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Promoting good dietary practices in Community Early Learning Centres for children three to five years of age in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Charlotte Mubiala, CELC teacher at La Fraternité, Masi-Manimba, in her sesame seed gardenOriginal article submitted in French

Tiphaine Bueke is a nutritionist and dietician working for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and manages the support to Community Early Learning Centres in DRC.

Background

The Community Early Learning Centre project activities

The education system in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) provides for the organisation of Community Early Learning Centres (CELCs); facilities which are set up for the education of children aged three to five years. Between October 2012 and November 2013, UNICEF and FAO joined forces to support the CELCs as they were facing several operational challenges, such as payment of teaching staff, the sale of agricultural products to support the financial viability of the CELC teachers, and providing children attending the centres with a nutritious and balanced diet. A total of 62 CELCs were targeted for support, 35 in Équateur and 27 in Bandundu provinces1.

Financial autonomy for the committees supporting these centres and the promotion of good dietary practice were at the heart of the collaboration between the two UN agencies, along with the Ministries of Education, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock and Rural Development. The overall aim was to reduce hunger and malnutrition in the children attending.

FAO recommend promoting healthy diets and nutrition through agriculture, integrating nutrition into agribusiness policies, programmes and projects, and sharing the principles of a community’s right to food and education. As the UN agency leading on education matters, UNICEF supported the Ministry of Education to implement and organise the CELCs.

The project reached 7,833 children aged three to five and 271 female early years teachers, 404 women and 689 men, making a total of 1,093 parents of pupils grouped within the CELC committees (Comités d’appui aux espaces communautaires d’éveil).

The project was implemented on the basis of three essential components:

  1. Developing the areas of agricultural production in the CELCs and promoting good dietary practice;
  2. Harnessing community-level participation for the intervention; and
  3. Increasing the availability of foodstuffs rich in plant proteins, vitamins and minerals, as well as improving the diet of children in the households concerned.

The use of the faire-faire (‘making others do’) strategy, a system whereby partners are invited to copy what they have seen, enabled FAO to establish a partnership with government departments and local organisations. The results of this project are the fruit of a collaboration between the local Hirondelle Foundation , community radio stations and parents of pupils in both provinces.

The Farmer Field School methodology (Champ École Paysan) was adopted to raise awareness and train members of the CELC committee using media and establishing community listeners’ clubs. Community radio stations belonging to the Hirondelle Communication network broadcast 151 programmes in French and Lingala or French and Kikongo, depending on the intervention zone. In the province of Bandundu, 190 men and 223 women came together in 36 community listeners’ clubs.

A total of eight topics were covered, including the right to food, nutrition, market gardening, domestic animal husbandry and the issue of gender and Farmer Field Schools; these were addressed by experts selected by FAO.

The project included a capacity-building component on gender approaches by providing training for CELC staff.  Women’s and men’s roles were discussed by analysing local proverbs related to daily activities; gender was analysed in Farmer Field Schools; and shared gender-related experiences were discussed through role play. This required know-how to integrate a gender approach into all CELC activities. Trainees received certificates only on completion of a five-day training course and almost six months’ technical support in accordance with the Farmer Field School facilitator training programme.

Tools and vegetable seeds and vines of orange-flesh sweet potatoes were distributed free to CELC teachers and parent members of the CELC Committees. An estimated cumulative total of 90 tonnes of vegetables and 5,379 tonnes of sweet potatoes were produced, according to available project monitoring data.

Visits to the gardens were organised for children and they took part in tastings of dishes prepared using produce from the fields, which enabled them to benefit from hands-on educational activities related to agriculture, food and diet.

Dietary habits were seen to improve in the project with the increased consumption of fruits and vegetables reported during focus group discussions with CELC members and monitoring surveys. The CELCs were therefore successful in dedicating spaces for farming production and for the promotion of good dietary and nutritional practice. This led to more diversified consumption of vegetables as well as the opportunity to buy other foodstuffs using money from the sale of produce. Oil, sugar, salt and maize flour were all bought with these funds. The CELCs also succeeded in ensuring that the teachers were motivated by being rewarded financially or in kind, albeit minimally, using the produce grown in the fields.

Three years after the end of the project, the effects are still visible. FAO and UNICEF are looking for further funds for scale-up.

In Masi-Manimba, Charlotte Mubiala, a teacher at La Fraternité ECE, shares her experience:

“Our CELC continues to operate. We currently have 47 pupils comprising 27 girls and 20 boys aged three to five years. Its continued operation is made possible by the support we enjoyed from FAO and UNICEF: technical training, nutrition training and farming kits containing tools and vegetable seeds. We have worked and our standard of living has improved compared to previously. We and our pupils have been eating vegetables from our garden and continue to do so. We, the teachers, have been able to earn money by selling vegetables from the garden. The habit of eating Chinese cabbage, headed cabbage, onions and leeks produced locally has now become established in our homes. But we subsequently encountered a problem with sourcing good-quality seeds to carry on our activities. We therefore organised supplies of seeds from Kinshasa using funds from the sales and added amaranth and tomato seeds, both crops being particularly appreciated by the children in the area. As for me, I have specialised in producing amaranth seeds.”

Read more...

References

1Administrative division in 2014.

The Hirondelle Foundation is a Swiss non-governmental organisation of journalists and humanitarian professionals see here

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Promoting good dietary practices in Community Early Learning Centres for children three to five years of age in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Nutrition Exchange 6, May 2016. p12. www.ennonline.net/nex/6/gooddietrydrc

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