Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Community Owns this Center

By Stephanie Kulenguski, Web Content Editor

As we bump along the red-dirt road on our way to see an Early Childhood Development program (my first program visit) my mind wanders. What I am going to see? What will the staff talk about? Will the kids want to meet me or will they shy away from me? Anticipation wells up in me and I get that butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling. I am prepared through; I have my notepad, pen and water bottle (just in case I get dehydrated from talking too much.)

I focus my attention on the surrounding scenery outside the CCF truck. We are passing through a market near Kampala, Uganda. Bright colors detail the ramshackle-booths we pass – almost neon-green plantains are EVERYWHERE, a staple in Ugandan diet, and not just individual plantains (bananas), large stalks hold at least 4 dozen of these small plantains. There are tomatoes, cassava, corn, eggplants and to my fascination – large stalks of sugarcane, we ride by a man precariously balancing his sugarcane load on the back of his bike.

The road splits and we veer to the right, I see the sign for the Gayaza Early Childhood Development Center and know we are near! The driver slows as he makes a left onto a small dirt road, I notice the cow tied up by the side of the road grazing on a patch of grass, past the cow is a long white building, we have arrived!

I am immediately greeted by many staff that usher me into the main office to discuss the program. Staff debriefed me on the ECD center, I learned that the center had been opened since 2002 and served children from infancy through age 8. Currently about 50-60 children attend this center. Some of the services they provide include:

-Training for caregivers and parents
-Growth monitoring
-Play materials and workshops on how to build toys from readily available materials
-A resting area (which is essentially a cot or bed, they do not have a nap time since children only attend the center for half-days)
-One – two meals a day at the center
-Administration of Child Development Scale

I find all this very interesting but what interests me more and becomes clear to me is that CCF does not own this program -- the community does. The community gives input on how the program should be run, what the needs of the children are and that EVERYONE (parents and caregivers) all volunteer. They help prepare breakfast and or lunch, they help attend the children during center hours and help to tend the center’s garden. The community gives the advice and feedback on how the center should be run -- it is the community’s ECD center.

After a very exciting and informative tour it is time for me to leave. When leaving I look back out the rear window, the staff waves their goodbyes but what I notice is a young girl who is cared for by her grandmother (her parents have died) standing by herself against the wall of the center -- she may be standing alone, but she is definitely not on her own, she is supported by staff, CCF, her grandmother, mothers assisting at the center and the community, they are all supporting her, standing behind her -- even when she stands by herself.

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