Poverty has a detrimental impact on early child development. Children born into extreme poverty have a significantly higher higher rates of chronic diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, asthma and heart diseases. Difficult conditions and chronic stress negative impact their ability to learn. Even before starting school, children from extreme poverty have lower vocabulary and lag behind in their speech, since their parents speak with them a lot less than parents with a higher socio-economic status. Uncertainty and poverty lower the ability of parents to create a stable environment for the child. Stressors connected with poverty increase the risks of emotional problems and behavioral disorders. Insufficient stimulation in early childhood is the first step into the vicious cycle of poverty. All additional problems in school and in adulthood are related to it and result from it to a great extent.
In cooperation with local social workers and other professionals who are in direct contact with the poverty-afflicted communities, we choose one mother (omama) who is capable, responsible, hard-working and well-respected in the local community.
With the help of early intervention professionals, we train these women in the methods of early child development and in creating appropriate conditions for child growth.
Participants who successfully completed the training and who demonstrate willingness and commitment to the project, are employed by our organization.
In cooperation with other professionals and with their mentorship, supervisions and practical preparation, the omamas help to develop the youngest children age 0-3. They offer counseling in early child development to parents of young children as well as to pregnant mothers in the whole community. Every week, they will visit homes of families with small children and they will organize parents clubs on a regular basis.
In pilot communities, we develop and test a unique method which includes various elements of successful programs of psychosocial stimulation of a young child and which adjusts them to the conditions of living in extreme poverty. The goal of the intervention is to improve all aspects of early child development: fine and gross motor skills, cognitive abilities, socio-economic area, language skills and communication, creativity, resilience and healthy lifestyle. The program is to strengthen self-confidence of children and parents, their mutual relationship and respect of a child towards oneself and others. All of this improves child’s readiness for pre-school or school.
We are in touch with experts from Jamaica and Columbia who have been implementing a similar program of early child development for more than 20 years. In Jamaica, a longitudinal follow-up research has been carried out demonstrating that the children involved in the program significantly increased their cognitive abilities and literacy skills, they progressed better in school, they earned more money as adults and they had fewer signs of depression and delay.We use the Play wisely program focused on brain development and movement capacity of children (www.mudrehranie.sk).
During individual meetings in homes and during group meetings of Parents Clubs, the Omamas will play carefully chosen games and engage children in stimulating activities enhancing child development. For example, they will develop brain function, attention skills through the use of cognitive cards, they will train a grip and fine motor skills through things like inserting buttons in a hole in a box, they will learn to name colors and shapes, new words and concepts through picture books and active story listening, they will develop memory and cooperation through songs and nursery rhymes accompanied with rattles, they will play with puzzles, they will play simple role plays, they will crawl and discover various objects. The parents will learn how they can use daily routines such as cleaning or cooking as opportunities for teaching. They will also receive information about cheap, but healthy recipes and advice on healthy lifestyle and hygiene.
While we can only see an omama and a child inserting buttons in a box, the child’s brain is actually creating ten thousands of neurological connections. With enough repetition, these connection will create neurological pathways which will make learning of other skills easier.
In addition to their work with children, the development of omamas as employees is equally important. Their work serves as a job incubator in which they develop their work habits and skills with the support of mentors. If they want to move on, we will help them to acquire a regular job outside of our organization, for example, they can work as caretakers. They will be replaced by new omamas from the community with the best references.
An extensive study of Professor Kovalčíkova’s team from the Prešov university has confirmed that child from the marginalized Roma communities has a great potential for development. The problem is that in school age, they already lag behind significantly in their development in comparison with their peers which gets worse with time. If this starting line evens out, they will have a greater chance to make progress as their peers.