Written by Dr. Kechi Achebe MD, MPH, Senior Director, HIV/AIDS & TB, Save the Children US
World AIDS Day is held on the 1st December each year and is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with HIV and to commemorate people who have died. It is also an opportunity to remind the public and Governments that HIV has not gone away – there is still a vital need to increase awareness/education, access to testing and treatment, as well as fight prejudice.
Globally there are an estimated 36.9 million people living with HIV, as of 2017. 35.4 million people have also died of HIV or AIDS since the start of the epidemic, making it one of the most destructive pandemics in history. While scientific advances have been made in HIV treatment and this is very encouraging, there were still 1.8 million people who became newly infected with HIV in 2017 globally.
More saddening is the impact of HIV on adolescents. Currently, over 30% of all new HIV infections globally are estimated to occur among youth ages 15 to 25 years. Young people (10 to 24 years) and adolescents (10 to 19 years), especially young women and young key populations, continue to be disproportionately affected by HIV. There were 1.8 million children <15 years living with HIV in 2017 globally, while in 2016, 2.1 million people aged between 10 and 19 years were living with HIV and 260,000 became newly infected with the virus. AIDS is now the leading cause of death among young people in Africa and the second leading cause of death among young people worldwide.
As we commemorate the 30th World AIDS Day, Save the Children is making a global call for increased access to HIV prevention education, testing and treatment to adolescents. Save the Children is also joining UNAIDS and the global community to call for increased access to HIV testing and increased uptake of HIV testing, even amongst adolescents. This is to ensure that the 9.4 million people around the world who are unaware of their HIV-positive status can access treatment and that people who are HIV-negative can continue to protect themselves against the virus.
This will renew the possibility of an AIDS-free generation. We need to do more to show adolescents that their lives matter – regardless of their gender, race, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status.
Written by Nikhit D’Sa, Director of Research, Evaluation, and Learning, Education and Child Protection at Save the Children
The current generation of 1.8 billion young people (aged 10-24) is the largest in our global history. This burgeoning youth cohort is especially evident in sub-Saharan Africa; the 10 youngest nations by population age are in sub-Saran Africa; the median age in five of these countries – Niger, Uganda, Mali, Malawi, and Zambia – is under 16 years, with approximately 60% of the population under the age of 25. Harnessing this demographic dividend has proved difficult. Youth unemployment rates have remained persistently high for the last decade; for every adult of working age who is unemployed, about four youth of working age are also unemployed. In addition, this issue is compounded for youth in rural communities of continental Africa who have never been to school or left school early; gross school enrollment rates are some of the lowest for these youth, while the working poverty rates are some of the highest globally. The issue facing these youth is as much about underemployment and low quality employment as it is about unemployment.
Launched in 2012, Youth in Action (YiA) was a six-year program implemented by Save the Children in partnership with the Mastercard Foundation. The goal of YiA was to improve the socioeconomic status of 40,000 out-of-school youth (12-18 years) in rural Burkina Faso, Egypt, Ethiopia, Malawi, and Uganda. The YiA program aimed to strengthen work readiness skills, then develop business and management capabilities, and create space to apply learned skills, all while supported by family and community. While there is a growing body of research on programming for youth livelihood development, the evidence on the effectiveness of these programs is mixed. Additionally, there are still questions around equity: who benefits from these programs and who is left behind? To address some of these research gaps, Save the Children embedded 32 studies into the six years of implementing YiA. In October 2018, Save the Children launched a report—Supporting rural youth to leverage decent work: Evidence from the cross-sectoral Youth in Action program – that synthesizes the findings from the studies to reflect on four key evidence-based lessons.
Lesson 1: Work readiness is possible in four months
Since YiA focused on vulnerable, out-of-school youth from especially rural areas in each of the five countries, the program prioritized supporting youth to build functional literacy and numeracy, financial literacy, and transferable life skills. YiA youth made significant and practical improvements in nearly all these work readiness skills in Burkina Faso, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Uganda, but not in Malawi. Literacy was the one skill area where youth were still lagging after YiA; less than half the youth in Burkina Faso, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Malawi could read a grade 3 passage with comprehension by the end of the program. One of the issues was that unlike other work readiness skills youth had limited opportunities to practice their literacy foundations after the first four months of dedicated learning. They needed additional literacy instruction with more practical ways to practice their skills in the labor market. Overall, the findings support the YiA hypothesis that youth can build a wide variety of work readiness skills over a condensed time-period – four months of sessions, three sessions/week, and three hours/day. This accelerated programming can be especially effective if coupled with focused and explicit instruction as well as opportunities to engage in practical activities, like saving with a formal institution, that supports future livelihood development.
