Teddy Afro and Gebregziabher Gebremariam among global stars to join Super Dads campaign to highlight fathers’ critical role in children’s early development  

NEW YORK/ADDIS ABABA, 6 June 2017 – Stars from the world of entertainment and sport including Mahershala Ali, David Beckham, the All Blacks, Daniel Cormier, Novak Djokovic, Lewis Hamilton, Hugh Jackman, Sachin Tendulkar, Thalía, Chris Weidman, Teddy Afro and Gebregziabher Gebremariam joined Super Dads, a new UNICEF initiative launched today to celebrate fatherhood, and highlight the importance of love, play, protection and good nutrition for the healthy development of young children’s brains.

With more than 90 countries celebrating Fathers’ Day this month, the initiative invites families to post photos and videos of what it takes to be ‘super dads,’ using the hashtag #EarlyMomentsMatter on their Instagram and Twitter accounts. To inspire families across the world to share their ‘super dads’ moments, photos and videos of UNICEF ambassadors and supporters who have got behind the campaign will be posted on UNICEF’s Instagram and Twitter, and featured on the campaign’s gallery between 6 and 18 June.

“As a father, I’ve seen for myself the impact that every smile, every bit of love, and every positive action has had on my child during these precious early years of life. Being a new parent isn’t easy. There are many challenges that fathers across the world face. This campaign is about supporting and encouraging fathers so they can be the Super Dads their kids desperately need,” said UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Novak Djokovic.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support of my dad, there’s no question about that. He was involved right from the start and gave me all the love, guidance, decent food, and care that I could have wished for. I’ll remain forever grateful to him for that,” said UNICEF supporter Lewis Hamilton. “I hope this initiative celebrates dads like mine across the world and helps those who are struggling get the support they need to be super dads too.”

“When I was a young child, my father gave me the right amount of love, freedom and support to shape who I am today,” said UNICEF Ambassador Sachin Tendulkar. “Every kid needs protection, love, good food and play to support growth and development, and it’s up to both parents to provide these.”

“Children need the love of their parents more than anything,” says Tewodros Kassahun, a well-known Ethiopian singer. “I always try to be a good father. I love playing with my children. Intimacy and love are more important than anything,” adds Teddy who is also known as Teddy Afro.

In Ethiopia, many families are unaware of the significance of early childhood care and education for a child’s development, including the effects of appropriate nutrition, playtime and family care in an environment safe from violence. UNICEF is working for children aged 0–3 to receive adequate nurture and stimulation through an integrated and sustainable approach to quality early child development interventions that include health, nutrition, protection, early stimulation, school readiness and WASH.

Gebregziabher Gebremariam, an Ethiopian long-distance runner, who joined the global ‘Super Dads’ initiative calls for fathers to spend more time with their children. “The first days of a child’s life are very important. As a father, you can do so much to make sure that your child has a bright future.”

One such super dad is South Sudanese refugee Idro, who is raising three daughters aged 2 months, 3 and 13 years old in Uganda’s Bidi Bidi refugee settlement, the largest in the world. Idro fled his war-torn country in July 2016, and is doing everything he can to keep his young daughters’ healthy, happy and safe. “My daughter asks me “when are we going home”, I hold her to my side to comfort her. I play games with her and carry her. She must feel that I love her. If I can’t fulfil for my family, I am not happy,” said Idro.

“The earliest years of life present a critical, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to shape children’s brain development – and it’s their parents who hold the largest stake in this process,” said Pia Britto, UNICEF Chief of Early Childhood Development.

“The more fathers, mothers and other family members shower their babies and young children with love, play, good nutrition and protection, the better these children’s chances are of reaching optimal health, happiness and learning ability. Good parenting for young children living in highly stressful conditions like conflict or extreme poverty can even provide a buffer, helping them to fully develop despite adversity,” said Britto.

Good parenting in early childhood, especially during the first 1,000 days, sparks neural connections in children’s brains, laying the foundation for their future successes. Research suggests that when children positively interact with their fathers, they have better psychological health, self-esteem and life-satisfaction in the long-term.

“We need to break down the employment and societal obstacles that deprive fathers – and mothers – of precious time with their young children,” said Britto. “It is critical that the private sector and governments work within their communities to give parents and caregivers of babies the time, resources and information they need to give children the best start in life.”

The ‘Super Dads’ initiative forms part of UNICEF’s #EarlyMomentsMatter campaign, which aims to drive increased understanding of how children’s environments and experiences in early childhood can shape their future health, well-being, ability to learn, and even how much they will earn as adults.

All photo and video submissions to the Super Dads initiative will feature on the #EarlyMomentsMatter gallery. UNICEF will select the most heart-warming, humorous, and imaginative photo and video submissions post them on the organization’s own digital platforms.

