In the Heart of the Market: A Place for Children
At the intersection of the Great North Road and the Tanzania Zambia Railway is a small, bustling town called Kapiri Mposhi. It is a market town, where goods of all kinds can be found.
Thanks to an Early Child Care and Development (ECCD) Centre named Amundame, which from the Lenje language translates to “Take Care of Me,” one important thing is found less and less frequently in Kapiri Mposhi’s markets during school hours, children.
This unique ECCD centre was originally opened and supported by the Maureen Mwanawasa Community Initiative (MMCI), a foundation whose namesake is Zambia’s former First Lady.
According to Michael Banda, UNICEF Zambia Education Specialist, the centre is special because of its focus on Kipiri Mposhi’s most vulnerable children.
“The children of women who work in the markets need extra attention. Almost from the day they are born, they are taken to the markets. As they grow older, they are relegated to play under the tables, with little or no was interaction with others and barely any food. There is food everywhere being sold, but that is saved for generating income, not feeding children. Cognitively and nutritionally, these children are the hungriest,” he says.
Amundame is a community-based school run by a few paid staff and numerous volunteer caregivers from the community. Gaining community support – or in this case, market support, as the market is the community force here – has not been difficult. Aggrey, deputy coordinator of the centre, explains, “Most of the parents here are illiterate. They are from small villages and have been marketers their whole lives. But now they see the value of sending their children to school as early as possible. They see that their children are stimulated, bringing home poems that they have written and recited. The children are becoming smarter, and the parents are proud and glad to send their children here.”
Ruth, Amundame head coordinator, echoes Aggrey’s comments.
“By the time they graduate to primary school – which means entering the Government school system at age 7 – they are often ahead of other children who have not been enrolled in preschool. Teachers report that these children have a greater capacity to learn and interact in school,” she concludes.
In the last several years, community-based schools have developed such positive reputations in Zambia, particularly within the Ministry of Education, that the Government is encouraging more communities totake the lead for early childhood development and education programmes. Global studies also confirm the effectiveness of community-based schooling, especially those that serve the development of young children at the earliest stages of cognitive and intellectual growth.
Along with success and innovation, however, come challenges. At the Kapiri Mposhi centre, space is a major issue. Enrolment at the centre currently stands at full capacity; about 160 children, ages 9 months to 6 years, attend classes five days a week. The local market council is responsible for recruiting and selecting children for the school term, but due to space limitations restrictions have been imposed. Only one child per family can enroll each term.
“It’s a challenging job,” Ruth says. “One must really have the heart to work with very young children. They have so many needs. Some are orphans because their parents are dead from HIV and AIDS. Many are sickly with asthma, anemia, and are even HIV positive themselves. They are hungry. Sometimes this is the only place where they get a full meal all day. We do growth monitoring to make sure that they are progressing properly. But on holiday, when they are not here daily, they lose weight. It is a difficult job that requires a heart for children.”
Lunch represents another ingredient in the centre’s recipe for success: its contribution to the local market economy. The centre goes to great lengths to make sure that its food and supplies are procured locally, supporting the local marketers, and ultimately, the local economy.
“It’s equally important that the marketers feel invested in the school. Without their support and encouragement, the children would still be on their mothers’ backs or under the tables. The centre provides economic incentive as well, freeing mothers to trade their goods, hopefully helping them to make a bit more money for their families,” UNICEF’s Banda explains.