Lesson 2: Livelihood development IS enhanced by family and community support
In the rural contexts where YiA was implemented, parents and community members are the gatekeepers to the labor market. Youth are negotiating their reputation in their community for being hard working and responsible. One way in which youth can build this reputation is by participating in programs like YiA, providing a signal to family and community that the youth would make a good employee or that support for a youth-run business would pay off. YiA worked on this by engaging early with communities and clearly explaining its value in reliably supporting youth development. Prior to YiA, families and communities were hesitant to provide youth with substantial financial, material, and/or emotional support for livelihood development. In all the countries, YiA youth reported marked increases in support from their family for livelihood development in the form of space for a business, land, tools, and/or emotional support. They also reported improved support from community business mentors at least nine months after graduating from the program. Additionally, increases in family and community support over the program period were associated with stronger gains in work readiness skills like financial literacy and communication.
Lesson 3: Quantitative data can mask gendered barriers
Disaggregating quantitative data by gender is the first step. It gives us a picture on whether there are differences between male and female youth. However, outcomes data may mask important gendered barriers that influence the livelihood development of male and female youth. For example, while male and female youth reported equivalent levels of and gains in family and community financial, emotional and material support in the outcomes data, the qualitative data highlighted that the kind of support often differed by gender. Families often provided female youth more limited financial resources than male youth because female youth were viewed as having a smaller payout since they would leave the home once married. Moreover, parents and community members often felt that the mobility of female youth had to be restricted to ensure their safety, resulting in more support for home-based micro-enterprises as compared to support for a wider range of non-home-based business options for male youth. In some communities, this restriction on the type of micro-enterprise limited the income and savings opportunities for female youth.
Lesson 4: Rural Youth choose and can sustain self-employment
The figure below illustrates the employment status of youth before YiA and at least nine months after graduating (pooled data for Burkina Faso, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Uganda). We found a marked decrease in the percent of youth wage-employed and unemployed, and a statistically and practically significant increase in youth who were self-employed. This is likely because, while YiA started with five pathways, youth in all five countries overwhelmingly chose self-employment and started a micro-enterprise. The decrease in wage-employment may suggest less stability for some youth. However, wage employment before YiA was primarily seasonal and temporary. This is why YiA views the move to sustained self-employment as progress toward decent work for these youth.
While we were not able to disaggregate income and savings information by which pathway youth selected, the fact that a majority of youth selected the self-employment pathway does suggest that improvements in income and savings are heavily influenced by the sustained self-employment of youth. In Egypt, Ethiopia, and Uganda, youth were able to establish work that allowed them to individually move above the USD 1.90/day international poverty line, effectively improving their socioeconomic status. Additionally, across Burkina Faso, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Uganda, 40% of youth reported saving formally or informally before YiA. At least nine months after YiA this increased to 80% of youth, with the average youth reporting an almost fivefold increase in the amount saved.
As we look to build more evidence on holistic skill-building models like YiA, future research should focus on more robust comparison-group prospective studies that follow youth from the start of the program to their socioeconomic development several years after the program. Furthermore, the next round of research needs to move beyond simply disaggregating data by gender. We need to collect reliable and valid mixed methods data on gender norms among youth, in their families, and in their communities. Collecting gender norms data can allow us a more dynamic understanding of the gendered barriers facing male and female youth, and how socioeconomic development varies based on the presence of specific gendered norms.
This post originally appeared on NextBillion.
Save the Children U.S. Programs & Advocacy
November 29, 2018
My name is Shanya. I’m 17 years old and live in rural Tennessee. There are many problems in my community – kids fall behind by the time they get into middle school. I live in a high poverty area where many parents hold down two jobs and have trouble being there for their kids as much as they would like, for example after school to help with homework.
