Rian Celebrates the First Graduation Event

6a0120a608aa53970c01b7c82c71be970b-120wi Farida Rambu Wodji

Sponsorship Program Assistant

Save the Children in Indonesia

March 31, 2016

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Proud ECCD graduates perform for friends & classmates at their graduation ceremony

Rian stood straight like a winner. Looking content and composed, a kataupa, or traditionally-woven Sumbanese cloth, adorned and towered on his head.

Today, this clear-eyed six-year-old transformed into a little Sumbanese warrior while celebrating his graduation from our Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) center, where sponsorship funds support the physical, cognitive, socio-emotional and language skills of children ages 4 – 6. A kito bage, a typical Sumbanese machete with a wooden handle, hung neatly across his left side. He exuded pride.
His face beamed with joy and his eyes lit up as he held the ECCD graduation certificate awarded to him by the chairman of the center’s parents group. Together with 17 other ECCD students from his sub-district in West Sumba, Indonesia, Rian shared in the joy of being in the first graduating class from this ECCD center.

In their traditional outfits, the children looked and felt like celebrities as they walked on grass mats and the camera rolled to capture their proudest moment. They constantly looked down with admiration at their graduation pins, which displayed their names and photographs. The kids felt so attached to their pins that they didn’t want to take them off even long after the festivities had concluded.

For many children, this graduation day is very special: an achivemenent to celebrate and be thankful for. This special moment is not only celebrated by Rian and his classmates, but also by kids at 31 other ECCD centers in the district where our Sponsorship program is implemented to ensure more children enjoy learning and provide them with the necessary stimulation during this golden age of their development.

As this is a first experience for most parents, the graduation is an eye-opening moment. Parents came to better understand that ECCD is not just a place for play, but is an important learning space for their kids. Parents felt proud and even mobilized their own resources to support the celebration. “ECCD graduation is a success that marks his passing into a new stage of his development,” one parent said of her child, with a huge smile. Village leaders and other community members also got involved with an increased sense of belonging and connection to the ECCD centers in their area.

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Six-year-old Rian dressed up as a Sumbanese warrior to celebrate his graduation

As a Save the Children staff member working directly with the community, I found my involement fulfilling. Although our work is hard, it is rewarding. I push my limits to go beyond my work and to give a little more, creating special bonds with children and parents.

The graduation celebration has become a great place to build rapport with children and teachers. The joy I saw in children like Rian inspires me to continue my work with a song in my heart.

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

Urbanization, Food Security, and Youth Employment

 

Patricia Langan crop_1Patricia Langan

 

Project Director, International Programs, Department of Hunger & Livelihoods

Shawnee Hoover

Associate Director, Global Policy & Advocacy, Save the Children

 

A stunning fact: nearly 70 percent of the world's population will live in cities by 2050.

As our primary goal is to increase food and nutrition security for all people, we must consider the ability of youth to forge productive livelihoods so they can feed themselves and their families.
 
Youth today are highly mobile. According to the FAO, they represent the main share of migrants worldwide. Many are moving from rural to urban areas and leaving behind the traditional agriculture practiced by their families. Today’s youth make up the largest generation in human history, representing a quarter of the world’s population under age 24.
 
In understanding the ramifications of youth migration from agriculture, it’s important to consider the full nexus of youth, urbanization, and food security.
 
In rural environments, youths play an important role in the food security of their households and communities through on-farm as well as off-farm employment. Many youth are seeking new roles as innovators in agriculture, be it small-scale or commercial, rather than inheriting the traditional way of agricultural life.
 
With higher education levels, better literacy and numeracy, and more technological facility, youth can contribute to improving productivity, running farms more like businesses, and increasing profits. They can help the growth of markets, value chains, and commercial farming, and strengthen ancillary non-farm industries in rural areas.
 
To the extent we work with rural youth to increase farm productivity and build out livelihood opportunities in ancillary industries, more youth will want to stay in their rural communities rather than migrate to cities. In places such as Ethiopia, Mali, Nepal, and Nicaragua, Save the Children is doing such work.
 
Still, those youth with different aspirations than their parents will continue to look for non-farm employment in rural districts or migrate to find it in cities. This is completely rational. Youth in urban areas often have greater opportunities to access education, technology, and infrastructure than rural youth.
 
