Working with Local Government

Author Portrait 1_Carolyn Alesbury, Education Specialist
Marianne O’Grady and Carolyn Alesbury

Education Specialists

Save the Children in Afghanistan

March 9, 2018

As the spring flowers brought color to the gardens, and the trees were waking up after a long and cold winter, we flew into Faryab to visit the sponsorship program. The trip was long overdue and as representatives of the technical team, we were delighted to see the high quality programming happening in Faryab and Sarepul.

The early childhood, school health and basic education programs in Afghanistan are strong, highly necessary and innovative. The sponsorship staff are team players, dedicated, focused and so engaged.  With Faryab and Sarepul under new and crippling security strains, the staff face extreme challenges reaching some communities – something that must now be factored into their planning to ensure programs still reach children. Our teams partner closely with the local Ministry of Education department to provide educational activities in areas that the government cannot access. Save the Children sponsorship programming is there to support children in preparing for and transitioning to primary school, as well as ensure they are healthy and able to stay in school once they get there.

Early Learners (left to right) Mursal, Atila and Zuhra.
Early Learners (left to right) Mursal, Atila and Zuhra.

In Afghanistan, the ministry is working to get national preschools in every village, but currently only a few early learning centers are in place and functioning in Kabul. Since we know that stimulating children’s cognitive, social, language and even reading and math skills at an early age is important to set them up for success as students later on, sponsorship has been working hard to address these challenges.

We are successfully modeling community-based early learning programs for these young students, usually ages 4 – 6, throughout the country, and in Faryab and Sarepul, the local ministry officials even came to Save the Children and asked us to incorporate these programs into the primary school curriculum. This innovative approach demonstrates our strong partnership with the local government.

We were thrilled to have the opportunity to visit one of these early learning centers during our trip. The children were both excited and shy to sing and read with us, and to show off on the high quality playground equipment sponsors had provided here.

Early Learners benefiting from sponsorship in Faryab.
Early Learners benefiting from sponsorship in Faryab.

Another example of our close partnership with the local government could be seen in the health team’s recent visit. They provided blue prints for toilets that are low cost, high quality and long lasting. After much review with local ministry officials, sponsorship teams and village partners have built some of these new toilets at primary schools that had no toilets before or not enough to accommodate the number of students.

We are so proud of the program in Afghanistan and want to remind our sponsors, our members and our technical advisors that Afghan children are still in need.  We are working in some areas where other NGOs and the local government cannot reach – we hope that the inspiring and impactful efforts of our colleagues in Faryab can continue until all those needs have been addressed!

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

The Community Volunteer Experience

Author Portrait_Rosa Marroquín & Carolina Marroquín, Community Volunteers in Cuyagualo, Sonsonate
Rosa Marroquín & Carolina Marroquín

Community Volunteers

Save the Children in El Salvador

March 2, 2018


A dedicated nurse helping to improve the health of people in need, and a devoted teacher shaping the minds of future leaders. Those were the dreams of Rosa and Carolina, two sisters who have been community volunteers with Save the Children’s programs for nearly 8 years now. Unfortunately, when they were just teenagers a tragedy struck their family – their father passed away and their mother found herself overwhelmed with 6 children. Rosa and Carolina’s mother took the difficult decision of taking them out of school so they could work and help with the family income. Rosa and Carolina desire for their own children, and for all children in their community, the educational and development opportunities they couldn’t have for themselves. With their work, they are making Save the Children’s vision come to life: a world in which every child attains the right to survival, protection, development and participation.

Before Save the Children came to our community, our leaders used to think only about projects to improve the infrastructure, mainly paving dirt roads. So when Victor, Save the Children in El Salvador’s Community Mobilization Coordinator, presented sponsorship programs to us, people were at first not very interested because it was about education, health and protection for children and adolescents, more than direct and more tangible improvements like new roads. Some people even told us that Save the Children was evil and they would steal the children in our community. Ignorance and indifference dominated people’s minds. It wasn’t easy, but after attending the community mobilization sessions, the leaders came to understand that Save the Children had to involve the entire community in these programs in order to implement them, and that no decisions would be made without their input. In these sessions we also discussed the importance that having a strong educational foundation, and skills in personal hygiene and health, would have for our children. Little by little, the minds of community members began to change.

