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Lively Minds, a charity that was created by Totnes resident Alison Naftalin in 2008, has reached the finals of LEGO Foundation’s global challenge to ‘Build a World of Play’. The challenge was created in honour of the LEGO brand’s 90th birthday, with the company wanting to make a “commitment to the world’s youngest children” by giving out grants worth $143-million to “organisations that can help (LEGO) give children the best start in life.” Those that are successful can win up to $30-million to expand their programme.
Lively Minds works to improve early childhood development for highly deprived children in Ghana & Uganda. The charity was started by Alison Naftalin after a volunteer trip to Ghana. Whilst there, she observed the lack of essential education and care available to some of the poorest children in the country, and this inspired her to help. In Ghana, millions of young children do not have access to education and care, which harms their physical and intellectual growth, making it harder for them to succeed in school and life. According to a recent UNICEF study, over 1/5 of young children in the country are off-track developmentally in literacy and numeracy, physical, social-emotional, and learning domains, and a major cause of this is that parents do not provide quality nurturing care and learning opportunities.
Alison started the organisation with only £3000 and the simple idea to empower marginalised & illiterate mothers in highly deprived, off-grid villages, to run educational Play Schemes for their communities’ pre-schoolers. She said of the charity’s success: “We are proud and delighted to be finalists in the LEGO Foundation’s Build a World of Play Challenge. Our programme offers a much-needed cheap, scalable and proven way to tackle the global early childhood development crisis. Winning this challenge would be the springboard that allows us to reach millions more children.”
The challenge had over 600 applicants, with Lively Minds being crowned as one of the ten finalists. Five will be selected as winners in December, and Lesley White, head of Marketing and Communications at Lively minds, said that “winning this competition would be transformative for the charity, allowing us to reach over 350,000 mothers and 2 million children.”
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The impact for women and children that could benefit from the charity would be would be considerable.
One parent said, “I was born in poverty, I will die in poverty, and so will my children”, and it is attitudes like this that Lively Minds works to change, breaking “the mindset barrier parents have on their own potential.”
The nature of the charity works so parents have an active role in making changes in their own lives. “Parents provide their own solutions using their own resources”, as they “follow a structured curriculum and teach using fun educational games that stimulate learning, improve well-being and encourage good hygiene.” The parents attend group parenting workshops each month and are given weekly radio broadcasts which communicate “cost-free and play-based ways” to educate and care for their children at home using resources that are accessible to them, with topics covering “nutrition, language development, introducing play into daily routine, self-esteem, stress management, equality and inclusivity.”
One study on parents in rural Ghana found “only 13 percent of parents had conducted any form of play or stimulating activity with their child in the past three days, and only 1/3 of 2500 pre-schoolers surveyed could count three counters,” which highlights just how important this scheme is. It benefits both children and their parents, who become more confident and gain standing in their local communities. One mother said, “Before the Play Scheme, the children did not know how to read and write. They did not know the colours or numbers in their local language. But now they know them”.
Lively Minds currently runs in over 1000 communities, and has reached 53,000 parents and 137,000 children. Studies have shown that the programme in Ghana significantly improves children’s cognitive skills by the equivalent of an extra year of school. It also improves social skills and reduces malnutrition by 20 percent.
If the charity manage to win LEGO’s challenge, they will be able to scale the programme both in Ghana and to other countries. In Ghana alone, they would be able to reach 350,00 parents and 2 million children, and by expanding to a new country, they “could positively impact the future of millions of children and communities for generations to come.”
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