Transforming the lives of children through early childhood development centers

In communities around the world, parents and caregivers dream of their children’s futures and hope to see them grow and thrive. A child’s first five years of life are an integral part of realizing those dreams and provide critical building blocks for lifelong development.

However, for many parents and carers in Burundi, balancing the developmental needs of young children with the financial responsibilities of supporting a family can seem overwhelming. With few childcare options, families often face a daily, impossible choice: leave their children at home alone, or lose the income or harvest from daily labor.

That choice is even more unimaginable for children who have unique developmental needs that, if not met, can leave them vulnerable to a lifetime of challenges—kids like Rita.

A neighbor in need

When Rita was only two years old, her mother was violently attacked and killed while carrying her daughter on her back. Rita was injured and was in a coma for three weeks. When she woke up, she had lost her speech and was struggling to socialize with other children, often displaying aggressive behavior.

Rita’s aunt took her in, but was overwhelmed with the day-to-day demands of caring for her and providing for her financially. She couldn’t leave Rita at home alone. She also couldn’t stop working if she wanted to put food on her table.

With her family in dire straits, Rita’s aunt turned to her local church for support. It was then that she came into contact with one of World Relief’s Early Child Development Centers (ECD).

Caring for the child and caregivers

In partnership with UNICEF Burundi and local communities, we have opened 11 ECD centers in World Relief Burundi’s Church Empowerment Zones. Each center is run by members of the local community and serves up to 50 children between the ages of two and five. Centers provide trusted care, a nutritious daily meal, and plenty of opportunities to socialize and play with other children in a safe environment.

Not only do the centers give parents peace of mind that their children are safe and well cared for while they work, but they are also helping to transform how children are cared for throughout the community—including at home.

ECD center volunteers, many of whom are parents themselves, are trained in positive parenting, child protection, child development and nutrition – lessons they apply and pass on at the centres, in their neighborhoods and at home.

In a country where currently 56% of children suffer from chronic malnutrition, 90% of children aged 1-14 are physically punished by caregivers and only 7% of children aged 3-5 are in early childhood development programs participate, World Relief Burundi’s ECD centers play an important role in helping local communities create a foundation for children to reach their full potential.

A transformed life

For Rita, enrolling in her community’s ECD center changed her life. When she first started attending school, she struggled to connect with her classmates. However, through the sensitive social and emotional care she receives there, Rita has now regained her speech, shares toys and plays well with other children, and demonstrates positive behavior at home and in the community!

While not all children will rise to the challenges Rita faces, the same community-focused programming that helped her can help more families overcome life’s obstacles. By taking good care of those who are at risk, we can build entire communities and help more children reach their full potential.

The way to a better future

With the support of UNICEF and other donors, World Relief Burundi has so far reached over 500 children under the age of five through its 11 ECD pilot centres. The program has been praised by parents, community leaders and even elementary school teachers, who find that children who have attended the centers outperform their peers in their first year of elementary school.

In addition, the child development tools developed during the pilot program were so successful that the Government of Burundi has approved them for roll-out nationwide. We will open seven more ECD centers in Burundi before the end of the year to allow even more families to thrive.

At World Relief, we want every child to have every opportunity to reach their full potential and we believe local communities are best positioned to make that dream come true. World Relief Burundi’s community-run ECD centers play an integral role in caring for children and caregivers as we move together toward a better future.

Pave the way to lasting change for more families like Rita’s. When you join The Path—World Relief’s community of monthly donors—you work with parents and churches around the world who are building a better future for their children. It takes all of us to pave the way for lasting change, and you have a role to play.

dana couple currently works as a program officer at World Relief. Before joining World Relief, she worked in programming for adolescent girls in the Portland, Oregon area. She is passionate about empowering women and girls to create lasting change in their communities.

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