For the Aga Khan Foundation
By Onduu .S. Oluoch
Between 2014 and 2015 the Aga khan foundation launched a pilot program of day cares in urban informal settlement mainly in Babadogo, Nairobi. The project, which ended in 2015 June involved thirty six day cares. In January 2016 however, a new project was flagged off with Stella Ngire Mbugua as the head. The new project brought on board two other informal settlements, Kangemi and Kibera. The project mainly targets infants between the age of 0 to 3years and seeks to document innovative models of day cares. The project mainly targets the age of 0 to 3 because the Kenyan constitution does not have an ECDE policy framework that caters for infants between the age of 0 to 3 even though the international policy on ECDE caters for children between 0 to 3. The project therefore seeks to address this crucial gap says Stella the ECDE coordinator Aga khan Foundation. She states that, it is between 0 to 3 when the brain of a child develops with up to 80%, so it is the prime time to harness the potential of a child.
The project mainly seeks to ensure the protection of the young ones from physical danger, providing adequate and proper nutrition, ensuring appropriate language stimulation and providing daily opportunities for the children to play with a variety of objects that stimulate their mortar skills and brain development. The Aga khan foundation has played a key role in imparting knowledge to the day cares owners and care givers on how to manage day cares and make a living out of them, proper nutrition and health checkups for the infants by linking day cares to health facilities. Government master trainers from the ministry of health and ministry of education have also been very supportive working in conjunction with the Aga khan foundation, the have helped in conducting home visits for this infants as follow up, monitoring the progress of the children in day cares but most importantly they use the science of ECD while at it to ensure the children receive the best care. Stella assert that the intervention they made with the day cares have borne fruits, there have been less reported cases of malnutrition among the infants at the day cares than before and also children have better access to health services such as immunization and consistent health checkups. Due diligence has also been done to ensure extra and proper care for marginalized groups of infants and their families such as those suffering from HIV/AIDs and those with disability.
The project has brought all the necessary stakeholders on board not leaving out the parents. Stella says that the parenting classes they have had with the parents have allowed the foundation articulate pertinent early childhood development issues that affect the child. It is through such forums that emphases on proper nutrition have been addressed. Mothers have also been taught on the importance of them taking proper meals when breast feeding a baby. We visited a model day care under the project in Babadogo and spoke to one of the care givers who was more than pleased to tell us of the milestones they have covered since the Aga khan foundation came on board.
The story of how Holy Trinity Day care came to be is fascinating! Nothing short of a fairytale. Lillian’s face lights up as I ask her to tell it. It stars with how their neighbor’s house help ones locked a baby in the house and left the keys with Lillian’s mother, Elizabeth. She, Elizabeth a retired teacher by then took it upon herself to free the child and that is how she dedicated her life to taking care of children I am told. Lillian, answering my question in her mother’s absentia tells me that she, Elizabeth, has always loved children and when the opportunity to turn her love for children into not just a profit making venture but also an enterprise that made a difference in the society she did not hesitate. It is in her residence that she began this noble course armed with no certified knowledge on how to care for children but only her motherly instincts to fall back to.
Holy Trinity Day Care is situated deep in the heart of Babadogo, a low income settlement in Nairobi, Kenya. It not only serves as a day care but also as a school and a home. Elizabeth’s house is no ordinary house, she has made adjustments not just to suit her taste but of those she spends the better part of her days with, infants between the ages of six months and three years. Her walls are brightly colored in luminous green with cartoonist impressions of “Winnie the Pooh” and “Donald Duck” all around her house. I am told green is also Elizabeth’s favorite so she likes it. Her living room is an open space with a trough full of homemade toys in one corner and small but immaculately made beddings along the walls. On one of the wall hangs Max Ehrmann’s 1927 poem, Desiderata, Latin for desired things. In Lillian I see the manifestation of Ehrmann’s words, “enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.” She is delighted to tell me of her work.
“On average we handle between ten to sixteen children in a day, their parents drop them as early as 6:00am in the morning and pick them later in the day when they are from work in the evening,” she says.
“It was not always a smooth run,” I am told. They, Elizabeth and her mother were forced to learn how to run a day care in the face of necessity without a trial run. “It was challenging at first.” She admits. She tells me of how they previously had to deal with cases of malnutrition among the infants they were left to tend. “Parents would be forced to stop breastfeeding and start winning before it was time because they had to make a lively hood.” She says.
She recounts of parents who would feed their children one type of meal for a whole week depriving them of a balanced diet.