Working in 120 countries, Save the Children witnesses the push and pull effect on youth mobility. On the one hand, youth flee when they see life on the farm as an economic dead-end. On the other hand, they are attracted by the promise of cities for economic and social opportunity.
 
A comparison of seven country studies found that migration improves household food security. Similarly, recent studies in Bangladesh and Nigeria found youth migration had a net positive impact on food security.
 
Many youth migrate seasonally, and return home again to help with planting or harvest. When they migrate for wage jobs, they send remittances that help rural families’ food security. The remittances and increased skills brought back to rural areas through youth migration fuel positive impacts on poverty reduction and food security. We have to accept that migration is inevitable, whether temporary or permanent.
 
However, youth migration presents significant risks as well. Youth who migrate are more vulnerable in terms of personal safety and because they often enter into informal sectors with few social protections. Preventing and addressing inequalities and the dismal welfare of children and youth living in urban slums must also be part of the equation.
 
More research is needed to understand why and how youth migrate so policies and programs can better support the positive impacts of migration, limit the negative ones, and ensure the net effect is positive for food security in both rural and urban areas.
 
Research can also be helpful in enabling youth to get the education and training they need to improve the management and productivity of farms, investments of remittances, and help those who migrate do so successfully so as not to contribute to the growth of urban slums.
 
One approach is to focus on youth themselves, particularly on at-risk adolescents who are key to tackling malnutrition, by increasing their capacity to save and manage money, find decent jobs, and build their own businesses. For example, in the largest cities in Asia, Save the Children is providing migrant youth with trainings, job linkages, micro-business planning, and access to capital through its Skills to Succeed program. These skills better prepare youth whether they stay in urban areas or migrate back to the countryside.
 
One important step the U.S. Congress can take right now is to enact the Global Food Security Act, which requires the United States to pursue a coordinated strategy across 11 federal agencies on global food and nutrition security. Channeling that level of concerted investment will be a critical step in helping to end hunger and malnutrition by 2030 while ensuring no one is left behind, including adolescent girls and youth living in poverty.  

This post was created in coordination with the Chicago Council 2016 Global Food Security Symposium and originally appeared on The Chicago Council for Global Affairs website. 

 

#TravelTuesday: A Transformational Visit to Rural Peru

NKpic

Nicolle Keogh

Social Media Marketing Coordinator, Save the Children US

Andahuaylas, Peru

February 2, 2016

This past fall, just as children in the United States were settling into their back-to-school routines, I had the privilege of travelling to Andahuaylas, Peru to visit one of Save the Children’s education programs. Nestled into the Andes Mountains, the community I visited is just one of many in the country that have programs that are supported or led by Save the Children. 

Class

Third grade students actively participate in reading & writing class

Literacy Boost is one of our signature programs that’s implemented worldwide to create a culture of reading both inside and outside the classroom. In mountainous and poorly urbanized Peru where the lifestyles of most people revolve around tending to livelihoods in fields and gardens, 1.9 million people cannot read or write. The 150 elementary children who I met all came from working-class families in a region with one of the highest illiteracy rates in the country.

To make matters more challenging, the native Quechua language remains the mother tongue that children are born and raised speaking in this region of Peru. But as time goes on, most Quechua speakers must learn Spanish in order to function in their own country. This means that the students that I met—most of whom are the first in their families to attend school— are learning lessons in Spanish that their illiterate, Quechua-speaking parents are unable to help them with. You can imagine the challenge in trying to conquer illiteracy despite the many cultural differences between generations!

Literacy Boost focuses on 3 core methods to achieve success:        

  1. Measuring kids’ reading skills: children are given periodic, standardized tests to track their learning progress
  2. Training teachers to help children learn: we help teachers keep their children engaged and interested by fostering learning through games, songs and stories in literacy lessons
  3. Getting parents and communities involved in learning: by providing books, libraries and supplies, we inspire students to continue learning outside of the classroom
IMG_0818

Student Gerardo shows us his designated "reading corner" in his family's home

I spent the first few days of my trip observing Peru’s Literacy Boost program in action, including shadowing classrooms, attending teacher training, and even getting the privilege of being welcomed into one student’s home to check out his “reading corner”—a dedicated space in a quiet part of his family’s home where he can do his homework. By the end of the week, it was time for the main event: On September 10th, which is World Literacy Day, Save the Children, in partnership with Global Nomads Group and Students Rebuild, connected the Literacy Boost students in Peru with two high schools in United States for a virtual exchange. The live webcast, which you can view here, was conducted to expose children on both sides of the world to cultural norms and differences as well as facilitate a conversation about the importance of literacy.

