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Turning to the private sector, UNICEF cultivates innovative early childhood care solutions for tea plantation workers

UNICEF Rwanda/2017/Houser
© UNICEF Rwanda/2017/Houser
Children are given nutrient-rich porridge at the mobile crèches to help prevent malnutrition.

By Veronica Houser

Rulindo District, 20 September 2017  – Nestled between steep, terraced hills and sweeping views of emerald tea fields, SORWATHE Tea Plantation is arguably one of the most beautiful and serene places in Rwanda. Offering a cosy guest house, tours of the plantation, and a selection of orthodox, organic, black and green tea, SORWATHE is one of the largest tea factories in Rwanda. SORWATHE is also one of the largest employers in the area, where many of the tea pluckers and factory workers are women of reproductive age.

In the past, women with babies and young children struggled with child care when they went to work on the plantation. SORWATHE adheres to strict child labour laws, and as a result, children are not allowed on the plantations or in the factory. With limited options, mothers would often leave their children in the nearby forest, leaving work occasionally to breastfeed, or in the care of other young siblings.

“I would wake up around 6 a.m. and make porridge for my son,” said Angelique Uwayisaba, an employee of SORWATHE. “I would then leave him with his older sibling and head to the field, where I would start work around 7 a.m.” Angelique was only able to work a few hours before rushing home to check on her baby. She would then stay home to care for him, unable to return to work with nowhere to take her baby.

In November 2016, representatives from SORWATHE and UNICEF signed an important Memorandum of Understanding. This partnership, UNICEF’s first in the Rwandan private sector, committed to increased access to early childhood development services for families and children, primarily those in Rulindo and Gicumbi Districts surrounding the SORWATHE factory and plantations (more details on the news note).

“Through our partnership with UNICEF, we want to see that children between the ages of 0 to 3 years are well looked after while their mothers can work happily in the plantations,” said Rohith Peiris, Director General of SORWATHE.

Ted Maly, UNICEF Rwanda Representative, echoed the importance of early childhood development. “Investing in children early is a golden opportunity, and what better way to invest early than to start with the mothers and families that raise them.”

UNICEF Rwanda/2017/Houser
© UNICEF Rwanda/2017/Houser
Mobile crèches provide a safe space for mothers to leave their children with trained caregivers while they work on the tea plantation.

As a result of this partnership, SORWATHE and UNICEF established the first mobile crèches, where mothers can leave their children in the care of trained caregivers while they work nearby. The crèches offer a safe, convenient environment for the children to rest and play while their parents work. They are within SORWATHE office compounds, and the children’s play area is surrounded by a fence for additional security. Two trained caregivers care for and play with the children, and prepare nutrient-rich porridge to supplement their diets. The crèches are close enough to where the mothers work that they can easily take a break to breastfeed and quickly return to work. Caregivers at the crèches also encourage parents to create toys from local materials to help stimulate their children’s brain development, both in the crèches and at home.

These crèches are an innovative solution to child care challenges in Rwanda, and SORWATHE is the first private sector company to implement them.

In addition to improving access to child care, the mobile crèches have led to increased production on the plantation. Jeanette Mukakayitani was a former tea plucker who was trained by UNICEF to become an early childhood caregiver. She described how mothers with children used to only pluck tea once in a while, but are now able to do so every day.

“I used to only manage to pluck five kilograms of tea,” said Sophie Banyangiriki, a tea plucker at SORWATHE. “Now that they look after my child for me, I spend the whole day plucking and manage to get 15 or 20 kilograms.”

“I think my salary has really increased for this month,” said Angelique.

When asked their thoughts on the new mobile crèches, some of the mothers were unable to hide their enthusiasm. “This project is very helpful to us,” said Sophie. “Nothing can harm our children here. They are safe.”



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