A stimulating beginning
By Sam Nkurunziza
Rwanda, February 2011 -Every day, children under the age of five are dropped by their parents at Nyange Early Childhood Centre in Musanze, about two hours out of Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, to play, sing, interact and eat a rich bowl of porridge. This centre, created six years ago, has drawn more and more parents to its doors following an intensified campaign by Musanze local authorities.
“At first we did not understand the importance of bringing children to this centre. After all it is not a school and they are not yet of school age”, explained Agatha Mukamana, one of the parents at Nyange. “But then the head of the centre talked about how important it was that children were stimulated through play, singing and even eating a good bowl of porridge, in a safe place where someone watches over them, so how could we not bring our children here”, she smiled.
“I mean, when I see my child and compare him with my neighbor’s children who are not stimulated, I see the difference”, she adds.
“When we started this centre”, explains Eugene Ndagijimana, the President of the Parent’s Association, “it was a far-fetched dream, but now parents understand that exposing children to early stimulation activities, such as play, singing and even looking or touching a book helps them acquire all fundamental life skills to become a creative and productive adult”, he adds.
Academic research estimates that 80 per cent of a child’s brain capacity is developed within the firstthree years of life (Shonkoff and Phillips, 2000) and the provision of Early Childhood Development (ECD) services can alter the development trajectory of many young children, making them more likely to be socially and emotionally healthy, confident, and friendly, have good language skills and good peer relationships. In fact, international economists rank the provision ofECD services as one of the most highly effective social and economic investments a Government can make (Verdisco, 2008).
Despite the fact that only 13 per cent of children aged 3-6 in Rwanda attend pre-primary school, the Government is putting in place an ECD policy, with the help of UNICEF, to ensure that all infants and young children in rural and urban areas achieve their full developmental potential: mentally, physically, socially and emotionally.
“When Nyange Centre began six years ago, it had just a few children”, explains Veneranda Kabarere, ECD Specialist at UNICEF. “Today they have over 150. And each parent pays US$ 2 a month to help pay the wages of the facilitator and to ensure that their children get a bowl of porridge. We have helped by providing some equipment to the centre, but our hope is to create a viable model that can be scaled up by Government throughout the country”, she adds.
By supporting the adoption and implementation of the ECD policy, UNICEF hopes to help Government model ECD centres, like Nyange, that can provide the stimulation that children need.