On the back of the teacher’s T-shirts, a simple but striking message: “Helping the student to learn how to read and write is my goal”. This strong image reflects the presentation “We are all in this together _Ministry, School and Community Actors working together for Improved Literacy in Cote d’Ivoire” delivered last week by Elly Bahati at the conference “Problematizing (In)Equality: The Promise of Comparative and International Education”, organized by the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) in Atlanta. AVSI Education Officer and Program Manager of the “Integrated Support for Sustainable School Canteens and Early Grade Reading in Ivory Coast”, Bahati came to the US to present the first results of this five-year project funded by the McGovern-Dole FY 2015 program of USDA. AVSI is carrying out literacy promotion activities in the project schools, while the World Food Program increases the availability and quality of school meals for 125,580 children.
“We are happy to have participated at the CIES conference as it benefits the project and allowed us to share with other implementers and partners the experience in the implementation of similar projects for reading and writing”, reflects Elly Bahati.
The main project’s goal is to improve the literacy skills of children attending primary school in Ivory Coast by assisting the Ministry of Education with the implementation of its new early grade reading curriculum including training teachers and facilitating parent and community involvement in literacy-related activities. In his presentation, Bahati went through the first results of a robust baseline assessment of schools targeted for the project. In 2016, AVSI brought on board the services of IMPAQ International, a DC-based firm with plenty of experience in education evaluation, to test the reading skills of students in 100 primary schools in Ivory Coast. 1,181 students went through the testing—a combination of a reading assessment and school and household surveys. The main goal was to understand how many students can read at grade level at the beginning of the project.
“We found out that very few students can read at a good level, reading skills are low in all the classes assessed, girls demonstrated less reading skills than boys in all classes, regional differences are significant in the percentages of students who have demonstrated reading proficiency at a good level and that, despite the rare presence of books at home and the rare involvement and commitment of parents to reading, 3 out of 4 students said they liked to read if they found books,” explained Bahati. “Thanks to this assessment, we were able to adjust teaching and learning materials, understand better the training needs of teachers and confirm the need for mobile libraries in schools and communities.”
The Ministry of Education in Ivory Coast shows great interest in the project and has been engaged during the first year to understand the results of the assessments. The Ministry of Education passed a reform in 2014 to start changing the school curriculum and choosing the syllabic method as a more effective way to teach how to read. This project, with AVSI’s implementation and activities, reinforces the efforts of the Ministry of Education and helps guide them towards improving reading and literacy in the country.
During Bahati’s presentation, the audience was fascinated with the mobile libraries, one of the activities of the project. The mobile libraries respond to the lack of books found in schools and in the community. With the collaboration of the Ministry of Education, AVSI bought 55,170 books, mainly from 3 publishing houses that provided books for the different levels recommended. Local artisans constructed the mobile libraries and each library can hold between 30-100 books. Schools receive three mobile libraries according to the reading level and types of books it contains. As of today, individuals and companies from the European Francophone community have also donated 37,000 books, contributing to the libraries. These books are distributed to 613 villages to constitute community mobile libraries. The presence and diversity in the types of books offers the students, schools and the community the access to books, to improve reading and promote a culture of reading.
FORTIFIED FLOUR WAS SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED TO PREVENT DIETARY DEFICIENCY IN CHILDREN AGES 6 TO 24 MONTHS
Child malnutrition is a major problem in Haiti. 2.5 million people live in extreme poverty with 100,000 children under five years of age suffering from acute malnutrition and one in three children stunted, or irreversibly short for their age. In 2014, AVSI Foundation, in collaboration with AVSI Canada, and in partnership with World Food Programme, and the University of Notre Dame Haiti, decided to combat this major problem in Haiti through a project called “Locally Produced Fortified Infant Cereal in Rural Haiti: An Innovation to Support Commercialization, Social Entrepreneurship”.
Two years later, AVSI and its partners developed a sustainable, affordable and locally grown product called Mama+. This product, which meets WHO nutrition standards for complementary infant cereal, was specifically designed to prevent malnutrition in children aged from 6 to 24 months in Torbeck, a commune in the Les Cayes Arrondissement, in the Southern Department of Haiti. The goal was to reduce malnutrition in Torbeck by 1%. The project, so far, was able to lower it by 1.2%. Mama+ fills the gap in available nutritional foods that are affordable for the local community. In addition, it has proven to effectively prevent malnutrition for children under 2 years old, which is considered the critical window of opportunity for a lifetime of healthy nutritional outcomes.
“My son couldn’t eat anything,” remembers Katherine Sander, mother of one of the 6,900 children who have received periodical home visits thanks to the project. “When I began to buy Mama+, he finally began to eat.”
Mama+ provides a much needed food supplement to local children, but also empowers women in the community through economic initiative and education. Twelve local women serve as health educators and sales persons. Through a door-to-door sales model, entrepreneurial women in the community were trained to sell Mama+. Their role is also to monitor the nutrition status of children and spread key information about proper infant feeding and healthy living, like the benefits of a balanced diet, the importance of clean water and how to recognize when children are malnourished.
“The women who participated in this project were able to spread their knowledge as well as the qualities of Mama+ to other families and, by doing so, they were preventing malnutrition. They were also able to learn more about other complementary foods,” says Joseline Marhone Pierre, Director of Nutrition of the Ministry of Public Health of Haiti.
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