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A New Year and a Recommitment to Saving Lives

I can hardly believe that it’s already 2015! This year has stood as a milestone for so much of our work for children in recent years, so 2015 promises to be a mixture of sprinting to the finish in some areas and setting out a new course in others.

 

Today I’m in Washington for the exciting launch of action/2015, a worldwide movement made up of organizations, individuals and groups who believe that decisions made this year are critical for our future. The action/2015 coalition is focused specifically on meeting the Millennium Development Goals (set in 2000 for completion by the end of 2015) and determining what we must do in the next 15 years to reach our goal of ending preventable child deaths and extreme poverty by 2030.

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Since 2000, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have had an enormous impact on the lives of children around the world. Perhaps most significantly, today more children than ever before are living to see their fifth birthday. In 2000, an estimated 9.9 million children around the world died before age 5. This number dropped to 6.3 million in 2013. The 3.6 million lives that have been saved during this timeframe is far more than a statistic – it is a staggering and heartening reminder of the power we have to better the lives of children, families and communities throughout the world.

 

While we have a lot to celebrate when we look at the progress made against the MDGs, we cannot afford to be complacent – far too many of the poorest and hardest-to-reach children are being left behind. We need to finish the job of ensuring every child can reach his or her potential, and action/2015 is a fitting forum to further this work.

 

At today’s action/2015 event in Washington, I was delighted to join a bright, energetic group of students – our future leaders – as they gathered together to meet with government leaders and share their dreams and ideas for how we can realize the MDGs by 2030. The students I met with impressed me with their thoughtful, smart ideas, and I was struck by their heartfelt belief that we can better our world if we work together. These students intuitively know that the investments world leaders make now will determine the progress we can achieve in the next 15 years. While individuals, donors, NGOs and the private sector can innovate, partner, advocate, support and ensure accountability, governments must lead the way in order to achieve the MDGs and meet the promise we made to children and families 15 years ago.

 

CarolynSelfieUltimately, events like the action/2015 launch – and particularly the young people I met with today – bolster my belief that we really can realize our goal of transforming children’s lives and changing their future as well as ours. The New Year offers us all the opportunity once again to recommit to our core beliefs and highest aspirations, and I am glad to write that Save the Children remains fervently committed to helping all children. And action/2015 is one way we’re working for children. We’re committed to driving the completion of the MDGs and ensuring that the post-2015 agenda maintains the positive momentum we’ve achieved and spurs further progress. I hope you will join us in this work. You can learn more about action/2015 and the MDGs at www.savethechildren.org and www.action2015.org.

Where Health and Education Meet, Children Win

The following blog first appeared on The World Bank.

 

Every mom wants a healthy baby. And in the early days of a child’s life, parents and doctors understandably focus on how the baby’s physical development—is she gaining weight? Is he developing reflexes? Are they hitting all of the milestones of a healthy and thriving child?

 

But along with careful screenings for physical development, there is an excellent opportunity to tap into those same resources and networks to promote early cognitive, socio-emotional, and language development. This helps children everywhere have a strong start in life, ensuring that they are able to learn as they grow and fulfill their potential throughout childhood.

 

Save the Children works with partners around the world to integrate early childhood development interventions into programs in innovative ways—figuring out what works in local contexts and building an evidence base with governments to effectively support children and parents in the early years.

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In El Salvador, for example, we worked jointly with the Ministry of Health and National Academy of Pediatricians to design a screening tool to measure development in children under five. This empowers doctors and health workers to screen for development alongside health check-ups. Now when parents take their children to “healthy child control’’ checkups, children receive a comprehensive developmental evaluation so that the medical staff can identify risks early and advise on age-appropriate activities. By encouraging parents to exclusively breastfeed for the first six months or mimic the babbling sounds that their two to four-month old baby makes, these health experts are putting parents and young children on the path to success.

 

Medical staff in communities throughout El Salvador have been trained on this screening tool, and among 100 health centers evaluated, Save the Children found that not only are medical staff using the screening tool, but 95% are using it properly. The program has been brought to schools nationwide, and the Ministry of Health expects to reach hundreds of thousands of children, from birth to age five, in the early years of implementation.

