Nanny Training: an often-overlooked but essential element of holistic child development
A narrative of the first-ever nanny training in Rwanda, supported by UNICEF and organized by Help a Child Rwanda
The room is alive with excitement as about thirty women gather around tables, chatting animatedly. There are whispers and giggles, heads nod in conversation and feet shuffle as more arrive and friends move over to accommodate them. Some are dressed in their best, one might think it's a wedding reception. Others dart around the room, preparing for the activities that will soon follow. It is the 10th of December and this cohort's graduation day from the UNICEF-supported nanny training program that they have been attending for the last 6 weekends.
The first activity brings all the women together in a large circle, where the facilitator from Help a Child, the training's organizer, leads them in a reflection activity where they "pass the ball" to each other. The women engage with excitement and enthusiasm, it's clear that the organizers have successfully brought them out of their shells.
"They were very shy when they first arrived," says Rachel Nyiracumi, the lead facilitator, when asked about the progress she's seen during the training. "Engaging them during the first two sessions was difficult, but it was smooth sailing after that."
As the ball flies from one end of the room to the other, a smiling young woman catches it and answers a question posed by the facilitator. According to Rachel, the participatory and practical approach of the training, which relies on real-life application of the lessons, is what got the young women more engaged and responsive. For example, the facilitators encouraged the nannies to talk with their employers and suggest childcare-related changes based on what they had learned.
The nannies initially felt uncomfortable suggesting changes to their employers, but after they mustered the courage and were met with positive reactions, their attitude shifted. They openly shared their experiences with their trainers and actively participated in the training with renewed enthusiasm.
The ball changes hands and a young woman begins to speak, "During the training, one of the biggest challenges I faced in my childcare duties was scheduling the children's activities. They didn't have a routine, and their activities often conflicted with other tasks I had to do. But thanks to the training, I now understand that children need stability and routine to thrive, and it also makes my job easier. I'm now implementing a calendar that ensures no activities interfere with each other, and everything has its own designated time."
Different nannies share their key takeaways from the training as the facilitator asks different questions regarding their learning journey. The ball keeps bouncing around until almost everyone has participated. Once everyone returns to their seats, the drama begins.
Laughter erupts and quiet comments ensue as a few nannies act out a play that contrasts ethical/unethical and professional/unprofessional behavior. It is clear that they have been practicing for the play. A rude nanny here and a conscientious nanny there, the characters display the lessons they’ve learned on what to do and not do while taking care of children and when interacting with their employers.
Musabyemariya Fabiola, 20 years old, is in the play’s cast. Later, during an interview, she reveals some of the changes in perspective the training gave her, saying, “Before, when the child would play around and disorganize things, I would chastise them and even discipline them because I thought that it was bad. But during this training I learned that children learn through play and that playing is their responsibility; that is their job.
“I didn’t know that stopping them from playing could stunt their development. I not only learned to let them play but to also set aside time to actively play with them and find different small activities to engage them with, even as I cater to my other responsibilities.”
The room grows a bit quieter as everyone attentively listens to the words spoken by different stakeholders. In attendance are some employers that have joined their nannies to celebrate the completion of their training. A mother concludes her comment by saying, “I’ve learned that, with this training, if a nanny’s understanding of childcare changes for the better, she can change her employers’ minds too.”
A father thanks the organizing team and asks, “If a nanny isn’t available, and the mother is busy, can’t the father take up the responsibility for childcare? Maybe the organizers can consider designing a similar training but for fathers, since such information is very useful.”
And indeed, not everyone that has benefited from the training is necessarily a nanny. Mukeshimana Gertrude, a mother of three, has had many nannies come and go, so she decided that she would rather attend herself so that she could deliver the training to any other nanny that she employs in the future. But, above that, her main reason for attending the training was because she wanted to understand the proper way to parent her children.
“You would find that the nanny you’ve hired does things the way she understands them and that you are no different from her, save for the fact that you probably love your child more than she does. In truth, I didn’t know many of the things that I learned during this training. I didn’t know much about the growth stages of a child, and that some periods of their lives are critical for their healthy development, and how that calls for diligence in your care for them,” she says.
The speeches go on and Chantal, on behalf of the employers, appreciates the organizers of the training. She goes on to note the importance of such a novel initiative which is addressing an important issue that most of the country faces, saying, “Most of the nannies that tend to our children have no initial training on how to care for them, so this was a much-needed initiative that should be scaled up for all to benefit from.”
She adds, “When my children’s nanny heard that she was to attend some training, she worriedly asked me if that was because I wanted her to be a nanny for the rest of her life. I told her that the training would not only help her in her job for now, but also benefit her when she eventually becomes a mother herself.”
Min Yuan, the Deputy Representative at UNICEF Rwanda, notes the importance of the role that nannies play in meeting national nutrition goals that focus on stunting reduction. She mentions the “One Egg Per Child” movement that the UNICEF Country Office is working with the government to promote, emphasizing that the parents and nannies in the room have the biggest role to play in its realization. The National Child Development Agency’s representative, Esperance Uwicyeza, compliments the points made on the role of nannies in the fight against chronic malnutrition among children in Rwanda.
A young lady orates a poem that melodically weaves together the trainees' appreciation for the government’s efforts and their thanks to the trainers for their hard work and contribution to the nannies’ professional growth. Her audience erupts with a round of applause.
The graduation ceremony comes to a close and the women receive their certificates. As they are called up to the stage they can't help but stride with pride. Some are accompanied by their employers, also adorned with big smiles as they pose together for their nannies’ graduation pictures. Shortly after, refreshments are served and the party goes on.
As the women say their goodbyes and hug each other tightly, they all know that they will stay in touch and continue to support each other as they navigate their new roles as skilled nannies. They have formed a bond that will last a lifetime and they are excited to see what the future holds for them.
Their journey has only just begun, having come so far in such a short amount of time, and they are ready to take their newfound skills and knowledge and apply them to their daily lives as caretakers of Rwanda’s future.
Many of the women have already begun to make changes in their workplaces as a result of what they have learned during the training. They have started to communicate better with their employers and have even been able to make suggestions for improvements in the way that childcare is being handled. Their employers have been impressed with the women's newfound confidence and have implemented many of the changes that they have suggested.
Thanks to the support of the Embassy of Israel in Rwanda through UNICEF, and to Help a Child that delivered the training, they are now equipped with the tools and knowledge they need to provide the best possible care for the children in their care. They feel empowered and ready to make a real difference in the lives of the families they work for.