early childhood development

Simple Learning Tools Teach Lifelong Lessons

 By Joanne Hashim, ChildFund Indonesia

Many parents and teachers use things they have handy to teach lessons to children. Maybe you’ve glued macaroni onto paper or made figurines out of bread dough. Perhaps you’ve pressed flowers in a book. In eastern Indonesia, the same kind of thing happens every day.

teaching tool

Fruit made from newspaper and paint.

At an early childhood development (ECD) center in Sumba, Indonesia, which is supported by ChildFund, tutor Kristina made model fruit out of old newspapers and paint, resources she had nearby, so she could show her pupils, children ages 5 and under, what fruits look like.

“None of these things are difficult to make,” she says. “They just take time, but you see around here, we have no choice. We cannot just talk all the time in class. Children need to be stimulated in their learning, and we need teaching aids that children are interested in and can relate to, so that they have a better understanding of the topic.”

The ECD center in Sumba focuses plenty of attention on creating educational tools with locally available resources.

teacher and children

Gadriana, head of the ECD center, with pupils.

“A popular game is snakes and ladders made from cardboard and old books,” says Gadriana, head of the center. “We also use big dice to teach numbers. This one is made from cardboard. The only cost is in the paint and plastic to protect them.” Every day, children are allowed to choose the game they want to play and with whom they wish to play. As many as 10 children will line up to play “throw,” which has game pieces made out of used newspaper and spare wood.

congkak

Children learn counting through the game of congkak.

“Children love this game,” says Gadriana. “It helps them judge distance and count. Children also love to play congkak, which is a traditional game of counting with the aim of filling the opponent’s pots. The one that we use is made from egg cartons and seeds.” 

As children develop and get older, they need different educational resources.

“Each morning, before some of older children are allowed to play outside, they have to do two things,” says Margaretha, a tutor. “The first is to place pictures of themselves on sticks on the class attendance poster to indicate their attendance at school. The second is to pick up a folded paper from inside a small rattan holder. On each sheet is written a number, or a simple calculation. Each child has to either work out the calculation or sound out the answer before they go and play outside. For this activity, different colored seeds and sticks are used. Children learn to count by touching the objects as they count.

“Having this activity before school enables the teacher to engage and develop a bond with each child while providing direct one-on-one support to the child,” Margaretha notes. “It also provides the opportunity for children to work alone, with the teacher or in a group, as learning is seen as a communal activity. The other thing this activity does is provide structure and sense of routine to the day. With more than 30 children in each class, we have to manage children from the time they arrive.”

Tutor Kristina

Kristina stands by a wall of her pupils’ artwork.

Children also are surrounded by numbers and shapes in the form of pictures. “These learning resources are cheap and easy to make, so teachers and children feel more comfortable about using these resources,” Kristina says, and they are kept where everyone has access to them. The children have to ask permission, but it is usually given. “With these resources, they get to play with a range of different educational toys, and we know that they are learning while enjoying being a child. I wish I had these when I was a child,” she notes.

To keep everyone engaged in the learning process, we are always “developing new toys and learning resources. We sometimes have help from parents, but mostly it is the tutors who are working together,” Gadriana says. “Currently, we are looking at developing math resources for older children that encourage them to work more by themselves over a period of time. We want them to extend their concentration more and develop their self-esteem. We want children to see that math can be fun.”

Mamitas Making a Difference in Ecuador

By Kate Nare, ChildFund Marketing Specialist

“Please, don’t forget about us. Please, go back and tell the world about us here in Carchi.”

As I reflect on my recent trip to Ecuador with ChildFund, these words cycle in my mind. Spoken through tears with conviction and emotion, each mother we met pleaded with us to share their stories with the rest of the world. So, here goes.

The sun was barely rising on a Tuesday morning when our group set out in a bus from Ecuador’s capital, Quito, to visit communities in Carchi. This region of Ecuador borders Columbia, and ChildFund has been helping communities here since 1984.

We had been preparing for this trip for months, knowing that we would meet the mothers and children whose lives are being transformed through ChildFund’s Early Childhood Development program (ECD), which strives to holistically help children ages 0-5 to ensure they reach their full potential.

House in remote area of Ecuador

ChildFund works with vulnerable families in communities that are often far from cities or government assistance.

Surrounding us throughout our drive were crisp blue skies and undulating bright green mountains, speckled with colorful houses. When we think of poverty it’s easy to envision urban slums fraught with trash heaps and filthy alleyways. The view here was much different. It’s easy to think, “It’s beautiful! I could live here!” But I quickly learned that the beauty of the land masks the underlying poverty, discrimination, lack of opportunities and exclusion that the people who have lived here for centuries continue to face.

