Scientific research has shown that 90 percent of brain growth happens before a child begins school. During this time, the foundation is laid for health and wellbeing throughout life. As such, investing in the early years of a child’s life is one of the smartest investments a parent or community can make. The Parwaaz Early Childhood Development (ECD) programme in Afghanistan aims to ensure that every child has the right start to life.

The sounds of young children’s songs echo among the clear mountain air of Badakhshan in northern Afghanistan. Simultaneously, in the nation’s capital Kabul, the voices of children playing is mixed with cars, market vendors, and urban bustle. Today, across Afghanistan, the Parwaaz ECD initiative of the Aga Khan Education Board runs 109 ECD centres across the various landscapes of the country, supported by 161 female volunteer facilitators, and benefitting more than 5,000 children under three years of age.

 Investing in ECD can help to ensure that each young person can eventually reach their fullest potential. Its purpose is to help children discover their cognitive abilities, develop emotional resilience, and strengthen their life prospects. It can act as a precursor to the learning environment they will be exposed to in school, and helps to develop a lifelong love for learning. 

Since its launch in October 2016, the Parwaaz programme has had a multi-faceted impact on the Jamat in Afghanistan. It has changed the community’s thinking on nurturing children, including the use of low- to no-cost household materials as learning tools for children and development of life skills in both mothers and children.

 “Attending these sessions at the Jamatkhana, has totally changed my own personality. In addition to maternal skills for me and language improvement for my child, I have become very confident in social relationships and I feel very fulfilled as a woman,” said Najaa, a 27-year-old mother of three.

The biggest shift that Parwaaz has contributed to is a new perception of child nurturing. It has encouraged people to become more sensitive towards the development of children, and perhaps most of all, the development of young children has now become a value in itself. 

Today, all Parwaaz sessions are conducted by female facilitators and volunteers. For facilitators, the duty, the involvement with children, the involvement with community, and the capacity-building programmes have proven to be life changing. Professionally, they have become more competent, skillful, and they now have a stable career to depend on. Parwaaz has not only built ECD professionals, it has also given them a wider purpose; it has shown them how to grow on a personal level, and it has given them self-assessment skills to be better individuals in their respective lives.

“Parwaz definitely taught me how to raise a child properly and scientifically, but what matters to me most is that after experiencing the early childhood in my students and especially attending the capacity-building sessions I have become a better person. I can manage my emotions better, I pay attention to details of my personality, I connect my current personal traits to experiences I have had as a child, I reflect on them and try to build on them and fill my inner gaps,” said Farangiz Safari, a 21-year-old ECD facilitator in Kabul.

With the support of various agencies and community engagement, the programme aims to reach out to every eligible child in the Jamat in the coming years.