Advocating to Give Every Last Girl a Future

Co-written by Carolyn  Miles & Maryam Ahmed

As the head of Save the Children, one of the best parts of my job is getting to meet amazing children, in the toughest places around the world, who are working to make it a better place.

maryam-1Maryam Ahmed one of these children. She is a Save the Children Girl Champion, 17 years old and born in Kano State (North West Nigeria) where she is a child right’s activist and a member of the Abuja Children’s parliament. Maryam is an advocate for girls’ education, ending child marriage, and combatting gender-based violence. I am thrilled to have Maryam write this blog with me, in honor of International Day of the Girl.

This week, we are together in Washington, D.C, meeting with influential figures on Capitol Hill and the U.S. Administration to discuss the importance of investing in girls and asking U.S. policymakers to continue leading on issues such as tackling the barriers girls face in getting an education.

Girls are too often barred from the opportunity to learn – limiting their lives and risking their futures. I, Maryam, am proud to be a girl from Northern Nigeria who is still in school. This is not something you see very often. In my community, only 4 percent of girls get to finish secondary school. While this number may sound staggering, unfortunately it’s not uncommon around the world. Globally, girls are 3 times more likely to be out of school than boys, putting them at risk for child marriage, pregnancy, and trafficking.

Without education, the world’s girls will be left behind. That’s why today and every day, we’re recognizing that girls are worth more – worth educating and maryam-2empowering. And that is why we both are dedicated to advocating for gender equality and girls’ rights. Back at home in Nigeria, for example, there are laws and policies in place to prohibit child marriage, but customary norms and practices continue to violate our rights and no proper action is taken to address this. So I promote the rights and the well-being of girls while providing advice on how everyday citizens can help be a part of the solution.

I also wrote and recorded a song called “I believe,” to elevate the voice of children, especially girls. The song is a reminder that investing in adolescent girls is not only the right decision, but the smart decision and also to inspire girls to be anything they want to be.

Investing in girls yields amazing results, and education and empowerment is our best bet for keeping them on the path to success. By advocating against child marriage and inequality, we at Save the Children aim to influence U.S. leaders, Nigeria’s leaders — and the world’s leaders — to help girls get the opportunities that every last child deserves. Together, we’ll empower every last girl to realize her dreams. We invite you to join us at savethechildren.org/girls and to share this blog with the hashtag #ShesWorthMore.

An Open Heart

Susan and Claire

By Susan Warner, Senior Manager, Photography & Multimedia Production and

Claire Garmirian, Media Research Analyst

Susan: I made her cry, good tears. Transformative tears of love for the child in her arms. When I showed Rosa the photo I took of her and her granddaughter, she burst into tears. I knew then I had taken a good photo.

Claire: Rosa and I spent half an hour speaking in the director’s office on the second floor of the school. We gathered chairs together so that she, Ivonne from Save the Children Mexico and I could hear each other over the noise from below. The painted concrete patio where teachers lead students in experiential learning was beneath us and the sounds of preschoolers moving, counting and singing ricocheted up into the office. Amid all of this energy, Rosa shared the very personal details of her life with her granddaughter, Valeria*, and how she has found herself to be a primary caregiver for the four-year-old girl.

Susan: I don’t speak Spanish, nor have an ear for languages.  I gesture, pantomime, demonstrate and rely on our local staff to help when I’m on assignment.  I had asked Rosa to directly look into the eyes of her 4-year-old granddaughter.

Claire: As I listened to Rosa talk about her family, it became clear that she is a central figure holding many people together. She lives with her husband and son and daughter, both of whom have children of their own. Due to tensions between different members of the family, Rosa is a person who everyone can talk to. She sees the difficulties on both sides of the disputes. It sounded like her role could be tiring at times. She admitted that Valeria’s tantrums could make her feel desperate, but she also says she knows that they are a result of Valeria missing her mother, who no longer lives with her. As much as raising Valeria can be hard work, Rosa had endless stories about how intelligent and creative her granddaughter is. When I lost my words searching for a question, Rosa volunteered the story of her trip to the theater with Valeria. Valeria could repeat the song from the performance by heart after only hearing it once. And while Rosa’s speech was even throughout our conversation, it became energetic and expressive when she told me about Valeria’s drawings. It is obvious that she is amazed by her granddaughter’s imagination.

