After a fun morning with the kids, I headed over to visit our maternal and newborn health program in Assiut, which was a great opportunity to see how much our programs depend on partnerships with the local community and government. Local community groups helped provide a simple space, volunteers, and matching funds to ensure that pregnant moms and newborns receive critical pre-natal services from health staff trained by Save the Children. And the local government helps by ensuring that these health workers are part of the broader health system training as well.
I just returned from a quick—but packed!—trip to Egypt and was struck by both the breathtaking speed of change in the country and the still-hovering sense of uncertainty. It’s as if the whole country is standing on the bank of a strong-running river, trying to decide whether to jump in and swim to the other side or stay on the bank and wait for the waters to slow. Perhaps it was the many beautiful views of the River Nile that I saw on my trip that inspired this metaphor!
October 19, 2011
The produce section at Ahmed’s shop is nothing short of impressive.
Onions as big and red Christmas tree ornaments shine in the sun. Next to them, garlic the size of cats’ heads gaze up at customers. In the next bin, heaps of mangoes doze in the shade, waiting for their turn in a juice machine. On hot days, the juicer is a hit with people ready for smoothies ranging for guava to avocado.
But this is no swank gourmet store in Los Angeles.
It’s a shed in the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. The aisles are sand alleys where shoppers weave between dozing donkeys and smoking garbage.
Dadaab has been here for 20 years and has worn, lived-in feel to it. To cater to the 440,00 refugees living here, markets have sprung up where you can buy everything from slick cell phones to knock-off European perfumes.
But most shoppers make a beeline for the basics: onions, potatoes, and eggs. It’s a selection many never had in Somalia, a country that’s been on a slow downward slide for years. Food choices, especially in the countryside, have become limited. Most Somalis grew up with only two options: camel meat and camel milk. In a country where, in some places, camels out number people, dinner for many means fried camel meat washed down with sussa, camel milk that is left in the shade to ferment. Some children drink nothing but camel milk for the first few years of their life.
The food selection in Dadaab for many years wasn’t much better, a meager array of shriveled produce and canned goods. Most people relied on processed food from aid agencies. While it was welcome, it wasn’t satisfying all the nutritional needs of children. That led to frightening rates of malnutrition.
But now, thanks to Save the Children, there’s a food revolution happening in this unlikely place. With financing from the French Government, Save the Children started a program in which vouchers are given to parents with children between 6 and 12 months old to buy fresh food and vegetables from select vendors. Parents receive vouchers worth about $10 a month that they can redeem at 45 vendors throughout the camp.
The idea? Don’t wait for children to become malnourished and then try to save them. Feed them the right foods during the critical months of their life.
The project has led to healthier children, and parents are saving money. But maybe most surprising: It brought about an evolution of the Somali palette. And that has led to an increase in profits for businessmen.
Just ask Noor, the quiet father of nine came to Dadaab in 1993. For years he lived on the food he received in the camp but wished for something else.
“We never liked it, but the circumstances forced us to eat it,” he says.
In 2005, he opened a shop in the Ifo section of Dadaab camp. Most of his time was spent snoozing the day away, waiting for customers. He only sold dry goods like salt, powdered milk and rice – the same things most everyone else sold. On an average day, he’d make $1 to $2 profit.
Now, with the arrival of Save the Children’s fresh food voucher project, there’s a steady stream of shoppers squatting next to his vegetable bins, rifling through tomatoes, oranges and onions.
He goes through, for example, 110 pounds of potatoes and 45 pounds of onions every week. He now makes $10 a day and is using that money to send his son to private school. He’s also constructed a house in Dadaab and he’s expanded his shop.
What if the voucher program was to stop? Noor shook his head. We would have “absolutely no business at all,” he said.
The project goes beyond nutrition. For parents to qualify for vouchers, they must show proof that their children were immunized and had their growth monitored at a clinic. This simple strategy has meant more than 50,000 children have been vaccinated and their health is carefully monitored.
Save the Children follows up with parents in the program to make sure they understand nutrition messages. And what foods provide what nutrients. But many parents have never seen pineapples or parsley, and are baffled about how to prepare them. So Save the Children provides cooking demonstrations to moms whose children have qualified for the program. Think Emril Live or Rachel Ray, Dadaab style.
The fresh food revolution in Dadaab has meant big changes for people like Ahmed Kalif. The former school teacher who speaks solid English has henna-orange hair and gentle demeanor. He points to the giant sacks of potatoes in the back of his shop. He’s become so successful, he says, that he now sells wholesale to other shop keepers in the market.
“I have 200 customers a day who buy with vouchers,” he says, adding that they buy 150 pounds of potatoes a week and hundreds of eggs.
One of them is Fatuma Abdi Yussuf, a customer who regularly visits Ahmed. She says the days of bland porridge are over.
“The moment I bring this into the house,” she says, pointing to her bag of fruits and vegetables, “(the children) fight over it.”
Arfon Yussuf Abdi, a grandmother who frequents Ahmed’s shop, said she was worried because she knew her grandchildren weren’t getting the proper vitamins and minerals.
