It’s about time: Supporting parents to bring up happy and healthy children

How early childhood development centres are helping parents from Bangladesh and Paraguay to Rwanda and South Africa.

Brian Sokol & Adrian Brune

04 June 2019

“I play with her whenever I can. We play ball or sometimes just draw flowers in the dirt with a stick,” says Mohammad Jahirul Islam, 28, dressed in his fire suit, as his daughter Jisha, 3, plays in his other fire protection gear. Jahirul works long hours as a firefighter at a garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, but says the highlight of his day is returning home to read stories with Jisha.?

Being a parent is the most important job in the world. During the first 1,000 days, parents have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build a baby’s brain and shape a child’s ability to learn and grow.

Every parent wants to give their children the best they can. Yet, many have no choice but to work long hours, often away from home, to support their families.

To help parents get the time and support they need to bring up happy and healthy children, UNICEF works with governments and businesses around the world to invest in family-friendly policies.

To capture the difference such measures can make in families’ lives, photographer Brian Sokol visited Bangladesh, Paraguay, Rwanda and South Africa.



Jahirul poses for a portrait with Jisha at their home surrounded by objects that symbolize the lessons Jahirul's family has gained through the early childhood development day care centre supported by UNICEF Bangladesh and partner organization Phulki:?eating healthily, the alphabet and colouring. “My father was a farmer and a businessman. He didn’t have time for the kids," Jahirul says. “As a father I think it’s very important to educate her so that she can grow up and have a better life than we did.



Jisha and Jahirul play football as Jisha’s mother, Moshumi, 21, looks on. Every day while Jahirul and Moshumi work, Jisha stays at the early childhood development centre where she engages in play-based learning in a safe, supervised environment. “Before this generation, raising children was considered women’s work — women couldn’t have a professional life,” Jahirul says. “…[H]aving women work outside the house will help society and give opportunities to children of this generation.”



Christophe, 42, holds his son Kevin, 2, at the tea factory and plantation in Rwanda where he is employed as a tea plucker. Christophe's family life was recently transformed by the creation of an early childhood development centre on the grounds of the tea plantation – an initiative by his employer Sorwathe?and UNICEF Rwanda. In addition to on-site childcare, the centre also teaches fathers about becoming involved in the lives of their young children. "That means taking care of them and making time for them — making certain that they don't fear you and they are open to you,” Christophe says.?



"There's nothing more important than playing with your child, it helps with their brain development," Christophe says. Kevin and Christophe lay down for a portrait surrounded by the objects that represent Christophe’s new take on fatherhood since receiving training through the centre. Christophe now plays with his young son – something that he didn't do with his older children. Additionally, he has planted a kitchen-garden where he grows avocados, guavas and other fresh fruits and vegetables.



As he introduces Kevin to his family's cow outside their home, Christophe notes that his family and economic life has changed considerably since the introduction of the early childhood development centre. "…[W]ith our older children, we would leave them out roaming around when my wife and I went to the plantation to work," Christophe says. "We were ill at ease and couldn't work as much as we do now." Thanks to the centre, Christophe's income has increased from 15,000 Rwandan francs (USD$17) to between 25-28,000 francs (USD$28-30) per month – enough to afford a small farm and a cow.?



Rafael Alfonso Araujo, 27, holds his daughter Selva, 2, outside their home in Areguá,?Paraguay, where Rafael and his wife Luma, 28, run an independent bakery. The family stays in close contact with the land. “We don’t have a car, we have a bike,” Rafael says. "Everyone recognizes the bike... It’s kind of a member of the family.” Their choice of childcare reflects their values. Selva attends Torore, a UNICEF-supported early childhood development centre?that fosters creativity and a love of learning in young children.?



“Torore fits our family like a ring on a finger,” Rafael says, as he and?Selva pose for a portrait with items that represent the family’s change in lifestyle. “Torore is a space for development. It makes for creative, free thinkers, which we need more of.” He continues: “(My wife and I) are unlearning bad parenting practices and no longer try to control our kids too tightly. We give them limits, but... we do everything through talking now."



Rafael holds Selva on a playground outside the Torore centre. Running an independent business with two small children isn’t easy, Rafael says, and Torore has provided as much logistical support as it has behavioural lessons. “For our work, we have to go and buy ingredients, then come home and make each [product] by hand, then deliver them. It’s just the two of us and it takes a lot of time,” Rafael says. “The kids are at the [centre] from 9am to 3pm. During those hours we can be more productive."


UNICEF/ UN0313017/Sokol

Sunlight filters through the trees of a park in central Cape Town, South Africa, as Bongani Ngqame, 44, holds his son Khuma, 8 months. “I took two weeks off work when Khuma was born… I wanted to be close to him,” says Bongani, a pharmacist’s assistant. “Being with your new baby, it’s both mentally and emotionally inspiring.” Before Khuma was born, Bongani, participated in a programme called MenCare – implemented by UNICEF’s partner Sonke Gender Justice?– which promotes men’s involvement as equitable, non-violent caregivers.?


? UNICEF/UN0313018/Sokol

Bongani holds Khuma while laying on a blanket circled by some of the objects that have become essential to their lives. “Fathers in previous generations were distant,” Bongani says. “Now we can chat with our children. It didn’t used to be that way… I couldn’t with my dad. We talk about it now, and he’s told me that he regrets things. I hope not to have those regrets with Khuma." South Africa's parliament is now considering a bill that will introduce 10 days of leave for parents who do not qualify for maternity leave thanks to programs such as MenCare.?



UNICEF/ UN0313024/Sokol

When asked about fatherhood’s most challenging aspect, Bongani laughs. “We don’t sleep like before! Honestly though… both of us are working and we share responsibilities,” he says of his girlfriend, Fezeka, who also works. He adds that spending time with a baby brings joy to both parent and infant. “Sometimes when I walk, I just think of the funny things he does… and I just laugh right there in the street.”


It’s About Time

Discover UNICEF’s It’s About Time campaign that calls on world leaders to invest in family-friendly policies. Policies such as paid parental leave, breastfeeding breaks, childcare and child grants. Policies that give parents the time and support they need to bring up happy and healthy children. It’s about time.

Add your voice and tell government and business leaders how they can support you as a parent. Take the parenting poll.