene brigade. “I know what to do after using the toilets,” he told the visitors. “I take my fellow students to the tap and show them how to do handwashing whenever I see them getting out of the toilet doors”.
According to UNICEF DR Congo Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Philippe Barragne-Bigot, about one in seven Congolese children under the age of five dies from diarrhoea-related diseases. By providing access to safe water and basic sanitation facilities, he noted, the Healthy Schools, Healthy Villages initiative contributes directly to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals on environmental sustainability and child survival.
Reaching vulnerable communities
Many provinces across DR Congo are experiencing levels of vulnerability that exceed emergency thresholds. Bas-Congo, for example, has one of the country’s highest under-five mortality rates.
In rural areas of the country, only 25 per cent of the population has access to improved sanitation facilities. Key health practices, including handwashing, are being promoted through theatre performances and community radio programmes that convey key messages of behaviour change.
These messages will be reinforced through distribution of hygiene manuals and other training materials.
The Healthy Schools, Healthy Villages initiative is showing how protecting and empowering villages and schools can help sustain community development. Scaling up the programme nationwide will lead the way to reaching the most vulnerable communities.