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Playdates against child poverty    Dec 12, 2018

Playdates against child poverty
Dec 12, 2018


De heer Berhanu Nigussie WORKU


Children are, by a huge margin, the ones who are affected most by extreme poverty. It stops their development dead in its tracks, limits their future prospects and will, in turn, affect the generations to come as well. The Sub-Saharan region in Africa has both the largest share of the world’s extremely poor children at 51 % and the highest rate, with nearly half of its children living in extreme poverty. This indicates a real need to invest in services such as early childhood development, quality schooling, and universal healthcare. It is exactly this that Ph.D. student Berhanu Nigussie Worku is trying to achieve.   


“A child may be born in poverty, but poverty is never born in a child.” – Dr. Wess Stafford. 

For a child, the outcome of extreme poverty is simple and saddening: it can either kill you or ruin your potential for the rest of your life. With Africa’s generation of children and youth on the rise, the situation becomes even more critical. By 2030, the Sub-Saharan region might account for almost 90 % of all children worldwide who are living in extreme poverty if things remain unchecked.

“However, there is also hope as providing support might accelerate economic growth and transform the developmental prospects of the region”, Berhanu Nigussie Worku tells us. “We have the ability to prevent this vicious circle of marginalization and turn this demographic time-bomb into an opportunity. This is where my Ph.D. project comes into play.”


“My Ph.D. project is executed in the Southwest of Ethiopia, my home country. Its goal is to identify the extent of the developmental, nutritional and psychosocial problems the children at risk face and to come up with, design, implement and evaluate the effect of home-based intervention strategies on the children’s outcomes. The project is therefore quite pioneering and ambitious.”

“The research project itself consists of two stages. The fist one is to investigate the level of existing problems; we call this the baseline study. The second one is to examine the effectiveness of the implemented strategies, which we call the intervention study. The intervention strategy that we investigated was play-assisted stimulation. During the project, we randomly assigned the participants, children under the age of five, to an intervention and control group. The children in the intervention group received the home-based play-assisted stimulation together with basic services, which included food, clothing, health care, protection, and education. The control group only received the basic services.”


“The play-assisted intervention, during which stimulation activities were carried out for an hour by experienced clinical nurses in collaboration with the primary caregivers, took place once a week for a period of six months”, Berhanu elaborates. “During every visit, we brought along materials to play with, which afterwards could be used by the mother and child. We tried to design the activities to promote the development of certain skills and stimulate direct interactions between mother and child. In addition to this, we regularly reminded and motivated the mothers to continue practicing the activities and games.”

“The results, so far, are very encouraging and have attracted the attention of professionals across the country. Already pre-school educators, nurses, pediatricians, child psychologists, and related professionals have received training on developmental assessments, childcare, education, parenting, play-skills and stimulation. Our project has definitely had a positive influence on the community in the area of Southwest Ethiopia."

"Currently, we are also planning the launch of ‘Early Child Care and Education’ master programs and are going to establish a Centre of Excellence at Jimma University. I hope to scale up this project to a national and perhaps even regional level in the future and keep fighting for a better world for disadvantaged children.”


Berhanu Worku is affiliated with the ‘Pediatric Rehabilitation group' within the Rehabilitation Research Center (REVAL) of Hasselt University, where he prepares his Ph.D. under the supervision of Prof. dr. Marita Granitzer. The project is funded by VLIR-UOS: JU-IUC and BOF-BILA. Berhanu Nigussie Worku is also an associate professor at Jimma University in Ethiopia.