Educating the Forgotten Children of the DRC

Sarah press Sarah Press, Save the Children, Democratic Republic of Congo Education Coordinator

New York, New York

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


 Sarah is attending the launch of the 2011 Global Monitoring Report at Columbia University in New York City today on behalf of Save the Children. This year’s report examines the consequences of conflict on children’s education.

If you want to put names and faces to the millions of forgotten children in the world, you might start in the rolling hills of Kitchanga, north of Goma, in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC.) There you will find thousands of children living in poverty exacerbated by violence and a general lack of interest from the international community. You might start with Rafiki, a twelve-year-old child with a bright smile and a nearly unbelievable sense of optimism. 
 
Rafiki’s father died when he was just four years old. When he was 10, he and his mother fled from their home when one of the many active armed groups in the region tore through their village, burning homes and fields and destroying anything in their path. “I don’t know why they did it,” he told me sadly, “no one knows.” 
 
When the soldiers came, we saw and ran away. I was too scared. I thought I was going to die. Everyone ran. We came on foot with nothing, only our clothes that we were wearing. We came to stay with my uncle because we didn’t know what else to do,” Rafiki recalls. 
 
Rafiki’s uncle took them in, and his mother helps around the house, collecting water and wood and helping with the cooking. 
 
I wanted to go to school right away,” Rafiki said, “I was in fifth grade, and I wanted to continue but I couldn’t. My mother didn’t have any money to pay (the fees) and my uncle couldn’t help. Instead, I helped my mother with her chores. 
 
“Children who are not in school are treated like vagabonds, like bandits. Children who go to school are respected by the others and by the grownups,” he said. “I felt awful when I wasn’t in school.  I felt like I had no life.”
 
Last August, Rafiki and his mother heard that Save the Children was helping children who were not in school to enroll.  Rafiki was thrilled. He is now in his last year of primary school – a school in which the teachers have been trained through the support of Save the Children, and in which there are children’s clubs and recreational activities and schoolbooks. Rafiki comes to school every day.  He says that he feels better about himself and about his life, and he hopes that one day he’ll be a doctor.
 
“I love school!” he said, “I want to have a good life.”
 
He pointed to the secondary school next door to his primary school. “That’s where I’ll go next year.” 
 
But he probably won’t. 
 
Secondary school fees are as high as 5 to 10 times primary school fees, and Rafiki’s mother couldn’t pay those. The district of Kitchanga, while home to more than 20 Internationally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps and more than 40,000 displaced people, is not considered enough of an emergency to garner the kind of humanitarian support that would allow a child like Rafiki to continue his schooling. In Kitchanga, 24 rapes were reported during the weeks around Christmas; in another part of the country, that figure was in the hundreds. While 24 rapes would be a crisis in your neighbourhood or mine, in the DRC it pales in comparison to other emergencies. The children of Kitchanga are trapped in a grey area: they live in a context of instability, but not enough instability for the humanitarian community to consider them a priority. 
 
The funding for Save the Children’s education program in Kitchanga ran out at the end of February 2011, and there is no further funding in sight. Thanks to the support he’s already received Rafiki will make it to the end of primary school.  But what of the children who will come after him? Each child in Kitchanga who enrolls in school, each parent who enrolls his child in school, is making a statement of optimism: against all odds, they are insisting in a belief in the future of Kitchanga and the future of DRC, which most of the world seems to have forsaken.

 ______________________

Help Keep Children in Conflict Zones in School 

Haiti One Year On: Change That Makes A Difference

Shaye Gary Shaye, Haiti Country Director, Save the Children

Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

I’ve been working in Haiti since April and I’ve seen quite a bit of progress, especially over the past few months. 

But first before I share with you what we’ve doing to help Haiti’s children, let’s take a moment to reflect on the events of January 12, 2010.

As most people know at least 230,000 people died in the earthquake in a country that was tremendously poor even before the disaster. Indeed before the quake only about a third of Haiti’s population had access to safe drinking water, and half of Haiti’s children weren’t in school. 