There are kids in our community who don’t have much, and you can tell that a lot of them are going through a lot just by the expressions on their face. I hate to see that. They deserve so much better.
But, things are starting to change.
This year, Save the Children started a community collaborative in my county. The community collaborative gets together business people, people from community groups and churches, parents and others who want to help kids do well in school.
After that I met Chase, who would be working with our community on behalf of Save the Children. Chase meets with the collaborative and organizes events to help get kids in our community reading. He asked me if I could be the student volunteer leader. The work was to start right away. I said yes!
In rural communities like ours, the library is the only place for many children to have access to books. So, we wanted to do something that got books into the hands of children who had few or no books at home, as well as show parents and community members how they could get involved with the good work Save the Children was doing.
We decided to organize a Christmas parade, where we could hand out books to kids and bring families together.
I helped build the float with six other volunteers. We had so much fun doing that! I thought it was so sweet to see the kids smile when we gave them books. I thought kids would be like, “I don’t want that.” But, once you see the smiles on their faces and you ask them, “Do you like to read?” and they answer “Yes,” and Thank you,” – you feel so great seeing that. The kids were so happy and the parents were happy. And that made me happy too.
I used to be kind of a mean kid. I didn’t do stuff like this for my community. But now I feel like it’s our community, and I’m a part of it! With the support of Save the Children, people are starting to work together to help each other.
After the parade, I started a volunteer program through our high school to go and read to the kids at the elementary school. I rounded up lots of students from the high school to help – cheerleaders, basketball players and church members. I told them “This would be a great way for y’all to step out into the community for people.” Our community isn’t used to seeing kids my age volunteering, stepping out of their comfort zones.
My friends ended up having a great time volunteering to read with the kids, and now I see that big things are happening for our community.
Now, I think maybe one day I could become a teacher.
Those kids just brighten up your day.
Interested in joining our community of sponsors? Click here to learn more.
Vanessa Amaya, Community Volunteer and Mother
Edited by Carla Urrutia, Sponsorship Quality Communications Coordinator
Save the Children in El Salvador
November 17, 2018
My name is Vanessa. I am the mother of two children, my son Abelardo who is 11 years old and my daughter Yanitzi who is 5. I have had many jobs to help support my family, such as work in agriculture, harvesting sugar cane, sweet plantains, beans and other crops, as a cashier and in a maquila factory, or a kind of industrial manufacturing factory, as a seamstress.
While I was working in that factory, my mom used to take care of my kids because I left very early in the morning and returned home at night. It is very common in this part of El Salvador for both parents to work outside of the community, spending long hours away from home and needing to leave children in the care of grandparents.
Back in 2011, she is the one who told me we should enroll Abelardo with the people at Save the Children, after she had met with some members of our community who volunteered supporting sponsorship. I agreed just to please her. I remember I helped him to write a couple of letters to his sponsor, but other than that I wasn’t involved since I was always working. I knew my mom used to take him to the book circles hosted in our community, but I didn’t have time to know much more than that.
Years later, when Abelardo was in third grade, I was not working in the factory anymore and had more time on my hands. I decided to look into volunteering with the organization I knew had been supporting the education of my son. Luckily, an opportunity to become the main point person for Save the Children on behalf of our community was available. I applied and thanks to the work experience I had and my high school diploma, I was selected by the community and by Save the Children.
While volunteering, I received trainings on important skills and knowledge related to health, hygiene and nutrition. For example, how to make well-balanced meals for children at home or why handwashing helps prevent illness. I then cascade that knowledge through my community by meeting with school staff, who then in turn guide child groups through fun activities that teach them these important health skills.
Now that I’m on the “other side”, I’m surprised with the many benefits our community receives thanks to Save the Children. My son has learned and changed a lot. He is part of the health club at his school, another part of the sponsorship health and education programs, and his favorite thing is to practice and to teach the correct handwashing techniques.
Abelardo shares, “I have been part of the health club for three years. My favorite thing is to wash my hands because I like having clean hands.” He adds thoughtfully, “My school is better now because in the past children used to say ‘I already washed my hands,’ but they had only used water and dried their hands on their clothes. Now, they know they have to use soap and dry their hands in the air.”
