Changing the Way the Future Unfolds for Children in Poverty

I remember playing the fortune teller game as a kid. We would take a piece of paper, write cute messages and fortunes on it and then fold it origami-style to predict our future. Of course, our paper game couldn’t foretell my future or that of my childhood friends, but with the opportunities that came with growing up in a thriving community in the U.S., the outlook was bright. I had access to a quality education, which led to rewarding work experiences and, ultimately, to my dream job of leading a humanitarian organization helping make this world a better place for children.

 

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Students participate in a counting activity in preschool teacher Sung Thi Kim’s preschool class at a Save the Children supported school in northern rural Vietnam. Photo by Jeremy Soulliere/Save the Children.

But for too many kids in America and around the world, their future is all too predictable. Girls and boys who live in poverty, like William, whom I met in South Carolina when he was 18 months old, often miss out on the essential early learning every child needs to succeed – in school and life. This means they’re at a much higher risk of starting school behind their peers and never catching up, which can have a devastating effect on their future. Research has shown that when kids fall behind early on, they are more likely to drop out of school, become a teen parent or even end up in prison.

 

That’s why, as the summer is winding down and as kids go back to school, Save the Children is launching an annual campaign called Invest in Childhood: See the Future Unfold, which is focused on the importance of getting an early start on learning. The centerpiece of the campaign is—can you guess?—a digital version of the paper fortune teller!  We have dubbed it the Future Teller because it shows how we can transform the way the future unfolds for children when we invest in them early on. Our Future Teller reveals how investments big and small can make a lasting difference: Investing as little as $3 can provide a baby’s first book, $5 can send a child to school and $10 can stock a home library.

 

William is proof that investing time, effort and resources in kids while they are still babies and toddlers—and before their brain is 90 percent developed at age 5—can have a big impact on their future. When I visited him in South Carolina, William was thriving. Rather than falling behind his peers, he was right where he was supposed to be in his development.

 

All parents want what’s best for their child. But many parents, like William’s, either don’t have the means to pay for preschool or have access to it. That’s why William’s mom, Jessica, enrolled him in Save the Children’s early childhood education program. She and her son have benefitted from having caring experts regularly visit their home, providing parenting support, bringing books and engaging William in play and learning activities to ensure he develops the essential skills he needs to succeed in school, setting him up for a promising future.

 

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: Preschool teacher Sung Thi Kim reads to her class in a Save the Children supported school in northern rural Vietnam. Photo by Jeremy Soulliere/Save the Children.

Save the Children trains teachers and works with kids and parents from America to Vietnam to Mozambique to give them the tools they need to shape the futures of their children. In recognition of the world of difference these preschool teachers are making in their own communities, Save the Children this month is joining with Microsoft and Windows 10 in their #UpgradeYourWorld movement to tell their stories.

 

Stories of preschool teachers like Sung Thi Kim, who teaches in a remote Vietnamese farming village where most families live without electricity or running water. She goes out of her way—visiting her students at home to help with homework and turning rice and corn into teaching tools when school supplies are scarce—to ensure that children like Mai, 5, don’t miss out on early learning opportunities. You can read Ms. Kim’s story here.

 

With the support of amazing individuals like Ms. Kim doing great things in their communities to promote early learning, we can help all children reach their dreams. When we invest in children like William and Mai, we transform the way their future unfolds.

 

Adapted from a blog that originally ran in the Huffington Post.

Terraced Rice Paddies and Building Blocks

Jeremy headshot - Vietnam

Jeremy Soulliere

Media and Communications Manager

Save the Children US

August 28, 2015

Around the world, there are many places where Save the Children works where the early educational opportunities for children are little to none. Fortunately, there are also many passionate people who are working hard to change that. 

When Microsoft asked Save the Children, as part of our #UpgradeYourWorld partnership, to tell the story of one person who is making a positive difference in their community for children, we knew just the person to recommend. (Microsoft will be highlighting the inspiring work of Save the Children and nine other global nonprofits over the next 10 months.  You can read more about the Upgrade Your World initiative here.) 

