Heart of a Village:

One Community’s Quest to Nourish and Educate Their Children

It’s early. As the sun rises over Kariyeri village in Rwanda’s Nyabihu District of Northern Province, about twenty children stand in a circle outside their classroom singing loudly, repeating after their teacher. They joyfully take turns clapping, one at a time as they count to ten.  A new day filled with learning is about to start. 

Today, they will not be going into the fields to help their parents tend livestock, fetch the water, or plant new crops. They won’t harvest produce or make baskets to sell. Instead, they will be in a safe space, open to all children between the ages of two and six, filled with books and toys designed to stimulate the brain development of the youngest learners. Together with their teachers, they will work on building the foundations of curious minds, life-long learners and readers.

But this practice is new here in the village. Just a few years ago, there was no safe learning space, and there was no awareness in the community about the importance of early childhood education. The children were engaged in helping with household chores and farm work. 

Before, children in our village were at a high risk of developmental delay and were not safe as they were staying home alone, while their parents were out farming,” Mr. Damien, the village leader of Kariyeri says. Children were also not getting enough nutritious food: malnourished and stunted, they were up against an impossible challenge to grow up healthy, strong, and able to learn. Malnourished children fell victim to preventable diseases, such as malaria, because their weak bodies were too weak to take the medicine. It all felt like a vicious circle that one simply could not escape. 

Things started changing when the enthusiastic team of USAID Gikuriro Kuri Bose came to the village determined to show the community how they can ensure a more prosperous future for all by investing in the children today. 

They gathered parents and other community members and discussed the benefits of early education for children, sharing stories from other nearby places where such a change was deeply impactful. Together, they looked into challenges, and concluded that a lot of positive change could come from small adjustments. The community needed some help with establishing a center for nutrition for children and their moms, a classroom or two, a safe latrine and a kitchen garden. They also shared that the parents needed some education regarding balanced nutrition for their children, but also a way to grow more food.The team of USAID Gikuriro Kuri Bose worked with the district of Nyabihu: they planned together, pooled resources, and used what was already in place as a starting point for improvements.

community members helping to build the nurturing care hub in Rwanda

The community of Icyinkenke village in Nyabihu district during Umuganda (community work) to rehabilitate a Nurturing Care Hub in their village.
Fred Hirwa for CRS Rwanda.

The non-functioning kitchen garden was transformed into a Nurturing Care Hub that now consisted of two classrooms, an improved village kitchen, a safe and clean latrine, and a village leader’s office. Community members, motivated by the prospect of a better future for their village, worked together to build and paint the new spaces, while USAID supplied the village with industrial materials, such as iron sheets, cement, doors, and paint. 

These days, more than 60 children use the center each day to receive a balanced meal, play and learn. The district of Nyabihu provides a daily portion of cow milk to every child attending Kariyeri. “I am thrilled to see children graduating from this facility, ready to attend primary school,” Umutoni, the caregiver at Kariyeri Nurturing Care Hub says. “I am ready to support every child here, including children with disabilities, to reach their full potential,” she added. Indeed, the spaces and the materials offered are designed to be accessible for all children, regardless of their level of ability. 

Parents come and use the building for regular meetings of their Village Savings and Internal Lending Communities group, which allows them to save money they can invest in expanding their small businesses. This is also the place where they come together to learn better farming techniques and test out new seeds with a higher yield, so they can grow more nutritious food for their families. In the common kitchen they laugh together while testing out new recipes. Community volunteers hold sessions to teach and promote positive parenting practices, so that everyone understands better how to be responsive to their children’s early developmental needs. At times, a small market pops up in the back, with families bringing their surplus produce or craft products to sell. 

The future looks promising with children safely in the Nurturing Care Hubs, and parents able to generate income and take care of their families. To make sure the Hub is successful and able to serve generations to come, USAID Gikuriro Kuri Bose trained volunteers such as community health workers, caregivers, and ‘Parents Lumiere’ (Model Parents) to help facilitate the daily food distribution, early childhood development, and the provision of health services. This way, everyone has an important role to play, and feels proud seeing healthy children grow and learn. With so many people committed to sustaining this successful hub model, the dream of a more prosperous future is within reach.

youngest learners engaged in a classroom with their teacher

Children learning at the Kariyeri Nurturing Care Hub, supported by a trained caregiver.
Simeon Uwiringiyeyesu for Kariyeri Early Childhood Development Center.

USAID Gikuriro Kuri Bose, or Inclusive Nutrition and Early Childhood Development, is a project funded by USAID and implemented by Catholic Relief Services in Rwanda.

To learn more about their sustainable and innovative contributions to the reduction of child malnutrition in Rwanda, please contact hbaily@usaid.gov.

To read on about what else is USAID funding in the health sector in Rwanda, head over to our Global Health page.