21 January 2014

Queen’s Baton spends Christmas with children in Vanuatu

A small girl in one of the villages
welcomes the Queen Baton Relay
The holiday season in Vanuatu was even more special with the visit of the Queen’s Baton Relay over the Christmas break. The Baton Relay is currently taking place around the world in the lead up to the XX Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and has recently finished its leg of the journey through the Pacific.  UNICEF is the charity partner of the Commonwealth Games, providing a great opportunity to focus on the children of Commonwealth countries, highlighting what a contemporary Commonwealth country looks like and the dreams and lives of the children that live in them. Vanuatu was the last Pacific country to host the baton. But it was not just a relay that was held in honour of the visit – there was also a UNICEF-supported fun event held in Port Vila for children and their families to highlight the importance of play and sport in children’s development and learning. This is an issue of critical importance in Vanuatu due to challenges children face in accessing quality care and education.

The traditional Baton Relay was held around the island of Efate on the 26th and around Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu on the 27th of December. Following the relay on the 27th, the family event was held - a mini-Commonwealth Games - bringing children and families together to celebrate sport and play under the motto “Learn 2 Play & Play 2 Learn”.

A baton bearer is followed by UNICEF youth as 
Queens Baton being carried around the island of Efate
More than 100 children from different communities around the island came along to the event. All day long children enjoyed playing familiar games and learning new ones. One young participant said that the Queen’s Baton relay and mini-Commonwealth Games were the highlights of his summer break and holidays from school.  

The purpose of the event was to raise awareness about the importance of play in children’s learning and development. Many children in Vanuatu face difficulties in accessing education, due to geography and high costs. Fewer than half of children attend preschool and less than one third of primary school students have a minimum competency level in languages, mathematics and science.

In 2012, only 85 per cent of children starting year one were 6, the correct age. Less than 12 per cent of children who enrol in primary school make it to Year 13. Literacy is low, at an estimated average of 29 per cent at grade four , with even lower per cent in rural areas. School absenteeism, drop-outs and withdrawal are also common.

More than half of Vanuatu’s population is under 25, so preparing young people for the workforce and to be able to contribute positively to society is incredibly important – and education plays a critical role in this.
To address these challenges, UNICEF in Vanuatu supports Early Childhood Care and Education in a comprehensive and holistic approach to child development including school readiness. School readiness is about children being ready for school and parents being ready to send their children to school as well as making sure that teachers in schools are ready to receive the children. 

UNICEF is also supporting the use of sport to improve the lives of children in Vanuatu and other Pacific countries. Participation in sport and sport programmes has been shown to improve school attendance and achievement, as well as be a great tool to improve knowledge on different issues as well as communication skills, connection to the community and to others. It has the power to bring together different people, no matter what their background, as well as provides opportunities to empower girls and women through their involvement.

To find out more about UNICEF and the Commonwealth Games, visit https://www.glasgow2014.com/unicef

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