Classroom filming - behind-the-scenes

Filming begins inside a Save the Children supported preschool classroom in northern rural Vietnam. The resulting video of Save the Children’s early learning programming will be featured as part of Microsoft’s #UpgradeYourWorld initiative. Photo by Jeremy Soulliere / Save the Children.

Last week, I met up with my Vietnamese colleagues and the Microsoft team in Hanoi and drove five hours to the north, where the landscape turned from a sea of mopeds, rickshaws and bicycles to terraced rice paddies stretching endlessly alongside the lush, tropical mountains in a remote village in Lao Cai Province.

The village is home to a small population of rice and corn farmers.  Nearly 50 percent of the hard-working villagers here are living in poverty, and most live without electricity and running water. The majority of the adults here have not received more than a primary school education – a reality Save the Children is committed to improving by giving kids an early start on learning. 

That early start begins off a dirt road at the local preschool supported by Save the Children, where we met Sung Thi Kim, a gentle, kind and motivating preschool teacher who is making a big difference for the littlest children here. As an ethnic minority who received a higher education elsewhere and decided to come back home to affect change in this farming community, Ms. Kim is, day-by-day, upgrading our world one student at a time.

VietnamIt was only the second day of preschool after the end of summer break, but Ms. Kim’s classroom was already a picture of perfection. It reminds me in many ways of my own children’s preschool in Connecticut, the children’s artwork displayed along the walls, a bookshelf filled with colorful early-learning books, an area for building blocks and creative play, etc. But there also are stark differences – there are no water buffalo walking through the playground in Connecticut, or fathers arriving in droves on mopeds to pick up their kids after school because the walk home would take hours.

Back home this week and taking my own kids back to school, I am reminded that the fundamentals for giving kids an early start on learning – a dedicated teacher, a quality learning environment and committed parents and caretakers – remain the same no matter where you live.

I can’t wait for you to meet “leading lady” Ms. Kim and Mai, one of the many students whose life she has helped change.  Stay tuned.

Back to School Progress in #Nepal

MichelRooijackers (1)Michel Rooijackers

Save the Children Response Team Leader in Nepal

 

 

When most people hear that it's “Back to School” time, they probably remember ever-exciting first day when children return to their studies, ready to learn and see their friends. 

But for earthquake-ravaged villages throughout Nepal, getting children back into school isn’t as simple as packing their bags and giving them a hug goodbye.

Back to school copyMore than 32,000 classrooms have been completely destroyed, and an additional 15,000 have been badly damaged and considered unsafe for students and teachers. 

Buried inside those classrooms are books, desks, chalkboards and pencils; all of the necessary materials to make a quality learning environment for children.

Being overwhelmed by the scale of the challenges isn’t an option. Providing children with an education and safe-environment is as vital as providing them with food and water.

Our teams are working with communities across Nepal to build Temporary Learning Centers, simple structures made from tarps and local materials like bamboo. Located in open-spaces on the school grounds, they are a refreshing return to normalcy for children, parents and teachers.

Given the ongoing earthquakes and aftershocks, some parents have been understandably worried about sending their children back to school. What parent wouldn’t want their child close to them during such strenuous times? 

Thankfully, the design and materials of the Temporary Learning Spaces means that even if they are damaged by another earthquake, they’re very unlikely to cause any significant harm to children or teachers who may be inside. 

Teachers are also conducting drills with the students to ensure they know how to stay safe wherever they are when the next aftershock occurs.

With the help of community volunteers, we have already established 32 Temporary Learning Centers and will build a further 670 in the coming months. We’re also providing the schools and children with kits to ensure they have all the supplies they need to have a productive year.

Looking at the lively Temporary Learning Centers, juxtaposed next to the razed schools reveals a clear symbol of the progress Nepal has already made after this disaster, and a reminder of the challenges ahead.          

We Built a School!

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Judy Reichman, M.D.

LA Associates of Save the Children

Gosu Kora, Ethiopia

March 16, 2015

 

Having traveled for 20 hours to reach Addis Ababa in Ethiopia at 3 AM on January 17th, I did not know if I could gather up the energy to get in a jeep and travel 130 kilometers that same morning to see the school that our group of LA Associates of Save the Children had funded. But when I and the three women who went on this trip arrived, we forgot our fatigue as we were met by hundreds of children, parents, village elders and horseback riders who sang and cheered as we traversed the dirt road leading to the village and school.

