Cross of St Piran 2017: David and Jan Townend
A trip to Tanzania proved a life-changing experience, not just for teachers David and Jan Townend, but also for the countless numbers of individuals their work has since helped.
The startling revelation that the mums they were meeting were not speaking to their babies came as a real shock to Illogan’s David and Jan Townend during their work as teacher trainers in Africa.
However, rather than dismiss it as a cultural phenomenom, the pair realised it could be to blame for the poor literacy rates in Tanzania.
“Everywhere we went, we saw young babies with lively eyes, obviously curious but silent. When we asked about it we were told that families start talking to the babies when the babies start talking,” said Jan, a speech and language therapist who is an expert in child literacy.
“Talking to a baby is learned behaviour. It seemed parents didn’t know how important it was to talk to their babies, or how to do it.”
Realising how much good they could do, the pair worked tirelessly to set up ZUMM, aided by the Ministry of Education in the East African country. The couple then began pre-pilot work with families in Mvumi, the community in which they had first lived.
“We knew two churches there, and the people knew and trusted us,” said Jan. “We trained a small group of 15 mothers to talk to their babies and how to make toys out of things they had. They really got it,” said Jan, “As the babies responded by smiling and making sounds, the mothers came to see them as lovely, intelligent little people. Little did we foresee that the village would never be the same again!
“When we went back three weeks later, we discovered they had gone home and talked to their sisters and neighbours and the group had grown to 26 and a lot of them had already made little toys. Six months later, there were 45 mothers in the group. Two of the ladies from the church had started reinforcing the messages and had opened the church for the mothers to come in and talk and play with their babies once a week and share experiences. That group has now grown to 100, all crowding into the building and includes fathers.”
The project is now receiving international funding, and is beginning to be rolled out in less-developed nations across the globe.
Since Jan and David retired and moving to Illogan, local congregations have supported the project, with more than £2,000 raised so far.
Jan said: “We moved to Cornwall when we’d retired and the congregation knew we were involved in Tanzania. A partnership was suggested. We spoke in church and said if anyone was interested in what we were doing to come and have a chat and at the end we were overwhelmed with people! It’s ended up being something the whole parish is involved in. So St Illogan Parish is now linked to St Andrew’s in Mvumi.”