After our conversation, Rosa descended the stairs to join Susan on the school’s main level. They found a corner among the cacophony to take the tender portrait of the grandmother and granddaughter.

Susan:  Through talking about her experiences in the interview and seeing the photos on the back of my camera, Rosa was emotional, in a positive way, overwhelmed by her love of her granddaughter. It was a touching experience to witness the love they shared. I had photographed her heart.

*Name has been changed for protection.

Background:

Valeria attends preschool in a rough neighborhood in Mexico City that is fraught with violence, drug gangs, and addiction. Save the Children’s HEART program has helped children in this community cope with their stress, anxiety, fears and anger from being exposed to these activities.

About HEART:
HEART (Healing and Education through the ARTs) uses the arts to help children affected by serious or chronic stress from their life circumstances of poverty, violence or other traumatic events. Through painting, music, drama, and other art forms, HEART helps children find new ways to share their feelings and fears, so they can express themselves in a safe environment with trusted adults and peers, and thrive in the classroom. When children share their feelings they begin the healing process.
Save the Children launched HEART in Mexico in 2016. In the first year of operation, HEART reached nearly 8,000 children affected by poverty, violence and migration in 5 provinces: Baja California, Chiapas, Mexico City, Oaxaca and Puebla. The education program is integrated into Save the Children’s programs existing school curriculums for children, including programs at preschools, early primary schools, child and youth centers, and summer programs, as well as migration prevention programs for children and teenagers.
Save the Children has operated in Mexico since 1973. Today, Save the Children serves children in 18 of Mexico’s 32 states, giving kids a healthy start, an opportunity to learn and protection from harm.

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A Brighter Future For Children in Romania

By Ashley Snow, Manager, Engagement, Resource Development

At Save the Children, we always say we’ll do whatever it takes to help every last child. This call to action is embedded within our long-term ambition, our strategic priorities and, even our day-to-day watercooler talk. Save the Children employees are deeply committed to making a difference in the lives of the most marginalized, the most deprived, the most vulnerable children. Admittedly, despite its persistent presence in my daily work, I had no idea what this phrase really meant – helping every last child – until I saw it with my own eyes.

When I was assigned to host a group of IKEA co-workers going to visit our IKEA Foundation supported program in Romania, I had to look it up on a map. I’d heard about the country from friends and family who had traveled there for various reasons – service trips, studies abroad, church missions. But, beyond the Transylvania legend and overwhelmed orphanages, my knowledge of the country was limited at best. In my preparation, I was thrilled and consumed with the opportunity to explore the country and finally observe Save the Children Romania’s programs in person.

I’ve worked for Save the Children for the past three years; it was my last internship during college and my first job afterward. I was immediately inspired by the mission of the organization and have always felt incredibly lucky to work toward such ambitious and honorable goals: we hope to provide every child with a healthy start, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm.

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In Romania, Save the Children’s programs for inclusive education are primarily focused on a population that I had never heard of before my visit: the Roma. You may know the group by the more common name of gypsies. The Roma community originated inside the country of Romania and dominates a large portion of its population to this day. The ethnic group faces large social, cultural and political barriers to pulling out of widespread poverty. Many Roma are uneducated and live with multiple families in makeshift shacks. Young boys and girls are often pulled out of school to work or marry; Roma children consist of 80% of the students out of school in the country. Even if they are able to attend, the children face deep-rooted discrimination. Their own teachers often believe – and say aloud – that it is useless to educate a Roma child.

As we drove around the capital city of Bucharest, up into the mountains of Brasov, and along dirt roads to meet with Roma children, I was struck by our call to action: whatever it takes to help every last child. For many Roma communities across the country, Save the Children is the only organization that is present to support their children. For a group that is not only forgotten, but heavily prejudiced against, our strategic and targeted educational programs provide a glimmer of hope for a better future.

On our last school visit during the trip, we had the opportunity to meet with Roma parents whose children had participated in a kindergarten preparedness program the previous summer. This intervention is specifically designed for the Roma population, to ensure that boys and girls who are starting school are prepared – both academically and socially – for the year ahead. We witnessed a sampling of the class and noted the impressive behavior of the children. Though only five or six years old, the boys and girls were raising their hands, speaking in turn and listening to their teacher. One IKEA co-worker even exclaimed, “They’re better behaved than my daughter’s class at home!”

