07 Mar The Gems Above Our Soil
The greatest strength we have as a Nation is arguably not in the riches beneath our soil.
It lays in the hands, hearts and minds of mothers and mother figures across the country, in the tiny heartbeats they raise each day, and in the culture of tomagano (togetherness) that nourishes us all. Together, this is the source of strength, nurture, ambition and, dare we say it, progress.
I’ll digress briefly so we’re on the same page…
We have all been taught as kids, when taking crayon to paper, to ensure we colour in between the lines. Those first few days, however, when a child starts to make real progress, are of course a cause for tremendous celebration, a veritable sign of progress in motor skills, cognitive development and capability. It’s a lesson learned in discipline, control, execution of instruction, and more. Before this, we simply rejoiced at the joy of colour on paper, as “abstract” as it could oftentimes be.
There are many milestones of a similar nature to add to the fold – a child tying their shoelaces, packing away their toys, their first craft project in school, reciting the alphabet without error, etc. Each is a self-earned victory in progress and learning, and each essential in the child’s overarching journey towards independence and truly thriving. It’s easy to take for granted that this is simply the right of passage we all undergo as we grow up, and that every child enjoys. And yet, is it?
Without the support of formal school, not every child learns the alphabet in their early years. Not every toddler is shown how to colour inside the lines or how to sort colours and shapes for their mental development. Not every child has access, and this is not news – we all know access to formal education is a challenge in even the remotest or most socio-economically challenged communities. Until I started engaging with Learn To Play, however, my understanding of the gap was pretty surface-level. More kids need access to quality education, from nursery and primary school to secondary and indeed higher education. That battle is already being fought on a daily basis.
What I never realised, however, was intervening and acting even sooner than that is equally if not more necessary. In the journey of education, those seemingly small milestone celebrations can and must begin sooner; and when they do, the value for the child is markedly greater, with developmental tools and capabilities honed from a younger age, and proven impact on the child’s development seen well into their further education.
If globally, more than 200 million children under the age of 5 fail to reach their potential in cognitive development because of poverty, poor health, nutrition, and lack of early stimulation, what fighting chance are we giving the future leaders and changemakers of the world?
And we’re back.
Early Childhood Education is a necessity, and yet feels like a luxury; this needs to change. We face issues of children being left behind, women marginalised in communities for their inability (yet not without great desire) to put food on the table, and communities hungry to empower themselves to uplift each other out of social hardship. Women and children across communities in Botswana are changing this every day as part of the Learn to Play family, heroes of everyday play, progress and growth. Mamapreneurs manage safe and engaging playgroups designed to help develop key skills before nursery-going age. Children learn through play and are given a fighting chance to then blossom and thrive, while women in communities earn independence, income and new skills.
They’re helping close the gap when it comes to early childhood development in Botswana. They’re empowering children – literally and figuratively – to do more than colour within the lines, but what it means to thrive, bloom and sparkle; about mindfulness, kindness and joy. They’re teaching us even more valuable lessons in the process – lessons on community, botho, resilience and passion, and on the immeasurable and infinite value of play.
One child and one community at a time, this initiative – this movement – is building a brighter Botswana brick by proverbial brick. It’s heartwarming and inspiring to see it, and even more to be a part of in any way, shape or form.
After all, isn’t tomagano one of the very cornerstones of our Beautiful Botswana?
By Taazima Kala Essack