Notes from the UN and the Clinton Global Initiative: Speaking Out for Children in New York

This was a busy week for global development, as leaders from government, business and civil society came together in New York for the Clinton Global Initiative meetings and the UN General Assembly. As usual, Save the Children was there to take the opportunity to make children a central part of the agenda—and urge action on their behalf.

 

It’s no surprise that Ebola was a major part of the conversation, as the outbreak continues to dominate the headlines. I spoke with Reuters about how critical it is for the international community to step up our efforts to treat Ebola victims and halt the spread of the virus. We have increased our ongoing response to the outbreak in West African countries and we are moving forward with a stronger, community-based response through local Ebola Care Centers in rural areas. Easier access to local medical help and supplies, plus ongoing education about how to contain the spread of the virus, is urgently needed to save lives and protect children. As the death toll from Ebola nears 3,000 one thing is certain: the world must act quickly.  

 

Another big issue this week was the ongoing crisis in Syria—and we are working to ensure that children are not forgotten in discussions about geopolitics and conflict. Our new report, Futures under Threat: The Impact of the Education Crisis on Syria’s Children, shows the effects of conflict on millions of school-aged children. Before the conflict began, almost all Syrian children were enrolled in school but now Syria has the second-worst enrollment rate in the world. I talked about the report on Al Jazeera America and we used our influence this week to demand that Syrian children, both inside the country and those living as refugees, are protected and educated—their best chance at building a better future.

 

Of course, one of the greatest areas of focus for Save the Children is newborn and child survival as we work to accelerate progress toward achieving Millennium Development Goal #4, to reduce the under-five mortality rate by two-thirds by 2015. The world has made significant progress, but we have more to do in the 500-day sprint to the end of 2015 and in the post-2015 agenda to get to zero and finish the job. At Mashable’s Social Good Summit on Sunday, I introduced a “Simple Ways to Change Lives” panel featuring Liya Kebede, Ethiopian model and maternal health advocate, UNFPA’s Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin and our own Victoria Shaba, a midwife from Malawi, to talk about how trained and equipped health workers can save the lives of mothers and children using low-cost, proven interventions.

CGI - Logging Miles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, I joined with others at the Clinton Global Initiative to announce a new partnership to support literacy across the globe. Together with the Bezos Family Foundation and their Students Rebuild program, we are engaging school children everywhere in The Literacy Challenge to design and create bookmarks. The Bezos Family Foundation will give $1 for each bookmark they receive through the challenge to help power our Literacy Boost program in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

 

We take advantage of major meetings like those held this week to advocate for a better world for children—but we know that one week in New York won’t address every issue and answer every question. That’s why we match our global advocacy work with everyday efforts in communities around the world, fighting for progress in large ways and small, to give kids a chance at a better life.

Which Way to Better Health: A Roadmap to Save Mothers and Newborns

sgs-panel-captionCo-authored with Liya Kebede 

 

As children, we were fascinated when our school teachers rolled out the maps showing different parts of the world. Even today, as we’ve each traveled the world in our respective roles, maps still hold a certain fascination and urgency to go beyond where we’ve been — to move forward. So you can imagine how we feel about a roadmap that places the health and survival of newborns and mothers at the very center of the political agenda.

 

Read the full blog post in the Global Motherhood blog on HuffPost

Read my other HuffPost blogs here.

Ebola: Coming to Sierra Leone

DanS

Dan Stewart, Humanitarian Communications Project Manager

Sierra Leone

September 25, 2014

 

The first sign is as you enter the terminal building. A crowd forms around a large bucket of water with a tap coming from it. Every passenger joins, and one by one washes their hands before going inside. As soon as you get close to the water you can smell the chlorine, stronger than any swimming pool.

Welcome to Sierra Leone in the midst of an Ebola epidemic.

The second sign is immediately after passport control. An official points a small plastic-handled device at each person’s temple, looks at it and gives a curt nod, before showing it to the new arrival and waving them through. When it’s my turn I see the digital display reads 36.4 °C. Normal. So on I go.