“There were also instances in which the parents would leave us with sick children without letting us know, it was hard to tell whether the kids were okay or not given that we had not spent enough time with them, sometimes this placed us in a state of panic especially when we tried contacting the parents with no avail when they got worse. There was an instance where we had to rush a baby to Babadogo Medical Center when he suddenly fainted on us. It is one of the most uneventful days for us at work, when we have to deal with a sick child.”
“Do you now make meals for the kids?” I ask.
“Yes we make meals for the ones in school, we however advice that parents pack meals in plastic containers from home for the infants in baby care which we later warm before feeding them, so we teach parents on how to prepare nutritious meals to avoid the monotony of one consistent meal like they were used to before. Having parents bring with them food from home also ensures that the infants in baby care always have their meals ready unlike the meals made for the older children in school which are time scheduled. Good eating habits start with the parents at home before it trickles down to the children, so we constantly inform new parents on the importance of good eating habits.” She says.
“We have previously had cases where a parent would only feed the child white rice because they deemed it his favorite and for a whole week rice was the only thing they packed for him, we were forced to intervene. We therefore started feeding the child other types of meals and talked the parent into diversifying the child’s meals.” she tells me.
“Have you had cases of reckless parents who pick up their kids late?”
“That is a common case but it is not always their own doing, parents get caught up with work so we have had incidences of parents who pick their kids as late as 9:00pm and in other instances we have had to let the kids sleep over. There are however parents who come to pick their kids late while drunk in which case we coax them to let the child sleep over.”
“You have received assistance from the Aga khan foundation that has helped you cope with some of the challenges you faced, are there any challenges that you still continue to face despite the intervention of stakeholders such as the Aga khan Foundation?”
She acknowledges of the immense invaluable knowledge they have gained as far as taking care of children is concerned all thanks to the Aga khan foundation.
“We however still have a problem with nutrition, when we break for two weeks or more and parents bring back children we instantly notice a change. Either the children stop eating a particular meal or they simply appear malnourished. We however continue to insist that parents feed their children proper meals. We also receive children with medical conditions that the parents are not aware of from time to time, we had a case of a child who was one year and four months but could not stand. So we enlighten the parents on what to look out for incase their children have certain medical conditions. It is however very hard to convince parents their children have a condition because they remain ignorant and in denial. We have however managed to convince some of these parents to take their children for therapy at Babadogo health center and some have even been referred to Kenyatta National Hospital for specialized treatment.” She explains.
“What are some of the important things you have learnt as far as it concerns your operations?”
“One of the most important things we have learnt from the Agha khan foundation is concerning hygiene and child safety. We have since made changes in terms of the soaps we use and how we do the cleaning and also the frequency of cleaning. We clean the toys the children play with during the weekends because some of these toys find their way in the mouth of the little children. We have also been taught how to make homemade toys with the provisions that can easily be obtained. We have since made toys from used water bottle, maize combs and bean bags. We previously exposed the kids to long hours of watching TV, with the toys we made; we improve on the child mortar skills and their brain development.” She says motioning to the trough in the corner of the living room.
“What inspired you to start a school when you initially started with a day care?”
She is silent at first as if contemplating on something then she starts, “We started with the day care, then later we established the school because it was not enough seeing the children grow, we wanted to create an environment where they could learn. Having the school has allowed interaction among the children so they learn to speak as early as seven months. The day care infants repeat what they hear the older kids saying and in the process they learn to speak.”
“What is your vision for Holy Trinity Day Care in a few years to come?
“Next year we plan on establishing a class one for the children. When you take care of a child from when they are about six months there is a strong bond that is established between you and the child. We get attached and it becomes difficult to see them go just because they have grown too old for the institution. We would like to have the kids for as long as their entire primary school life. We already have kids who throw tantrums when it is time to go home because they do not want to leave. It feels the same for us especially knowing that they may never be back because they have to join other institution that will propel them further in their studies. So in a few years Holy Trinity will be a fully-fledged primary school with the largest turnover of children in day care because we love taking care of children and watching them grows. It gives me a sense of achievement and I enjoy being a mother.” She says enthusiastically.
For the infants in Holy Trinity Day care the institution is not just a place they spend their day, it is also their home. All the kids refer to Elizabeth as shosho, grandmother. I am told just how much Elizabeth enjoys her retirement days taking care of children for as little as fifty shillings a day per child and in other instances where the parents are not able to make provisions she digs deeper into her pockets in order to take care of the necessary provisions for the children. Lillian acknowledges of the immense support from stake holders such as Daraja and Agah khan foundation in technical things such as record keeping, hygiene and child safety.
“We also receive donations such as sleeping provisions and toiletries from time to time. Daraja and The Agah Khan foundation have empowered us things are looking up.”