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.


Still There Are Many Miles I Have to Go!


Desalegn Mulugeta

West Showa Impact Area Manager

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

July 2, 2015


As a West Showa Impact Area Manager, I have the privilege of visiting different program sites and sharing in the lives of the disadvantaged children there. As part of my routine visits, I traveled to West Welega, Mendi. This visit opened up an opportunity for me to see the school where I myself had completed grades 1 through 8. Since I had not seen the school for 28 years, I decided not to miss the opportunity. 


Desalegn in his classroom in West Welega, Mendi.

It was with mixed feelings that I entered the compound. Inside one of the classrooms, I was taken back to an event that happened when I was in grade 3. I used to travel 3 hours on foot to reach school every day. One day, I was so tried and was taking a nap while my English teacher was teaching. My teacher noticed and threw a piece of chalk at me and hit my eye. Even though my eye continued tearing for two days, I didn’t tell the situation to my family.

The trees in the compound were planted when I was in grade 3 also. I participated in planting these trees. They have grown tall and are giving their shade to people and animals, in the same way a child today may change his or her nation tomorrow. I always remember the encouraging words of my grandfather, who raised me. He would say, “You shouldn’t be illiterate like me. You have to finish your school and be someone tomorrow.” I recall the ups and downs of my everyday experiences in primary education. Looking after cattle, fetching water from the river, collecting firewood, travelling long distances- these were all challenges during my primary school years. The challenges are still there for children in rural communities. Some even face greater challenges than mine, like the risk of rape and abduction while traveling to school. 


Desalegn in his school building in West Welega, Mendi.

I noticed that classrooms had not been added and no Early Childhood Care and Development centers (ECCDs) had been created. As a result, young children will have to stay at home until they can be enrolled in grade 1 at age 7. I also saw that the children are still using unprotected water sources, like the river. I imagined how many children are staying home feeling sick from the unprotected water.

I feel down, for the children from my school are still drinking unsafe water and transportation to school still remains a great challenge. But I also feel pride and happiness with Save the Children’s intervention in Mendi. I have a long journey and large commitment ahead of me. I have to help children go to school, create conducive learning environments for them to stay in school, and improve the quality of education here.

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

Prep Rally Brings Community Together to Keep Kids Safe

Elizabeth-pulliam headshot

Elizabeth Pulliam, Program Specialist


October 7, 2014


Lightning strikes as an instantaneous thunderclap bursts around your house. You begin to wonder if the batteries in your flashlight are working or if yesterday’s grocery purchases will spoil before the power is restored. You see, your child is calm and knows exactly where to find the flashlight. These are behaviors she learned from Save the Children’s Prep Rally program– new emergency program that teaches kids basic preparedness skills through interactive activities and games.

Tucked into the heart of Appalachia, Owsley County, Kentucky is a very rural area with disaster risks covering everything from flooding and tornadoes to wildfires and earthquakes. Children are the most vulnerable during disaster, and as a nation, we are underprepared to protect them during emergencies. Twenty-one states lack basic regulations for protecting children in schools and child care and 74 percent of parents don’t feel very prepared to protect their kids. The Prep Rally Program was created with the understanding – that we can’t prevent disasters from happening, but it’s how we prepare for them that will make the difference.

Owsley County community leaders, including school staff, emergency services, first responders and government officials, banded together to plan a Prep Rally that would help children in Owsley Elementary School’s Afterschool program be ready to weather any storm. Photo Aug 28, 3 18 38 PM

The Prep Rally covers four basic Prep Steps that help build children’s resilience: 

  1. Recognizing Risks
  2. Planning Ahead
  3. Gathering Wise Supplies
  4. During Disaster

During after-school programming in the week leading up to their Prep Rally, Owsley students read books about preparedness and survival as part of their literacy lessons. They discussed the risks for natural disasters in their community and learned how to design a safety plan at home and how to reunite with their families should disaster strike.

On the day of the community Prep Rally event, the children kicked things off with a Get Ready Get Safe cheers and the Mayor of Booneville declared it Get Ready Get Safe Emergency Preparedness Day! The mayor also led the Preparedness Pledge, encouraging the children to talk with and make a plan with their families. Then children rotated through five themed stations including the Pillowcase Project, Red Cross coping skills, fire safety, tornado safety and water safety. Children were able to talk with local firefighters and police as well as climb aboard and explore fire truck and emergency medical helicopter.

