It was indeed a historic three-day international meeting that gave government leaders, major donors and civil society organisations an excellent opportunity to address the pressing needs of Tanzanians youngest children – meaning those aged between zero and eight years.
The theme of the rare gathering held recently in Arusha was as soothing as it was compelling: “Nourish their bodies. Feed their minds. Secure our future”. It could hardly have been put better.
A critical look at the facts and figures made available to delegates and the media painted a sombre picture of the lot of millions of infants and young children.
The situation is all the sadder considering the huge number of organisations established with the express aim of soliciting funds and other resources with which to add value to the lives of these otherwise helpless children. Were this indeed the case, these children would surely more fully enjoy their basic right of developing to their fullest potential and therefore contribute fully to their communities and the larger society.
Unfortunately, some of those setting out ostensibly to champion the rights of these fragile members of society often end up misusing the very resources that would have helped them accomplish their noble vision.
The result shows in the data periodically given by such notable agencies as UNICEF and UNESCO, particularly in relation to the nutrition, health care, education and safety of infants and younger children.
Cases in point include these cruel facts, all well-substantiated and widely acknowledged: a whole 42 per cent of under-fives in Tanzania are physically and emotionally stunted, another 16 per cent are malnourished, 63 per cent don’t attend pre-school, and half of all young children in rural areas live below the basic needs poverty line.
This First Biennial Forum on Early Childhood Development and was co-organised by the government and reputable international agencies including the World Bank, UNICEF, The Bernard van Leer Foundation, and Children in the Crossfire.
As noted, there was also a heavy presence of representatives of scores of Tanzanians NGOs, CBOs, FBOs, etc., etc., among them an umbrella agency known as Tanzania Early Childhood Development Network – TECDEN, for short.
All these had visions and missions that that were just about identical, declaring that they were out to contribute to the building of a Tanzania where all children in the zero to 8 age bracket “are treasured in such a way that their basic rights are met and their rights to survive and really thrive are realised”.
There was much optimistic talk at the Arusha meeting – as well as consensus on the need to mobilise community, national and international resources to support the implementation of programmes revolving around children’s nutrition, health care, early learning and protection.
We only hope that all concerned will implement their pledges and ensure that all resources coming their way but meant to improve the lot of infants and younger children actually go into supporting the right causes and not otherwise.
All stakeholders must take stock of their contribution to initiatives to guarantee our children as good a deal as resources allow, at least by desisting from acts likely to sabotage such well-meaning efforts.