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Faith-based organisation promotes equality in ECD

Faith-based organisations, in Balaka District, have taken up the challenge of ensuring that children in rural areas have equal access to quality education by promoting Early Childhood Development (ECD).

One such organisation is the Quadria Muslim Development Programme (QMDP), a development arm of the Quadria Muslim Association of Malawi (Qmam).

Ousmane Chunga, Qmam programmes officer, said quality training for caregivers in rural areas, provision of ECD kits and infrastructure development can go a long way in bridging the gap that exists in ECD activities between Community Based Childhood Centres (CBCCs) and nursery schools in the urban areas of the country.

“ECD falls under QMDP’s aims of providing quality ECD in rural CBCCs which is both formative and effective to all children, regardless of social and religious background,” Chunga said.

Speaking recently when Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) donated various ECD kits at Binoni in Balaka, Chunga said much as the Malawi economy is going through tough times, giving equal access and quality ECD to children in rural and urban areas would give them both a solid springboard on which to launch their future education opportunities through the passage of time.

“If we sacrifice quality in the name of quantity when it comes to ECD activities, then we risk losing both because the first years in a child’s life are very important in moulding the kind of future the child will have and quality ECD will provide that foundation,” Chunga said.

He said the ECD kits that NCA donated would go a long way in motivating children to attend CBCCs as well as gain the much needed knowledge and skills to enable them graduate to primary education.

But Chunga expressed worry that the looming food shortage threatened to reverse gains that have been registered in their ECD programme.

Making the donation, NCA Country Representative, Stain Vallemstard, said his organisation would liaise with other stakeholders in alleviating the hunger situation that has also affected ECD education in the country.

Vallemstard said hunger which threatens 2.8 million people in the country would have negative impact on ECD as children would have little or no food in the CBCCs thereby compromising on at tendance and slow uptake of information.

“Our support for childcare is very limited but we, together with other big donors, need to try and mobilise food aid so that we help feed children in CBCCs although this would not defeat the hunger,” he said.

Vallemstard said NCA would continue supporting CBCCs with infrastructure development, learning and teaching materials in areas such as child development, play and early learning, materials and equipment, learning through play, planning and organising the learning environment, child healthcare, child hygiene and environment, child rights and welfare and child nutrition, among others.

Andrew Nkhoma, Childhood Development Officer in the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare, said government had come up with a policy to guide ECD in the country which integrates physical as well as psychological needs of children.

“It is government’s wish, through the ECD policy and strategic plan, that every village should have a children’s corner and CBCC so that children’s formative years should be taken care of irrespective of geographical setting or social status,” Nkhoma said.

He said since inception of ECD in the country in 1989, access to ECD stands at 40 percent but government was working on raising the bar to 72 percent by the year 2019.

Qmam Publicity Secretary, Jaffer Kawinga, said faith based institutions play an integral role as gate keepers of large faith communities and, when effectively utilised, they successfully mobilise and sustain a vibrant grassroots movement in the promotion of ECD.

“We believe religious institutions strongly address the moral and ethical challenges of human society which have a close connection to the many challenges our children face nowadays,” Kawinga said.

He said through the CBCCs and children corner centres, children would be able to learn good behaviour and different life-saving skills.

But, as is often the case with all new initiatives, Kawinga said that the programme faced some resistance as a result of misconceptions within communities.

“There have been unfounded concerns that Qmam would influence Islamic teachings in the CBCCs it established. But people have now realised that Qmam has a development arm, QMDP, that champions developmental projects and a separate Religious Affairs and Dawa programmes section that looks into issues of religion,” he said

ECD is one of the concepts Qmam is implementing in STA Kachenga through its ‘Promoting Early Childhood Development and Adolescents’ project with the aim of encouraging communities to take part in delivery of ECD in CBCC.

Qmam has been implementing the ECD project since 2013 with funding from NCA amounting to K87 million for three years. The organisation has trained at least 90 caregivers within the project, trained 60 community leaders, opened 10 children corner centres, constructed 10 CBCCs and one youth resource centre.

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