At the culmination of the webcast, my Save the Children team members and I distributed hundreds of homemade bookmarks that supporters made as part of the Students Rebuild Literacy Challenge: for each bookmark made, our partners at Students Rebuild donated $1 to our Literacy Boost program to help youth around the world learn to read and write.

IMG_1293

Students in Peru participate in a live, virtual exchange with students from the U.S.

I feel so fortunate to have been able to travel and witness Save the Children’s impact on such a special group of young and impressionable children. Over 5 days, I observed first-generation students from a rural, impoverished village in the Andes become captivated in reading and spelling lessons. Watching them light up in the classroom and become fully engaged in their lessons, I witnessed not only the influence of Save the Children’s programs in the most remote of areas, but also the enthusiasm that education sparked in these children.

#TravelTuesday: A Transformational Visit to Rural Peru

Nicolle Keogh6a0120a608aa53970c01b7c8487081970b-120wi

Social Media Marketing Coordinator, Save the Children US

Andahuaylas, Peru

February 2, 2016

This past fall, just as children in the United States were settling into their back-to-school routines, I had the privilege of travelling to Andahuaylas, Peru to visit one of Save the Children’s education programs. Nestled into the Andes Mountains, the community I visited is just one of many in the country that have programs that are supported or led by Save the Children.

Class
Third grade students actively participate in reading & writing class

Literacy Boost is one of our signature programs that’s implemented worldwide to create a culture of reading both inside and outside the classroom. In mountainous and poorly urbanized Peru where the lifestyles of most people revolve around tending to livelihoods in fields and gardens, 1.9 million people cannot read or write. The 150 elementary children who I met all came from working-class families in a region with one of the highest illiteracy rates in the country.

To make matters more challenging, the native Quechua language remains the mother tongue that children are born and raised speaking in this region of Peru. But as time goes on, most Quechua speakers must learn Spanish in order to function in their own country. This means that the students that I met—most of whom are the first in their families to attend school— are learning lessons in Spanish that their illiterate, Quechua-speaking parents are unable to help them with. You can imagine the challenge in trying to conquer illiteracy despite the many cultural differences between generations!

Literacy Boost focuses on 3 core methods to achieve success:

  1. Measuring kids’ reading skills: children are given periodic, standardized tests to track their learning progress
  2. Training teachers to help children learn: we help teachers keep their children engaged and interested by fostering learning through games, songs and stories in literacy lessons
  3. Getting parents and communities involved in learning: by providing books, libraries and supplies, we inspire students to continue learning outside of the classroom
IMG_0818
Student Gerardo shows us his designated “reading corner” in his family’s home

I spent the first few days of my trip observing Peru’s Literacy Boost program in action, including shadowing classrooms, attending teacher training, and even getting the privilege of being welcomed into one student’s home to check out his “reading corner”—a dedicated space in a quiet part of his family’s home where he can do his homework. By the end of the week, it was time for the main event: On September 10th, which is World Literacy Day, Save the Children, in partnership with Global Nomads Group and Students Rebuild, connected the Literacy Boost students in Peru with two high schools in United States for a virtual exchange. The live webcast, which you can view here, was conducted to expose children on both sides of the world to cultural norms and differences as well as facilitate a conversation about the importance of literacy.

At the culmination of the webcast, my Save the Children team members and I distributed hundreds of homemade bookmarks that supporters made as part of the Students Rebuild Literacy Challenge: for each bookmark made, our partners at Students Rebuild donated $1 to our Literacy Boost program to help youth around the world learn to read and write.

IMG_1293
Students in Peru participate in a live, virtual exchange with students from the U.S.

I feel so fortunate to have been able to travel and witness Save the Children’s impact on such a special group of young and impressionable children. Over 5 days, I observed first-generation students from a rural, impoverished village in the Andes become captivated in reading and spelling lessons. Watching them light up in the classroom and become fully engaged in their lessons, I witnessed not only the influence of Save the Children’s programs in the most remote of areas, but also the enthusiasm that education sparked in these children.

