Parents want more early childhood development centres

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(L-R) Gasabo mayor Stephen Rwamurangwa; Imbuto Foundation's director-general Urujeni Bakuramutsa; Ikea Foundation's CEO Per Heggenes; permanent secretary for MIGEPROF Henriette Umulisa; and Unicef country representative Ted Maly cut a ribbon to officially open the Gikomero Early Childhood Development & Family Centre yesterday. (Doreen Umutesi)

​Evariste Hakizimana, a father of six from Gikomero Village, Gikomero Sector Gasabo District, is a subsistence farmer who has to wake up as early as 5am to tend to his garden and finds almost no time playing his role as a father.

Speaking at the inauguration of Gikomero Early Childhood Development And Family (ECD&F) centre, yesterday, Hakizimana, 39, said the new centre has provided a safe and enjoyable learning environment for children while their parents are working, while also teaching children important hygiene practices, such as regular hand-washing.

​“With our difficult daily work, sometimes it is challenging for one to be a good parent,” Hakizimana said.

“The ECD has been so helpful in taking care of our children; giving them formal knowledge but also improving their hygiene. My child returns home having learned new words in English.”

​Gikomero ECD&F centre is the ninth child development centre to be launched in the country.

​With the early years of a child's life being the most important for his emotional, social and physical development into a well-adjusted adult, the Early Childhood Development policy was approved by the Government of Rwanda in 2011.

​Imbuto Foundation, in partnership with Unicef Rwanda and the Ikea Foundation, turned this policy into a functional reality.

​In 2013, the First Lady Mrs Jeannette Kagame, launched the ECD&F programme to support the holistic development of children under six, through the provision of integrated health, nutrition, early learning and protection services for families and children.

​​The Gikomero centre which cost about Rwf90 million to be established, has the capacity to receive 200 children. These children arrive at the centre at 7.30 in the morning and leave at 11 am, after engaging in various curricular and extra-curricular activities.

Trained caregivers use an ECD package of services to assist parents and children when providing services at these ECD&F centres.

Plans for more centres

​Dolotia Musabyimana, from Gikomero Sector, a few miles from the centre, would have loved having her children attend the ECD but it’s quite far from her home.

​“We need such a centre in our village too; it would be helpful in bringing out the best of characters in our children,” said Musabyimana.

​Speaking at the launch, Henriette Umulisa, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion, said the government’s plan is to have an ECD in every district in order to reach as many children as possible.

​“We wish we could have as many ECD centres almost in every sector, but it’s not possible presently. Our target is to first reach every district and be able to reach as many parents as possible to have them learn better child care practices,” she said.

​“These centres are helpful in a child’s upbringing because they offer an opportunity of discovering the children’s potential and help them grow in full character,” said Umulisa.

​Child development centres will also act as model centres of excellence in child care and development, which would offer parents the opportunity to learn better child care practices, Umulisa said.

Imbuto Foundation Director General Urujeni Bakuramutsa said the ECD&F centres would be instrumental in bringing the best out of children and eventually making them responsible citizens in the future.

​“Through availing such early childhood development opportunities, our children will be better prepared to begin and do well in schools,” said DG Bakuramutsa.

​There are 1,049 children in ECD centres across the country. The target is about 3,000 kids in home-based ECDs by the end of the year, according to DG Bakuramutsa.

​“We trained 200 parents to undertake home-based ECD centres and 900 parents trained in income generating activities, to address the sustainability of the programme and wellbeing of the children,” DG Bakuramutsa said.

​UNICEF country representative Ted Maly said ECD centres build economic stability in families.

​Per Heggenes, the Chief Executive Officer of Ikea Foundation, said early years of children are crucial, not only for their health but also for physical development.

​Currently, ECD&F centres are located in Ngoma, Rwamagana, Gasabo, Gakenke, Nyamagabe, Nyamasheke, Kayonza, Gicumbi, Gikomero.

​Three more centres in Ngoma, Kicukiro, and Ruhango are under construction, DG Bakuramutsa said.