The International Rescue Committee (IRC) recently received a $10 million grant from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation to implement a three-year project aimed at improving early childhood development and transforming livelihoods opportunities for refugees and host communities in Uganda. The initiative, called ‘Kulea Watoto’ - meaning ‘nurturing children’ in Swahili – will use a unique two-generation approach to reach young children under five years of age and their caregivers in Yumbe, Kyegegwa and Kampala. 

Working closely with established local partners – including the AfriChild Centre, Madrasa Early Childhood Programme, Kabarole Research and Resource Centre and Literacy and Adult Basic Education (LABE),  Kulea Watoto will support caregivers to provide nurturing care and early learning opportunities, and to build their own skills to generate income for their families. To achieve this, the program will offer sessions for parents and caregivers on responsive caregiving and provision of early learning opportunities, improved links to children’s services in local communities, livelihoods training, start-up funding for promising business ideas, and more. 

Caroline Lai, Deputy Director of Programs at the Uganda Country Program, International Rescue Committee (IRC), said: “We are thrilled to partner with the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and exciting local partners in Uganda to support post-conflict and refugee communities in their journey to safety and self-reliance. The Kulea Watoto project provides the chance to further explore integrated programs that work across crisis response, peacebuilding, as well as economic and early childhood development.” 

The first years of a child’s life are a critical window to influence their cognitive, social, emotional and physical development. Kulea Watoto’s approach recognizes that children’s outcomes are greatly influenced by the economic status of the households in which they live. Uganda hosts more than 1.5 million refugees who face considerable challenges to accessing quality early childhood care and generating reliable income. In rural settlements, such as those in the districts of Yumbe and Kyegegwa, refugees experience language barriers, overcrowding in childcare centers, poor resourcing and a lack of opportunities to build a better life. In urban areas such as Kampala, discrimination, overcrowding and poverty resulting from limited employment prospects lead refugees to live in unsafe and unsanitary conditions. Across Uganda, access to food is often the most imminent need for refugees, which makes it difficult to prioritize other aspects of early childhood and nurturing care.  

Building upon the IRC’s experience from programs in Latin America, East Africa and the Middle East, as well as local partners’ deep knowledge of the target communities, the consortium will leverage each organization’s unique strengths and expertise to deliver on this ambitious project. Kulea Watoto will generate learning and evidence on this two-generation approach that will inform future integrated programming in the sector. The project will also engage key decision makers and community members to advocate for lasting and meaningful change.