Virtual Global Tour

The first World Forum on Early Years Care and Education was held in 1999, when Americans, Roger and Bonnie Neugebauer extended their activities, editing Early Years Exchange magazine, to organise an event where like-minded individuals from across the international community were invited to Honolulu to meet face to face and exchange views and ideas relating to early years care and education. Since then, World Forum face to face conferences have become a biennial event, moving between continents and attracting hundreds of delegates from many countries. It has distilled its values into 5 key themes –

  • Children, Change, Relationships, Spirit, Difference.

These shape and support its mission to promote an on-going global exchange of ideas on the delivery of quality services for young children in diverse settings, and its commitment to improving the life chances of all children throughout the world by connecting, informing and inspiring the adults who support their growth and development.

I have been fortunate to attend 3 World Forum conferences – in Belfast in 2009, Auckland in 2017 and Macau in 2019. All of these have been inspiring, enriching and humbling. The experience of being immersed in the richness of diversity of the World’s Early Childhood Educators, to hear their stories and to share their passion, is profound. It has changed my perspective, not just on Early Childhood Education and Care but on my view of what it means to be part of the human race that inhabits a single global village where the challenges and injustices of children in other countries is my concern. 

In recent years I have been privileged to serve as the national representative for England to the World Forum and I am also a member of the leadership team of the Men in Early Childhood Education working group. The continuing connection this gives me with like-minded friends across the globe, is, in my opinion, the most powerful benefit of belonging to the World Forum family.   

The Covid pandemic forced postponement of the 2020 World Forum conference scheduled to be held in Vancouver. This has been put back to March 2022. As with so many events impacted by Covid, the decision was made to host an online event in 2021. This took place from 5th – 16th April, 12 days with live opening and closing plenary sessions sandwiching 10 days of virtual tours of different countries – Mexico, Kenya, Colombia, Scotland, Fiji, Roma communities in Europe, Lebanon, South Africa, India, Nepal – hosted by teams of in-country volunteer Early Childhood Education leaders.

Having experienced face to face events previously, there was some curiosity about how the sense of connection and the power of communication would work in an online world. Would we feel that we had shared this experience together or would it somehow reinforce any sense of isolation? How would each country present the richness of its culture and traditions, and its challenges, joys and achievements in providing Early Childhood Education and Care to its children?

Over 1200 individuals from across the globe registered for this global tour. Feedback expressed gratitude for the opportunity to participate without having to travel or to be able to afford the cost of conference registration, travel and accommodation. In other words, it proved to be a far more democratic opportunity. It was heartening to see so many students able to join in the online discussion groups and our ‘tour group’ live Zoom sessions.

So what did you miss? The first thing to say is that I was blown away by the content. It was evident how much planning, organisation and hard work had gone into the development of each presentation. These succeeded in mixing formats – interviews, personal testimonies, quizzes, song, dance, traditions, children, political and policy context as well as exposition of some of the current challenges faced, to provide an holistic view of countries / people groups. The presentations were hosted on an online platform that tracked progress and enabled delegates to proceed at their own pace. It also included online discussion fora where threads were captured reflecting individual observations, thoughts and comments, connecting and building the global community.

Some of the highlights from the presentations

India

‘His Name is Today’

Gabriela Mistral

A powerful presentation of some stark figures revealed the extent of the social challenges faced tackling the causes and effects of poverty in this vast continent.

India has 22 officially recognised languages. In a delightful video, children dressed in their traditional costume, representing various regions, introduced themselves by stating where they come from and the language they speak – adding, in each instance, “and I am the same as you!”.

We learned about the Mobile Creches organisation, providing care and education for the children of female workers at their places of work e.g. on building sites.

The tour finished with a look at some traditional games –

Kenya

In Kenya, we visited villages where the challenge and responsibility of caring for children is shared by the wider community.

and we had the chance to see children playing their indigenous games

Colombia

Our journey to Colombia provided an opportunity to be informed about the challenges of children who have suffered the trauma of living with the constancy of violence and its effects on their communities, families and their own wellbeing. And we met Nini, such an inspiring lady, who teaches the children in her own Wayuu community.

