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Parents providing meals to children attending ECD centres in refugee settlements

© UNICEF Uganda
Children enjoy a skipping game at a UNICEF supported Early Childhood Centre in Rhino Camp, Arua District

By Catherine Ntabadde Makumbi

With the limited rains experienced in Arua district lately, parents of children from host and South Sudanese refugee communities alongside early childhood development care givers have grabbed the opportunity to plant variety of food for the children.

The food crops including sweet potatoes, simsim and vegetables once harvested will be sold to enable the caregivers at Alengu ECD Centre in Rhino Camp refugee settlement and parents provide porridge to children who attend the centre.

Through its Parents, Teachers Association (PTA), the centre engages parents to find ways of regularly providing maize flour to make porridge for the children and firewood to cook the porridge.

When a team from UNICEF visited the school at the beginning of term 3 (2017), piles of wood were seen ready to be used. The crops were all looking green.

Alex Amule, chairman of the centre PTA says, “parents and caregivers collected money which we used to buy seeds for these crops. We always talk to our parents to make a contribution and majority of them contribute. The plan is that when the crops are ready, we shall eat some of them as the school and sell the rest to but maize flour. Lately there is shortage of maize flour so we need to devise means of sustaining the provision of porridge.”

To make the porridge nutritious, the school grinds simsim to add to the maize flour.  Alengu ECD centre has 690 children from the settlement and host communities. It is run by Plan International on behalf of UNICEF.

During the visit, one of the parents was seen weeding the simsim crops. Jesca Kadi, lead care giver says the school started providing porridge to the children in 2nd term of 2017. “The children need to feed well. They can not stay in the centre without food. Meals are important for the growth of the children,” she explains. Kadi further adds that the school conducts regular meetings with all parents to discuss a number of issues and when the idea of providing porridge was mooted, it was well received.

Parents who can not afford flour at the agreed upon dates are usually given some more time to make their contribution, according to the PTA chairman.  Amule explains that any decision regarding the management of the provision of meals to children is taken in agreement between the caregivers and parents through meetings.

The idea of planting food crops at the centre is also instilled in the parents to replicate the same within the refugee settlement and host communities. The care givers say the parents are regularly educated about the benefits of feeding children on a balanced meal.

“Here at the centre, we also teach parents agricultural skills so that they learn how to plant a variety of crops and also maintain their gardens at home,” Julius Likambo, a caregiver at the school narrates.

Dennis Oketa, Plan International’s early childhood care and development officer adds that the feeding arrangement at the centre motivates the children to come to school regularly and stay until 12:30pm when the lessons end.

He says the parents support the centre to participate in the cooking of the porridge, cleaning of the school, constructing latrines and promoting hand washing in the centre.

Whereas UKaid and European Commission’s Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Department (ECHO) who are funding integrated ECD interventions for South Sudanese refugee children and those in host communities do not fund provision of meals in such centres, the donors are committed to supporting access to early learning services.

The funds provided UKaid and European Union (EU) towards ECD are aimed at ensuring that districts hosting refugees have capacity and systems to coordinate, regulate and provide quality learning services for children from host and refugee communities. With funding from European Union, an additional 4,950 will benefit from integrated ECD services while the support from UKaid will see 975 girls and boys of 3-5 years of age enrolled per year in 13 ECD centres and child friendly spaces.

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