Malnutrition in Children

4 Causes of Malnutrition in Children and What You Can Do About It

As a concerned parent, you are sensitive to the nutritional needs of your child, and that includes avoiding risk factors that could lead to malnutrition. Understanding the major causes of malnutrition can help you form good habits when it comes to your own health as a parent, as well as the health of your child.  Here, we breakdown four major factors that contribute to malnutrition in children.

Poor Quality of Diet 

Malnutrition, at its core, is a dietary deficiency that results in poor health conditions. We typically think of malnutrition as it relates to children not eating enough of the right foods. It can also occur when children eat too much of the wrong foods. Either way, more than 170 million children fail to reach their full potential due to poor nutrition.

At a Save the Children-supported school in Bolivia, young children enjoy healthy snacks.
At a Save the Children-supported school in Bolivia, young children enjoy healthy snacks.

Malnutrition can occur in children of all ages, but young children are the most vulnerable. The World Health Organization has stated that malnutrition is the single most dangerous threat to global public health [1]. It contributes to 45 percent of deaths of children under the age of 5 [2].  This is due, in part, to the critical importance of the first two years of a child’s life.

Maternal Health

The largest window of opportunity for a child’s health occurs in the first 1,000 days-from the start of a woman’s pregnancy to her child’s second birthday. Mothers who are malnourished during their pregnancy can experience complications giving birth. Many children are born small because their mothers are undernourished[3].  Severely malnourished mothers can also have trouble breastfeeding their infants.

We know that breastfeeding for the first six months of a child’s life has health benefits that extend into adulthood. However, if a mother is too malnourished to breastfeed, these health benefits may not be passed on and a child can be at risk for malnutrition. This is especially true in developing countries.

At a Save the Children-supported health center in Tanzania, Zinak*, 24 and 7-months pregnant, receives a prenatal check up.
At a Save the Children-supported health center in Tanzania, Zinak*, 24 and 7-months pregnant, receives a prenatal check up.

Mothers like Zinak*, pictured above, who live in developing countries can be unaware of nutritional benefits of breastfeeding. In Tanzania, for example, the average duration of breastfeeding is only 2.4 months[4].  Tanzania is one of the 10 worst affected countries in the world by chronic malnutrition and is the third worst in Africa.

Global health programs like the ones Save the Children supports works to help maternal, newborn and child health, which ultimately helps end child malnutrition. We work in many of the world’s poorest places, in the United States and abroad, to alleviate child hunger and prevent malnutrition. However, children living developed countries are still at risk for malnutrition if they are born into poverty.

 

Socioeconomic Status

Poverty is the number one cause of malnutrition in developing countries. Often times, families living in poverty lack access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Many communities do not have full-service grocery stores that regularly stock fresh produce.

Even if they do, fresh fruits and vegetables can be expensive. When fresh fruits and vegetables are out of reach for children, they can fill up on less expensive, less healthy foods.

Rebecca, 25, holds her daughter Rachael*, 11 months while she eats high nutrient peanut paste after being treated for severe acute malnutrition at a Save the Children stabilization center in South Sudan.
Rebecca, 25, holds her daughter Rachael*, 11 months while she eats high nutrient peanut paste after being treated for severe acute malnutrition at a Save the Children stabilization center in South Sudan.

War and Conflict

Sadly, the violence of war and political unrest can also lead to severe malnutrition. In South Sudan, for example, conflict and drought has led to devastating conditions for children. Save the Children in South Sudan is the lead health and nutrition provider in much of the region. We run 58 feeding program sites for infants and young children, all powered by the support of our donors.

The crisis in Syria has also shed light on the number of refugee children who are at risk of malnutrition. Children, who make up more than half of the world’s 22.5 million refugees[5], often go without healthy food, health care and an education.

Access to food and water has become a heartbreaking challenge— leaving thousands of Syrian children at risk for malnutrition. There are many ways to help Syrian refugee children. Your knowledge and support can make a world of difference for children around the world.

