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!

Interested in joining our community of sponsors? Click here to learn more.

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.

Interested in joining our community of sponsors? Click here to learn more.

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.”

Interested in joining our community of sponsors? Click here to learn more.

Stimulating Early Learners

Portrait 1

Hend Saad

Early Childhood Care and Development Coordinator, Save the Children Egypt

June 25, 2014

 

 

“I feel filled with happiness when I see a child smiling with that innocent look in their eyes,” said Hend Saad.

Hend joined Save the Children in Egypt in 2013 to support our Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) Program which provides families with access to safe places for their young children to learn play and make friends. Hend works directly with children on a daily basis, and is one of the lucky people who adores her job.  At  ECCD class

“I remember one day when I arrived at an ECCD class to monitor the activities, and a five year old boy Ahmed ran towards me after he noticed that I was holding a camera .He excitedly asked me to take a picture of him which I did. I was struck by his eloquence and couldn’t help thinking of children who did not have a safe place like that to develop, be stimulated and grow.

At ECCD  classWhen I returned home I thought again of Ahmed, and that comparison remained in my mind: Ahmed the confident kid who participates in ECCD, and other children who spend most of their time playing on the streets with little care and almost no stimulation from anyone. I realized that our mission in Egypt is not easy, and there are many challenges, but I will work when all children can join ECCD classes. It’s not only good for their development, it’s their right!”

 

Interested in joining our community of sponsors? Click here to learn more.

Prepare Your Family for Hurricanes

Children at Play

Hurricane Sandy devastated the northeastern seaboard in 2012. Make sure your family is ready to respond to hurricanes.

Hurricane season has officially started, so what better time to observe Hurricane Preparedness Week and ensure your family is ready to weather any storm?   Every year, an average of 10 tropical storms develop over the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico—and six of them are likely to become hurricanes.  These destructive storms can batter homes and whole communities with high winds, heavy rains, large waves, flooding and hail. Children are particularly vulnerable when disaster strikes, but the simple steps below can help protect your family.

 

10 Tips to Keep Children Safe in Hurricanes

PREPARE:

1. Talk about hurricanes. Spend time with your family discussing why hurricanes occur. Explain that a hurricane is a natural event and not anyone’s fault. Use simple words that even young children can understand.

2. Know your risk. Find out if you live in a hurricane evacuation area. Assess your risks from a storm surge, flooding or wind damage that may accompany a hurricane.

3. Practice evacuation drills. Practice your family evacuation plan so that, during an emergency, you can evacuate quickly and safely.

4. Learn your caregivers’ disaster plans. Ask about evacuation plans and if you would be required to pick up your children from the site or from another location.

5. Stay informed. Use a NOAA weather radio or listen to a local station on a portable, battery-powered radio or television.

 

DURING A HURRICANE:

6. Evacuate if instructed to do so. Evacuate if told to do so by local authorities or if you feel unsafe. If advised to evacuate, avoid flooded roads and watch for washed-out bridges. Local officials may close certain roads, especially near the coast, when effects of the hurricane reach the coast.

7. Stay indoors, if not evacuated. If you are not advised to evacuate, or are unable to do so safely, stay indoors, away from windows, skylights and doors. Continue to monitor weather reports and do not go outside until the storm has passed.

 

AFTER A HURRICANE:

8. Limit media exposure. Protect children from seeing too many sights and images of the hurricane, including those on the internet, television or newspapers.

9. Ensure utilities are available. Before children return to areas impacted by a hurricane, make sure utilities, such as electricity and plumbing, are restored and living and learning spaces (e.g., homes, schools, child care facilities) are free from physical and environmental hazards.

10. Involve children in recovery. After a hurricane, let children help in clean-up and recovery efforts in age-appropriate ways as this participation may increase their sense of control over the situation.

 

Additional Resources: The tips above are just the start of knowing how to prepare for and respond to hurricanes. Use the following resources to help ensure your family is ready for the next hurricane:

 

American Red Cross: Hurricane Preparedness. http://www.redcross.org/prepare/disaster/hurricane

National Hurricane Center: Hurricane Preparedness—Be Ready http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/prepare/ready.php

 

From the Philippines, With Love

The following blog first appeared on The Huffington Post.

_______________________

 

I met with amazing students at an elementary school in Tacloban, which suffered extensive damage during Typhoon Haiyan. Classes are now conducted in tents adorned with the children’s artwork. Photo credit: David Wardell for Save the Children
I met with amazing students at an elementary school in Tacloban, which suffered extensive damage during Typhoon Haiyan. Classes are now conducted in tents adorned with the children’s artwork. Photo credit: David Wardell for Save the Children

Love. If there is a single word that best describes what I witnessed during my visit to the Philippines last week, then that’s it. Love of family. Love of community. Love of people. Love of life.