He teaches these skills to the other students as a part of the club at school, to his little sister Yanitzi and to our neighbors and friends. When I’m around watching him, he always says, “Right, mom?”
I’m so proud that he knows I have this health knowledge too, and it’s been such a joy to be able to learn and experience this growth with him.
Interested in joining our community of sponsors? Click here to learn more.
Save the Children is proud to receive a 2018 Top-Rated badge from Great Nonprofits, a rating that distinguishes our organization from the more than 1.5 million charities and nonprofits in the United States. As the holiday giving season approaches, Save the Children is proud to share this recognition with our donors, volunteers and supporters. For a comprehensive list of our Awards and Recognition, visit our website.
According to GreatNonprofits.org, the Great Nonprofits Top-Rated Awards are the only top ratings determined by people who deal directly with the charities – as donors, volunteers and recipients of aid.
We encourage you to raise visibility for our work by posting a review of your own experience with Save the Children. Visit GreatNonprofits.org or click on the button below to get started.
Here are some of the recent reviews our donors, volunteers and supporters have posted.
We have sponsored many children over the past 20+ years, have watched them grow and have witnessed the positive impact that Save the Children has in communities in the U.S. and around the world. We chose Save the Children because we knew that it was highly rated as a nonprofit and that most of the funds went to programs – and also as parents we thought it was good to be an example of giving back for our son. As these things often work out, it has been a wonderfully positive experience for us, too!
Working at Save the Children was a great experience. Everyone had a big heart and an open mind.
Save the Children is an amazing organization to work with!! I was privileged to be able to intern with such passionate people who really embody the organization’s mission and are eager to hear new ideas/input from their interns and volunteers. The entire climate at Save the Children is welcoming, innovative, and inspiring. The intern/volunteer program offers so many valuable opportunities, from workshops to networking events to meetings that we were invited to sit in on – the chances to learn more and make new connections were endless!
I have sponsored a child for two years. Save the Children keeps me informed as to how many donation helps not only this child and family, but the whole community. More of my donation goes to the child than many other charities.
I support Save the Children because of the widespread and global assistance for low income people and children. Everyone deserves a reasonable start in life. Save the Children enables them by giving them a push. They always update me via postal mail, email and text message.
Written by Carolyn Miles, President & CEO, Save the Children
Furah is a mother of four children who lives in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The eastern part of the country where she lives is marked by chronic poverty and decades of violence. With four children and living in a crisis-prone area, Furah wanted to avoid another pregnancy. At a Save the Children-support health facility, she was able to get an intrauterine contraceptive device to provide her with long-acting contraception. She, and others in her community, have noticed the positive benefits that family planning have brought to their community: “Children don’t get malnutrition or get sick as much as they did before the family planning program started.”
Satisfying demand for family planning services has the potential to drastically reduce maternal and child deaths. Nearly 1 in 3 maternal deaths and 1 in 5 child deaths could be averted if the 214 million women with a need for family planning were able to use modern contraceptive methods. There are also benefits to children’s education and girls’ ability to stay in school.
Save the Children delivers high impact reproductive health and family planning interventions for women and girls around the world. We do this by:
- Prioritizing the hardest to reach, including adolescents
- Improving clinical capacity and supply chains, particularly at the lowest level of service delivery
- Engaging men, women and communities to create an enabling environment for family planning use, including address inequitable gender norms
- Delivering family planning in humanitarian responses
- Advocating for supportive policies for family planning in partnership with local leaders and organizations
Our family planning programs focus on postpartum women by capitalizing on the opportunity of service integration through maternal, newborn or child care services. Using our multisector approaches and expansive reach through newborn and child health, we reach postpartum mothers through vaccinations campaigns and other touch points at the community and facility level.
In humanitarian settings, we support reproductive health services by training and mentoring frontline health providers, providing commodities and supplies, strengthening supply chains and supporting communities to increase awareness and use of reproductive health services. We deploy quickly and stay long term to deliver family planning in any setting.
Our adolescent sexual and reproductive health and rights programs fill critical information and service gaps, foster the development of positive social and gender norms, build linkages to health systems and equip adolescents with the skills, information and supportive social environment needed to navigate the challenges and opportunities during this critical life stage. Our programs address barriers through facility- and community-based strategies to increase access to health services that respond to the needs of adolescents and offer a full range of contraceptive methods.