 

*Name changed for protection

[1] [2] http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs178/en/

[3] https://www.savethechildren.org/content/dam/usa/reports/advocacy/sowm/sowm-2014.pdf

[4] https://www.savethechildren.org/us/what-we-do/events/breastfeeding

[5] https://www.savethechildren.org/us/what-we-do/emergency-response/refugee-children-crisis

Destruction caused by arial shelling in Eastern Ghouta, 25th February 2018.

Seven Years since the Syrian Dream

The Conflict in Syria is not “Normal”

After seven years of war in Syria, we hear more and more that the general public is becoming desensitized to the conflict. As horrible as the news reports are, the stories are no longer shocking. But we must never accept suffering and human rights violations as “the new normal.” The crisis in Syria is unacceptable—and it’s getting worse.

In the U.S., people work hard to achieve the American dream. Before the conflict, families throughout Syria were pursuing their Syrian dream—sending their children to school, buying what they wanted, working and running businesses. That was their normal.

When you listen to displaced Syrians describe life before the conflict, it sounds a lot like the lives my friends, family and neighbors live:

Just as we strive to raise our children in peaceful communities surrounded by neighbors, friends and relatives, a mom named Haya* reflected to us that: “Ours was a simple quiet village.” Seven-year-old Amer* recollected that: “My grandfather used to lift me and pick me up, play with me. My memories of Syria are we went for a walk at night, with my father and my mother. We bought something sweet.”

Sadly, seven years on, we know that many places in Syria are anything but quiet. Escalation in fighting forced more than a million people across Syria from their homes in the last three months of 2017.

Just as we dream of owning homes and giving our children more than we ever had, 7-year-old Lubna* told us: “I had a big, big home. My grandmother got me a toy, I remember that. I had a white room and it had a closet. The closet had a lot of clothes in it. I had a lot of toys in Syria.”

Today, homes in communities like Eastern Ghouta are being decimated by bombings. Satellite images show neighborhoods with the majority of their buildings destroyed. Basic services like sewage, electricity and water are gone.

Just as we are ambitious and work hard to provide for our families, one young boy we met named Mushen* told us: “We used to have chickens and sheep in Syria. My dad had a small shop. We also had two cars.”

Now, in besieged communities in Syria, 80 to 90 percent of people  are now unemployed and even staple foods are unaffordable for many families.

Just as we send our children to school and want them to be safe, 13-year-old Rasha* remembered that: “My school was really nice, it had two playgrounds. I really liked the school and had many friends.”

But in Syria, attacks often target schools and hospitals. In Eastern Ghouta alone, more than 60 schools have been hit by bombing in the first two months of 2018. Many schools operate in basements because of bombings. Children are years behind in basic reading and math skills.

We must actively resist the feeling that what we are seeing out of Syria is normal. It would not be for us and it is not for Syrian families who are desperate for peace. Seven years of conflict must end now. Millions of Syrians are dreaming of rebuilding their lives.

Since 2012, Save the Children has been supporting children and families both inside and outside of Syria. Our programs address physical and psychosocial health, return children to education, give them safe spaces to play, provide food and more. Save the Children will continue to raise its voice for those affected by the Syrian conflict. On March 15, join us by sharing your message of hope for Syrians on social media with the hashtag #7WordsForSyria.

A two-year-old girl called Rana* lives with mother Elaha*, her father and 1-year-old brother Tariq*, in a refugee camp 55km away from Athens in Greece. They live in a temporary room inside an old warehouse. Winter has hit with full force in Greece with sub-zero temperatures and snowfall.
*name has been changed to protect identity.

Save the Children Statement on U.S. Executive Order on Suspension of Refugee Resettlement

Media Contact
Negin Janati 203.212.0044 (M)
Erin Taylor 267.250.8829 (M)

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (January 26, 2017)

In response to executive action by the United States Government regarding refugee resettlement, Carolyn Miles, President & CEO of Save the Children, released the following statement:

“The United States has long been a beacon of hope for the millions of children and families trying to escape war and persecution. The world is facing its largest crisis of displaced people since World War II, with more than 65 million people forced to flee their homes. More than half of all refugees are children, whose only chance for survival and a better future relies on access to safety. We all have a moral obligation to help. Refugee children have been terrorized; they are not terrorists.