Tax Reform or Governance Revolution?

Andrew wainer

Andrew Wainer

Director of Policy Research in the Public Policy & Advocacy Department 

Washington, DC

 

“Taxes formalize our obligations to each other…They set the boundaries of what our governments can do. In the modern world, taxation is the social contract.”Aaron Schneider, State Building and Tax Regimes in Central America

Improving taxation in developing countries to enable them fund their own development is now so central to U.S. foreign assistance rhetoric that last month USAID Assistant Administrator Alex Their penned an article subtitled, “Why Taxes Are Better Than Aid.”

This follows the July announcement of the Addis Tax Initiative at the United Nations’ International Conference on Financing for Development where the United States and other donors pledged to double the amount of assistance for taxation in developing nations.

By most accounts, the potential fiscal benefit of increasing taxation – called domestic resource mobilization (DRM) in development parlance – is huge. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund find that in 2012, DRM in emerging and developing nations generated a combined $7.7 trillion.

This dwarfs average annual foreign assistance outlays, which in recent years have averaged about $135 billion.

DRM: A Cornerstone of Governance

USAID cites El Salvador as emblematic of its DRM work. Through its partnership with the Salvadoran Ministry of Finance, USAID states it was able to help El Salvador increase its tax revenue by $660 million per year. Part of this increased revenue was subsequently channeled to health, education, and social services.

Tax reform can increase the amount of money for development, which is important in its own right, but issues of fair and transparent taxation can also generate revolutionary transformations in governance. Nevertheless, the governance component of tax reform and administration is often viewed as a secondary component in discussions of DRM.

Typically, DRM analysis takes a dollars and cents perspective focused on increasing the size of the fiscal pie. As the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) states, “The traditional approach to tax reform was and is technical.”

But we know from our own history about the centrality of taxation to a just social compact between citizens and the state. The American Revolution was fueled by a 1773 Boston tax protest against the British Empire. Taxation was seen as a central component of unjust governance.

And in recent months a tax corruption scandal in Guatemala led to the forced resignation and jailing of a sitting president and the “Guatemalan Spring” – a surge in citizen engagement unseen in the country’s modern history.

Even as U.S. foreign assistance agencies scale-up DRM assistance with a technical emphasis on enlarging government revenues for development, the U.S. is also increasing support for organizations that – though not their original intent – are sparking historical citizen revolutions through their revelations of governmental tax corruption.

The International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala

The International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG by its Spanish-language acronym) was created jointly in 2006 by the United Nations and Guatemala to strengthen the rule of law through, “Investigation of crimes committed by members of illegal security forces and clandestine security structures.”

Since it began its work, CICIG has uncovered a series of government corruption cases that could anchor the plots of several Hollywood thrillers: government assassinations of escaped prisoners and former special forces officers running drug-trafficking rings from jail are two examples of cases that CICIG has investigated.

But it was CICIG’s 2015 revelations of a customs tax corruption network in Guatemala’s tax agency that triggered protests that eventually brought 100,000 Guatemalans into the street in a single day – an event labeled by some as the largest street protest in the country’s history. It also led to the resignation and jailing of a sitting president – also unheard of in recent Guatemalan history.

The outcry over the customs tax scandal was the tip of an iceberg – the result of centuries of economic and political injustice, widespread poverty, and deep inequality exemplified by the county’s dysfunctional tax system. Guatemala has one of the lowest tax revenue rates in the world. Much of the economy is conducted in the (often untaxed) informal sector and entrenched political interests – including parts of the private sector – have resisted tax reform.

Guatemalans don’t believe their government will use their taxes well, so they avoid paying them, resulting in inadequate resources for Guatemala’s education and justice sectors, among other pressing national development needs. The weak tax system symbolizes a dysfunctional political culture.

Tax Reform or a Governance Revolution?

CICIG is now praised by U.S. policymakers and Central American citizens. The State Department recently announced $5 million for CICIG, bringing the U.S. commitment to $36 million over the past seven years. The United States is the largest single contributor to the organization. U.S. rule of law experts also support new and expanded versions of CICIG. The Senate has allocated $2 million for such an institution in neighboring Honduras.