 

Non-state actors like Save the Children can work with governments to find innovative approaches that meet the specific needs of the local population, and government commitment can turn this approach into scalable, sustainable change for children. This type of partnership is a win-win: When all parties are willing to look at a problem from new angles, real and lasting solutions can help children in those critically important first few years of life.

 

Thanks to our early experience and success, Save the Children was invited to be part of the El Salvadoran government’s team to design the new national early childhood development curriculum. We are now, along with other organizations, supporting the national roll-out of the curriculum and providing feedback to the government on community and center-level implementation.

 

Early childhood development is not limited to health, and it begins long before a child enters the classroom. Now, thanks to the leadership of the El Salvadoran government, the partnership of NGOs like Save the Children, and the support of health workers, parents and communities, children across the country are getting a stronger start in life—and the chance to build a better future for themselves.

How Your Snowman Sweater Can Change a Child’s Life

The following blog first appeared on The Huffington Post

 

There’s no better time than the holidays to remind children to be thankful and to give back to others in need. However, that is not always easy during this busy time of year.

 

That’s why Save the Children is using a holiday tradition of donning “festive” sweaters as an easy, fun way to raise awareness about helping the youth of the world in need.

 

Kids can help make the world better by wearing a holiday sweater on Dec. 12. Photo by Dan Burn-Fort / Save the Children.
Kids can help make the world better by wearing a holiday sweater on Dec. 12. Photo by Dan Burn-Fort / Save the Children.

On Dec. 12, Save the Children’s Make the World Better with a Sweater holiday fundraising campaign is dedicated to rallying people to wear their quirkiest holiday sweaters and give just $5 to children in need. You can fly solo or spread the joy even further by engaging your children, work colleagues, friends and family in a festive sweater party. Not only will you be making a fashion statement, but you’ll be bringing attention to Save the Children’s mission of giving children living in poverty a healthy start, an opportunity to learn and protection from harm.

 

Look into the recesses of your closet; many of us, parents and kids alike, have a holiday-themed sweater we only wear once a year. If you don’t own an iconic holiday sweater, you can buy, borrow, or even glitz up a regular sweater with tinsel or cut-outs of stars and snowflakes.

 

Who knew a sweater could do so much? But why stop at involving your children in our sweater day? There are many other ways children can brighten the environment and the lives of those around them. Parenting blogs are a great resource to search for other inspiring ideas for involving kids in giving back this holiday season.

 

Front Row Mama suggests children write thank-you notes to the custodians at school; put candy canes and a note on the cars in the teacher’s parking lot; leave a package of diapers and wipes on the changing table in a public bathroom; and help prepare a meal for a family in need.

 

Mom Start recommends children find a local “Giving tree” and pick someone to shop for; save up old soda cans, then return them for the bottle deposit; then choose a charity to donate to; go through their closet and clean out any old toys they don’t want any more to donate; and be challenged to do one nice thing for another child every day for 12 days.

 

Amy Bizzarri of Social Moms Network encourages children visit an elderly neighbor, shovel a neighbor’s walk or driveway, help at a local animal shelter and create activity boxes for children in homeless shelters. Carolyn_Sweater

 

One additional option is to donate or buy a gift from Save the Children’s gift catalog. Kids can chose from items like sending a girl to school or giving a family a goat. And thanks to our partner, Johnson & Johnson, you can double your impact. The company will generously match each dollar donated through our gift catalog.

 

Perhaps you have a few ideas that you do with your children to share? I would love to hear them in the comments below.

 

I hope you will join us this Friday, Dec. 12 to turn these holiday celebrations into something more meaningful and fun for the entire family. Together, with sweaters, we can transform children’s lives and the future we all share.

Partnering to Help China’s Children Thrive

Last week, as China was busily preparing for a visit from President Obama, I was busy witnessing some excellent programs helping children in the most populous country in the world.