“I have met with hundreds of refugee families—in the U.S., Germany, and throughout the Middle East and Africa. I have heard firsthand their stories of unrelenting war, and triumph over incredible hardship that no one should have to endure. Nearly every family I’ve met has told me that their main reason for fleeing was so their children could have a childhood, an education, and a chance at a future. Now is not the time to turn our back on these families, or our core American values, by banning refugees. We can protect our citizens without putting even more barriers in front of those who have lost everything and want to build a better future in America.

“The reality is that the U.S. refugee resettlement program saves lives—namely of women and children under 12, who make up 77 percent of the Syrian refugees in the U.S.—while helping to ensure the safety of our country. Refugees already go through extensive vetting: a refugee’s identity is checked against law enforcement and intelligence databases of at least five federal agencies, a process that takes nearly two years. If there is any doubt about who a refugee is, he or she is not admitted to the United States. Save the Children takes no issue with proposals to further perfect the vetting process to protect our nation’s safety, but we must remember that resettling refugees reinforces our security by supporting key allies that are disproportionately affected by forced displacement.

“The United States should continue to show leadership and share in our global responsibility to provide refuge to the most vulnerable, regardless of religion or nationality. Welcoming refugees sends a strong message to groups that want to do us harm: the United States remains a leading pillar for stability and liberty in the world.

“Since its founding in 1919, Save the Children has worked tirelessly to help millions of refugee children and families—providing lifesaving assistance, improving access to education and quality healthcare, and protecting children from exploitation. We are committed to continuing this vital work, regardless of ethnicity, religion or any other factor.”

To help us support refugee children and families, click here.

Save the Children gives children in the United States and around the world a healthy start, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm. We invest in childhood — every day, in times of crisis and for our future. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

To Reach the World’s Most Excluded Children, Data is Fundamental

nora-oconnellNora O’Connell

Associate Vice President of Public Policy & Advocacy at Save the Children U.S.

December 12, 2016

As it’s sometimes presented, the concept of foreign assistance data transparency provokes drowsiness, but accurate and timely data can be of grave importance, particularly in humanitarian emergencies and with marginalized groups.

The importance of data was demonstrated during the 2014-2015 West Africa Ebola outbreak, where data provided at the right place and the right time helped save lives.  When doctors first started treating patients, the lack of electronic medical records hindered patient care.

To address the lack of data, Save the Children and Doctors Without Borders adapted an open-source platform to confront the outbreak by providing timely information on everything from the direction the outbreak was moving to which doctors were due for payment.

Recently, as part of the speakers’ panel for the release of a Friends of Publish What You Fund (PWYF) report, I emphasized that, like the example above, data can have real – and sometimes life and death – consequences. I know this through my own work with Save the Children and the communities that we engage around the world. At Save the Children we see the role of data in development as central for two primary goals:

  • To better inform development and humanitarian decision making, and
  • To strengthen accountability, particularly for marginalized groups including girls and refugees

Better and timelier development data has acquired an increased impetus globally as a crucial tool to achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and actionable data is foundational for Save the Children’s Every Last Child campaign aimed at the world’s most excluded children, including migrants and refugees, ethnic and religious minorities, and girls. To make the case for these children and to create a strategy to realize this goal, we need disaggregated data.

As the PWYF “How Can Data Revolutionize Development” report states, U.S. foreign assistance broadly has made important gains in aid transparency, but continued progress – from both U.S. foreign assistance agencies and development implementers – is required to make timely, accurate, and user-friendly data central pillars of U.S. government development policy and practice.

As the world’s largest bilateral donor, the U.S.’ commitment to generating and disseminating development data would help set an international benchmark for the global development community. On that count, while the U.S. has made progress, we still have a way to go to become a global leader. To achieve enhanced U.S. data transparency, the report cites three areas of focus:

  • Implement the U.S. commitment to publish humanitarian aid data
  • Invest in gender equality through publication of robust gender data
  • Improve U.S. aid transparency for stronger U.S. global development

The focus on gender disaggregated data is particularly important for Save the Children’s Every Last Child campaign, which includes girls as one of the largest excluded groups of children globally.

