25th March 2015
It was visiting an Early Childhood Development centre in Ndala, outside Shyinyanga, when the realisation of the impact of poverty really hit me. Around 70 pence a month will pay for a child of 3-6 years old to spend each weekday morning learning the basics of Swahili, Maths, and Civics, along with a cup of porridge. Despite this, on the morning I visited, just over half of the children enrolled were in attendance; many parents and grandparents struggling to find the money on time each month, leaving the teachers to make up the shortfall so that the children can eat.
The taps have no running water. It’s yet another overhead on an already overstretched budget. The kitchen has become a storeroom for building equipment as they are cooking outside; gas here is expensive so traditional three-stone fires are the only option. Despite having spent weeks in rural villages around Tanzania, where people have very little, I found this scene particularly upsetting. I had enough money in my pocket to pay for several of the children there for the rest of the year, but as becomes painfully apparent, the problem is far more complex than a simple lack of money.
Just one cup of porridge at the ECD can be the extra meal that helps offset malnourishment
I was spending the morning with Ethel Mhina from project partner Save The Children as part of my visit to our current project in Chibe. The Ndala ECD, similar to the Salawe project from 2014 and the current project in nearby Chibe, forms part of a programme in the Shinyanga region that is addressing pre-primary education needs of the schools in the area. Previously a Community Development Officer working on maternal and child health, Ethel is now the Child Protection Project Officer for the Shinyanga region where she takes a lead on the E.U Violence Against Children project, system strengthening for child protection. She has a resilience about her that is noticeable and has been hard forged taking on some of the real human challenges that currently face the rural communities of Tanzania.
Outside her office I take a look at a poster on the wall showing why child protection is such an important issue in Shinyanga: 75% of under 6’s there have iron deficiency anaemia; only 30% of girls are completing primary school or higher; nearly 40% have Vitamin A deficiency; and 42% of them are stunted. Children who are malnourished in the first two years of life can lose up to 11cm of potential growth. It is noticeable in the upper school levels that this is a real problem in this area and Save The Children run a nutrition programme alongside their child development work to try and help with addressing this. As becomes clear, this is also not without its challenges.
The Ndala ECD was completed in January 2014 by a Raleigh expedition
Early Childhood Development centres have been started in ten wards in the Shinyanga region within communities that Save the Children identify as having a need. They give a separate place for the pre-primary children to attend every morning and each is run by a Caretaker, who is typically a volunteer from the local community. They sometimes receive some payment, but often do not. Chibe is the latest addition to the existing 10 ECD buildings and will take on the housing of a community programme that currently has 73 children enrolled in it from the local villages. The ECD classes in busy schools can often be shunted out when enrolment for level 1 takes up valuable space and a dedicated centre for this can provide long-term security for the project, helping to engage the local community and provide a safe space that parents can bring their children.
A thriving ECD centre sends out ripples like a pebble in a pool. While its immediate impact is to address pre-primary education needs of the community, it also helps to address malnourishment and free up valuable time for mothers to tend livestock or go out to work. It introduces the children to speaking Swahili, which for those within the Chibe area is very much a second language. The area is home to the Sakuma tribe and it is their own language that children grow up speaking before any other. By introducing children to this at a young age in an ECD, they integrate quicker into primary school life and are better developed cognitively, physiologically, and socially. The impact is big and wide ranging.
Perhaps the most heartwarming aspect though is that a working ECD gives young children a chance of an actual childhood. Through playing and interacting with other children they experience some of the joyful innocent learning that many of us take for granted and while we can't measure this as easily, the importance of it cannot be understated.
“People are used to the everyday cultures, so changing behaviour is the key to improving health. We need more community awareness to move people from what they believe to what the reality is and a more modern and healthy alternative. Working with Raleigh has many benefits, but in particular engaging with young people within the communities they work with” Ethel Mhina - Save the Children.
Later that morning I grab a few minutes with the Area Manager of Save the Children: Lugendo Msegu, a genial and softly spoken man who oversees the work of project officers like Ethel and also has a long background in NGO’s having previously worked in Morogoro with Oxfam. Lugendo is keen to give me an overview of the areas that Save the Children work on: child protection, child survival, child development, and child participation. Save The Children primarily do this by targeting advocacy and behaviour change, leaving the government Ministry of Gender and Children and Department of Social Affairs to address the construction and infrastructure elements. Raleigh’s work on the ECD buildings bridges that gap, helping with construction while placing large emphasis on community engagement.
Community engagement is a common theme with the projects I visit here in Tanzania and Lugendo tells me that “The challenge for us as Development Officers is to figure out how to influence people for behaviour change when they need to see a change first with their own eyes in order to be convinced that the intervention is worth it. Trying to connect education to alleviating poverty is an ongoing challenge of sustainable development. With low literacy levels it can be difficult to communicate this so it needs to be done repeatedly and in many different ways”.
Raleigh venturers George and Jessie with Lugendo and Ethel from Save The Children
Lugendo goes on to tell me about a nutrition programme in the region of Lindi, where malnourishment has led to more than half the children there being stunted. He explains that their approaches tackle both the knowledge and the practice of good nutrition, helping with the use of sack gardens (as used on other Raleigh projects) and helping to deal with the large seasonal variety in food availability. Even where they have multiple crops the traditional practices tend not to create a healthy and balanced diet. In Lindi they took baseline measures for a programme that used practical demonstrations on healthy cooking to demonstrate to the community that in just 12 days a malnourished child can gain weight. This helped gain trust for the longer term interventions and began the difficult cycle of behaviour change. It is clear that there is often considerable inertia with communities that must be overcome for any physical intervention to have a hope of succeeding.
“Nutrition is a lifelong investment, you don’t just do it for three months” Lugendo Msegu - Save the Children
Much like all the project partners I meet, Lugendo is full of praise for the work Raleigh do, but he touches on an aspect I haven’t really considered until now. Corruption and money remains a difficult topic within Tanzania and the presence of a Raleigh group on site throughout a project can be a powerful anti-corruption tool. Raleigh volunteer managers have an active role in the financial oversight of any project and Chibe is a prime example of this, as we will see in a future blog post. Alongside this the Venturers challenge perceptions within the community, one of which can sometimes be that they are paid to be there. This all forms part of the awareness raising and community engagement that are critical to the success of these projects once they are handed over to the community.
Statistics on poverty are rife. So much so I wonder if they haven’t lost their impact when it comes to trying to describe the challenges faced by many parts of Tanzania. Just about every report from various NGO’s lists a depressing catalogue of percentages and figures, but these really don’t help us to comprehend the impact of this within rural communities. You need to experience it in order to really understand it and it was visiting that ECD in Ndala that I finally felt the weight of the problems here first hand. The margins here are tiny, but they can decide the whole future of the children way before they even have the chance to make those choices for themselves. Hard to imagine that a few pence a day can make such a profound difference, but by paying for food and instilling the basics of language, maths, and schooling itself, it can set a child up with a real chance of succeeding at school, gaining an education, and making a positive contribution to lifting Tanzania out of the challenges it faces.
Save the Children are a leading charity in driving change at the youngest levels of the communities here and their relationship with Raleigh is as natural a fit as it gets. Raleigh’s ability to put a group of motivated, energised, passionate, and open-minded young people on a project site for weeks on end gives these projects the best possible chance of success in often challenging surroundings.