Driving through field upon field of sugar cane, with glimpses of Lake Victoria on the horizon, we will soon visit a Lively Minds Play Scheme in Iguluibi B, in Iguluibi Parish.
First, we stopped at the Wairasa Sub-county offices and met Lively Minds coordinator, Tom Hakiza. Tom has been working on the programme since it began in 2019. He enjoys his busy and varied job, especially focusing on how to help young children. He explains the respect the Lively Minds programme receives and how much the communities benefit from it.
The mothers and children are gathering as we arrive in the small village of Iguluibi. This rural village has a couple of schools, but one is mostly empty as they charge high fees. The main livelihoods are working in the stone quarries, farming sugarcane and fishing - none bringing in a big wage.
The Lively Minds Play Schemes are entirely free and delivered by mothers in the village, supported by the Village Heath Teams, whom the sub-county coordinators train. Seeing the children queuing to wash their hands, a prerequisite before every scheme is just the start of the life-changing work here.
The group of around 60 children is split into two. One group is then divided into small groups of 5-6 children; each assigned a space on the big tarpaulin mat and a mother to lead their afternoon activities. These include playing dominos, the shape stacker game and reading stories. These carefully designed games assist the children in learning, through play, to build their socio-emotional, literacy and problem-solving skills.
Although most mothers didn’t finish school themselves, they have been trained to teach the children, so they have a better start in life than they did.
There are five stations with different games at each. Florence Nabwire is the timekeeper, moving the groups of children around the stations every 10 mins so they all have the opportunity to play all the games. Florence is a confident, vibrant woman, giving instructions with care and authority. Speaking to her later, she revealed she didn’t used to be like this. She was shy and would, “feel like hiding” when people talked to her. The Parenting Workshops we run for the mothers have given her this confidence. She has, “learnt a lot” from the programme and is thrilled to pass these skills on to the children.
The other group of children play some of the old favourite outdoor games, ‘What’s the time, Mr Lion’, Duck, Duck, Chicken & Cat Chasing the Rat. These games develop the children’s listening and instruction-following skills and are great fun!
There is a review at the end of each Play Scheme where the Village Health Team (VHT) representatives provide coaching and support to the mothers on any areas they can improve, to make this the best possible learning for the children. VHT, Justine Birungi, is grateful for the opportunity to support the mothers. She is incredibly passionate about training mothers to include and adapt for children with disabilities – ensuring the scheme reaches every child in their community.
Paul Mausaabei, the Village Chair Person is hugely supportive of the scheme – noting the difference it has made for when the children start school, “children are now confident when they start school and express skills they leant here [at the Play scheme].”
As well as the educational and life skill development, the Play Schemes directly impact the children’s and mothers’ health. Practising hand washing at the beginning of each scheme helps install the practice in daily life. Harriet Namukose explains that learning the importance of handwashing through the Parenting Workshops she and the other mothers attend has changed her and her family's practices at home. Before, they would only wash their hands before a meal, but now, “we wash our hands with soap more often, even for a snack.”
Iguluibi is one of 408 rural communities in the Mayuge District that benefit from these Play Schemes. The long-term effect on these children and communities is vast, helping to end the cycle of poor early childhood care, education, and poverty.
Written by, Alyrene Rosser, Head of Fundraising at Lively Minds, March 2023.