Education: Four-year-old Seldon, holding hands with her mother, peeps through the door of a room in Centenary Farmers Market (CFM) in Thimphu. There are many toys.

There are 31 children aged between three and five at the early childhood care and development (ECCD) centre. UNICEF’s representative to Bhutan, Shaheen Nilofer, inaugurated the centre yesterday.

Seldon’s mother, Gaki, who is a vegetable vendor, said that having a community-based ECCD at the market will immensely benefit both vegetable vendors and their children.

“Children need special attention from parents at an early age because it’s the best period to build a child’s character,” Gaki said. “But, we are not able to give attention to our children because we need to work.”

Gaki cannot afford to enroll her daughter in a day care because it is expensive. Sometimes, Gaki leaves her daughter at her relative’s home, but most of the time Seldon accompanies her mother to the market.

As a toddler, Seldon moves a lot and it is not possible to look after her and attend to customers at the same time, Gaki said. Therefore, Gaki leaves Seldon on her own.“She plays around and at times I face difficult time finding her,” Gaki said.

There are more than 430 vendors at the Centenary Farmers Market and most of them are accompanied by their children.

Another mother, Kinley Pem Lepcha, said that she brings her son with her to the market. She is not at peace when she leaves her son at home.

Kinley Pem said that there is risk of him falling down and getting hurt when she leaves her son to play around with other kids at the market. But it is better to have him closer to her than leave him home and get worried about him all the time, she added.

The farmers’ market is open for six days a week from 6am to 8pm.

A vegetable vendor, Tshomo, said that she feels bad to leave her daughter at home.

The centre will provide a safe environment for children to play and learn while the parents are at work. Otherwise, they are left home where they do not have the opportunity and attention to develop to their full potential.

Parents have to pay a monthly fee of Nu 500 for their children to learn and play at the centre.

The Ministry of Education and Thromde Education Office established the centre with support from UNICEF.

Shaheen Nilofer said that early learning programmes, be it through such ECCD centres or home-based, helps wholesome growth and development of children and prepares them for school.

“I’m very pleased that UNICEF is able to provide this support for the children of the vendors and farmers at CFM,” she said.

This is especially important because it empowers the mothers and at times parents to not only undertake business at peak hours, but also helps inculcate a sense of responsibility towards parenting, Shaheen Nilofer said.

UNICEF provided over USD 10,000 to establish the ECCD.

Dechen Tshomo