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Friday, November 28, 2014

What Childhood means in a Developing Country

By Anya Bartlett

Childhood, by its very definition, is a time for children to be in school and at play, to grow strong and confident with the love and encouragement of their family and an extended community of caring adults. The Valley of the Moon's Children's Centre was created on the dreams of the local Mother's Club of Mallasa. The mothers aspired to create a community nursery which would respect both their cultural background and the children’s right to a safe and creative place to learn and play. Mallasa's Centro Infantil goes above and beyond this. The nursery practitioners are affectionately called 'Tias' (Spanish for Auntie), helping to create a sense that their carers are merely part of an extended family.

Tia Rosemary leads a creative activity with a class of 15 children
 at the centre

The same principle can also be seen to apply to the community on a larger scale. Passersby on the streets of Mallasa and Jupapina can always be seen to greet each other with a friendly 'buenos dias' or 'buenos noches' and at least a pleasant smile. There is an incredible sense of unity in this small community, where even strangers are greeted in a friendly manner. The traditional Bolivian greeting of kissing each other on the right cheek just reinforces the idea that the local community is merely an extension of the family. The prospect of entering such a tight-knit community could easily have been a daunting one. However, from my first day at the Children's Centre, I was overwhelmed by the massive effort the Tias made to make me feel comfortable and appreciated in my new environment.

The aims of the Children's Centre extend further than just providing a safe place for the children to learn and play. The centre also promotes a healthy lifestyle through weekly workshops on fitness and the importance of eating nutrient-rich foods. The workshops are supported by the centre's delicious, nutritious meals that ensure that the children receive all the nutrients and vitamins they need. The emphasis on providing nutritious food stems from how malnourished some of the children were before the centre was built. Now, in addition to the breakfast, snack and lunch provided by the centre, the children are weighed every month to ensure that they don't lose weight. This happened just the other week and was extremely chaotic! I was required to help the Tia's undress the children before helping the nurse take their weight and height. The chaotic part came when I had to put the children back into their clothes as no one could remember what items from the massive pile of clothing was whose! To add to the drama, some of the older children insisted they were able to dress themselves. Consequently, several of the children had their tops on back to front or mismatching shoes on!

To support the centre's aims of promoting a nutritious and healthy diet, Jenna and I created a workshop for the children's parents about hidden sugar and salt in food and drink

As part of volunteering in the centre, volunteers are allocated time each day to run their own activities for the children. This week, Adriana and I created a puppet show to demonstrate the importance of making healthy food choices and eating a nutritious diet. It was fantastic to see all the children getting involved, singing along to the songs and cheering on the vegetable puppets! Such activities would not be possible if it wasn't for the continued support of all the Tias and Evelyn the centre's principal. Similarly, Evelyn offers her unwavering support on many of our other ideas. For example, our recent proposal to create a sensory area for children with learning difficulties or disabilities was met with an astonishing amount of support. We hope that through creating an area with activities designed to aid the development of children with learning disabilities, they will benefit greatly from their time in the centre.

The children getting involved in the nutrition puppet show

Over the past eight weeks I have fallen completely in love with the ethos of the centre and I can't wait to continue volunteering there!

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