early childhood development

A Child’s View of Peace in Timor-Leste

By Rachel Ringgold, ChildFund Staff Writer

“Asked what peace is, children drew inspiration from their homes, communities and surroundings. There was maturity in their innocence. There was resonance in their honesty. Children have a lot to say about peace. It is time we listen.” – ARNEC’s “ECD & Peacebuilding” report

During a study about the connection between peace building and early childhood development, children from Timor-Leste draw the things they like about their villages.

During a study about the connection between peace-building and early childhood development, children from Timor-Leste draw the things they like about their villages.

Since April 2014, ChildFund has been a core member of the Asia Pacific Regional Network for Early Childhood (ARNEC), a group of nongovernmental organizations and United Nations branches advocating for effective early childhood development policies and practices throughout the region. ARNEC partners have built cross-disciplinary partnerships to share their knowledge about young children, and last year, a technical working group surveyed 119 children ages 3-8 from six Asian countries about how they perceive peace.

The answers were illuminating, especially in Timor-Leste, which became independent in 2002 after many years of conflict with neighbor Indonesia. ChildFund has worked there since 1990, and there has been internal strife as recently as 2006. Of course the children who were surveyed were born after the official end of the conflicts, but the collective memories of violence are fresh in Timor-Leste’s communities.

Many children said in the survey that nature and playing feel like peace, and they strongly dislike bad words, throwing stones, stealing, fighting and hitting.

“I like mountains, trees and flowers because they give us food,” says 6-year-old Luzinha, while 5-year-old Rosalinda expresses empathy: “When people fight each other, it gives me pain.”

Many children said, “I don’t know” when they were asked what peace means to them.

During the first years of life, children’s brains develop rapidly, and their earliest experiences are foundations for everything that follows. Although these children didn’t know how to define peace, they still know how peace feels. Being in nature — seeing, smelling, hearing and touching the world around them — feels like peace. So does playing, or being with friends. Peace is less of a noun and more of a verb in these children’s vocabulary. It means actively engaging with the world and participating in happy, harmonious exchanges with the people around them. It’s the absence of violence.

Five-year-old Ina writes, "Peace comes from the surroundings, if the surroundings are good, then there is peace."

Five-year-old Ina writes, “Peace comes from the surroundings, if the surroundings are good, then there is peace.”

So, how are we listening to these children’s voices and conveying their messages?

In October 2015, staff members from ChildFund Timor-Leste shared their findings at an ARNEC conference in Beijing, contributing to a larger discussion about peace-building and ECD across the region.

Also, our national office in Timor-Leste is incorporating peace-building ideals into its ECD curriculum, an innovative idea because of the ages of the children: five and younger. As we build this platform for peace, ARNEC members and ChildFund staffers will research its effects on children and advocate for its expansion into national education policies throughout Asia.

Children already know how peace feels. Our job, as adults, is to create space for them to practice what they know and nurture their instincts for nonviolent problem-solving, sharing and collaboration. And we can observe and learn from the youngest among us.

Well-Deserved Rewards in Bolivia

children in Bolivia

Preschool students clap during an event at their school in Bolivia. 
Andreina's mother and two sisters, plus school and local partner CESDI staff members, took part in the presentation.

Andreina’s mother and two sisters, plus school and local partner CESDI staff members, took part in the presentation.

In January, we announced the winner of ChildFund’s second annual Community Video Contest, an entry from Bolivia starring Andreina, a young woman who helps others despite living in poverty. Her prize from ChildFund was $150, which could be used for educational purposes, including film equipment or editing software.

Instead, Andreina decided to donate the money to a local preschool in La Paz to provide puzzles and toys that would stimulate the children (ages 5 and under) intellectually and creatively. These learning materials will help teachers create an early stimulation classroom at the school, which is attended by 53 children enrolled in ChildFund’s activities. Abraham Marca, our communications officer in Bolivia, shared some details.

“On March 3, we made the presentation at the school, and the teachers and children surprised us by performing a skit,” Abraham says. “Unfortunately, Andreina couldn’t attend because she is studying accounting and social work at a university. Instead, her mother and two younger sisters were there.”

Besides winning the international film contest, Andreina was a finalist in ChildFund Bolivia’s national photography contest, in which youth groups and local partner organizations throughout the country participate. She’ll soon receive an award from our national office in Bolivia, and the preschool also plans to invite Andreina to the opening of the early stimulation classroom.

Rita of Guatemala: A Student and a Teacher

Guatemala guide mother

Rita is a guide mother in Guatemala’s highlands, and she is learning to lead early childhood education programs in her community.

