The need to invest in community based childcare centres
A comfortable learning environment for children
Kachezi CCAP in the area of Traditional Authority Kaphuka in Dedza is an unassuming place. Sheltered from the elements by a coterie of trees, its ground is as rocky as they come.
Tadala Community-Based Childcare Centre (CBCC), which was opened in April 2020, also calls this home, operating out of the church structure at no fee, but the community is far from happy with the situation.
The place lacks safe playing areas for the kids, with caregivers forced to improvise supports for swings from the branches of the trees.
Falesi Kadam'manja, the chairperson of the management committee for Tadala CBCC, says her committee’s ambition is to have structures of their own.
“We want to strengthen our relationship with chiefs. We bought land where we want to build our structures so that our children can learn and play in a suitable environment. Each chief was asked to contribute towards the building project,” she says.
Tadala CBCC rose out of the ashes of a previous CBCC which was privately run, but it closed shop after the owner left the area.
"As a community, we approached chiefs to consider starting up a new CBCC because our children had nowhere to go. The chiefs agreed with us and we started this CBCC with some caregivers from the private CBCC,” she says.
The motivation to open the CBCC, Kadam’manja explains, arose after parents realised that children who have gone through such institutions perform better in primary school than those who have not.
Tadala CBCC does not a charge a fee, which places operational challenges on the CBCC and the committee.
“To fund it, we seek contributions from parents, sometimes K500, with which we buy sugar and soya. Not all of them pay, of course, hence we have approached chiefs to see how they can assist us so that each village can make contributions as an entity,” she says.
The management committee has not lacked for effort to sustain the operations of the CBCC. During the 2021/22 growing season, the committee rented a garden where they grew maize with which they prepare porridge for the children. They harvested 17 bags of maize, but the committee’s ambition is to grow soya as well in the upcoming growing season to supplement the children’s diet.
“We provide the children with porridge from Monday to Friday except on Wednesday which is a market day,” she says.
Committee members also perform a variety of tasks such as preparing the porridge at the CBCC, beside that they also pay visits to households when a child regularly absconds from classes.
The CBCC has an enrolment of 60 children who are drawn from Zakaliya, Nyang'a, Chibwezo, Nyundwe and Machaka villages.
“Our plan is to have a beautiful centre where our children can learn and play so that no children wanders around villages during school hours. After that we want all of them to go to primary school so that perhaps we can reduce illiteracy in this area. It is a proud moment when someone is educated. We want to make a difference between what the area is now and what we want it to be,” Kadam’manja says.
Under its Mmela Mpoyamba programme, UNICEF Malawi has been promoting the implementation of early childhood development (ECD) centres. With funding from Finland National Committee, UNICEF has supported the Ministry of Gender, Children and Community Development, Ministry of Health (MoH) and Dedza District Council with the implementation of a project entitled Strengthening an Integrated Early Childhood Development (ECD), which has demonstrated the integration of health, nutrition, early learning, responsive caregiving safety and security, leading into action the existing integrated ECD policy.
The project recognises the importance of learning in a child’s first 1,000 days, considering that early childhood is the period most critical for brain development.
The programme observes that investing in early childhood health, nutrition, care, and learning programmes, including parenting support programmes, yields high economic returns and offsets disadvantage and inequality, especially for children from poor families.