Three Women. One Mission

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At a time when the country is seeking to make the education system more learner centered and competence based, three women – Janet Mwitiki, Sabrina Habib and Sheela Bowler – show it is possible. The trio came together to start a social enterprise that aims to improve access to high-quality, affordable early childhood care and education to families living in poverty. They spoke to LILY RONOH-WAWERU on nurturing children from informal settlements.

They say there is strength in diversity and this is evident in the partnership among Janet Mwitiki (Kenyan), Sabrina Habib (Canadian) and Sheela Bowler (American). The three were brought together by their passion in childcare and early childhood education. Coincidentally, they had all witnessed the sorry state of childcare and early education in informal settlements and were touched. It was thus a matter of when, not if, they would get into the trenches and change the state of affairs.

By a stroke of luck, or was it fate, their paths crossed and there was no looking back.

“I was developing a model for affordable, quality childcare when I came across Sheela’s work. I reached out to discuss the possibility of partnering and learning from each other’s experiences. When we were ready to launch our first centre, we realised we needed someone who would understand our vision and help us implement it. It was at this time that we were introduced to Janet and Kidogo was ready to take off,” Sabrina, Kidogo’s co-founder and chief exploration officer, explains.

Kidogo was born out of a need to address poor quality childcare, abuse and neglect that are inherent in daycare centres in urban informal settlements, which exposes children to danger.

“We realised that many women living in informal settlements lack quality childcare options as they go to work thereby placing the health and nutritional needs of their children at high risk. But with Kidogo, mothers can rest assured that their children will be safe and well taken care of,” Janet, the director of learning and play at Kidogo, sheds light on the plight of mothers in informal settlements.

To achieve its goals, Kidogo uses a Hub and Spoke model. Sheela explains that the Hubs are best practice model of early childhood centres operated by Kidogo to provide quality childcare and education services for children between the ages of six months to six years. The Hubs, situated in informal settlements such as Kibera and Kangemi, offer all the building blocks children need to thrive. The Hubs promote play-based curriculum in line with global best practices in early childhood education, with qualified caregivers from the local community.

“The Spokes component of our model supports women, or Mamapreneurs as we call them, who run daycare centres within the informal settlements. We equip them with training; resources and mentorship to ensure their centres offer quality childcare sustainably. Through supporting community childcare in our Spokes programme, we expand our reach so that as many children as possible get the best start to life,” Sheela explains.

But perhaps what makes Kidogo stand out is its play-based, child-centered and holistic approach to early childhood dubbed “The Kidogo Way.” The curriculum aligns with the Kenya Institute for Curriculum Development standards, and places emphasis on play, socio-emotional development, problem solving and creative thinking for holistic development of the child. The Kidogo Way discourages rote learning of academic skills by presenting them in developmentally appropriate ways, which focus on the individual child.

“We work closely with parents and community leaders to demonstrate the value of play-based, child-centered learning. We also engage in advocacy with government and non-governmental stakeholders to spread the word on the importance of play-based care and education, particularly during the earliest years,” says Sheela, Kidogo’s chief operations superhero.

“Our aim is to equip our children with lifelong strategies that enable them to succeed in primary school and beyond,” she concludes.

Published March 2017 …

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