By Nicole Duciaume, Americas Region Sponsorship Manager

Rita’s first day as a volunteer is filled with bursting nerves, excitement, confidence and fear. At one point, she candidly admits that she wants to do a good job so that those who trained her would be proud of what she learned and how she is applying it.

Guide mother Rita with her children, 4-year-old Sebastian and 1-year-old Jocelyn.

Guide mother Rita with her children, 4-year-old Sebastian and 1-year-old Jocelyn.

She joined ChildFund recently as a guide mother in the highlands of Guatemala. Over the next several years, she will take weekly classes on diverse topics such as parenting skills, children’s learning styles, nutrition, child rights, the importance of play and many more. She will then lead weekly community-based early childhood education sessions and will be a go-to resource for other mothers in her community.

Now 21 years old, Rita got married at age 17. She explains that her father died when she was in the fourth grade, forcing her to drop out of school to work on a small farm along with her mother and six siblings. This was the only way for the family to survive. She talks about the hardships of being a mother in a part of the world where women have little opportunity for education or work.

When asked why she wanted to be a guide mother, she lights up. Her answer is simple: “A better future for my children, so that they have chances that I never had. I want them to get an education and get whatever job they want.” She goes on to explain how important it is for her to learn and be a good model for her children, saying, “I didn’t get a chance to study, so this is also my turn to learn.”

With her 1-year-old daughter, Jocelyn, wrapped to her back with a perraje, a woven shawl, Rita stands in front of 15 eager children ready to play and learn. One of them is her 4-year-old son, Sebastian. Rita leads the class of 3- to 5-year-olds through various singing and coloring exercises, which translates into language acquisition and fine motor skills development. A smile of relief spreads across Rita’s face as the class ends and she knows that this session, the first of many more to come, has been a huge success.

Through ChildFund’s guide mother program, Rita is both the student and the teacher.

Cooperation Amid Isolation in Guatemala’s Highlands

ECD in Guatemala

Mothers and children in Pachichiac, Guatemala, color in masks during an Early Childhood Development program. 

By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

This is the second of three articles this month about Kate’s recent trip to report on ChildFund-supported programs in Guatemala’s highlands. Read the first.

In Guatemala’s mountain villages, the sense of isolation hits pretty hard when you see a woman or girl walking on the side of a dirt road while balancing a wrapped load on her head. It’s a dusty, hard slog, and the air is noticeably thin at 6,000 feet. I was breathing hard after a short walk, just carrying my camera and a notebook.

Guatemala child

A boy in Palima wears his mask upside down.

In this sort of environment, it’s difficult to believe that any information could be carried from one village to another. And yet two villages in two different districts had tiny children making nearly identical duck masks in the same week. I was a little surprised.

Early Childhood Development programs are a common thread throughout ChildFund’s work worldwide, but because needs and resources differ, the programs often take different shapes. Here, children and (usually) mothers attend weekly or monthly events at homes with room for small chairs and tables, plus storage space for art supplies. Guide mothers teach children how to count, name colors, say the alphabet and build other skills that will help them when they enter first grade. Mothers in the community attend nutrition classes and other programs that help their children develop properly.

sisters in Guatemala

Sisters Maria Esmeralda, 8, and Hilda Esperanza, 6, make masks in Palima.

The week I visited, children in Palima were coloring the faces of cartoon-like ducks and cutting them out to make masks; in Pachichiac, which was at least a two-hour drive away, children used finger paints to color in their duck masks. Smiles and quacks abounded in both villages.

Seeing consistency throughout the region, even in something as small as two groups of children working on the same project at the same time, was encouraging. The region is about to receive an influx of funding thanks to the Japan Social Development Fund, which has donated $2.75 million through the World Bank to help improve the health and development of 12,200 children younger than 2 who live in Guatemala’s highlands. ChildFund will lead the project, which is expected to start later this year.

More than 13,000 parents of the children will be involved, and the four-year project will cover 100 communities in the states of Huehuetenango, Quiche, San Marcos and Totonicapan, where nine out of 10 people live in poverty. Parents will receive more training and support through a Guatemalan government program providing community health and nutrition services, which encourage breastfeeding, good hygiene and nutritious diets. Also, tutors will show parents how to stimulate children with language, numbers and other concepts, just through daily routines.

Clearly, a project of this magnitude will require great coordination among ChildFund staff members, our local partners, guide mothers and families. But the seeds of teamwork already exist in the mountains, despite the hardships. You can see it behind the duck masks.

Dewi, Setting Her Son on a Healthy Path

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Ricky, 3, and his mom, Dewi, stand by a chart in their home that helps them track his development and growth.

