Witnessing Change in Action

Andrea WHAndrea Williamson-Hughes; Deputy Director, Office of the President

Gare Arera, Ethiopia

December 20, 2011


The school constructed by Save the Children in Gare Arera came into view as we rounded the last turn of a bone-rattling, 45-minute drive over a rocky road that was more path than anything. That anyone lives so far from the paved road, let alone goes to school there, seems nothing short of amazing. Yet the sight of children peering out the school’s windows assured us that something was happening.

Save the Children has worked in the West Showa District of Ethiopia, where Gare Arera is located, since 2009. Today, several hundred children attend the school constructed with sponsorship dollars. Classes ranging from Preschool (Early Childhood Development programs) to Grade 4 are taught in two shifts to allow maximum use of classroom space. Working in close collaboration with the Ethiopian Government, Save the Children helps with curriculum enhancement and training, to help instructors convey important health, sanitation and nutrition practices and to impart basic, but effective, teaching methods.

I couldn’t help but smile during our classroom visits. Eager youngsters anxious to demonstrate their knowledge filled rooms adorned with colorful learning materials, many of them locally made. Questions about their lessons revealed their grasp of the health, sanitation and education messages that Save the Children-trained teachers impart.

IMG_1560 (2)Nearby latrines and clean-water sources – constructed by the community under the guidance of Save the Children – are further indication of the positive changes brought to Gare Arera by sponsors’ contributions. A school garden on the premises that puts my own vegetable patch to shame provides a means of income generation through the sale of produce for the school, as well as nutritious food for children to take home and seeds for home-garden sowing.

The comments of school PTA members, most of them parents themselves, further demonstrated that Save the Children greatly impacts the community. “Thanks to Save the Children, our children are learning important lessons – lessons they bring home to us about healthy living,” said one father. Parents in Gare Arera now value their children’s education to the extent that the PTA plans to enhance educational opportunities by raising funds for additional classrooms to house upper grades. Currently, children who want to go to school beyond fourth grade must walk a long distance and ford a river that becomes dangerous in the rainy season. This deters many children, especially girls, from going on to upper grades.

IMG_1634 (2)It was recess time as we prepared to depart and classrooms emptied into the open playfield. Rather than caring for younger siblings or working in the fields, these bubbly children were spending their day as children deserve – with exposure to knowledge and practices that will help them live healthier, more fulfilling lives.

As our vehicle began winding its way back down the bumpy road toward the nearby town of Ambo, I looked back at the many small hands waving us off. How often does one have the opportunity to see real change taking place? It’s a rare occurrence but because of caring sponsors that want to make a difference for children in Ethiopia, I knew I had just witnessed change in action.

Interested in joining our community of sponsors? Click here to find out more

PHOTOS: Revolution & Evolution: My Trip to Egypt – Part 3

My evening in Assiut proved to be one of the most unique and interesting parts of my visit to Upper Egypt. As it began to get dark, the streets became clogged with young people coming home and going out. We traveled to a youth center, supported by the local government, to attend a play organized by local young people with the help of some of the adults in the community. The play was written by a well-known local author of children’s books and focused on key health messages directed towards young pregnant moms, parents, and children themselves.

 

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Tererai Trent Inspires Schoolchildren at Matau Primary School on Visit Home

Tererai podium

Dr. Tererai Trent, PHD , Educator and Humanitarian   

Hurungwe District, Zimbabwe

October 13, 2011


 The Matau Primary School is part of a Save the Children project funded through The Oprah Winfrey Foundation to honor Tererai, whose story of tenacity, courage and spirit inspired Oprah and millions of fans around the world. The donation to the Matau Primary School project was announced on May 20, 2011, during one of the final "Oprah" show episodes. Learn more here: SavetheChildren.org/Oprah 

Good Morning. My dear friends and family of Matau and our local officials, I am so delighted to be home. I return to Zimbabwe after an unlikely journey that began asa small girl with a big dream of getting an education.

Let me take you back to that time. You see, then as now, many men from our village traveled to Harare to work as commercial farmers and to South Africa to work in the mines. They would be gone for months at a time, and would write letters to their wives back home. But, these women – many of your mothers and grandmothers – had not been to school, and when the letters arrived each month, they could not read them. 

They would take their cherished letters house-to-house, seeking a child or adult who could read their letters, and only after the letters had been read by several people, several times, were they satisfied that the content of the letters were true.

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Dr. Tererai Trent reads with 10-year-old Beauty, grade 4 student at Matau Primary School  
(Photo Credit: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/Save the Children)

It broke my heart that these women could not read the most intimate conversations with their husbands, and this experience rooted in me a deep desire to learn. 