“The students became more familiar with the types of disasters and how to be better prepared to cope with them,” said Phyllis Bowman, Owsley’s afterschool program coordinator. “Even though we are a small community with limited resources, the response from our emergency people was great. This is indicative of their support of our children."

1055In addition to getting kids pumped to prep, the community Prep Rally created a dialogue between schools to work with emergency services agencies, and government officials about how to best prepare and protect Owsley County.

“The Prep Rally provided the children of Owsley County a valuable educational experience with the emergency services and preparedness personnel in our area,” said Bart Patton, Chief of the Booneville-Owsley County Volunteer Fire Department. “It encouraged the children to go home and prepare, along with their parents and guardians, plans to help them through disasters safely. We were all proud to be part of the program.”

The Owsley Elementary event is just one example of a successful Prep Rally- which has been implemented in 10 states serving thousands of children and families. The best part of the Prep Rally curriculum is that it can be shaped to fit the specific needs of your community—whether it’s a scout troop, afterschool, summer camp, or the beginning of tornado season.

Is Your Community Prepared to Protect Kids in Emergencies?

Get the FREE downloadable Prep Rally Kit:

And register your Community Prep Rally for the chance for Save the Children ambassador Lassie to visit your event!

For more information, email

Walking to School

Pilar Cabrera Sponsorship Program Facilitator Cochabamba Bolivia

Pilar Cabrera Barriga, Sponsorship Program Facilitator

Cochabamba, Bolivia

August 27, 2014


Sponsored child Andrés, a charismatic 9-year-old, takes a journey each morning to school with his mom. In meeting him, he said, “I wanted to share my daily walk to school with you.” While this is just a small part of his daily routine, this is an important part of his day!

My mom walks to school with me because the road to my school isn’t very safe. There are many cars that pass by and there aren’t any sidewalks. There are lots of stray dogs, garbage, and crime. My mom is a seamstress and works at home so that she can be near us. The school is about 1 km. away from my house and it takes us 20 to 30 minutes to get there.

I live on a hill and from there I can see part of the city. While I’m walking to school I see the landscape. On this walk I take advantage of talking with my mom about my studies and the support we receive at school from Save the Children. Also walking to school, I talk with my mom about the letters I get from my Save the Children’s friend. I am very happy to read letters from my sponsor who writes to me from so far away and in my replies I tell my sponsor about my school and my family.  Andres and his mom walking to school thru Phalta Orko neighborhood

I like to study all subjects. I got a best student diploma thanks to the Save the Children’s workshops that my teacher took. I think that all children must go to school to learn new things and become good professionals.

I consider myself a lucky boy because I have my parents who support me and I want to take advantage of the opportunity I have to attend a school that has Save the Children’s support. I will continue participating so that I can continue being the best student in my class.

I also want to say thanks to all the sponsors for the support they give us children in Bolivia!

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

Living in Limbo

Syrian children across the region have it very tough. There are now almost three million refugees who have fled Syria since the war started more than three years ago and an estimated 50% of them are children. They spread across five countries, with the highest number in Lebanon—nearly 1 million refugees living there in informal camps and in towns and cities. The country with the second highest number of displaced Syrians is Turkey, where most refugees live along a border that has not only geographic but cultural, historic, and economic ties with Syria.


Carolyn_Turkey_blog_2014Children here face many challenges, including the fact that most older children cannot go to school because they don’t speak Turkish. Families move constantly, trying to find work to make enough to feed themselves. But the children who have it toughest are those who are orphaned or are unaccompanied and living with extended family. Being a Syrian orphan means your father has died and thus you and your mother likely do not have any support unless family members or aid steps in to help.


We found a special kind of support for these children when we visited a local school. An amazing woman we met, Rana*, runs a school for orphaned Syrian children living in Antakya, giving them a bright and cheery school in which to spend their time with instruction in their native Arabic and, importantly, tutoring in Turkish and English as well. The school swells with up to 300 children in a tiny three-story house when school is in full session. When we visited, it was the start of summer vacation so there were about 60 children ages 4 through 13. Most of the children were smiling and playful, though painfully there were a few who hung back and only looked at us with sad eyes when we tried to play and smile with them. All of them had lost at least one parent—some both—and had been taken in by aunts, uncles or neighbors coming from Syria.