More than 50 Save the Children staff members from 16 countries will be in Kigali, Rwanda this month for the International Conference on Family Planning – where we will share our expertise and thought leadership with the international community. Together, we can all ensure mothers like Furah have the future they deserve.
To read more about how family planning saves lives, click here.
Internal Communications Manager
Save the Children in Ethiopia
November 8, 2018
In a small rural village in West Showa, Ethiopia, lives 10-year-old Kebene. Now in 3rd grade, she tells me her favorite subjects are Science and Oromiffa, the study of the local language. Most families work as subsistence farmers, although parents hope for better lives for their children.
In this area, subjects like menstruation, reproductive health and family planning were traditionally not openly discussed by parents with their children, even considered taboo. Girls would be completely unprepared when getting their first period. They would run home from school, embarrassed and unsure of what to do.
Luckily, teachers like Getaneh are working hard to prepare students like Kebene for the challenges of adolescence.
“We help them to prepare for the changes they start to experience,” says Getaneh.
He acts as point person for the community, working with Save the Children staff to ensure he and the other teachers learn how to discuss health matters with adolescents related to their reproductive and personal health skills, in particular issues that affect girls.
In addition to training teachers, students are able to discuss harmful traditional practices, like early marriage or female genital mutilation, in a more comfortable and open setting – such as outdoors sitting in a group with peers and friends.
Getaneh learned that even though she was still just 10, Kebene’s father already had plans to marry her off to someone she had never met.
Luckily, thanks to the adolescent development programs now available at her school, she considered early marriage as something harmful, that restricted her from experiencing childhood and having choices in shaping her future as an adult.
“I am too young to marry and I don’t want that to happen to me. All I need is to continue my education and become a Science teacher in the future.”
Kebene went to her school director for help, and now he and Getaneh are working to invite her father to discussions at the school, as well as meeting with community elders and local administration to help convince her father to change his mind. Though they are still meeting with him, they are confident they will soon receive the good news that she will be able to continue with her education.
Kebene and her friends can now learn how to educate their families about why these traditions are detrimental to both their lives as children as well as the future of their village. By discussing these issues, they raise awareness on how they feel about their rights as children and as girls. In this way, knowledge is cascaded through the community.
Thanks to sponsorship, now that these topics are taught at schools in child-friendly and relaxed settings, girls no longer feel too ashamed to go to class or fear speaking up about their hopes and goals.
Interested in joining our community of sponsors? Click here to learn more.
Md. Hasan Iqbal
Deputy Manager, Sponsorship Communication and Data Quality
Save the Children in Bangladesh
October 29, 2018
18-year-old Priyanka is in tenth grade in Meherpur, Bangladesh. She is confident after finishing her final exams next year, she will be the first member of her family to go to college.
Her mother works maintaining their home for her and her two siblings, a brother and a sister, while her father resells wholesale fish for a small profit at their local market. Neither of her parents were able to finish their education or attend college, and like many families in this poverty-stricken area, they struggle to provide for their children’s basic needs, like food and clothing, on a daily basis.
In this part of Bangladesh, usually only about half of students complete their primary education, and even those that did could not read fluently. Traditional practices like early marriage affected over 70% of girls between the ages of 12 to 15, further limiting the amount of children finishing their education. Schools were not friendly places for children to learn, with physical punishment still used in some classrooms and not enough learning materials for the students to get a good quality education. Mechanisms for reporting abuse like child labor or trafficking were insufficient or not utilized properly by parents, children and community members.
Priyanka first joined sponsorship 10 years ago, in 2008 when she was just 8 years old, and has steadily seen changes related to the attention given to children’s rights as she’s gotten older. Now as a young adult, Priyanka not only continues to benefit from sponsorship programs herself by participating in a group called the National Children’s Task Force, or NCTF, but also helps to spread those benefits to even more children in need.