By Nikita Haritos, ChildFund Indonesia 

Three-year-old Ricky lives with his mother and father in South Sumatra, Indonesia, in a one-bedroom house, where the three share a bed under a mosquito net. Despite his humble home, Ricky has a collection of toys in a dedicated play area — and a mother who is learning about how he can develop to fulfill his potential.

“Ricky loves playing with his toy trucks and cars, but he is most happy when his older cousins come over to play,” says Dewi, his mother. “They spend hours together running around the yard.”

Ricky’s father is a mechanic at the local motorbike repair shop. Dewi stays at home and looks after Ricky, and she also participates in a parenting program developed by the government and available in her community through ChildFund’s local partner organization, LPM Sriwijaya. The organization’s staff members are working to expand the program to more families in the region.

An example of the activities I do with Ricky is to have him practice opening buttons, which will help him to develop his motor skills.

In workshops led by professionals, mothers learn how to manage childhood illnesses as well as practice better sanitation and hygiene at home. They also learn about the development of cognitive, social, emotional and motor skills, which are just as important as physical growth during a child’s early years.

Trainers show mothers how to play with their children and promote abilities that will help the young ones achieve their goals later. They also try to change some of the misconceptions and attitudes that cause problems within the community’s families.

“An example of the activities I do with Ricky is to have him practice opening buttons, which will help him to develop his motor skills,” Dewi explains. “We learned about the importance of breastfeeding. Many mothers, including myself, did not realize how nutritious it is for our children.”

Dewi is helping to ensure that Ricky will eat healthy food now and in the future; she recently started a veggie garden in their yard, where she grows corn, tomato and papaya. She has just planted spinach seeds, too.

Ricky’s favorite food is soup made from katuk, a green, leafy vegetable found in the tropics as well as Dewi’s garden. She cooks the soup over an open fire on the floor of her kitchen.

ChildFund and the local partner have also provided Dewi and other families with child development cards, posters that let parents track important benchmarks like crawling, walking, playing and speaking.

“It is reassuring to know that I am able to check for myself whether Ricky is developing properly,” Dewi says, “and so far we haven’t had any concerns. The program has been so important in reassuring me that Ricky is growing up into a smart young boy. It would be great if all mothers could be part of the program, too.”

Nikita Haritos is a student at Australia’s Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and is enrolled in the Australian Consortium for In-Country Indonesian Studies, or ACICIS. She worked as an intern for ChildFund Indonesia earlier this year.

A Mobilizing Force for Healthy Children

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Community mobilizer Lucia Rosa (in blue shirt on front row) with mothers she’s training in Ecuador’s Imbabura province.

Interview by Veronica Travez, ChildFund Ecuador

Lucia Rosa works as a community mobilizer for an Early Childhood Development program supported by ChildFund and our local partner FOCI, in Ecuador’s Imbabura province. Lucia serves as the link between our local partner and people in her community, and she invites mothers, fathers and other caregivers to learn methods that will help their children develop skills they need to achieve success later in their lives. We asked Lucia, a mother of two children, ages 9 and 13, about her experiences.

I got married when I was 25 years old, and I was at university studying — as a distance-learning student — to become a lawyer. When my children were born, I had to abandon my studies and devote myself to their upbringing and care. In my free time, I also helped my husband in farming.

One day, I met a community mobilizer who told me about a program for girls and boys under 5 that was being implemented by ChildFund and FOCI in my community. At the time, I had resumed my studies at a university in the province where I live, but I changed my career to become a preschool teacher. Because the ChildFund program had a lot to do with my career plans, I found it very interesting, and I began to attend the weekly meetings.

Lucia (left) graduated from ChildFund's training program in 10 months.

Lucia (left) graduated from ChildFund’s training program in 10 months.

In my community, I helped form a group of mothers who had children under 5 years of age, where I passed on the information I learned in the training sessions. Since I had no children younger than 5, the other mothers appointed me workshop leader and gave me the opportunity to share with the group and to get more experience working with parents and children.

I always had my husband’s support throughout this process. On the days I had training sessions or workshops, I did the housework ahead of time, and then I could go out, feeling content.

After completing the training process, which lasted about 10 months, I now realize how much I have learned: for example, how important it is for children to develop according to their age, and how a good diet and living in a peaceful household contribute to their development. Children grow up safe and happy if they live in a home where there is no abuse among family members.