Scotland

Closer to home, there were 2 main themes showcased from Scotland – Forest School and Men in Early Years Care and Education (a subject close to my heart). The inspiring Claire Warden introduced us to the Auchlone Nature Kindergarten where we saw children relishing the freedom to explore, to think, to create and to grow in independence in the beauty of the Scottish countryside.

Kenny Spence, from Men in Childcare not only presented, he also wrote and recorded his own song as an accompaniment to one of the presentations. Many from around the world were impacted by the work of Men in Childcare, particularly the testimonials spoken to camera from some of the parents and female colleagues saying what a difference it makes having men involved in young children’s care and education.

Lebanon

In Lebanon, we met 100 children throughout the tour, who introduced themselves individually. It was a wonderful focus on and reminder of the key element in our common advocacy. We do this for the children.

We were reminded of the social, geopolitical, religious and cultural challenges affecting this region and Lebanon in particular. The country is dealing with the aftermath of the tragic massive explosion in the centre of Beirut. We looked in on the therapeutic work taking place with children affected by it.

We also saw the work amongst the many displaced families and war refugees

Nepal

The Nepalese introduced us to their culture, traditions, people groups, languages, food, cooking and of course, their wonderful children.

South Africa

The Rainbow Nation

When it comes to discussing geopolitics, entrenched inequality, discrimination and historic trauma, South Africa is sadly a prime case study, and yet it is also an optimistic nation, acknowledging its challenges and looking to a more hopeful future. Our tour featured the stunning landscapes and biodiversity as well as the wonderful people.

The Roma Communities in Europe

Not a physical country but a dispersed people group with a strong sense of identity and proud understanding of their heritage, a nation who have suffered and continue to suffer discrimination. It is their personal stories of resilience and fierce determination that are so impactful in this moving set of presentations.

Fiji

Our visit to Fiji encompassed its heritage, beauty, traditions, sense of adventure, the challenges of climate change and…. mud – lots of it. Such joy and abandonment!

Children learning the traditional art of masi printing

I wonder what your reaction to this is? Wonderful or too messy?

Mexico

In Mexico we visited an inspiring centre, guided by Ivan who showed us their approach to children’s active learning. He used the graphic analogy of the teacher as a ‘ping-pong’ player, serving and returning the ball, as an equal partner with the child, rather than a ten-pin bowler sending deliveries down the alley at the pins.

We observed children in their centre, participating in their programmes of active, self-chosen and initiated learning.

Other videos explored conflict resolution strategies and a project passing on traditional skills to children, making Lele dolls

The tours were bookended by live plenary sessions. The opening session included a panel discussion on experiences of dealing with covid in different countries, including the national representative for England, one David Wright –

Where are we going tomorrow?

I can’t end this summary of the virtual tour without acknowledging our wonderful hosts Luis and Priyanka who moved us on each day between countries, with energy, insight and enthusiasm. We marvelled at the various modes of transport employed, from rickshaw to hot air balloon!

Where are we going next March?

If this whet’s your appetite for more, I can assure you that the face to face events add another dimension to the networking, sense of family and connectedness. Why not consider joining us in Vancouver, Canada from March 22 – 25 in 2022?

For details, go here 2022 Event – World Forum Foundation

Book Review: The A – Z of Early Years by June O’Sullivan

One effect that I am conscious of, living under the uncertainty and isolation of pandemic lockdown for this prolonged period, is my inability to concentrate for any length of time. I tend to only be able to process information in small bursts. This latest book from June O’Sullivan is perfect for dipping in and out of. The A – Z format separates out the content into 26 highly accessible, distinct topics, each one covering a key area. Many of these could easily fill a book in themselves.

What June has done, in her inimitable spirit of generosity, warmth and candour, is to invite us into a conversation. Rather than preaching or judging, the exposition of each idea is a provocation, causing the reader to reflect and with the aid of a thoroughly researched reference section ending each chapter, to inspire us to embark on our own journey of further exploration. June’s writing has passion and humanity. This book places the unique child firmly at the centre of Early Years teaching. There is a common theme throughout, of social justice and advocacy for the right of every child to equality of opportunity, equity, a healthy and fulfilled life and love. Any Early Years teacher reading this book should recognise their status, the incredible privilege and responsibility of their vocation and renew their determination to do the best for all our children.

