A father’s story of parenting during COVID-19 in Sierra Leone

Parents are adopting new coping strategies to help with parenting during this period

Harriet Mason
Man feeds his 19-month-old daughter before heading to work.
UNICEF Sierra Leone 2020/Mason
21 June 2020

Parenting is a rewarding as well as a potentially stressful affair for many people, especially during periods of change. The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, along with measures to contain its spread, including restrictions in movement and closure of schools, have brought new challenges for parents across Sierra Leone. Parents and caregivers like Yayah Bangura, a father to three girls and driver working with UNICEF in Freetown, have had to adopt new coping strategies to help with parenting during this period.

“It has not been easy, juggling work, looking after the children, coping with my own anxieties and trying to ensure that my children get the right information to protect themselves from the virus,” says Yayah who explains that the current pandemic has created new opportunities for him to be a father who demonstrates love for his children by keeping them safe from the virus.

“I have been very lucky to get a lot of information about COVID-19 from our office. When I am at home, I find time to learn even more about the disease and to share this information with my three children,” says Yayah, whose little girls, including 19-month-old Hafsa, can be seen regularly washing their hands with soap and water.  “I share this information during times we are playing games, or just after dinner time,” says Yayah.

Apart from giving his children correct and regular information, Yayah says children learn best when they see good practices being modeled.  When he leaves home for work, he ensures that he has a mask on to protect himself while in the line of duty. He also avoids crowded places and has made it a habit to carry a hand sanitiser along with him.

“My wife also goes out of the house for work and when we get back home in the evening, the first thing we do is wash our hands with soap – this when we are still by the gate of the compound where we have put up a handwashing bucket.  We then immediately go into the shower and change our clothes before interacting with the children,” he says.

Across Sierra Leone, UNICEF’s Early Childhood Development (ECD) programmes offer interventions that are run through community and school based centres, prioritizing play based early stimulation and learning, nutrition and protection to help children get a fair start in life.  These centres are currently closed, a measure in place to contain the spread of the virus.  This however does not mean children should be deprived of these elements which are required for their holistic development and which parents and other caregivers can support.

A recent U-Report June parenting poll, reaching over 7,000 registered parents however revealed that while 95 per cent of parents agree that being a parent is the most important job in the world, only 52 per cent of parents are able to spend more than 30 minutes a day playing, reading, talking or telling stories to their children. Twenty-Four per cent (24 per cent) of the respondents indicated that they spend less than 30 minutes a day with their children and 8 per cent spent no time at all.

Man helps his daughter with her schoolwork at their home
UNICEF Sierra Leone 2020/Mason

Since 2017, the month of June has been used to amplify the UNICEF global Early Moments Matter (EMM) campaign and increase awareness about the important role of parents in supporting their children’s development.

This year, the campaign continues to promote positive parenting practices around four ECD themes of Eat (nutrition); Play (Learning); Love (protection) and Well bodi (Health) amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.  Parents are therefore being reached with messages via the U- report platforms, radio and Social Media messaging on parenting during this pandemic. Short videos of real live experiences from parents in Sierra Leone are also being used to illustrate that providing a child with the foundation and stimulus that they need in the early years does not need to be complicated or expensive.

“Life’s early years, which is the period between 0-8 years have a profound impact on a child’s future. Strengthening parental involvement in children’s development, early stimulation and the use of indigenous knowledge systems help children to develop the skills they need to embrace opportunities and help them to bounce back from life’s adversity,” says Swadchet Sankey, ECD Specialist with UNICEF Sierra Leone. 

Important for UNICEF is to ensure that members of staff, such as Yayah become parenting torchbearers, whose exemplary parenting techniques can be used to show that even during times of pandemics, priority to life’s early years is critical.

As the world marks Father’s Day on 21 June, UNICEF Sierra Leone salutes fathers such as Yayah, who continue to make early moments matter for every child. Through love, play, protection and good nutrition, the healthy development of young children’s brains can be maintained even during the current pandemic.