Sowing the seeds of potential Amina Mwitu's story, Part 1

The first 1,000 days of a child’s life, it is said, sets the stage for all future growth. When children receive the “eat, play, and love” their brains need to develop, they are more likely to grow up as healthy, productive adults who contribute significantly to their families and communities.

But there are often many barriers to early childhood development. Income, gender, and a lack of access and community support can stop many children from reaching their full human potential.

We spoke with Amina Mwitu, program director of the Madrasa Early Childhood Program, about the importance of early childhood development.

Amina Mwitu, program director of the Madrasa Early Childhood Program.

This is the first article of three in the series.

Amina Mwitu knows about barriers to education first hand. “My father managed to finish primary school, but because they were so poor, he could not go to secondary school. My mother dropped out when she was in primary six.” Despite all odds, her parents encouraged all seven of their children to complete their education. Amina became the first in her family and community to graduate university.

She then joined the Madrasa Program, in 1998. “For me, [the program] presented that platform where I can actually engage with parents, work directly with the teachers, and work directly with the children. In my own local community, I’ve become a role model, somebody available to answer their questions. I’ve been able to prove to them that education does not change who you are, but rather opens your mind to all possibilities.”

“I can talk to them, and say: I’m no different from you. I also grew up without shoes. And here I am today. I can actually sit on this other side, and tell you that you can become what you want to be in life.”

Part of the Madrasa Program’s work is to ensure parents understand and support early learning at home and in the community. But in an area where pre-primary education is not the norm — where kids can go to primary school for free at age 7 but have to pay for pre-primary — it can be a hard sell. So Amina and her team use an analogy that makes sense to the predominantly agricultural communities they serve:

You put your seeds in the nursery. You water them. You nurture them. And when they are ready, you take them to the main farm. That’s the same thing with early learning; this is a period where we want to nurture them, to be able to prepare them for the world. They need to be equipped all around, not just cognitively, but also physically, socially, and emotionally, to be able to thrive in the world.

Having been part of the program for over 20 years, Amina has seen firsthand the way communities and lives are transformed by these interventions.

“The program is more than 30 years old now. We have had some of the preschool beneficiaries who are now gynecologists, bankers, lawyers… and whenever we talk to them, they always share that preschool experience. These [preschool graduates] now number in their hundreds of thousands, throughout East Africa. Some of them probably would have dropped out in primary school, but now they have secondary schooling, and university. That’s a powerful story, and we know that it’s going to bring about a lot of changes in their own families and communities.

The Madrasa Early Childhood Program is supported by:

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