Save the Children is supplying some emergency aid to the school in the form of summer clothes and shoes, as well as school materials, but it’s not enough. Rana struggles to find support for the school, needing to pay the rent, teacher salaries, cost of instructional materials, and transportation costs to allow the children to get across town to attend. She is also raising two disabled boys as well as two other children and, despite those challenges, she raises much of the funding for the school herself. Her selflessness makes her school a bright spot for children who have been through so much, and still face so many challenges.


As we ended our visit, one of the youngest girls posed proudly outside the school as the bus pulled up to take her home. Rana and her teachers stood on the curb ready to help the children onto the bus. It was an ideal picture of happy student and steadfast teacher—but the circumstances are far from ideal. I hope on my next trip back to Turkey I can see Rana’s work with children grow even stronger thanks to greater support for the Syrian refugees now living in Turkey.


*Names have been changed.

How Save the Children support schools: A Parents Point of View

Mario Chungara. Asistente de Comunicación de Patrocinios. Cochabamba - Bolivia

Mario Chungara Yugar, Sponsorship Assistant


May 2014


 Because of the nature of my work, I am constantly in contact with members of the community. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak about Save the Children with a local school board president. Here’s what he told me:


“Hello, my name is Gumersindo Fuentes Ramirez. I am the parent of 4 children and have participated at my children’s school since 1996 when I became school board secretary. I’ve been president for 13 years.”

  Gumersindo helping out a sponsored child with her correspondence

“Save the Children came to our school with the proposal to improve the quality of education for our children. We started working together in August 2011. For us parents, the arrival of this organization has been a blessing.”

“Save the Children has given teaching skill workshops for teachers, and we have noticed that teachers seem more motivated and filled with new knowledge that is applied in their classrooms. We also had vitamin supplementation and children were taught the proper way to wash their hands. The presence of Save the Children has been very beneficial and valuable, creating significant change in our children’s lives and education.”

“We parents have been trained on children’s rights, against violence towards children and against family violence. This is very important because parents are changing the way they treat their children and are more understanding and caring.” Mom's at Family Center prepare nutritional food for their children

Gumercindo also pointed out the importance of Family Centers, implemented to promote development of children under 4, promoting bonding between mothers/caretakers and children. At the centers, children learn to be better prepared to transition into school, and mothers learn how to prepare nutritional food for their families. 




From the Philippines, With Love

The following blog first appeared on The Huffington Post.



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

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


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

Syrian Kids, Lebanese Schools: A New “Normal”



When we came inside the tent, the Syrian family of eight welcomed us warmly and urged us to sit close to the small stove in the center for warmth.


While the weather had improved from the previous weeks when a winter storm dropped several inches of snow and temperatures dropped below freezing, it was still very chilly.  It looked like the children were wearing many of the clothes they owned, layer upon layer, though the smallest little girl still had bare feet.  With our Lebanon team translating, we talked and learned how this family fled Syria under fire on their farm near Homs and had been living in this makeshift camp of about 100 families for close to a year.  None of the children, from high school age down to four years old, had been able to go to school since they left home—but their father talked proudly about how they had excelled back in Syria, when all had a house to live in and a school to go to. Now, he said, he feared they would fall so far behind they could never catch up.  And we learned later that several of the children were working as laborers to support the family, something the father was too ashamed to tell the strangers who came to visit.


Child refugees from Syria now number over one million across the region, with an estimated 400,000 in Lebanon alone.  For most of these children, their childhood has been put on hold and for many it will never be revisited.  Many teenagers will most likely never go back to school.  What will this mean for the future of Syria when families are finally able to return?


My first trip to Lebanon since the crisis in Syria was a sobering one.  It is a country of about four million people and is now home to close to one million refugees from Syria—25% of its population.  That’s like if 75 million people suddenly arrived on our borders in Texas or California.  We would certainly be reeling if such a thing happened and the Lebanese are struggling too.  Given the infrastructure challenges of such a huge influx of people, it’s not a surprise that many children have not been able to get into school even two or three years after they left Syria.


