Botswana faced several weeks of lockdown and for our communities on the margins, that has meant desperate threats into isolation and toxic stress. Despite the easing of lockdowns, the current restrictions still mean we have to temporarily close all playgroups across the country.
Empty streets can mean empty plates for many in our communities.
Before lockdown, we made sure that our Mamapreneurs replanted their vegetable gardens for winter so that they would have some food security for themselves and their families. They have reaped a wonderful organic harvest recently, with enough to feed their own families and others in their community.
The WHO warned that effects of the COVID-19 lockdowns on at-risk children include anxiety, uncertainty, separation, disrupted routines and lack of safe spaces to feel loved, cared for and stimulated. To this end, we also launched our Mobile Mentoring programme to support families to continue playing, learning and thriving together despite the national lockdown. Our Playgroups may have closed but our interventions continue. That’s nearly 200 families around Botswana who benefit from weekly support calls from our team who are checking in on all children enrolled with us to see how they are doing. We have been coaching caregivers on simple play at home ideas; offering guidance on government and World Health Organisation COVID-19 policies and providing assistance and information wherever we can to keep their happiness levels high and anxiety low.
Through our mobile mentoring, we identify families on a weekly basis who still need help with food and essential toiletries. While most have been assisted through the government food hamper scheme, some households didn’t receive support. We have been able to reach out and support these families with essential food hampers as well as toiletries & cleaning supplies including laundry soap, body soap and sanitary pads. Through our mobile mentoring programme we have been chatting with families about access to water and soap. For those that don’t have access to running water, we guided and encouraged them to build a tippy tap. Over the last few weeks, families have built tippy taps in their yards and communities; they’ve shared pictures back with us of what they’ve made.
Parenting can be difficult even at the best of times; for many of us, it’s even more stressful now – especially for families living in poverty and for children experiencing isolation and toxic stress. Learn To Play is proud to have helped the teams at The University of Oxford and University of Cape Town translate their parenting support posters for COVID19 into Setswana, making them accessible to families who need this information and support the most.
We share these through parenting support groups via WhatsApp to parents and caregivers across Botswana.
Currently, we are intensifying our efforts to bring Play to children at risk of isolation and neglect. With the uncertainty of when playgroups will resume, we are creating individual play-at-home kits for every child enrolled in our programmes throughout Botswana. The activities are open ended and cover the 6 key areas of development as per our Rainbow Play Approach: Social and emotional development, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, language and literacy, cognitive and numeracy, fantasy and creative play.
The kit includes:
- Feeling flashcards – giving children vocabulary and tools to express how they are feeling.
- Homemade play dough
- Yoga stones – for physical exercise and mindful stretching, to decrease anxiety etc.
- Handmade bean bag plus bean bag activity sheet – for gross motor activities and games
- Colour sorting game (made from egg carton plus coloured stones); for older children we are doing the same but for numeracy and counting still with the egg carton and stones. We are also making a tweezer from pegs and tongue depressors to go along with it, stones will have to be picked using the tweezer for fine motor development.
- Memory/shape game from laminated card
- Felt story scene to make up own stories
- Hand carved tree stump chalkboard and chalk
In light of playgroups being closed, our Mamapreneurs will be doing home visits and providing each child with their own unique play pack; they will engage with the children at home and support parents through a caregiver support programme.
Health organisations worldwide are emphasizing on the importance of focusing wellbeing and wellness during the pandemic. We believe that it is imperative to create opportunities for children to manage emotions, express their concerns, have a routine, feel safe as well as relax and play.
While at-risk children, including Learn To Play beneficiaries, are losing out on the safety and routine of playgroups, we are committed to build their resilience and happiness during these tough times. With the support of our partners & donors, Learn To Play’s interventions are impacting children across the country positively.