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When we talked with the mothers and fathers after the class let out, I noted the many similarities between the desires of these Roma parents and those I know at home. They had all sacrificed in many ways – education, work, and more – to build a better future for their children. Like so many parents in the United States, they dream of providing a little more, a little better for their sons and daughters.

At the end of the discussion, I suddenly asked if they had noticed a difference in their children since the program had started last summer. The entire room erupted with noise and movement from our participants.

The answer, as I had hoped, was an overwhelming yes.

IKEA Foundation is Save the Children’s largest global corporate partner. We have been partners with IKEA since 1994. Through IKEA Foundation-funded programs, Save the Children has touched the lives of some 10 million children. The inclusive education program we visited in Romania is funded by the Soft Toys for Education campaign. The campaign that ran from 2003 to 2015, aimed to improve the education of the most disadvantaged children, recognizing that education is one of the best investments for them. Save the Children programs focused on children of ethnic minority groups and children with disabilities – groups which are often the most vulnerable. Our work together continues in the new Let’s Play for Change campaign IKEA launched 2016.

For more information about the partnership, please visit: https://www.savethechildren.net/about-us/our-corporate-partners/ikea-foundation

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Bipartisan McGovern-Dole Program Transforms Health and Education in Guatemala’s Western Highlands

By Dan Stoner, Associate Vice President of Education and Child Protection at Save the Children.

In August 2016, I had the privilege of visiting Save the Children’s IDEA project in Guatemala with Jonathan Cordone, the then Deputy Undersecretary of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

IDEA is a USDA project funded through the McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program. IDEA is one example of the many international humanitarian and development programs that would be a casualty of the President’s drastic proposal to cut U.S. international affairs funding by roughly one-third.

The justification for the cut was that the program lacks evidence that it is being effectively implemented to reduce food insecurity, but our Guatemala program shows that it is indeed making a difference in the lives of children.

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Guatemala’s Western Highlands

In the Guatemalan Western Highlands, more than 60% of indigenous children are stunted and more than half are malnourished.  Through the IDEA project, Save the Children feeds more than 43,000 school age children per year, directly addressing food insecurity in the most impoverished region of Guatemala.

A recent independent evaluation of the IDEA program indicated that as a result of the school meals, absenteeism in program schools dropped from 20% to 5% in less than 2 years.[1]  The same evaluation found the number of children who now pay attention in class increased by 40%.  When asked why more children were paying attention in class, teachers said “They are no longer hungry.”

The McGovern-Dole Program

The McGovern-Dole program goes beyond just feeding children who otherwise would not have, in many cases, even one nutritious meal a day.  It integrates health, nutrition, and education interventions that enable children to reach their full potential.   The IDEA program has transformed barren cinderblock classrooms into engaging environments (as seen below) designed to cultivate children’s curiosity and encourage their love of learning. As a result of the USDA McGovern-Dole program, these children have learned to read in two languages: the indigenous K’iche’ language and Spanish.

While the program is based in more than 260 rural schools in Quiche province, its impact extends beyond these communities.

Ministry of Education officials who have seen the program work, have adopted program methodologies and manuals from the IDEA program to be used in all of Guatemala’s public schools. The government officials were so supportive of the program that they asked Save the Children to implement it in schools that were more remote than originally planned and paid for the additional costs of doing so. This support and buy-in from the local government is a testament to the impact of USDA McGovern-Dole programming on the most vulnerable populations in Guatemala.

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In this story I am talking about one school, but one that is as vibrant as any I have seen in my 25 years in international development. The IDEA program reaches 260 schools.   McGovern Dole has 46 active programs around the world.  USDA and USAID reach millions of children in schools just like these every year.

The impact in the Western Highlands is an example of how the McGovern-Dole program reduces hunger and improves literacy and primary education globally. Each year, the McGovern-Dole program feeds over 3 million children and their families around the world while providing comprehensive education interventions designed to ensure the future success of today’s school-age children.

This is just one example of a proven bipartisan program that gives children around the world a brighter future.  At less than 1% of the entire federal budget, slashing international affairs won’t make an impact on the deficit, but the impact on children will be devastating. Congress must continue to invest in programs like these – they’re worth every penny.

