Making a difference with War Child LEYF nursery practitioners, Maria Goncalves and Tania Silva, spent two weeks volunteering at three children’s centres in Uganda earlier this summer. We speak to Maria about their experiences. “Tania had wanted to do something like this since she was a child,” explains Maria Goncalves, on a busy Tuesday morning at Fitzrovia Community Nursery. “That’s where the idea started. When we approached LEYF for support, they suggested we contact War Child, an organisation they already had some links with.” The international charity War Child, which protects children living in the world’s most dangerous war zones, currently runs projects in four countries: Uganda, Afghanistan, Iraq and the Republic of Congo. After meeting Programmes Director Wayne Bleier, Maria and Tania decided to go to Uganda. They received financial help for the trip from LEYF and also from parents at their respective nurseries, who were keen to support their voluntary work. War Child asked Maria and Tania to train parents and staff at three of their brand new nurseries or ‘Early Childhood Development’ centres in Pader, Uganda. “To deliver training that would make sense to them, we had to know what materials were available,” says Maria. “It wouldn’t make sense to use examples
or talk about situations that weren’t relevant. The truth is, their reality is completely different to ours.” Nowhere was this more evident than in the children’s relationship with play. “The children have some toys donated by western countries, but they are not used to playing,” explains Maria. “They were more familiar with spending their time outside, where they find their own toys – building cars with bits of plastic and iron. “Some of our work there involved explaining how we teach the children and how they learn to play,” she adds. “They really enjoyed playing – and we found parents were equally interested and soon took part in the activities we were doing. You have to remember this is a country that has been at war for most of the past 30 years, so there are a lot of people who have never had time for play their entire lives.” To prepare for their workshops, Maria and Tania were advised by the Ugandan War Child programme to visit the communities and ask as many questions as possible. “We talked to the centre coordinators, along with English-speaking parents,” Maria says. “We exchanged a lot of information and used this in our work.” As a result, they learned about the vital importance of nurseries within each community, which in the three villages they visited was primarily to protect children from harm. Parents have to
A safe place Tania greets children in Uganda
leave their children when they go to work and, in areas where ritual murder and child sacrifice are not unheard of, nursery is simply the safest place for children to stay. “Experiences like this make you reassess many things,” says Maria. “Before I only saw these situations on TV. Now I have a very real sense of how people live. It makes me value the things we have here so much more.”
“To deliver training that would make sense to t them, I had to know wha e” materials were availabl
via Community Maria Goncalves, Fitzro Nursery For Wayne Bleier at War Child, it was also a mutually beneficial arrangement. “Maria and Tania really know what they’re talking about,” he says. “They had to use local materials and work with the local teachers. And I know the experience was very helpful for them too. I hope this is just the start.” Looking to the future, LEYF is already working to develop a sustainable plan to support the Ugandan project, while Maria and Tania remain in touch with War Child. “We really started something there in Uganda,” says Maria. “I would like to go again someday and see if we really made a difference.”
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