The quake occurred here in Port-au-Prince – Haiti’s capital – the nerve centre of the heavily centralized country. Not only did the earthquake impact people in Port-au-Prince but also in places like Leogane, and along the south coast. Much of Haiti’s essential infrastructure was damaged, but I was especially shocked to learn that 4,000 schools were destroyed. It was a catastrophic event.

IMGP0268_64470A three-story building reduced to rubble.
Photo Credit: Kate Conradt 

Save the Children immediately responded to the earthquake. Because we’ve had a presence in Haiti for over thirty years we were able to mobilize staff both here and from around the world to mount one of the largest humanitarian responses in the agency’s 91-year history.  

Following the disaster, Save the Children focused on child protection, health, education, and livelihoods. We expanded our programs, and began work in Léogâne, as well as Jacmel, which is located along the southern coast where we had not previously operated.

Until recently there were 1.3 million people, about sixteen per cent of Haitians, living in tents. When I say tents we’re really speaking of plastic sheets and poles. These are not tents that people would take camping anywhere in the world. These are tents that are more like kite plastic held up by a few wooden poles. To believe it you really have to see the situation in which people are living. It is a standard below what I would say is sub-human.

HAITI-8552_71137Residents outside their tents at the Camp de Fraternite shelter camp.
Photo Credit: Lee Celano/Getty Images for Save the Children

During a strong hurricane there is absolutely no way that these plastic sheets and poles will withstand the wind and rain.

Beyond that another 500,000 people relocated to live with family and friends in rural areas. They’re part of the hidden earthquake-affected population that are not visible. They place a huge burden on their families in the rural areas who already had a hard time feeding themselves before the earthquake. Now these families have permanent houseguests who didn’t just come for a meal or a visit, but for the unforeseeable future.

The challenges that we face are multiple. The government, which was not strong before the earthquake, was further weakened since the disaster took the lives of many government workers as well as destroyed much of the existing infrastructure. Although NGOs have some successful partnerships with the government, more often than not the NGOs themselves either provide the service like, say, a health service, or it does not exist. All of us would certainly prefer that this was not the case, but this our reality.  

An example of that would be the fact that 80 per cent of the schools are privately owned in Haiti. These are not private schools like in Europe, the United States, Canada or Australia. These are schools whose owners operate them in the community as a service or small business. Many of these schools were destroyed last January, and many of the families whose children attended these schools can no longer afford the annual school fees of a few hundred dollars. As a result too many children are missing out on the chance of an education.

But when our team and I talk to Haitians, education is always the highest priority. It’s where they want to invest in their children’s future. It’s critical to them that these private schools open as soon as possible. That’s why in 2011 Save the Children will partner with 154 schools through teacher training and resource materials, enabling 45,000 children to get an education.

DSC_6683_74579Students file into a Save the Children school in Port-au-Prince.
Photo Credit: Susan Warner

On top of the quake in late October cholera came to Haiti starting in the Central Plateau, and has now expanded throughout the country. As of today, there have been 3,600 deaths as well as over 150,000 confirmed cholera cases.  

But these are just the reported cases. Many people living in rural areas don’t have access to cholera treatment centres, where literally within one to three days a person who has cholera can walk out healthy. 

The tragedy though is that we can save lives from cholera, but then people walk back into the conditions which are breeding grounds for the potentially deadly bacteria – dirty water, poor sanitation, and crowded conditions – all of which contribute to the rapid spread of cholera, and if left unchecked, can be deadly, especially to young children.

R10-HA___2021_81255Will, 3-years-old, washes his hands at a Save the Children health clinic.
Photo Credit: Susan Warner

Nevertheless Save the Children is saving lives through our tensoon to be sixteen cholera treatment units, and also through our water and sanitation community outreach programs where we promote safe hand washing, and basic sanitation practices. While these are simple practices we need to reinforce the messages and repeat them over and over, while also addressing basic sanitation issues. 

However, in a country where only half the people have completed fifth grade, it’s a challenge to get our message out about safe sanitation practices.