To anyone starting out in this profession, curious about how to develop their own knowledge and personal development, I would advise them to join Twitter, follow everyone suggested by June at the end of each chapter, watch the online videos and read every book listed. It is hard to think of many seminal works excluded from this list of ‘must read’ titles, many of which grace my bookshelves.

In summary, I highly recommend this book. It is current and in my opinion it is what we need right now.   

Some thoughts on Cognitive Load Theory

A couple of weeks ago (October 2020) we were informed that a significant number of reported UK based covid-19 cases had been omitted from official records due to an administrative error. It appears that a spreadsheet used in the recording process was limited in size due to it being ‘old technology’ consequently those records that could not be contained in the spreadsheet had been lost. I have been reflecting on the parallels that might be drawn between this incident and Cognitive Load Theory (CLT) the ubiquitous appearance of which has seemingly become an accepted norm governing child development and teaching practices.

Sweller first researched and proposed CLT in the late 1980s. (Sweller, 1998) He postulated that our working memory – the part of our mind that processes what we are currently doing – can only deal with a limited amount of information at one time. The theory is that overloading working memory during a given ‘task’, impairs learning to the extent that knowledge is not retained in long term memory.

The implication is that the acquisition and retention of knowledge in long-term memory is the primary purpose of education. We therefore need to ensure that the data being submitted to each child fits within the metaphorical spreadsheet of their working memory lest it overflows and is lost – just like those covid test records.   

For those of us who work with our youngest children, we understand teaching and learning as comprising a dialogue within a relationship. We do not advocate didactic teaching which is solely task oriented (with fixed, prescriptive learning objectives) or to be overly analytical. We are not expecting our children to draw on prior knowledge and experience, in order to assimilate new concepts in the moment. More likely, we are singing Old MacDonald together for the thousandth time, complete with noises, actions and laughter. I would suggest little consideration needs to be given to whether a child can hold the concept of pig, cow, dog and sheep in their working memory and whether adding in a duck for good measure will indeed lead to extraneous, intrinsic or germane cognitive load. In a group context, some children may join in gustily all the way through, some attempt to do so and some just listen. All of these responses, I would suggest, lead to development – in a social and cultural context and relative to a child’s age and stage. It doesn’t matter whether they have ‘learned’ anything from this specific interaction / activity. There is no need to subsequently test their knowledge of farmyard animals, we just sing it again tomorrow.              

Should we, as early years educators then, be accepting the bold dogmatic statements that are being promulgated as CLT fact and their application to our practice? The original researchers, including  Sweller and Paas, cautioned against the simplistic and unintelligent application of CLT and noted the importance of physical and sensory experiences in supporting learning – the embedding of knowledge and concepts into long term memory. Yet it seems that much of what is being claimed today ignores this.

It bothers me. I have my reservations. Many questions immediately come to mind –

What is cognition? A dictionary definition is –

“The mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses. It encompasses many aspects of intellectual functions and processes such as: attention, the formation of knowledge, memory and working memory, judgment and evaluation, reasoning and ‘computation’, problem solving and decision making, comprehension and production of language.”

That’s a lot of stuff. As a former computer programmer, I appreciate that data is separate from processing. To continue the computing allegory, this list includes data (knowledge, senses); storage (memory, working memory) and processes (formation – data writing, evaluation, reasoning, computation, problem solving, decision making, comprehension and language production) 

So what is meant by cognition in this context – data? processing? storage routines?

What is working memory? Where is it? How do we measure its size? Does everyone have the same capacity, all the time? What happens when working memory is full?         

I am not convinced that the human brain is configured or functions in the same way as a laptop. We cannot, for example, unscrew the top of a human skull, point to a ‘working memory’ lobe and determine its contents. Reducing learning to data processing ignores the complex interplay between multiple sensory input, prior knowledge, cultural framing, emotional and spiritual sensitivities, beliefs, sense of security and environmental factors. I would suggest that this is commonly accepted so why are we now being directed to ignore the obvious to make way for simplistic assertions attributed to CLT?  I am with Doug Holton (Holton, 2009) who points out that it is difficult to measure cognitive load, and therefore difficult to generate evidence to prove the theory. 

