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Struggle of Whole Village; Phata ECD Centre in a Mess

Caregivers and children at Phata CBCC Caregivers and children at Phata CBCC - pic by Christopher Sande

Life is tough at Kalima Village in Chikwawa district. Scars of cyclone Freddy are all over. Desperation among people is clear, with some destroyed houses abandoned. Most of the cyclone Freddy survivors have moved to settle on a higher ground.

Some 50 metres from Kalima primary school lies Phata Community Based Child Care Center (CBCCC).

The place has two-standing buildings, a porridge cooking room and warehouse while the classroom was razed down by cyclone Ana last year.

The cooking room was turned into a classroom for 72 under five children that are accessing Early Childhood Development (ECD) services at the CBCCC. We noticed that no cooking activities are taking place here. No wonder, absenteeism is very high.

Out of 72 children, we found only 17 with three caregivers out of 12.

When we asked the children what was the biggest problem at the centre? They shouted, ‘tikufuna phala!’ (we want porridge). Caregiver,

Christina Alfred tells us that lack of food is scaring children from attending ECD lessons.

“In the past, the government was giving us maize flour to cook porridge for the children but it stopped. We now depend on parents and with the cyclone which heavily hit this area, it is becoming difficult for parents to contribute maize flour to feed the children,” said Alfred.

She further stated that government and development partners should also consider providing them with honoraria as a token of appreciation and motivation.

Another caregiver, Blessings Jonasi, asked the government to construct a new classroom for the children to replace the one which was destroyed by the cyclone last year.

“It is impossible for all the 72 children to learn in the cooking room, some learn under the tree. We are asking for urgent assistance,” said Jonasi.

Group village headwoman Kalima agrees that a litany of challenges is choking the CBCC considering that 95 houses were damaged by the cyclone this year, with several household items swept away.

“This area faces floods and strong winds every year. This is making my village and others struggle to get food to contribute to the CBCCC,” explained Group Village headwoman Kalima while begging the government and partners to resume supporting Phata CBCCC.

She further explained that they have put in place an arrangement for every family to contribute 4 kilograms of maize flour and K50 to buy groundnuts, sugar and salt to be put in the children’ porridge.

Ward councillor for Bwabwali in Chikwawa Central Constituency, Gerald Bede says he has been lobbying with various stakeholders but to no avail.

“Most CBCCs are struggling to run because of lack of food, we are asking for support from government, development partners and well-wishers so as to attract more children to attend school while improving their nutrition,” said Bede.

A government official, Chikwawa District Social Welfare Officer, Aaron Macheka insists that CBCCCs are community owned structures, meaning that villagers are responsible for everything including constructing the buildings, selection of caregivers and provision of food.

“Yes, CBCCCs are community owned but the communities can tap knowledge or expertise from government departments like departments of water, forestry, public works and agriculture among others for smooth operations of the centres.

“People are also encouraged to have gardens to do cost effective farming in order to produce various items to feed the children,” said Macheka, adding that currently the district has 370 CBCCCs.

Prominent education activist in Malawi, Benedicto Kondowe is not happy with the current state of CBCCCs especially in the 10 cyclone Freddy hit districts.

“It is a concern that communities and schools are struggling to make learning happen due to acute food shortage, which will eventually affect transition of children to primary school. This will likely increase massive school dropout and illiteracy level,” complained Kondowe.

He said the government should consolidate its efforts to make sure that affected schools and villagers are supported in terms of school feeding provisions.

This comes when there are over 12,400 preschools or CBCCs in Malawi with nearly 35,000 non-salaried volunteer caretakers and helpers. At the current preschool enrolment rate, there are an estimated 66 children per preschool and 23.5 children enrolled per caregiver and helper.

Authorities including the United Nations are aware that early childhood development is the foundation for sustainable development.

The Sustainable Development Goals recognize that early childhood development can help drive the transformation which is hoped to be achieved by 2030.

The purpose of the agenda is clear: to eradicate poverty and hunger, restore human dignity and equality, protect the planet, manage natural resources, promote economic prosperity, and foster peaceful, just and inclusive societies.

Specifically, ECD which is included in Goal 4 ensures inclusive and equitable quality education and promotes lifelong learning opportunities for all, that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education.”

It is not known whether such goals will be achieved in Malawi.

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Last modified on Friday, 06/10/2023

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