New champions of early childhood development emerge in Rwanda

In Rwanda's tea sector and Muslim community, two new ECD centres have just opened.

By Veronica Houser
A caregiver at the Rutsiro Tea Plantation ECD centre holds a baby in a yellow striped shirt
20 February 2019

RUTSIRO, Rwanda – Perched on a green mountain in Rwanda’s Western Province, flanked by tea plantations, young children sing and play at a new early childhood development centre under the watchful, loving eyes of their caregivers. While the children are busy making friends, taking naps and playing with their toys, their parents pluck tea on the Rutsiro Tea Plantation of Rwanda Mountain Tea Ltd.

While the children made friends, took naps, and played with their toys, UNICEF met with Rwanda’s National Early Childhood Development Programme (NECDP) and the National Agricultural Export Development Board (NAEB) to inaugurate this new centre on plantation. A mother and tea plucker from the community cut the ribbon, officially opening the centre while she held her baby in her other arm.


Private Sector Partnership

UNICEF’s partnership with NAEB first began in 2017, following the success of UNICEF’s first private sector partnership with SORWATHE Tea Company. When SORWATHE demonstrated willing investment in child-friendly workplaces for its employees, NAEB and UNICEF saw an opportunity to expand this partnership across the entire tea industry. The partnership now covers all 16 tea companies and 20 tea cooperatives in the country.

Inspired by UNICEF’s Early Moments Matter campaign which promotes family-friendly company policies, tea companies in Rwanda are beginning to transform their work spaces, making them places where children can develop physically and mentally, giving parents the peace of mind to work more productively.

When mothers and fathers can work knowing their children are safe and cared for, they pluck more tea and make more money, and the tea factory increases production.

“We are committed to ensuring child-friendly work spaces by providing maternity leave for our workers, flexible work hours to allow for breastfeeding, and investing in on-site ECD centres,” said Thushara Pinidiya, General Manager of the Rutsiro Tea Factory. “These services and policies will impact not only factory and cooperative workers, but also the surrounding communities we work with.”


A child sleeps in a daycare centre with a blue blanket
At the day care centre on the Rutsiro Tea Plantation ECD centre, children are safe and well cared for while their parents are at work. Children at this ECD centre also receive daily nutritional porridge each morning and a full meal at midday to help fight malnutrition among these families.

ECD in Rwanda’s Muslim Community

Rwanda Mountain Tea is not the only one making waves in ECD. Rwanda’s Muslim community has also opened its doors to ECD, inaugurating its first centre this week in the western town of Rubavu. 

Singing at the centre with children’s song artist Peace Jolis, little ones in black and yellow uniforms clapped and danced, singing songs about washing their hands and learning to count.

The new ECD centre, hosted within a community mosque, will be open to all young children between 3 and 6 years, regardless of gender or religious affiliation. Two caregivers – one Muslim and one non-Muslim – will spend mornings encouraging the children to learn through play and discovery, following the competency-based pre-primary curriculum approved by Rwanda Education Board. Children will also receive nutrient-rich porridge each morning to help fight malnutrition.

At the inauguration ceremony, the Archbishop of Kigali said, “We pledge, as religious leaders, to advocate and promote ECD programmes in every village, to ensure all children access ECD and grow to their full potential.”


A young girl in an ECD centre drinks a mug of milk

“We pledge, as religious leaders, to advocate and promote ECD programmes in every village, to ensure all children access ECD and grow to their full potential.”