But now that she has access to fresh kale—a vegetable with so many micronutrients, it seems like there’s a health food store in every leaf—her grandkids are much healthier.
“If there was no voucher project,” she says, perusing some potatoes, “I wouldn’t be able to buy this.”
Monday, October 17, 2011
“It takes me an hour to reach the only functional water pump in our area. I have to struggle with the large crowd of people there to fill my bucket. I then carry it back to our tent and have one roti (chappati) for breakfast. Later, I go out to help my brothers and father in picking cotton from the farm, which is flooded with two feet of water. We are trying to salvage as much of the cotton as possible, otherwise we will have much more debt to repay in the years to come. In the evening, I work for four to five hours in a tea shop near Mirpur Khas city, where I can make 50 rupees ($.57) every day."
These are the words of a 12-year-old boy in Mirpur Khas district. Even before the floods, the communities in worst affected areas of Lower Sindh were deprived of the even basic necessities such as proper housing, sufficient quantities of food, clean drinking water, education and healthcare.
This coastal belt of Sindh often experiences minor floods and was also affected by the massive riverine floods last year but what I have seen in the past few days is beyond belief. It seemed as if I had landed on another planet. What used to be farmlands resemble vast lakes touching the horizon while rows after rows of thatched shelters are pitched up along the only road spared by the floods.
Hundreds of thousands of people are homeless; those who were lucky to find room in government school buildings were pushed out when floodwaters rose to more than six feet. As men scrounge for work and fill forms to get relief supplies, women and children queue in long rows to collect water at hand pumps and trucks distributing clean water. Children walk up to their knees or swim in stagnant water.
The long term risks are alarming – peoples’ savings are invested in cattle and the surviving animals are becoming weaker due to the scarcity of food. “I am forced to sell our goats at half price before they die,” said one farmer, “and this is the only cash I have to support my family till spring crops are harvested next year. That’s why my children have to work in the city.” This means boys as young as six dropping out of schools and working in hazardous informal setups, including auto workshops, tea houses, bus stands and labor work at construction sites.
After a lackluster response from the international community and national media, interest in this emergency is slowly picking up. BBC, CNN, and Al-Jazeera, as well as national electronic and print networks are now covering the real-life stories of families struggling to survive. They need to continue sharing the details of the crisis with the world before it is too late.
Dr. Tererai Trent, PHD , Educator and Humanitarian
Hurungwe District, Zimbabwe
October 13, 2011
The Matau Primary School is part of a Save the Children project funded through The Oprah Winfrey Foundation to honor Tererai, whose story of tenacity, courage and spirit inspired Oprah and millions of fans around the world. The donation to the Matau Primary School project was announced on May 20, 2011, during one of the final "Oprah" show episodes. Learn more here: SavetheChildren.org/Oprah
Good Morning. My dear friends and family of Matau and our local officials, I am so delighted to be home. I return to Zimbabwe after an unlikely journey that began asa small girl with a big dream of getting an education.
Let me take you back to that time. You see, then as now, many men from our village traveled to Harare to work as commercial farmers and to South Africa to work in the mines. They would be gone for months at a time, and would write letters to their wives back home. But, these women – many of your mothers and grandmothers – had not been to school, and when the letters arrived each month, they could not read them.
They would take their cherished letters house-to-house, seeking a child or adult who could read their letters, and only after the letters had been read by several people, several times, were they satisfied that the content of the letters were true.
Dr. Tererai Trent reads with 10-year-old Beauty, grade 4 student at Matau Primary School
(Photo Credit: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/Save the Children)
It broke my heart that these women could not read the most intimate conversations with their husbands, and this experience rooted in me a deep desire to learn.
Since then, our community and our nation have traveled far. Today, all Zimbabwean children have the right to go to school. We are on a path to progress, and we can’t go back. But, we have not yet reached our journey’s end. And now, Oprah Winfrey has helped to redefine our destiny.
It is a change in destiny for our children here, in one of the most remote areas of this planet. We are not unlike other rural villages in Zimbabwe or in Africa. Far from the city, we have more cattle than cars, and more lions than illuminations. But, through the generosity of the Oprah Winfrey Foundation, a light now beams brightly on Matau and our neighboring villages. For today, when people hear the word “Matau,”they do not see the shadows of poverty;they see the brightness of hope. We have been given a great gift, and it is our responsibility to embrace it and be a shining example for all of Zimbabwe and all of Africa.
But let me be clear on one point, this is the Matau Primary School project. This is not the Tererai Trent school project. This is not the Oprah Winfrey school project. This is our project. Yours and mine, working together with our partner, Save the Children.
And, it is in that spirit of togetherness that our children will achieve greatness, whether they live their lives here in Matau, in Zimbabwe or venture to new lands. For, as a very wise woman, my own mother, once told me, education is the only gateway out of poverty.
What will we do together?
First, we’re going to build a new school with new latrines, new teachers’ houses and an administrative building so that children can have a safe place to learn.