This fact became apparent as soon as we met Monica.

After four hours of jostling along bumpy dirt roads, steadily climbing up steep mountain sides, we came to a sudden halt. We were instructed by Mauricio, our guide and a ChildFund Ecuador staff member, that we would be visiting a home in the community.

Boy and mother outside their house

Monica and her son, Daniel, greet us in front of their home in Carchi, Ecuador.

We walked down a dirt path and were greeted by Monica and her 4-year-old son, Daniel. Fields of corn and wild flowers skirted her property. A scruffy stray dog rubbed against my leg, eager for a pet. Monica led us to her home, which had a corrugated tin roof, cinderblock walls and three rooms. We followed her into the living room and took seats in a semi-circle, eager to hear her story.

Monica is 41 and has four children, ages 18, 11, 6 and 4. She told us how her husband abandoned her and left her to care for the children on her own. Every day she works in the fields to make a living for her family and her father, whom she takes care of as well. As Monica shared these details, her voice broke and she began to cry. She said there were times in the past when she would come home from a long day, stressed and tired, and she would take this out on her children by beating them. The youngest, Daniel, whom she holds affectionately in her lap as she talks, became fearful and withdrawn at that time.

boy with head on his mom's shoulder

Daniel and his mother are now very close.

Recognizing that she needed support, Monica signed up when she heard that ChildFund, in partnership with a local partner, was training mothers in the ECD program. Soon Monica was attending meetings and learning the full benefits of ECD: a caring and loving household, proper nutrition and health care and stimulation and learning opportunities for young children. She came to realize how the abuse she inflicted on her children was harmful to their healthy development. After going through a 10-month training program, Monica became a certified trainer, known as a “Mamita.”

Hugging Daniel even tighter, Monica said she wants to use her experience to teach and support other mothers in the community so their children will be able to grow up healthy and empowered. In these excluded communities where ChildFund works, 18 percent of women are married by the age of 15. Forty-percent of women are married by 18 years old.

She shared how she wants to pursue her dream of finishing high school and becoming a teacher. And she smiled as she shared that Daniel is now playful, cheerful and likes to go to school. “All is worthwhile for the happiness and welfare of my children,” she said.

A little girl poses with ChildFund staff

Kate with a child in the ECD program.

We met many other Mamitas during our trip. Strong, empowered and dignified, they are each creating a ripple effect in their communities as they train other mothers to love and care for their children. Yes, they still face daily struggles. But their efforts on behalf of their children will bring more opportunities for

Four children smiling

Children giggle during recess at a local ECD center.

the community as a whole as their children grow up healthy, educated, and full of ideas to improve their lives. Monica and the 1,200 other Mamitas in Carchi are living proof of this transformation.

I now have a picture of Monica on my desk to remind me of her story, and why we do what we do here at ChildFund. I will never forget the Mamitas I met in Ecuador who are committed to a better future for their children.

A Glimpse Into the Life of a Guatemalan Guide Mother

By Rosa Figueroa, ChildFund Guatemala

As we prepare to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, we’re spotlighting some of the amazing girls and women we’ve encountered in ChildFund-supported communities. We honor their struggles and cheer their successes.

Julia, a mother of four with a third-grade education, cooks with firewood and lives in a three-room home. Her family subsides on her husband’s $6-a-day salary as a farmer. Despite these challenges, Julia has become a community leader through ChildFund Guatemala’s Play With Me project.

The program focuses on early childhood development and involving parents more fully in the care of their children.

teacher in classroom with students

Julia helps children develop motor and cognitive skills.

“My daughter Cristel is a very active and proactive child in school,” says Julia, who lives in the region of Baja Verapaz. “I practiced early stimulation techniques. When she started going to school, it was easy for her because she is smart; her teacher congratulated me. My daughter is successful because I am a guide mother. Four years ago, I started participating in the ChildFund project. Every day, I wake up early to get my chores done at home and wait for children and their mothers here in my house. I like it because my children help me.”

young children in classroom

A classroom of happy children.

As one of 10 local guide mothers, Julia teaches parents games, exercises and songs to practice with their children that will help them develop socially, physically and mentally. Other sessions focus on prenatal care, breastfeeding and preventing illness. In 2012, parents of more than 2,700 children were involved in the program, which also focuses on children’s rights.

“This project changed my life, because now I can serve my community more, and also because this is a good example for our children,” Julia says. “When they begin going to school, they look more interested. Here in the community, mothers participate because they know that this is a ChildFund project. They like it so much.”

