Pre-School, Helping to Build Healthy Habits

Abilio Cossa

Abilio Cossa, Program Officer

Gaza Province, Mozambique

July 30, 2014

 

Save the Children has opened 35 preschool classrooms in 15 communities in the Gaza province, giving 1,225 children an early start to school success. Parents and caregivers have reported on the importance of early development of their children and change in the hygiene habits in the community. “Children that go to pre-school get knowledge about things that are not common in the community and they teach their parents…” said the community leader Nosta.  Laila (with her sister Leila) ready for the graduating cerimony

Getting ready for preschool, Laila, 5, and her sister, Leila, 3, brush their teeth behind their home in a small village outside of Mozambique’s Gaza province. Both girls attend the local Save the Children-supported preschool, where they learn not only the alphabet and counting, but also the importance of good hygiene. These healthy habits are very appreciated by parents, caregivers and other children in the community.

“Preschool is very important because kids develop good habits. They know that when they wake up they have to brush their teeth and comb their hair, get dressed and go to school”, said Laila’s mom, Maria Jose, 35. “These practices were not common in the community and we (parents) are learning from our children… note that… today the children are transmitting us habits that we did not have before.”

Laila and her ECCD colleagues exhibiting their certificatesWhen I asked Laila about what she learned in the pre-school she answered,” We learned that we have to wash our hands before eating and after using the latrine, we also learned that after waking up we have to wash our faces and comb our hair to be beautiful.”

During the interview Laila added, “Today is a special day for me and for my family.” Laila was part of a graduation ceremony. Her mother’s last remarks were, “I feel like I am flying. I am really proud and happy to see my daughter graduating.”

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Gaza/Israel: Where Evacuation is No Game

Osama-damo

Osama Damo

Senior Communications Manager for Save the Children’s Emergency Response Team in Gaza

July 22, 2014

 

At the bottom of my apartment building in Gaza two girls about six years old sit on the ground, laughing as they hurriedly pack items into their backpacks.

Intrigued, I ask them what game they are playing.

They tell me it’s called ‘evacuation’.

My heart sinks. These girls should not know the terror of an evacuation, yet now they are living through their third military conflict. These girls were taught the basics of surviving conflict before they were even taught the alphabet.

I too am living through the third major escalation of violence in Gaza since 2008, however, this time is completely different. It is more terrifying, the outlook even more grim and the mounting casualty list – especially children – growing at a far greater rate.

I write this at 2am from the confines of my apartment with my family. We are all awake and have been since 7am. It is impossible to sleep.

Though the streets below are eerily quiet, the noises we can’t block out are the constant bee-like hum of drones flying around and the terrifying thump of bombs as they smash into and explode on nearby buildings, as well as occasional screams mixed with windows and glass smashing. The air outside is thick with acrid smoke and the taint of explosives. 

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The buildings rattle and shake with every bomb.

I have not left our apartment in days apart from hurried trips to get more food, I feel like I am a prisoner here.

Each day the situation gets more desperate.

Gaza is a city full of apartment buildings, we have power for only three hours a day and without electricity there is no way to pump water up to homes. Half of Gaza’s water services have been disrupted because of infrastructure damage caused by bombings, and households are running out of drinking water reserves.

Also, at least 85 schools and 23 medical facilities have sustained damage because of their proximity to targeted sites, and many other schools are being used to house those who have fled their homes.

And this all in a city where 80 percent of the population depended on humanitarian aid before the conflict started.

Sometimes the only thing we can do is joke about the situation, as morbid as this sounds. The last offensive in 2012 took place in the winter, and back then we told our children the bombs were actually lightning strikes and thunder.

But now, what can we tell them? It is summer. And so we laugh without humour, and tell each other that perhaps it is time to tell our children the truth.

Each day the fear within me is building, mostly for the impact this will have on children.

