early childhood 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.

Successful Partnerships Support Child Development

By Patricia Toquica, Americas Region Communications Manager

In the cold mountains of Ecuador, a group of young preschoolers eagerly await another visitor to their Child Center for Good Living (Centro Infantil del Buen Vivir) in the remote town of Santa Rosa in Tungurahua province.

The children have grown used to guests, as government officials regularly cite this center as a successful model for early child development programs. The center was specially designed with children’s welfare in mind and built and managed as a joint effort by the government, the local community and ChildFund.

young children eating at preschool

Children in this remote village enjoy a meal at the Child Center for Good Living.

The Child Centers for Good Living are part of Ecuador’s National Plan of Good Living (Plan Nacional del Buen Vivir), a policy to recognize child development as an integral child right. By 2015, Ecuador aims to enroll 75 percent of its children in child development programs.

In Santa Rosa, the previous child development center was in bad condition, in terms of infrastructure and services. The community signed an agreement with the provincial branch of the Ministry of Social and Economic Inclusion (Ministerio de Inclusión Social y Económica-MIES) and ChildFund Ecuador to together build and administer a new center under the highest standards of quality and efficiency.

“We built this center up from the very first stone to the very last nail,” says Blanca Chiza, coordinator of Cactu—ChildFund’s local partner organization. The local community association contributed the land and the labor; the government and ChildFund provided financial and technical assistance, equipment and trained staff to run the center.

teacher at child center

Viviana teaches at the center.

Currently, 26 children (newborns to age 5) now learn, rest, eat and play in a well-equipped center. “The community is thankful, as the facilities we had before were in terrible condition,” says Viviana Vargas, center coordinator. “The mothers of our town can now work, having the peace of mind that their children are well taken care of.”

vegetable garden

A small garden provides a learning opportunity for children and fresh vegetables for the center.

The center has rest areas where toddlers can take their naps; bathrooms with basins and toilets made to their size; rooms for music, playing, and exploring, as well as a fully equipped cafeteria.

“The key to our success is the model where we teachers work together with parents, communities, government and ChildFund,” says Viviana. “At the ECD center, we meet our neighbors; we help and support each other.”

Easing Transitions: Zambia’s Stepping Stones Program

By Christine Ennulat

The high school dropout is a familiar phenomenon. But an elementary school dropout? In developing countries, it’s a common problem.

“Your first-grade classroom may have 135 kids in it,” says Mary Moran, ChildFund senior specialist in Early Childhood Development. “Your second-grade classroom has 60, and by the time you get to fifth grade, you may be in a class of 10 or 12.”

ChildFund’s Stepping Stones program, in Zambia’s Mumbwa region since 2009, eases the transition between early childhood and primary school environments, helping more children stay in school.

Children at ECD Center

Children gather to start their school day at an Early Childhood Development Center in Zambia.

For a child who is moving to primary school, whether from home or one of ChildFund’s Early Childhood Development (ECD) centers, the change is often a shock. A typical primary school is a teacher-centered, highly structured setting with little individual attention and few to no materials with which to work or play.

The primary school teacher usually has little training in child development or in education methods for young children. Parents may have had no school experience at all, which means no understanding of the school process or how to support their children in it.

Stepping Stones connects teachers, parents and children. Teachers from ECD classes and first-grade classes collaborate on a plan for understanding each other’s practices and expectations. Groups of children and teachers may visit classrooms, or parents may take their children individually. Teachers from both settings spend time in each other’s classrooms. They’re also trained in how to engage with parents and families.

Parents @ ECD Center

Parents participate in a learning activity with their children.

Likewise, parents receive coaching on how to engage and interact with teachers, as well as to recognize when their children are under stress or having other difficulty. All adults work in concert on behalf of the children.

The Stepping Stones program supports children as they learn lifelong skills: resiliency, adaptation to change and how to recognize the differing expectations of people and environments. To help them, teachers are trained in social-emotional learning strategies, from understanding different learning styles to new ways to structure classrooms and schedules that help children prepare for change and provide them with a sense of control.

“We now know how to ask questions of children,” said one teacher who has participated in Stepping Stones. “I thought my role was to make sure the children know the information.” As they learned their new role as guides rather than givers of information, teachers also noted that children were more apt to both ask for help and share their enthusiasm for learning. The level of parents’ engagement was another pleasant surprise.

When the time came for a graduation ceremony to honor the transition, some of the preschool teachers literally handed the children over to the primary teachers as parents looked on. “In one case, a child told us that graduation was really important because he had his first taste of cake,” Moran laughs. “Another told us that what was so important to her was that her community gave them a book to write in, and it was the first time she had ever had a book.”

Child walking to school

A student walks to his primary school classroom.

On the first day of primary school, only one of the 143 children cried. But both the teachers and the parent were prepared to support the child. It took only a handful of days for him to find his footing.

New Insights on the Critical Role of Early Childhood Development

by Mary Moran, ChildFund Senior Program Specialist, Early Childhood Development

Young girl countingEarlier this week, I was at World Bank headquarters for the launch of the new Lancet series on early childhood development as a global concern. These studies follow up on new evidence about the impact of early childhood development programs and the risks young children face in their development. They also highlight what things give children some form of protection even when they live in environments of extreme poverty, face high rates of malnutrition or lack stimulation.

Recent evidence demonstrates significant risk for young children’s development when

  • their mothers are depressed
  • they live in families where someone has HIV or they are infected themselves
  • they have had multiple bouts of malaria
  • they are exposed to violence of any type — within their families, in their communities, or their country is in conflict
  • they have inadequate developmental stimulation
  • their growth prenatally has not been adequate
  • they live in institutions.

However, children are protected when

  • they have good interaction with their caregivers (parents)
  • their mothers have more education
  • they are breastfed
  • their physical and social environments offer them good stimulation.

children making craftsChildFund’s Early Childhood Development programs address these risks and protective features through:

  • parenting education and support programs
  • caregiver-child interaction groups and home-based services targeted toward building strong relationships
  • integrated programs for young children living in HIV-affected environments
  • enhanced nutrition and health programs that promote breastfeeding while supporting good interaction and feeding relationships
  • play groups and preschools
  • successful community deinstitutionalization programs and supporting government-sponsored foster care and adoption systems
  • identification of children at developmental risk through screening with our innovative child development scale
  • malaria and HIV prevention
  • promoting family mental health
  • adult education
  • promoting girls education and reducing gender discrimination
  • aid to marginalized groups to be included in all programs and community life.

For additional reading, you’ll find the article series, on the website of the Consultative Group on Early Childhood Care and Development (ChildFund is an active member of this group).

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