As the PWYF report states, “Whether seeking to increase equality, economic growth, peace and security or improve outcomes for children and families, supporting women and girls are considered one of the best investments for a country’s future.” But data relevant to gender equity is often nonexistent. The report continues, “Although gender-specific and disaggregated data are critical tools…the state of this data is woefully underdeveloped and difficult to use.”

The story of data to help identify and target vulnerable groups is mixed. As Brookings Institution Senior Fellow George Ingram stated at the event, “Transparency moved from a little discussed concept to being the norm in what we want to achieve.” But to sustain progress, U.S. development agencies and implementers should continue to make data transparency a priority – particularly in the world’s most fragile nations and among the most vulnerable and excluded groups.

“Bewildered and Covered in Blood.” Syria’s Children One Year After Alan Kurdi’s Death

11 year old boy from Syria
11-year-old Tamer fled Syria with his family. He now lives in a refugee camp in Lebanon.

September 5, 2016

On September 2nd, the one year anniversary of Alan Kurdi’s death, there was a lot of reflecting on what the world has done since to prevent such needless loss of life.

Many rightly conclude not nearly enough.

Almost 4,000 people have drowned since Alan’s death – over 3,000 of them this year alone – trying to reach European shores from Africa and the Middle East.

And for those who remain in Syria – the country Alan and his family died trying to flee from – there is utterly unthinkable suffering and despair.

Inside Syria

The situation in Syria right now is possibly the worst it has been since the conflict began over 5 years ago.

There are still around 250,000 children living in besieged areas across Syria. And the reports we’re receiving from our partners working to reach these children grow increasingly more tragic.

Donate to our Syria Crisis Appeal

We all saw the shocking images from Madaya at the start of the year. Skeletal children, pleading to be fed.

The town has been under siege by government forces and affiliated militias for more than a year. No aid has made it into Madaya since April and families are facing deadly shortages of food and medical supplies.

Yesterday we received a report from our partners that moved me to tears.

The situation has become so desperate, and children so emotionally and physically crushed, that medical staff say at least six children – the youngest a 12-year-old girl – and seven young adults have attempted suicide in the past two months, unable to cope with torturous conditions.

Escaping Syria

Even for those offered an escape route, such as the evacuation of Daraya last weekend, there are concerns for their safety and freedom of movement as they are transferred into shelters in government-held areas.

It shouldn’t require an entire community to leave their homes for families to get access to vital food, water and medical supplies.

There is a humanitarian imperative to ensure sustained and regular access for aid convoys to all besieged towns. But this continues to be denied.

Bombed school in Syria.
A Save the Children supported school in Syria that has been bombed.

One year on

Since Alan’s death, children continue to pay the price of this war.

The world was once again stunned at the image of Omran Daqneesh, the five-year-old boy from Aleppo, sitting bewildered in the ambulance, covered in blood and dust.

Aleppo is witnessing among the most extreme bombardment this crisis has seen.

Just this weekend our partners reported that 11 children have been killed by an airstrike, then as their grief-stricken community paid their respects to these young lives, their funeral was barrel bombed.

Other unverified reports suggest that in July alone, up to 340 children in Aleppo were injured by airstrikes and other-war related injuries and 101 died after being admitted to hospitals.

But where is the outcry?

The complete apathy around the Syria crisis is an insult to the thousands of children, like Alan, who have died as a result of this conflict in some shape of form.

At the weekend it seemed like some glimmer of hope might be there for the thousands of children trapped in Aleppo – Russia and the US agreed a path to get all parties around the table to discuss a 48-hour cease fire.

We all know that to make sure we can safely conduct effective and efficient humanitarian activities, the ceasefire for Aleppo must be extended beyond 48 hours, but this would be a welcome first step.

But one week on from this promise and we’ve seen no evidence that parties can agree to even this short pause in fighting. This is not acceptable.

 

Syria’s children cannot wait any longer.

Anniversaries of such tragic moments serve to remind us that we must do more to protect children in war. We should feel upset today, we should feel angry, but most of all we should demand action.

Donate to our Syria Crisis Appeal today. 

The Joys of a Letter Shared with Friends and Neighbors

Author Portrait_Nazma Akter, Sponsorship Program OfficerNazma Akter

Sponsorship Program Officer

Save the Children in Bangladesh

August 23, 2016

“It’s for the first time. A letter to such a little child is not only a new experience for us, but also a great joy for us.” said Sufia, age 27. Her two-year-old son Sabbir has just received a letter from abroad, sent to him by his sponsor.

