Even though other villagers ridicule her for doing voluntary work, all that Lorena Chifumbi of Chaima Village, Traditional Authority Pemba in Salima cares about is nothing short of having most children from her home area trained with utmost expertise. Malawi News Agency’s (Mana) Kenneth Jali writes.
The renowned caregiver, with assistance of a few village compatriots, teaches 240 children at Mchinga Child Based Child Care Centre (CBCC) despite that most of their village colleagues feel voluntary work is fruitless.
Chifumbi and her CBCC colleagues were among the country’s 26 000 individuals who started work as caregivers without skills on how to drill children in readiness for primary school life.
“At our centre, there was no one who knew how to go about it since it started in 2001,” says Chifumbi, who has been a caregiver for 10 years.
When the Association for Early Childhood Development (Aecd) and the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Welfare announced plans to train caregivers who were to train others, Chifumbi thought this was her long awaited opportunity.
She became one of the 86 caregivers the above two institutions chose to train on child care best practices.
She has acquired the skills to train fellow caregivers in crucial areas of child growth and development, importance of hygiene and preparation of playing materials for children using locally available resources, among others.
To colour it all, she is being equipped with skills on how she can identify children with special needs at an early stage and how to handle them.
“I now have a certificate to support my experience, and with it, I will fight back the ridicule from community compatriots,” explains a vividly happy Chifumbi, adding that compatriots at her CBCC and surrounding areas will benefit from her new skills.
Despite taking solace in her newly acquired certificate, she feels caregivers can do a better job if they are provided with incentives.
Chifumbi adds: “We still have to go on with volunteerism because we do it for the sake of giving a good foundation to children. But if caregivers [had] incentives they would perform better.”
Principal Secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Gender, Children and social welfare Mary Shawa says despite the ministry hinting on the introduction of honoraria in June this year for caregivers, there is still enormous work to be done.
The ministry, she says needs to identify sources of money and the sustainability of the commitment.
Says Shawa: “We are also looking into the issue of whether there should be a qualification of admitting caregivers into the programme.”
She, however, observes that training caregivers was a giant step towards better ECD programmes.
“The numbers of trained caregivers are now increasing and we intend to go on. Training means a lot to a caregiver who has never been trained since the introduction of the programme,” explains Shawa.
In the near future, Shawa hinted, institutions of higher learning will have to implement ECD programmes, arguing that this will likely boost standards.
“Currently, we are working on the introduction of a diploma and a full degree in care giving with some institutions of higher learning such as Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Chancellor College and Malawi Council for the Handicapped [Macoha],” disclosed Shawa, observing that the arrangement will help the country to have more skilled personal in running ECD programmes.
Executive director for Aecd Charles Gwengwe, however, says government’s reduced allocation in the 2013 / 2014 budget towards ECD programmes is likely to hinder the success of some of the initiatives under implementation.
ECD programmes were allocated K30 million which is part of the funding allocated to the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Welfare.
“Though caregivers are mostly neglected in our communities they deserve recognition for their work and with more funds ECD programmes would easily be implemented,” observes Gwengwe.
While agreeing with Gwengwe, Minister of Gender, Children and Social Welfare, Annita Kalinde was, however, quick to express optimism that the programme has donor partners who are likely to help on the shortfalls.
“Apart from government, we have other partners whom we work with and I am sure they will assist,” Kalinde said.
Kalinde underscores the need for training caregivers, observing that if the first 1000 days of a child were properly utilised, children would develop fast and cognitively.
She observes that the country has 783 ECD centres against a population of over 26 000 caregivers; therefore, more caregivers need to be roped in to meet the demand.
Regardless of the hurdles that come with caregiver’s volunteerism, Trephine Limbani of Blantyre, who spoke on behalf of other trainees said that as one of the trainers, she is ready to equally share her skills to other caregivers.
Says Limbani: “Using a caregiver’s database that is available at every district’s social welfare office–which indicates those trained and those that are not–we will reach out to the untrained by creating a network.”
She pleaded with other partners to help caregivers through financial assistance, saying: “If caregiver training is to make a positive impact, providing us with teaching resources is important even if we are not paid.”