 

[1] Asociacion De Desarrollo Organizacional Communitara ADOC. Mid Term Evaluation of IDEA Project, SC/USDA. Aug. 2016. Guatemala. Pg 37

Steps to Achieve SDG4 for #EveryLastChild

by Coco Lammers

a picture of Masa 03 March 16. Ahmad Baroudi/Save the Children

This is Masa. When Masa was one year old, her family was forced to flee their home country of Syria for Turkey. Today, Masa is five years old, an age when many children around the world go to school. She is among the 1 million Syrian refugee children living in neighboring countries who are not in school.

In most cases, it will take years for a refugee girl like Masa to get the chance to go to school. Even after an immediate crisis ends, if a family has the chance to return home, infrastructure is often weak and the government has a difficult time establishing funding, policies, and procedures to get the national education system on track. Teachers may not get paid for months, classrooms are crowded, materials are nonexistent, communities are afraid to send their children back to school due to safety, and governments only pay attention to whether kids attend classes, not whether they are actually learning. If the family stays in another country, it could take years for them to matriculate into the schools, if they ever do.

In 2014, a UNESCO report revealed that around 250 million children around the world are in school but not learning the basics. The result is a global learning crisis. In 2015, after the completion of the 2000-2015 Millennium Development Goals, all governments adopted an ambitious development agenda for the year 2030 that sets out 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As a response to the global learning crisis, Goal 4 of the SDGs (SDG4) is focused on ensuring access to quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all.

Achieving ’education for all’ and ensuring ‘no one is left behind’, key pledges made by all governments in the SDGs, will be particularly difficult in conflict affected and fragile states. Last year, a Save the Children report revealed that the countries furthest behind in achieving the MDGs were not the least developed countries, but were countries affected by crisis, conflict, or fragility. According to the World Bank, people in conflict-affected and fragile states are more than three times as likely to be unable to send their children to school as those in other developing countries.

So, how do we ensure that all children, no matter who they are or where they live, are in school and learning?

Step 1: Data

  • Countries, at the national and subnational level, need to identify the most excluded children.  Then they need to make a public commitment to produce more and better data that shows where the gaps are and enable targeting of resources towards the most excluded groups.  Governments must work with researchers to collect disaggregated data and to ensure consistency, allowing data to be compared across countries, regions, and at the global level.
  • There should be commitment among donors to ensure that there is a minimal level of data collected in all countries. This “data floor” is especially critical for countries affected by crisis and conflict who have the worst track record on data collection. Education must be a part of the data floor.
  • Data must be disaggregated at a minimum by income, sex, age, race, ethnicity, migration status, disability and geographic location, common differentiators for development progress, so that patterns and trends in educational inequity can be identified and plans can be implemented to ensure that these groups see progress first, not last.
  • Governments must set national interim equity targets for specific groups to monitor progress toward SDG4 and to ensure the most marginalized and excluded children, including refugees and internally displaced children, are learning and on track to meet SDG4 targets.
  • The international community must encourage citizen-led data collection, expand access to and transparency of existing data resources, and build local capacity for data use and analysis in order to drive change from the ground up.

Step 2: Accountability

  • Governments and international bodies must establish effective, inclusive and participatory accountability mechanisms at all levels to help ensure that progress is being made on SDG4.
  • Donors and developing countries alike need to make a commitment to find more and better funding for education and SDG implementation.
  • Global resources should be focused on countries where progress on SDG4 will be most challenging, including in countries affected by crisis, conflict, and fragility.
  • Civil society and other stakeholders, including young people, need to continue to push for and engage in effective governance structures and accountability mechanisms to ensure progress on SDG4.
  • Donors, oversight bodies, and non-governmental organizations need to use the data collected on SDG4 to push for greater accountability, follow-up, and review of the SDGs at all levels.

As advocates, we need both courage and persistence to keep the momentum going on this equitable learning agenda. It will take hard work and sustained attention to ensure that even when contexts change, crisis strikes, or stability is threatened that young girls like Masa and all children, regardless of their background and circumstances, are able to go to school and learn.

In 2030, Masa will be 19 years old. Imagine what a quality education and lifelong learning could do for her generation. The possibilities for her and millions of other children just like her are endless.

Learn more about Education in Emergencies.

Coco Lammers is the Manager of Global Development, Policy, and Advocacy for Save the Children

Photo Credit: 03 March 16. Ahmad Baroudi/Save the Children

This post originally appeared on The Global Campaign for Education.