At the end of last year, I had the opportunity to apply to be a FOCI community mobilizer, and I won the job. I am now part of this organization that gives me the opportunity to serve my community. I finished my preschool teacher studies, and I am very happy because my family lives in harmony. My husband and I learned that to devote time and love to our children helps them grow up healthier and happier.

Steering Children Toward Success

Children learning activities in Leopa  ECD CenterDrawingSingingPlaying

Josefa teaches her ECD students about transportation.

By Silvia Ximenes, ChildFund Timor-Leste

It’s never too early to learn this lesson: “You need to study to get more knowledge and skills,” Josefa tells the children — ages 5 and younger — in the Early Childhood Development center in Leopa, a coastal community in Timor-Leste.

Josefa has taught since 2007 at this ECD center, which is supported by ChildFund and Timor-Leste’s Ministry of Education. Her duty is to make sure her children are learning effectively and to build their confidence in a safe and comfortable environment. ChildFund, working with Timor-Leste’s education ministry, holds training sessions for teachers on education methodology, and we also provided Josefa’s center with furniture, toys, teaching materials and healthy food for the children, including milk and green beans.

The children play before class starts and then come to attention after giving their teacher a warm greeting hello.

Josefa takes down a book and asks the children, “What do you see in this book?” Today’s topic is transportation.

The children respond with various answers: “It’s a car. That’s a plane. It’s a horse. It’s a boat!”

“All are the correct answers,” Josefa says. “Do you know how these means of transportation work?”

Adi of Timor-Leste

Adi on the playground

Adi, a 4-year-old boy with a confident and loud voice, replies, “A car runs on the road! A plane is in the air! Horses carry things!”To liven up the class, Josefa asks the children to stand and sing: “I’d like to ride pleasant transport!” Adi and his friends burst out in a chorus.

A few minutes later, Josefa distributes paper and crayons, bringing the children back to a calmer state. “Now, let’s draw your favorite means of transportation: a car, a plane, a horse or boat,” Josefa says.

Adi and his friends begin to sketch. Adi’s favorite activity is drawing. “I’m drawing five motorbikes, because I like to ride a motorbike,” he says with pride. “I want to become a police officer who rides a motorbike and arrests people who are involved in a crime.”

Josefa takes this opening to let her students know what such a dream will require: “If you want to drive or want to become a skilled driver of any kind of transport, then you need to study hard, to get better knowledge and skills on how to drive properly.”

Adi walks to the ECD center every day. His parents, Januario and Terezinha, both work as subsistence farmers, growing the food their family needs to survive. They have a second son, 2-year-old Felis. In Timor-Leste, about 95 percent of food grown — mainly corn and rice — is produced by subsistence farming.

On his 15-minute trek home that afternoon, perhaps he hums, “I like to ride pleasant transport!” And perhaps the seed his teacher planted is growing in Leopa’s sea breezes.

ROAR Go the Lions and Tigers

India Early Childhood Development

Ashok demonstrates a tiger’s roar in his ECD center in the Raigad district of India’s Maharashtra state.

By Saroj Pattnaik for ChildFund India

Pictures often communicate information more efficiently than words do (hence the famous adage), and that holds true in a small classroom in western India, where children are discovering the alphabet, animals, fruits and vegetables through paintings and pictures.

“Earlier, I could not tell the difference between a cabbage and a cauliflower. Now, I know all the fruits and vegetables that we eat,” says 4-year-old Vaishnavi, one of the 30 children enrolled in an Early Childhood Development (ECD) center in the Raigad district of Maharashtra state, where ChildFund works in 43 rural villages. “Cauliflower is my favorite vegetable, and it contains many vitamins,” she adds.

Vaishnavi’s best friend, Ashok, is more interested in animals, particularly lions. He explains that the lion is the king of the jungle. “You know, a lion won’t kill other animals if it is not hungry,” the preschooler says, recalling a story that his teacher told them the other day.

Shanta Ghatge, a tutor, leads children in acting out a story at an Indian ECD center.

Shanta Ghatge, a tutor, leads children in acting out a story at an Indian ECD center.

According to Dr. Virendra Kulkarni, program manager of PRIDE India, ChildFund’s local partner organization in this area, young children explore visual art with both a creative and a scientific eye.

“Through art, they not only identify objects and concepts clearly, they try to explore everything related to them,” he explains. “Wall paintings are one of the best ways to make children know many things through visual expression. Our role is to provide them with materials and inspiration, then to stand back and let them go.”

Shanta Ghatge, a tutor at the ECD center, agrees: “Wall paintings, posters and other wall decorations not only make the classrooms look great, but they also make learning easy for children and remind them of concepts.