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As we’ve seen in so many countries around the world, China’s inequality gap is growing quickly and millions of poor children are getting left out with little opportunity to catch up as China’s development speeds up. Save the Children is working in China alongside some of our strongest corporate partners to improve access to health and education for children so that they can have the best chance of success.

 

While China has already reached Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5, child mortality is still an issue given the huge numbers of children. In the rural Sichuan province, we visited a great program funded by Chevron that supports the training of local village doctors on vaccinations. This program also uses mobile phones to collect data and send reminders to patients—a great way to use technology to link into an existing health system, already demonstrating impressive results in vaccination coverage.

 

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The next day, in Chengdu, we visited a school focused on inclusive education. Basic and secondary education opportunities for China’s children are improving at a rapid pace, but early education for poor children is still not widely available—and education for disabled children is lagging dramatically.  The majority of disabled Chinese children do not go to any school and those that do are generally in a specialized school, but the IKEA-funded program we visited shows an increased commitment to serving the needs of disabled children. We visited an inclusive education school where mildly disabled children were learning with other students and a special school with more severely disabled students, and it was wonderful to see children of different levels of learning ability engaged and excited to be learning.

 

Also during my trip I visited Accenture’s local Skills to Succeed program, which is doing excellent work in training migrant children with skills that will help them find meaningful work, and a school health and nutrition project funded by P&G to improve hygiene knowledge and behavior practices in a school on the outskirts of Beijing.

 

It’s natural that China work closely with corporations as part of the country’s ongoing economic development—and it’s wonderful to see that this partnership extends to strengthening children’s access to health and education, so that they can be a part of China’s future. Save the Children is proud to work alongside China’s government, business and social leaders to make a difference today for the leaders of China tomorrow.

The World’s Ebola Crisis: Disastrous for Mothers and Daughters

In the course of a regular day with my 13 year-old daughter, I check in on how her day went and tell her I love her.  It’s pretty standard stuff for moms.  And as President and CEO of Save the Children, I’ve seen how children’s health, happiness and safety are paramount to mothers in every corner of the globe. That’s why last week, when I called my daughter from Liberia, I stayed on the phone a little longer than usual—so grateful to hear her voice and know she was safe and well.

 

The conditions in Liberia, where Save the Children is responding to the Ebola epidemic, are some of the worst I’ve ever seen.  Children are always among the most vulnerable in a crisis and this is no exception—2.5 million children under five are living in the hardest-hit areas across the region, and 75% of all children infected in the current epidemic have died. Even those who are not infected themselves risk losing their parents to this terrible disease and often end up alone and ostracized by their communities. Fear, like the virus, is spreading rapidly.

 

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Martheline with her three younger siblings, who she is now caring for in the wake of their mother’s death from Ebola.

I met a young girl named Martheline, who is about my own daughter’s age. When her mother became ill with the Ebola virus, there was no money for a doctor and no way to access local services. Martheline nursed her mother at home, and then mourned her when she passed away.  Having lost her father several years before, Martheline was left to care for her three younger siblings—while a fearful community left them to fend for themselves. Even though they were not infected by the virus, every day has become a struggle for survival.

 

This crisis is also taking a toll on the incredible progress the world has made to reduce maternal, newborn and child deaths in Liberia and around the world. Already weak health systems are collapsing under the strain of the outbreak and many health facilities are closed—meaning that children are missing out on vaccinations and basic health care, putting them at great risk for preventable childhood diseases, and more women are giving birth at home in dangerous conditions. The effects of this virus are devastating and far-reaching.

 

The people I met in Liberia are no different than those I’ve met anywhere else in the world. They want the chance to be self-sufficient. They want to be able to support their families. They want to live with dignity and pride.

 

The most important thing we can do now is to focus on giving those affected by Ebola the chance to live safe, healthy lives once again. That’s why Save the Children is joining forces with those in the region to halt the spread of Ebola. In Liberia, we’re building Community Care Centers to provide community-based care closer to home, training health workers, and providing medical equipment and protective kits to families. We’re also working with orphans and other vulnerable children to ensure they are protected in this time of crisis by providing survivor kits to meet their basic needs and reuniting them with extended family whenever possible.