Children Bloom in Central Java, Indonesia

Only about 1 in 5 children in Indonesia have access to a pre-primary education program. In the remote highlands of Central Java, ChildFund is working hand in hand with communities to refurbish Early Childhood Development centers and also train teachers and parents to nourish children in their critical early years of development.

Timor-Leste: Bringing Lessons Home

 By Silvia Ximenes, ChildFund Timor-Leste

Novito, a 5-year-old boy from Timor-Leste, describes “scribbling and drawing a house” as his favorite activity in his Early Childhood Development (ECD) center in the Manatuto district.

five-year-old boy

Five-year-old Novito.

This district in central Timor-Leste has a population of about 42,000, and the economy is based on agriculture, fisheries, small handcraft industries and minerals. Many in Aiteas, the village where the ECD center is located, are involved in farm production activities, such as planting coffee, coconut, vegetables, cassava, corn and rice.

Novito rides his bicycle back and forth to the center, and he also likes to play soccer. He hopes one day to be a professional soccer player.

One of 60 students who attend ECD Aiteas six days a week, Novito is taught by Manuela, Divia and Joana. With ChildFund’s support, the teachers received training in teaching methodology, curriculum design and the Portuguese language.

three boys and two female teachers

Novito, his classmates and teachers at the ECD center in Aiteas, Timor-Leste.

Two years ago, ChildFund helped renovate the ECD center, expanding the building to house three classrooms. ChildFund Timor-Leste supports this center by providing school materials and furniture, school uniforms, snacks and supplementary food. The center also receives a subsidy from the Timor-Leste Ministry of Education every four months to help maintain the facility and update educational materials.

Maria, an ECD coordinator, notes that the center provides learning materials, a proper playground and qualified teachers who work well with the children. Novito often brings home lessons he’s learned at the center and has shown his siblings how to draw a house. He says he is looking forward to moving to the next level of education: primary school.

Indian Preschool Teachers’ Work Matters

By Saroj Kumar Pattnaik, ChildFund India

For Manju Sharma, 37, life once was structured around taking care of her two children and doing daily household chores. Until a few years ago, she had little idea of the world outside her home in the Firozabad district in northern India. But since she began working at an Early Childhood Development (ECD) center supported by ChildFund India, her definition of life has changed. Now she is a self-assured and respected woman in her community.

woman in classroom

Manju Sharma works at an Early Childhood Development center in India.

Initially, Manju was nervous about accepting a job outside the home. Staying away from her children and husband for more than six hours a day was a challenge, but she accepted an offer to work with the ECD program in 2007 because of her passion for helping children living in poverty.

“It was not a very smooth start for me, but my affection for small kids helped to overcome my fears gradually,” Manju recalls. “Soon I was able to strike a chord among the children, and they started loving my presence.”

Manju received basic training on maintaining good hygiene among the center’s 35 children ages 2 to 5.

“I also took training on how to monitor growth of the children attending the ECD center,” she explains. “Now, I am fully aware about the issue of malnutrition and often lead educational sessions for mothers, giving them tips about how they can take proper care of their children’s health.”

She adds, “People now know me as Manju Didi [sister], and I love the respect they shower on me.”

For 26-year-old Avdhesh Jadaun, a teacher at an ECD center in the nearby Andand Nagar locality, teaching was a passion she had held since childhood.

teacher with children

Avdhesh Jadaun teaches so she can help empower children in her district.

Avdhesh, who has a master’s degree in psychology, has a desire to see all children in her locality receive an education and grow up to be self-sufficient young adults — a goal that ChildFund also wishes to achieve.

“Since my school days, I wanted to work for poor children, especially helping them complete their basic education. Now, ChildFund gave me the opportunity to fulfill my dream, and I am very happy,” Avdhesh says.

ChildFund India’s local program manager Bikrant Mishra says, “Avdhesh and Manju are two of our most committed staffers who not only take care of the ECD centers but also actively participate in our maternal and child health-related activities.”

ChildFund currently runs nine ECD centers in Firozabad. More than 600 children up to age 5 are cared for in these centers. Mothers and pregnant women are also given important training on pre- and postnatal health care that includes immunization, breastfeeding, nutritional food intake and regular check-ups.

teacher weighing child

Manju monitors the growth of the children.

“And these teachers often act as health workers in their own capacities and help us deliver better service among the communities,” Mishra adds.

Although Manju and Avdhesh are paid modest salaries for their hard work, they are satisfied when they see the children play, sing and dance happily around them.

“The children are so sincere; often their gratitude is enough,” Avdhesh explains.

Manju says, “The satisfaction I draw from working with these innocent children is incomparable. It’s priceless.”