What will they grow up to be? When bombs seem to fall as regularly as rain, how will they ever view peace? Many children on both sides see this life as normal now, and that is a great tragedy.

For Save the Children – operating in Gaza since 1973 – the challenge is enormous and our staff often put themselves in danger to help.

Yesterday two staff risked their lives going to our warehouse to get medical supplies, then moved them to a hospital that was running out of supplies.

It is heroic acts like this that help public services like hospitals to keep running. Hospitals must have access to the equipment and medicine they need to treat the growing number of sick and wounded.

Save the Children is aiming to distribute 2500 hygiene kits and 2500 baby kits in the coming days, and will also open child friendly spaces once it is safe to do so. These provide children vital psychosocial support, and a place to forget about what they have been through.

No matter what, we will continue to provide vital services for children and families on both sides of the conflict, but ultimately the violence needs to stop.

Save the Children is calling for an immediate cease-fire and an end to the violence that has caused immense suffering to children and their families on both sides.

Beyond a ceasefire, we know that only a negotiated agreement between all parties to the conflict will bring about a lasting difference, including an end to the blockade in Gaza.

No child – Palestinian or Israeli – should have to live through rocket attacks, evacuations and military conflict, let alone three before their seventh birthday like the girls downstairs. For our children’s sake, let the violence end. Donate to Save the Children’s Gaza Children in Crisis Fund.

Save the Children works independently and impartially around the world – wherever there is need. We are currently working in Gaza and the West Bank. Save the Children, as a global organisation, is equally concerned about the wellbeing of children in Israel as those in the West Bank and Gaza.

Where bombs fall as regularly as rain

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Osama Damo

Emergency Response Team

Gaza

July 2014

 

It starts in earnest after the sun sets. I’m not sure why. It is Ramadan at the moment, and here in Gaza we are fasting 16 hours a day. Our only moment of joy is breaking our fast together at sunset. But not now. With darkness comes death these days.

 

Gaza_skaddhusFrom my home I can hear the sounds of bombs falling in Gaza from Israel and sometimes rockets being launched here in Gaza toward Israel. Gaza is so tiny, the buildings rattle and shake with every bomb.

 

We joke darkly amongst ourselves. The last offensive (in 2012) took place in the winter, and we told our children that it was lightning strikes, thunder. Those noises are not to be feared. But now, what can we tell them? It is summer. And so we laugh without humour, and tell each other that perhaps it is time to tell our children the truth.

 

When we realised how serious the situation was becoming, we became glued to the TV for news. We performed our routine check – are our friends ok? Our family? You do this check so regularly. We check our fridge – how much food do we have? How much water?

 

We have a phrase in Arabic, literally translated it means ‘we have not even had the chance to breathe yet’ – since the last conflict in 2012. It seems we have not even had the chance to adjust ourselves, to convince our children they are safe, before they are not safe anymore.

 

The silliest things go round in my mind. I am an avid football fan, and was so enjoying the World Cup. Now I hate it. Only when it is over will the rest of the world perhaps be interested in what is unfolding in our little corner of the world.

 

And the darker, more morbid thoughts. What will our children grow up to be, these young children, of six years old, who have now known three of these offensives/military operations conflicts? When bombs seem to fall as regularly as rain. How will they ever view peace? On both sides… for some children this is normal now, they barely flinch. I honestly don’t know what is worse.

 

The streets are eerily quiet, the honking of horns has subsided. The only noise now is the explosions around us, and the occasional scream mixed with windows glass smashing. The air itself is like war – thick with acrid smoke and the taint of explosive.

 

We have enough food here for a few days, maybe a week if we are careful. Once the fuel runs out, there will be no water either. I worry about this. Hospitals are reportedly running out of equipment and some supplies.

 

The last time this happened, Save the Children launched a response in Gaza. We delivered urgently-needed medical supplies to hospitals and clinics, distributed food and plastic sheeting to families whose homes had been severely damaged, and set up a network of special centres with expert staff to counsel children and help them recover from their experiences.