One year since the earthquake we understand why some people would be disappointed with the slow pace of recovery in Haiti, and why things are not better.  All of us working here would very much like to accomplish more. But it’s important to remember that things were bad in Haiti – the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation – long before the quake.

Nevertheless we see progress. These past weeks I have visited programs together with some of our Save the Children supporters from around the world. I was in Leogane – the epicentre of the earthquake – where one could see rubble clearance, evidence of rebuilding, people restoring family assets, and refurnishing their houses. There is definitely a commitment and steps being taken here to help rebuild lives. 

That said the process has been slow.  All of us would admit to that – all of us who work cooperatively within Haiti’s NGO community. Indeed after I finish writing this blog I will attend the weekly meeting of NGOs where we share what’s working, what’s not working, and what type of support we need. We ask ourselves what we can do collectively to improve the situation. 

I’m proud to say that since January 12, 2010, Save the Children has extended a lifeline to over 870,000 Haitians – more than half of them children. Today we continue to work with local partners, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health, and others to bring basic services to the Haitian population.

I believe in our work in Haiti. I believe we do make a difference. On Wednesday I visited the Eddie Pascal School – a school that was destroyed during the quake. Now children study in tents. In schools like these, where we provide assistance like teacher training, it is a delight to see Haiti’s children receive an education. And with all of the constraints that we face, I am pleased when I see one more child in school, and another child receiving quality medical care as well as lives being saved at one of our cholera treatment units. While seeing progress on a one-by-one basis may seem slow, it is precisely the kind of change that does make a difference.

R10-HA___1759_80097Rose, 10-years-old, attends a Save the Children school in Leogane.
Photo Credit: Susan Warner

________________

Learn more about our recovery response to the earthquake in Haiti.

Help Us Respond to the Haiti Earthquake Recovery. Please Donate Now.

 

Not Your Average Teddy Bear

Dhheadshot Dave Hartman, Save the Children, Internet Marketing and Communications Specialist

Westport, CT

Monday, December 6, 2010

 

My favorite stuffed animal from my childhood was a light-blue bear that I dubbed, Bear. Not the most creative name but I was nine-months-old so cut me some slack.

Bear was my best friend for two reasons. One, he always took my side in an argument with my mother. And two, he was always open for a hug. 

The ever-innovative geniuses at IKEA are behind a new initiative to make stuffed animals not just cute, cuddly and good listeners, but advocates of universal education. 


 

In real life they don’t actually make signs, give speeches or march on Washington but the impact is just as powerful. (Disclaimer: No, they are not alive either.)

For every soft toy sold IKEA donates 1 euro to Save the Children and UNICEF to support our education programs. 

In October, four IKEA employees and two IKEA customers traveled to Vietnam and Bangladesh, respectively, to see first hand the problems facing children, their families and communities and the difference that the money raised by the IKEA soft toy campaign is making.

To say the least, they were all wowed: 


 

 


 

Here are some quotes from the video that capture the impact that education can make in children’s lives.

“Investing in education sounds fantastic, but it’s not until you’re here and you see on the ground the difference its making and the positive ripple effect that it has on communities that you understand the difference that’s being made.”

                                             -Keith McLeish, IKEA Edinburgh  

Our children are studying, so their prospects are so much better.They are mixing with good people and are confident and safer.”

                                             -Mother of Bangladeshi student 

“Even to get to school some kids have to travel 10-15 kilometers, and it’s not by car. They have to walk. So even getting to school is a challenge…If that challenge is met by the children then it should be met by us.

                                              -Nigel McGarry, IKEA Belfast

So in honor of my old chum Bear, who now resides in the attic, join the soft toy movement and help every child realize their right to education.

Moscow: From &#147The Bourne Supremacy&#148 to Babies and Toddlers

 Katherine Brown Katherine Brown, Information and Documentation Specialist, Education and Child Development department

Moscow

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

 

 Moscow is known for its architecture, its ballet, and as the setting for “The Bourne Supremacy.” But this week, Moscow turned its attention to the world's babies and toddlers, when it hosted the first-ever global conference on Early Childhood Development and Education.