In the Philippines, Children Learn With Paper Shoes

By Martin Nanawa, ChildFund Philippines

In this small agricultural village in Eastern Luzon, children below schooling age don’t own closed-toe shoes. In many low-income communities across the Philippines, pragmatism leads children to wear flip-flops, which are relatively inexpensive and remarkably durable. Even when their parents can afford a pair of shoes, children still go about their casual business in flip-flops, preserving their shoes for school, church or other formal occasions.

Many young people in this village, much like other parts of the country, will own their first pair of shoes only when they begin school, where shoes are part of the uniform.

Children attend preschool in the Philippines.

Children attend a Supervised Neighborhood Play program in the Philippines.

Nonetheless, on the porch of a small home in this village, children younger than 5 learn to tie their shoes long before they ever own any. These children attend a home-based Early Childhood Development (ECD) program ChildFund supports in areas unreached by government day care centers. Home-based ECD sites like this are known as Supervised Neighborhood Play (SNP) centers, staffed by local volunteers. They are not professional day care workers or educators, but ChildFund trains them to be effective and innovative.

Innovate is just what Mabeth did. The SNP volunteer started with rolls of colored paper, felt markers and all the creativity she could pool together to make her front porch a learning environment for children. She hung paper cut-outs illustrating animals and objects that correspond to letters in the alphabet. In place of printed charts describing parts of the body, Mabeth’s front porch has hand-drawn illustrations. Mobiles hang from the ceiling describing different emotions children experience, such as happy, sad, and scared.

paper shoe with laces

A paper shoe helps children learn how to tie laces.

One cardboard box stores all the children’s shoes — shoes made from paper. They have a double-layer of colored paper for a sole and a loop of paper on top. Colored string is used for laces. “Poor children [in this neighborhood] often don’t have shoes, and I feel it’s important they learn to tie their laces like other children do,” Mabeth says.

Children at this SNP site may not yet own closed-toe shoes, but the innovation of ChildFund volunteers helps make sure they have many opportunities for development early in their childhood.

It Gave Me a Sense That Things Really Can Be Fixed

By Mauricio Bianco, ChildFund Brasil

Mauricio Bianco, marketing and fundraising manager for ChildFund Brasil, recently traveled to Ecuador. Today, he shares his impressions in the second of a two-part series. See part one.

children on playground

An ECD program in Misquilli.

After visiting with teenagers in ChildFund programs who produce a newspaper column and a radio show, we traveled to the community of Misquilli, an indigenous community of Quechua origin. We visited an Early Child Development (ECD) center built and maintained by ChildFund Ecuador with child sponsorship resources and government funding. The center serves children under 5.

woman with charts

A trained volunteer helps new mothers.

Many activities strengthen the emotional bond between children and caregivers, and many mothers in the ECD program receive guidance on the importance of breastfeeding. That advice is delivered by “madres-guias” (mother-guides) who visit mothers in the community weekly to discuss health, hygiene and nutrition of young children.

girl in blue hat

A young child attends ECD programs.

Toward the end of the day we traveled to the province of Cotopaxi, bookended at one side by a snowy hill and the other, a volcano.

We went straight to the community of Patutan, which lies about 10 km (6 miles) from the highway leading to Quito. We talked with leaders of six local associations that have partnered with ChildFund since 1995, supporting the work of ChildFund Ecuador, the national government and local social organizations.

green houses

Local greenhouses for growing flowers.

Some communities from the federation are “graduating,” meaning that they will no longer rely on funding from ChildFund Ecuador.

Carnations

Flower export provides needed income for this community.

These communities now have numerous entrepreneurs who started businesses selling flowers, tomatoes, chickens and pigs. The federation of community groups has a credit union that was formed in 2000 with US$120 and now handles more than US$600,000 in loans to local producers (with interest of 18 percent per year). Carnations and roses are exported to the United States, Europe, Russia and parts of Latin America.

community leaders

Community leaders discuss their future plans.

More than 400 families are involved in the flower industry. The Patutan community leaders eloquently discussed sustainability, transparency, income generation, empowerment, water sanitation, family farming, marketing and foreign trade. It was amazing and gave me a sense that things really can be fixed!

All of the community leaders, including women, seem fully aware of their rights in society and are increasingly improving their communities through sustainable growth. Next year, ChildFund Ecuador will end the subsidy for more than 25,000 people in these communities after providing a great deal of training in education, health and community participation.