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Students Welcome LA Associates of Save the Children

Until this year, in order to get to a school for primary education the children had to walk two hours each way from their village! The little ones could not do it, and the older girls were not allowed to attend school unless they had separate latrines. These children and their parents dreamed of their chance to acquire an education; they knew it was the only way they could break their existing bonds of poverty. Save the Children has worked for decades with the government of Ethiopia to help establish schools throughout the country.

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A Plaque Dedicated to Los Angeles Associates of Save the Children

Once a school is built and supplied the government then provides the teachers and together with the community continues to run them. The local school often becomes the center for democratic participation in governance, child health, child rights and community welfare. It was with this in mind that the LA Associates of Save the Children raised the funds to establish the school in this village. The opportunity our journey afforded us to experience the joy and gratitude of the children and their community was extraordinary. Save the Children is an amazing global organization and we now have a West Coast presence here on LA. I feel honored to be a part of it.

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In Helping Baby’s First Teacher, ‘A Path Appears’

The following blog first appeared on The Huffington Post

 

When I first met my daughter, she was 2 and a half months old. She looked perfect in her little crib in a crowded Vietnamese orphanage, but adoption is a process, and seven more months passed before I could take her home.

 

In the meantime, the staff was caring, but with so many little ones to diaper and feed, they didn’t have much time to play with Molly. Instead, they tied a string of beads across her crib. I imagine she passed many hours fiddling with them.

 

Thanks to that improvised toy, Molly’s fine motor skills were pretty good when I could finally bring her home. What she couldn’t do was balance her own head and torso if I sat her up. She simply hadn’t had the practice. And so even with the extra attention my husband and I were able to give her — and hours of on-the-floor tutorials from my older sons — sitting, crawling and walking all came later than they might have.

 

I read Molly books every day, wanting to expose her to her new language of English. Of course, as research has since made very clear, an ongoing stream of communication with our babies is key to their development, even if they’ve been around the same language from day one.

 

I feel so lucky that I was able to give Molly the early support she built upon to become the bright, curious and outgoing seventh-grader she is today.

 

Half The Sky

But I know millions of moms right here in America are having a much tougher time than I did, and they’re not always able to give their kids the books, attention and high-quality early learning experiences that give babies and toddlers a leg up.

 

As a result, the 15 million U.S. children growing up in poverty are typically more than 18 months behind their better-off peers by the time they enter school. Many never catch up.

 

So I’m very thankful that tonight at 10 p.m. the new PBS documentary series A Path Appears is showing that these children are not a lost cause.

 

In the film’s “Breaking the Cycle of Poverty” episode, Save the Children Artist Ambassador Jennifer Garner takes New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof to rural West Virginia to see how an innovative home-visiting program is turning the status quo on its head.

 

They meet Save the Children’s local home visitor, Tonya Bonecutter, who brings books, developmental activities and other critical support into the homes of struggling local families. Whenever possible, Tonya starts visiting moms during pregnancy. She also helps moms and other caretakers forge early connections with the school their child will eventually attend.

 

The result are phenomenal.

 

Keep in mind that the children we serve not only live in poverty, they face an average of four additional multiple risk factors — such as teen parents, parents who didn’t finish school and substance abuse. Yet 80 percent of children in our programs score at or above the national average on pre-literacy tests at age 3 and again at age 5. These kids enter school not only ready to learn but ready to excel.

 

Can you imagine living in a country where every child got the strong start they need to reach their full potential?

 

As Kristof says in the film, “It’s so much easier to prevent problems on the front end, then to spend money to try and fix things on the back end.”

 

Check out Jennifer Garner and Kristof in a bonus video here.

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 A Silent Girl Named Serenity Finally Found Her Words

This blog originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

 

 

An early start on learning means everything when it comes to a child’s future. Yet too many children living in poverty in America and around the world don’t have access to a quality early education. In fact, children from low-income homes hear an average of 30 million fewer words by age 3 than their peers from well-off families, putting them at a disadvantage before they even start school. These are children like Serenity from Nebraska, who at 3 years old wasn’t able to speak in sentences that consisted of more than two words. One of three siblings, Serenity lives in a remote community in a rural part of the state, where families struggle to make ends meet. Often, when parents have to worry about putting food on the table, books and reading take a back seat.