More than 50 ministers of education, finance and health attended the UNESCO-sponsored event, designed to elevate the need for countries to invest in early learning opportunities globally, and to engage them in committing political will and resources to early childhood development programs.

Research shows that children with early learning opportunities tend to do better in school and in life.  According to a 2006 UNICEF report, more than 30 governments had established national early childhood development policies, and more than 70 countries had national commissions coordinating these programs.  Yet, more than half of the world’s governments do not have any policy or mechanism in place for early childhood development.

So you can see why there is a need to focus on early learning globally, beginning at infancy.

Save the Children is here to share some of our learning and to learn from others, too.

Today, Save the Children’s senior director of Early Childhood Development Pablo Stansbery, PhD., spoke on a panel, which examined early childhood education in emergency and post-emergency settings

 
Pablo Moscow Panel

Here are a few of the points that Pablo shared:
 

  • Early learning experiences matter for young children, especially in emergency situations, and social interactions are key. Young children interpret new experiences through interaction with caregivers.
  • When governments are developing emergency preparedness and response plans (EPRP) as well as Disaster Risk Reduction plans (DRR), these plans should include an early childhood development component. 
  • In order for these plans to be effective, governments must provide guidance and training for caregivers and emergency responders on meeting the needs of children.
  • Nepal, for example, has held education in emergencies training sessions that included an early childhood development component. The government also included early childhood development in its national emergency response policy, and it provided kits for use in safe and secure areas of emergency settings tailored to young children. Those kits contained games, stories, reading and play materials for babies and toddlers, as well as for school-aged children.
  • In emergencies, all sectors must be integrated to provide care for infants and toddlers, not just the education sector. In fact, health is also critical – and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) elements in particular are important.  For example, families and caregivers need clean water to wash and sanitize toys.   
  • Two helpful resources for more information: Even in Chaos: Education in times of Emergency by Kevin M. Cahill, M.D.; and a special section in the July/August 2010 issue of Child Development, which focuses on the developmental impact on young children after emergencies.

The three-day conference ended today with the adoption of a framework of action, which outlines a number of challenges that must be tackled to achieve global Early Childhood Development and Education goals. These include addressing the need for greate r political commitment, public funding, and external support and effective delivery of services – a framework of goals that does not require a great super agent like Jason Bourne to tackle. Just committed governments and communities working together.

Reading: The Spark that Lights up Children’s Eyes


Cec Cecilia Ochoa, Senior Specialist for Basic Education & Literacy

Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Imagine what your life would be like if you weren’t able to read. What basic tasks would you be unable to do? What simple pleasures would you be unable to enjoy? 

Reading is a skill many of us take for granted. But for millions of children in the countries and communities where Save the Children works, reading remains a struggle.   

Parents typically have little time or training to help children learn the alphabet, or to make the link between the words they speak and the letters on a page. Books are few and far between, and are written in the school language, which is different from what children speak at home.   

Teachers without training often teach reading in the same way they were taught—mainly through drills and repetition, with limited time spent on teaching key skills or on ways to learn as you read text.    Save the Children’s Literacy Boost program promotes training teachers and creating a culture of reading outside of the classroom. Photo Credit: Brent Stirton for Save the Children

Save the Children’s Literacy Boost program promotes training teachers and
creating a culture of reading outside of the classroom. 

Photo Credit:  Brent
Stirton for Save the Children

In 2007, Save the Children set out to measure how well children in the early grades in Nepal, Malawi and Ethiopia could read. The results were startling.  We found an alarming number of children unable to read even a single word in a text or passage.  

We decided we needed to do something to change this. That’s how Save the Children developed Literacy Boost, our signature program for helping children learn to read. Here is how it works: 

Through Literacy Boost, children in the early grades are given opportunities to practice their reading skills both in-school and in their homes and communities. Book Banks of storybooks in the local language are provided so that children have materials to read other than their textbooks.  