Of course there are limits to the amount of information and stimuli we can absorb and process at any given moment. In the first 5 years of life, we know that the brain is building up to an estimated 85% of its neural pathways, laying the foundations for cognition, dispositions, character, capabilities, skills and learning. The brain at this stage is not static and finite in its capacity. It is not consistent in its processing ability and certainly not mature in terms of its capability. Neuroscience tells us that the human brain is not fully formed until the mid-twenties. We also know how growth and pruning over time alter the plasticity of the brain. Any application of CLT to children and young people must take account of these potentially significant variabilities as well as environmental factors.

To my mind, I would urge caution in the application of CLT to the Early Years. If we continue to do what we have always done, to build positive, warm, reciprocal, and respectful relationships with children, I would suggest we do not need to worry about cognitive load. Children naturally interact with us to tell us what they know, what they are learning and what they are interested in. Isn’t this what we know intuitively?    

Let’s just keep singing – ‘Old MacDonald……’!  

References:

Holton D (2009) Cognitive Load Theory: Failure? Available at: https://edtechdev.wordpress.com/2009/11/16/cognitive-load-theory-failure/ (accessed 25 October 2020).

Paas F, Renkl A and Sweller J (2003) Cognitive Load Theory and instructional design: Recent developments. Educational Psychologist 38(1): 1–4

Sweller J (1998) Cognitive load during problem solving: Effects on learning. Cognitive Science (12): 257–285.

Kindness in the time of COVID-19

As the field of neuroscience rapidly evolves, our knowledge of how the human brain works, how it develops and the crucial factors that affect our behaviours, continues to grow. Debates regarding nature versus nurture have become more evidence based rather than a trading of hypotheses. We now know how crucial influences in the first formative years of life are in establishing social interaction capabilities and crucially emotional literacy, self-regulation and resilience in our children.

The notion of kindness represents a very human disposition with differing dimensions underpinning the intent and resolve. Our ability to think of others, to be friendly, generous and considerate are directly linked to our psychological state, our physiological condition and even our biology. It is difficult to express concern for others in the face of threat. In terms of our hierarchy of needs, survival is a mostly involuntary and self-directed function. Our reflexes act to keep us alive. The so-called primitive brain or brainstem controls our breathing, heart rate, body temperature and other survival-related functions. It also stores anxiety or arousal states associated with traumatic events. We are born with autonomic functions already developed to keep us alive – we don’t have to learn how to breathe, but the care we experience in the first two years of life, the extent to which we are co-regulated, soothed and whether our cries are met with loving response, directly affects our development physically, emotionally and socially. This determines our ability to deal with future stressful situations.

Faced with imminent danger, the brainstem’s role is to bypass and override higher brain function to ensure safety of the human organism by moving it directly to fight, flight or freeze. The brainstem directs blood flow, hormones and energy to where it is needed most – the heart, other muscles etc, in order to take instantaneous evasive action. It can be seen that this is an invaluable survival mechanism, in the moment, for the individual.

But what if the state of crisis persists? What if the body continues to feel under threat? In a well-developed brain, the higher functions are able to take back control, to assess, rationalise and to look beyond immediate survival. This brain has the ability to consider the implications of behaviour not just for the individual but also the impact it has on others. It can identify emotional states, regulate the body and control emotions.

Where the brain has not developed these capabilities, individuals have not experienced the support necessary for them to learn how to move beyond reactive responses to perceived threat. Associated behaviours can exhibit themselves as anger, violent outbursts, hyper vigilance or withdrawal – all signs of inability to cope. Such people may be constantly primed for survival. To a lesser or greater extent, they are directed to consider their own needs above those of others.

For some people, a lack of nurture and living with continued stress has not enabled them to develop sufficient self-regulation to control their emotions or to develop empathy. But we also have to face the fact that maybe some of us are just selfish, opinionated and convinced of their own superiority! As an informal researcher, I am fascinated to observe frequent examples of dysregulated behaviour in everyday life, in the media and sadly on most days on social media. It seems the World is an unkind place if all that we see or read is to be believed.

In a time of global pandemic with most people in lockdown, it is unsurprising that many people are operating in survival mode, that we hear evidence of stockpiling, increased domestic violence and attempts to self-soothe through drugs and alcohol in response to fear and anxiety. The perceived threats to our security are many – our finances, our health, our homes, our food and our toilet rolls!

