The New Year festival (Nauroz) in Afghanistan

AfCO March 2012 Blog Post Author Photo with children 2Dr. Sohail Azami, Sponsorship Manager

Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan

April 20, 2012

Nauroz, the New Year Festival, takes place on the first day of the Afghan month Hamal. Nauroz, which means “new day”, has been celebrated in this region for at least 3,000 years. It marks the start of the solar year and the first day of spring. The festival is rooted in the Zoroastrian religion, a major religion once practiced here.

Today, Afghans celebrate Nauroz with family and friends, enjoying traditional foods. Special to this holiday is haft mewa, or seven fruits. Haft mewa includes almond, pistachio, walnut, raisins, apricots and dates which are soaked in water overnight.

Another holiday dish is Samanak, which is made from wheat germ and slowly cooled until it becomes a creamy and sweet pudding. For New Year’s dinner, an Afghan tradition is to prepare seven types of food whose name start with the Afghan letter of “Seen”, the “S” sound. We call this special meal haft seen, or seven “S”.

AfCO Sponsorship Blog Post - Photo 3 - March 2012Many cities in Afghanistan host festivals to celebrate Nauroz. In Mazar-i-Sharif, the biggest city in northern Afghanistan, thousands gather at the historical shrine of Hazrat Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed and the fourth Caliph of Islam. Famous for its Blue Mosque and centuries old history, the shrine is deeply respected by Afghans. T Mazar-i-Sharif also hosts a Red Rose Festival, named for the red roses that naturally grow in the deserts nearby.

New Year’s Day is right after the schools’ winter break and on the 3rd day of the year the schools reopen. To celebrate the holiday, children receive new clothes and enjoy picnics with their families. They also enjoy playing soccer, volleyball, playing music, singing songs, dancing and flying kites.

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For the Future, For Haiti

Alex Treyz, Manager Global Sponsorship OperationsAlex Treyz, Manager, Global Sponsorship Operations

Maissade, Haiti

April 9, 2012 

Fortunately today the river is low. Out my window I see men and women wading in the knee-deep waters, steadily fording the river or hand-washing clothing by hand.  Children cross this river every day to reach their schools on the other side. During the rainy season, which begins in May, this river will rise and the swift current will render it impassable. I remember the ease of my bus ride to school when I was in elementary school and compare it to this journey across the river. Fortunately we’re in a 4×4 vehicle and the river is low, but I ask myself, what if I had to make this journey on foot, during the rainy season? What if I had to wade across a river every day to get to school?

IMG_5982Our 4×4 bumps and splashes over the river bed and 20 yards later we are across the other side, one river river-crossing closer to Maissade. We will cross 5 rivers today on our journey from Port-au-Prince to Maissade, a town of 60,000 people nestled in Haiti’s Central Plateau region, where Save the Children has been working to improve the lives of children and their families through Child Sponsorship for 27 years.We are way past the point when the pavement has ended and the dirt roads have begun. About an hour ago, three hours into our trip from Port-au-Prince, the number of vehicles dropped off; the primary modes of transportation we see now are foot, donkey, andthe occasional motorbike. As we arrive in Maissade, the river waters have dried off and our 4×4 vehicle is covered in a thick layer of chalky dust. I am rattled from the bumpy ride, but thrilled to be in Maissade, the area of our Sponsorship programs.

Every day, Save the Children staff ford these rivers and bump downthese dirt roadsto deliver letters to your Sponsored children. During the rainy season, our staff often leave their vehicles behind to swim across swiftly moving rivers, walking the rest of the journey to your Sponsored children in Maissade on foot. In their hands are your letters to your Sponsored children, sharing your generousgreetings and stories of your lifeto the children of Maissade. Your letters, birthday cards and greetings bring joy and curiosity to these children.

