A powerful initiative of the Reaching Children’s Potential Program (RCP) in Tanzania is the village Parents’ Club for both mothers and fathers in the program. Born of their desire to meet and learn from each other, the parents work hand-in-hand with RCP caregivers, and serve as role models for other RCP parents and community members. Read on to learn how they encourage behavior changes to urge their children and each other to reach their full potential.
Since July 2017, RCP in Tanzania has provided workshops, healthy meals, and new technologies to enrolled families – mainly through mothers and pregnant women. In July 2019, the family-initiated village Parents’ Club arose as a forum for fathers to learn with their wives and each other about the concepts being implemented in the program. From the original 16 members, the club has grown to 28 – 15 mothers and 13 fathers in the villages of Ipalamwa and Lulindi. Each village parents’ club convenes every two weeks and the two groups meet together once a month. RCP Caregiver Supervisor Regina Mhagama conducts the meetings with parents and RCP caregivers when there are no volunteers on the ground. When there is a team in Ipalamwa, volunteers often facilitate a meeting on a topic in which they have experience.
Some of the topics covered in the last year have been positive communication within families, between couples, with children, and with other members of the community; general hygiene; parenting and working together as a family; and RCP principles such as good nutrition, child development, infectious disease prevention, and healthy pregnancy.
One member-father reported months after learning about micro-nutrients and fortified meals, “My child now is so healthy and active compared with my older children who were born before I joined the RCP program. They like to go to school every day and their performance in class has increased.”
Sharing Knowledge Widely
Regina says, “The members of the Tanzania RCP village Parents’ Club are role models to other people in the community on behavior changes such as boiling water, hygiene, and hand washing.” Attendees who were taught to boil drinking water to eliminate the bacteria causing stomach upset and diarrhea agreed to help convert neighbors and friends to this practice through their example. Recently, 25 club members together learned how to plant and maintain EarthBox container gardens and received their own to grow vegetables at home.
In this way, the village Parents’ Club members have eagerly become change agents in the community. For instance, last year families were taught how to properly use and clean their toilets. Afterwards, they initiated a community campaign to teach other families the skills they had learned. All this is reinforced through social activities through which parents get to know and support each other.
“The feedback they give us is that these meetings are so helpful to the families, especially in terms of child development,” said Regina. “Parents tell me they feel supported, and that they love volunteers and the home visits because they are so helpful. They encourage other RCP families to use the volunteers when they can.”
This was especially true during the visit by Global Volunteer CEO Bud Philbrook in February 2020. During his visit to Tanzania, Bud spoke to the village parent club members about how hungry children cannot learn. “He explained how Rise Against Hunger meals helped their pay attention, and now the children like to go to school to learn,” Regina reported, adding: “Absenteeism in the primary schools has reduced significantly.”
“The feedback we have received in the Parents’ Club is that the RCP program is so helpful to the parents, especially in terms of child development. Parents tell me they feel supported, and that they love volunteers because they are so helpful.”– Regina Mhagama, RCP Caregiver Supervisor
Improving Family Communications
During that same time, Global Volunteer Dana Pepp, a licensed social worker from California, met for two weeks with the club members in sessions on how to improve marital communications and relationships. Since it’s not customary in Tanzania to tell your children and spouse that you love them, Dana and the parents discussed what love is, who they love, and how they feel when someone says “I love you.” They also talked about physical expressions of love such as hugs, and verbal feedback such as saying “thank you” and giving praise, especially to their children to support their learning and encourage their success.
Participants were sent home with “homework” to tell someone in their family that they love them. The Parents’ Club members returned in the following days with very positive stories about how their family members reacted. Some said recipients were very surprised, and others were joyous to hear the special words.
One participant surprised her husband with a hug and “Nakupenda” (“I love you” in Swahili) when he returned from the farm. He asked, “Is this what you are learning in the Parents’ Club?” When she replied “yes,” he said, “Then, you should go to the Parents’ Club every day!”
Other parents talked honestly with their children about school challenges and offered praise for good school behaviors. Yet others spoke with their partner about their concerns, goals, and feelings. And some parents talked with their neighbors about what they’ve learned.
RCP Mom and club member Sharifa Kavindi shares, “The great thing I have learned from the Parents’ Club is LOVE. In the club we have learned a lot about love, especially how to love our husbands and communicate better. I have been practicing this and I see it working and we are now living in peace more than before. I am very happy about this and I am ready to learn more about different things. Truly I used to have quarrels with my husband frequently, but after I received the workshop on loving our husbands, everything has changed. There are no more quarrels and I feel proud.”
“The great thing I have learned from the Parents’ Club is LOVE. In the club we have learned a lot about love, especially how to love our husbands and communicate better. I have been practicing this and I see it working and we are now living in peace more than before.”– Sharifa Kavindi, RCP mom and Parents’ Club
Dana also counseled about preventing domestic violence and creating healthy ways to manage stress. In subsequent meetings, she addressed alcoholism, conflict resolution, and community leadership.
Dana was impressed with meeting attendees. “Working with the Tanzania village Parents’ Club was an amazing experience! The mothers and fathers are dedicated, funny, honest, and engaged. They want to learn, so that together, they can strengthen their families and their communities,” she said.
“This peer-to-peer model is one of the most effective to create sustainable change,” Dana continued. “The topics and discussions were guided by the group, through their wisdom and experience. I facilitated the conversations, shared some ideas, and learned more than they did! The village Parents’ Club is such an important part of Global Volunteers’ RCP in Tanzania. It should be supported and expanded!”
“They want to learn, so that together, they can strengthen their families and their communities. This peer-to-peer model is one of the most effective to create sustainable change. The topics and discussions were guided by the group, through their wisdom and experience.”– Dana Pepp, volunteer in Tanzania who worked with the Parents’ Club
Parents Learn to Lead
Regina routinely urges members to initiate new topics of interest, and encourages questions and concerns about the changes they are implementing at home. “Parents see that they are not alone and have support from the RCP Program and other parents.”
The club’s goals for activities in the second half of 2020 include discussions on new parenting skills, such as the role and responsibility parents have with their children, the social and cultural practices that can hinder the well-being of children in rural areas, positive discipline techniques, nutrition including ways to incorporate different foods besides ugali into their diet, and expressing love to their children.
The parents also hope to host sports events and traditional Hehe dances to teach parents about the importance of play and the impact it can have on physical and emotional health. It’s not common for Tanzanian parents to actively play with their children, so the the Parents’ Club seeks to to learn new ways to spend more time with their children through sports and games and other active, positive interactions. Additionally, they plan to create songs in order to teach community members about issues related to nutrition, hygiene, and behavioral changes so that they can sing them to their young children.
Regina’s impressed with the direction the parents are moving the club. “They’re very motivated to try sports for their mental, physical, and emotional health, and the overall well-being of the family. We can encourage parents to spend more time with their children through these positive interactions.”
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