Since then, our community and our nation have traveled far.  Today, all Zimbabwean children have the right to go to school.  We are on a path to progress, and we can’t go back.  But, we have not yet reached our journey’s end.  And now, Oprah Winfrey has helped to redefine our destiny.

It is a change in destiny for our children here, in one of the most remote areas of this planet.  We are not unlike other rural villages in Zimbabwe or in Africa. Far from the city, we have more cattle than cars, and more lions than illuminations.  But, through the generosity of the Oprah Winfrey Foundation, a light now beams brightly on Matau and our neighboring villages.  For today, when people hear the word “Matau,”they do not see the shadows of poverty;they see the brightness of hope.  We have been given a great gift, and it is our responsibility to embrace it and be a shining example for all of Zimbabwe and all of Africa.

ZIMBABWE_94215Dr Tererai Trent shares a light moment with children from Matau Primary School
(Photo Credit: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/Save the Children)

But let me be clear on one point, this is the Matau Primary School project.  This is not the Tererai Trent school project.  This is not the Oprah Winfrey school project.  This is our project.  Yours and mine, working together with our partner, Save the Children. 

And, it is in that spirit of togetherness that our children will achieve greatness, whether they live their lives here in Matau, in Zimbabwe or venture to new lands.   For, as a very wise woman, my own mother, once told me, education is the only gateway out of poverty. 

What will we do together?

First, we’re going to build a new school with new latrines, new teachers’ houses and an administrative building so that children can have a safe place to learn. 

But we know that school buildings do not teach children, teachers do.  Teachers like our own beloved Mr. Gwaradzimba. 

In honor of him and others, we’re going to train our dedicated teachers and give them the skills to make them even better teachers.

We’re going to give our youngsters an early boost on learning, when their bodies and brains are growing rapidly, so that they will enter school prepared and ready to succeed. 

We’re going to help our children learn how to read by getting all of you involved in activities like reading days where we will devote an entire day to celebrate reading in our community, or reading buddies, where we will pair older students with younger students to mentor them. 

Now, some of you may be saying, Tererai, I do not know how to read or write, so I do not think I can help.  And to you, I say, there is a way.  Your worth may not be measured in the words you can read but it can certainly be measured in the words you can speak.

Ours is a culture rich with oral story telling.  Share our stories with young children.  It will pique their interest, and they will ask questions and want to learn more.  Ask your children what they have learned in school that day.  Show them your knowledge. 

For knowledge is power.  There is a common African saying that many of you may recognize.  “It takes two hands to crush a head lice.”  And, the same can be said for illiteracy.  It will take both hands – all of us, together – to crush it out and build a home of knowledge for our children.  You see, we are not just building a schooltogether, we are building a better future for our children and future generations. 

ZIMBABWE_94211Dr Tererai Trent shares a light moment with children from Matau Primary School
(Photo Credit: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/Save the Children)

So I close my remarks today with a special message for all of you:

To our government leaders, without you, we cannot achieve much.  Please recognize the importance of education and an early childhood development curriculum that benefits children.

To our community, be the light and example of how we can build something together.  We want people in Zimbabwe to say, “We want to be like Matau.” You have already taken that first step, by making more than 450,000 bricks for the Matau School buildings.  What an unbelievable and proud accomplishment!

To our teachers, I appreciate the role you’ve played in creating a learning environment for our children that help them realize their potential.  With more training, you’ll be even more effective.  You are the house of this community.

To our parents, encourage your children to realize their dream of being educated.  By building our home of knowledge here, our children will stay and become our teachers, our doctors, our leaders.

And, most importantly, to our children, ask questions.  Be curious.  Listen to your teacher.  Remember, many of your parents and grandparents cannot read and write.  They grew up in severe poverty without schooling. Will you choose the same route?  Or, will you take a different track and show the next generation what is possible.  And, even more importantly, what is achievable.

For we may be poor in material goods, but we will be rich in knowledge.

Tinogona! Tinogona! Tinogona!

It is achievable.

Thank you

Learning Starts Before School

Early childhood – from birth to age 8 – is the most critical time of growth and learning in a child’s life. Yet it seems more of the world’s focus is on helping children learn after they enter the classroom. That’s why it was great to see two major events this week highlighting the benefits of early childhood development and education.

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A Groundbreaking Day at Matau Primary School

Sophie headshot Sophie Hamandishe, Communications Officer, Save the Children Zimbabwe

Friday, July 15, 2011

Hurungwe District, Zimbabwe


Even before the sun was up, in the early morning chilly temperatures, we were on our way to to Matau, a 4 ½ hour trip from here in Harare, Zimbabwe.

We were going to the ground breaking for the Matau Primary School project. This is a Save the Children project funded through The Oprah Winfrey Foundation in honor of Tererai Trent, Oprah’s all-time favorite guest who attended Matau school in her early years. The project focuses on improving children’s education through rebuilding the school, and, more importantly, boosting literacy and early learning for children in Matau and neighboring villages.

