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Empowering Early Childhood Educators for Holistic Wellbeing and Spiritual Development of Children: The Official Implementation of the Toolkit in Sri Lanka

In a groundbreaking initiative to promote the holistic well-being of young children, Arigatou International with Sarvodaya Sharamadana Movement in Sri Lanka conducted a four-day facilitators’ workshop on the Toolkit “Nurturing the Spiritual Development of Children in the Early Years.”

Developed by the Consortium on Nurturing Values and Spirituality in Early Childhood for the Prevention of Violence, the Toolkit was launched in Rome in 2022. This comprehensive resource aims to equip faith actors, parents, caregivers, educators, and community members with the necessary tools to promote children’s well-being and address violence by nurturing spiritual development in the early years. Being the first-ever iteration of the Toolkit in Sri Lanka, this workshop demarcated the official launch of the program in the country. The program will be implemented with parents, caregivers, and Early Childhood Development (ECD) teachers in the next few months, with sustainability integrating itself into Sarvodaya Sri Lanka’s “Community Kitchen” initiative. Through this unique approach, the implementation partners are seeking to achieve a holistic development model that is built in the intersections of nutritional well-being and spiritual development of children in their early years.

A Transformative Approach to Early Childhood Development (ECD)

The four-day workshop, which ran from May 27th to 30th at the Sarvodaya Headquarters in Sri Lanka, was part of a global series following successful implementations in Brazil, Mexico, Pakistan, and India. It brought together a diverse group of 15 professionals actively engaged in ECD and four Sarvodaya staff members dedicated to ECD programs, fostering an enriching environment for learning and collaboration. Participants were also affiliated with different ECD centers with diverse practices and experiences in children’s holistic development which allowed for a more engaging discussion and collaboration.

Mr. Damith Kulanayake, Executive Director of the Sarvodaya Shramadhana Movement, inaugurated the program by emphasizing the pivotal role of the early years in a child’s life and Sarvodaya’s commitment to supporting their holistic development. This sentiment resonated throughout the workshop as participants delved into the toolkit’s components, child rights, and the realities faced by children in Sri Lanka.

The first day’s activities set the stage by introducing self-reflective exercises, insightful discussions, and collaborative learning circles. These interactive sessions not only provided knowledge but also encouraged participants to explore their personal experiences and perspectives on child development.

The workshop also created a space for examining the concepts of holistic well-being, spiritual development, violence prevention and the multifaceted nature of spirituality itself. Participants enthusiastically shared their insights, drawing from their professional experiences and diverse religious backgrounds. These thought-provoking dialogues laid the groundwork for a deeper understanding of the Toolkit’s principles and their practical applications in their work environments.

During the workshop, participants addressed the importance of nurturing one’s own spirituality, fostering positive relationships between caregivers, educators, and children, creating safe environments, and empowering experiences for young learners. Participants were guided to understand their roles in championing children’s spiritual development and well-being.

The final day focused on applying the acquired skills and competencies through activity planning, country implementation strategies, and monitoring and evaluation tools. Participants designed and shared their approaches to take these learnings to their communities through practice sessions, receiving valuable feedback from the group.

Reflecting on this four-day journey, one participant mentioned, “For me, the most valuable characteristic of this workshop was the space it gave to understand our own sense of spirituality and the relationships we foster in life. Without realizing our own spiritual self and socio-emotional wellbeing, we are unable to attend to our children’s needs”.

Arigatou International staff members Mr. Suchith Abeywickreme, Program Lead – Ethics Education Fellowship, and Mrs. Hesha Perera, Manager – End Child Poverty Knowledge Center Sri Lanka, together with Sarvodaya Sri Lanka staff member Mrs. Malani Balasooriya, Manager – Early Childhood Development Section, conducted and facilitated the workshop, acting as the trainers for this intervention.

Sustaining the Impact in Sri Lanka’s Context of ECD

In a heartwarming closing ceremony, joined by Sarvodaya Sramadhana Movement’s President, Dr. Vinya Ariyaratna, and Executive Director, Mr. Damith Kulanayake; Dr. Ariyaratna expressed his confidence in the participants’ ability to convey the workshop’s learnings to parents, emphasizing the Toolkit’s strong conceptual foundation.

“The Toolkit was developed with extensive input from various individuals with a strong concept in its core. I trust you will effectively convey the learning outcomes of this workshop to the parents”, Dr. Vinya Ariyaratna mentioned. “This transformative workshop exemplifies the collaborative efforts of Arigatou International and Sarvodaya Sri Lanka to promote spiritual development and holistic education in early childhood. By equipping facilitators with essential tools and knowledge, we are paving the way for communities of care and support that nurture the well-being of Sri Lankan children from their earliest years,” he emphasized.

In the coming months, Sarvodaya Sri Lanka plans to mobilize the participants who underwent this training workshop to conduct community-level discussions, awareness-building activities, and content development to connect local stakeholders. This will be carried out through a program with 12 sessions for parents, caregivers, and ECD practitioners that will be delivered through monthly engagements.

As an approach to maintaining its sustained integration, they plan to work together with the ECD educators and center managers who are already collaborating with Sarvodaya through their “Community Kitchen” initiative which focuses on providing access to healthy and nutritious meals for children from underserved families. By integrating the Toolkit with this already existing intervention for children’s nutritional and physical well-being, Sarvodaya believes that the continuous engagement and collaboration between the teacher-parent communities will be nurtured and utilized in a complementary manner to support the holistic development of children.

As these change agents embark on implementing the Toolkit within their respective organizations, their efforts will undoubtedly contribute to creating a safer, more nurturing environment for young children, fostering their spiritual growth and protecting them from violence. This initiative represents a significant stride towards empowering early childhood educators and promoting the holistic development of Sri Lanka’s future generations.

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