The first 1000 days of a child

The UNICEF office is close to our Hotel Lemigo in Kigali. Arriving at a big yellow building we are welcomed by Noala Skinner (Representative UNICEF Rwanda) and Sid (Head of Communications). Noala starts to talk immediately. Wow, what a passionate women! She explains that in Rwanda each last Saturday of the month is “Umuganda”; community service done by all Rwandan people to work together for the good of the country. To me that sounds fantastic: a country in progress, joining forces to create an everyday better life for the many Rwandan people.

UNICEF 4x4 drive cars – Liesbeth de KruifUNICEF 4x4 drive cars – Liesbeth de KruifUNICEF 4x4 drive cars – Liesbeth de Kruif
UNICEF 4×4 drive cars – Liesbeth de Kruif

In this case, last Saturday Umuganda was dedicated to a new program called ‘the first 1000 days of a child’. A cooperation between the Rwandan government and UNICEF, aiming to support early childhood development. Right from pregnancy through to the first 2 years of a child’s life, healthcare and nutrition are important to ensure the best start in life. With this knowledge, I am really looking forward to visit one of their Early Childhood Development Centres in the afternoon.

But before we leave for our field trip, Deguene (deputy Representative UNICEF Rwanda) and her wonderful colleagues took all the time to explain how UNICEF is working to support Rwandese children and their families. One of the fantastic result is the decrease of the mortality of children between 0 – 5 years old. In 2011 the mortality rate has decreased by half in 6 years time. To me that sounds as an amazing result and I can feel the energy that probably was one of the success factors.

Later that afternoon we drive with 2 UNICEF cars on our first field trip. I feel quite excited, since I am very unsure what to expect and also what people expected from us.

Playing with building blocks, Kayonza EDC Centre – Liesbeth de Kruif
Playing with building blocks, Kayonza EDC Centre – Liesbeth de Kruif

When we arrive at the Early Childhood Development Centre in Kayonza (East Rwanda), I hear a lot of children but don’t actually see them. Maybe because protocol prescribes a formal introduction first. The welcome of the head of the centre is so nice. She seems a bit nervous but speaks from the heart and she convinces me immediately.

 Love to pose – 4 year old boy in Kayonza ECD centre – Liesbeth de Kruif Love to pose – 4 year old boy in Kayonza ECD centre – Liesbeth de Kruif
Love to pose – 4 year old boy in Kayonza ECD centre – Liesbeth de Kruif

The centre is new in the community and provides parents (mothers AND fathers) with children between 0 – 6 years a place to visit, to obtain knowledge, on the job learning and possibilities to play with the children. When we enter the first group, we see mothers with young children. I try to talk to the mothers, and with some help in translating it becomes clear to me that these mothers are so happy with the support they get and really enjoy their visits to the centre, twice a week.

It is also funny to see how children react in similar ways across the world: some are shy and hide themselves, others are easily seduced to play a game. I try to build a big tower of small building blocks with 2 little children. We have so much fun, especially when the tower collapses and we have to start again! 

Happy to be in Kayonza EDC Centre – Liesbeth de Kruif
Happy to be in Kayonza EDC Centre – Liesbeth de Kruif