Children are not born with a manual. Most parents learn how to raise their children from their own parents or grandparents. Unfortunately, parents are not always the best instructors. Science, on the other hand, teaches many positive and effective things parents can do to help ensure the health and well-being of their children, e.g., proper nutrition during pregnancy, exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months, reading to your child early on, etc. Further, with very few exceptions, parents, especially mothers, will do anything to help their children live healthy and productive lives. But first, they need to know what to do. Second, they must be able to implement what they have learned.
By Bud Philbrook, Co-founder & CEO
The Reaching Children’s Potential (RCP) program utilizes interactive parent workshops as the primary method of transferring knowledge, introducing new household technologies, and explaining the need for new behaviors. Workshops focus on the “how,” to help families navigate and maximize the first 1,000 days of their children’s lives. The aim is to help families understand what behaviors to modify or change, why those behavior modifications are important, and the possibilities that those behavioral changes open up for their children.
All RCP-enrolled parents are encouraged to attend all the workshops and at least one member of the family is required to attend a minimum of 80 percent of the workshop topics for the family to maintain their membership in the RCP program. Workshops are conducted at the RCP Learning Center, and in most cases, Global Volunteers provides transportation for the parents. Women are the primary attendees; however, men do attend some workshops, especially those that focus on topics specifically relating to fathers. Caregivers schedule workshop days and times for each household and do an exceptional job reminding families when they should attend.
All workshops are structured to transfer relevant, science-based, parenting knowledge. Topics are identified by local families, Global Volunteers staff, and volunteer professionals. The subject matter content is drawn from reliable literature and includes information about healthy pregnancies, family planning, child development, breastfeeding, brain development, child stimulation, social and psychological development, good nutrition, gardening, healthy meals, basic health care, mental well-being, disease prevention, infections, sanitation, personal hygiene, childcare, effective discipline, psychosocial support, and instruction on appropriate household technologies that support families.
A foundational text upon which Global Volunteers relies is The First 1,000 Days: A Crucial Time for Mothers and Children – And the World by Roger Thurow. See The First 1,000 Days. This easy read offers substantive background information, real-life examples, and mother’s stories that increase understanding about childhood stunting and its roots, and the plethora of challenges mothers and children face across the globe.
Each workshop is written by one or more volunteer professionals and reviewed by several other professionals for content accuracy, primarily members of Global Volunteers’ RCP Advisory Committee, and our local national staff for cultural sensitivity. The topic content is organized into a presentation outline with the expectation that the workshop presenter will fill in the broad parameters of the outline with their stories, experiences, knowledge, and education. Workshops are interactive and involve multimedia. Video, PowerPoints, charts, hands-on resources, handouts, demonstrations, lectures, discussion, practice, and music are all employed.
Every subject includes a Leader Guide, a PowerPoint, and a Flipchart. The Leader Guide prepares the presenter, offering cultural, demographic, and other background information to help ground and set the stage for the presenter. Instructions are included to help make the presenter aware of the material addressed on each PowerPoint slide and which information they need to supplement to make the workshop interesting, memorable, and thought-provoking. The Leader Guide and the PowerPoint are organized in the exact same order to keep the presenter and the translator in sync. Most videos and all the PowerPoints are in both English and the local language. The content shown to the audience is in the local language, and the outline the presenter sees is in English. The staff caregivers take turns translating the workshop content from English to the local language.
Preparing for Workshop Presentations
While sometimes the professionals who developed or reviewed a topic also deliver the workshop, the presentations are created with the expectation that any volunteer professional with a background in the subject area or a student of a relevant discipline can conduct the workshop using the prepared outline.
Each presenter participates on a Global Volunteers service program as part of a team of volunteers and is assigned to conduct workshops because of their background, professional expertise, education, and skill set. Volunteers assigned to present workshops are experts in their field. Although the topics are predetermined, they are not delivered in any particular order. Except for the introductory workshops presented to a new group of parents, the topics are selected based on the specific expertise of the volunteers on the service program. This means that some topics are delivered multiple times before all the topics have been presented. While not ideal, this schedule has the benefit of repetition – an important tactic in any knowledge transfer strategy.
Prior to the service program, an RCP department staff person or advisory committee member reviews the workshop material with the volunteer professional or student, and the volunteers are encouraged to review and research as necessary before departing from home. Global Volunteers expectation is that every presenter will use the workshop outline as a roadmap while engaging their own unique knowledge, experience, and style without losing the integrity of the content.
When the volunteer professionals are in the community, they continue to prepare by touring the local community and visiting several RCP families at their homes. They also consult with Global Volunteers staff about previous topics presented to the same audience, local issues that might arise, and visual aids that may be used during the presentation. The staff translator reviews the topic’s leader guide, videos, and PowerPoint outlines to better understand the presentation and consider comments and questions. Then the staff person meets with the presenter to go over the topic content and discuss any important issues prior to the presentation.
Global Volunteers’ local staff arrange all the necessary equipment – computer and projector along with the remote control, spare batteries, speakers, plugs, etc. The remote includes a laser pointer that helps identify those things on the screen to be emphasized. Depending upon the topic, the workshops last for 1 ½ to 3 hours including translation.
