Initiative Overview: Early Childhood Development

Firelight is partnering with 18 grassroots organizations in Malawi, Tanzania, and Zambia that are strengthening their early childhood development programs and organizational management over the course of three years. In communities highly affected by HIV and AIDS, young children face multiple vulnerabilities. Poverty, disease, and inadequate services limit their physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development. The 2011 Lancet series on Child Development in Developing Countries showed that reversing the impact of these risk factors on children’s development is possible if interventions are: (1) introduced early in life; (2) provide high quality support and services; and (3) target children in greatest need.


With the support of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, we began the implementation of this three-year early childhood development (ECD) initiative in 2012. Our goal is to increase the percentage of young children affected by HIV and AIDS who achieve age-appropriate milestones in the physical, social, emotional, and cognitive domains. To do this, we are partnering with community-based organizations (CBOs), which are rooted in communities across Africa and reach young children and families in large numbers.

We are focusing on three countries: Malawi, Tanzania, and Zambia. In each country we support a Lead Partner organization and a group of five smaller CBOs. Lead Partners serve as coordinators, trainers, and mentors to the CBOs, accompanying our partners through their development as organizations. They play an important role in bringing the organizations together in learning circles and linking the organizations to capacity building and advocacy opportunities.

We are beginning the final year of this three-year initiative. So far, our partners have established or strengthened 68 ECD centers. This has included constructing and rehabilitating structures, creating child-friendly environments that are conducive to play and learning, and providing training and mentoring to teachers and caregivers. Our partners have also implemented programming to support and engage parents and other community members around ECD.


The process of supporting organizations to improve access to quality early childhood development programs, as well as the data gathered to analyze change in programs and outcomes, have enriched our understanding of the opportunities and challenges facing CBOs as they work to improve the lives of young children in communities affected by HIV and AIDS.

Every few months, we will blog about activities and progress we are making in this initiative. We hope you will join us on this journey of deepening our understanding of how to support community-initiated ECD. Ultimately, the value of the work will be shown through improved support and services for young children affected by HIV and AIDS, and in the resulting improvements in children’s lives.

Read our Quarter 1 Update on the successes of our ECD Initiative