It is 10:30 in morning here at Chinsapo Community Based Child Care Center (CBCC) in the outskirts of Lilongwe City, Malawi’s capital.
Children below the five years are seen enjoying on the play ground with different toys while others are singing different songs, regrdles of the hot sun of November.
The center serves children from Group Villages of Chisenga, Bwemba and Chisapo in the area of Traditional Authority Malili.
“My name is Mercy Phiri.” One of the children told me with a jovial face.
Early Childhood Development (ECD) includes nutrition, education, psychosocial support and development, water and environmental sanitation in the homes and institutions.
The approach promotes and protects the rights of the child for survival, growth and development
Lucy Kapalamula is one of the care givers at Chinsapo ECD center and is always happy happy to be among those who are nurturing the future of the country.
“This center has been helpful to many children. They are prepared in a way that they always find life easy when they graduate to primary school. If teachers there have been coming to this center to see how we work because unlike in the past, they now find it easy to deal with the children who have gone through this center,” said 48 years old Kapalamula who has been a caregiver for six years.
Early years of life, according to Kapalamula are crucial-well nurtured and cared for in their early years children are more likely to survive, grow in healthy way, have less disease and illnesses, fully develop thinking, language, emotional and social skills
She added, “When they enter school their prospects for performing well are improved As adolescent they are likely to have greater self-esteem. Later in life there is greater chance of becoming creative and productive members of the society.”
According to World Relief Malawi (WRM) Child Development Program Coordinator George Mkandawire, CBCCs empower communities to collectively deal with children issues in the area.
“They promotes community ownership of child development initiatives, they are cost effectives as communities mobilize resources locally for child care and bring in developmental opportunities to the community,” he said adding that they are also a converging point for community development interventions.
Tremendous progress has been made in service delivery with 11,600 centers in existence and 1.6 million children across the nation have access to ECD services according to the Ministry of gender, children, disability and social welfare (MoGCDSW) statistics.
This indicates an increase of 45.3 % from 30%.
MoGCDSW ECD National Coordinator Francis Chalamanda investing in the program helps in attainment of human rights as well as children‘s rights and there is social equity since underprivileged children are easily targeted directly.
So far, Chalamanda said 32 percent of children enroll in primary school with prior ECD experience, 300 Community Child Protection Workers (CPW), parenting education and CCD programs by other implementing partners have been rolled out and training and positioning of 81 ECD Volunteer Interns in all the districts with an increase of caregivers and ECD officers doing academic studies.
While strides have been made in the past, it is clear that huge challenges still remain in the delivery of IECD services in Malawi.
They range from low education levels of some caregivers, poor infrastructure for ECD centers, nnadequate community participation in ECD, Inadequate trained service providers at all levels to lack of incentives for caregivers and ECD workers.
‘Insufficient services for children with special needs, inadequate ECD standardized instructional materials, weak monitoring and evaluation system for ECD services, 55% of the eligible children still do not access ECD centre services and most of the ECD center based services are of poor quality; not are child-friendly,” said Mkandawire.
As the country is in the national ECD week, stakeholders reflect on the plight and the future of the country’s children.
Minister of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare Dr Jean Kalilani opened the week with a call for stakeholders to work hand in hand.
“To overcome these challenges and to ensure the success and sustainability of ECD, there is need for the participation of all sectors in society.
“I would like to call upon the private sector, civil society, traditional leaders, religious leaders, parents and local volunteers to all work together to support Governments efforts to improve ECD services,” she said.
With all in place, the country’s future depends on the nurturing of children at a tender age like Mercy Phiri.