Luckily, small efforts are making a big difference for these children. We visited a government school in Bekaa Valley that has agreed to run “second shift” programs for Syrian children.  Here, with support from Save the Children, kids are able to come to school in the afternoons for about three hours, after the regular classes have left, and have basic instruction in math, reading and science in their native languages of Arabic and English.  Some instruction in regular Lebanese classrooms is in French, a language very few Syrian children speak, making it tough for Syrian children to attend regular classes in Lebanon. Though “second shift” does not provide a full day of instruction, dedicated teachers are able to at least keep kids leaning and engaged.  


IMG_5436But probably the biggest benefit of this effort is what being back in the classroom means for these children emotionally.  In stark contrast to the quiet, withdrawn children we met in tents in the makeshift camps, kids at the school were smiling, jumping up eagerly to answer the teacher’s questions, joking and playing with us and just so obviously happy to be in school, a place that seemed to finally make them feel like normal kids again.


It’s heartbreaking to think that millions of kids inside and outside Syria aren’t benefiting from being in a classroom. Save the Children is working hard to make sure that more Syrian children have the chance to get back to school, get back to a (new) “normal” and get back to experiencing the childhood they need and deserve.


You can help the Children of Syria by joining my fundraising team at

The Children of Typhoon Haiyan: Tales of Resiliency, Heroes and Recovery – Part 2


 David Brickey Bloomer, Asia Regional Child Protection Advisor


January 8, 2014


Part 2: The heroes that risked their lives to save others, and the heroes that served others despite their situation

Psychosocial support initiatives for children was needed in so many communities that it became rather difficult to make decisions on where to establish programmes. To ensure that all the communities in need were reached, we coordinated with other actors such as aid agencies, local and national government departments.

In Tacloban City, many displaced children were staying in evacuation centres—mostly schools and other larger centres that had all been damaged to some extent, yet offered a roof, or partial one, under which to sleep. Work in the evacuation centres was being coordinated through the City Social Welfare Department and there were plans to utilize day care centre workers with the tasks of operating child friendly spaces. But many of the day care centre workers were, of course, themselves affected and were also putting the pieces of their lives back together.  We began with some simple measures to set up child friendly spaces in evacuation centres with the support of teachers and other community volunteers.

Panaloran School in Tacloban was one such evacuation centre. On the morning of Typhoon Yolanda, it housed up to 70 children and numerous families.  The school yard looked like a battle zone, yet the main building itself had withstood a large brunt of the storm.  The same families that had sheltered there in preparation for the storm were still residing in the few classrooms.  I met many heroes during my time in Leyte—their selfless actions saved the lives of countless children—but I particularly remember the poignant stories from a man named Oscar in Panaloran School.


Oscar, a community member in Tacloban stands in front of a school where he, his wife and 30 community members took shelter during Typhoon Haiyan. Photo Credit: David Bloomer/Save the Children

Oscar and the others at the school were in a ground level classroom on the morning of the storm. They anticipated the high winds but few had any inkling of the storm surge that would accompany it. As it became apparent that the water was going to rise above their heads, they moved to the second floor of the building despite greater risk of debris flying through the air. But the strength of the water currents made it impossible for them to open the classroom door.  Oscar broke open one of the windows and each person scrambled out through it; children were carried through the window to waiting adults on the other side. Oscar was the last one out.

The children at the school were the saddest I had witnessed in my first few days. We quickly mobilized the adults at the school; provided them with protective gear and provided cash for work for the clean-up of the school.  This was the most amazing community—by the time I had returned in the afternoon, the school had been cleared almost entirely of dangerous debris; a small classroom that was ankle deep in mud and other debris had been cleared and was being prepared for a child friendly space and temporary learning space.  Most gratifyingly, the children wore smiles on their faces and looked happy; this only in anticipation that a small space for them was being established and they would have a place to be with their friends and could engage in some fun activities. In other words, a chance to take their mind off of the horror that surrounded them. 

It was Oscar’s wife, a teacher herself, who led most of the activities for children in those early days. This was a woman who was badly affected herself, but gave her time to the children instead of salvaging her belongings and rebuilding her home. The children always came first.


Oscar’s wife, a teacher at the school her and her husband took shelter in during the storm, stands with one of the children her husband saved. She is now living at the school with her husband, Oscar, after their home was badly damaged by the Typhoon. Photo Credit: David Bloomer/Save the Children

As activities went on, I saw even more smiles on the faces of children the next day as they played with their friends and held cuddly soft toys. The scene at Panaloran School was one repeated over and over again in villages, communities and towns.