Early education centre boosts village health

Margarida sometimes wakes to the sound of her youngest child, three-year-old Augustinho, singing songs he learns at the village childcare centre.

One favourite is ‘Hadeer dadeer-saan keta haluhar ba eskola’ – ‘When you wake up, don’t forget to go to school’.

‘School’ for Augustinho is the Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) centre in Maumeta, a village in Remexio sub-district that sits high along a ridge in the hills of Aileu district.

Spectacular views take in the capital Dili down on the north coast, two hours drive away along bumpy, rutted roads.

New songs are just one of the subjects that Augustinho and the other 30 children at the centre tell their parents about. Nutrition is another popular topic. The children learn to identify which local foods are good to eat and what they cost. Hygiene lessons include the importance of washing hands before lunch and after using the toilet.

Margarida has two children at the centre and her sister Maria has one. The sisters are the centre’s two volunteer teachers. They’ve been trained by World Vision Timore-Leste staff in Aileu and in Dili, learning the fundamentals of early childhood development and also how to make the best of learning materials including musical instruments, books, blocks, toys and blackboards.

Margarida has also been trained as a volunteer for PSF (‘Promotores Saude Familia’, or Family Health Promoters), which are organized by the mobile health clinics that visit Maumeta.

With funding support from World Vision Australia, village parents helped build the centre three years ago. Bright murals from Dili-based arts group ‘Arte Moris’ (Art for Life) help give it a vibrant air. Before it opened, Margarida says, the children played by themselves with no-one to teach them anything.

‘Children who don’t go to ECCD are at a big disadvantage when they start school,’ she says. ‘The children here have a better mentality, they’ve learnt their alphabet and their numbers, and they know all about the learning materials.’

The centre runs Monday to Friday every week, from 8am to 10am. Parents are invited to be part of many lessons and are also taught the basics of children’s health and safety.

Overall, Margarida says, the health of village children has improved markedly since the ECCD centre opened, an outcome in which she has played a big part.