I love the work of Bruce Perry, a man of compassion, wisdom, curiosity and optimism; a brilliant doctor who has worked with some of the World’s most deeply traumatised children. Bruce refers to ‘cumulative doses of therapeutic moments’. I love this phrase because it gives us confidence that we can all provide individual doses of healing and hope.

Those of us who are able to exercise love, affection, concern and generosity can be the bearers of kindness. We can choose not to take offence. We can ask, ‘What has happened to you?’ rather than ‘What is wrong with you?’ and we can respond with kindness. I believe that sowing kindness reaps kindness. It is a choice to be kind. Sometimes it requires strength, courage, sacrifice and humility. But it is always worth it. The ability to understand, respond to, support and meet the needs of others brings benefits for the recipient and for the giver – reducing our stress, boosting our immune system and lessening our own anxieties. Kindness is necessary for community to succeed. We will not emerge from this pandemic without it.

Ten Kindness Tips

  • Understand our own feelings and reactions – be curious about our own motivations, capabilities and foibles.
  • Build our own security – be kind to ourselves first.
  • Research – learn more about the holistic nature of the human organism, how mind and body work together to protect and regulate it and what can go wrong.
  • Be curious – look beyond behaviours.
  • Seek to understand others’ behaviour – ask ‘What has happened to you?’ instead of ‘What’s wrong with you?’ What anxieties or frustrations underlie the behaviour?
  • Decide what kindness looks like for each individual.
  • Choose kindness – understand that kindness is a choice. It requires us to take explicit action that focuses on the needs of others, sometimes above our own.
  • Choose not to meet unkindness with unkindness – walk away or ignore, breathe and think before we respond.
  • Respond to others with kindness – we can choose not to judge, to de-escalate, to empathise and to support.
  • Initiate acts of kindness – what can we do today to sow kindness?

Welcome to 2020

The start of a new year is an opportunity for reflection – on what to give thanks for; what to congratulate ourselves for and what to look forward to and to consider how we can improve.

Looking back over the last year, there is much to celebrate. Some of these things are more visible than others, such as the very rewarding recognition of some of our teams by Ofsted in recent inspections and the heartfelt thanks we have received from parents, acknowledging the care and commitment shown by the dedicated people who work for Paint Pots and who have a real passion to make a difference in the life of each child, recognising them as a unique individual with their own interests, needs and potential.

But it is in the day to day moments of children’s achievements, expressions of joy, awe and wonder, that the life of Paint Pots is truly expressed. This is where deep relationships are built and we all live and grow together, experiencing Love, Laughter and Learning each day.

We remind ourselves that these young children are experiencing so many ‘firsts’ – Christmas, Diwali, finding a caterpillar, squeezing play-dough, building a den out of boxes, painting, making soup, learning to share, dancing with friends etc.

This year, may we all learn to see the world as children do, filled with opportunity to enjoy the moment, to experience new things and to see with fresh eyes and to delight in human connection.

Happy Christmas!

Nativity

Attending my fourth nativity of the season at Paint Pots this week, I have reflected on the difference between a performance and an event. In my opinion, the first implies a focus on presentation, the quality of content and delivery and a separation between performers and audience whereas the latter is an inclusive, communal experience that invites participation and does not worry about standards. It’s about taking part – the process, not the product. Both of these have their own benefits depending on what the aim is. When it comes to our youngest children, I find that the joy and fulfilment for all involved comes when everyone shares in the experience of creating moments together and when there is no worry about rigidly following a literal or metaphorical script. Any hiccups are an added dash of colour and charm. I love it that some children wander off or run to sit on their parents’ lap, that some carers come forward and join the nativity scene providing emotional and physical support for their child, that one autistic girl is free to celebrate the music in her own way with excited screams, encouraged to roam freely round the room and finally bursts out into a lusty rendition of ‘We wish you a merry Christmas’, as part of the group. I love the Portuguese Mary with the Turkish Joseph, the Indian, Pakistani and Polish wise men, the break-dancer dressed in combats, the Muslim and Hindu parents, proud of their children. I love that shy and confident boys and girls are equally applauded.