This time…I worry that we may need to do same again. The same children will need the same kind of care. The same hospitals, the same homes. And in another two years, and another? When does it end?

 

Save the Children works independently and impartially around the world– wherever there is need. We are currently working in Gaza and the West Bank. Save the Children as a global organization is equally concerned about the wellbeing of children in Israel as those in the West Bank and Gaza.  

 

Osama Damo is part of the Save the Children team on the ground in Gaza, and this blog represents his perceptions from living and working there.

Tapping Into the Core

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Luzayo Nyirongo

Communications & Advocacy Officer,

Lilonge, Malawi

July 9, 2014

 

It’s often advised that when making a decision about a significant other, it’s what lies in the middle of that person that counts. “Look at her heart,” my mother would often tell me. I can say that I recently experienced the value of what lies in the middle, but in a different way.

Early in the morning on February 11th, 2014, I set off for school site visits with a team from Save the Children’s Zomba Sponsorship Program. Accompanying me were Lameck, a field officer, Micah, a Basic Education facilitator, and our seasoned Save the Children driver, Victor. I emphasize his experience because the routes we took were not for the faint-hearted. Not even ten minutes driving out of Zomba’s city centre and you begin to notice how rural its surroundings are. We passed miles of green fields of crops and an abundance of forested mountains in the horizon for about 30 minutes before reaching a narrow dirt road. This challenging, uneven road would lead us into Sub Traditional Authority Ntolawa, which lies in the heart of Senior Chief Chikowi.

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The Sponsorship Program consists of 56 schools all in Senior Chief Chikowi, with roughly 120,000 students enrolled in them. It startles you how there is such high enrollment given what seems to be a sparse population density in your immediate surroundings. Within our roughly 40 minute drive to reaching the first school, you pass hmainly maize stalk, tobacco and coffee trees. People would go about their daily lives tilling in the fields or walking alongside the dirt road. Out in the distance or by the roadside you’d also occasionally see people standing by their isolated, spaced out homes. Other than a trading center we drove past in a nearby town, scarcely would you come across people in a large gathering. All of a sudden, as we entered the driveway to the first school, hundreds of children started appearing as we slowly made our way into the center of the school building blocks. The children brought us an immediate burst of energy and liveliness. It gave us quite a surprise given the very picturesque and reflective drive there.

I discovered something special in these schools. The teachers and the students possessed a drive within them unlike anything I had seen. At the first school, I had the chance to chat with the Principal, Edmand Kuwanda. He, along with 11 other staff, teaches a school of 1,428 students. The number is quite precise because he had just finished completing the student records that very day. He proudly pointed me towards a poster in his office written ‘707 boys and 721 girls’ to be exact. At the second school, the staff to student ratio was just as startling with about 10 teachers to 950 students. I couldn’t help but wonder how these understaffed schools managed to successfully teach that many students. It must be a very challenging task. With no doubt in mind though, the answer to how they managed was because of their determination to do so.

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I learned that one of the major reasons why schools are understaffed in rural areas is because of rural to urban migration. People often seek better lives in cities or in the other way around, do not migrate to rural areas to teach. As I was standing and watching the children play with Principal Kuwanda, something was telling me to ask him why he hadn’t also chosen to take that route. At that very moment I was taken aback as I watched him ponder, looking at the playground with a face of content. I no longer had the urge to ask. The satisfaction and joy in his expression explained why he had been teaching at this school for the past 10 years. There was definitely something he saw in those children and the community that gave him and many other teachers the passion to teach.

It was amazing to see the teacher-student relationship in both schools. There was a sense of trust between them almost. I could see that the teachers believed in the students, which drives them to stay on teaching at these schools. The students in turn reciprocate that belief in them by giving it their all. I heard great testimonies from students about how they have succeeded in school with the help of their teachers. In one case, an 11 year-old girl named Blandina told me with joy about how she can now read after being unable to for a while.

