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Malawi pioneers community-based Early Child Development

UNICEF/Malawi/2008/van der Merwe
© UNICEF/Malawi/2008/van der Merwe
Young children attending CBCCs have distinct benefits. They develop their physical, mental and social skills, enjoy a nutritious meal, and receive psychosocial support and cognitive stimulation which puts them in good stead for primary school learning.

By Victor Chinyama

The nondescript building could pass for any other except on Saturday mornings, when it is transformed into a beehive of activity by children. The children sing “Let Us Be Glad and Dance’, their voices reaching a delightful crescendo with each shake of the limbs, their joy a world away from the pain and sorrow that define their lives.

The Kanengo AIDS Support Organisation (KASO) is attended by 350 children every Saturday morning, many of them orphans. The children engage in fun activities like drama, song and dance, a much-needed psychosocial intervention in a country where half a million children have lost one or both parents to AIDS. Founded in 1997, KASO has since opened seven other community-based child care centres (CBCCs) catering for 4,000 children.

The centres provide play activities for children aged between 3 to 5 years, home-based care for those living with AIDS, a Children’s Corner for those aged between 7 and 18, and Girl Guides’ activities. There are 5,700 such centres in Malawi reaching more than 400,000 children.

But it is the support these centres give to the very young that has caught the imagination of early child care practitioners in Africa.  Children at these centres interact with play materials and with each other and develop cognitively through songs, games, stories and other forms of play.

The CBCCs’ learning programmes are run by volunteers from the community. An elected committee of parents and local leaders oversees the day-to-day management of the CBCC.  Learning materials are locally sourced. At KASO for example, the children use clay to learn how to mould cars and cooking utensils. They are also taught how to use the toilet and wash hands, and their play area is equipped with swings. About 190 children attend these early childhood development classes four times a week and nutrition is a big part of the attraction.

“They receive porridge at mid-morning break,” says Arton Chikaoneka, the coordinator of the early child development programme. “We make sure they have lunch here before they go home. For many of these children, it is the only meal of the day.”

UNICEF/Malawi/2008/van der Merwe
© UNICEF/Malawi/2008/van der Merwe
CBCCs help to prepare young children aged between 3 and 5 years for school.

Malawi, like most countries in sub-Saharan Africa, experienced a proliferation of privately-owned preschools in the last two decades, many of them located in urban areas. In a country where half the population lives on less than 32 US cents a day, these schools were simply beyond the reach of most Malawians. The HIV and AIDS pandemic also left an army of children without access to early childhood care, overstretching the capacities of social welfare officers.

In response, communities began establishing CBCCs. From 649 in 1996, the centres had mushroomed to more than 5,000 in 2005. The early centres did not have buildings and their activities took place in borrowed classrooms or makeshift shelters. Few of the caregivers and committee members were formally trained and the quality of care provided left much to be desired.

The situation improved somewhat when, in 2003, UNICEF helped the Government to draft a national policy on early child development . A five-year plan was subsequently developed to improve the quality of services provided by the CBCCs.

UNICEF has since helped the Government to develop a syllabus, training manuals, a caregivers’ guide which have been used to train the volunteer teachers and caregivers. UNICEF has also recently funded an inventory to ascertain the number of CBCCs in the country and the quality of care provided.

Young children attending CBCCs have distinct benefits. They develop their physical, mental and social skills, enjoy a nutritious meal, and receive psychosocial support and cognitive stimulation which puts them in good stead for primary school learning later.

 

 
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