Joanna holds onto a mango plant in front of her class of preschool children in Mozambique. As the four-year-olds stare at the plant and she speaks, a link is being imprinted in their brains. A is for árvore. A is for tree. A letter of the alphabet is not the only lesson the children will learn from the mango plant today. Joanna takes them outside and digs a hole in the ground. She places the plant inside and fills in the hole. She tells her class how it will grow into a mango tree and bear fruit, something they will see for themselves over the coming months and years. The mango tree has become a science illustration. Using visual aids in teaching is unremarkable in the UK, but in some parts of Mozambique it is revolutionary. Children are used to rote-learning, absorbing facts from lectures from their teachers or copying them down from the blackboard, not from seeing real-life examples. It is brand new for the teachers too. Joanna would not have taught this way before she started working for PEPE, a preschool initiative started and supported by BMS. In this short video, Liz explains her hope that BMS’ emphasis on caring for children and ensuring their safety will not only impact the teachers and children at school but families in Mozambique too.
Preschool education impacts more than just children from BMS World Mission on Vimeo.
What BMS is doing through PEPE is giving young children the best possible preparation for school. They certainly need it. Half of all children in Mozambique do not progress beyond primary school, making their futures precarious. The initiative is currently being run by churches in 60 disadvantaged areas across the country, with more starting this year. Over 3,500 children from poor backgrounds are learning basic lessons like colours, numbers and the alphabet in creative, interactive ways, preparing them for a good start in school. They are also introduced to stories about Jesus, so are growing in their knowledge of him, too. It is so much more than just teaching. BMS wants these children to feel they are loved and valued in a society which doesn’t always make them think that way. “Children don’t really have a childhood here,” says BMS mission worker Liz Vilela, who is playing a key role in PEPE working alongside the national co-ordinator in Mozambique. “They grow up ready to do things around the house, to look after their brothers and sisters. They are just waiting to be adults.” BMS wants to offer Mozambican children the educational opportunities that will help them in adult life, but we also want them to enjoy childhood – as children. Play is not universally valued as a way of learning in Mozambique, but we are trying to change that. At one of the preschools, we have been trialling times of free play twice a week, using toys. Liz has been helping the preschool develop this and they have seen an instant impact on the children. At first, the children were bemused that they could play with whatever they liked. One boy who decided to do some colouring asked Liz: “What should I draw?” “Anything you would like to,” Liz replied. She soon noticed the freedom this gave the boy to be creative, something he was not used to. “It was great to see him really engaging with his drawings and excited to tell me what he was drawing,” she says. Since the free play experiment began, the co-ordinator at the preschool has noticed that children are fighting less and behaving better. Minds are being opened to the value of play. One of Liz’s passions is that the children feel protected and safe, again something which is not always the case. Tragically an 18-month child who attended Liz’s church recently drowned in a puddle when his parents weren’t around. Liz is spearheading a child protection policy for our preschool ministries in Mozambique, ensuring that teachers receive training on topics like nutrition and hygiene so that children will eat more healthily and be less susceptible to illness. In impoverished and under-resourced areas, training like this is far from the norm. Liz recently organised first aid training which prompted some surprising questions. One teacher asked if giving a child a shoe to bite on would be helpful if they were having a seizure, something traditionally taught. The nurse leading the training corrected this misconception and told them what they should do. If they take her advice on board, lives could be saved in future. Through your giving to BMS, you are enabling preschool education ministries like this to flourish. You are making it possible for more churches to start running PEPEs and transforming the lives of more disadvantaged young children. “With the help and support BMS gives, PEPE is growing in quality, as well as numbers,” says Liz. “Local people running it know that they have someone by their side helping them – they are not trying to do it on their own. BMS support is allowing this work to grow.” Like the mango tree, our prayer is that these young people will grow and bear fruit for themselves, their families and the country of Mozambique. Raise money for our preschool education work in Mozambique and around the world by holding a Coffee for a Cause
event at your church. Top image and thumbnail photo by Ian White
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