When you sip your next green tea, you might stop for a minute to take in the aroma of the leaves, revel in the steamy warmth, perhaps appreciate the energising taste. Chances are you won’t be thinking about a small family in the hills of Rwanda. They are indeed related but not the way you might think.
This is a story of parenting and getting to work on time, and how both can co-exist without any child being left behind.
High up in the lush mountains of Rwanda’s Western Province, 31-year old Josephine Nyirakarenga walks steadily up a steep hillside. Her twin daughters accompany her — one bundled on her mother’s back, while the other darts ahead, leading the way. Josephine is a daily tea plucker who works on a tea plantation located 2,400 metres above sea level, in one of the hardest-to-reach areas in Rwanda. Just getting to work is a daily struggle here, leave alone having to do it with two small children.
Josephine was often late to work because she had to care for her two children in the morning before heading to the plantation. But that is not the case today. She is walking to drop her daughters off at the nearest day care centre: the Rutuku Crèche on the Nyabihu Tea Plantation.
Plantations can be unsafe for children. Mothers cannot bring them to work to breastfeed or ensure they receive well balanced meals. Leaving them back would mean leaving them in the area surrounding the plantation with no one to take care of them; or leaving them at home with older siblings who in turn must forfeit going to school.
Before the UNICEF-supported centre opened, Josephine, like other parents working on the planation, had to wake up early and prepare meals for her children. “I had to cook and wash my children before leaving home. I used to reach work at 10:00 in the morning,” she says taking a break from picking tea leaves. Thanks to this new day care centre, she saves time and can be assured of a safe, clean, stimulating place for her daughters while she’s at work.
Rwanda’s economy depends heavily on tea as one of its top cash exports. The tea sector itself employs more women than men – roughly 60% of workers engaged in the sector are young women. This has led to more opportunities for people like Josephine who depend on it for their livelihood.
With support from UNICEF and Rwanda’s National Agricultural Export Development Board, tea plantations like Nyabihu have begun investing in day care centres so children have a place to learn and play while their parents work to earn an income. The results have been positive especially for families with working parents. This has made them more productive which is essential for their financial stability and growth. More money means more is invested for the welfare of the family.
At the Rutuku centre on the Nyabihu Plantation, Josephine’s children receive porridge, milk and other timely nutritious meals every day. They are also learning to count. “They can count up to ten, even in English,” she beams with pride. More importantly, children in the centre can socialise in a safe and child-friendly environment that allows them to learn, be clean and above all just be children.
“The caregivers take good care of them” says Josephine. With her children happy, safe and under good care, she is reassured about the start in life she can provide for them.
Written by UNICEF Connect with inputs from UNICEF Rwanda.