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Nurturing Environments for the Wellbeing of Children and Their Family: Advancing Early Childhood Development at the 2019 ISSA Conference

The International Step by Step Association (ISSA), a network that connects professionals and NGO's working in the field of early childhood development (ECD), organized on 18-19 June 2019 their Annual ISSA Conference, which welcomed 396 professionals from 61 countries under the theme “Nurturing Environments for the Wellbeing of Children and Their Family.”

The two-day meeting, which took place in Leiden, Netherlands presented a unique opportunity for researchers, practitioners, policy makers, parents and NGOs from around the world to explore themes on EDC through insightful discussions and interactive sessions, while sharing their wisdom and solutions.

For this occasion, Arigatou International – Geneva organized a panel discussion on “Strengthening Families in order to Nurture Ethical Values and Spirituality in Early Childhood for the Prevention of Violence: Working with Religious Communities,” facilitated by Ms. Eleonora Mura, Program Officer.

“In Europe, we often downplay the role of religion and of religious communities when it comes to early childhood; however, as 84% of the world’s population associates with a religion, religious communities can play a great role in creating nurturing environments for the wellbeing of children, including by supporting parents, caregivers, and teachers in fostering values and spirituality in early childhood; and by sharing theological reflexions on the importance of the early years,” expressed Ms. Mura.

The discussion focused on the importance of nurturing ethical values and spirituality in early childhood in order to foster upbringing practices that support the flourishing of the child, as well as their identity formation, improving their healthy socio-emotional development, their self-esteem, capacity to relate to and empathize with others, learn non-violent alternatives, self-regulate, become resilient and interconnect with others.

The panelists looked at how harmful social norms can be changed engaging and mobilizing religious leaders together with communities to nurturing, protecting, promoting and supporting families and children in their early years. Mr. Shafique Ssekalala, Program Director, Madrasa Early Childhood Programme, explained how “the fruitful collaboration between the Aga Khan Foundation and Muslim faith communities in Kenya created a holistic program for early childhood development with a curriculum that speaks to local customs, traditions and cultures and is based on active learning that is play-based, using gender-responsive pedagogies, special needs, positive discipline and the integration of religious values and practices in the daily activities for children.”

“In the current highly fragile-already fractured society, children should be equipped with not only the knowledge and skills, but also the attitudes and values to interact effectively with their uncertain world and contribute to their families, communities and wider society,” said Ms. Caroline Arnold, Educationist and Early Childhood Specialist, Former Global Director Education, Aga Khan Foundation. “It is the Core Human Values (kindness, empathy, generosity, courage, perseverance, fairness, co-operation, open-mindedness, sense of belonging) which are critical to the quality of all our relationships (ourselves, others) which are central to everything – families, pre-schools/schools, communities, workplace, society, international relations,” she added.

We thank ISSA for providing this unique platform to advance ECD, the panelist for contributing with their valuable reflexions, and those who participated in our panel for having greatly enriched the discussion.

A video to learn more about the 2019 ISSA Conference is available here.

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