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A dedicated Early Childhood Development (ECD) space, the first ever at the Annai Health Centre, was opened last Monday following the training of 15 healthcare and community workers from Annai and surrounding villages in the North Rupununi, Region 9. According to a release from UNICEF, Sharon Peake, Executive Director, Caribbean Regional Development Program, Global Affairs Canada, joined local health and other officials for a handover event, the first under the ECD component of the Canada-funded Promoting safe and healthy learning and living environments to migrants and host communities in Guyana’s hinterland project, which is being implemented by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in close coordination with the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security.
The ECD aspect of the project focuses on ensuring that all girls and boys, 4 years and younger, and their parents, have access to quality ECD programming.
“Much of Canada’s work in Guyana focuses heavily on supporting indigenous women, youth, vulnerable and hard to reach populations,” said Peake, who is on her first visit to Guyana. She highlighted that the project with UNICEF also caters for migrants from neighboring Venezuela, who have been forced to flee harsh economic conditions in their homeland. “The project will work in Annai and other similar communities across Guyana and will focus on early childhood development activities for children under 4 years of age as well as on providing safe, healthy, gender-friendly and climate smart dormitories for adolescent children,” Peake said. She further reiterated that “all of Canada’s international assistance is guided by a Feminist International Assistance Policy which places the empowerment and advancement of women and girls as the key priority.”
For the recent exercise, 15 community health and community stakeholders from Annai, Wowetta, Aranaputa, Rupertee, Kwatamang and Surama were trained in ECD activities over a period of three days. Aside from the dedicated space at the Annai Health Centre, materials were handed out to each of the communities to aid with delivery of ECD sessions. These will include sessions at health facilities and through home visits with parents of children attending antenatal and infant and pre-school clinics, all adhering to COVID-19 protocols. Some 417 children from the district are expected to initially benefit in the near term.
“In the first three years of life, the child’s brain develops more rapidly than at any other time of his or her life and the care they receive will determine the adults they will become. These are the years when the foundation for growth and development, health and nutrition, physical, social, language, creative and intellectual abilities is laid. That is what early childhood development is about; to lay that foundation to improve the quality of life of children. This has been the focus of the training. Healthcare workers from Annai and other communities are now better equipped to support parents and others help our children have the best start in life, including better performance at school,” said Jewell Crosse, Adolescent & Youth Development Officer at UNICEF.
In welcoming the ECD initiative, Doctor in Charge of the Annai Health Centre, Dr. Narash Torres said that there is a need for such a programme in the area to give children a better start in life. He noted that hinterland children did not have similar access to resources as others and the ECD program will set the foundation for better education and a more promising future. “We have our staff well equipped with the training and skills required…we will do our best to get our children stimulated at a very young age so they can grow up to be well rounded and educated adults,” Dr Torres added. Similar sentiments were expressed by Yasmin Andries, the Community Health Worker for Wowetta, who added that the ECD materials for the communities will assist greatly in their outreach to parents. Andries noted that part of the training included developing their outreach plans and they are ready to begin immediately.
Speaking on behalf of the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security, Executive Officer of the Ministry’s ECD Unit, Lavern Thorne said the Ministry recognizes the significant impact ECD has on the lives of children and has joined with partners to ensure that all children thrive and meet their potential. She said that the Ministry looks forward to continued support from UNICEF and Canada to help accomplish these goals.
The ECD component of the Promoting safe and healthy learning and living environments to migrants and host communities in Guyana’s hinterland project seeks to contribute to Sustainable Development Goal 4: by 2030, ensure that all girls/boys under 5 years have access to quality early childhood development, so that they are ready for primary education.
The project will prioritize quality services to give a jumpstart especially to the most marginalized children, including migrants living in the targeted communities, to ensure that no one is left behind. It will also address the challenge of poor water and sanitation practices. It is expected that by December 2022, at least 75% of girls and boys under 4 years of age in 100 communities in the targeted locations in Regions 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 have access to quality ECD programmes and family support services and have readiness skills for easy and on time transition to nursery school. Another component of the project focuses on safe, secure, healthy learning environments for secondary school adolescent boys and girls living in dormitories in Guyana’s hinterland, through system strengthening and gender responsive programming for healthy lifestyles.