The NCTF was created by the government because of a national initiative to prevent the abuse of children, and to provide a forum for children themselves to communicate issues related to children’s rights to the government. Save the Children supports in providing NCTF child participants with trainings on how to communicate with the government through this forum, report abuse and lead discussions with their fellow students. Save the Children also helped children like Priyanka set up a website platform to share news related to children’s issues online. In this way, citizens are held accountable for reporting instances of abuse and the government is held accountable to take action after reports have been received.
In this role, Priyanka acts as a leader amongst her peers, encouraging conversation related to the challenges or abuse children face in their communities and at school. For example, she works to increase awareness with her fellow students about how child marriage increases dropout rates for girls, and lowers their academic achievements. She hosts weekly discussions with the other kids and listens to their difficulties at school or at home, such as how they feel about the condition of their classroom, and shares her findings directly with government representatives every month. In this way, Priyanka not only helps report children’s rights issues to the government herself, but also spreads awareness on how to report child abuse amongst her peers.
Sponsorship also helped Priyanka learn how to communicate the needs of her school in the National Children’s Task Force. She shares “Our school did not have enough classrooms or computer labs. I informed a local member of parliament of the problem, and finally we have got labs and classrooms.”
She even received a national scholarship award for her talent and leadership qualities.
Mohan, Pranaka’s father, shared how inspired and impressed he was by the leadership skills seen blossoming in his daughter.
Priyanka added thoughtfully, “When I was young, my village had many problems. Now, many changes happened through awareness. After Save the Children leaves our village, the knowledge and consciousness will remain with us forever.’’
Interested in joining our community of sponsors? Click here to learn more.
“How many of you were married before the age of 18?” This was the first question I asked the mothers I met in the Duhok refugee camp in Iraq, near the Syrian border. Of the 10 or so moms gathered in the Save the Children center, only one raised her hand. However, the reality for Syrian girls in refugee camps now is very different.
Save the Children research in 2014 showed that the rate of marriage for Syrian refugee girls rose to 25%. This is a relatively new phenomena for Syrian families, as the rate of early marriage prior to the start of the bitter civil war that has raged for more than seven years was only 13%. We want these moms who had gathered that morning in the Save the Children facility to continue to help us stop what was happening in the camp.
Early marriage is something Save the Children is working on in places like Nepal, Bangladesh, and Niger. It is an ender of many things for young girls – an ender to their education, an ender to many of their dreams, and, sadly, an ender to their lives in some cases. A girl married before the age of 18 is three times more likely to drop out of school. Girls married at an early age are more likely to have children at an early age. Sadly as a result, complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading causes of death among girls 15–19 years old. Their children are also more likely to be under weight and have complications during birth. A child having a child is rarely a healthy way to start a family.
A mom named Fatima explained that sometimes families are living in such poverty that the chance to have another family take on the responsibility of food and shelter for a young girl is too much of an opportunity to pass on. Girls are still seen as a “cost” to families with little recognition that girls can go on to become wage earners for the family if they get a basic education and are allowed to seek work outside the home. Sometimes, families are worried that their teenage girls will become pregnant before they are married and see an arranged early marriage as a way to avoid such a shameful event. And in some cases dowries will be paid and there is an economic incentive to marry off daughters to benefit the rest of the family.
All these factors point to an underlying reality in many parts of the world – that girls are just not valued as people in the same way that boys are. The mothers I met are trying to change that outlook, one family at a time. They celebrated International Day of the Girl in the Duhok camp in mid-October by speaking to their neighbors about the harmful practice of early marriage, meeting face-to-face with other mothers and working to convince them that early marriage is not the best path for their girls. Instead, they should stay in school and get an education. For these women, they had so many more opportunities before choosing to marry and have children. One mother named Adima who was sitting next to me admitted this was hard work, but that they were dedicated to making it happen.
As we talked, my admiration for these mothers grew – even in the midst of a refugee camp, with very basic shelter, with food still rationed out to families, where many had been living for years, these women had a passion for their children that shone through. They recognized that girls did have the right to choose their own path and that the new tradition of early marriage was not in the best interest of their daughters. And they were willing to stand up and say so to girls, to other mothers, and perhaps most importantly, to men and boys too.
