POSTED November 9, 2020
Nurturing the growth of happy, healthy children in West Africa
A child’s mind is amazing.
Consider these UNICEF facts: more than 80 percent of the brain is formed by the age of three, up to 75 percent of each meal supports that vital organ’s growth and just 15 minutes of playtime can unleash thousands of cerebral connections. It makes sense that the time between a child’s birth and their fifth birthday is critical to their development.
Yet, there are many barriers — such as poverty, harmful traditional practices, child labour and exploitation — holding children back from developing to their full potential in the communities where we work around the world, especially in West Africa. This is why our offices in Burkina Faso and Ghana are Centres of Excellence in early childhood, a pivotal time in growth and development.
We start providing support before babies are even born, encouraging parents to seek trained professionals for support through labour and delivery. We follow this with training on maternal and child health, nutrition, hygiene, sanitation and more.
It doesn’t end there. Just ask kids like Mary (below). The five-year-old is happy she doesn’t have to wait outside a packed classroom anymore, hoping to learn something from just outside the door. That changed for the better when Children Believe, with support from our local partner, spurred the construction of a three-classroom early childhood care and development centre in Mary’s rural village in the Northern region of Ghana. “Now I can come to class,” says the eager student. “The chairs are nice, and I like coming to school every day.”
Ibrahim Mumuni, Mary’s head teacher, is grateful the crumbling mud hut that served as a classroom has been replaced. Now parents can feel safe to send their kids to school. “The children now have appropriate furniture, play equipment and learning materials,” he says. “The rooms are spacious, and the children are enjoying school. Now all the parents are sending their children to the school, and it is becoming difficult to turn them away.”
That’s what we want to hear. In fact, we’re proud nearly 30,000 children are benefiting from early childhood development and learning services in Ghana and Burkina Faso. This is giving them safe, secure places to grow through access to trained teachers, learning materials, toys, play equipment and, in some cases, hot lunches for toddlers who may not get enough nourishment at home.
Learning through playing is a big part of a child’s development and one of our successful learning modules, thanks to a teaching methodology developed by Toronto’s Hincks-Dellcrest Centre.
Through this initiative, parents are discovering the importance of engaging and playing with children to spark their cognitive development and mental health. It’s also filled a gap in Ghana where a reintroduction of early childhood development in public schools was challenged when few trained teachers were available. Now teachers are excited to receive training and teach students who are better equipped to learn.
All this is boding well for parents who have more time at home to earn an income while their children are at school. Early childhood care is a success in the communities we work in for many reasons…
- pregnant women are regularly participating in antenatal consultations and giving birth in health centres assisted by qualified personnel
- parents are learning the warning signs of common illnesses and are immediately going to health centres when their children show signs of malnutrition, respiratory infections or other sickness
- there’s a greater understanding about the importance of early childhood education, which means more kids are being registered for school
- trained teachers are making lessons more practical, keeping children engaged and continuing on in receiving a quality education
- children’s literacy and other primary knowledge is growing
- men are understanding the importance of spending more time with their families
- parents are learning how to engage better with their children, which is contributing to a happier home life
Great progress is being made.
We’re also mitigating the impact of COVID-19 by focusing our efforts on preventing the spread, ensuring children are nourished, keeping children safe from violence and helping children continue learning. Parents and children are also learning how to keep safe from the virus, and our teams are making home visits and sharing parenting tips.