For their part, Hondurans are also clamoring for a CICIG-like organization, but it is being opposed by the Honduran government.

The role of CICIG, its investigations of customs fraud, and the resulting civic awakening raises important questions about how U.S. foreign assistance thinks about DRM – and categorizes – taxation and governance. As the OECD states, “The payment of tax and the structure of the tax system can deeply influence the relationship between government and its citizens.” And as the CICIG case demonstrates, this change can be revolutionary rather than gradual.

As the U.S. embraces tax for development, what approaches will be prioritized? A technical approach conducted through a development finance lens with the ultimate goal of increasing developing nations’ fiscal resources? Or supporting investigative organizations like CICIG? Certainly, the two approaches are not mutually exclusive.

But the example of Guatemala indicates that it would be a mistake for USAID and other U.S. foreign assistance agencies to engage tax reform solely through a technical, financing for development lens. Taxation and governance are intimately intertwined.

U.S. foreign assistance on DRM should leverage the governance impacts of tax reform, where appropriate.   As the case of Guatemala demonstrates, taxation is not only an exercise in increasing government revenues, but by revealing and prosecuting governmental tax corruption and other misuse of public monies, tax issues strike at the heart of ossified structures of governance and spark revolutionary changes in the relationship between citizens and governments.  

 

 

 

 

 

After Fleeing Danger, Children Deserve a Warm Welcome

carolyn lesvosI am just back from the island of Lesvos in the southeastern part of Greece, where I was visiting our programs for refugees who have made the perilous crossing from Turkey. It is a surreal experience: on the one hand a beautiful island with lovely small towns where vacationers from Europe flock in the summer months; on the other hand, a beach strewn with deflated rafts, substandard lifejackets and water bottles, with soaked families huddled together after a rough journey across the strait from Turkey. This far-flung island off of Greece is now the first landing point for thousands of refugees fleeing from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

 

The trip can be deadly for children. The night I arrived in Lesvos, a one-year-old died in the chaos when he fell into the middle of an overcrowded raft packed with more than 30 people. In the dark, the baby drowned in a few feet of water before his mother could find him in the jumble of people.

 
As I sat and talked to families waiting in line for a bus which would take them down the coast to the registration camp, I was struck by the enormous hardships these families had endured along the way – and the fact that this is only their first stop in a long journey through Europe’s many borders. Many had been first displaced in their own countries by conflict, often living for years under fire, experiencing danger and violence on a regular basis. Finally they felt unable to endure another day of fear, lack food or medical services and no school for their children. They had all made the difficult decision to use all their remaining resources to try to start new lives in Europe.

 

Their journeys through Iran, Turkey, Lebanon and other routes were often marred by tragedy. One mother and grandmother cried as they described to me leaving behind a 9-year-old boy who was separated at the Lebanon/Turkey border and was denied a visa to cross with them. Another young mother told me about the birth of her 14-day-old baby while they were in Iran – on the way to Turkey from Iraq – with no hospital or help available. Despite her advanced pregnancy, she and her husband were forced to flee from ISIS and a life of constant danger. And parent after parent told me that their children had now been out of school for years and they needed to give them their future back.
In the face of this massive wave of people (more than 160,000 reached Lesvos in the month of September alone), Save the Children has been working to make lives easier. Rather than enduring the 40-mile walk, often in brutal temperatures, from where the boats land to the registration camp, Save the Children and other partners have rented buses to take families down the mountainous road. Once at the camp, we distribute hygiene kits and blankets for mothers and children who come with almost nothing but will be facing Europe’s cold winter temperatures. We have our signature child-friendly space set up so that kids can spend even a few hours playing games, getting colorful drawings painted on to their faces. These spaces bring a smile to a child that has often not smiled for many months. We also look for those children having the hardest time coping and refer them for more help. And each afternoon, we supply a cooked meal to over 3,000 people – often the only meal they may get that day.

 

The young staff here from all over the world are tremendously hard working, living together and working all hours seven days a week – they seem to never stop thinking about ways they can make our work better and respond to ever-changing demands. As those fleeing war and persecution continue to arrive, we must all remain committed to meeting their needs to the best of our ability – so that these children don’t have to spend more of their young lives in fear.