 

I know it can be easy to feel hopeless in the face of such devastating death and disease. But the global health community has already proven that by working together and partnering with people on the ground, progress is possible. Together, we eradicated smallpox. We are well on our way to do the same with polio, yellow fever and measles. 17,000 fewer children die each day than in 1990. There are millions of children alive today because we believed in the power of local health systems and we believed in the power of working together.

 

We must act now to support mothers, daughters, families and communities in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. Martheline didn’t just lose her mother to Ebola—she lost her childhood to the virus. It’s up to us to make sure she doesn’t lose her future too.

 

Donate today to help Save the Children build and manage Community Care Centers for Ebola patients and their families and distribute Survivor Kits to meet orphaned children’s basic needs.

Inside the Heart of an Epidemic

I am not sure that in my 16 years with Save the Children that I have seen—and felt myself—such  palpable fear in a place as I did last week in Liberia.  But it is a fear that comes at you in waves, an undercurrent that runs under what looks on the surface to be the normal daily life of a very poor country in West Africa.

 

In the market, people are going about their business, buying and selling wares, going to work, cooking in small sidewalk stalls. But right away you start to notice the billboards, the signs, all calling out that Ebola is real and what to do to keep safe. You see the washing stations at every store, every stopping point—and after just a few hours, the fear starts to seep in. My colleagues point out the sirens, signaling another Ebola case has been picked up, and images of the victims flash through my head.

 

The fear comes as I wash my hands in chlorinated water from a small bucket with a spout everywhere I go, as my shoes are sprayed with the same chlorine solution each time I get in and out of a vehicle or go into a building, as I try to remember to shake hands with no one, to touch no one, to not get too close, even to my own colleagues. Fear comes with the constant message on the radio inside the car as we drive—”Ebola kills”—over and over again.

 

But the real face of fear in this epidemic is in the faces of the families and children I met – children and families that have lost mothers, fathers, wives and husbands, brothers and sisters.  Those who have survived quarantines, but who are now shunned by their communities and cut off from basic services.  I see the fear in the children I met who have been orphaned by the virus and are living in makeshift shelters, under houses, inside storerooms.  Whole families of children living day-to-day as best they can without their parents. Their fear, and the fear of those around them, shows starkly in their eyes. WP_20141003_13_34_02_Pro

 

There are an estimated 3,700 orphans across the three hardest hit countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.  In Liberia alone, the number is estimated at 2,000, with new children becoming orphans each day as the virus ravages mothers and fathers. One little girl I met, seven year-old Elizabeth, was living under a house with her older brother just steps away from where their mothers body had been taken over a month ago.  They had come and burned all their belongings and sprayed down the room but the children would not go back inside.  While they survived the 21 day incubation period, they now faced the prospect of starvation and stigma as people in their town are too scared to even look at them.

 

One of the key pieces of our response is to work with the Department of Social Welfare in Liberia to ensure we know where these children are and get them basic survival kits which include food, household items, soap and hygiene supplies and clothing. Then we begin to try to reunite them with extended family whenever and wherever possible, a painstaking process to trace family members that may be hundreds of miles away.

 

But the bigger issue in this crisis is breaking the back of transmission of the disease, reducing the reproductive rate of cases to below 1—and bringing down the fear.  The messages, chlorinated water, and radio programs have done part of their job but people must leave their houses and get into care and stop infecting others at the first sign of symptoms. Tragically, there is just not enough care and beds available.

 

Save the Children is building 10 Community Care Centers in Margibi county—smaller centers where people can go and get tested, where those testing positive are isolated from others before being transferred to a more sophisticated Ebola Treatment Unit, getting basic care while waiting for a bed and receiving visits from a mobile team of doctors and nurses. We are also building an additional Ebola Treatment Unit to serve Margibi, one of the epicenters of the epidemic, modeled after a center we already built in Bong County.

