Friday, March 7, 2014

IECD and LS Technical Working Retreat

Much of my work at PCI has been focused on integrated early childhood development (IECD) and life skills (LS). I have been working very hard to improve the lives of young children and adolescents in Botswana by creating better systems and resources and enhancing the access to and understanding of programs for the most rural and vulnerable communities. As part of this effort, I have conducted focus groups on effective facilitation of LS material (LS topics include communication, self-esteem and awareness, critical thinking, and so on), lead workshops for single teenage mothers, met with stakeholders and partners from across the country, providing technical assistance to civil society organizations working in these areas, and drafted and compiled concept notes and resource books set for publication on both IECD and LS.

This last project is of particular note because it was a catalyst for a workshop eleven years in the making. Yes, eleven.

In 2003, the Botswana Government partnered with UNICEF to analyze the IECD and LS programs. They found both to be lacking and called for a technical team to be constructed and a way forward agreed upon. To date, nothing of substance has been done to address this mandate. They have, however, created "frameworks", which essentially are merely outlines, of what the desired outcomes would be for IECD and LS programs for children and adolescents. There were many MANY gaps left to be filled in and the right players had not stepped up to the plate.

Our week-long "technical working retreat", as we called it, brought heads of Government Ministries and stakeholders together to accomplish a handful of very important objectives. Of note: finally addressing the challenges and gaps with IECD and LS in Botswana; determining who is responsible for various components of these programs; reviewing the documents PCI and I proposed (which should act as the "filler" for the frameworks); and making technical, policy, and advocacy recommendations for national program revisions. We wanted people to understand what was going on, to take ownership over the situation and their roles, and to create a plan for what our ideal "model" would be for IECD and LS. This was an invariable who's who of leaders in their fields and they were poised and ready to tackle these hard issues. After eleven years of waiting, we made it happen.

Without going into too much detail about the five days (for fear of boring you with jargon and nitty gritty), I want to say that the retreat was an overwhelming success. The background was given, the studies were read, and a greater understanding was reached. The people became instantly motivated to make a change. We were able to have the conversations with all the right parties present and really hash out the intricacies of what works, what doesn't, and what we would like to see in IECD and LS education, especially for those most marginalized populations. And we did it in front of each other, meaning there should be accountability as we move forward. Basically, the environment was right. We now have task forces set up to deal with smaller issues and we have a larger plan for tackling the entire project. We are on the same page.

In the months before I close my service and finish my time with PCI, I will be packaging the ideas for our model program into something that can be discussed, marketed, and implemented, as well as meeting with all of the task forces to monitor their progress in addressing the key issues agreed upon at the retreat and finalizing the documents I have been working on and beginning to train partners and stakeholders on how to use them. There is still so much to be done but we are on the right track.

And what a beautiful place to be doing this all in...

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