Beyond hospitality – The importance of effective home visitation

July 07, 2017Tangut Degfay

Inviting a stranger into your home requires a level of trust that many development programs struggle to reach. But considering that even children enrolled in full time education spend four fifths of their waking-hours outside a classroom, interventions are increasingly broadening their activities beyond the schoolhouse. Even in contexts where hospitality is central to cultural identity, the balance can be tricky.

Danny Meyer, CEO of one of the world’s largest hospitality groups, explains that “Hospitality exists when you believe that the other person is on your side,”. But how can implementers prove to families that they are on their side? And once your staff is inside a family’s home, how can that time be maximized?

Building trust with parents

To create meaningful change, programs like Saving Brains Grenada recognize that building relationships with parents is crucial. The program promotes positive parenting practices that reduce the practice of corporal punishment, but recognizes that orienting activities to children alone is not sufficient. Saving Brains therefore shifted its home visits to focus more on the parents, seeking to enhance child stimulation by providing education to parents and caregivers.

During home-visits, trainers engage parents in culturally relevant learning activities such as prayers and song-based activities based on the Brain Smart Start model, and a stimulation and skills-building exercises on positive parenting. The program is further supported by monthly community-wide skill building classes where the trainers take resources with them to target communities. By keeping their activities consistent, locally relevant, and present throughout the entire community, Saving Brains has cultivated valuable buy-in from its beneficiaries, and recently engaged in talks to scale up their program with Grenada’s Ministry of Education.

Home is where the heart is

For displaced or refugee populations who have been forced to flee their homes, effectively reaching children outside of the classroom can be even more difficult.

The Little Ripples program – a play-based early childhood development program in Darfur refugee camps that support the social, emotional, cognitive, and physical development of refugee children ages three to five – responds to this challenge by partnering with parents and other adult refugees, especially women, to create safe environments for children while preparing them for primary education. These safe learning environments provide a service to parents, but also empower caregivers to play active roles in the program. Children receive ECD development education, nutritious meals, and mental health services that ensure their safety and healing from trauma during their early stages of growth in the camps. By taking the time to train parents to sustain the program, Little Ripples is able to provide employment and empowerment opportunities to parents, while making ECD provision more cost effective and community oriented.

Don’t dictate, converse

Programs that see home visits as opportunities to listen, and not just talk, are critically important. The Mubyeyi, Tera Intambwe program in Rwanda, for example, pairs radio talk shows with Community Education Workers to reach out to and encourage parents to step in and play active roles in their children’s education. The Community Education Workers regularly visit homes of dropped-out children. During home visits, they discuss reasons for why the child dropped out, any challenges they face, as well as raise awareness about the importance of completing school. They also discuss potential roles that parents and communities can play in addressing youth dropout issues. Parents noted that they found home-visits particularly empowering because of the in-person communication and sensitization opportunity with the community workers.

Surround home visits with additional programming

The Early Inspiration program, launched in South Africa in 2011, is an important example of how home visits do not exist in a vacuum. Aside from home visits, the program trains local school managers in improved financial literacy, and provides teachers an 8-month long interactive accredited skills program to improve their understanding of early childhood development. Additionally, Early Inspiration conducts assessments to track children’s progress, supports families who are raising children with special needs, provides learning resources in multiple languages, and even runs a monitoring and evaluation app that parents and practitioners can use on their mobile phones to assess and report development. This comprehensive approach has allowed the Early Inspiration team to grow from 12 certified teachers in 2011, to more than 250 certified teachers, all while continuing to provide services at no cost to educators and children.

Beyond hospitality

A student is not just a statistic, and programs like those listed here are making significant strides by realizing that reaching a child often requires paths beyond the classroom. Still, navigating these new avenues, especially ones that include the home, require careful planning. Hospitality may be enough to get you in the door, but to truly make a lasting impact, programs like these are showing how trust, collaboration, and consistency are needed as well.

Tangut Degfay is a Global Education Intern at R4D. She is pursuing her graduate studies in MA in International Policy and Development at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. Her focus areas include youth development, girls' education and global cultural exchange.

Photo Credits: UNMEER, Martine Perret ; Saving Brains Grenada ; Little Ripples

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