Through these kinds of programs in many parts of the world where child marriage is the norm – or has become so because of conflict and displacement – Save the Children works to empower girls and mothers to reduce the numbers of girls marrying before 18. Our latest analysis shows that 51 million girls will marry before 18 by 2030 given current trends. But we can change that story by engaging everyone in standing up and saying no to early marriage. Click here to learn more about how you can support our work for girls around the world and help moms like Adima and Fatima be heard.
Data Quality and Communication Officer
Save the Children in Indonesia
October 22, 2018
“Becoming a teacher is no longer merely a job. It has become a calling!” Solvi, a third grade teacher at an elementary school in Sumba, Indonesia, said enthusiastically in an interview with me.
Solvi is a passionate teacher who jumped right into her career after graduating with a teaching degree several years ago.
The commitment to dedicate one’s life to teaching children is not a desire that suddenly pops up. It takes many long years of focus and growth. When she graduated, the world of teaching, particularly to younger students, had been so intriguing and challenging. Who could miss the opportunity to work and play with children or to help them pursue their dreams? What a contribution to the future of this country a teacher could provide through this role. It was a mix of idealism and adrenaline the young teacher possessed as she entered the classroom her very first day.
Since then, she has learned that time can sap away your idealistic values and energy. Life may have not been as simple as expected. Solvi, a once passionate teacher felt she may have reached a breaking point, where she found herself reflecting on whether becoming a teacher was the right decision.
She found that most of her early grade students were still unable to read fluently or construct words, and that generally literacy skills were lacking for whole communities all around their island. Teachers tended to be impatient when students struggled to read, meeting their challenges with the traditional teaching methods that did not allow for flexibility in lessons to teach children at different reading levels. Without child-centered or fun activities incorporated into the classroom, younger children were bored and frustrated in class, and not interested in learning. Parents, either due to their own illiteracy or due to time spent out of the home trying to earn a living, were unable to support their children’s education outside of school.
After a few years dealing with these challenges, Solvi was close to giving up. She had changed from her formerly patient self, easily becoming angry with her students who were unable to understand the lessons. Likewise, her students felt awkward, uncomfortable and even scared in the classroom.
Then came an invitation for a series of trainings conducted by Save the Children for teachers of early grades. Solvi jumped at the opportunity to participate.
One specific training left a deep impression on her, on the topic of effective learning. She learned about how to realize and celebrate the different abilities of the children in her class. “We are taught that no child is stupid. They are all smart on their own. It depends on how we, as teachers, recognize their potentials and maximize [their abilities] for learning,” she said. Solvi and the other teachers learned different skills to use in the classroom setting, and how to deliver activities in fun and friendly ways for children.
Solvi then came back to her school with a fresh perspective, determined to improve herself in her role as teacher. The first thing she did was to provide additional tutoring in her home for students who could not construct words and read fluently. “Starting something new needs strong commitment and I am ready for this challenge for the sake of my students.” she said.
She had learned how to utilize the strategy of peer learning. Through this method, teachers pair students who are strong readers with those who are not. Using group or partner work in lessons not only helped make learning fun, but also benefited both struggling and strong readers with extra reading practice.
Within months, after applying the knowledge she learned from the trainings, her students’ performance began to improve. Before trying her new teaching methods, only 6 of Solvi’s 27 students could read fluently. By the second semester of utilizing the new methods, almost all her students could.
She had changed the way she approached her students. She learned how to understand and communicate with them based on their character. She set a good example with warm greetings and sweet words, to make her class somewhere all students felt welcome. She became much more patient and attentive to students with specific needs, building close relationships with each of them.
Anastasia, one of her students, told me that she was surprised by her teacher’s transformation. While before she would be scolded for failure in class, now Solvi treats her more patiently. “I am sure my Ibu [honorable local term for female teacher] loves me.” Anastasia shared. “How we miss her terribly every time she is away from school. We cannot wait as the morning approaches to see her,” she smiled.
Solvi reflected, “I am very grateful Save the Children implements their program in our school so I can be a part of it. With all the training, coaching and mentoring sessions, I have become a good teacher for my students. I now have come to realize that this is the role I am meant to be filling – playing, learning and having fun with children!”
Today, Solvi believes that if the teacher can create a comfortable learning environment, students can easily grasp and understand whatever lessons they learn. She told me, “When we teach with heart, we transform love and intelligence!”
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