 

While the fear of this visit was very real, there was also hope.  In my last hours in Liberia, I visited a transition center for orphaned children in Montserrado, with 10 children who still could not yet be reunited with their families.  While you could still see traces of fear and certainly sadness in their eyes, they lit up when asked to sing a song and proudly told me about their dreams.  One little boy, Edward, told me with a confident smile, that he wanted to be President.  Right at that moment, I believed it could come true, if we could just end the fear and death all around us that have no place in a child’s life.

 

Please help us do more to halt the outbreak and provide lifesaving outreach and protection for children.

Notes from the UN and the Clinton Global Initiative: Speaking Out for Children in New York

This was a busy week for global development, as leaders from government, business and civil society came together in New York for the Clinton Global Initiative meetings and the UN General Assembly. As usual, Save the Children was there to take the opportunity to make children a central part of the agenda—and urge action on their behalf.

 

It’s no surprise that Ebola was a major part of the conversation, as the outbreak continues to dominate the headlines. I spoke with Reuters about how critical it is for the international community to step up our efforts to treat Ebola victims and halt the spread of the virus. We have increased our ongoing response to the outbreak in West African countries and we are moving forward with a stronger, community-based response through local Ebola Care Centers in rural areas. Easier access to local medical help and supplies, plus ongoing education about how to contain the spread of the virus, is urgently needed to save lives and protect children. As the death toll from Ebola nears 3,000 one thing is certain: the world must act quickly.  

 

Another big issue this week was the ongoing crisis in Syria—and we are working to ensure that children are not forgotten in discussions about geopolitics and conflict. Our new report, Futures under Threat: The Impact of the Education Crisis on Syria’s Children, shows the effects of conflict on millions of school-aged children. Before the conflict began, almost all Syrian children were enrolled in school but now Syria has the second-worst enrollment rate in the world. I talked about the report on Al Jazeera America and we used our influence this week to demand that Syrian children, both inside the country and those living as refugees, are protected and educated—their best chance at building a better future.

 

Of course, one of the greatest areas of focus for Save the Children is newborn and child survival as we work to accelerate progress toward achieving Millennium Development Goal #4, to reduce the under-five mortality rate by two-thirds by 2015. The world has made significant progress, but we have more to do in the 500-day sprint to the end of 2015 and in the post-2015 agenda to get to zero and finish the job. At Mashable’s Social Good Summit on Sunday, I introduced a “Simple Ways to Change Lives” panel featuring Liya Kebede, Ethiopian model and maternal health advocate, UNFPA’s Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin and our own Victoria Shaba, a midwife from Malawi, to talk about how trained and equipped health workers can save the lives of mothers and children using low-cost, proven interventions.

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Finally, I joined with others at the Clinton Global Initiative to announce a new partnership to support literacy across the globe. Together with the Bezos Family Foundation and their Students Rebuild program, we are engaging school children everywhere in The Literacy Challenge to design and create bookmarks. The Bezos Family Foundation will give $1 for each bookmark they receive through the challenge to help power our Literacy Boost program in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

 

We take advantage of major meetings like those held this week to advocate for a better world for children—but we know that one week in New York won’t address every issue and answer every question. That’s why we match our global advocacy work with everyday efforts in communities around the world, fighting for progress in large ways and small, to give kids a chance at a better life.

Which Way to Better Health: A Roadmap to Save Mothers and Newborns

sgs-panel-captionCo-authored with Liya Kebede 

 

As children, we were fascinated when our school teachers rolled out the maps showing different parts of the world. Even today, as we’ve each traveled the world in our respective roles, maps still hold a certain fascination and urgency to go beyond where we’ve been — to move forward. So you can imagine how we feel about a roadmap that places the health and survival of newborns and mothers at the very center of the political agenda.

 

Read the full blog post in the Global Motherhood blog on HuffPost

Read my other HuffPost blogs here.

It’s Back to School– Are Your Kids Safe?

As of this month, American parents have sent 69 million children back to school and child care. But many have no idea what protections exist to keep kids safe in the very places they’re supposed to be protected.

