Building better futures from the ground up
Early childhood development coordinators working in 14 municipalities across Nepal with support from UNICEF and partners reflect on the achievements and challenges they’ve faced in implementing the vision of the National ECD Strategy at the local level
Kathmandu, Nepal: “Pregnant women in some communities are told that they should eat less to ensure that the child inside doesn’t put on too much weight, in case this makes delivery difficult.”
Babita Khadka is giving an example of some of the prevalent misconceptions that she has encountered in her work as an early childhood development (ECD) coordinator in Mithila Municipality in Dhanusha District in Nepal’s southern plains. Babita has been dispelling such myths and encouraging pregnant women to eat well for themselves and their unborn children.
Meanwhile, ECD coordinator from Bhajani Municipality in Kailali District in the country’s west, Sabita Kumari Chaudhary shares that a key part of her work has involved “clarifying the concept of ECD among different stakeholders”.
This includes interacting with government officials, educators and female community health volunteers, among others, to make sure they understand that early childhood encompasses the entirety of a child’s life until eight years of age.
These were the kind of insights that came up during a recent reflection workshop organized in Kathmandu, bringing together ECD coordinators from across the country. The programme aimed to create a platform where these dedicated coordinators could share their achievements, challenges and learnings since having started work around a year ago – or even less than that in some cases.
These dedicated ECD coordinators are part of a modeling project based on the vision of the Government of Nepal’s National ECD Strategy 2020-2030. Through this project, UNICEF – as part of its partnership with the UNICEF Swiss National Committee, Government of Finland and implementing partner Seto Gurans National Child Development Services – has been supporting the National Planning Commission and line ministries to implement the national strategy at the local level.
This has involved working closely with 14 pilot municipalities in the Madhesh, Lumbini, Karnali and Sudurpaschim Provinces, facilitating the formation of local ECD committees, including at the ward level; developing local integrated ECD plans; and appointing ECD coordinators in all 14 municipalities to take the work forward in earnest.
In the short time that they have been on the ground, the coordinators have achieved a great deal: forming ECD committees, facilitating budget allocation for integrated ECD programmes and helping to implement programmes such as establishing breastfeeding rooms with play area in community facilities. They've convinced their working municipalities to invest in ECD activities, raised awareness about children's safety and security, and ensured schools have separate and comfortable spaces for pre-primary classes.
For instance, ECD coordinator Kirtana Koirala reports that 40 schools in Lalbandi Municipality in Sarlahi District in southern Nepal, now have dedicated and improved pre-primary classrooms.
In addition, coordinators also monitor birth registration and vaccination efforts in their municipalities. Kirtana has worked with six families to have their children birth registered, resulting in them not being denied of rights to basic services, including health and education, among others.
Similarly, Ranjeev Kumar Chaudhari, an ECD coordinator in Chakraghatta Rural Municipality, Sarlahi Discrict, recalls how – after discovering that 225 children in three wards lacked birth registration – he had dedicated himself to resolving the issue.
Of course, the work isn’t without its challenges. These include poor road conditions, particularly during the monsoon, in many of the coordinators’ working areas.
“I have to cross a river on a boat to reach my place of work on a daily basis,” shares Sabita. “This becomes very complicated when it rains and the river floods.”
Other issues include difficulties in convincing municipal officials of the true value of investing in ECD, compared to road construction and other infrastructure. The coordinators also feel the need for more knowledge and technical expertise so as to be able to better advise community stakeholders, such as suggesting nutritious crops to parents or guiding municipal authorities on developing child-friendly infrastructures.
Apart from the sharing by coordinators, the reflection event also provided an opportunity for participants from the government, civil society and media to offer valuable suggestions to enhance the project's impact. Measures such as ensuring accessibility and basic facilities like running water and soap in toilets, and addressing the situation of the underprivileged and children with disabilities who may be excluded from school, were recommended. Additionally, they emphasized incorporating play as an integral part of learning in ECED centers/ pre-primary classes and extending the project's reach to include slum children.
With these recommendations in hand, the ECD coordinators are now headed back to their duty stations, eager to continue their effort to help create brighter, safer futures for all children.
“I want the municipality to be child-friendly,” says Sunita Rana ECD coordinator from Laljhadi Rural Municipality in Kanchanpur District in the far west when asked what she hopes to achieve in the days to come. “This means creating an environment where all children – including those with disabilities – can live happily.”