By Vlad Dandu
Pacifique attends the Muhango District Amahoro playgroup daily where he socializes and learns alongside 124 other children ages 3-6. One could not tell he is 9 years old since he is of similar height and weight as most 6 year old boys of the group.
He claps when everyone sings the multitude of songs they've learnt. He jumps alongside his peers pretending to be a frog crossing a patch of dry land. He scarcely smiles when compared to the other exuberant youngsters, yet he walks alone to the school every morning to partake in the day's activities. Sometimes when he tires of the structured activities, he takes out his camera phone and walks about while watching the world through the pixelated screen, sometimes slowing down when the image lags.
"He is the group photographer," said Yajaragiyz Assonmpta, Amahoro headmaster. "He enjoys going around and taking pictures of his friends."
Suffering from undiagnosed developmental problems, he spent most of his early childhood at home without interacting outside of his family. During the past year he has spent with the Amahoro play group, he has gradually started to speak and socialize with the other children.
Yajaragiyz and the other teachers received training from CHF through the USAID Higa Ubeho Program. The training focuses on the facilitation of playgroups and techniques for engaging the parents in the program. During the free playgroup session once a week, 15-20 parents accompany their children to hear them sing and to learn how to play with them.
In Rwanda's rural society the concept of playing with children isn't a given. The lack of stimulating activities cause children's minds and social capabilities to stagnate. The Amahoro playgroup is spreading groundbreaking ideas which have caused many tangible improvements in the community's early child development.
"Most parents leave their young children at home and this causes speaking disabilities resulting from social stagnation" said Yajaragiyz. "Children with such disabilities start speaking some words after attending the Amahoro club."
Since the start of the Amahoro playgroup, the daycare's membership has more than doubled with a current daily attendance of 125 children (50 in September 2011). Because of this increase the teachers can divide the children in age brackets in order to maximize their learning experience.
"The games are not just for entertainment or babysitting, they're designed specifically to stimulate the children's development," said Uwiragiye Marianne, teacher. "Jumping on one leg stimulates motor-reactions where as the songs serve to improve the children's word and movement memory."
Though the time spent at the club is characterized by discipline and order, the teachers understand the importance of flexibility when it comes to cases such as Pacifique's camera-phone social coping method.
He has become notably comfortable with the headmaster as he asks for her help in photographing his surroundings, and allows her to embrace him as she whispers words of encouragement.