 

I am struck by one little boy I met on Lesvos named Hassan, who told me that what he wanted more than anything was to have a home again, and to not be scared. Surely this most basic request is not too much for a little boy, only 8, to ask of us.

 

Journey to Kosovo

Kosovo

Pina Jabbari

Associate Director, Corporate Partnerships

Save the Children US

September 24, 2015

 

 

 

I set out on a week long journey in April of this year to Kosovo to bring 6 IKEA staff to see programs supported by the Soft Toys for Education campaign through their iWitness program. But, before I even left the states, I found myself on the same flight with a colleague who was returning to Syria. Over coffee in Vienna, I got to ask her some questions about her experience there, and was so humbled by her dedication and willingness to put the well-being of others before her own, to support children and families in one of the most dangerous places in the world.

When I arrived in Kosovo, on the surface, the country looks like most other places I’ve visited in Europe. Despite the conflict being so recent, I felt a strong sense of peace, family and community. As we began to explore and learn about the beautiful countryside, we learned that in fact the challenges are still great, and constantly changing. My colleagues in Kosovo shared that huge investments have been made in infrastructure – but behind the façade, there were a wealth of problems.

Our journey took us to many different regions in Kosovo, and we had an opportunity to see many facets of our programs there – but what struck me the most is that still so many kids are living in the shadows, especially those with disabilities, and those from the minority Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities. Our inclusive education program there aims to not only get kids into schools, but to integrate them with the main stream, ensure the schools have the training and resources to reach all children, and most importantly, to ensure all children know and realize their rights. The most beautiful part about it, the kids are so young, they weren’t judgmental of their peers with disabilities or from minority groups. Instead, they played, danced, drew, and laughed together.

Now, I don’t want to make it sound all wonderful – there are still huge challenges. One of the biggest issues I saw was, for the most part, the Serbian and Albanian people live in segregated communities from one another, and the schools systems follow different curriculums dependent upon the community you’re from – Serbian communities following that of Serbia, and Albanian communities following the Kosovar education system. For our team, who are primarily based out of the capital Pristina, it’s not easy to work in some of the isolated Serbian majority municipalities of Gracanica and Mitrovica North, both who reject the Kosovo government. To have any access to these communities, it’s important for our team to hire locally, and work with other community organizations, to both open doors, and ensure trust in our work. It’s this grassroots model that makes us the only international NGO working in these two regions, which is not an easy feat! Just like my colleague I bumped into on my flight, I began to realize that in fact, even in Kosovo, my colleagues put themselves in harm’s way in order to break barriers, change behaviors, and support the most vulnerable children.

Kosovo trip

Throughout the week, we took the IKEA colleagues to 6 different municipalities, a variety of schools, community based rehabilitation centers for children with disabilities, and held a meeting with the Municipal Children’s Assembly, but one particular meeting stood out the most and brought many to tears – a home visit to an Egyptian family’s home. See, earlier that day, we had visited a school and interacted with two little boys, not realizing we would visit their home in the afternoon. In the classroom, these two little boys didn’t appear any different than all the other children, but when we walked into the family’s home, it was immediately evident that the conditions were terrible. The father told us that his family of seven lives on a government stipend of 75 Euros a month, but unlike other families in the community whose children go out to beg or do odd jobs, he believes in the education of his children, and knows this is the only way out of poverty. Thankfully, this parent was easy to reach – he had an 8th grade education himself, and values it. Even the mother, who never attended school and is illiterate, ensures her children do their homework each day before going out to play. The father, despite his crutches, says each day when he sees his children off to school, wants to pick up all the children in the community and carry them to school too. Still too many children don’t attend.

This truly shook the group – even though clearly this family was struggling to survive and put food on the table, they believed in the value of education, and that was so powerful.

That week transformed us on so many levels. Not only were we touched by the people we met and programs we observed, but we recognized that Save the Children and IKEA have a number of shared values – making that trip was a great way to bring our two organizations closer together, and build momentum for this year’s Soft Toys Campaign.

 

The First Day of School…in Cuba!

The first day of school is an exciting moment of possibility and potential—and the same could be said for my very first trip to Cuba.

