Studies have confirmed that investing in the early years of your child’s life is important – the first 1000 days (0-3 years) – this is when the child’s brain and system get to adapt to the environment and as such, it sets the blueprint for future growth and development. This also determines proper and optimum growth and development of the child or improper growth.
From the picture above – What is it that you see?
When was the last time you took time to play with your infant?
Do you know that singing, talking and engaging with your child even during pregnancy has an effect on them?
After a child is born, how do you interact with them?
According to the nurturing care framework, estimates are that nearly 250 million children aged under five years in low- and middle-income countries – or more than four in every ten – risk missing critical development milestones due to poverty or stunting. Nurturing care refers to conditions created by public policies, programmes and services to promote optimum growth and development. It also enables communities and caregivers to ensure children’s good health and nutrition, and protect them from threats. This entails giving young children opportunities for early learning, through interactions that are responsive and emotionally supportive.
Scientists, public health specialists and economists alike are unequivocal: babies and toddlers are the best learners on the planet, growing and learning fastest before their fifth birthday. During this window, their brains develop more quickly than at any other time of life, and their experiences carry a profound, lasting impact on their physical and mental health and their capacity to learn and relate to others. What parents and other caregivers do during this time helps to build the brain architecture that lays the foundation for good health and learning in later childhood and adulthood. That is why it is a good start for all children is one of the most important parts of a healthy, peaceful and creative society
It is with this that the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya (IRCK) through the Local Interfaith Networks (Inter-Faith Networks (IFNs), Women of Faith Networks (WoFNs) and Inter-Faith Youth Networks (IYNs) in 7 counties in partnership with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) are implementing an ECD project (0-3years) dubbed, Strengthening Faith systems for ECD in Kenya. The project seeks to build the capacity of the Interfaith leaders in the target counties, in order to advocate for Nurturing Care frameworks and positive parenting. The Inter-Faith Networks in the seven target counties are a local advocacy mechanism for local and County level issues. The target counties are within the Lake Region Economic bloc and namely Busia, Vihiga, Kisumu, Siaya, Homabay, Kakamega, Nyamira.
“In Busia County children below 3yrs are more at risk of being trafficked for they are more vulnerable; thus the need for faith communities to protect them.” – Esther Wasige, County Children Coordinator during the inception meeting on Strengthening Faith Systems for ECD in Busia.
To ensure that capacity is built for advocating the Nurturing Care Framework, Religious Leaders across the seven counties held inception meetings to create awareness among members of Interfaith Networks within the seven Counties on the need to invest in the early years of children. The interfaith networks will work in collaboration with the different stakeholders including the key departmental heads within the National and County government representation at the County level, as well as other relevant Partners aligned to promoting ECD 0-3 years at the County level.
“Collaboration is key; let us consult & work together to nurture our children. Faith leaders, in our communities, let us nurture children (0-3 years old) as this is the critical stage for development because we are nurturing them for responsible adulthood.” – Ms Esther Wasige.
The Religious Leaders will strengthen their capacity the Nurturing Care and Positive parenting through advocacy at the household level, through same-faith platforms as well as at various interfaith levels. They will also be involved in advocacy at the County level. The Religious Leaders will intervene through contributions during policymaking, therefore, targeting the national and county governments. They will also target the legislators such as the MPs or Senators and MCAs (Individually as legislators and in their respective relevant House committees. Other target stakeholders are the development partners such as INGOs, NGOs, and donor Agencies for potential influence on ECD Funding.
“As Homabay Interfaith Network we are ready to collaborate with the National and County government and relevant stakeholders for the sake of the well-being of our people.”Bishop Abraham Odongo, Chair, Homabay Interfaith
The interfaith networks will participate and be involved in a series of activities in the counties such as Sensitization and Capacity building of County Faith leaders on Advocacy. They will also be the training of Faith-Based Leaders on Nurturing Care, ECD Advocacy strategy, the Science of ECD as well as on positive parenting. IRCK will also Coordinate ECD Multi-sectoral meetings at the county level and support annual County dialogue meetings with Faith Leader Champions, CSOs and relevant county government agencies on SECD. IRCK, through the interfaith networks, will hold annual advocacy meetings between the Faith leaders and the various stakeholders at the county level (Legislature, County Executive, partners etc.).
“As Homabay Interfaith Network, you must be passionate advocates for pregnant mothers to access health services early enough.”Joseph Gaga, Director, Early Years Education (EYE), Homabay County.
IRCK through theologians will facilitate the development of scriptural referenced Curriculum/IEC materials (Training Materials) that will have validated by the faith leaders and followed by sensitization of Religious leaders on the Science of Early Childhood. This will be followed by County Level training of Inter Faith Networks, strengthening of Women of Faith Networks and the Interfaith Youth Networks. The interfaith networks will hold an annual County Dialogue conference with CSOs, government and R.Ls. Multi-sectoral ECD Committee meetings.
“Religious Leaders have a critical role to play in governments issues; they need to collaborate with both the National and County governments as they have the power and capacity to influence.”Peter Kutere, Children’s Coordinator, Homabay County
This is the beginning of a 3-year project in these seven target counties. In the first few years of life, more than one million neural connections are formed each second – a pace never repeated again. We need to increase investment in early childhood and parental support to give every child the best start in life.