Refugee parents praise new ECD centres
By Cyriaque Ngoboka and Glenn Jusnes
GIHEMBE REFUGEE CAMP, Rwanda, March 2012: Gihembe Refugee Camp is situated near Byumba town in the Northern Province of Rwanda, some 60 km from the capital Kigali. More than 20,000 Congolese refugees live in a small camp area established back in 1997.
Today, 12,000 of the camp residents are children under the age of 18. While many of the older children attend school, children under six have not had any exposure to early learning or stimulation.
Since September 2011, however, thanks to UNICEF, UNHCR and AVSI (an international NGO that works on children’s issues), the parents of some 2,000 children now send their children to Early Childhood Development (ECD) Centres. At these centres, children five years and younger play, sing and interact with other children – all of which are important aspects of healthy early childhood development.
Early Childhood Development is an approach to help children (under the age of six) develop their full cognitive, emotional, social and physical potential. A child who benefits from ECD is a child who is physically healthy, mentally alert, emotionally sound, socially competent and ready to learn
ECD is important because most of our basic brain connections are laid down before birth and the environments in which we grow up influence the brain’s architecture and strongly affect whether children grow up to be healthy and productive members of society
Poor and disadvantaged children are often less likely to benefit from comprehensive ECD interventions that include early developmental stimulation, good health, adequate nutrition and safety. And yet evaluations of quality ECD programs around the world demonstrate that investments in ECD are among the most cost-effective investments a country can make. Quality ECD programs substantially improve children’s chances of survival by breaking the inter-generational cycle of poverty and acting as a great social and economic equalizer.
In a situation like Gihembe, such interventions are even more important.
Olive Nyirazaninka, a mother of seven, is happy to see her four-year-old daughter Soleil Masengesho attend the ECD programme.
“I have been in this camp since 2007. Life here is difficult and there are many risks, especially for young children,” she explains.
“But thanks to AVSI and UNICEF, our children are now in a protected environment during the day, where they learn to play together and make new friends,” Olive says.
UNICEF works through AVSI in Gihembe Camp to train willing female refugees to serve as ECD facilitators in the centres. And in collaboration with UNHCR, who runs this camp, the organisations are also helping to put in place a child protection network so that cases of violence against children can be prevented
Pierre Buduguri, is happy to send his four-year-old daughter Josiane to the ECD Centre. “Children left on their own sometimes slip and fall or can even contract diseases from playing in contaminated mud. Now they are taken care of by trained adults during the day.”
“This is just the beginning,” says UNICEF Child Protection Officer, Mari Aasgaard. “A lot more needs to be done to build a protective environment where children can be safe and thrive. Child Friendly Spaces and a mentoring system that provides psycho-social care for vulnerable and abused children will be particularly important, but at least for now children are in a space meant just for them.”