Laying the foundation of future generation

A new pre-school programme is helping Ethiopian Children to get ready for school

By Demissew Bizuwerk

Mengi-Benishangul Gumuz- Ethiopia 28 September 2016 – In one of the classes at Mengi Elementary School, in the Benishangul-Gumuz region of Ethiopia, Edidal Abdulkerim, six, and her friends sing about the five senses with melodious tone along with a small tape recorder. Before the next song starts, their teacher Abdulaziz Ahmed asks questions to make sure that the children got the message right.

The children are learning with stories, plays and songs and the expression on their faces says it all. This is their first ever school experience at the age six and seven. Perhaps, just before their critical age of learning passed by.

“It feels great to sing, write and colour,” says Edidal cracking a beautiful smile. “I have many friends here and we play together.”

Benishangul Gumuz - Education
Edidal draws with her friends in her class room. She is one of the 30 students in Mengi Elementary School who are enrolled in an eight week education programme – during a summer break- called Accelerated School Readiness (ASR) ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Tadesse

Edidal, is one of the 30 students in Mengi Elementary School who are enrolled in an eight week education programme – during a summer break- called Accelerated School Readiness (ASR). This new programme is designed to prepare rural children, who have not had the chance to attend any form of early childhood education, for primary education by helping them develop cognitive, behavioural as well as foundational ‘pre’ academic skills.

ASR offers 160-hours of pre-literacy and pre-numeracy learning and helps children to develop social skills.  It is an interim strategy which helps children aged between six and seven make a successful transition from home to school while formal pre-primary classes are gradually introduced across the country.

A daunting task of ensuring quality remains ahead despite Ethiopia’s significant achievement in expanding access to primary education. There are quite a number of children in early primary classes who do not acquire the minimum expected level of skills. And the numbers are alarming. The average mean score for reading skills in grade 4 for instance is found to be only 45 per cent, which is below the minimum passing mark of 50, set in the education policy[1]. And this statistics even goes lower in remote rural villages such as Mengi.

“There are many reasons which can explain this poor performance of children in rural Ethiopia,” says Maekelech Gidey, UNICEF Education Specialist “But the main one has to do with school readiness”. The country lacks adequate pre-school facilities where children can be supported and encouraged to better understand their environment and develop skills, which are vital for success in school and later in their lives.

It is only 48 per cent of Ethiopia’s 7.7 million children aged between three and six who have access to early learning[2], and many young children, especially rural girls like Edidal, were not part of this statistics.

Children who start their formal primary schooling on weak early childhood learning are more likely to fall behind their peers and consequently drop out of school too early.

It is this challenge that prompted the development of the ASR initiative.  In 2015 the programme was introduced and piloted in the Benishangul-Gumuz region after designing a well fitted curriculum and training of teachers.

Benishangul Gumuz - Education
Edidal shares a smile with her best friend Narmin in Mengi primary school. They are both enrolled in an eight week education programme – during a summer break- called Accelerated School Readiness (ASR) ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Tadesse

How does ASR work?

First, teachers and community leaders identify the village children in the month of May each year.  If the nearby schools have O classes already, then the children will be enrolled for eight weeks in the month of July and August. Otherwise, they will undergo the same programme during the first two month of the academic year in Grade 1.

For the ASR to succeed, it needs a dedicated teacher like Abdulaziz and the children have to attend the programme regularly. Missing even a single day of class means missing a lot in the programme.

“Some children who live far away from school skip class when it rains or when their parents go to the market early,” says Abdulaziz. “So I visit their homes to tell their parents about the advantages of this education to their children and the importance of attending class regularly.”

Intizar Abdulkerim, a seven year old who loves to learn about the environment, says her mother is sometimes reluctant to send her to school when she needs help with the household chores. “I feel sad when I stay in the house during school day,” says Intizar “every time I skip class, I lag behind my friends.”

It looks like old habits do not go away easily. The perception of parents towards the education of their daughters still needs to be worked on. “Boys attend the programme more regularly than girls,” says Abdulaziz. “Yet my best performing students are girls,” he added pointing towards Edidal and Intizar.

Edidal and Intizar will be entering Grade 1 in the coming academic year with a solid base. The combination of play and learning activities of the ASR have inculcated the children with the necessary pre-school skills that they need to succeed further.

A preliminary assessment on the impact of the ASR has revealed that, the programme is effective in having children acquire pre-school skills in mathematics and literacy. This is a good news for experts from the region’s education bureau and UNICEF who have been working on the programme since its inception.

The ASR experience in the Benishangul-Gumuz region is also extended to Oromia region based on its cost effectiveness and impact.

While Edidal wants to become a teacher, Intizar’s dream is to be a doctor. There is still a long way to go until the young girls’ dreams are a reality. Yet, for now, the foundation of their future is laid on fertile grounds. 

[1] Ethiopian Fifth National Learning Assessment (NLA), MoE 2016

[2] MOE, Education Statistics Annual Abstract 2008/ 2015-16