Witnessing Change in Action

Andrea WHAndrea Williamson-Hughes; Deputy Director, Office of the President

Gare Arera, Ethiopia

December 20, 2011

The school constructed by Save the Children in Gare Arera came into view as we rounded the last turn of a bone-rattling, 45-minute drive over a rocky road that was more path than anything. That anyone lives so far from the paved road, let alone goes to school there, seems nothing short of amazing. Yet the sight of children peering out the school’s windows assured us that something was happening.

Save the Children has worked in the West Showa District of Ethiopia, where Gare Arera is located, since 2009. Today, several hundred children attend the school constructed with sponsorship dollars. Classes ranging from Preschool (Early Childhood Development programs) to Grade 4 are taught in two shifts to allow maximum use of classroom space. Working in close collaboration with the Ethiopian Government, Save the Children helps with curriculum enhancement and training, to help instructors convey important health, sanitation and nutrition practices and to impart basic, but effective, teaching methods.

I couldn’t help but smile during our classroom visits. Eager youngsters anxious to demonstrate their knowledge filled rooms adorned with colorful learning materials, many of them locally made. Questions about their lessons revealed their grasp of the health, sanitation and education messages that Save the Children-trained teachers impart.

IMG_1560 (2)Nearby latrines and clean-water sources – constructed by the community under the guidance of Save the Children – are further indication of the positive changes brought to Gare Arera by sponsors’ contributions. A school garden on the premises that puts my own vegetable patch to shame provides a means of income generation through the sale of produce for the school, as well as nutritious food for children to take home and seeds for home-garden sowing.

The comments of school PTA members, most of them parents themselves, further demonstrated that Save the Children greatly impacts the community. “Thanks to Save the Children, our children are learning important lessons – lessons they bring home to us about healthy living,” said one father. Parents in Gare Arera now value their children’s education to the extent that the PTA plans to enhance educational opportunities by raising funds for additional classrooms to house upper grades. Currently, children who want to go to school beyond fourth grade must walk a long distance and ford a river that becomes dangerous in the rainy season. This deters many children, especially girls, from going on to upper grades.

IMG_1634 (2)It was recess time as we prepared to depart and classrooms emptied into the open playfield. Rather than caring for younger siblings or working in the fields, these bubbly children were spending their day as children deserve – with exposure to knowledge and practices that will help them live healthier, more fulfilling lives.

As our vehicle began winding its way back down the bumpy road toward the nearby town of Ambo, I looked back at the many small hands waving us off. How often does one have the opportunity to see real change taking place? It’s a rare occurrence but because of caring sponsors that want to make a difference for children in Ethiopia, I knew I had just witnessed change in action.

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Philippines Flooding Endangers Thousands of Children

Anna Lindenfors

Anna Lindenfors, Philippines Country Director

Manila, Philippines

December 19, 2011

It must have been terrifying. Flash floods create a fast moving body of water, sweeping away everything in its path. Cars, trees, people.

Yesterday morning (night-time in the Philippines) very heavy rainfall caused rivers to burst their banks and flood the area – killing hundreds and leaving thousands more stranded, without food or shelter, in the middle of the night.

Save the Children’s team on the ground launched into action immediately – assessing the damage on the most vulnerable children and their families.

Travelling along the highway you can see bodies lined up – waiting to be identified. Of the hundreds of dead, there are only a few injured. This is not unusual in a flood. Very few people caught up in the path of a flash flood will survive. Most of the dead were children, again not a surprise. Children are smaller, lighter and less likely to know where to go in an emergency. Those that survived will be cold, exhausted and terrified. Some will have been separated from their parents in the chaos.

Several of Save the Children’s team are coping with personal tragedy while responding to the flooding. One tells me their family didn’t survive intact. The debris of a destroyed house fell on top of a relative, killing her. Another tells me that water levels are so high their home is completely uninhabitable. They are worried about electrocution, so can’t return home. Yet another reports that they have run out of coffins in the town, and he doesn’t know what will happen.

The team carries on anyway, urgently struggling through debris and floodwater to reach the victims of the crisis. Several had been on the phone through the night, trying to comfort those stranded on rooftops of houses. 

The next few days are critical. Children are always the most vulnerable during emergencies – and in the aftermath. Stagnant water and tainted supplies can cause disease. Longer term children will face hunger and malnutrition – in a country where 30% of the population already live beneath the poverty line, lost food stocks and lost income can push families over the brink.

50,000 children have been caught up in the flash flooding, and we’re working around the clock to reach vulnerable children and adults before it is too late. Please help us.

Save the Children is launching an emergency response to help victims of the flooding. Our experts are on the ground to distribute drinking water and essential items to families affected by the disaster. 

Our Kids Deserve Better

I travel all over the world with Save the Children, but I spent time earlier this week visiting some of our most important efforts anywhere—those for kids right here at home. Poverty rates here in the United States are some of the worst we have seen in decades with nearly 1 in 4 kids living in poverty. And in areas like Clarendon County, South Carolina, where I visited this week, 38% of children live below the poverty line. In some counties we serve across the state, that number is more than 50%.

What’s the best way to change these statistics? Make sure that every child gets through the fourth grade learning to read. The data is clear: kids who can’t read at grade level by the time they leave elementary school have a very steep hill to climb. Many drop out in middle school and even more by high school. The poverty trap starts all over again when these kids drop out.

And the best way to make sure kids learn to read is to start early. Children living in poverty are already 18 months behind by age 4 in terms of developmental measures if they have no pre-school. Disadvantaged children who do not participate in early childhood education programs are 25% more likely to drop out of school. With early intervention, kids get an even shot at learning. That’s why Save the Children has started home visits with toddlers and moms as well as pre-school for 3- to 5-year-olds in many poor communities.

Those are the numbers but these are real kids—kids like William, a busy little 18-month-old I met in Summerton, S.C. He and his mother, Jessica, live in a small duplex in a government-subsidized housing complex. Jessica is determined to make sure she works with William to give him a head start. She meets every week with a Save the Children coordinator who helps her work with William on his motor skills and appropriate play activities to build his words and brain development.

 It’s also about adorable little girls like 4-year-old Hermione who attends the early childhood learning center, a clean, bright building with lots of toys and activities to keep Hermione and her classmates learning every day. I could tell after just a few minutes that Hermione is a bright kid—and with opportunities to learn and grow, she can learn to read on time and get through school with a better chance of success.

All of this takes a lot of dedicated people on the ground. An important part of the program is the Foster Grandparents program funded by the Corporation for National Service and coordinated by Save the Children staff. These dedicated “grannies and grandpas” come four days a week for four hours per day and work with kids in small groups to practice letters and numbers, colors and words.

This also all requires dedicated school staff and leaders. Leaders like Rosa Dingle, the local school principal who is invested in every child who walks through her door in the morning. Ms. Dingle is clearly a great combination of a tough administrator who runs a tight ship and a loving “extra mom” to every kid. Given the realities outside school, these young kids need every boost they can get.

I left South Carolina in the warm sun that December day convinced more than ever that we need to redouble our efforts in the United States. We have an ambitious goal to expand our programs to all 50 states by 2015. The programs I witnessed in Clarendon County are making a real impact in the lives of children. As we continue and expand these programs, we can make a real difference and give kids living in poverty in the US a shot at a better life.

That’s a shot all kids deserve and one we need to make sure our own kids have too.