Catch them young, watch them grow

The power of early childhood development

By Sellina Kainja
Children playing on the swings at Makhankula CBCC in Dedza
UNICEF Malawi/2020/HD Plus
29 January 2020

There is a famous Chichewa proverb that says; “M’mera mpoyamba” literally translated as catch them while young. The saying emphasizes the importance of a child’s formative years and how whatever happens at this early stage has a bearing in a child’s later years.

It is well-known that in the earliest years of life, especially from pregnancy to three years old, babies and children need nutrition, protection, and stimulation for a healthy brain development. In Malawi however, many children still miss out on good nutrition and brain stimulation because of lack parenting skills would help in child’s brain development.

UNICEF is bridging this gap, one community at a time through the Early Childhood Development (ECD) project. One such community where ECD is being implemented is in Makankhula Village, T/A Kaphuka, Dedza district, wherewith the help of Finnish National Committee for UNICEF, is implementing integrated childhood development services.

UNICEF reckons that the first five years is a vital period in a child’s life cycle to ensure children get off to the best start in life. ECD, refers to the physical, cognitive, linguistic, and socio-emotional development of a child for the first 1000 days, right from conception and up to five years of age. Hence, it is critical that the right interventions are provided to children. UNICEF’s goal of providing right interventions at the right time in order to boost a child’s development and provide a fair start in life is made possible through the Caregivers who are trained to handle children but also provide critical nutrition and parenting skills to parents.

Caregiver Katalina watching children play
UNICEF Malawi/2020/HD Plus
Caregiver Katalina watching children play. She is one of the caregivers that was trained with support from UNICEF.

Katalina Hassan a caregiver at Makankhula Child Based Care Center sings praises of the transformative power of ECD interventions and the training she has received from UNICEF.

Hassan said she was trained on integrated Early Childhood Development package to help a child holistically and reach out to children as caregiver to stimulate a child’s brain development while at a very young age. The other crucial lessons she was trained on include child nutrition, parenting skills and how child-friendly physical games help in health development of a child.

“I must confess that the training has helped me to transform my life and that of family as well as my community. I benefited quite a lot from the training. With the nutrition knowledge, parenting skills I no longer have malnourished children. As I impart this knowledge to my community, I am also benefitting from it,” she says..

According to Hassan, Makankhula CBCC infrastructure built by UNICEF, is a haven for children. She adds that apart from providing shelter to learners, it has become a playground for children around Makankhula Community who would otherwise have never seen a playground in their lifetime due to deprivation which is quite apparent in the community.

“Some children never knew about a seesaw, swing or slide before, but because we have them here and the children spend their time here playing. This place (Makankhula CBCC) is also a place where parents come to leave their children as they go about with their daily chores. They do so because they know that the children will be well looked after,” she said adding that the CBCC is the pride of her community.

When the CBCC started, many community members were skeptical of sending their children to the center, but after seeing the results of the few brave ones who sent their children to the center, Hassan says, it has now been entrenched in the community and many parents now know the importance of sending their children to the centre.

“Before this centre many parents lacked parenting skills such as getting involved in physical games and interacting with their children. As a result, most children had difficulties in comprehending even simple instructions. But that’s the thing of the past. Most children are now able to express themselves and take instructions. They are even able to tell their parents if they want to go to the toilet,” Hassan explains.

She added that during visitations around the community, they encourage parents to interact and play with their children.

“I am thankful to UNICEF for this opportunity. I urge all parents that are still doubting the CBCC to please send their children to the centre and they will see the difference,” says Hassan.