In 2016, Burkina Faso launched a short-course training and temporary job program at public works sites. A total of 46,000 unemployed youth has taken part in the program. Faced with an unexpectedly high number of female applicants, the project team realized that these women often had to juggle their work with childcare. This realization served as the inspiration for an innovative initiative to provide mobile childcare units that could follow mothers from one worksite to the next. Other countries have already begun adopting this easily replicable and cost-effective system. Rebekka Grun led that project from the World Bank side.
My son was still an infant, and missions to Burkina included some adventures. For example, I did not want to throw away milk but transport it back to Washington D.C. safely. I tried to buy durable ice packs but did not find any in the supermarkets. The driver of the World Bank team screened the entire city of Ouagadougou and finally found a set of four professional grade packs in a pharmacy. Bless him.
The advantage of my situation was that I understood a few of the mothers’ time use issues ‘from the inside’. I read the project documentation and paused. There it listed all the things beneficiaries that were also young mothers were supposed to do: expand their skills, keeping their kids at learning - interactively, working for an income, and, of course, nursing the youngest for a year. I knew this combo was close to impossible for anyone, and definitely impossible in the context of Burkina where our beneficiary mothers had on average five kids to look after. The temptation to let the eldest feed the youngest with something not so age-appropriate, while the mother worked, was understandably high.
Some project manuals and appraisal documents were illusionary. Something had to be done to make our projects possible for mothers in Burkina (or rather - accessible to mothers who regardless would have to work outside of the home to make ends meet). In this context, a feasible childcare arrangement was a must.
Looking back, I am grateful how many things came together to make the mobile childcare units a reality (crèches mobiles in French). Three ministries (Education, Health and Social Affairs) plus local authorities, put each in their comparative advantage. Oumar Barry, a professor and childcare expert from Senegal, landed in Burkina and developed our concept and ideas into something functional and high quality. And inclusively: he started his work with focus groups of beneficiaries, counterparts, specialists, authorities - in short, he did not leave out any stakeholder of the future Creches and made sure their expectations shaped the design.
In the end, the mobile childcare units have all that a fully regulated and equipped daycare has – except walls (although sometimes weatherproof tents are used).
I am also grateful for the many colleagues that reached out, and keep reaching out almost daily, to replicate locally appropriate versions of the “Crèches mobiles” in the countries where they work.
This experience has taught us that,We need to have a full understanding of the actual situation on the ground and ensure that the projects that we fund will be designed for success.
Let’s cover Africa with mobile childcare! Also, let’s make sure to document the results and impact well, as a piece of evidence people can go back to any time.
I would be happy to share my insights and advice on how to replicate this, please ask any questions in the comments section.
Find out all you need to know about mobile childcare units in Burkina Faso here.