Little Idania, who at 18 months already can say 55 words!
Little Idania, who at 18 months already can say 55 words!

We’ve been community volunteers for almost 8 years now. Back when we started, we had just one group of 5 – 10 children in our Early Learners programs. Today, we have seven active groups with nearly 30 children each. We’ve reached the hearts of so many mothers over those years, and now they know the importance of starting learning very early, before children enter primary school. Even the teachers are happier and satisfied, because children already know things such as how to hold a pencil, colors and vowels when they start kindergarten.

Another success has been changing people’s minds about the future of adolescents. In the past, adolescents would only study until 9th grade, then opt for the traditional, and considered easier, path of becoming a farmer, security guard, getting married or even joining a gang. Now, adolescents don’t want that anymore. They want to finish high school and go to college. With sponsorship support, our community management group has learned how to create projects and opportunities for adolescents. So far, we’ve managed to get 18 scholarships for students to continue higher education in high school or college this year. Our community now has adolescents with technical studies in computer engineering, who have become role models for the younger ones. Adolescents are also part of the community management committees.

Rosa with her niece, Idania.
Rosa with her niece, Idania.

The only regrets we have? All the wasted years without the knowledge we have now, the early childhood education we couldn’t give to our own children because we didn’t know anything about it. Our own children are grown-up now, but with our younger nieces and nephews we have put into practice all the strategies we teach to the other women in the community. We know for sure the Early Learning programs work, because we’ve seen the success in our niece Idania. She is just 18 months and can already say 55 words! Even the doctor is surprised with that!

We could share so many stories about the work we are able to accomplish in our community thanks to Save the Children, but in the end all of these success stories make us proud because we consider them our little triumphs!

Without dedicated community volunteers like Rosa and Carolina, Save the Children’s programs would not be possible. Children and families in their community are sure proud and thankful for having them, and being a part of their community’s growth themselves!

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


My School, A Place that Makes Me Feel Safe

By Melany

Edited by Selvia Vargas

Sponsorship Community Mobilizer

Save the Children Mexico

December 15, 2017

Hello, my name is Melany and I’m 4 years old. I live in Mexico City, a big city with a lot of cars, people, houses, streets, stores and noise. My mom takes me to school by bus every day. She says I have to pay attention because it’s dangerous. My school is the place I like the most because I can learn and it’s quiet and clean. They give me healthy things to eat and I can play with my friends.

During the holidays I missed coming to school to study and seeing my friends. I like coloring, but I like it best when my friend Paty colors with me. I also like playing with the blocks in my classroom. It’s fun, we use them to build things. I love building robots the most – I make them large and colorful.

Melany shows how she’s learned to write her name.
Melany shows how she’s learned to write her name.

They are teaching me numbers and letters. I can write my name all by myself now. My teacher helped me a lot. “M” is the easiest letter because it’s the first and the “a” is always the hardest.

My friends from “Los Children” (Save the Children) visit my school sometimes, the ones with the red t-shirts. They helped us form a committee, which I love to be a part of with the other kids in my class. When we get together we talk about our school, like about the yard toys that are old and can cut us. Then we talk about how we can fix them. We think it is important to tell all the other children about our committee so that they can help us take care of our school, too. We also learn how to know dangerous situations, and how to protect ourselves when we are out in the city. We include our parents in our meetings sometimes, to support us in keeping our school clean and safe.

 Melany playing with blocks, getting ready to build a “robot”.

Melany playing with blocks, getting ready to build a “robot”.

“Los Children” came once to measure me and they told me I am healthy, but that I had to eat well and exercise to stay that way. That’s why those same friends came to talk with my mom and my teachers, and they taught them how to prepare good and delicious food for me, something our parents didn’t know so much about before. I like eating in my school, the food is always yummy. I like soup and fruits, especially mangos and strawberries.

The children’s committee and Save the Children have set up a school orchard, too. There we have planted many different things, and we are waiting for them to grow so that we can soon prepare more healthy food with these vegetables.

Thanks to support from our sponsors, Save the Children Mexico is giving children a healthy start in life, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm. Thank you from Mexico City to all of our sponsors who have helped make life better for children like Melany and her classmates!

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