“Both parents and children have seen a benefit from coming to the centre and socialising. Before the Early Childhood Development and Family Centre, our children didn’t learn anything before they were seven years old. Now they go to primary school with a base and they are speaking English. As parents, we get to share information and learn from each other. This is positive for our families as a whole.”This was the response we had from one of the parents at the Early Childhood Development and Family Centre in Nyabihu District, when we asked: “How has the centre changed your life?”
It was a very early start for us as we began our two and a half hour journey to visit the Early Childhood Development and Family Centre in Bigogwe sector in the Nyabihu District. The centre is one of 13 that have been built to support the Government of Rwanda in delivering its Early Childhood Development Policy and Strategic plan.
After the long winding roads and high altitudes over the mountains, we arrived at the community where the centre was located. It was a proud moment for us to see that the IKEA Foundation had been recognised for their support, along with Imbuto Foundation (a national NGO) and UNICEF, on the direction sign from the main road.
As we stood at the entrance to the centre, the rooms went round in a circle providing three classrooms, separate toilet areas for boys and girls, an outside classroom where a number of parents were meeting for a cookery demonstration, a play area, and a pump for clean water. The centre provides childcare for 125 children aged three to six (59 boys and 66 girls). The centre also carries out home visits by trained staff to help educate parents on hygiene, health and sanitation. This provides support to 150 children, 72 boys and 78 girls, who are unable to attend the centre due to distance and cost.
There has been a positive impact on the community since the centre opened in February 2016, including heath of the children, nutrition, development and education. The workers spend their time not only with the children but also running parenting courses and the cookery demonstrations. We visited the three classes that were running, where the children were learning through play-based activities.
In a small area beyond the classrooms, there was a model kitchen garden that has been created to help educate the parents in the importance of growing a variety of food sources for optimum nutrition, encouraging parents to grow them in their own space. The children are also pushing the parents to change their hygiene practices and are insisting on handwashing after going to the toilet and before meals. The children and parents are learning good practice together.
We had a great opportunity to talk to the parents of the children and ask them questions. Firstly we asked: “How has the centre changed your life?”
A father of a four-year-old boy answered: “I have seen a change in my child, he has good manners and greets people when he meets them. He says thank you. He comes home from school and talks to me about his day and tells me the names of his teacher and his friends.”
Then a father, who was chair of the parents group, said: “I am the father of five children and there is a massive difference in the development of my youngest child compared to his brothers and sisters. He is much more advanced.
”We asked: “Has anyone changed the way they use their garden based on the kitchen garden model?”
The chair of the parents spoke again: “I have copied the kitchen garden model on my land at home, it fits the needs of my family and have also managed to grow extra produce and have made $110 in eight months by selling the produce.” He urged the community to copy the kitchen garden if they hadn’t already.
A mother also spoke: “I have the kitchen garden and I can see the difference in the growth of my children as a result of the improved diet.”
The Early Childhood Development and Family centre also collects rain water, which is stored in a tank under the ground. There is a foot pump, which is used to bring the water to the surface. This water is not safe to drink but is used for cleaning the centre and latrines as well as for gardening. Collecting this water also prevents the centre from flooding.
On the centre site there is a safe water point which was connected in December through IKEA Foundation funding. There is a water meter and they are charged every month. The centre offers the whole package in one place and everyone who attends the centre must be able to access one of the village water points at home too.
Currently the water point closes at night. Each water point has a president, a vice president and a water caretaker. The water is supplied by a private operator who came from a local organisation in a joint venture with the government of the Netherlands. This venture supports with the building of skills and jobs in the local area from experts in the Netherlands.
It is clear from the children and the parents that the community is doing well since the opening of the centre. Plans to open another four in the next year will increase the positive impact on Rwanda and its people. We all walked away from the day feeling proud of what the IKEA Foundation has supported UNICEF in doing, and if we continue our work we will impact the many people.