The International Consortium on Nurturing Values and Spirituality in Early Childhood for the Prevention of Violence received a grant of 300,000 USD from Porticus North America for implementation in Mexico of the Toolkit to Nurture the Spiritual Development of Children in the Early Years and for the development of a global monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL) framework.
The Consortium is comprised of 22 partners from faith-based and civil society organizations, religious and spiritual communities, academia, multilateral organizations and individual experts, and aims to foster collaboration, provide a space to share good practices and develop evidence-based and innovative approaches to integrate values-based education and spirituality in early childhood for the prevention of violence and for the promotion of children’s holistic well-being.
As part of a four-year process and collaboration, the Toolkit to Nurture the Spiritual Development of Children in the Early Years was developed by the Consortium, as a contribution to the protection of children from violence and for the promotion of their holistic well-being.
The Toolkit aims to help equip faith actors, parents, caregivers, educators and community members to actively engage in the promotion of children’s well-being by nurturing spiritual development in the early years and to address violence in early childhood. Through a structured learning program designed to be integrated into existing programs within implementing organizations, adults are provided with the knowledge, tools and methods to nurture children’s spiritual development as a unique contribution to reduce violence in child upbringing. It makes the case by drawing on existing research that demonstrates the importance of nurturing children’s spiritual development to foster ethical values and prosocial behaviors, which contribute to children’s capacity to relate to others, develop empathy, appreciate diversity and learn to live together in an increasingly divided society. When children grow up and espouse such values, and pass on these values to the next generation, nurturing spiritual development can become a tipping point towards greater social cohesion and more peaceful, resilient societies.
The MEL framework and its tools are being developed in collaboration with the Global Center for the Development of the Whole Child (GC-DWC) at the University of Notre Dame in the USA. The collaboration with the GC-DWC also includes capacity-building workshops for MEL focal points in four implementing locations, as well as technical support on the MEL process from February 2023 to March 2025. The Founding Director of the GC-DWC, Mr. Neil Boothy, said: “We are excited to partner with the Consortium to develop a novel learning framework for the betterment of children and their families.»
On 15 March 2023, a first meeting was held between members of the Consortium and the GC-DWC to discuss the MEL process and gain recommendations for the development of the framework. This meeting aimed to collect expectations on the MEL process from Consortium members and for Consortium members to share their experiences and good practices in implementing early childhood programs in the field. This experience-sharing provided contextualization and a foundation for the GC-DWC moving forwards, as MEL focal points from each implementing location are identified and capacity-building training workshops are designed and conducted.
The Toolkit is being implemented in four regions of Mexico with World Vision and the Franciscan Sisters, a member of the Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC), involving faith actors, social workers, educators, families and children from vulnerable contexts. Ms. Esmeralda Reyes, Faith and Development Manager at World Vision Mexico, shared that through the implementation of the Toolkit, “We hope to make religious leaders aware of the importance of spiritual development in early childhood for the elimination of violent patterns in children’s upbringing, and to support raising-awareness in parents of the importance of a values-based upbringing”. In accordance, Sister Lupita from the Franciscan Sisters, said, “We hope to build bonds of spirituality in early childhood, creating spaces where parents and caregivers acquire the necessary tools to build a comprehensive education; and to contribute to the training of pastoral and social workers in order to strengthen the spiritual and human dimension”.
In June 2023, implementation will kick off with a five-day in-person workshop for faith actors, community members and religious leaders to become trainers on the Toolkit and cascade their knowledge on nurturing children’s spiritual development for their protection from violence within the wider community and to parents, caregivers and educators. Nurturing the spiritual development of children is a critical tool that can act as a preventative measure and protective factor against violence through fostering children’s innate spiritual capacities.
Implementation is also taking place in three other locations (Brazil, India and Pakistan), supported by a 50,000 USD contribution from the Fetzer Institute, and included in the global MEL framework developed by the GC-DWC. In Brazil, Pastoral da Criança has already begun the Toolkit roll-out with families from diverse regions through their digital app, exemplifying eco-friendly and innovative ways to reach target groups. Mr. Nelson Neumann, President of Pastoral da Criança, said “The implementation of the toolkit is the beginning of our great challenge of not only getting this important material to hundreds of families that need it, but to millions of them, in the most diverse regions of Brazil. In this initial stage, we will have the implementation in the South Region, including the participation of Haitian migrants, and in the Amazon Region.”
Shanti Ashram in India plan to implement the Toolkit in their Bala Shanti schools for early childhood, training educators and faith actors, as well as working with a network of parents and caregivers in Tamil Nadu. Dr. Vinu Aram, President of Shanti Ashram and Founder of the International Center for Child and Public Health (ICPH) has been an active member of the Consortium since its inception. “We at Shanti Ashram are thrilled to collaborate with Arigatou International, and wider Consortium members, in adapting and embedding the toolkit in our Bala Shanti Programme, our early childhood programme, that has served vulnerable children for over thirty years across the villages in South India,” she stated.
In Pakistan, Islamic Relief Worldwide will integrate the Toolkit into four of their existing programs for orphans, families, children at risk, and on women’s empowerment. They will work with families to reach children and caregivers affected by war, bereavement, poverty and ill-health. Mr. Anwar Ahmed, Orphans and Child Welfare Manager of International Programmes at Islamic Relief Worldwide, shared that “We are delighted to be involved in the implementation of this innovative approach, we believe that by incorporating the spiritual development of children into our work, we hope to create a more nurturing and supportive environment for them to thrive and grow in”.
In all implementing locations, Toolkit implementation and the contextualization of resources and tools are underway and training of trainers workshops are set to commence in May 2023, shortly followed by training of facilitators workshops and roll-out with parents, caregivers, educators and children.