At a time of seeming national and international discord, this celebration of the richness of our diversity, inclusion, tolerance, peace and joy are encapsulated in our collective enjoyment as expressed through our children’s delight in inviting us into their little world to re-enact a traditional story together.

The colour, mess, noisiness, innocence and awe and wonder of our children has much to teach us about what we might have lost in transition to adulthood. How wonderful it is to take the opportunity to reclaim some of the delight of what it means to be human.

 

Wishing you all a very Happy Christmas

Meeting the Candidates

radio

In the run-up to the general election, other than seeking photo opportunities with cute babies, it is difficult to get any clues about how our political parties view the importance of early childhood from the words and actions of candidates. Next week, I have the opportunity to quiz everyone standing for the Southampton Test constituency for a BBC Radio Solent recording to be broadcast in the coming week. I have been scratching my head how to approach this. At Paint Pots we fervently believe that the early years of childhood are vital for children to establish foundations for their lives through the development of supportive relationships that enable them to build their independence, sense of identity and self-regulation. We visualise each child as a pot of paint, from within which a unique and beautiful picture can be created. This speaks to unlocking the innate potential and character of each person – how can we love this little person enough to be the best version of themselves?

Sometimes I think politicians have forgotten what it means to be a child – they were all one once. If they really understood the curiosity, sense of awe and wonder, the need for connection, love and expression within all of us, I believe our policies would be so different and our priorities as a nation would be very different.

I have been impressed with the national well-being budget set for the first time in New Zealand this year. In the introduction to it, Prime Minister Jacinda Arden writes “while economic growth is important, it alone does not guarantee improvements to our living standards. Nor does it measure the quality of economic activity or take into account who benefits and who is left out or left behind. Growth alone does not lead to a great country. We have broadened our definition of success for our country to one that incorporates not just the health of our finances, but also of our natural resources, people and communities.”

Maybe I will ask our local candidates for their view of success and where they see well-being in their list of priorities. I would suggest that a system in which human capital is seen only as a prerequisite for production and growth, has lost sight of well-being. In this dystopian landscape, children are reduced to data – test and exam scores that rank them purely in terms of their usefulness for the workforce. Is this how politicians see them? And ‘childcare’ is viewed only as a baby-sitting service to enable women to return to work.

I am sure that after December 12th, whoever is in government, the status of those of us who work with young children will remain where it is – very lowly and funding for early years education will continue to be one of the lowest priorities.

This week, as most weeks, I have spent time with our teams and the children they care for. Experiencing the love, care, the highest of expectations for every individual, the joy and the passion that is so evident day in, day out, I realise that it is more than just a job. It actually makes me very emotional to see the difference our teams are making and the way in which they care so much, going the extra mile. If only our politicians could come and spend a week with us maybe they would understand a little more. I will try and explain this a little in the 3 minutes I have with each of them on Tuesday. I hope you manage to catch the broadcast. You can always listen on catch up!

Africa MapKenya Map

David and Anna have been involved with New Life Home Trust, a charity operating in Kenya, for many years. New Life Home Trust exists to rescue, care for and place abandoned babies in families.  Priority is given to those who are infected or affected by HIV/AIDS. If possible these children are returned to the birth family. Where this is not possible, adoptive or foster parents are sought. Some children, particularly those who have a disability or special needs, are difficult to place in families. New Life commits to caring for these children in its own homes, for as long as needed. In 2019, New Life Home Trust celebrates 25 years of operation. To date, it has rescued over 2,000 babies and children. 90% have been placed into loving homes.

David has visited the 4 homes many times. This year he offered the opportunity to 3 of the Paint Pots team to join him for the week in volunteering in the Special Needs and Baby Rescue unit in Kisumu, as well as the Baby Rescue Home in Nairobi. Katie from Paint Pots Swaythling, Izzi from our Howard Road nursery and Lisa from the Woodlands preschool were chosen from the list of applicants to go on the trip.

In the last week of May 2019, we set out from Southampton on the long journey via Heathrow, Jermone Kenyatta Airport in Nairobi, Kisumu International Airport and finally a minibus drive to our final destination – New Life Home, Kisumu.

