Three days in Yichang was short, but it was definitely worthwhile

Early in the morning on the 11th of November, our official third day started. We first went to Ai Jia village early-childhood development (ECD) centre by bus at 8:30 a.m. We visited two centres in Yichang (Ai Jia village and Zhong Shu Jie community), and the facts we have learned from today are as below.

IWitness team on the way to Ai Jia ECD centre
IWitness team on the way to Ai Jia ECD centre

Ai Jia village ECD centre

This centre was opened in August 2014. It opens every day and has organised activities (including parent-child interactive activities and parenting classes) at least two-to-three times per week.

Child at Ai Jia Village ECD centre
Child at Ai Jia Village ECD centre

Volunteers will do home visits if families did not come to the centre more than three times. The volunteers visit those families to find out the reasons for their absence. They will provide special services to these families, such as playing with the children at their home, talking to the caregivers about the importance of early stimulation, and organising home-based play groups formed by four-to-five families. Sometimes volunteers will also conduct these visits to families living far away from the ECD centre.

Grandmother and child on their way to Ai Jia Village ECD centre
Grandmother and child on their way to Ai Jia Village ECD centre
Child at Ai Jia Village ECD
Child at Ai Jia Village ECD
Child and caregiver at Ai Jia Village ECD
Child and caregiver at Ai Jia Village ECD
Children at Ai Jia Village ECD
Children at Ai Jia Village ECD

The centre provides a parenting portal installed on an offline touch screen to help communities without internet access and caregivers with no computer skills to learn about childrearing knowledge and skills.

Using the touch screen parenting portal
Using the touch screen parenting portal

The portal provides parenting educational information, jointly developed by the Ministry of Education of China and UNICEF, to parents and caregivers on topics such as nutrition, safety, early stimulation, etc.

Group photo at Ai Jia Village ECD centre
Group photo at Ai Jia Village ECD centre

Zhong Shu Jie community ECD

Zhong Shu Jie community is primarily a residential compound for rural migrants. Mr. Lee (Party Secretary of Zhong Shu Jie community) explained to us that the majority of residents in Zhong Shu Jie community are underprivileged. Three days per week, the ECD centre organises activities led by trained volunteers.

Home visit at Zhong Shu Jie
Home visit at Zhong Shu Jie
Home visit at Zhong Shu Jie
Home visit at Zhong Shu Jie
Houses in Zhong Shu Jie area
Houses in Zhong Shu Jie area

After we visited the two ECD centres, we had a brief meeting with women’s federations and the UNICEF China team. Through this meeting, we learned many things.

Brief meeting with UNICEF China and Womens Federations after centre visitings.
Brief meeting with UNICEF China and Womens Federations after centre visitings.

To improve volunteers’ professional abilities, the project provides training to all volunteers and women’s cadres who work at the ECD centres. The training is provided by national experts, mainly targeting provincial technical support teams and key volunteers once a year, and the provincial technical team provides training to all other volunteers and women’s cadres twice per year.

There are regular onsite technical support and inspections to all community-based ECD centres.

ECD centres will be inspected by national expert teams comprised of the All-China Women’s Federation  (ACWF) and UNICEF once a year. The provincial inspection is conducted twice a year, and local inspections are conducted once every quarter.

Project provinces share their experiences and learn from each other. There are already non-project provinces that have paid visits to Yichang and expressed willingness to replicate this model.

In Hubei, there are 16 ECD centres (ten centres in Yichang city and six in Xiangyang). By the end of September 2015, these centres have served a total of 2,102 children aged 0-3 and their families.

Parents and families like ECD centres because they believe that ECD centres are safe, fun, educational.

The most important thing that we have learned from this programme is that ECD centres improve people’s mindset of early-childhood development, especially for newborns to three-year-olds. Because traditionally people think early-childhood education is unnecessary, through ECD community centres people are getting changing and have improved their awareness on early-childhood development.

Child at Ai Jia Village ECD centre
Child at Ai Jia Village ECD centre

Through these two full days of field trips to ECD centres, we learned several things.

First, we felt absolutely sad and sorry that we could not stay longer with children and their families (but, unlike the children aged over three, actually it was very difficult to spend a longer time with the children aged up to three).

Secondly, if we could have participated in a parenting education session, it would have been a great chance for the IWitness group (so, we mentioned this to UNICEF China, and they will try to include this in next trip).

After visiting the ECD project, we can see that the families, children and parents are happy because their children love to go to the ECD centres. We were very glad and proud that the IKEA Foundation supports the young generation’s education, and we believe it will makes our future brighter, whether the children come from China or any other country in the world.

Children at Ai Jia village ECD centre
Children at Ai Jia village ECD centre