Terraced Rice Paddies and Building Blocks

Jeremy headshot - Vietnam

Jeremy Soulliere

Media and Communications Manager

Save the Children US

August 28, 2015

Around the world, there are many places where Save the Children works where the early educational opportunities for children are little to none. Fortunately, there are also many passionate people who are working hard to change that. 

When Microsoft asked Save the Children, as part of our #UpgradeYourWorld partnership, to tell the story of one person who is making a positive difference in their community for children, we knew just the person to recommend. (Microsoft will be highlighting the inspiring work of Save the Children and nine other global nonprofits over the next 10 months.  You can read more about the Upgrade Your World initiative here.) 

Classroom filming - behind-the-scenes

Filming begins inside a Save the Children supported preschool classroom in northern rural Vietnam. The resulting video of Save the Children’s early learning programming will be featured as part of Microsoft’s #UpgradeYourWorld initiative. Photo by Jeremy Soulliere / Save the Children.

Last week, I met up with my Vietnamese colleagues and the Microsoft team in Hanoi and drove five hours to the north, where the landscape turned from a sea of mopeds, rickshaws and bicycles to terraced rice paddies stretching endlessly alongside the lush, tropical mountains in a remote village in Lao Cai Province.

The village is home to a small population of rice and corn farmers.  Nearly 50 percent of the hard-working villagers here are living in poverty, and most live without electricity and running water. The majority of the adults here have not received more than a primary school education – a reality Save the Children is committed to improving by giving kids an early start on learning. 

That early start begins off a dirt road at the local preschool supported by Save the Children, where we met Sung Thi Kim, a gentle, kind and motivating preschool teacher who is making a big difference for the littlest children here. As an ethnic minority who received a higher education elsewhere and decided to come back home to affect change in this farming community, Ms. Kim is, day-by-day, upgrading our world one student at a time.

VietnamIt was only the second day of preschool after the end of summer break, but Ms. Kim’s classroom was already a picture of perfection. It reminds me in many ways of my own children’s preschool in Connecticut, the children’s artwork displayed along the walls, a bookshelf filled with colorful early-learning books, an area for building blocks and creative play, etc. But there also are stark differences – there are no water buffalo walking through the playground in Connecticut, or fathers arriving in droves on mopeds to pick up their kids after school because the walk home would take hours.

Back home this week and taking my own kids back to school, I am reminded that the fundamentals for giving kids an early start on learning – a dedicated teacher, a quality learning environment and committed parents and caretakers – remain the same no matter where you live.

I can’t wait for you to meet “leading lady” Ms. Kim and Mai, one of the many students whose life she has helped change.  Stay tuned.

El Salvador Migration Crisis: “What I Would Tell a Coyote”

Lampedusa

Lucia Isabel Rodiguez, Save the Children El Salvador

August 19, 2015

 

What would I tell a ‘coyote?’ I would tell them to remember that they are dealing with human beings, not with merchandise.”

It’s crushing to meet children that are mistreated and neglected by the same people in their families who are responsible for caring and protecting them.

One of the cases that has affected me the most is meeting a twelve-year-old girl, let’s call her “Miriam”. By the age of 12 Miriam* had already attempted two dangerous migration trips. She was returned each time, back to El Salvador. She is the eldest of three girls all living with their mother. It was clear to me that this family was not equipped to provide a safe environment for the girls, and Miriam* showed signs of having suffered abuse. I fear that the mother will try to make this dangerous journey again with her daughters, therefore putting them at extreme risk.

Some children arriving at the centre for returned children here in El Salvador do not want to call their families and have nowhere to go. They feel utterly alone.

I have spent the last six months working at this centre for children who have been repatriated. It’s where hundreds of children return every week from their failed attempts to migrate to the US. They have travelled hundreds of miles by bus, train, truck and when I see them they are hungry and exhausted. We listen to their stories and try to give them as much psycho social support as we can during their short stay at the centre. These children know that their family spent a fortune, many times selling everything they had, to pay the “coyote” to take them to the U.S. When they are detained and deported back to El Salvador, many feel that they have failed and are back at “square one.” On top of feeling hopeless and ashamed, many children have suffered abuse by smugglers along the way and have been treated without respect by authorities at both the U.S. and Mexican borders.

