LIAT to assist Caribbean toddlers

FDCC’s Didicus Jules and LIAT’s Sonya John sign Memorandum of
Understanding at this week’s event.

Only one third of Caribbean parents engage their children early in life in any form of brain stimulation and positive interaction, according to research. These would include engaging children in storytelling, playing games and singing. However, a significantly higher percentage of Caribbean children are exposed to physical punishment early in life. Another fact; half of all rural families do not have information on how to stimulate children and nine out of ten 0-3 year olds have no chance to attend day care or any other early childhood development program. And while we are grappling to understand why our children are doing poorly in Mathematics, English and other interpretive skills, this might help; at the start of primary school 25-30 percent of Caribbean children have not acquired the necessary basic cognitive skills to benefit from this education.

Faced with the stark and harsh reality that we live in a Caribbean where a high percentage of children between 0-5 do not get that jumpstart on education they deserve, the Foundation for the Development of Caribbean Children (FDCC) was born. Its vision: A Caribbean where children from all social and economic backgrounds have equal opportunities to reach their maximum potential. The FDCC is the region’s first indigenous non-profit foundation dedicated to early childhood development.

On Tuesday October 2 the FDCC partnered with another indigenous Caribbean entity LIAT in attempting to raise not just funds but awareness to help make their dreams a reality through ‘Sky’s the limit.’ This program was launched at the Savannah Hotel in Barbados as an initiative geared towards LIAT assisting with the raising of US$50,000 through inflight donations by the end of 2012. The event was attended by LIAT staff, directors and members of the FDCC and regional media representatives flown into Barbados by the airline.

FDCC Director Cuthbert Didier painted an idealistic picture Tuesday of a Caribbean, which had the potential to give every child an equal opportunity. As a region he said, we had produced Reggae, Calypso, Soca, Carnival and Steel pan and now the fastest people on the planet.

“Amidst all of this however there is a sense of urgency. The region has some challenges and today is a critical step toward making what we imagine, come to its fruition,” Didier noted. “However if we do not invest in early childhood education—we will invest in hospitals, cemeteries and jails,” he warned.

As of today, Didier said the LIAT acronym should be known as “LIAT Is Assisting Toddlers” before inviting Susan Branker Consultant Director FDCC to share her thoughts.

“A child (not receiving early stimulation) going into primary school will find it more difficult to grasp a lot of those foundational skills than a child with a healthy brain would,” she went on.

According to Branker research has confirmed that seventy-five percent of brain development occurs in the first three years of life.

“Brain stimulation from birth helps develop pre-literacy skills needed to be able to read and of course learning to read is the single most important factor in schools’ success,” she pointed out adding: “At the start of primary school we’ve discovered that twenty-five to thirty percent of our young children lack the basic cognitive skills to be ready for primary school learning.”

The FDCC is hoping to raise the profile of early childhood education so it becomes a major social and economic development priority seen as an imperative by Governments and the private sector.

Wycliffe Otieno Chief of Education at UNICEF explained Tuesday that whenever he flew Virgin or British Airways over the years he would see lots of inflight donation campaigns taking place.

“If you see what Virgin has been able to do in Africa, if you see what BA has been able to do in Bangladesh in rural remote areas you immediately see that a partnership between corporations, NGOs and government can actually move mountains,” Otieno explained. “When the invitation landed on my table for the launch of the Sky’s the Limit campaign it was the first time I was seeing LIAT as a Caribbean airline, really taking care of Caribbean people and on this particular score you have done well.”

The UNICEF Chief of Education went on to underscore the partnership between the FDCC and UNICEF who he said were striving for equitable access to services by children, especially the most vulnerable.

“The equity goal of this campaign is a Caribbean where all children from various social and economic backgrounds have equal opportunities to reach their maximum potential, and that really resonates with UNICEF equity strategy,” he said.

Serving on the FDCC board is Dr Didicus Jules, registrar and chief executive officer of the Caribbean Examinations Council. Jules told his audience Tuesday that despite strides in secondary and tertiary level education in the region a lopsided education system has been created.

“We have a system that provides universal primary education, universal secondary education, increasing access to tertiary education, but guess what? It stands on legs that are not being properly developed which is early childhood development,” Jules stressed. “Early childhood development programs make children more likely to start primary school ready to learn, and therefore able to do better throughout their school life.”

“The focus is for more resources, in terms of intervention services that are culturally relevant and that are feasible, and to do this we need the assistance of the private and public sector as well as civic society,” Jules added.

LIAT’s director of customer services, Sonya John, said Tuesday that several months ago LIAT was approached by the FDCC.

“We at LIAT immediately said this is something we wanted to collaborate on, to make it happen and I am proud to say today that we have made it happen,” she expressed.

LIAT and FDCC on Tuesday signed an agreement to formalize the partnership. The regional airline will from Monday, October 8 introduce the ‘Sky’s the Limit’ campaign to its passengers throughout the Caribbean as well as on its website. Passengers will be encouraged to donate spare change and the funds will be used for some of the FDCC’s programs including the Roving Caregivers program, a home visitation project currently found in Grenada, St Vincent, Dominica and St Lucia. Other FDCC supported programs are the Early Childhood Health Outreach (ECHO) and the Family Learning Program.

The FDCC was launched in 2011 and ‘Sky is the Limit’ is one of first major fundraising projects of the FDCC since its launch.

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