Once we arrived at the school we were ushered to an open space behind an old classroom for the ground breaking. More than 1,000 people, half of them children, were gathering, waiting for the event to begin. You could feel the excitement. Parents, school children, Chief Matau and the guest of honor, the assistant district administrator, were all there. (This was not your ordinary day in Matau.)

The Headman, an elderly grey-haired man, led everyone in some blessings. To my surprise, the cultural blessing was simply having all man clapping their hands while the women sang.

The master of ceremonies, who is the deputy headmaster at the school, then called out to the children saying “Slogan” and all the children raised their little hands in excitement and chanted:

“Oprah! Auya nePower, (Oprah has brought education power), Oprah! Auya nePower. Save! Yauya nePower (Save the Children has brought education power), Save! Yauya nePower.”

Then, there were gymnastics, poems, songs and dances from parents and children.

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In his speech, the chairman of the Matau School development gave kudos to the parents for their commitment to the project. In just one and a half months, the parents molded all 450,000 bricks needed for the new school. (That’s a lot of sweat-equity!) All that remains is the curing of the bricks.

“The most important form of inheritance that we can leave for our children is education,” said the local counsellor for the area. He added that “today’s function is a reminder about one of Matau’s former students, who despite being based overseas, continues to be concerned about the welfare of children at her former school.”

“We want children to learn in a safe and child-friendly environment,” said the Mashonaland West Provincial education director. 

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Then, the district administrator, surrounded by school children, broke ground by digging a pick into the dirt at the construction site. Nearby, women and men were cheering and whistling in celebration.

After the closing remarks, it was time for us to join in the feast of “sadza,” (thick maize porridge), which was being cooked in black iron pots over the fire. This is the norm in our African culture. Food and celebration go hand in hand! 

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Learn how you can get a Project Tinogona T-shirt and help support the Matau Primary School Project

 

Tererai Trent&#39s Remarks On Matau Primary School Groundbreaking

Tererai podium

Dr. Tererai Trent, PHD , Educator and Humanitarian   

California

July 15, 2011


 As we break ground for the new Matau Primary School, memories come back to mind. Once again, I am that little girl who wanted to learn how to read and write, but was deprived of that opportunity because of poverty. Today, memories like that belong to the past, to be buried under the ground on which the school of my dreams will rise.

Today I also am reminded of what has brought us here in the first place. It is the idea that education is a universal human right that holds the key to breaking the cycle of poverty. Education shapes our current and future leaders, secures better livelihoods, and builds strong vibrant communities.
 
It was a thirst for education that started my journey that would take me thousands of miles away from Matau – a world where possibilities became realities.
 
As I achieved my dreams through the years, there was one more I harbored in my heart. It remains the greatest of all and I am seeing the beginning of it today. In this village will rise a school that will be more than just a building. It will be a school supported by trained teachers, new learning methods and literacy programs, ensuring quality education to over 4,000 children here and in nearby villages.
 
As I reflect on my life, I can’t help but remember that if the challenges were countless, so were the blessings. There is no greater testament to that than to know that in the years to come, the children here in Matau and those of our neighbors will be better readers, better writers, and better off for having started on the path to learning early in life.
 
I am grateful to Save the Children, which has always been a champion for children’s well-being and education in Africa. I am grateful to Oprah Winfrey for her support and generosity. This school is a gift from her and it is my great honor to hand it over to my beloved community.
 
I thank the teachers who are on the forefront to ensure the success of every child. I thank you Matau parents who stood by me and supported my dream for an education. To the children, you are the reason for my resolve to build a school here. My heart is filled with joy when I imagine you sitting in the classrooms of this school, starting your own journey to become the finest women and men you aspire to be. Make yourselves proud; show the world that “it is achievable.” Tinogona.

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Learn how you can get a Project Tinogona T-shirt and help support the Matau Primary School Project

Battling Crocodiles on the Way to School

Sophie headshotSophie Hamandishe, Communications Officer, Save the Children Zimbabwe

Monday, May 16, 2011

Mbire District, Zimbabwe


Most American school children think it’s a hassle just waking up early for the morning school bus. But that is nothing compared to the “hassles” for children setting out to school in northern Zimbabwe.

Out by the Angwa River in the northern part of Zimbabwe, children trekking to and from school daily must cross these crocodile-infested waters. You can imagine how much these children want to go to school to take such risks.

One such kid is 12-year-old Hardlife Kawara. Last year, on his way home from school, he and some friends were washing in the river when a crocodile attacked him. He told me his friends got scared and ran away. But his brave brother grabbed his waist and held on tight while the crocodile took a tighter hold of Hardlife’s leg and tried to pull him under the water. After a long struggle, the crocodile let go, but it took part of Hardlife’s leg off.