Whilst Kisumu is the third largest city in Kenya, it has a less cosmopolitan feel about it than the capital Nairobi. Driving from the airport and stopping at the local supermarket for some supplies, it is evident that we are a white minority. We drive past people living in very basic housing. On the roads, we pass carts pulled by donkeys, tuk-tuks, make-shift hand carts and myriad 2-wheeled motorised vehicles with 1 or more passengers or improbable loads of goods – 4 car tyres, chickens, fruit, building materials.

Kenya 2019 4Our greeting at New Life was humbling. The manager, Gilbert and his team were truly touched that we had made the effort to visit them. Over the next 3 days we spent time with the babies, the toddlers and in the special needs unit. It was a poignant but rewarding experience for all of us. The children craved our attention. At the forefront of our minds was that stark fact that if these children were not here, it is likely that they might not be alive. It reminded us how precious each life is and gave us a perspective on the things we take for granted in terms of the care our own children in England receive. It is salutary to consider that everything provided for these children comes from donations – the buildings, clothes, food, toys, school fees, medicines, wages, play equipment, nappies, milk, wheel chairs, medical bills, transport, fuel, water, electricity, computers, phones, maintenance etc.

Kenya 2019 3In some ways we were overwhelmed by the need. We had to remind ourselves that we could only do so much on such a short visit. Our aim was to learn, to support and encourage and to use our influence on our return to advocate for these children.

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that, ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights’. Whilst this is a laudable aspiration, in practice, it is evident that for many individuals, this is certainly not the case.

Kenya 2019 8

 

It is one thing to read about poverty and inequality but to experience it first-hand and to meet those affected – real children, changes our perspective and resolve. It would be difficult to be unaffected by this experience and remain undetermined to work for a more just, kind and compassionate World. We are global citizens. We all have a responsibility for the children of the World, not just those we have a relationship with through Paint Pots.

Kenya 2019 2David and Anna are also supporters of a small charity ‘To Kenya With Love’ that set up and continues to run the Simon Newberry primary and nursery school for 300 children based in a slum district of Kisumu. David took the opportunity to visit, accompanied by Lisa. The journey to the school was ‘interesting’! We turned off the main road into a maze of corrugated metal huts, bumping over mud tracks. When our driver stopped to ask for direction, our minibus was surrounded by a crowd of locals shouting out ‘Hey, white woman!’ to Lisa.

We arrived in the school compound without incident. We were given a tour of the school before joining the nursery class who were excited to show all their toys to the visitors. They led us by the hand, outside at playtime, to join in an impromptu session of song and dance. We were then invited to share a cup of the porridge the children are given for lunch, before we had to leave.

Despite their situation, the children at the school were very happy. Here was an example of education providing a path out of poverty. Ex pupils have gone on to university or returned as qualified teachers to work in the school.

Kenya 2019 5On our last evening in Kisumu, we took a white-knuckle ride in a tuk-tuk – 5 people in 3 wheeler, along a very bumpy dirt track down to Dunga Point on Lake Victoria where we enjoyed a beer as we sat and watched the sunset.

The following morning we returned to the lake to tour a local radio station – Radio Lake Victoria which broadcasts to over 3 million people mainly on the topic of ecology. We also toured the lakeside facilities to see the Tilapia fish being landed, gutted and prepared for sale at Dunga Beach.

Kenya 2019 6We returned to New Life to say our goodbyes before boarding our plane to Nairobi. On landing, we were driven to our apartment before travelling on to New Life Home in the Kilimani district where we were given a tour and met another adorable group of babies and toddlers who we were to spend the next 3 days with. In contrast to Kisumu, the Kilimani home hosts far more visitors and volunteers so much so that on days there was almost a ratio of one adult per child. The practical help provided by these students, medics, travellers and neighbours, eases the burden of the feeding and care routines for the staff. It is also evident that these children are used to interacting with adults. They are expectant of connection and engagement. We were reminded of the importance of attachment to children’s developmental needs. The children are fed, cared for and nurtured but there is no escaping the fact that it is institutional care in a group context. There are strict rules governing care and hygiene practices. David was told off for not removing his shoes, not putting on a gown before feeding a child and not washing his hands inbetween picking up babies! It was a different experience spending time with these children but nonetheless worthwhile and again, poignant to consider that they had all been abandoned and were waiting for a loving family.

