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Daycare in Colombia
By Henry Orrego in Bogota
October 2006 - Two years ago, Luz Marina Mahecha started a new job at home: she looks after children while their mothers are at work. In Colombia, more than 80,000 community mothers like Luz provide this kind of children’s daycare service.
Dawn, just breaking over the mountains south of Bogota, illuminates the Ciudad Bolivar community. Luz Marina is already up. She has to take care of 13 children, but they are not her own. They are the children of her neighbours in the Caracoli district, left with her so their mothers can go to work. In Caracoli, only one out of three adults has a legal job and the number of inhabitants is growing daily, due to the influx of displaced populations fleeing the rural areas, their paramilitary groups and guerrilla warfare.
Luz Marina hasn’t turned forty yet. She decided two years ago to give up her dressmaker and shop assistant activities and devote herself entirely to the role of “community mother”. When she did, she became part of a project initiated 20 years ago by the Colombian Institute of Family Welfare, which organizes daycare for more than a million children. It keeps them off the streets and offers them an alternative to staying at home alone while their parents are out.
Some 5000 community mothers, like Luz Marina, provide this kind of daycare in the Colombian capital; throughout the country they number nearly 82,000. A study of adolescents between the ages of 13 and 17, conducted in Colombia by the 2007 Education for All Global Monitoring Report, revealed that children who benefit from such daycare are more likely to be in school and less likely to repeat a year.
A new job, a new way of life
“When I got an offer to work with the Institute of Family Welfare, I immediately accepted. But I had to adapt my life and my house to the new situation,” says the young woman, her round cheeks ruddy from Bogota’s chilly mountain air. At the time, Luz Marina and her husband, a construction worker, lived in a house built of brick and corrugated metal. They had to transform the living and dining rooms into a kindergarten. They painted the walls of the two rooms, the only coloured ones in the house. They also added red colouring to cement, to make surfaces look like terracotta. A sign hangs outside, on which is written the name of the daycare centre: “My little friends”.
More than babysitting
“At the end of the day, I’m exhausted. It’s not easy looking after children of different ages. The smallest one, Sharon, walks, goes to the toilet by herself, and talks…a lot,” explains Luz Marina with a smile. “By the grace of God, I’ve become another person from being in contact with these children. I’m not simply babysitting for a neighbour’s child - they’re like my children now. I play with them, they make me laugh, they tell me what’s going on at home, with their families….They teach us so much if we make the effort to listen to them.”
A typical day: the children arrive, wash their hands and eat some “bienestarina”, a powder the government distributes to prevent malnutrition, containing milk and other nourishing ingredients. At about 9.30 a.m., activities begin. “We sing, we play and we do exercises. At about 11, we go have lunch.” Then, after a little nap, more activities, either outside in the garden if the weather is nice or inside if it’s raining. “Occasionally we watch some television, usually educational programmes for kids.” And every so often a priest comes to visit the children and teach them catechism.
Even getting up at dawn does not faze Luz Marina: “I would like these little ones to learn professional skills. One day, later, I would like them to remember me as someone who did something for them - as some kind of teacher.”
This article is from the October 2006 edition of the UNESCO Courier, “Learning is child’s play”. Reproduced from the UNESCO Courier and available at at: www.unesco.org/en/courier
Stories on Early Childhood from around the world
Colombia: My little friends daycare centre
Iraq: Despite challenges, early childhood development efforts move forward [includes video]
Ireland: Mothers talking to mothers
Jamaica: A smile makes it worthwhile
Jordan: Fathers included
Kenya: Playing under the fig trees
Nigeria: Pre-school classes boost girls’ enrolment in northern Nigeria
Papua New Guinea: A recipe for success
Early Childhood links
UNESCO: Early Childhood
UNICEF: Early Childhood
The State of the World's Children 2001: Early Childhood