Ebola is tearing through West Africa. It’s infectious and deadly. This epidemic is killing around half of the people it infects, as though their lives depended on the toss of a coin. Sierra Leone has had over 1,500 cases.

The airport itself is on an island a twenty minute boat ride from the capital, Freetown. It’s 5am and still pitch black as I climb aboard, while rain hammers down and the boat rocks from the wind. From the front seat I can see that visibility is zero. You can only tell we’re moving from the way the boat rears every time we hit a wave.

So much has been said and written about Ebola but there’s still a sense the situation here is equally shrouded in darkness. I know the signs and symptoms and I know the steps to take to stay safe.

But I don’t understand. Not what it has been like for this disease to exert an increasing stranglehold over society, seemingly under the world’s radar. Not what it’s like to weigh up the safety of every journey you make.

As we close in on Freetown it slowly begins to become light and I start to make out the city through the murk, stretching away up the shore. I hope that in the coming days and weeks we can say the same for Ebola and its impact. Demystifying the disease is vital. A lack of understanding, fear and misinformation make the perfect breeding ground. Save the Children has so far trained over 3,000 community health workers who go from house to house explaining how to prevent the spread of the disease.

But this crisis is at a tipping point. There are new cases every day and we have a small window to contain the outbreak. Without a dramatic increase in the international response, cases could reach hundreds of thousands.

The third sign comes every time you meet someone. Hands twitch almost imperceptibly and an awkward look is exchanged. Nobody touches anyone they don’t know well now, not even to shake hands.

These signs are positive – they are necessary to help slow the spread. But there is far worse. Basic services are taking the brunt. Pregnant women can’t get the healthcare they need. With schools closed children are at risk of losing their education and with it the futures they dream of. We must shed light on Ebola – to the people at risk and the world at large – and we must stop it now.

To learn more about our Ebola response, click here.

Why Women Hold the Key to Development—and Peace

My latest revelation on development came in an unlikely place: not a refugee camp for Syrians or a small hut in Nepal but in a beautiful building in Venice built in the mid-1700s—Scoula Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista—which was the site of a ceremony for the Pilosio Peace award.  Pilosio is an Italian construction company that helps to build structures all over the world.  Their young, innovative CEO Dario Roustayan developed the Building Peace awards four years ago to honor the spirit of building by bringing together the construction industry and the making of a better world.  This year’s winner, Samiya Nkrumah, the daughter of the iconic former President of Ghana Kwame Nkrumah, is building an impressive library for her country’s children in honor of her father. She and I got a chance to meet and talk a bit about the prime importance of education in a child’s life—and in a country’s future. She’s an amazing woman that you may one day see as a future President of Ghana (if I had to bet).

 

I also had the honor to join a very eclectic and interesting panel of women, each building peace in a different way.  There was Betty Williams, Nobel Peace prize winner from 1976 for her breakthrough work on speaking out for peace during the “troubles” in Northern Ireland. Siba Shakib, an Iranian filmmaker and best-selling author, spoke passionately about her work documenting the plight of Syrian refugee children who have fled the violence and chaos of their home country for over the past three years.  Khalida Brohi, a young Pakistani woman and leading advocate against honor killings in Pakistan, told her incredible story as the child of a 9-year old Pakistani “bride” and even announced her own engagement at the event.  And Italian businesswoman and entrepreneur Luisa Todini spoke of the challenges of being a woman in the male-dominated world of construction and how her leadership style helped her make a difference through work and her personal life.  I focused on the role of mothers as builders of peace (which often starts with stable families), the founding of Save the Children by Eglantyne Jebb, a woman way ahead of her time, as well as my own path to working as a leader and the key role of women in development inside countries today.

 

I was struck by some key similarities in our very different stories.  There was a common thread for each of us on the importance of strong role models and family members who supported us.  Whether fathers, mothers, colleagues, founders or bosses, we all had help along the way in our efforts to help make the world a little better.  It also struck me that frequently, the source of our passion came from seeing injustices against children.  Whether it was Siba’s work to capture the heartbreaking drawings of child refugees or Betty’s witnessing of three Irish children killed by a car driven by an IRA member shot dead at the wheel, children were a consistent theme that drives all of us in our work.

