Last year, with the help of 7 volunteers, we engaged the caregivers of children enrolled in our early childhood centre to better appreciate why some children are frequently not at school. 15 agreed to meet on a virtual call and while it was explained to them that we were gathering views on absenteeism and our work, the main purpose of the exercise was relationship building or what we call a Home-School Partnership.
We learnt that the lack of sleep was a significant reason why parents or other caregivers could not bring their children to school. Many caregivers as well as children found it difficult to sleep at night and after they doze off, they will miss waking up in time for school. Shift work was a contributing factor, but we gathered that the lack of emotional well-being and poor health were the main reasons. A volunteer commented sadly that “Healthy Start” is the name of our centre but for the children’s caregivers, many are not healthy from the start.
Nonetheless, the conversation with these caregivers were generally filled with gratitude and optimism. Except for one, the rest deeply appreciated having their children with us. They expressed that they experienced a genuineness of care as teachers checked in on things as little as uncut fingernails, that affected their children’s wellbeing. Ironically, this “care” was the reason for a caregiver’s dissatisfaction as on occasions, she had experienced us as intrusive and disrespectful of a parent’s choice and decisions.
As I read the interview notes, I was moved by how these caregivers always shared something joyful about their lives despite their challenges. They may grumble about housework and the times their children are not as cooperative as they wished, but I believe they will all agree with how one mother put it, “My strength is my children. They are my nyawa! (life!)” A father put it a little differently, but I sensed pride and joy in his statement too, “I have no other dreams other than spending time with my family. Be a watchful eye over them.”
From the notes, I also learnt much about the backgrounds of these caregivers and to describe their lives as challenging would be an understatement. Their lives have been eventful but not in a manner that resonates with most of us. So, when almost all of them speak well of our centre and the relationships they have of us, I am convinced that to provide a healthy start for children we must start of having a healthy view of their caregivers.
For peace, community, and healthy relationships,
Where there is no human connection, there is no compassion. Without compassion, then community, commitment, loving-kindness, human understanding, and peace all shrivel. – Susan Vreeland