But we know that school buildings do not teach children, teachers do. Teachers like our own beloved Mr. Gwaradzimba.
In honor of him and others, we’re going to train our dedicated teachers and give them the skills to make them even better teachers.
We’re going to give our youngsters an early boost on learning, when their bodies and brains are growing rapidly, so that they will enter school prepared and ready to succeed.
We’re going to help our children learn how to read by getting all of you involved in activities like reading days where we will devote an entire day to celebrate reading in our community, or reading buddies, where we will pair older students with younger students to mentor them.
Now, some of you may be saying, Tererai, I do not know how to read or write, so I do not think I can help. And to you, I say, there is a way. Your worth may not be measured in the words you can read but it can certainly be measured in the words you can speak.
Ours is a culture rich with oral story telling. Share our stories with young children. It will pique their interest, and they will ask questions and want to learn more. Ask your children what they have learned in school that day. Show them your knowledge.
For knowledge is power. There is a common African saying that many of you may recognize. “It takes two hands to crush a head lice.” And, the same can be said for illiteracy. It will take both hands – all of us, together – to crush it out and build a home of knowledge for our children. You see, we are not just building a schooltogether, we are building a better future for our children and future generations.
So I close my remarks today with a special message for all of you:
To our government leaders, without you, we cannot achieve much. Please recognize the importance of education and an early childhood development curriculum that benefits children.
To our community, be the light and example of how we can build something together. We want people in Zimbabwe to say, “We want to be like Matau.” You have already taken that first step, by making more than 450,000 bricks for the Matau School buildings. What an unbelievable and proud accomplishment!
To our teachers, I appreciate the role you’ve played in creating a learning environment for our children that help them realize their potential. With more training, you’ll be even more effective. You are the house of this community.
To our parents, encourage your children to realize their dream of being educated. By building our home of knowledge here, our children will stay and become our teachers, our doctors, our leaders.
And, most importantly, to our children, ask questions. Be curious. Listen to your teacher. Remember, many of your parents and grandparents cannot read and write. They grew up in severe poverty without schooling. Will you choose the same route? Or, will you take a different track and show the next generation what is possible. And, even more importantly, what is achievable.
For we may be poor in material goods, but we will be rich in knowledge.
Tinogona! Tinogona! Tinogona!
It is achievable.
The AIDS epidemic reached 30 this year and though there has been a huge amount of progress here in the U.S., the story in Africa is a vastly different one. On the continent, women and children are the main victims of the disease with the fastest growth of infection rate now among women and youth. Over 22 million are affected across Africa.
When you see the face of HIV/AIDs in countries like Ethiopia, it is often through the eyes of a child, like the kids I met on a trip to the “transportation corridor” between Addis Ababa, the capital, and the trade hub of Awassa.
Tanya Weinberg, Director of Media and Communications
October 12, 2011
Pop Quiz! This coming Sunday is:
A) A good day for brunch
B) World Food Day
C) Blog Action Day
D) All of the Above
I’m going with D. Like so many of us, I’m working hard this week, and I’m looking forward to a nice Sunday brunch with friends. But, October 16 is also World Food Day, a time to reflect on food and hunger issues around the world.
It’s very cool that this year, Sunday is also Blog Action Day – a chance for thousands of bloggers to rally around an important cause. Special thanks to our friends at Oxfam for organizing this year’s Blog Action Day around an issue affecting hundreds of millions of children around the world – hunger.
Save the Children has produced an embeddable World Food Day Quiz for the occasion. It’s an interactive way to share some surprising information about hunger. By posting it, bloggers can do more than spread critical awareness, they can offer readers a easy way to make a real difference. The quiz ends with the option to send an urgent message to Congress: Don’t slash foreign aid! It’s no time to abandon efforts to fight hunger.
Here’s the quiz and below some context around why its ultimate message is so critical right now:
The good news is that the world has made great progress on reducing child hunger. The United Nations reports that child malnutrition rates in the developing world have dropped from 30 percent to 23 percent between 1990 and 2009. That means millions of children have escaped the permanent physical and intellectual stunting that malnutrition causes, and the deadly disease that can often follow.
But there’s also some really bad news. Just at a time when economic crisis, food price volatility and more severe weather are threatening to reverse gains in fighting global hunger, the U.S. Congress is considering massive cuts to foreign assistance programs that help hungry children around the world.
If these cuts go through, the United States will have to pull back the kind of help it can now offer to desperately hungry children in the Horn of Africa. And we’ll also have to slash food security programs that have helped pull many out of hunger over the years. Did you know that the “Food for Peace” program established by President John F. Kennedy has helped around 3 billion hungry people in 150 countries?
Although surveys have shown many Americans think as much as 25% of the U.S. budget goes to foreign aid, the truth is only about 1% does. And only half of that goes to humanitarian and development programs that fight hunger and disease and offer impoverished children a chance for a better future. Let’s not cut the very programs that offer the best chances for building a healthier and more prosperous world!
Whether or not we have the option for a nice Sunday brunch this week, that kind of progress benefits us all.