 

The audience was made up of a handful of people working on these issues full-time, but primarily of those working in the construction sector, including many of Pilosio’s customers—from boat builders to leading developers in Dubai. Former Secretary General to the UN Kofi Annan gave a wonderful keynote speech that focused again on the importance of women in driving stability and peace, starting with greater economic equality for half the earth’s population, who today own only 1% of its wealth. And I think the light bulb went off for many of these leading business men and women when they saw what a significant role the private sector can play in making sure the playing field is leveled and bringing their skills to development challenges.

 

A final highlight was the unveiling of a new shelter developed by Pilosio in conjunction with the Jolie-Pitt Foundation, allowing Syrian refugees to build their own homes.  Giving dignity back to refugees that have lost everything is a key challenge as the world experiences one of the biggest displacements of people in history.  From Syria alone, 3 million have fled their homes, half of whom are children.  Save the Children Italy will exhibit the new structure in Rome at Expo 2015, giving eight million people a chance to see it and we are looking at testing the shelter in Jordan in our work with Syrian refugees there.

 

It was a night when women of peace, the private sector, and those intent on building a better world came together and a night I was happy to be a part of.  It also illustrated two trends that I think will become even more important in the years to come—the role of women in driving a country’s future and the convergence of the private sector and development agencies to bring together the skills of both to make the future better for children.

It’s Back to School– Are Your Kids Safe?

As of this month, American parents have sent 69 million children back to school and child care. But many have no idea what protections exist to keep kids safe in the very places they’re supposed to be protected.

 

According to a new Harris Poll online survey, 63 percent of U.S. parents with children in school or child care are not very familiar with emergency plans in those locations. Forty-two percent don’t even know where to meet up with their children in case of evacuation. This is disturbing, because disaster can strike anytime, anywhere — a point reinforced by the national parents’ poll included in Save the Children’s 2014 Disaster Report Card, out today. Mississippi: 2014 Tornados

 

More than half of U.S. families (54 percent) with kids in school or child care have been personally affected by hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, school shootings or other types of disaster. In the past year alone, our nation has experienced at least 20 school shootings and 50 natural disasters requiring a federal response.

 

Two thirds of the 1,012 parents in the nationally representative poll said they were concerned by risks their children face from national disaster. Seventy percent worry about school shootings. Yet, 67 percent of U.S. parents don’t know if their child’s school or day care practices emergency drills frequently, or at all. And — here’s the kicker — basic emergency plans aren’t even required in 21 states and Washington, DC. (You can check your state here.)

 

Parents don’t do much better at home. While three in five say they have an emergency plan in place, many of those parents haven’t taken basic actions to protect kids. For instance, nearly a third of these parents don’t have a family meeting place. More than a third of them don’t even have two days’ supply of food and water. A five days’ supply is recommended.

 

DSC_9649The majority of parents who say they have emergency plans also don’t know where to find shelter locally or have an agreed upon out-of-town contact, which is critical should disaster affect communications. Parents should also make sure all schools and caregivers have key contact information, and that younger children can identify themselves if they get separated.

 

There are simple actions everyone can take to better protect our children should disaster strike. Packing a “go kit” for each member of the family is a good start. It should include essential toiletries and medical and contact information and — for kids — a favorite activity and a comfort item that can help them cope if disaster upturns their young lives. If you agree that children’s safety should be a priority, please take our pledge to protect children from disaster. Then act on it. To learn more about the 2014 Disaster Report Card and find resources to better prepare your family and community, go to www.savethechildren.org/US-Disaster.

