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Provision of Integrated ECD strengthened through stimulation and learning activities at home

child friendly spaces in Uganda
© UNICEF Uganda
Children enjoy the morning play session at the UNICEF supported child friendly space in Rhino Camp Refugee settlement
By Catherine Ntabadde Makumbi

It is 9:00am. Children from Rhino Camp Refugee Settlement and the nearby host communities in Arua district in West Nile make a circle as an early childhood development care giver engages them to sing and play.

“Good morning children, good morning teacher. How is daddy? Daddy is doing well. How is mummy? Mummy is fine and looking after baby. How is brother? Brother is at school? How is sister? Sister is also at school. And how is the little baby? Little baby is home and sleeping. This is part of the daily morning cycle at Alengu ECD centre in Ofua Zone 4.

Started in February 2017, the centre which is providing integrated ECD services to 690 children aged 3-6 years is a relief to many parents. The centre is run by Plan International on behalf of UNICEF.

Julius Likambo, one of the caregivers says that the centre provides children with an opportunity to play, interact, and learn a wide range of issues like Mathematics, English, objects, hygiene, and agriculture. Alengu like many ECD centres in refugee settlements is also acting as a life-saving, life-sustaining and protection measure for children from refugee communities. 

“We use locally made materials like ropes, balls, chains for playing. Our parents have been cooperative. Whenever we ask them to make a contribution towards making the play items, or provide meals to the children, they respond positively,” he explained.

Bosco Awu Felix, 26 who has 1 child at the centre and his brother has 3 children was all praise of the centre and how important it is for the children. “Our children are able to learn. Before I came to Uganda in 2016, we stayed in the bush for a year with the children. It was very traumatising and the children could not go to school. I like the interaction between the parents and care givers,” he says with a smile.

Betty Fekira, 25 years feels the same way about the centre where three of her children go to school including a 7 year old. Her only wish is for UNICEF and Government to establish a primary school for the benefit of her daughter and other children above 7 years. The current primary school in the settlement is private. “I don’t want to keep my girl at home so I bring her here. Atleast this keeps her busy instead of being idle and she is learning more and interacting with other children,” Fekira says.

The strong partnership between the parents and the caregivers at the centre has strengthened provision of integrated ECD services in the communities.

Jesca Kadi, lead care giver reveals that the school has a parents teacher association committee and centre management committee through which the parents are engaged. She further adds that the six caregivers at the centre conduct home visits to teach the parents the key family care practices.

“We conduct home to home visits. We go to educate the parents from their homes. We teach them about proper hygiene, immunisation, balanced diet, children protection, psychosocial support. We believe that when a child eats a balanced meal and gets time to play then they are able to grow well and also ensure a proper brain development. We also follow up our children in their homes. Some children come when they are sick while others come when still traumatised,” Kadi says.

With funding from European Commission’s Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Department (ECHO), UNICEF plans to strengthen ECD services that will benefit 1,650 children, including 495 from host communities, by rehabilitating existing 15 temporary ECD centres and turning them into semi-permanent and establishing 7 new ones. In addition, the grant from EU will reach another 3,300 children through its parenting component under which parents and other home based care givers are supported to provide early stimulation and learning activities at home.

Dennis Oketa, early childhood care and development officer, Plan International says the centre which is currently housed in three tents is to be upgraded into a semi-permanent structure. He narrates that the centre was identified with the help of the communities, adding that the parents, both for refugee children and host communities are very supportive. “Children have built re-silence from here. The care givers move to homes to find out if the parents are adapting to the good key family care practices passed on to them and the children. There is mutual understanding and integration between refugees and host communities,” Oketa says.

To increase children’s access to an integrated learning and early childhood care and development in the settlements and host communities, UNICEF with funding from UKaid is emphasising parenting support through ECD centres to advance family care practices designed to increase the utilisation of integrated sectoral services and strengthen the home care and learning environment for all young children. Funds from UKaid will reach 23,846 children participating in structures activities organised at the integrated ECD, child friendly spaces and accelerated learning programme centres

This year, Plan will recruit one more care giver to further reduce on the child-teacher ratio, according to Oketa.

Refugees and host communities remain grateful for the ECD services extended to their communities.
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