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In Namibia, a new mother brings early childhood development to her community

© UNICEF Namibia/2017/Mutseyekwa
Vivian Ndungati sits with one of the children she cares for at the Masida Early Childhood Development Centre. Vivian established the centre after having her first child.

In Masidi village in north-east Namibia, there were previously no options for parents who wanted to send their children to a space dedicated to early childhood development. But soon after Vivian Ndungati had her first child, she decided to establish her own early childhood development centre, which has since gained overwhelming support from her community.

By Tapuwa Loreen Mutseyekwa

MASIDA VILLAGE, 25 April 2017 – The year 2013 was a positive turning point for Vivian Ndungati from Masida village, in north-east Namibia’s Zambezi Region. At the age of 23, Vivian gave birth to her first child and soon discovered a passion for helping children get a good start in life.

Armed with nothing but her enthusiasm and an idea, Vivian used the shade of a huge leafy tree in the centre of the village as the location for an Early Childhood Development (ECD) centre. The opening of the centre was also an opportunity for her to get an income, as parents pay a monthly fee of N$20 (US$1.54) for each of their children to attend the centre.

“The response from the community was amazing,” says Vivian. “This was the first time for an ECD centre to be set up in the village and the parents were supportive.”

Before long, more than 89 children were entrusted in her care and the community helped set up a makeshift classroom of sticks and mud to protect children from the rain. This humble structure provided space for children who QAwould otherwise have no such foundation of care and development.

© UNICEF Namibia/2017/Mutseyekwa
Vivian stands outside of the building that is used for the ECD centre. Her community was supportive of the centre and helped build the structure so the children can have a safe place to learn and grow.

Over time and in recognition of her efforts in the community, a more durable structure was built by a community member. In 2015, early learning was introduced at the primary school so her classes became more manageable. She now looks after 16 children, including her own four-year-old.

“I am happy with how I started and that the ECD centre provides a safe space for children’s daily stimulation, play and games,” she says. However, she admits they need more resources to give children the best learning opportunities. As she cradles one of the learners on her lap, Vivian points out that there is no sleeping space for the children – one of the many hurdles she is still trying to overcome in running the centre.

The Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare gives a monthly stipend of N$1500 (US$116) to support ECD caregivers like Vivian, but this has been viewed as insufficient and sporadic. Attracting skilled caregivers has been difficult. In a few months’ time, Vivian will need to take time off to give birth to her second baby, but no one else in the community is willing to stand in for her during this period.

The challenges she details are also cited in an assessment that was recently conducted as part of the Office of the First Lady and UNICEF’s agenda to invest further in integrated ECD in Namibia.

© UNICEF Namibia/2017/Mutseyekwa
UNICEF Country Representative and an EU official during a visit to Masida ECD centre. After a recent assessment that showed some of the shortcomings of Namibia's ECD centres, UNICEF is working with the Government to improve ECD centres across the country.

The 2016 assessment was carried out in collaboration with the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare and the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture. It shows that within 32 ECD centres throughout Namibia, there is urgent need to support and improve the physical structures, the learning environments, the health and hygiene facilities, and the nutritional intake of children at the centres.

In many of the centres, basic facilities such as toilets and running water are lacking, while more than 90 per cent of centres do not provide any food for the children.

“This assessment gives us a good understanding of the current situation…and is an important stepping stone towards improving quality resources and early learning at ECD centres across the country,” said UNICEF Representative, Micaela Marques de Sousa.

What Vivian has established in Masida village is indeed an admirable demonstration of the commitment and dedication that communities have to improve the lives of children, even when resources are limited.

As she nurtures and teaches the children in her care, the centre’s alumni pass through on their way home from the nearby primary school. Though they’ve already graduated, they still return to steal a moment of the friendly, caring and joyous ambience that surrounds Masida ECD centre.



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