Irene Inyange is an Information Technology (IT) expert at the Development Bank of Rwanda (BRD) with twin daughters who are one year and two months old.
Her daily work is full of many details as she has to ensure that the bank IT and internet based systems are functioning and safe from any cyber attack, which means that she spends hours in front of a computer.
Every working day-from Monday through Friday, Inyange wakes up early morning and prepares her children, then feeds them before driving to work.
She takes the children to work where she spends her day from 9AM to 5.30PM.
Before starting work, she drops off the children at the BRD ECD by Happy Hearts center which is right below the 3-stored bank building where she performs her daily duties.
“Having my children at work enables me to settle down, to concentrate and to work without any distraction for at least two hours,” Inyange said.
“Sometimes as a lactating mother I feel I want to breastfeed or check on them in case of an emergency and this takes me less than five minutes ,” she said.
With the center at the workplace, Inyange doesn’t have to worry about travelling home or about how the house maid feeds her child or not. She has now taken a break from calling home every now and then to find out how a child is doing.
“I have been relieved of this stress,” Inyange said.
Inyange’s workmate- Aisha Umutesi, the Executive Assistant to the BRD CEO, finds time to work, play with her son and breastfeed the required 4-8 times a day and leave work on time.
Compared to female hawkers on the streets who lack breast milk due to work hustles, both women say that the reduction in work stress and accessing their children at any time, gives them a chance to produce more breast milk, healthy child growth and deepening mother-to- child affection.
Umutesi says that the idea of the center was materialized when she was coming from her maternity leave and she was hesitant about bringing her son to the workplace because friends said it was not a good idea and not safe, however this has changed.
“I took the opportunity and brought him here at a young age (about 5 months) and don’t regret it,” Umutesi said explaining that trained teachers at the center help teach children different skills that the nannies cannot do.
Umutesi says that if the child was at home, she would choose to pump breast milk to leave at home, but she wouldn’t be assured that the baby will be fed on time.
As of 2023, BRD ECD accommodated eight children. It includes a furnished classroom, a resting room and play ground.
The customized center that was completed at a tune of Rwf 30 million is one of its kind. It does not only act as just an ECD or a daycare center but a place where children learn life skills in three forms-stimulated learning which is based on the five senses, life skills development, language and writing skills .
“At the center, children get education- one based on the Montessori program- which stimulates a child’s brain to learn new things in life by doing,” said Bruno Tayeb, the General Manager of Happy Hearts, an organisation that specializes in Montessori early childhood education in Rwanda.
While other community-based ECDs take in children between 1-5 years for daycare services, the Happy Hearts model takes in children between 1-3 years- who are separated during the learning sessions between toddlers and mature ones.
Tayeb said that this model is a special one because it gives the child all the benefits of being at the center and it is cost effective in a way that instead of parents having to pay for daycare, they can also provide an education.
For one to establish between a standard and a high quality Happy Hearts ECD, Tayeb says that it can cost from Rwf10million to Rwf30million and this requires having space within the institution, but also trust the experts to create a center that fits the available space.
Similar centers, with different models (daycare especially) have been established among corporate and international organizations, in collaboration with the United Nations Children’s Agency (UNICEF) in Rwanda.
At UNICEF Rwanda, they have a mother’s breastfeeding room and child friendly space which can accommodate up to ten children. The most interesting aspect about this space is that it has now been opened to parents in other international organizations that share the same building with UNICEF.
The mother’s breastfeeding room contains a bed for the mother to rest, a diaper changing pad, two swing chairs, a washroom, a baby’s bed, a fridge and decoration to capture child’s imagination.
Though establishing an ECD or Childcare center at workplaces means parting with millions (from the institutions) mothers say that their productivity has improved and so has the health of the children.
For example, Marie Therese Uwizeyeyezu, a Girl Child Education officer at UNICEF Rwanda, a mother of four says there is a difference between the health of the child born and breastfeed at the center compared to the three children who were breastfed at home.
“The youngest child (12months old) is healthier, has more weight compared to the others and doesn’t get sickly like other children because it has the mother’s affection, readily breastfed,” Uwizeyeyezu said.
In her past experience of breastfeeding at home while needed at work, Uwizeyeyezu says that one can make very many mistakes.
For example, as a former education registrar, she once delivered documents for her boss to sign and some of them were not complete – resulting in the boss getting upset.
“At that time, he got so angry with me but I explained that it was because of thinking about the baby and since then he reduced my roles but there was no policy to allow me breastfeed at work,” Uwizeyeyezu explained.
Uwizeyeyezu says her productivity at work is at 100% and when she is in a meeting she has no fear to leave (without seeking permission) to breastfeed her child at work.
All the above mothers say that it is very important for employers to set mother’s rooms, ECD or Daycare centers at work places so as to improve the productivity of lactating mothers, but also enable child health and development.
Institutions Behind the Campaign Lagging Behind
The Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion (MIGEPROF), which is currently collaborating with UNICEF to increase the number of ECDs or Daycare centers at the workplace is among the ministries that have not been able to establish one.
MIGEPROF Minister, Dr. Valentine Uwamariya says that her ministry and other government institutions have a plan to establish work place ECDs as an example but there is a problem of space that remains a big challenge.
“The biggest challenge for us and other ministries, government institutions is space where these facilities can be established, it is not a budget issue because once the structures are in place, the institutions can back it up,” she explained.At Migeprof, the minister said that they are considering establishing one at the center where children are received (at the National Child Development Agency – (NCDA).
She revealed that there is a plan to have one central ECD that combines several ministries located in Kacyiru (ministry of education, local government, internal security among others).
“It is not lack of desire to establish ECD. This is a new program which they have in plan and are positive about but needs mobilization and soliciting capacity for institutions to avail infrastructure,” she said.
Uwamariya says that once these institutions have ECDs at work places it will enhance the need to breastfeed babies for the first 1,000 days which is needed after the 3 months of a legal maternity leave.
Currently, some private and public institutions have taken on the challenge of establishing workplace furnished ECDs, day care centers or mother’s rooms.
In the lead was the Office of the President (Urugwiro Village) which in 2021 in collaboration with Imbuto Foundation and Unity Club, established a model ECD and Daycare center (EZA-Urugwiro ECD Center) for their staff.
At the Bank of Kigali (BK) they have mother’s rooms at the Headquarters, at the Remera and Nyamata branches – with plans to establish similar rooms in all their major branches.A daycare/ mother’s room is also available at the City of Kigali and I&M bank.
ECDs have three categories -school-based, Community-based and home-based centres. (Let me find the number)
Data shows there are 23 work place ECDs; 77 model ECDs-for example the one in Karama IDP model village; 3,898 are school based; 1,992 community based; 25,179 are home-based, according to NCDA statistics of October 2023.
The workplace ECDs are a new model.