 

What’s more, quality early childhood education is not an option in many poverty-stricken communities. As a result, by the time she is 4 years old, Serenity was at risk of being 18 months behind other 4-year-olds who are lucky enough to be born with more opportunities. But like most parents, Serenity’s mom and dad want the best for their kids and they see education as the only way out of poverty. “We know we are in the situation we are in financially because we did not take education seriously when we were younger,” Serenity’s mother, Diane, told Save the Children. “We don’t want our children to have to live through the constant struggles that we are living.” That’s why her parents enrolled Serenity in Save the Children’s early childhood education program, which consists of weekly home visits by a program coordinator who brings a bagful of books for the kids. The program encourages parents to continuously interact with their children through stimulating conversation and daily reading.

 

After only three months, Serenity found her words — and scored impressively high on her development assessment test. Not only that, but her parents also discovered her hidden talent for singing! She can sing “The Wheels on the Bus” tune without missing a beat — or a word. “I know her language skills improved because of the books Save the Children gave us each week,” said Diane, amazed at her child’s transformation. “She is so excited to have me read to her and then she has to tell me a story too.”  Together we can help kids like Serenity find their words. And what better day to start than today, International Literacy Day?

 

Teaming up with our artist ambassador Jennifer Garner, we launched our 30-day #FindtheWords campaign last month to bring attention to this early learning gap affecting millions of children. Today, to mark the culmination of the campaign, other celebrities will join us in a day-long virtual word-a-thon by sharing their favorite word with their social media networks and encouraging their fans to do the same. Our goal is to start a conversation and spread the word far and wide. Leading up to the big day, 30 of the top influencers in the blogosphere have been riling up their audiences and garnering support through Save the Children’s 30 Days/30 Words blogger challenge. To raise awareness, each blogger has written a post highlighting a specific, meaningful word. The 30 posts in 30 days symbolize the 30 million words too many kids miss out on. You can read some of their inspiring posts here.

 

But you don’t have to be a celebrity or a blogger to get involved. Each and every one of us can make a difference in the lives of all those children who continue to fall behind and are at risk of never catching up. We all have a favorite word, so post yours and tag it #FindtheWords. Thanks to social media, everyone can join our campaign and give voice to the 250 million school-age kids around the world who are unable to read, write or count.

 

Save the Children provides kids from poverty-stricken communities in the United States and around the world with access to books, essential learning support and a literacy-rich environment, setting them up for success in school and a brighter future. Our early learning programs receive support from a variety of corporate funders, including Johnson & Johnson.

 

To learn more about Save the Children’s #FindtheWords campaign and how to get involved, check out this video featuring Jennifer Garner and visit www.SavetheChildren.org/FindtheWords.

Walking to School

Pilar Cabrera Sponsorship Program Facilitator Cochabamba Bolivia

Pilar Cabrera Barriga, Sponsorship Program Facilitator

Cochabamba, Bolivia

August 27, 2014

 

Sponsored child Andrés, a charismatic 9-year-old, takes a journey each morning to school with his mom. In meeting him, he said, “I wanted to share my daily walk to school with you.” While this is just a small part of his daily routine, this is an important part of his day!

My mom walks to school with me because the road to my school isn’t very safe. There are many cars that pass by and there aren’t any sidewalks. There are lots of stray dogs, garbage, and crime. My mom is a seamstress and works at home so that she can be near us. The school is about 1 km. away from my house and it takes us 20 to 30 minutes to get there.

I live on a hill and from there I can see part of the city. While I’m walking to school I see the landscape. On this walk I take advantage of talking with my mom about my studies and the support we receive at school from Save the Children. Also walking to school, I talk with my mom about the letters I get from my Save the Children’s friend. I am very happy to read letters from my sponsor who writes to me from so far away and in my replies I tell my sponsor about my school and my family.  Andres and his mom walking to school thru Phalta Orko neighborhood

I like to study all subjects. I got a best student diploma thanks to the Save the Children’s workshops that my teacher took. I think that all children must go to school to learn new things and become good professionals.