Conducting a Workshop
As is culturally appropriate, the participants are offered tea, fruit, and nutritious cookies. The presenter and staff set cups and small plates on the table before the families arrive. Moms enjoy these treats, and a welcoming feeling is provided when the cups and plates are ready when the participants arrive. Upon arrival, the participants are welcomed by the caregiver to the Learning Center. Moms who bring their young children with them are offered the alternative of having their children watched by one of the other caregivers and volunteers in a separate room or keeping their children by their side during the presentation.
After everyone is seated, the translating caregiver introduces the presenter to the group, clearly establishing their competencies, including credentials, degrees, positions held, experience, etc. This is important because the parents need to know why they should listen to the volunteer. Some professionals tend to downplay their credentials as a sign of humility; however, that approach is not helpful in this situation because the families need to know why the volunteer professional is qualified to speak to them and why they should believe what the presenter is saying.
The process also calls for each participant to introduce themselves and say a bit about who they are and their family makeup. Each parent is encouraged to tell the names and ages of their children, if they are in school, and if so at what level. Also, all Global Volunteers staff and other volunteers in the room state their names and why they are present. Questions are encouraged throughout the presentation. Everything the presenter says and all questions and comments by the participants are translated.
The PowerPoint outline includes text, images, videos, and often interactive exercises. There are actually two versions of the PowerPoints, one in English for the presenter and the other in the local language for the participants. The PowerPoint slides are projected on a large screen in the Learning Center so that all can easily see and follow along. The presenter goes through the slides one by one, commenting extemporaneously about each slide, filling in the content with their personal experience and information, and answering any questions as they proceed. The staff caregiver translates what the presenter says.
The interactive exercises are conducted around the Learning Center table, or participants, presenter, and translator go outside to better engage in the exercise. For example, a portion of the workshop on personal hygiene, which emphasizes handwashing with soap and water, is conducted outside so that attendees can see how household handwashing stations are constructed, use a handwashing station to wash their own hands with soap and water, and learn how to maintain a handwashing station.
Every volunteer professional and student presenter has their own style and all workshops are designed so the material can be delivered in a variety of ways. Most families are riveted by relevant videos in their local language, so the goal is to include at least one video in each workshop. There are parts of every presentation where information is simply delivered and there are other parts which are highly interactive.
Often, the more challenging parts of giving a workshop to an audience that hears in a foreign language is finding the right timing and slowing down enough for translators to deliver the information while not losing impact. Presenters are encouraged to speak in short concise sentences – one sentence at a time – then allow the caregiver to translate; speak another short sentence, and allow the caregiver to translate, etc. The caregiver is only able to accurately convey information when they are not required to remember multiple sentences to translate. If the presenter thinks the translator is saying more than they did, or if they are not sure something will translate well, they stop and ask the translator for assistance or clarification.
We encourage participants to ask questions and urge presenters to do their best to address every question asked – even those that go beyond the workshop topic. Sometimes questions are asked about areas far beyond the volunteer professional’s expertise but, for the most part, not beyond their expertise as a mom or child caregiver. In that situation, we encourage the presenter to rely on their experience. When a presenter does not know an answer, they explain they will do their best to find out. They then share the answer with the translating caregiver and the caregiver supervisor so they can inform the families during the next round of home visits. The most important aspect of any successful workshop is being open and honest. At the conclusion of the workshop presentation, the presenter and the translator summarize the lessons learned and offer an additional opportunity for questions and answers.
When volunteers are in the community, two topics are generally presented daily to different groups of participants, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, and each workshop is conducted as many times as necessary so that every family is present for each topic at least once. One volunteer is generally assigned primary responsibility for the morning workshop, while a second volunteer is assigned to the afternoon session. Presenters do not conduct workshops on the morning of the first Monday in the community so they can accompany RCP Caregivers on home visits. This provides the workshop volunteers the opportunity to experience the community, visit with parents, and gain some understanding of the families’ household conditions.
The RCP Caregivers supervisor or her designee tracks each RCP family’s participation by recording the participants’ attendance at each workshop on an Excel spreadsheet, noting the workshops that have been offered to each family and which workshops someone from the family has attended. The goal is to offer a minimum of eight opportunities to attend each workshop so all committed families can attend each topic. Families must comply with this requirement to qualify for receiving the other benefits of the RCP Program. Whenever a family has been absent from more than 20 percent of the workshops, the caregivers’ supervisor informs the family’s caregiver and the country director. Together, they develop an appropriate course of action with the goal of keeping the family engaged in the program.
The content outline of each workshop is turned into a Flipchart which is used later to reinforce the workshop lessons during home visits. The primary PowerPoint slides are printed on paper which is then laminated, three-hole-punched, and inserted in a three-ring binder. One side of the laminated page includes the graphics or main points of the slide, and the other side contains the specific information and knowledge from the Leader Guide relating to the slide. Each three-ring binder includes one topic, so caregivers have access to multiple flipcharts, one for each topic. During home visits, the caregiver sits across from the parent showing them the main slide while reading the specific information from the other side. Each topic can be reinforced multiple times depending on the needs of the parents. Mothers tell the caregivers that this method of lesson reinforcement is extremely helpful as they try to learn new ways to better raise their children.