Malawi: Minister Kaliati Encourages Companies to Provide Early Childhood Development Facilities

To promote early childhood development, whose advocacy and awareness week was launched on Monday, Minister of Gender, Community Development & Social Welfare, Patricia Kaliati encourages corporate companies to provide learning facilities — even for their employees’ children during their mothers’ working hours.

At the official launch held at Mbombwe Primary School in Chiradzulu, Kaliati also asked district councils to provide early childhood (ECD) facilities at markets and trading centres so that children should be fruitfully spending they day whilst their mothers do business.

Kaliati said children shouldn’t be carried on their mothers’ backs all day as they do businesses in markets or be left under a tree shade whilst working on their agricultural fields but should first be dropped off at convenient early childhood development facilities.

Thus she implored on the district councils, the corporate world and other development partners to make deliberate efforts for the provision of such learning structures and facilities.

Kaliati said ECD services are fundamental to the development of each sector, adding that “science has proved that what happens during the early years of life contributes to what the child becomes later in life”.

“If you want a successful nation, you need first to adequately invest in early childhood years to ensure that the nation has successful children in future.

“The Government, through our Ministry has come to understand the ECD is no longer an expenditure but a smart investment — this why we are celebrating this year’s launch under the theme: ‘ECD is for everyone including the private sector’.”

She emphasized that the potential benefits of ECD services “override the size of the investment as children who are healthy and cognitively aligned are more productive — hence increased productivity in later life as adults”.

“As a nation, we have underrated the contribution of ECD for quite a long time. This is why today we are calling everyone including the private sector to consider investing in ECD.

“Every sector needs well-educated adults who are more prepared for the global marketplace and it is this cadre that contributes to the strength of their communities and the country as a whole.

She further said it is evident that the nation benefits by investing in the early years — “however, what is more evident is that the private sector would benefit more from such investments”.

“You will agree with me that a successful company is the one with productive workers and a reliable customer base.

“No company can survive in the absence of these. It is therefore important that the corporate sector should join government in financing and managing the ECD services in building a solid foundation for a better workforce and a better customer base.

“The call for this investment is two-fold: firstly, to donate their products like cement, sugar, phala and other requirements for children’s services.

“We all know that business corporations have in many instances demonstrated their capacities in reaching out to the poor and the disadvantaged with a variety of services — ranging from motivational to educational and health-related activities through corporate social responsibility

“Even private businesses and corporations have established reputations in providing quality services that respond to market needs in the education sector.”

She thus impressed on the private sector to construct one or more community based children centres of their interest, saying “it would be commendable to see the private sector providing services directly to children of the nation”.

“This can be through a targeted approach in areas where companies have higher customer base or where most co-workers reside as a deliberate means of stimulating further growth of the customer base.”

She disclosed that National Bank of Malawi already started the initiative of adopting community based children centres (CBCC) with intention to build a model CBCC.

“This is a way to go. Let me encourage National Ban to fast-track the initiative so that it can form a reference point for others to emulate from.

“It is my singular belief that partnerships between the public and private sectors will open up opportunities for additional resources, improved service coverage and enhanced quality services.

She indicated that it is very depressing that the majority of Malawians still do not have a clue as to what ECD services can do to the nation as well as individual families and advised the public that “brain connectors in babies’ lives do not just happen — it takes stimulation to grow some acceptable level of brain development for every productive citizen”.

“It is therefore our responsibility to make everyone understand that the first few years of life are the critical periods of rapid development — it is not just good nutrition and good health that matters.

“Playing and communicating with children help them grow healthier and stronger. Research has shown that play can even reverse effects of stunting.

“If we look at our stunting levels which still stand at 37%, ECD services become critical in redeeming many lives and this is an indication that we need concerted efforts to fight this battle.”

The launch was initiated with assistance from development partners such as UNICEF, Save the Children, School Resilient Initiative Malawi, Synod of Livingstonia, Help a Child Malawi, World Vision, ActionAid, National Library Service, SAFE, DAPP, World Relief and other community-based caregiving service providers.

The partners put up pavilions for the Minister and her entourage to appreciate and Kaliati — a former school teacher — took longer at Save the Children’s, which had children with physical challenges but are being given equal education services.

Kaliati thus asked parents to send their children for early childhood development education where they can be detected if they have any physical challenges in order to help them seek expert help to cure them at early stages.

Present at the launch was Grace Mazinga, one of the 2022 Miss Malawi pageant, whose theme is ‘Early Childhood Development Advocacy’ and Kaliati acknowledged her presence and invited her to the podium for the gathering to appreciate her.

She encouraged her to continue advocating for early childhood development — whether she wins the crown or not — saying she was proud of her courage to contest for the national title.

In his remarks, UNICEF representative, Muhammad Shahid — an expert in early childhood development– said the United Nations agency is committed to ensure the survival of Malawian children, their well-being and development of their full potential.

“Early childhood is fundamental to making progress towards the development of Malawi,” he said. “Early childhood development advocacy events bring us together to raise awareness and remind us about its critical importance.

“As for countries like Malawi, where children account for over half of the population, moments like these continue to act as a strong reminder and provide new opportunities to demonstrate their commitment to children’s rights under the Convention on the Rights of the Child; the Sustainable Development Goals; the Africa’s Agenda for Children 2040: ‘Fostering an Africa fit for children’; and MW2063 vision.”

He emphasized that investing in early childhood “is one of the most cost-effective ways on increasing the ability of all children to reach their full potential– increasing their ability to learn in school and later their earning capacity as adults”.

“This is especially significant for children growing up in poverty and it can lead to some of the highest economic rates of return for families and societies– leading a country firmly on the path of sustainable development.”

He further said Malawi is acting on the premise of Convention on the Rights of Children, accelerating progress already made and developing new solutions that will help fulfill these rights.

“It is critical that children get a good start in the communities into which they are born. Our work in early childhood development has five elements — good health; adequate nutrition; opportunities for early learning; responsive caregiving; and safety and security.

“All these elements are impossible to achieve without strong cross-sectoral programming at the community level and an integrated essential health package.

“It is for this reason that we need to continue to work in communities across the country and support delivery of services in early childhood education; health; nutrition; education; child protection; water; sanitation; and hygiene.

“We need to support communities to take care of themselves — build resilience and strengthening social accountability and generally helping to make communities safer for children to survive, thrive and realise their full potential.”

He applauded Ministry of Gender, Community Service & Social Welfare for leading the early childhood development programme successfully despite of many challenges on the ground — saying: “Only by working together, we can ensure that we give every child the best possible start in life.

“And that we do all we can to accelerate the implementation of early childhood development agenda and ultimately achieve MW2063 for every child in Malawi.”

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