Through his connections from the World Forum on Early Childhood Education, David had arranged to meet a colleague from Aga Khan University, Dr Leonard Falex, at the home. Leonard lives not far from the home but confessed he had never visited. He was impressed and touched by what he saw on a tour of the site. He agreed to return at a later date and also to provide access to an online child development training programme for a member of the team. We hope that this will be the start of a fruitful relationship.

Kenya 2019 1On our last day, we took the morning off to visit the giraffe centre where we fed the giraffes and learnt about the amazing conservation work before moving on to the David Sheldrick Elephant orphanage where we got to hear the life story and to interact with several of the orphaned animals.

All too soon we were in an early morning taxi back to the airport where we jostled for over an hour to check our bags in (in my experience, Nairobi is one of the most chaotic airports for service) before boarding our plane back to Heathrow at the end of an exhausting but very busy, emotional and ultimately enriching adventure.

Perhaps more than one of us has left a small piece of our heart with the precious children in the homes? (I checked the suitcases to make sure they weren’t trying to sneak one back to the UK!)

Break-InI have been reflecting on the latest spate of break-ins we have suffered at our various sites. There were two more incidents last week, bringing the total in recent years to around twenty.

Each break-in follows a similar pattern – locating a heavy object, smashing the glass in an external door, heading to the office area, ransacking cupboards in a vain attempt to find cash (presumably) and/or other portable items of value before exiting, leaving a trail of destruction.

No violation of space or theft of property is a victimless crime. Someone is affected. In our case, as owners of a small business, it costs us time, energy and money dealing with the aftermath each time and causes anxiety, anticipating the next early morning phone call. For our teams, on arrival at work, they face the horrid prospect of encountering more evidence of forced entry, shattered glass, scattered belongings and the unpleasant feeling that someone has intruded with such disregard, into a place of innocence, sanctuary, joy and love for children.

I am not a victim because I choose not to be. I feel pity for those who steal from us. Of course I want these break-ins to stop and those who have done this to be brought to justice but I am more saddened than angry. It saddens me that our society immediately labels this person or persons as ‘scum’. They are not scum, they are someone’s child, possibly a partner and maybe a parent. To descend to a level where their conscience is so inured to the damage, pain and sense of violation they cause, something must have happened in their lives, something that cuts them off from their humanity. In my opinion, it is a form of psychopathy –

‘a personality disorder characterized by persistent antisocial behaviour, impaired empathy and remorse, and bold, disinhibited, and egotistical traits.

You have to be pretty disinhibited to smash a glass door and climb through it with the burglar alarm going off. To repeatedly do so, definitely equates to persistent antisocial behaviour with impaired empathy and remorse – still waiting for an apology!

If someone has a broken leg, we fix it and similarly we provide treatment for depression and other forms of mental illness. What about addiction, poverty, hopelessness and dare I say it, greed?

So my question is, are these people only deserving of our contempt and punishment or is there a case for sympathy, understanding and help? Aren’t they the ones who need fixing? Surely they are the victims of the vagaries of life experiences that have brought them to this point.

The bigger question is how do we prevent others from joining them?

We Won!!!!

NWAwards18We were shocked and delighted to be announced as national winners of Nursery Group of the Year category at the Nursery World Awards 2018 held at the prestigious Brewery in London. We have subsequently received so many messages of congratulations.

The judges commented on Paint Pot’s commitment to children, families, our team and our community. We believe the award is recognition of the dedication and hard work of the men and women who make Paint Pots what it is through their efforts, caring for and teaching the children we have the privilege of sharing our lives with on a daily basis in our nurseries, preschools and out-of-school clubs. They regularly go the extra mile. We know that every single one of them wants to make a difference in the lives of the children. Our personal thanks goes to all of them. We are just a tiny bit proud to be national Nursery Group of the Year. It was an honour to receive the award on behalf of Paint Pots.

I was reflecting on the glory and glamour of this Saturday night event, on the following Monday morning as I dismantled a blocked sink, followed by an equally blocked (but rather more unpleasantly so) toilet at one of our nurseries. But this wasn’t any old blocked toilet – it belongs to the 2018 Nursery Group of the Year. What a privilege to unblock it!!!   :0)