Sufia is a home-maker and her husband, Delowar, age 32, works as a day laborer. Sabbir is their only child. Together they live in a slum settlement in the Rayerbazar community of Dhaka North city.

Later, Sufia and Sabbir show the letter to Sabbir’s father
Later, Sufia and Sabbir show the letter to Sabbir’s father

Enrolling children between the ages of 1 and 3 in Sponsorship has been recently introduced in Rayerbazar, in 2015 through our new Maternal and Child Health programming. Despite that this is a new initiative for Save the Children, the team in Bangladesh has already seen Maternal and Child Health has made sponsors excited. Sabbir received his first sponsor right after being enrolled in Sponsorship in August, and received his first sponsor letter immediately after that, in September.

Sabbir is still too young to understand what makes this letter so thrilling, but the happiness and excitement is greatly shared by his parents, despite that neither of them are literate. His mother explains, “We don’t know reading and writing. But we have loved reading the letter and replying to the sponsor with the help of [Sponsorship] staff. This letter has made us feel proud, as only Sabbir in our [entire] slum got a letter. We have shared the letter with our neighbors also. We are very thankful to the sponsor.”

In addition to making this connection with Sabbir’s sponsor, Sufia benefits from sponsorship support by attending early stimulation parenting sessions regularly. Our early stimulation parenting program is implemented through regular home visits or monthly group sessions with parents of newborns and toddlers. During these sessions, parents are taught how to aid in their young children’s development with playtime, language and communication, gentle discipline, healthy hygiene practices, feeding and nutritious foods. Parents and children alike learn with helpful learning materials, like illustrative cards and colorful picture books.

Sufia shares the letter with neighbors while little Sabbir is curious to join in the excitement
Sufia shares the letter with neighbors while little Sabbir is curious to join in the excitement

Sufia tells me, “Previously I didn’t know how to take care of a young child. But now, I have learned about the needs and care, including hygiene, food and nutrition required for Sabbir’s growth. Now, I can take proper care of him. We are happy to get Save the Children’s support.” Sabbir’s mother understands the importance of the Sponsorship program in helping her community, and how sponsors’ contributions directly benefit her child and family’s wellbeing.

Sufia wants Sabbir to have a good quality education. She wants his sponsor to keep writing to Sabbir, so that he too can learn from these letters and one day respond to them on his own. She is happy to know that her son has the opportunity to grow up with Sponsorship in his life.

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

Children’s Education is Simply too Important to be a Casualty of War

A blog post by Helle Thorning-Schmidt, CEO of Save the Children International and former Prime Minister of Denmark, and Julia Gillard, Chair of the Global Partnership for Education and former Prime Minister of Australia

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When Ali* and his family fled their home in Syria shortly after the war broke out, they had nothing but the clothes on their backs and hope for a better future. Five years on, that hope has turned to despair. Now in Lebanon, none of the family’s six children attend formal schooling, and 15-year-old Ali and his younger brother must work to support their family, digging potatoes for just $4 USD per day.

With wars and persecution driving more than 20 million people worldwide – half of them children – to seek protection in other countries, many are struggling to access basic services. This includes healthcare and education, and the important day-to-day needs of food and shelter.

While education is the single most important tool we can equip children with, it is often one of the first casualties of conflicts and emergencies. Less than 2 percent of global humanitarian funding is currently provided to pay for learning during crises – thereby wasting the potential of millions of children worldwide. Formal learning provides children with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed, while giving them hope for the future. It also gives children who have experienced the trauma and horrors of war and disaster the stability and sense of familiarity they need to be children, while protecting them from the risks of exploitation. Despite the generosity of many countries hosting large refugee populations – the vast majority of which are developing countries – most are struggling to provide refugees with the most basic services, including education. The situation is especially bleak in countries where a third generation of children has now been born into displacement.

