Rwanda: How ECD Centres Are Boosting Nutrition in Nyaruguru District

When schools opened last week, residents of a recently established village in Munini, Nyaruguru District did not bother looking for where to send their young children. They already had what they call a 'decent' nursery school right next door.

Built a few hundred metres from a pristine Munini Hospital, inaugurated in July this year, the Early Childhood Development Centre (ECD) caters for some 90 children each school day.

The children aged three to six come from the new Munini village, built as a presidential pledge for families who lived in risky areas, while others are from the neighbouring households.

But for their parents, who are mostly farmers, the ECD centre is more than just a nursery school. While some of the families hardly afford a balanced diet with protein sources like eggs and milk, the children have it at the nursery school every day.

A least 90 children aged three to six attend the Munini ECD centre every school day in Nyaruguru District.

"When our children are at the ECD centre, we are able to do our daily farming activities and we have no problem that they will be looked after by the caregivers," said Grace Nyirakamana, a resident of Munini village.

"In the morning they take porridge, and have lunch every day, with eggs or milk depending on the caregivers' schedule."

Parents with children at the Munini ECD centre contribute Rwf1000 per month to the government's school feeding programme.

The ECD centres are in different settings such as home-based centres and the community-based one like that at Munini. Nyaruguru District has at least three home-based centres in each village, where parents take turns to look after the children.

"As parents, the ECD centre has helped us a lot; children learn new things and play with their age-mates and we cannot worry about the food they eat because it's well prepared. Some of us could not afford eggs, milk or fruits at each mealtime," said Marie Ange Ikuze, who is a farmer.

Thanks to a World Bank-funded project launched in 2017 to eradicate stunting in Rwanda, officials say, the ECD centres have helped to drive down the child stunting rate in Nyaruguru from 41 per cent in 2015 to 39 in 2020.

"Before the project, we had at least 151 children with nutrition issues, 20 of whom were malnourished," Assumpta Byukusenge, the vice mayor in charge of social affairs, said.

"But through the project, parents have been trained on how to prepare a balanced diet, including vegetables, among other things, and today there remains five children with malnutrition and 17 who are undernourished and they are all being treated."

A recent survey by the Rwanda Biomedical Centre found that the stunting rate in Nyaruguru has been reduced to 34 per cent.

A malnourished child can recover after one month of treatment.

A recent survey by the Rwanda Biomedical Centre found that the stunting rate in Nyaruguru has been reduced to 34 per cent.

Byukusenge said the district's anti-stunting campaign is driven mainly by the local administrators, community health workers, and parents as well as youth volunteers.

National stunting stood at 38 per cent in 2015, before declining to 33 per cent in 2020. The government's target is to reduce the stunting rate to 19 per cent.

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