The best possible start in life for children

To improve preschool opportunities for children and enhance well-being for their care-givers, World Vision Afghanistan started Early Childhood Care and Development Spaces which recently graduated 637 children from an area where  school enrolment rates are traditionally below the dismal national average.

The sound of children can be heard repeating the alphabet “Alef, B, T, Se, Jim,H, Kh, Dal, Zal....”

A room full of colourful and well-designed educational materials provides children many opportunities to challenge themselves through seeing, touching, feeling, and moving. This room enables a group of children to enjoy their childhood together.  

At the Early Children Care and Development (ECCD) spaces in Afghanistan, kids between the ages of 5 to 6 come together to participate in preschool learning opportunities that give them a chance to socialize and give them the bases they need to succeed when they enter formal education.

At each ECCD space, 30 children attend classes six days a week and are involved in age-appropriate educational and play activities, based in a specific learning curriculum.

Nazifa, 8, is one of the lucky girls who was able to participate in ECCD classes two years ago. Today, she is one of the best students in her second grade class at the local public school.

Mothers in Afghanistan are busy. Women are responsible for washing, cooking and taking care of small babies in an area where the lack of electricity means almost everything has to be done manually. Although they may want to, mothers don’t have time to play with their children who are often sent outside  to play with other children.

“Every morning when Nazifa and my younger child, 3, woke up, she would go outside to play with the neighbours’s children, often without even eating breakfast. I was happy as [this meant] I didn’t have to hear their complaints or noise,” said Najiba, 34, her mother.

“I had noticed that Nazifa was a little bit rude and used impolite words while arguing with her sisters and brother,” added Najiba. “Sometime she didn’t listen to my advice and I had to hit and beat my daughters every time they did something wrong,” she recalled.

“In the ECCD sessions, I learned that instead I should first calm myself if I was angry, and then think of an alternative punishment, like 'you can't watch TV tonight'. I've noticed a big improvement in Nazifa’s behaviour,” she says.  

In addition to preparing children for school, the ECCD spaces also aim to improve health and child care knowledge and skills among caregivers. Thirty mothers attend the health education sessions on a weekly basis. The sessions, which focus on topics like cooking nutritious food, vaccinations, early initiation of breast-feeding and proper hygiene among other topics are designed to help women better care for their children. During the ECCD sessions, women also receive training on First Aid, women's and child rights, and health and hygiene. Women who attend the ECCD sessions then share their knowledge with their neighbours and relatives.

“My mother didn’t tell me to wash my hands before the eating and after using toilet,” explains Nazifa. “In the kindergarten, I learned that we should wash our hands otherwise we will get sick,” she added.  

“One day Nazifa asked me to buy her toothpaste and toothbrush,” remembers Najiba. “I was suspired and asked her who told her to use a toothbrush. I even tried to convince her that it wasn’t good for children to use toothbrushes,” she recalls.  When Najiba found out where Nazifa had learned about toothbrushes she confronted the teacher.  “The next day, I went to the kindergarten and I found out about the importance of brushing children’s teeth.”

According to a recent evaluation, conducted by World Vision Afghanistan, children who have attended ECCD sessions were more ready and better equipped to start the learning process in formal education. The data indicates that the ECCD project has significantly contributed to improving the development of pre-school age children in targeted areas. Children who participate in these programmes have school results, increased coordination, are able to read and write as well as improved social skills.  Children who attended ECCD sessions also appear to be more self-confidant and demonstrate better social behaviours compared to children who did not attend ECCD centres.

"I am very proud to be a parent of a child that attended and completed the ECCD program,” says Najiba. “The programme prepared my daughter for school with indispensable educational knowledge. It also taught her lifelong everyday knowledge essential to surviving in today’s society such as: manners, the importance of good hygiene, health, feelings, and compassion.  I really hope that I can include my younger son in ECCD class and I hope that Nazifa, like you [WV staff], will help children in-need in future.”

Nazifa is just one of many success stories from the ECCD programme.