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Rwanda: What is an ECCD centre?

Just like a nursery?

The ECCD (early childhood care and development) centres we visited equated in my mind to the type of nursery school my 2-year-old son goes to.

There are lots of lively inquisitive children who come here whilst their parents go out to work. They sing songs, play games and with toys, learn numbers and words and kindly, patient staff work hard to get the balance between warmth and maintaining control.

Except these centres are in rural Rwanda. Although the children look 18 months to 2-years-old, they are 3, 4 and 5-year-olds, but half the size they are supposed to be due to stunting.

Reality check

The alternative for those that aren’t lucky enough to have an ECCD centre close by or whose local centres are full to bursting, is being left at home all day alone, perhaps with older siblings.

We hear of some being locked in the house, made of mud bricks with mud walls, some tethered to a tree.

The parents have no alternative but to go to work to earn money for food and the children are left unsupervised with nothing to eat until the daily evening meal and nothing to do except perhaps a few household chores.

Getting to know you

The children seem generally happy, slightly bemused by their “muzungu” (foreigner) visitors. We sing with them, they recite our names, count to 10.

After a while, I ask them what they need, what they want, expecting to hear “toys, paper, pens” and instead my heart breaks. “Rice.” “Porridge.” “Bananas. “ “Shoes.” “Trousers.”

We hear about their lives – at home they are kept busy with chores such as collecting water and firewood, cooking (a diet of corn, potatoes, rice, beans), feeding and tending to animals. On Sunday some go to Church to pray with their parents.

I ask them what they want to do when they grow up: to build a house and be a man; to plant bananas and be a farmer; to have a big shop; to be intellectual and be a mum.

So what?

Save the Children is building, equipping and training staff for ECCD centres – there are 28 in Rwanda each caring for around 100 children proving the model for how this can work.

In Rwingwe, we meet parents to hear from them how these centres have transformed their children’s lives. We hear how they themselves set up an ECCD, to address the issue of childcare so they could go to work, which Save the Children later came to support.

I hear about how children from the centre do better at primary school, are well socialised, respect each other, are more polite to their parents, know about hand washing and can do it themselves, have more confidence are more independent – the list goes on. And of course the children are safe from harm and the parents are able to earn a living.

Going a step further

In my mind this is the perfect setting to offer holistic care too. One ECCD was right next door to a Health Post – the most basic level of health service staffed by a full time nurse, able to treat potentially fatal diseases like diarrhoea and pneumonia early on – and community healthworkers cover more remote areas.

These centres have an opportunity to look out for children’s health as well as their safety and education.

By introducing the planned feeding programme they’ll be able to fill their tummies with nutritious food too, sending them on their way to primary education healthy and well.

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