 

According to a new Harris Poll online survey, 63 percent of U.S. parents with children in school or child care are not very familiar with emergency plans in those locations. Forty-two percent don’t even know where to meet up with their children in case of evacuation. This is disturbing, because disaster can strike anytime, anywhere — a point reinforced by the national parents’ poll included in Save the Children’s 2014 Disaster Report Card, out today. Mississippi: 2014 Tornados

 

More than half of U.S. families (54 percent) with kids in school or child care have been personally affected by hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, school shootings or other types of disaster. In the past year alone, our nation has experienced at least 20 school shootings and 50 natural disasters requiring a federal response.

 

Two thirds of the 1,012 parents in the nationally representative poll said they were concerned by risks their children face from national disaster. Seventy percent worry about school shootings. Yet, 67 percent of U.S. parents don’t know if their child’s school or day care practices emergency drills frequently, or at all. And — here’s the kicker — basic emergency plans aren’t even required in 21 states and Washington, DC. (You can check your state here.)

 

Parents don’t do much better at home. While three in five say they have an emergency plan in place, many of those parents haven’t taken basic actions to protect kids. For instance, nearly a third of these parents don’t have a family meeting place. More than a third of them don’t even have two days’ supply of food and water. A five days’ supply is recommended.

 

DSC_9649The majority of parents who say they have emergency plans also don’t know where to find shelter locally or have an agreed upon out-of-town contact, which is critical should disaster affect communications. Parents should also make sure all schools and caregivers have key contact information, and that younger children can identify themselves if they get separated.

 

There are simple actions everyone can take to better protect our children should disaster strike. Packing a “go kit” for each member of the family is a good start. It should include essential toiletries and medical and contact information and — for kids — a favorite activity and a comfort item that can help them cope if disaster upturns their young lives. If you agree that children’s safety should be a priority, please take our pledge to protect children from disaster. Then act on it. To learn more about the 2014 Disaster Report Card and find resources to better prepare your family and community, go to www.savethechildren.org/US-Disaster.

Gaza’s Miracle Tomatoes

photo 1Crossing through the Israel’s Erez Crossing checkpoint and seeing the bleak landscape as you pass through the Fatah and Hamas checkpoints inside Gaza, it’s hard to imagine anything growing at all—let alone a flourishing garden. As we walked down the narrow pathway enclosed in wire mesh in the “no man’s land” of the Access Restricted Area, all we saw were donkeys pulling carts filled with rubble and surrounded by men and boys along harsh, rocky earth.  The boys and men salvage concrete, wire and metal from bombed out factories.  Others herd sheep and camels through dusty barren patches with little vegetation in sight. And it goes on like this for miles from the wall separating Gaza and Israel.  But just 20 minutes away, a farmer and his extended family met us on the dirt path and took us to see something entirely—and amazingly—different.

 

Outside a lush green field of healthy looking beans, spinach, and other vegetables and inside a simple greenhouse, he proudly pointed to row after row of beautiful red tomatoes literally falling off their vines.  This is the result of a recently-concluded project by Save the Children and other partners and funded by USAID, which helped farmers in Gaza feed their families and make a living.  The project provided help through improvement of water access and irrigation, as well as through technical training and provision of materials like plastic greenhouse sheeting.  The grandfather we visited had clearly benefited and was now running his small farm with much higher productivity and vastly increased ability to not only feed his family with his own vegetables but to take his crops to market.  There, he could sell it for needed income for additional food, school supplies for his children, and improved shelter for his large extended family, including several of his sons and their wives and children. The miracle tomatoes and beans and spinach were truly supporting them all.

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As we drove through the streets of Gaza and heard from residents about the impact of border crossing restrictions on children there—the rising rates of malnutrition and resulting stunting, the lack of basic medicines and care when children became sick, and the severe circumstances disabled children were in—I kept a hopeful thought in my head: those bursting red tomatoes we tasted on our visit.

 

They give me hope that children inside Gaza might see better days ahead, with good food to eat so they can thrive and grow like the magical garden that has been able to flourish the middle of dust and dirt.