Community volunteers also are mobilized to conduct weekly Reading Camps for children, where children can listen to stories, read books, and play games to improve their reading skills. Parents are coached on activities they can do with their children at home to improve language skills, even if they are not literate themselves. 

Teachers are trained in strategies for teaching the five skills needed for reading. And children’s reading skills are measured at the start and end of the school year to track their progress and identify where they still need more help.   

During a recent trip to Nepal, I was heartened by how the schools and communities had embraced the program.

“Before Literacy Boost started here in Kailali, there were no storybooks for children available in the community,” Anita, a Reading Camp facilitator told me. “Now, they have story books and fables in both Nepali and Tharu. This has brought the habit of reading to the community. Even parents are more interested about reading now.” 

The results are encouraging. In a year’s time, children who participated in Literacy Boost had increased their reading scores significantly compared to those from non-assisted schools.  

But it is the spark that lights up children’s eyes when they talk about books that especially inspires me.

“I like the stories, especially the one with the monkey,” said Kamal, age 7, one of Literacy Boost’s participants in Nepal. “When I borrow a book to take home, I can read it to my whole family. We can all enjoy the story together.”

Ishwor Khatry, Save the Children’s tireless education coordinator in Kailali, shares my sentiment. He said, “Through this program, we can really see that we are making a difference.”

“If Education Can Still Go Forward, Haiti Has a Chance”


Susan-Warner-in-Haiti-2010 Susan Warner-Lambert
Manager of Photography

June 28th, 2010

Port-au-Prince, Haiti

I recently returned from my first trip to Haiti. I took the photo below at the École Eddy Pascal School in Port-au-Prince. Their school building was destroyed in the January 12th earthquake. With the help of Save the Children, the school is now set up in several tents.

I chose to highlight this picture from their recess activities because I like the action and composition, but also because it represents to me what is right about Haiti. There is so much needed in infrastructure and resources, but as long as education can still go forward for the next generation, then Haiti has a chance.

I encourage you to post your comments and/or questions!

Haiti jump roping


Photo credit: Susan Warner – Save the Children 2010

Learn more about our emergency response to the earthquake in Haiti.

Using Art Education and Therapy to Help Preschoolers in Mozambique Fight the Effects of HIV/AIDS

Veronica Photo Veronica

Guemulene Village, Gaza District, Mozambique

June 15, 2010

In
the rural areas of Mozambique where Save the Children works, almost all
children have been affected by the AIDS crisis, losing family members
and teachers to the disease.   

Save the Children, through funding from the Charles Engelhard Foundation and the 2007 Idol Gives Back
TV fundraising event, began piloting an innovative program using visual
arts to help give children a voice to their emotions about difficult
events in their every day lives in rural Mozambican preschools or
“escolinhas” in 2008.

As part of the “Healing and Education through Art” or HEART program, preschool teachers participated
in three training sessions. Monica, a
preschool teacher, shares her thoughts about how the training has helped improve her work with children:

“Children need to feel free to express whatever happens to them – good or bad.  But I cannot force them to express their feelings or thoughts.  Still, I am surprised at how much young children remember what they see and hear, but do not have the language to express themselves. 

We created a space at our preschools with art activities for children. Through art, children can finally express themselves and things they remember seeing and hearing.

Let me tell you about a little girl in our preschool named Gracindabel. When she first arrived at school, she would not speak or participate in activities with other classmates. She would often urinate in the classroom. During art activities, she would break her pencil or start drawing violently on her paper.  

My training had taught me to recognize the signs of a child who needs special attention. I was patient with Gracindabel, and over time, during the art activities, I noticed that she started to talk more with her classmates, participate in group work, and stopped going to the bathroom in the classroom. 

One day, she made a doll out of clay with one arm. She then went on to tell me a detailed imaginary story about a girl whose arm was bitten off by the crocodile that lives in the river behind her home. This was such a remarkable change from a child who started out afraid to speak or participate in class!

