Starting early: Improving child development through play in Zambia

Sylvester's mum is happy with community parenting support

Tiwine Muchipa
Boy in red t-shirt looks at camera in doorway
17 December 2020

Nearly a year after the official launch of the Insaka Early Childhood Development (ECD) hubs in Zambia’s Katete and Petauke districts, how has the experience been for families using the service?

When Sylvester Banda was four months old, a community-based volunteer visited his family in Kalunga village to introduce a new initiative for caregivers and their young children. Out of curiosity, his mum - Ruth Banda - decided to go and see for herself.

“I got to the place which was a shelter made of grass and wooden poles to provide shade for the mothers. The lessons where very interesting so I always looked forward to attending more sessions,” said Ruth. “Before then, I had never received training on nurturing care and raising my children.”

ECD hubs or Insakas are parenting hubs for nurturing care at community level. The hubs also act as platforms for integrated community development, including promoting good nutrition, learning through play and adult literacy.

“Some outstanding lessons were on child’s play to improve the development of the child’s senses,” said Ruth. “For example, the use of a bottle with either stones or seeds for sound; during breastfeeding moving my face from side-to-side while maintaining close eye contact for sight; and, giving the child toy objects to grab which enable them to have stronger hands.”

Aerial shot of ECD hub in Eastern Province
One of the Insaka hubs for early childhood development in Katete District, Eastern Province, Zambia.

Since then, the traditional shelter has been upgraded through a community design process. The new hub has solar electricity, bio-gas for cooking, a kitchen garden and multiple rooms for stimulation and training.

Sylvester is now two years old and is enrolled in the parent-child early stimulation sessions at the new hub, inaugurated in December 2019, where his session facilitator says he is doing very well and is an active participant.

“As his mother, I am definitely keen to continue with the activities as I have seen great results from the initiative through Sylvester’s growth,” said Ruth.

UNICEF has trained over 20 community-based volunteers in each of the six Insaka hubs. Each volunteer looks after at least 10 homes, in total reaching more than 1,000 households. They play a critical role at grassroot level to ensure that caregivers continue to receive the necessary information and support around nurturing care and responsive caregiving even through the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • By Tiwine Muchipa, UNV Communications and Youth Engagement Associate, UNICEF Zambia