 

So what better day than Valentine’s Day to celebrate the dedication, perseverance and, of course, love between the communities, families and children in the parts of the country that were devastated by Typhoon Haiyan? I would also like to mention a specific passion that came up over

Guatemala: Heroes against Hunger

It’s hard to reconcile the beautiful highlands of Guatemala, where I was in mid-January, with this stark fact: the child malnutrition rate here is the highest in the Western hemisphere. Roughly 5 out of every 10 Guatemalan children suffer from chronic malnutrition. All

Making a Community-Wide Change

DSC00180

 Natalie Roschnik, School Health and Nutrition Advisor

Niankorobougou, Malawi

January 9, 2013

Part 1

Today I visited Niankorobougou, a village 45 km South of Sikasso town, which in February 2013 was officially certified a “clean” village in which open-air defecation has been eradicated.  It truly has been a radical transformation from a year earlier when human feces could be found all over the village. P8210035

How did this village change so much in less than a year? The answer is Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS), an approach pioneered in Bangladesh that leads communities to feel disgust and commit to making important changes.

  1. Men, women and children led by Save the Children agents and trained community volunteers do the “walk of shame” around the village, noting the feces. Nothing is said but the person responsible feels shame.
  2. They map out the village in the dirt, using white chalk, sticks and leaves to mark the rivers, wells, school and maternity center, then putting little piles of ash to show where they found feces.
  3. The community volunteers lead a few simple activities that make them realize that by defecating in the open air, they are eating and drinking their own feces. The one which made them feel most disgust was when a plate of feces was placed next to a plate of rice. The flies immediately come and go from one to the other. The plate of rice was then offered around and everyone turned their head with disgust. They still made faces when telling me about it a year later!
  4. The community commits to eradicating open-air defecation and improving the hygiene situation in their village.

 

Part 2

 

In Niankorobougou, the community committed to building an additional 10 latrines (in addition to the 45 existing ones) and actually built 18. They also improved the 45 existing latrines to include soap or ash, a cover on the hole and a drain to let stagnating water out. Every well now has sticks planted around to hang the buckets (they used to leave them on the ground) and every Sunday the whole community cleans the village. The men remove grasses and rubbish and the women sweep.

 

Today in Niankorobougou, six months after the village was certified, all those I spoke to – the village elders, the women and sanitation committee members – still feel passionate about keeping their village clean. One woman says that when she visits other villages, she finds them really dirty. Everyone also says the village and children are healthier. There are fewer mosquitoes, fewer flies and fewer health problems, particularly malaria and diarrhea.

 

“Last year in July, we had at least 30 cases of malaria and this year, there have been fewer than 10,” they tell me. They are very proud of their village, and I was so impressed that all these changes came from the communities themselves with no external financial support.

 

Save the Children has implemented this approach in 20 communities realizing equal success in each one. In the next couple of years, the team hopes to scale it up to all 250 of the current sponsorship-supported communities.

A Recipe for Readiness

 Sarah Thompson head shotSarah Thompson, Communications Manager

Save the Children, USA

November 26, 2013

Basting turkeys, mashing potatoes, tossing salads…. Hours and hours go into that one delectable Thanksgiving meal shared with family and friends. Yet, when it comes to protecting the people we cherish most, can we say we’ve taken the same time to prepare?

Luckily, the holiday season provides great opportunities to take on emergency planning.  Take some time while the family’s all together to make a family emergency plan. You’ll be thankful you did.

6 Reasons Why the Holidays Make Emergency Planning Easy

1)    Family Time: Finally, a holiday break from crazy work and school schedules.  What better time to talk over different emergency scenarios, contacts and meeting locations with your kids. It will help them understand what to do and feel safe. Having trouble squeezing it in? Talk during the car ride to Grandma’s or during meal preparation, while every family member is present.

2)    The Big Game: If you’re watching the big football game you’re already in game-plan mode. Build off that team spirit and make planning fun. Give each child a nickname and create codenames for different parts of your emergency plan.  Then write it down and post it where all family members can find it, just like a playbook.

3)    Greeting Cards: We send friends holiday cards filled with well wishes and photos showing just how much the little ones have sprouted.  While you’re at it, create or update an ID card for each child. Include medication and allergy information, a current photo and emergency contact numbers and emails. Then share the cards with teachers and child care providers.

4)    Visitors: Whether your family is traveling or inviting company to your home turf, the holidays are the perfect time to identify your out-of-town emergency contact. This person can serve as a satellite if an emergency shuts down local communications and help your family reunite.  Have kids practice calling out-of-town contacts to wish them a happy holiday.

5)    Holiday Shopping:  Whether you’re buying a turkey and all the fixings or trying to hunt down that perfect gift for your kid, chances are you’ll be doing some shopping. While you’re out, stock up on key emergency supplies, including water and food for each family member, flashlights, batteries and a radio. Don’t forget kid-friendly items like diapers, fruit snacks and child-strength medications.

6)    An Annual Reminder: The best part about the holidays is that they happen every year! If you start associating emergency preparedness with the season you’ll be reminded to update and practice your plan every year.  Make emergency preparedness a family tradition.

Planning for emergencies doesn’t have to be overwhelming or rushed.  A little planning now can go a long way in protecting your family if disaster ever strikes.    Save the Children’s family emergency checklist can help you every step of the way.

Tis the season to Get Ready, Get Safe!