A fair start for children in the land of Maharajas

My name is Christine Edier and I am the Chief of Resource Mobilisation and Partnerships for UNICEF India. I am looking forward to visiting the historic city of Udaipur and witnessing the Early Childhood Development (ECD) programme, implemented by UNICEF in partnership with the IKEA Foundation.

Rajasthan, famed for Maharajas (kings), palaces and forts, is our destination for the IWitness visit next week, starting on 15 November 2017. For this visit, we will be travelling to Udaipur, the picturesque ‘City of Lakes’ in southern part of Rajasthan. It is the former capital of the Mewar Kingdom, whose rulers were known as skilled warriors. Udaipur proudly displays its glorious past through many palaces, the most notable being the City Palace, which sits on the shore of Lake Pichola.

My own journey started in a US subsidiary of a French chocolate factory, a fascinating place for most children and many adults alike. But I was not content with selling sweet treats, I wanted more from my work and just over a quarter of a century ago, this led me to UNICEF! I have always loved traveling and one of my adventures brought me to India with my daughter and my mother. I travelled to remote corners of this beautiful country, spent time with tribes in Arunachal Pradesh, participating in their festivities, drinking milk of a Mithun (a Himalayan bovine) and eating the local food. I knew I wanted to come back and I did!  For the past four years, I have been living and working in India, which is one of the biggest country programmes of UNICEF.

The IKEA Foundation and UNICEF have been working together as partners in India for the past 17 years. The IKEA Foundation is UNICEF’s largest corporate donor and, since 2000, both partners have joined hands to uphold the cause of child rights across many states in India. I am delighted to have been part of this journey since 2013.

Through this Early Childhood Development (ECD) programme partnership, UNICEF’s intention is that, through play and early learning, children from an early age will learn to interact, play and communicate with those from the other gender. The programme’s targets and key messages are both for mothers and fathers, emphasizing the importance of both parents being involved in the care and development of their children—as well as in decision-making. This partnership on ECD is implemented in two states (Rajasthan and Maharashtra) with a focus on disadvantaged and minority communities, largely in rural areas.

UNICEF provided technical support for the development of the National Early Childhood Care and Education Policy (ECCE), adopted by the Government of India in 2013, the National Curriculum Framework and Quality Standards on ECCE, and the related state feasibility studies. Since 2016, UNICEF has also been supporting a five-year study on early childhood education, tracking students from preschool to the early primary grades. Furthermore, support is being provided to develop early learning and development standards for children aged zero to eight.

During the IWitness visit, we will be going to an Anganwadi centre in Girwa block of Udaipur, which is an early childhood education centre. There, we will meet the Anganwadi workers, who are the frontline workers, and observe how they engage with children and make the experience of learning a joyful one. We will also visit the Malnutrition Treatment Centre at the Medical College in Udaipur, where children suffering from malnutrition are cared for, and parents are educated on healthy feeding practices.

The programme trains master trainers at the state government level who will then train district level officials, who in turn train the frontline workers. Frontline workers will receive mentoring and support as they reach parents and family members with the key messages on ECD. This work builds on ongoing government programmes and supports implementation of the National ECCE Policy. This strategy has been adopted to ensure a lasting effect on the government system, as well as in the communities with whom they work.

I am looking forward to this IWitness visit, which will give the team a glimpse into the ECD programme in Rajasthan. While we would be able to cover only a small geographical area during our visit, it will nonetheless help us understand the impact of the IKEA Foundation and UNICEF partnership. We will be witnessing scalable and sustainable solutions to ensure every child in Rajasthan and across India has a fair start in life. Dhanyavad!