By Ivon Damarys Valencia Muñoz

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Confidence—that inner quality of feeling certain of being supported in our needs, of knowing how to self-regulate emotions, and of feeling understood in our intentions and desires—takes shape while in the womb and during the first year of life. It’s the narrative of the human story, which we don’t remember but that quietly lives on, expressed through our history of individual and collective development.

Babies are engaged in finding out what kind of people they have contact with and what kind of world they’re living in, discovering if they’re aggressive or loving, unsettled or stable, dauntless or protective, indifferent or sensitive, discriminatory or fair. To do this, they use their innate abilities to imitate, flirt, get in sync, and make distinctions, allowing them to connect with others and build mental representations in their inner world, based on what caregivers say and do with them on a routine basis.  Their first step is to understand how others see them and to interact with others in order to gain self-confidence, a sign of innate knowledge that they can use to figure out how to adapt to the world.

Pregnancy, childbirth and the first year of life reveal themselves in this way, as a favorable time to build the foundations of more creative, supportive societies that are open to dialogue, fundamental elements for any social model. As James Heckman, Nobel laureate in economics in 2000, expressed during the launch of the Colombian strategy for comprehensive early childhood care known as De Cero a Siempre: “socio-emotional skills contribute to society as a whole and are determinants of what people will do later” with their educational and productive lives, their future health and their social participation.

Evidence like this called for the renewal of cultural practices, public social services and early childhood interventions. An example of this is embodied by the inter-sectoral experience of comprehensive care during pregnancy and the child’s first year of life that the city government in Medellín, Colombia created in 2009 with its Buen Comienzo program, in a determined effort to restore and guarantee an environment of trust from the very beginning of life, helping every boy and girl born to vulnerable families in the city to grow.

For those of us who have participated in the life of Medellín, this experience has been an opportunity to sow confidence as a human and social resource, since, together with the availability of satisfiers in nutrition, health, education and recreation that help ensure the exercise of the fundamental rights of children, the sectoral competencies of public institutions have been woven into a shared pedagogical practice, which centers on an affirmative vision of boys and girls as active participants in their own development and the promotion of parenting and community competencies to sustain and support the beginnings of the story of the city’s inhabitants.

That is what it means to promote management and investment strategies in early childhood development and in the field of hope and family and social empowerment, making the world a more trustworthy place to be explored, transformed and loved.

IVON DAMARYS VALENCIA MUÑOZ is a social worker and social management specialist in Colombia.  Between 2008 and 2010, she was director of the City of Medellín’s Programa Buen Comienzo, which received the United Nations Habitat Scroll of Honor Award in 2010 and was recognized by Colombia’s Ministry of National Education in that same year. She currently works as an independent consultant in the management and development of early childhood interventions, and she participates in TrasSusRisas, a private initiative that seeks to improve child development practices. Her article was selected as a finalist for the IDB’s Blogger Contest.

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