This Sunday, February 21, is International Mother Language Day which was designated by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) in 1999 as part of a broader initiative “to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by peoples of the world.”

For 2021, this year’s theme is: Fostering multilingualism for inclusion in education and society” which reflects UNESCO’s belief that “education, based on the first language or mother tongue, must begin from the early years as early childhood care and education is the foundation of learning.”

At Bread and Water for Africa®, we could not agree more.

We have seen such learning begin years before children are old enough to attend school at our partners’ children’s homes including the Lewa Children’s Home in Kenya, the Kabwata Orphanage and Transit Centre in Zambia and the Lerato Children’s Village in Zimbabwe.

There, these orphaned and abandoned children — before they can read and write — first learn to speak in the language of their siblings and fellow tribal members.

Through speaking their mother tongue at the youngest age, they learn to ask questions, tell their caretakers what they need and, perhaps most importantly, express their feelings, whether they be of joy or sadness.

Among the focus of this year’s initiative is on early childhood education and care, which UNESCO defines as “the foundation for learning.”

And as we have seen first-hand many times through the work of our partners in sub-Saharan Africa —You are never too young to learn.