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Working with the community to improve Early Childhood development (ECD) among orphans and vulnerable children in Rwenzori region, Western Uganda

The period from conception to birth is critical but so are the first few years of life. Evidence from World Bank indicated that the smartest thing a country can ever do is to invest in the early years of its population as this boosts human capital needed for economies to diversify and compete favourably in future. The contribution of early childhood development interventions such as early learning, play therapy among others towards cognitive functioning and social emotional behaviours is not uncommon. This relationship is even more important in societies burdened with HIV/AIDS, as children are more likely to be exposed to factors (i.e. severe malnutrition, infectious diseases like Tuberculosis and child abuse) that detrimentally impact on their cognitive development and future psychosocial and physical health.

Under its new CDC funded project; Accelerating HIV Epidemic Control in Fortportal region of mid-Western Uganda (ACE-FORT), Baylor Uganda through the existing community structures initiated community based ECD home learning centres for orphans and vulnerable children with critical focus on those infected and affected with HIV/AIDS. The Home learning centres (HLCs) cater for children aged 3–5 years targeting a holistic development of children through services such as essential health care, psychosocial support, nutrition, positive parenting, play and stimulation.

Baylor Uganda used the principles of partnerships, sustainability and cost efficiency to partner with local government district education department and the community development office. Together they piloted home learning ECD centres in Kyenjojo district to support communities in hard to reach sub-counties of Bufunjo and Nyankwanzi. Establishment of the home learning ECD centres has been bilateral – where community members are sensitised about the initiative, highlighting its advantages, resources (both human and time) needed and its long term sustainability plan. This plan included working with the community development officers, leaders of people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHIA) networks and other community leaders using local materials (land, reeds, eucalyptus trees among others) and labour provided by community members especially those with targeted children who will benefit from these home learning centres.

Community members provide land where the centres are established.  A management committee of 8 people is selected to oversee the home learning centres. The committees are trained on the basics of managing community HLCs, range of services being offered to children and the appropriate play materials to be used. On a daily basis, all children in the HLC are assured of at least one meal to support their nutritional needs provided by the caregivers who provide maize grain, support the milling and preparation of the meal on rotational basis.

Baylor Uganda’s role is to build capacity of the ECD teachers (parent educators) through classroom trainings, onsite mentorships and routine technical support supervision. In addition, Baylor Uganda provides iron sheets, mats, stationery, old car tyres and skills in constructing outdoor play equipment from locally available materials.

Statistics

By December 2018, 8 HLCs with an average of 35 children were enrolled at each centre. A total of 16 parent educators were trained with guidance of national ECD curriculum. We plan to assess readiness of graduation from the centre to the nearby primary school in 2019.  

By Rogers Ssebunya, Carol Namukwaya & Sunday Kumakech

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