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Central African Republic

Breaking the cycle of poverty: UNICEF’s early childhood programme in CAR

UNICEF Image: UNICEF image: Central African Republic poverty
© UNICEF Central African Republic/2006/Willemot
The community centre at Cotonaf, Central African Republic, where young children are weighed and measured.

By Yves Willemot

BANGUI, Central African Republic, 23 May 2006 – Poverty is widespread in the Central African Republic (CAR). Years of insecurity, instability and lack of governmental investment in social services have plunged the country into a deep crisis.

One child out of five dies before reaching the age of five. CAR has not only one of the highest child mortality rates in the world, but also has the lowest school enrolment. UNICEF is working with the government and development partners to give the children of CAR a better future.

Efforts in two villages

Boda is a small diamond town west of the capital, Bangui. Very little of the industry’s income is invested in the area. Children’s health and education is often neglected because parents are forced to spend long periods away from their homes looking for diamonds.

UNICEF Community Development Officer Daniel Gbele first met with community leaders in Boda two years ago to address the issue of poverty.

“We agreed to start a programme that would break the circle of poverty the families in the village have been living in for years, by taking care of the health and education of the young children and their mothers,” he said.

The village of Cotonaf, a few miles north of Boda, was among the first to start a community centre for young children. Each day, just over 100 children between the ages of two and five are sent to the centre, where they sing, draw and get important medical attention, including vaccinations. They also receive a meal provided by the World Food Programme.

UNICEF Image: UNICEF image: Cotonaf, Central African Republic community centre
© UNICEF Central African Republic/2006/Willemot
Noella Samedi arrives at the community centre for children in Cotonaf, CAR.

Extending the programme’s reach

Parents are delighted that their children are getting vital care. Ringo Samedi is the father of two children, the younger of whom goes to the centre every day.

“The centre takes care of Noella while my wife and I are at work,” said Mr. Samedi. “She learns a lot of useful things. She speaks much better than other children in the village who do not go.”

Boda and Cotonaf are just 2 of the 20 communities across CAR in which UNICEF is supporting early child development and care. Today the programme reaches 40,000 people – about 1 per cent of the country’s population.

The CAR Government says it wants to replicate the programme in five districts and extend its reach to more than a third of the population. 

The Millennium Development Goals are far from met in CAR. But UNICEF and its partners are backing the government’s efforts to make real progress towards reducing the high levels of child mortality, expanding education opportunities and alleviating poverty in one of the world’s poorest countries.



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