Yesterday afternoon I arrived in Malawi with Ivan Lewis and Tessa Jowell to kick off a visit with the NGO Sightsavers http://www.sightsavers.org/ and take a closer look at their innovative early childhood development programmes.
The visit is part of the campaign http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/sep/30/tessa-jowell-role-international-aid Ivan announced at Labour Party Conference last year and is being led by Tessa and Sarah Brown with the objective of ensuring that an integrated approach to early childhood development is included in any new development framework that replaces the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015.
I have been heartened by the support we have had so far for this campaign. There is widespread recognition that joined up investment across a range of interventions in the early years, from conception to five, makes the biggest difference to a child’s life chances, to wider society and to the economic future of a country. The current MDG just do not do enough.
Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world with an estimated 50.7% of the population living under the national poverty line. Sightsavers’ programmes in Malawi not only include integrated approaches to care for children, but also specifically focus on social inclusion and children with disabilities. This gives us a unique chance to see both how early childhood programmes can be delivered effectively in countries that lack the resources we have in the UK, and how they can benefit some most disadvantaged and marginalised children in the world.
Over the next two days we will be visiting projects around Blantyre in the Chikhwawa District, speaking to parents, children and practitioners to get a sense of what it is like to provide and receive these services. We will then be heading to Lilongwe for a final day of official meetings with Ministers, their representatives and maybe even a special guest or two.
We ended our first day in Malawi with a briefing and dinner with Sightsavers’ local staff. We hope that this visit will shine a light on some of the great work being done in this area and to raise awareness of the importance of a joined up focus on this early stage of a child’s life.
I will be providing daily ‘fly on the wall’ updates on our progress for LCID, a champion of this campaign. And if you want to follow our progress online all of our social media is being collated here: https://storify.com/Sightsavers/malawi-project-visit
On the last leg of our flight over I was asked: What do British politicians think about Malawi? Well, if you are Scottish, I have learned you will have a great affinity for the country from the legacy of explorer and anti-slavery campaigner Dr. Livingston, who first came upon Lake Malawi in 1860 or thereabouts. But for Ivan, Tessa and I armed with our House of Commons briefing notes and the hope that this visit will help inform our messages to the UK & beyond, we have a busy few days coming up!
Jessica Toale is Political Advisor to Ivan Lewis MP and a member of LCID.
Follow the Malawi trip on twitter via @LabourCID