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Childcare practices in Malawi

In Malawi, where about 15 per cent of children are orphaned by HIV/AIDS, disease and unrelenting poverty continue to erode the capacity of families and communities to care for their youngest members. More than 90 per cent of the children in rural areas, where 85 per cent of the country’s population lives, have no access to any form of organized early childhood care — care that can enhance their right to survival, growth and development.

In 1999, the Government of Malawi and UNICEF stepped up their efforts on behalf of children from 0-3 years old, developing policies, guidelines and training modules at the central level. Extension workers were trained and local plans of action were developed at the district level. As a result, there is an increased demand for early childcare services — a first sign of success. While the number of community-based childcare centres is still quite small, demand is rapidly increasing and the benefits of focusing on the needs and rights of young children and their families are becoming more visible.

Local projects use a home visitor model and depend on volunteer community members to serve as caregivers and committee members. The projects focus on six childcare practices: care for women, breastfeeding and complementary feeding, food preparation, psychosocial care, hygiene practices and home health practices. Despite abject poverty throughout much of the country, many community members contribute food supplies and work in communal gardens or other income-generating activities to raise money for the centres.

Most agencies involved, including government, NGOs and UNICEF, are seeking ways and funds to build technical capacity in the area of early childhood care. One eagerly awaited option is the ECD Virtual University, planned by Canada’s University of Victoria.


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