Before the teacher trainings, when I saw a child like Gracindabel who didn’t want to participate, talk or play, I would just let that child be and not do anything. Now, I have learned ways to find out what’s wrong with the child, helping that child to try to resolve her problems. I like my job so much now and have a lot of fun with the children.”

Using Art Education and Therapy to Help Preschoolers in Mozambique Fight the Effects of HIV/AIDS: Part Two


Monica photo (2) Monica

Chizavanae Village, Gaza District, Mozambique

June 15, 2010

In
the rural areas of Mozambique where Save the Children works, almost all
children have been affected by the AIDS crisis, losing family members
and teachers to the disease.   

Save the Children, through funding from the Charles Engelhard Foundation and the 2007 Idol Gives Back
TV fundraising event, began piloting an innovative program using visual
arts to help give children a voice to their emotions about difficult
events in their every day lives in rural Mozambican preschools or
“escolinhas” in 2008.

As part of the “Healing and Education through Art” or HEART program, preschool teachers participated
in three training sessions. Monica, a
preschool teacher, shares her thoughts about how the training has helped improve her work with children:

“Through the training, I learned how to listen to what children say,
and how to ask questions about what they draw or paint. I learn a lot
from doing this.

For instance, one day this past March during art class, one of my
students, Jameson, decided to draw what he had done the previous
weekend.  He began to draw a cross and flowers, which led to a
discussion among his classmates.  I heard him tell the other children
that his mother had died that weekend and his drawing showed where he
had spent his Saturday.  While talking, Jameson added sand on his
drawing to make the shape of a grave.  And, then, one of his classmates
picked a flower to place on top of the grave as a memorial. 

My training also taught me that it is okay to allow children like
Jameson to express sad things in their life and it’s not always bad to
draw about sad things.”

“Ugly Betty” Art Auction Raises Money for School in Mali

America_event_headshot

Michelle Morrison, Save the Children, internet communications intern

New York, New York 

April 12, 2010 

 It was nothing short of magical.

America_ferrera At the request of America Ferrera, a roomful of people quietly knelt to the floor to watch a video depicting the small village in Mali, Africa where America is working with Save the Children to build a school. 

“We’re talking about four walls,” she said to the crowd, as she told the story of the people she met and the things she saw on her trip to Mali. 

America stood tall on a small platform, looking over the crowd and insisting that every child has the right to an education, especially in Mali, where more than nearly 800,000 children do not attend school. (Pictured at right, America at the auction. Photo Credit: Susan Warner / Save the Children)

Her voice swelled and cracked as she described how much the people of Mali have done for themselves already, and how simple it is to give them the hand up they need: four walls, desks, teachers, sanitation facilities. 

Nearly 200 people were at the Axelle Fine Arts Gallerie in New York City on Monday night for an art auction of paintings featured in an episode of ABC’s “Ugly Betty.” The money raised by the event will go to support a school that America and Save the Children are working to build in Mali. 

America, a Save the Children Artist Ambassador for education, was joined by fellow cast members Daniel Eric Gold, Mark Indelicato, Judith Light, Ana Ortiz and Vanessa Williams. 

America_ferrera_auction Cast members stood atop a small platform and played auctioneers, joking with the crowd and egging on the bidders.  

Pictured at right, Mark Indelicato and Ana Ortiz, who play Betty’s nephew Justin and sister Hilda on the show, played to the bidders, saying, “Ten years from now, when we’re doing the second Ugly Betty movie, this will be worth a lot!” (Photo Credit: Susan Warner / Save the Children)

By the end of the night, nine paintings were sold by live and silent auction. Some cast members lingered afterward, mingling with guests, signing autographs and nibbling on the hors d’oeuvres donated by KGFare Catering & Events. 

From where I stood near the entrance, it was easy to see and feel the enthusiasm and generosity of everyone who attended. Even the coat room attendants donated their tips to Save the Children at the end of the evening. As the room emptied, I looked around at all the iconic images of America as Betty Suarez and I thought to myself, “This is what it really means to be a star.”

View the slideshow below featuring photos from America Ferrera's visit to Mali.