Enrollment in primary school among these vulnerable children is well below the national average in places like Lebanon, Uganda, Kenya and Malaysia – a gap which is even more startling among secondary school-aged refugees. In fact, refugee children globally are five times less likely to attend school than other children, with 50 percent of primary school-aged refugee children and 75 percent of secondary school-aged children completely left out of the education system.

A poll commissioned by Save the Children in April found that 77 percent of respondents in 18 countries think children fleeing conflict have as much right to an education as any other child. Yet, for 3.2 million refugee children around the world like Ali and his siblings – who want nothing more than to learn and go to school – education is often an unattainable dream. We simply cannot allow this to continue.

Nearly one month ago at the World Humanitarian Summit, several organizations, including the Global Partnership for Education and Save the Children, joined forces with governments and donors to stop education from falling through the cracks during emergencies. Save the Children also committed to campaigning to get all refugee children back in school within a month of being displaced. Being a refugee cannot be synonymous with missing out on a quality education or being denied a better future – especially when vulnerable children have been forced to flee their homes and countries through no fault of their own. In short, refugee children deserve the right to a quality education as much as any other child.

We know that host countries need support from the international community and understand that no single country can solve this challenge on its own. But we also know that political will is key to solving this challenge.

Our goal is simple – to get millions of refugee children affected by crises back in school, where they belong.

The Education Cannot Wait fund has the potential to be a game changer, but only if governments, donors and aid organizations come together to prioritize, support, coordinate and properly fund this mechanism.

While $90 million USD have been generously pledged to date, billions more will be needed over the next few years if we are to reach our goal of getting 75 million children affected by crises back to school by 2030. Only then can we meet the Sustainable Development Goals set out by the UN, and ensure that no child in the world is ‘left behind.’

Accountability and transparency will be key to the success of Education Cannot Wait – so too will be ensuring that any money pledged for education in emergencies is new, and not simply taken from aid already earmarked for life-saving services like healthcare and nutrition.

In September, world leaders and donors will come together at two key global meetings on the issue of refugees and migrants – this most pressing challenge of our time. We urge those in attendance at the UN high-level meeting and the leader’s summit to prioritize education for children in emergencies and protracted crisis, including those who have been displaced.

With the right opportunities and the chance to learn, children like Ali will no longer be pressured to work – giving him and his family the hope they need to rebuild their lives, and potentially their country, if or when it is safe for them to return.

To learn about Save the Children’s work to help refugee children, click here. 

*Name changed for protection

A Letter to Show Her Friends

Child Portrait_Hajara

Save the Children in Uganda

May 30, 2016

In this age of technology, one would think that paper letters are irrelevant and therefore have no effect on anyone’s life. However, watching the smile spread across the face of young Hajara, a sponsored child in Uganda, tells a different story.

When Hajara received her first letter from her sponsor, she was overjoyed at the thought of receiving something from someone a great distance away and whom she had not seen face-to-face before. The letter was delivered to her by Eva, a Community Sponsorship Officer with Save the Children in Uganda, who also supported Hajara in reading and understanding the contents of the letter. We’re not sure if our sponsors can imagine the immense satisfaction that letters provide to children. Perhaps equally important, sponsors’ letters help children develop a love of reading and writing, while also learning about new words and places.

Community Sponsorship Officer Eva helping Hajara read her first sponsor letter
Community Sponsorship Officer Eva helping Hajara read her first sponsor letter

When asked how she felt about receiving a letter from her sponsor, Hajara said, “I feel very happy.” That statement may sound simple to many people, but because these children have a limited vocabulary, the word “happy” for Hajara encompasses feeling loved and special, too. Her sponsor referred to her as “another pretty niece,” which Hajara tells us made her feel really special. Attached to the letter was also a drawing of a homestead, showing three family members doing house chores. Hajara noted aloud that chores at home are a part of life not only in Uganda, but are responsibilities elsewhere, too.

After they finished reading her sponsor’s letter together, Eva helped Hajara to write a reply. Most of the children in our sponsorship communities know what they want to tell their sponsors, but may need help in getting the exact words right for expressing their ideas. Thus through letter writing, children have an opportunity to practice their reading and writing skills, which results in better school performance.