 

Everywhere I went, there was an expectant and hopeful feeling in the air. I spoke with young Cubans who expressed their enthusiasm about greater interaction with the world, including the United States, as an opportunity to broaden their horizons and pursue their dreams.

 

CarolynCuba copyI was in Cuba for the country’s first day of school and was lucky enough to visit with kindergarten students in Havana, many of whom were beginning their formal education for the very first time. It was refreshing to see their excitement and hear them talk about what they’re looking forward to learning this year. As part of the visit, we visited an after-school arts program that started in one school and has scaled up to many, and spoke with officials at the Department of Civil Defense about their plan to help schools and students better prepare for disasters. We also celebrated the completion of a 5-year program led by Save the Children Spain in partnership with the Cuban government to increase participation and quality education for 36,000 children in 92 schools, leading to better outcomes for children.

 

But we know that for children to realize these outcomes in school, they must get the healthy start they deserve. So we visited one of the premier pediatric hospitals in Havana and met the dedicated staff who are making impressive advances, despite the lack of supplies, technology, furniture and enough skilled staff. What this facility lacks in materials they make up for in determination for the children under their care—a sense of compassionate duty that echoes what we saw last summer, when a team of Cuban doctors traveled to Sierra Leone and Liberia to help treat those suffering from the Ebola epidemic.

 

One particular child really stuck with me as I traveled back to the U.S. and recounted my trip. She was a kindergartener named Rena, shy at first but then warming as we placed with clay and made little blue snakes. Though my Spanish and her English were too basic for us to talk much, I saw in her eyes the shining future that Cuba could have, one in which children have a prosing number of opportunities to be all they can.

 

So much about my trip felt like the first day of kindergarten: a different, interesting place; new faces who I hope will become new friends; and so much potential to grow and learn. I hope that Save the Children will be able to continue to get to know Cuba, and find out how we can sharpen our pencils and work together to improve the lives of children and families.

Taking on an Overwhelming Challenge: The Child #RefugeeCrisis

An Afghan family of three starts their long walk to Mytillini, the main port and capital of Lesvo Greece where the process of legal registration will begin. This is a walk that can take up to three days.
An Afghan family of three starts their long walk to Mytillini, the main port in Lesbos, Greece where the process of legal registration will begin. This is a walk that can take up to three days.

Overwhelming is the best word for it.

 

It has been more than a week since the photo of little Alan Kurdi, the three year-old Syrian refugee who drowned along with his mother and brother in an attempt to flee to Europe, captured the world’s attention. This image has put a human face on a growing crisis in which thousands of people risk everything, every day for the chance at a better life. The fact that it’s the face of a child, who deserves our protection and care, makes it exceptionally heartbreaking. 

 

Save the Children has been responding to the needs of Syrian child refugees since war broke out more than four years ago and our programs are already serving millions of displaced persons and refugees across the Middle East, including in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Yemen. We’re now launching responses in Greece and Serbia to address the particular needs of children (always the most vulnerable in a crisis) by providing emergency shelter, hygiene products and baby kits. 

 

It’s easy to be overwhelmed—to feel helpless when you think about the huge numbers of people, the sheer scale of the need, the horror of the image of a little boy alone and still on a beach. But any action you take on behalf of children can help make a difference.

 

If you want to get involved, there are a number of things you can do:

 

  • Learn more about Save the Children’s response on our website
  • Sign our petition and urge the United States to continue its tradition as a humanitarian leader and help Syrian refugees
  • Raise awareness and spread the word using #RefugeeCrisis or by following us on Twitter and Facebook
  • Donate to our Child Refugee Crisis Appeal aimed at helping support and protect homeless children and their families

 

Today, nearly half of all registered refugees worldwide are children and youth, and their numbers are growing dramatically. This is no way for a young person to spend his or her childhood. And we can change that. Over the last 4 and a half years, I have traveled many times to the region, meeting with families and children.  There is something each mom, dad and child wants – to have a life free from terror and just a chance to be normal again – to live in a community, go to work, go to school, to laugh and play.

 

No matter how overwhelmed we may feel by the challenges of helping these children, it’s even more overwhelming to be a child refugee—torn from home, family and everything familiar. We are the grown-ups, and it’s our responsibility to take on these overwhelming challenges and help guide children to safety. Please join us.

 

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.