I consider myself a lucky boy because I have my parents who support me and I want to take advantage of the opportunity I have to attend a school that has Save the Children’s support. I will continue participating so that I can continue being the best student in my class.

I also want to say thanks to all the sponsors for the support they give us children in Bolivia!

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A Life Changed: A Community Volunteer’s Story

6a0120a608aa53970c01b7c6d05b65970b-120wiMona Mariano, Sponsorship Manager

Caloocan City, Philippines

August 21, 2014

Small steps are sometimes what take us to great leaps. Coming home to a land already foreign to her, Charity’s family had to return to the Philippines after staying in Sabah, Malaysia since she was little. Charity shied away from others as she was unfamiliar to the language and the people.

6a0120a608aa53970c01a511facc4f970c-320wiAfter two years since her return, there is now no trace of that shy and uncertain woman. One would see a confident and independent person when observing Charity as she reads aloud to her students and she interacts with their parents. Every day, she plays her Save the Children volunteer role and serves as a Literacy Boost and Supervised Neighborhood Session Facilitator in Caloocan City, Philippines. In Literacy Boost, she implements a set of basic education activities adapted according to local context which teaches reading appreciation, letter knowledge, fluency, and comprehension. On the other hand, the Supervised Neighborhood Sessions is a neighborhood-based alternative early learning initiative that provides children with no access to daycare centers with stimulating educational activities and learning materials.

Charity says, “I usually hurry to the sessions right after I take care of my two kids and do my responsibilities at home, it is important for me to be there to teach children reading and learning skills. Being a volunteer is not about benefiting from a program, but it’s about giving back what you have learned. It is about helping people around you.”

She started volunteering to expose herself to the Tagalog language and because she was curious about what Save the Children does. Charity says she no longer views her undertakings as just volunteer work wherein she learns from, but more as an initiative that is very helpful to her neighbors and community. It is a joy for her to see the children grow and learn before her very eyes. Aside from improving her self-esteem, she says serving and being known as a community volunteer is life-changing. Charity says she understands that the financial problems usually discourage parents from sending their children to daycares and she knows she is contributing to ease this problem. She mentions that she will continue doing this for her community until she can.

6a0120a608aa53970c01a511facc6b970c-320wiCharity knows that what she does not only makes a difference in the community, but it changes her family life as well. She has learned how to make her kids love reading better and is now a promoter of positive discipline at home. She says that volunteer work sometimes seems daunting, but she knows it accomplishes so much for those who are involved in it.

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Pre-School, Helping to Build Healthy Habits

Abilio Cossa

Abilio Cossa, Program Officer

Gaza Province, Mozambique

July 30, 2014

 

Save the Children has opened 35 preschool classrooms in 15 communities in the Gaza province, giving 1,225 children an early start to school success. Parents and caregivers have reported on the importance of early development of their children and change in the hygiene habits in the community. “Children that go to pre-school get knowledge about things that are not common in the community and they teach their parents…” said the community leader Nosta.  Laila (with her sister Leila) ready for the graduating cerimony

Getting ready for preschool, Laila, 5, and her sister, Leila, 3, brush their teeth behind their home in a small village outside of Mozambique’s Gaza province. Both girls attend the local Save the Children-supported preschool, where they learn not only the alphabet and counting, but also the importance of good hygiene. These healthy habits are very appreciated by parents, caregivers and other children in the community.

“Preschool is very important because kids develop good habits. They know that when they wake up they have to brush their teeth and comb their hair, get dressed and go to school”, said Laila’s mom, Maria Jose, 35. “These practices were not common in the community and we (parents) are learning from our children… note that… today the children are transmitting us habits that we did not have before.”

Laila and her ECCD colleagues exhibiting their certificatesWhen I asked Laila about what she learned in the pre-school she answered,” We learned that we have to wash our hands before eating and after using the latrine, we also learned that after waking up we have to wash our faces and comb our hair to be beautiful.”

During the interview Laila added, “Today is a special day for me and for my family.” Laila was part of a graduation ceremony. Her mother’s last remarks were, “I feel like I am flying. I am really proud and happy to see my daughter graduating.”

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