As we took off in the morning, driving along that jagged road, gazing in the distance, I wasn’t sure what to expect at our destinations. The positive stories I heard that day were a pleasant introduction to my first site visits with Save the Children’s Education Programs. People sometimes have a notion that knowledge and information ought to be transferred from the outside in when dealing with rural, hard to reach places. My experience however was different, the transfer of information occurred the other way around. In the heart of Chikowi, it was the people in the communities that encouraged me, educated me and gave me uplifting joy. Interested in joining our community of sponsors? Click here to learn more.

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Gaza’s Miracle Tomatoes

photo 1Crossing through the Israel’s Erez Crossing checkpoint and seeing the bleak landscape as you pass through the Fatah and Hamas checkpoints inside Gaza, it’s hard to imagine anything growing at all—let alone a flourishing garden. As we walked down the narrow pathway enclosed in wire mesh in the “no man’s land” of the Access Restricted Area, all we saw were donkeys pulling carts filled with rubble and surrounded by men and boys along harsh, rocky earth.  The boys and men salvage concrete, wire and metal from bombed out factories.  Others herd sheep and camels through dusty barren patches with little vegetation in sight. And it goes on like this for miles from the wall separating Gaza and Israel.  But just 20 minutes away, a farmer and his extended family met us on the dirt path and took us to see something entirely—and amazingly—different.

 

Outside a lush green field of healthy looking beans, spinach, and other vegetables and inside a simple greenhouse, he proudly pointed to row after row of beautiful red tomatoes literally falling off their vines.  This is the result of a recently-concluded project by Save the Children and other partners and funded by USAID, which helped farmers in Gaza feed their families and make a living.  The project provided help through improvement of water access and irrigation, as well as through technical training and provision of materials like plastic greenhouse sheeting.  The grandfather we visited had clearly benefited and was now running his small farm with much higher productivity and vastly increased ability to not only feed his family with his own vegetables but to take his crops to market.  There, he could sell it for needed income for additional food, school supplies for his children, and improved shelter for his large extended family, including several of his sons and their wives and children. The miracle tomatoes and beans and spinach were truly supporting them all.

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As we drove through the streets of Gaza and heard from residents about the impact of border crossing restrictions on children there—the rising rates of malnutrition and resulting stunting, the lack of basic medicines and care when children became sick, and the severe circumstances disabled children were in—I kept a hopeful thought in my head: those bursting red tomatoes we tasted on our visit.

 

They give me hope that children inside Gaza might see better days ahead, with good food to eat so they can thrive and grow like the magical garden that has been able to flourish the middle of dust and dirt.

Shukria’s Dreams Will Come True One Day!

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Anisa Naimi

School Health and Nutrition Officer, Faryab Province, Afghanistan

July 2, 2014

 

 

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Somewhere in the villages of Belcheragh district, Afghanistan there is a young girl who leads a 15 child session for the Save the Children Child Focused Health Education (CFHE) sponsorship program. Shukria is only thirteen years old and confidently volunteers as a facilitator in the program because she believes “Girls should be able have support and opportunities to prove themselves and show what they can do for their community.” She added: “Now our parents are letting us go to school and I am able to run a CFHE group. This is all because of Save the Children support.”

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With the intervention of Save the Children and CFHE, students learned the health benefits of washing their hands. She stated, “No one in my family knew about importance of washing hands after using the latrine or before eating. After learning in CFHE I convinced my parents to put a hand washing facility near our latrine with soap and now everyone is washing their hands with soap.” She and her mother thank Save the Children for raising children and adult awareness about health and hygiene to be healthy.

All of Shukria’s work with the CFHE program is preparing her for her future goal of finishing school and going to a medical university to be a doctor and serve her needy villagers. She said “One day my dreams will come true.” With your support to Save the Children, the dreams of many children like Shukira will come true!

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