A research associate at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, Karima is currently working on a youth-led early childhood and education programme entitled Youth Leaders for Early Childhood Assuring Children are Prepared for School (LEAPS). The programme is led by partners at Harvard and the Aga Khan University (AKU), in collaboration with the Government of Pakistan’s National Commission for Human Development (NCHD). It is currently being implemented in four districts of Sindh, Pakistan: Dadu, Khairpur, Naushahro Feroze, and Sukkur.
The mission of LEAPS is twofold: to provide access to quality early childhood education for children aged 3 to 6 in rural Sindh, Pakistan, and to empower young women who don’t have access to higher education by enhancing their technical, vocational, and leadership skills as well as employment prospects via training for them to serve as teachers for early childhood education programmes.
These female teachers, also known as Community Youth Leaders (CYLs), receive two weeks of intensive training, followed by a yearlong, on-the-job vocational training course teaching preschool children. This vocational training includes professional development modules for teachers and frequent supervision visits by NCHD government officers, with support from partners at Harvard and AKU.
“For me, one of the most rewarding parts of this work is that I am able to follow Hazar Imam’s vision of implementing best practice in our actions and improve the quality of life of many through meaningful work,” said Karima. “I am grateful to be a part of the LEAPS team that has made the response to Covid-19 a priority and ensured everything is done to support vulnerable communities in rural Sindh.”
When the coronavirus pandemic hit and schools in Sindh closed on March 3, Karima and her team made adjustments and modifications to ensure that the CYLs could continue their vocational training through remote learning opportunities, communicating with NCHD government officers through phone calls and a Facebook group.
Now, with schools in rural Sindh reopening, Karima and her team have developed additional training and tools to make sure that CYLs and children can safely transition back to school. Training was held in June, where NCHD government officers and CYLs were given safety kits consisting of masks, gloves, and disinfecting products, as well as separate supplies and a tutorial for making masks. Most CYLs have sewing machines in their homes or villages and can use their new skills to create masks for their LEAPS students and family members. CYLs will also receive a manual covering basic information about Covid-19, how the virus spreads, and other protocols, including learning activities that support children’s social and emotional needs during a time of stress and anxiety.
According to Karima, one of the best ways to introduce children to new topics is to begin with books, both storybooks, and informative ones. During the training, each CYL will receive a copy of the book “My Hero is You” for their class, which discusses the spread of coronavirus and serves as a good place to start the conversation around the pandemic for children.
The Covid-19 curriculum also includes enhanced hygiene routines for children, including washing hands as part of the first activity of the day. Children will also receive one hand-sewn mask for use during school, which they can take home and wash in preparation for the next day.
The impact of LEAPS’ Covid-19 initiatives reaches beyond the schools and positively impacts the surrounding rural communities. CYLs will receive flyers discussing hygiene and handwashing that they can display for members of their village, promoting healthy habits within their own communities. During the upcoming LEAPS parent-teacher meeting in August, families will also receive information and resources on physical distancing and precautionary measures they can take to protect their household members.