The Aspire project in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, offers skills training and literacy lessons to poor and vulnerable women, enabling them to earn a living and support their families. Aspire’s women learn to read and write, about health and nutrition, managing money and opening a bank account, and about their rights as women. On graduation, women join a cooperative, working together and supporting each other. They use their earnings to educate and feed their children and invest in small income generating projects.
Why a childcare centre?
If we expect children to grow up to be agents of positive change in their communities, we have to give them the best possible start in life. A few months ago, we posted a blog about the need for a safe space for children of vulnerable families to play and learn in Kigali, Rwanda. The children’s mothers are at Aspire, Network for Africa’s year long training programme.
The need for the Aspire childcare centre
While women are leading the incredible social and economic recovery in Rwanda, lack of infrastructure still limits development. The 1994 genocide removed a generation of grandmothers and older aunts who would normally mind children while mothers worked. Thus, even very young children are often left at home; often their older siblings (usually girls) miss school to stay home and take care of them. The only alternative mothers had was to bring their children to work with them . Aspire’s women were being distracted from their work by the presence of their younger children. After discussing the problem with the Aspire beneficiaries and staff on the ground, Network for Africa decided to set up a childcare centre at Aspire.
The story below demonstrates the real problems women in Rwanda face when trying to raise children and earn money to support their families at the same time.
Marie is married and has two children – a daughter who is four years old, and a son who is eight months. Her day starts at 6 a.m. Food is very expensive in Rwanda, so her family only eats once a day, usually in the evening. She brings her children with her to Aspire. She knows that her daughter should go to nursery, but she can’t afford the fees. Her daughter plays with the other children at Aspire during the day, but there is nothing to keep her occupied – no toys, no activities. Both her children distract her from her studies and work. She worries that they don’t have enough to eat and are malnourished. She is also hungry most of the time, and worn down by the daily grind and hardship of her life, all of which make her very tired, and at times impatient with her children. She feels that she is not being a good mother and wants support with learning better parenting skills.
What the Aspire childcare centre offers
Through the generous donations of supporters, we have built a childcare centre in Aspire’s compound, with an outside play area with swings and a merry-go-round. The childcare centre space is divided into different activity areas. The children follow a curriculum that includes: language and literacy; social and emotional learning; numeracy and problem solving; creativity including music and art; nature and the environment, including growing a small kitchen garden; and sport and physical games.
The difference Aspire’s childcare centre makes
Aspire’s childcare centre costs £15/$25 a month for each child. The difference it makes is enormous. It means that:
-The young children are safe.
-They have two nutritious meals a day.
-They are given an early step up in life by being part of a pre-school educational programme.
-Their mothers are able to study and work uninterrupted, learning the skills and earning the funds to feed and educate their children, thus breaking the cycle of poverty.
-Older sisters are able to go to school, rather than looking after their younger siblings at home.
-Some mothers will be trained as support workers, learning valuable parenting skills that they can share with other women, in addition to ensuring continuity and sustainability for the nursery
Insights from the field
Caroline Henderson — known as Caz — is a head teacher at a London nursery and kindly volunteered to set up the Aspire workplace childcare centre. She spent February this year in Kigali preparing the childcare space and learning materials, as well as training the teachers. While there, Caz wrote about her experiences here.