Around the world, the effects of poverty negatively impact childhood development in more than 200 million children. Child development outcomes play a key part in a country’s advancement and the state of the economy. The U.S. National Library of Medicine explains, “Children living in compounded adversity face increased risks of poor child development outcomes and emotional and behavioral problems that can perpetuate a cycle of poverty and violence.” However, in 2016, the implementation of an innovative home-visiting intervention program in Rwanda called Sugira Muryango is fighting to break these cycles.
Violence and Intergenerational Poverty
In past studies, social programs aimed toward child development have been more focused on mothers of the households. However, the developers of Sugira Muryango (researchers at Boston College’s School of Social Work and the nonprofit FXB Rwanda) chose to implement this program to focus more on the father’s role within the household and child’s life.
Rwanda is a key place to evaluate this program due to the persistent household violence and gender roles within Rwandan society. Traditionally, Rwandan society has held few expectations for fathers within the household. However, a positive male figure plays an important role in a child’s developmental outcomes.
The data of some surveys taken in Rwanda by Promundo and the Rwanda Men’s Resource Centre on masculinity and gender-based violence convey shocking truths. The surveys reported that 73% of men and 82% of women agreed with the statement, “a woman’s most important role is to take care of her home” and 44% of men and 54% of women agreed that “a woman should tolerate violence in order to keep her family together.” Lastly, 45% of men saw their dads beat their moms in childhood and 38% of those men became violent toward their own partners in adulthood. Men who witnessed violence at home as children were more likely to perpetuate it, indicating that children emulate behavior, both positive and negative.
Methods Used in the Sugira Muryango Program
As a response to this violence, Sugira Muryango was implemented as a home-visiting intervention program that targets the poorest households with young children (aged between 6 months and 26 months) in Rwanda. The program offers coaching to caregivers of the household in order to teach parents, specifically fathers, positive caregiving practices, nutrition skills, hygiene skills and basic involvement.
The program uses methods of home visits and caregiving coaching in order to improve family relations. The family-based model aims to encourage responsive and positive interactions as well as discourage violence and harsh punishment. In providing this coaching through these methods, it is possible to improve not only parent-child relations but also child development outcomes. With these improved outcomes, Rwanda should see improvements as the children reach adulthood and in breaking the cyclical poverty which should then improve Rwanda’s general development as a country.
The Impacts of the Program in Rwanda
Not only did the results of the program aid in the decrease of violence within Rwandan homes but it also helped improve mental health rates among Rwandan fathers. Furthermore, reports indicate changes in parents’ behaviors towards the child, including responsive care and play, dietary diversity, care-seeking for child health problems and reduced family violence.
Potential Global Impacts
The Sugira Muryango program is playing an important role in breaking intergenerational cycles of poverty within Rwanda. Although the lasting effects of this program need to be studied as the children grow, the immediate effects have aided in reducing violence and improving family relationships. If integrated into other low to middle-income communities and countries, the overall effects should be promising in breaking intergenerational cycles of poverty on a global scale.
– Caroline Dunn