Visiting an Early Childhood Community Center in Mozambique

By Melissa Bonotto, ChildFund Ireland

Machava, a 32-year-old community leader, has been working with children for 10 years. He first started talking with village children under a tree close to his house. Then, ChildFund Mozambique built a resource center close by in 2009, and Machava had the chance to use it for his daily meeting with pupils. He also teaches adult education and is a student himself. He had to stop his studies during the Mozambican Civil War, but he is delighted to tell us that he managed to go back to school. He will complete the final year in secondary school next year.

Bringing new books

Machava and I show the children their new books.

As part of the Communities Caring for Children Programme (CCCP) launched last week by ChildFund Ireland and ChildFund Mozambique, this resource center has been adapted to become an early childhood development center. Flush toilets and basins with running water have been installed at children’s level and the center has been made more child-friendly. Zaza, a talented local artist painted colorful and animated pictures on the walls. A small playground is in the works, as is training for center facilitators.

Machava remembers the time he didn’t have any of this. “Children used to sit on the ground. We didn’t have a blackboard or chalk. Also, they were exposed to bad people. Now they are safe and secure in the center.” He teaches subjects such as Portuguese and math, but he acknowledges that the children´s favorite activities are dancing and singing.

Currently, 85 children are enrolled: 50 girls and 35 boys, age 3 to 6 years old. Children stay in the resource centre from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Parents who can afford it make a monthly contribution of 10 meticais (less than 35 cents in U.S. currency). Those who are enrolled in ChildFund’s sponsorship program receive a school bag containing a notebook, two pencils and a sharpener.

Children with new books and bags

During playtime, the children enjoyed their new books and bags.

When we went to the center, we brought some toys, games, books and activities to share with the children. The children were fascinated with bubbles, Irish stickers and pop-up books. We had the chance to tell a story and we also listened to stories told by the children. Maria, a young girl, told a story about “a boy who was friends with a monkey. One day the boy said he wanted to steal something, but the monkey said he should not do it because it was not nice!”

We watched them singing and dancing enthusiastically and animatedly. Just as Machava said, they love it!

Through the CCCP program, ChildFund seeks three primary outcomes for children:
• improve the quality of the services related to ECD
• strengthen community structures
• develop a culture of learning.

Four additional ECD centers are planned in Gondola before 2015, funded by ChildFund and Irish Aid.

In Mozambique, Communities Save and Prosper

By Melissa Bonotto, ChildFund Ireland

VSL Group

Members of Village Savings and Loans group gather for their weekly meeting.

It’s the end of another week and villagers from the Gondola district in Mozambique are gathered at their usual meeting spot. They each have their meticais – the local currency – and are eager to participate in today’s Village Savings and Loans (VSL) meeting. After the official welcome by the organization’s 23-year-old president Aida, they begin shouting out numbers, adding their money to the pool and cheering — happy to be investing in the future of their community.

Through a partnership with the local KureraWana Association, ChildFund Ireland and ChildFund Mozambique have encouraged VSL groups to invest in early childhood development as part of their new Communities Caring for Children Programme (CCCP). CCCP coordinator, Alberto, says “The community became so excited that they could not wait.” Some VSL groups began saving before the program’s official start date and will soon be able to support childhood development initiatives in the area. With an early start, most VSLs have saving down to a science.

Each group, consisting of about 15 to 25 members, meets weekly to make deposits into a communal fund. Participants must contribute at least one share each week, but they are allowed to give up to five. One share is equal to 20 meticais – or US$1.

Calculating interest in the group

A VSL group member calculates interests in the ground.

Members can borrow up to three times the amount they have contributed but only at the last meeting of the month. Borrowers have three months to pay down their loan, and do so at a 10 percent interest rate. Members follow clearly prescribed guidelines to participate and start each meeting by reciting the rules and penalties so that everyone in attendance understands.

With financial guidance, individuals use these loans to maintain or jumpstart new businesses and community programs. “These groups have been targeted for business management training during the program,” says Jean, a ChildFund Ireland grants officer. “So their loans are managed appropriately and used for viable businesses.”

Money counters

Two money counters add up the contributions.

Each group is supported by a secretary, two cashiers, a “money-box” guard and multiple key guards. All participants, identified by a number, announce how much they have saved for the week. The secretary records the amount in a ledger and members of the group cheer for their fellow banker’s accomplishments.

Beyond entrepreneurship, VSLs also encourage emergency preparation through savings. At every meeting, each participant contributes 5 meticais to a social fund that can be used as a donation to a member in times of need.

Clapping for savings

Members clap for the person who saved the most this week.

As their savings grow, VSL groups will help reshape the economic capacity of their communities and empower individuals to reach financial stability. Group members will start new businesses, providing services their neighborhoods need desperately, as well as support key community initiatives that will benefit the families and children of their community.

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