“We cannot just talk all the time in class,” she adds. “Children need to be stimulated in their learning, and we need such wall paintings, posters and other teaching aids to make their learning interesting.”

Ghatge, who has been an ECD teacher in the area for more than 20 years, says she follows a curriculum adopted by ChildFund to teach the preschoolers, and their routine includes examining paintings, writing, singing, storytelling, drawing and painting.

“Although the children like almost all the activities, the most favorite for them has been creating their own art,” Ghatge says. “I often give out drawing sheets and watercolors to them and ask them to make some art. They just love this activity.”

Children need to be stimulated in their learning, and we need such wall paintings, posters and other teaching aids to make their learning interesting.

Research has shown that participating in art, music and storytelling activities helps children develop language, mathematics and social skills. “These essential activities can help the young brain develop to its fullest capacity,” Dr. Kulkarni says. “In all our ECD centers, we use learning methods that are recognized as best practices for preschoolers.

“One of them is using rhythm to help children develop patterning abilities and make relationships between the rhythm, beat and words,” he explains. “There are a lot of local language rhymes that teachers use to improve children’s patterning ability, while toys and other aids are used to improve their motor skills.”

Ghatge points out that the children also have fun in the classroom. “Amidst all this noise, we certainly know one thing: These children are learning while enjoying their childhoods.”

Establishing a Firm Foundation in Fatumeta

Timor-Leste early childhood development

Abrigu, 5, counts the letters of the alphabet with the help of his teacher, Fernanda.

By Silvia Ximenes, ChildFund Timor-Leste

Fernanda, who works in an Early Childhood Development (ECD) center in Fatumeta, Timor-Leste, often begins class by asking the children questions.

“What do people usually use to communicate with each other?”

Most of the children confidently say, “A telephone.”

“Is there anything other than a telephone?” Fernanda asks.

The class becomes quiet. Five-year-old Abrigu and his friends are searching for the answer. Fernanda gives the children a clue: “Something that we watch the news or a movie with — what do you call it?”

“A television!” the children say simultaneously.

Abrigu and his father

Abrigu and his father, Agusto.

After hearing their answers, Fernanda explains today’s topic to the children: different means of communication. She talks about telephones, televisions, newspapers and radio.

The Fatumeta ECD center started in 2008 with support from ChildFund. In her class of 27 children, Fernanda uses methods and techniques she learned in ChildFund’s training programs. By providing the children with various types of games and learning activities, she hopes to help them learn important skills while also expressing their creativity.

As part of today’s lesson, Abrigu carefully writes the letters of the alphabet on a large chalkboard. Afterward, Fernanda asks children to count the letters — combining learning about the alphabet with counting exercises, which will enhance the children’s overall comprehension.

ChildFund, along with local partner organization Moris Foun, supplies the center with books, paper and pencils, as well as education training for the staff members. ChildFund’s goal is to support children so they can complete their studies and become confident, educated adults who can help their communities improve.

Abrigu’s father, Agusto, came with him to the center today. A farmer and dad of seven, Agusto is aware of the importance of education for his children’s future. He says that one of Abrigu’s sisters has also gone through the ECD program. She is now in the second grade  and is doing well, Agusto proudly reports. “She is confident in her learning and is progressing well because she had the opportunity to develop her knowledge in the very beginning through the ECD center.”

Early Childhood Development Programming on Wheels

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The mobile Supervised Neighborhood Play vehicle visits a remote village in the Philippines. Photo by Jobeth Jerao.

Reporting by ChildFund Philippines

Some of the villages we serve are very remote, and it’s impossible to establish Early Childhood Development (ECD) centers in them. In the Philippines, four barangays (the Filipino term for small villages or neighborhoods) in the municipality of Pili are situated too far from established ECD centers, so ChildFund and its local partner organization are bringing in a mobile unit to serve children under 5 and their families.

The Mobile Supervised Neighborhood Play initiative, which began its pilot phase last fall, provides the materials, modules and learning tools found in ChildFund’s home-based ECD programs and packs them in a mini-cab that can travel to remote communities.

Four trained volunteers conduct two-hour sessions twice a day, three times a week in the four barangays, helping train parents and other caregivers, as well as people who could one day start ECD programs locally. This pilot project is just the most recent way that ChildFund is supporting healthy development of children younger than 5.

“Where there are government day care centers, ChildFund helps equip the day care worker,” says Corazon Obra, program officer for ChildFund Philippines. “In communities remote from day care centers, ChildFund helps set up Supervised Neighborhood Play, our home-based model. Mobile SNP takes this idea further, literally delivering quality Early Childhood Development services to remote communities.”

 

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