Can we win a battle with losing soldiers? Our battle is against poverty. Our weapon this time is Early Childhood Education (ECE). ECE is a part of Early Childhood Development (ECD). It is mentionable that all over the world, more than 6.3 million children lose their lives by the age of six years, half of which occurs within the first one month. A study on infant mortality in urban slum by Vaid et al,. 2007 published by US National Library of Medicine under National Institutes of Health shows that between 1995 and 2003, there were 5765 live births and 219 infant deaths, giving an average infant mortality rate of 37.9 (range, 31.3 to 46.4) per 1000 live births for this period. The data collected were divided into the age-specific categories, less than 2 weeks, 2 weeks to 1 month, and 1 month to 1 year in the slums of Indian subcontinent. Proportional and cause-specific mortality in these categories and the birth history versus cause-specific mortality were also studied.
To change this scenario, we stand with a big idea: Early Childhood Education through parenting and childcare. For that, we have Sneho. Sneho aims to ensure a child’s proper development right from the mother’s womb. For the baby to be healthy, first and foremost, the mother needs to be healthy. For that, she needs proper nutrition and guidelines. In Bangladesh, both public and private sector NGOs have been working for maternal healthcare in order to achieve the MDG goal. According to UNDP’s report in 2010, Maternal Mortality Survey (BMMS), maternal mortality declined from 322 in 2001 to 194 in 2010, a 40% decline in nine years. The average rate of decline from the base year has been about 3.3% per year, compared with the average annual rate of reduction of 3.0% required for achieving the MDG in 2015. On the other hand, Bangladesh has already met the target of reducing under-five mortality rate: against the target of achieving 48% 1,000 live births in 2015, it has already achieved 44 per 1,000 live births in 2011. This shows that the MDGs have brought about a significant change in case of maternal health and child mortality.
While these statistics show the brighter side, there is a dark side too. The highest rate of malnutrition has been found among children living in the slums of the country, revealed the Bangladesh Urban Health Survey 2013 report. 50% of the slum children below 5 years are stunted, whereas the percentage stands at 33 in non-slum areas. The rates were 57 and 37 respectively in a similar survey conducted in 2006. Similarly, 43% of the urban children are underweight while in non-slum areas the rate is 26% and in sub-urban areas it is 30%. Government initiatives like Nagar Shasthya Kendra by UNHCP and other initiatives are failing. This is so due to lack of proper knowledge and awareness among the slum people. On top of that, barriers like Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs) and different segmentation among the mothers such as single mothers, teenage mothers, etc are also causing the children to lose lives. Researches also show that a child develops 75% of its brain within the first 1.5 years, with the first 6 months as the base.
Sneho will introduce its Maternity Support Service from -3 months (third trimester of pregnancy) to 6 months after birth in urban slums. During the third trimester of pregnancy, Sneho will provide advisory services to the parents and other family members such as the elderly ones and link the to-be mothers with government hospitals and other organizations like Mary Stopes Clinic that provide maternity services at low to free cost. After the child is born, Sneho will make certain that the child gets proper nutrition. For that, there is no alternative to breast feeding. In order to make that happen, Sneho will encourage the mothers to stay at home and provide the babies with proper nutrition. Now, as far as the income of the mothers that is being compromised is concerned, Sneho will provide the families with the stipend fund allocated for this purpose. Nevertheless, the fund will not be paid out in cash. Our target group has the tendency to misuse money, have they been handed out with cash. Thus, Sneho will pay for the family by paying at source. For example, if the family needs rice, Sneho will buy them rice; if there is another child whose tuition fee needs to be paid, Sneho will pay it at school. This way the mother gets to stay at home and the child gets proper nutrition. Such type of maternity support service is yet to be noticed in our country and thus, Sneho believes to leave a huge impact regarding the issue of ECE right from the beginning. This parallel effort can help to bring down child mortality further and make Sneho’s initiatives successful.
Alphabet mats are widely used in day care centers and preschools as a tool of early childhood education. But such products are expensive and our of reach of anyone with low income. We invented a version of alphabet mat which is usable in slum area and distributable at no cost to the poor people. It will give the opportunity to have exposure to alphabets before kids from slum areas start to go to school. They will not be afraid of the learning process at school as they have seen this before in their mat at slum, thus the school dropout rate will fall. In the illustration of the Sneho Mat, we can see the logos of BRAC University and Sneho. Here we plan to use logos of sponsors interchangeably as a means of promotion. It will be placed on as many numbers of mats a company or an organization desires to sponsor for ECE.
Key features of Sneho Alphabet Mat:
Box of Sneho is a part of Sneho’s CSR activities which involves individuals from the urban community. Sneho shall put up such boxes in various schools, markets and other convenient public places and provide brochures, to encourage parents and people with higher income than urban slum dwellers to donate toys and books. Sneho believes this system to be an effective one as it is a tested method. Many schools, especially urban schools in Dhaka put up such boxes where children themselves eagerly donate their toys and books. It’s a process to recycle toys
The role models will play their part in the third segment, that is, when the children will be in the age group of 6 months to two years. They will serve as the points of inspiration. Role models will be chosen from our targeted community, that is, from urban slums. Sneho believes that our target group (both parents and children) will be able to relate more with people they are familiar with; people who share similar backgrounds and mindsets and people who have faced similar challenges in life. The role models will basically be those people whose lives have changed drastically due to receiving the required level of education. They are those people who pursued their education by overcoming all barriers.
The university students will engage with Sneho’s target groups to help them develop and nurture themselves. They shall play their roles for segment four and segment five, that is, for children aged between two years to 6 years. The main difference between activities conducted by role models and activities conducted by university students is that role models shall solely focus on the parents while university students shall focus on children. For instance, university students might be able to take children to certain programs, such as, football or cricket matches in schools, universities, to name a few, simply to get accustomed to such activities and environment. They can also take part in those games. Provisions such as food and other amenities shall also be provided either by university students if they have the capacity, or by Sneho itself, depending on the prevalent situation. The motto here is to make children more comfortable in a different environment which will aid them to improve their social and cognitive skills and hence contribute to their adaptability to ECE.
Sneho aims to link its target group with various organizations who provide services such as mobile rhyme and story. Through this service, children can listen and learn. Also, since the parents of the children might be challenged in terms of their education level, this means of providing education shall prove to be more feasible. Organizations such as mPower, work to provide this type of similar services to people residing in urban slums. Sneho further plans to design this curriculum which shall be suitable for the varying age groups it targets.
The radio service is targeted at children aged 4-6, those in segment 5. School-going children can use this service during their leisure time, once or twice a week. For this, Sneho intends to affiliate with BRAC’s Radio Pollikonthi 99.2 FM since Sneho aims to begin its operation from Bangladesh. On a global scale, Sneho shall lookout for other radio sources which will provide the planned services.