Copy of IMG_6080Our journey takes us to Céverine School, 20 minutes from the center of Maissade. On our way we pass homes painted in bright hues of Caribbean pink and green and children playing soccer in the dusty main square. The homes we pass have electricity for only eight hours a day, so when we pass through this way again tonight, it will be completely dark. We cross several smaller creeks to reach Céverine School, which Save the Children has been supporting since 2002. The school bustles with energy and productivity and I observe children paying apt attention in the beautifully built classrooms.The day is dry and hot and I am grateful for the shade the classrooms provide. Our team visits a class of 6th graders and asks the
students why it is important to learn how to read and write, to which one student replies, “For the future and for my country” and another replies, “To help the community – if I have knowledge, I will be able to share it with others.” Thanks to the generosity of our Sponsors, these children have the opportunity to learn and growat this school and to one day become leaders in their community.

Later in the afternoon we visit the temporary location of CoeursUnis School, meaning “United Hearts.” Save the Children is currently constructing a beautiful new schoolfor the children of this community, who in the meantimeare studying in the open air under a tree. The new school is due to be finished any day.When the rainy season comes, these children will find shelter and an environment conducive to learning in this school. IMG_6059

Our day in Maissade ends with goodbyes to children, teachers and parents and the crossing of one more river. I am heartened by what I have seen today in the schools Save the Children Sponsors support. Despite many challenges, these children are learning skills and knowledge every day that will help to build them a brighter future. All of this would not be possible without the dedicated support of our Sponsors.

Thank you for all that you do to support the children of Maissade, Haiti through your Sponsorship!


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Unlimited Curiosity

Anoymous womanNora Katz

Washington, D.C. 

April 2, 2012

Nora is a high school Senior from Pennsylvania who will attend Carleton College in fall 2012. She hopes to study political science, history, and literature. She participated in the 2011 Rustic Pathways summer program in South Carolina as a student volunteer and mentor with Save the Children’s U.S. Programs. This year, Save the Children and Rustic Pathways will host summer programs in South Carolina, Kentucky and the Dominican Republic.

When, recently, a friend asked me what the greatest thing I ever learned was, I replied easily with the answer of learning to read and write. This is such a basic gift, such a seemingly simple idea, that we often forget that in South Carolina, for example, 15 percent of adults are functionally illiterate. The downward spiral begins in elementary schools and, with this in mind, Save the Children created an enriched summer program at Foster Park Elementary School to help bring struggling students up to speed with their peers.

Nora Katz cropUnemployment abounds Union, a former mill town where thirty percent of children live in poverty. Most recent Census numbers suggest this alarming statistic will only continue to grow as these kids face the risk of being trapped in a cycle of teen pregnancy, gang violence, drug abuse and the lack opportunity. Save the Children brought 16 high school students to this program to teach and to provide good role models for kids who will eventually end up in a high school with a county graduation rate of only 55 percent. 

The kids I had the privilege of knowing came from different backgrounds and had different abilities, but they were never limited in their curiosity or ability to love. Every day, I was moved by their resilience as they dealt with challenges at home, their success in reading more and more difficult books, and their desire to learn about the world outside of Union. I am so blessed to have been able to know these kids, who constantly surprised me with new questions and new ideas. I am so blessed to have been able to know their teachers, who work for six weeks every summer for very little pay simply because they care. I am so blessed to have been able to meet 15 other high school kids who truly believe in the value of education.           

While I received my own, very different education, I constantly thought about whether or not I made the slightest bit of difference in the lives of the kids I mentored for those two weeks. The greatest issue that I face is knowing that those kids may never think about getting a post-secondary education and may never leave Union, South Carolina. But, as I reflect, I realize that there is a glimmer of hope. If my presence in their lives can make just one of these bright kids crack open an SAT book or dream about going off to college or want to travel beyond the Palmetto State, I have done something marvelous. As I move into a future that these kids may never know, I am comforted by the fact that one child may, someday, remember Miss Nora who taught some math lessons and who desperately wanted to help her global community. And, maybe, just maybe, that child will desperately want to do the same thing.