Welcome Water in a Mozambican Community

Hortencia da Conceicao, Gaza SHN Coordinator

Hortencia da Conceicao Raimundo

Mozambique

September 10, 2014

 

It has been long that water has been missing from this community in Mozambique. This was especially difficult for the children at the local primary schools. They were forced to carry their drinking water to school after traveling long distances to retrieve it, often just going without water.,/p>

Minoca, a 6th grader at the local primary school, says that the support from Save the Children in creating boreholes, or water wells bored in the ground, eased the suffering of all the children from her school, numbering about 360 students. “We did not have water to drink, wash hands, for cleaning the toilets, or to water the plants at school. We, the girls, used to be late for school as we would walk long distances looking for water for the household. Today everything has changed thanks to the uncles from Save the Children. Our parents take good care of the bore. They do fix it when it eventually gets broken, and there is a great joy in our community. Nowadays we have plenty of time to deal with our school work as well as for playing. We grow vegetables in our school garden as we have water almost the whole day.” Thank you Save the Children sponsors for your support of our school and our community!

Have you ever had to go a long period without water? Think about what ways having to walk for miles to get water would change your day, and consider how much your sponsorship has helped children like Minoca and her classmates!

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

How A Silent Girl Named Serenity Finally Found Her Words

This blog originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

 

 

An early start on learning means everything when it comes to a child’s future. Yet too many children living in poverty in America and around the world don’t have access to a quality early education. In fact, children from low-income homes hear an average of 30 million fewer words by age 3 than their peers from well-off families, putting them at a disadvantage before they even start school. These are children like Serenity from Nebraska, who at 3 years old wasn’t able to speak in sentences that consisted of more than two words. One of three siblings, Serenity lives in a remote community in a rural part of the state, where families struggle to make ends meet. Often, when parents have to worry about putting food on the table, books and reading take a back seat.

 

What’s more, quality early childhood education is not an option in many poverty-stricken communities. As a result, by the time she is 4 years old, Serenity was at risk of being 18 months behind other 4-year-olds who are lucky enough to be born with more opportunities. But like most parents, Serenity’s mom and dad want the best for their kids and they see education as the only way out of poverty. “We know we are in the situation we are in financially because we did not take education seriously when we were younger,” Serenity’s mother, Diane, told Save the Children. “We don’t want our children to have to live through the constant struggles that we are living.” That’s why her parents enrolled Serenity in Save the Children’s early childhood education program, which consists of weekly home visits by a program coordinator who brings a bagful of books for the kids. The program encourages parents to continuously interact with their children through stimulating conversation and daily reading.

 

After only three months, Serenity found her words — and scored impressively high on her development assessment test. Not only that, but her parents also discovered her hidden talent for singing! She can sing “The Wheels on the Bus” tune without missing a beat — or a word. “I know her language skills improved because of the books Save the Children gave us each week,” said Diane, amazed at her child’s transformation. “She is so excited to have me read to her and then she has to tell me a story too.”  Together we can help kids like Serenity find their words. And what better day to start than today, International Literacy Day?

 

Teaming up with our artist ambassador Jennifer Garner, we launched our 30-day #FindtheWords campaign last month to bring attention to this early learning gap affecting millions of children. Today, to mark the culmination of the campaign, other celebrities will join us in a day-long virtual word-a-thon by sharing their favorite word with their social media networks and encouraging their fans to do the same. Our goal is to start a conversation and spread the word far and wide. Leading up to the big day, 30 of the top influencers in the blogosphere have been riling up their audiences and garnering support through Save the Children’s 30 Days/30 Words blogger challenge. To raise awareness, each blogger has written a post highlighting a specific, meaningful word. The 30 posts in 30 days symbolize the 30 million words too many kids miss out on. You can read some of their inspiring posts here.

 

But you don’t have to be a celebrity or a blogger to get involved. Each and every one of us can make a difference in the lives of all those children who continue to fall behind and are at risk of never catching up. We all have a favorite word, so post yours and tag it #FindtheWords. Thanks to social media, everyone can join our campaign and give voice to the 250 million school-age kids around the world who are unable to read, write or count.

 

Save the Children provides kids from poverty-stricken communities in the United States and around the world with access to books, essential learning support and a literacy-rich environment, setting them up for success in school and a brighter future. Our early learning programs receive support from a variety of corporate funders, including Johnson & Johnson.

 

To learn more about Save the Children’s #FindtheWords campaign and how to get involved, check out this video featuring Jennifer Garner and visit www.SavetheChildren.org/FindtheWords.