Hajara proudly holding her first letter from her sponsor
Hajara proudly holding her first letter from her sponsor

Hajara proudly mentioned that she plans to show and tell all her friends about her letter. She will then give the letter to her mother to keep safe for her, and will occasionally ask to reread it. She shares that she feels more encouraged and motivated to study hard in school knowing that someone out there cares about her future.

“When a child receives a letter from their sponsor, I am excited for them. They are always eager to receive letters and always ask if they’ve received any whenever they see me. When sponsors send drawings like the one Hajara received, the children can learn,” says Eva happily.

In a community faced with numerous issues and challenges, a letter gives hope, builds children’s self-esteem and encourages them to stay in school. Just this special piece of paper, which travelled from a faraway land from the hands of someone thinking of them, gives children something to keep as their very own, sometimes for the first time in their lives.

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

The Best Gift Parents Can Give

This holiday season, Guin and Nate are giving a very special present to their baby and Guin’s two older children, who they raise together: themselves.

 

It used to be that this young couple from rural western Washington state wouldn’t spend much time with the kids. They would hide in their room with the door locked, each of them says.

 

“We’d come out to give them their food or whatever, and then we’d just tell them to go play,” says Guin, 24. “We just shooed them on pretty much. That’s what my parents did to us, and that’s what hurt so bad. That’s what I never wanted to do, but that’s what we ended up doing anyways.”

 

Inside the locked room, Guin and Nate would do drugs. That was their escape, their means to cope. It was a strategy they both learned early in life.

 

“My parents were always gone, or when they were home, they were loaded,” says Guin. “So, we didn’t have bonding time, unless it was a loaded time. Like they were loaded, or just being crazy.”

 

Nate, 21, says his mom was also always gone or drinking, and that his older brother was the only father figure he ever knew. Together they raised their younger brother. Holidays were especially tough.

 

“There were presents under the tree and everything, but there weren’t any parents around. It was just my two brothers,” he says. “It was hard.”

 

As Guin and Nate struggled with their pasts and trying to scrape together a living and a future, they turned to drugs and then each other for comfort. But when the two older kids, 3 and 7, got taken away by the state temporarily last year, they knew something had to change.

 

Getting clean wasn’t easy, but in some ways the regimented recovery program made the path clearer than knowing how to become a good parent — something they desperately want. They say having Hollie in their lives is making a huge difference.

 

As a home visitor in Save the Children’s Early Steps to School Success program, Hollie visits with pregnant mothers and families of babies and toddlers in economically depressed communities. The idea is to teach parents to be their child’s first teacher through reading, talking, singing and playing — and to serve as a resource and support for families struggling with many different challenges.

 

“If Hollie wasn’t here every week helping us with our daughter, I don’t think that we’d be improving so much with our child. She’s helped us be better parents,” says Guin. “I’m grateful for Hollie all the time. Books, man, she brings so many books. My kids are so grateful for the books.”

 

mother and child

 

Children growing up in poverty tend to fall developmentally behind other children long before they ever reach school. Then they struggle to catch up and many never do, making it very difficult for them to break the cycle of poverty. Yet, despite the many risk factors their families face, more than 80 percent of the children in Save the Children’s program go on to score at or above the national norm on pre-literacy tests.

 

Guin and Nate’s baby is only seven months old, but Guin can already see how she’s ahead of where her older kids were at that age. She started rolling over, sitting up, crawling and making her first word sounds much sooner. All the floor time, reading, talking and playing is really working, Guin says.

 

floor time

And, she says, the bond she’s building with her baby is so much stronger from the very beginning.

 

“Hollie has told us that face-to-face play is really important at this age, because they’re learning facial expressions and feelings and all that stuff,” Guin says. “Babies have the coolest facial expressions. They have happy in their eyes is what I say. Happy eyes. I love that.”

 

“I think I beat you in facial expressions,” Nate cuts in.

 

“Yes, he has,” says Guin. They laugh and then reflect on what lies ahead.

 

“Our goal is to make life better for them,” Guin says.

 

“Hopefully, we’re able to achieve that for them,” says Nate. “It’s hard, but we’re getting through it.”

 

“It’ll all be worth it in the end,” says Guin.

 

I can only imagine how difficult it must be for these young parents to turn their lives around, given the rough start in life they both had. It’s wonderful to see the pride Guin and Nate are taking in their parenting and to see their children get the loving attention they themselves missed.

