In three urban slums, SHOFCO is successfully integrating early childhood development education and nutrition needs of children under age five

In three urban slums, SHOFCO is successfully integrating early childhood development education and nutrition needs of children under age five
September 19, 2019 Denis Koech

The first 1,000 days of a child’s life are critical to physical and mental development. Proper nutrition, healthcare and sanitation are necessary to ensure young children reach their full potential. 

For children living in slums, this is a risky period. Children living in slums lack access to clean water, face poor sanitation and are frequently unable to access to social and healthcare services. Families live hand to mouth, rarely able to  afford three nutritious meals each day. Slum-dweller socio-economic status often mean that meals are cheap and easy to prepare, intended to fill the belly but unable to provide suitable nutrition for a growing body. 

To address these challenges, SHOFCO operates three Early Childhood Development (ECD) centers in Nairobi’s Kibera, Mathare and Mukuru slums. Our ECDs provide a safe, stimulating early learning environment for children below the age of five years with an emphasis on addressing the needs of those who are experiencing or are at high risk of delayed developmental milestones.

Nutrition is paramount for the children in our ECD centers. In 2018, SHOFCO’s Mathare ECD program recruited 31 children. Seven of these children were suffering from acute malnutrition and six were suffering from anemia. The children were put into nutrition and anemia programs and now have a clean bill of health. In addition, all children are dewormed and receive Vitamin A supplements twice per year. 

Our ECD teachers are trained to recognize symptoms of malnutrition, such as being withdrawn, poor language skills , delayed physical development as compared to those of peers, poor feeding and overall poor health. SHOFCO’s ECD program recognizes the complex and varied factors that contribute to delayed developmental milestones in children and works with the health program to handle cases which include acute malnutrition, anemia and worms. Most of these cases are identified during recruitment of children for the program. 

This would not be possible without close coordination with SHOFCO’s healthcare services. Last year, SHOFCO clinics in Mathare and Kibera screened 12,874 children for malnutrition and as a result, 850 children suffering from acute malnutrition were enrolled in malnutrition supplemented feeding clinics. SHOFCO’s healthcare and ECD centers are life-changing for these children and their families.

“Most of the time, mothers have to spend time away fending for their families, leaving their children in the hands of their siblings or older folks who are not able to adequately feed them on the single meal left behind by the mothers,” according to Emma Ingaiza, SHOFCO’s Mathare Clinic Manager. “Poor sanitation, due to lack of access to clean water leads to comorbidities especially diarrhea that is accompanied by poor feeding,predisposing the children to malnutrition.” 

Inside an ECD classroom in Kibera

Zahra, aged 3 years, was underweight and emaciated when she entered the ECD program and was unable to eat or feed herself. She could not utter a word or even sit-up, Zahra preferred lying on the floor.  This meant that teachers and attendants had to feed her and provide assistance so that she was able to engage with classmates.

“We helped her improve verbal communication and to engage with others. She was also placed on a nutrition program in our Mathare clinic which included minerals supplementation and fortified take-home meals. And, after a few months, the outcomes were great.” says Ms. Merecia Juma, our ECD social worker in Mathare.

According to Merecia, “the little girl is no longer shy and can feed herself with little assistance. She no longer experience cases of diarrhea, pneumonia attacks and dehydration as was the case before she came into the program.” 

After joining SHOFCO’s ECD, the nutrition and health status of our students improves dramatically. Nearly 100% of the children in our ECD centers are on track with developmental milestones, and all can be seen happily running around the classroom and chatting with their peers.

SHOFCO Global Board member Jeremy Mindich launches SHOFCO Mathare ECD center in July 2019. PHOTO: Anwar Sadat

Social workers in all SHOFCO ECD centers work closely with the children and their families. They provide monthly child development classes, 1:1 coaching and linkages to SHOFCO’s holistic set of services. Parents and caretakers are able to access SHOFCO’s healthcare services, group savings and loan and sustainable livelihoods programs to help them improve the economic situation for their families. Our holistic approach is designed to support individuals and families across the spectrum of needs they face living in the slums.

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