«When you go to St. Luke’s hospital in Wolisso, you hear many voices. Visiting the paediatric ward, then, you perceive a “symphony” of crying and laughter. Sitting on the rubber mat, which is never big enough, there are mothers and fathers with their children, playing and chatting. The 2-3-4 year olds are crawling, hiding between their parents’ coats and curiously observing the group around them».
This is how Fede Bagolin, a Universal Civil Servant in Ethiopia, describes entering the Catholic hospital in Wolisso, where there is a space dedicated to early childhood development, next to the paediatrics unit: here babies can play, while adults receive training and support on how to bring their children up in the best possible way.
The children are almost always hospitalised due to acute or severe malnutrition, on referral from local health centres; they receive care from hospital staff and CUAMM, in collaboration with CEFA, thanks to the “Seeds of future” project, supported by the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation (AICS).
Twice a week, Sisay, a nurse, together with Besha, a psychologist, meet mothers and their children for a few hours of play. Yes, because play is also fundamental to growing up! Sisay and Besha observe families, analyse their behaviour, identify relationship gaps and factors that inhibit children from playing freely when mothers are present.
After that, Besha starts interacting with the children, challenging them with new toys and input. Most of the games are made from recycled materials, during sessions held periodically with families, using old bottles, small stones, seeds, caps to increase the time parents spend with their children and to stimulate creativity».
In this way, Sisay and Besha try to generate curiosity, participation, verbal and non-verbal communication, strengthening the bond between adults and children. «This kind of interaction – Sisay emphasises – is very important to invite mothers to improve their approach and to show the great impact of closeness for the cognitive and physical development of children. A pathway to support parents in their care».
The second part of the activity focuses on nutrition, is also led by Sisay and is structured as an educational moment to develop mothers’ knowledge, from breastfeeding to weaning, to the correct diet according to age. «Most of the time, malnutrition is not caused by a shortage of economic resources or food availability, but by a lack of proper care in preparing meals and attention to children’s needs», points out Worku, CUAMM project officer for “Seeds of future” project.
During the training, they are taught how to prepare vegetables, the most common seeds available in the local market, for a balanced diet against malnutrition. After the training by Sisay, the mothers are encouraged to cook at the practice station. Some parents play with their children, others are busy at the cooker and still others receive individual advice from Besha and Sisay.
«Individual consultancy reduces the fear of judgement that some mothers feel when issues are addressed in a group situation, increases understanding and helps provide guidance on how to learn to listen and understand the child’s needs», testimonies Eleni, a paediatrician at CUAMM.
Individual counselling, group sessions on care, play, feeding and sharing knowledge on early child development are activities that not only strengthen the bond between parents and children, but also accelerate the recovery process of malnourished children, encouraging and supporting their physical and cognitive growth.