 

This holiday season, I’m grateful for the amazing home visitors like Hollie, who are helping parents be the best they can be.

 

Together with Save the Children, JOHNSON’S® is bringing awareness to the importance of early childhood development (ECD) programs, so that every child can reach their full potential.

 

This holiday season, if you select Save the Children through the Johnson & Johnson Donate a Photo app and donate a baby photo using #SoMuchMore, JOHNSON’S® will triple its donation in support of early childhood education programs.

 

This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post

Nepal Earthquake: Aid Worker’s Firsthand Account from the Field

A firsthand account of the massive earthquake and Save the Children’s plans for how to help the children of Nepal.

Our voice in the field is Brad Kerner, part of Save the Children’s team on the ground responding to the deadly earthquake in Nepal. He was in Nepal when the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck and is in Kathmandu assisting with our emergency relief efforts. Here he shares his firsthand account of the massive earthquake and Save the Children’s plans for how to help the children of Nepal. 

Brad Kerner_162443Nestled in the majestic Himalayan mountains, Nepal is near the top of the world and home to Mount Everest. I’ve always been in awe of the snowy peaks and fond of the gentle Nepalese children I’ve had the honor to work with over the years.

I was hiking with friends on the rim of a pristine lake. We were enjoying our day off, celebrating a colleague’s birthday. Then suddenly in the distance, we saw buildings start to shake. Then the rumbling sounds started. People ran out of buildings, but the shaking ground knocked them off their feet like game pieces on a chessboard that had been turned over. We felt the ground shake as the shockwave came crashing toward us. We huddled together, instinctively, for stability. I’ve never been more frightened in my life – I was paralyzed with fear and clung to my friends for dear life. We watched as buildings collapsed and houses came crashing down. The sounds of destruction and dogs barking filled our ears. The quake lasted little more than a minute – but it felt like an eternity.

15-NP-5_162433At first, we didn’t know the extent of the damage. Communications were down. My wife saw the news back in the states and was frantically trying to contact me. Thankfully, she reached me within a few hours.

We slept in a tent for the night and then headed back to Save the Children headquarters in Kathmandu, where our staff was readying our response to the disaster. What’s typically a 4-hour trip took more than 7 hours, but we were grateful that the roads were relatively intact. So many homes have been damaged and destroyed. The aftershocks make it unsafe to be inside. It is still cold here in the mountains, and it rained last night, but people are fearful to return to their homes and are sleeping outside in makeshift tents.   

Our teams have been working around the clock in response to the earthquake. The first phase includes the distribution of emergency supplies like tarps and other materials children and families need to survive. The next phase will also include protecting children who have been orphaned or separated from their families during this tragic disaster. As a public health professional, I have great concerns about the potential for the spread of disease in the coming days. With little or no access to clean water and proper sanitation, conditions are ripe for diarrheal diseases, such as cholera. These diseases are already the second leading cause of death for young children around the world. 

We are doing everything we can to keep children safe from harm and help families recover in the aftermath of the earthquake. We have more than 500 highly trained staff members in Nepal, many of whom have received intensive emergency response training. We are so grateful for the outpouring of support from our donors that will enable us to give children what they need to survive this horrific disaster and recover in the days, weeks and months to come. On behalf of Nepal’s children and families, thank you.

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More about Brad: Brad lives in Connecticut with his wife and children. They have two sons, ages 7 and 5, and a 10-month-old daughter. A veteran aid worker, Brad has been with Save the Children for a decade, and this is his 10th trip to Nepal. He had been working in Pokhara, Nepal on our health education programs – about 125 miles away from the capital city of Kathmandu – not far from the epicenter of the earthquake. Brad is highly regarded by his colleagues for his expertise and adored for his good humor. He is also one tough man – literally! When he’s not working or spending time with his family, he is an avid endurance athlete. He has competed in the Tough Mudder – a hardcore, 10-mile team obstacle challenge. 

How You Can Help 

Please give generously to the Nepal Earthquake Children’s Relief Fund to support Save the Children's responses to ongoing and urgent needs as a result of the earthquake.