Hardlife now needs a new artificial leg as the one in this picture is now too small.

Hardlife, 12, after his crocodile attack with his prosthetic leg.
Photo Credit: Sophie Hamandishe

With orthopedic care and a prosthetic leg provided through Save the Children’s support, Hardlife is back on his feet and in good spirits despite his incredible ordeal. I am so inspired to see his determination. And, what is even more amazing is that after getting care, he returned home intent on going back to school. In the first three months of 2011 alone, seven children in this area were attacked by crocodiles.

Prosper Prosper, 8, another victim of a crocodile attack, is eager to return to school.
Photo Credit: Sophie Hamandishe

A sturdy foot bridge would help keep these children safe, but it is costs money that the community currently does not have. (A foot bridge would also allow kids to cross the river during the six months of the year that it floods.)

Local officials and education authorities are doing their best to come up with a solution. One idea is to build a new primary school in Komba village on the other side of the river so children don’t have to wade through the water. But until money can be raised for a new school, children will continue to face the river’s dangers.

In the meantime, Save the Children is holding workshops in the community to teach children how to protect themselves and avoid crocodile and lion attacks. I’ll save the lion stories for another day.

Pumpkins and Princes

Deergh  Deergha Narayan Shrestha, Senior Program Coordinator for Education, Save the Children Nepal

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Kathmandu, Nepal


Save the Children's Literacy Boost program aims to support young readers through fun activities. It is already underway in more than 10 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. As part of National Children's Book Week (May 2 to 7), we asked a few children enrolled in Literacy Boost to tell us about their favorite books. Here is what Himal, age 8, from Nepal told to Save the Children's Deergha Shrestha:

My favorite story is called "The Tale of Master Pumpkin."  Most of the kids from school and the village like it too. I really love the pictures, like the one where Pharsi walks through the jungle.  

In the story, Pharsi Badahu, or Pumpkin, is the son of poor Farsi parents. Right after he was born, they took one look at his ugly face and kicked him out of their home. Pharsi walked away and into the jungle.

Himal

One day on his journey, he played a game to marry a princess and he won! He married the beautiful princess. She wasn't happy with him but she had to accept him anyway.

After several days, both of them came home. They saw a beautiful flower in a tall tree. Pharshia Bahadu climbed up the tree to pick the flower, but he fell down and broke into pieces.

He looked like a smashed pumpkin. The princess got scared. And then a handsome prince arose from the pumpkin. They went home and lived happily ever after. I always like getting to the end when the pumpkin turns into a handsome prince.

 

Celebrate Reading: National Children’s Book Week

ARON H Aron Holewinski, Media and Communications Intern, and English literature student at Williams College (MA) 

Tueday, April 26, 2011

Westport, CT


Next week is National Children’s Book Week.  A time to celebrate those cherished and tattered books that many of us can recite by heart.

Reading has always been a part of my life.  As a kid, I eagerly awaited for my mom or grandmother to read me a book at bedtime. One of my favorites was “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” about a clever little mouse who asks a boy for a cookie and then keeps asking him for more things.

I remember stories of gallant knights and Western cowboys, buried treasure and Arabian nights. I loved closing my eyes and letting my imagination drift. Later, I seldom ventured without a book. On long car rides in the back seat, or during summer vacations by the pool – I always had a book at hand, and a story to get back to.

Ultimately, fiction is the stuff of life. We learn about each other and the ways we live through reading.

ARON on books

Given my own passion for reading, I am distressed to think that so many children cannot read for themselves. Reading is a fundamental skill that too many children go without.  And, when you don’t know how to read or write, words turn into a jumble of symbols. 

But, that’s where Save the Children’s Literacy Boost program comes in.  It’s a much-needed program to help young kids in grades one to four develop their language and reading skills both inside and outside the classroom. It works by engaging everyone in the community – from teachers, parents and even older children – to help kids learn through simple actions like reading aloud with a child.  

Kids in 10 countries in Africa and Asia are currently enrolled in the program, and, we’re seeing impressive preliminary results. Kids are reading more words per minute, they have a better understanding of what they’re reading and they are excited to showcase their reading skills with others.  
There’s no doubt that my family’s persistent reading aloud, and their steady encouragement to read influenced me.   

I hope other kids get to share that joy, too, so that when they open a book, letters will become words. And words will become stories. And characters will spring to life, opening up a whole new world to them.

Here are some easy ways you can celebrate reading and National Children’s Book Week: 

  1. Read to a child today. 
  2. Share your favorite children’s book in the comments section below. 
  3. Provide picture books for preschoolers in Afghanistan with an $80 donation.