In 2019, Early Starters International (ESI), in partnership with the Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS), implemented the Early Start Dzaleka (ESD) program; a capacity building and professional development program supporting early childhood education (ECE) in the Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Lilongwe, Malawi. Over the course of three in-service training sessions, each a week long, ESI practitioners successfully introduced a myriad of tools and theory to caregivers working in 15 formal and informal day care centers in Dzaleka providing care and educational services to 15,000 children.
The program equipped ECE teachers and caregivers with an integral foundation of practical skills for creating a learning environment for children to develop 21st century skills and competencies. Accompanying the training sessions ESI developed an original ECE guidebook contextualized with input from the JRS Malawi team. The guidebook was distributed to each participant participating in the program. The guidebook is child centred, practical, and includes a variety of activities and tools, which can be easily implemented in the classroom. As a result of the ESD program participants increased their overall knowledge and abilities for working in ECE; gaining exposure and experience to new approaches and techniques necessary for adapting and adjusting to the challenges within their classrooms and within the environmental limitations in the camp. In addition to bolstering overall capacity for ECE and professional development opportunities for ECE educators, the program focused on developing a sustainable local support mechanism for ECE in Dzaleka.
During the first training session seven ESD program participants were selected by JRS as mentors who would provide support and oversight to ECE caregivers in between ESI training sessions. ESI additionally provided remote support and guidance to the mentor team throughout the duration of the program. In an effort to enhance collaboration with existing community frameworks and garner ECE support from community leaders and influencers, ESI practitioners along with JRS staff and program mentors facilitated meetings with a group of pastors from the community. During these meetings ESI provided an overview of the importance of ECE, and facilitated a presentation and discussion around the investment in ECE as a necessity for the healthy development of the child, and a critical investment in creating the next generation of successful adults.