Thursday, June 10, 2010

Child play day

Today I participated in a day of “child play” for malnourished children under five in the Nyakiliba sector of Rubavu district. After a breathtakingly beautiful moto ride, I joined three men from my office and four “community facilitators” from the sector in a crumbling former storehouse. Nearly 200 children and their parents (occasionally an older sibling) were gathered on benches made from planks of wood on piles of bricks. When I arrived, the children were seated in orderly rows and not a single one jumped up to shout “Muzungu” – I don’t know whether they were well behaved or lacked energy due to malnutrition.

We handed out lollipops to occupy the children while we lectured the parents on a balanced diet for their kids. My colleague B. talked quite knowledgeably about balancing “grow foods” (proteins) with “go foods” (carbohydrates) with “glow foods” (fruits and vegetables; vitamin sources). I of course was asked to speak about malnutrition in Kinyarwanda with about 5 minutes’ notice; luckily I happened to have with me a sheet of nutrition-related vocabulary given to us during training. I managed to communicate that parents should use soy flour, a cheap source of protein, and I discussed ways to make “good water” (amazi meza) to prevent diarrhea caused by “bad water” (amazi mabi).  Then we took the kids who were old enough outside and brought out some foot(soccer)balls. Here things got a bit hectic; older kids from the village mostly hogged the balls. We came inside and handed out biscuits, bouncy balls, and cheap plastic dolls (again, a little disorganized; I worry that the distribution wasn’t equitable). Finally they brought out balloons and I had to intervene to explain to my Rwandan colleagues that we had to blow them up before giving them to children under five!

This was the first of four days of child play for this group this year, and it is one of the places where I can see myself adding value and building capacity in my office. I’m incredibly lucky to have a group of well-educated and hard-working colleagues. I’ve been wondering where my knowledge and skills fit in – for example, I don’t know more about rearing goats or growing corn than W., who has a degree in agriculture and animal husbandry. Here is a case where I push my colleagues to think not too far out of the box and maximize their time with the parents. It’s an important educational opportunity, especially because for many the cause of malnutrition is ignorance rather than poverty. I’ve suggested that in the future we prepare demonstrations – hand washing, cooking with soy flour, purifying water, etc. B. and I will also choose a sample of families to interview about their gardening habits and available land, with the intention of holding a garden training for the parents at a future date.

Also: I’d love suggestions for more appropriate ways to do group play with 200 children ages 0-5. We are working with limited time and space, a small amount of money, and with children who aren’t used to “playing” as such, meaning anything requiring too much of an explanation will be lost on them.

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