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Transforming the Lives of Children Through Early Childhood Development Centers

In communities around the world, parents and caregivers dream about their children’s futures, hoping to see them grow and thrive. The first five years of a child’s life are an essential piece in realizing those dreams, providing critical building blocks for lifelong development. 

However, for many parents and caregivers in Burundi, balancing the developmental needs of young children with the financial responsibilities of supporting a family can seem overwhelming. With few childcare options, families are often left with a daily, impossible choice: leave their children home alone or lose the earnings or harvest from that day’s work. 

This choice is even more unimaginable for children who have unique developmental needs that, if unmet, can leave them vulnerable to a life-time of challenges — children like Rita. 

A Neighbor in Need

When Rita was only two, her mother was violently attacked and killed while carrying her daughter on her back. Rita was injured and left in a coma for three-weeks. When she woke up, she had lost her speech and struggled to socialize with other children, often showing aggressive behavior. 

Rita’s aunt took her in, but was overwhelmed by the daily demands of both caring and providing financially for her.  She couldn’t leave Rita home alone. She also couldn’t stop working if she wanted to put food on their table. 

In her family’s time of need, Rita’s aunt turned to the support of her local community for help. That’s when she connected with one of World Relief’s Early Childhood Development (ECD) Centers

Caring for the Child and the Caregivers 

In partnership with UNICEF Burundi and local communities, we have opened 11 ECD Centers throughout World Relief Burundi’s Church Empowerment Zones. Each center is run by members of the local community and serves up to 50 children ages two to five. Centers provide trusted care, a nutritious daily meal and plenty of opportunities to socialize and play with other children in a safe environment.

Not only do the centers give parents peace of mind, knowing their children are safe and well cared for while they work, but they are also helping reshape the care of children throughout the community — including back at home. 

ECD Center volunteers, many of whom are parents themselves, are trained in positive parenting, child protection, child development and nutrition — lessons they apply and share at the centers, in their neighborhoods and in their own homes.

In a country where currently 56% of children suffer chronic malnutrition, 90% of children ages 1-14 experience physical punishment by caregivers and only 7% of children ages three to five attend early childhood development programs, World Relief Burundi’s ECD Centers are playing a critical role in helping local communities lay a foundation from which children can reach their full potential.  

A Life Transformed

For Rita, enrolling in her community’s ECD Center has transformed her life. When she first began attending, she struggled to connect with her classmates. However, through the sensitive social and emotional care she’s received there, Rita has now regained her speech, shares toys and plays well with other children and shows positive behaviors at home and in the community! 

While not all children will face the challenges Rita has, the same community-driven programming that helped her can help more families navigate life’s obstacles. By caring well for those experiencing vulnerability, we can uplift whole communities and help more children reach their full potential. 

The Path to a Brighter Future

So far, with the support of UNICEF and other donors, World Relief Burundi has reached over 500 children under the age of five through their 11 pilot ECD Centers. The program has garnered praise from parents, community leaders and even primary school teachers who note that children who have attended the centers outshine their peers in their first year of primary school. 

Whatsmore, the child development tools developed during the pilot program have been so successful that the government of Burundi has approved them for national scale up. We will be starting seven more ECD Centers in Burundi before the end of the year, allowing even more families to thrive. 

At World Relief, we want to see every child have every opportunity to reach their full potential, and we believe local communities are best positioned to help realize that dream. World Relief Burundi’s community-driven ECD Centers are playing an essential role in caring for both children and caregivers as, together, we move towards a brighter future. 

Pave the path to lasting change for more families like Rita’s. When you join The Path — World Relief’s community of monthly givers — you partner with parents and churches around the world who are building a brighter future for their children. It takes all of us to pave the path to lasting change, and you have a role to play. 

Dana Pair currently serves as Program Officer at World Relief. Prior to joining World Relief, she worked in adolescent girls programming in the Portland, Oregon area. She is passionate about empowering women and girls to bring sustainable change to their communities.

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