Planting the seeds early on in life

In Mali’s northern region of Timbuktu, young children are benefiting from early learning

By Ismael Ishaq Maiga
Azahara Walett Mossa in the class
UNICEF Mali/2019/Bamba

20 March 2019

It’s 8am this Thursday morning and just like every day, Mossa, 34, a security guard in Timbuktu, jumps on his motorcycle to bring his daughter Azahara Walett Mossa to a community pre-school located in the district of Djingareyber. Like all the other children, Azahara is welcomed by Zouber Balkissa Sidibé, the preschool’s director, and her assistants, called ‘mother-educators.’ The preschool is called "Tamaha Goumo", meaning "Good Hope.”

 Mossa, 34, a security guard in Timbuktu, jumps on his motorcycle to bring his daughter Azahara Walett Mossa to a community pre-school located in the district of Djingareyber.
UNICEF Mali/2019/Bamba

Azahara certainly won’t contest the idea of the preschool bringing good hope. She comes from a family of four and is the only girl. Despite being only about knee-high, she is very lively and can already recite the seven days of the week and the different seasons both in French and in Songhai.

"When she gets back home at noon, Azahara repeats everything she has learned in preschool. And she recites all the lessons correctly," says her father proudly.

The preschool has a long history in Timbuktu. Founded in the early 1980s in the early days of cooperation with a Belgian NGO, "Islands of Peace", the idea has since come a long way. Preschools here are now under the management of local authorities of Timbuktu. In total, 7 employees take care of the 65 children attending the center.

Fata Dédéou, the 24-year-old mother of little Azahara, is full of praise. "Children like the preschool. They are welcomed, well supervised and especially well guarded. If a parent can’t come to pick up their child, the mother-educator accompanies the child to the house. Their absence from home is rather reassuring!”

Fata Dédéou, the 24-year-old mother in the ECD
UNICEF Mali/2019/Bamba

Fata Dédéou doesn’t stop there: she has noticed a difference between her son Ahmad and his little sister.

"Having never attended the preschool before enrolling in school, at 4, he didn’t know either recitation, the national anthem or even the names of seasons. Worse still, it was hard to make him accept going to school! Azahara, on the other hand, wants hygiene measures to be scrupulously observed in accordance with the instructions of her mother-educator. It’s also Azahara who forced us to buy a handwashing device for the whole family!"

Investing in early learning not only makes children curious and eager to learn, it prepares them for primary school later on and improves school performance. But despite this, in Mali, less than 5% of children benefit from early learning services.

''Azahara repeats everything she has learned in preschool. And she recites all the lessons correctly!"

Almahadi Haidara, Chief of the UNICEF field office in Timbuktu, describes the concept of "Tamaha Goumo”: "The centers set up for this purpose really mobilize parents. They exist in various forms: public, community-based or private.They not only improve children’s cognitive development, but also improve their learning outcomes later on and facilitate their social integration into their environment."

They not only improve children’s cognitive development, but also improve their learning outcomes later on and facilitate their social integration into their environment. "

UNICEF and its partners have provided 50 community-based preschools in Timbuktu region with early childhood development kits. They consist of toys, balloons, coloring pencils, books, dolls and garlands, among others.

As an expert on the issue of early childhood, Almahadi Haidara exalts this support. "UNICEF supports community-based preschools throughout the Timbuktu region thanks to contributions from H&M foundation. The support is in the form of ECD kits, the training of mother-educators and the provision of equipment such as tables and chairs for 75 centers this year."

Fata Dédéou showing her diplome
UNICEF Mali/2019/Bamba
An ECD kits
UNICEF Mali/2019/Bamba