In 2014, 68,000 unaccompanied children made it across the Mexican border into the US and more than 18,000 children were detained and then repatriated to their countries of origin. Most of the returning unaccompanied children we meet are boys between 15 and 17 years old, traveling alone, but we have also met young mothers with children of various ages, as well as unaccompanied children as young as 12. We received a mother with her 3-year-old son; he could hardly speak. From what we could understand, both mother and son had experienced horrific events along the way, including sexual abuse. The boy was traumatized.

Another mother with her two girls had sold everything they owned to pay the coyote – even their house. They returned to El Salvador with nothing.

I am very worried about these children and feel it is critical and urgent that we do more to help them recover from these experiences and to help them reintegrate into their communities to continue their lives.

There are two main reasons why children want to migrate to the US. The most common reason is due to the violence that exists in El Salvador. Violence creates insecurity, and children I meet tell me again and again about their fear, because in El Salvador they live in constant fear of being killed or hurt, especially by gangs. It’s lamentable that our authorities haven’t focused on stemming gang violence and its growth, and stopping the drug trade. Children need a break from this insecurity, a chance to know what it’s like to just be a child without the fear of violence hovering around them. Children here don’t know what it is like to live in peace.

When I meet these children who have tried unsuccessfully to migrate and who have gone through traumatic experiences along the way, well, I feel helpless. But I understand what they say and do not say, and why they want to leave. I feel helpless because I recognize that as a society we are not providing them with the environment they need and we can’t guarantee their safety. Children and adolescents are harassed and threatened by violent gangs and there are many cases where families have practically imprisoned their children in their own homes to protect them. They tell me that they can’t leave their homes because it’s dangerous and their lives are at risk.

The other reason is the low quality of education that exists for us in El Salvador. This leads to a lack of opportunity and motivates children to look for opportunities to leave their own country in hope for of a better life elsewhere.

I wish Save the Children could do more – I think we should work more to help returning children by following up on cases, to visit children and visit them in their homes. Such distressful experiences have a huge potential to damage children and adolescents in the long term and to damage their self esteem. It’s important to be able to speak to them and their parents about the experiences they have been through so they can move forward in a positive way. Many children who are returned are stigmatised and we need to protect them from harm. We need to work with families, as some of them put in place and develop a coping mechanism that makes things worse.

Working with families is key: For example, we need to work with parents and convince them of the need to provide children with safe and functional places where children they can learn and grow. Parents might think that there isn’t a problem if a child stays at home with them all day but children in such cases can lose out on interpersonal awareness, and the confidence that comes with playing with other children, with learning new ideas, etc.

I often feel very proud of the work that we do and that’s because of Save the Children’s vision. It’s not about temporary solutions or short-term interventions, but rather an integrated, holistic approach that begins at the start of a child’s life and continues through childhood and adolescence. I am proud of the work we do around primary education, and with mothers to make sure that children have the best possible upbringing. Save the Children is about putting in place a system that has long-term benefits for children.

Stories of Courage From Lampedusa

Lampedusa

Giovanna Di Benedetto, Save the Children Italy

Media Officer

Sicily, Italy

August 19, 2015

 

I am a media officer for Save the Children Italy working in Sicily, a region that includes the island of Lampedusa. My role is to give a voice to child migrants who come to our shores. My amazing adventure with Save the Children began last July, at about the same time that there was a surge in the number of migrants making the trip by boat to Sicily. On some days there were two or three landings a day and my team was present for all of these, on hand to give assistance and support.

Over 170,000 migrants came to Italy by sea in 2014, 26,000 of them being underage. When you hear that figure, it’s easy to forget the human dimension to this crisis. But behind the number is a story of bravery and resilience and my job is to help the public understand what drives these children to risk their lives to come alone, to our shores. All children have their own personal slice of suffering but they also have hope and so much ambition for a better future.

I remember a story about two Palestinian brothers who had been living in a refugee camp in Syria. They were 19 and 9 years old. They travelled from Turkey to Sicily with their grandfather. The brothers held each other’s hands very tightly -they were so afraid of being separated. In Syria they had lived through continuous shelling and when the younger brother had been badly hurt he hadn’t been able to see a doctor for 20 days. It was so moving to see how much these brothers loved each other and how close they were. They and their grandfather had an ambition to go to Northern Europe.

One thing that is always shocking to hear is what children have endured in Libya. Libya is a transit point for migrants coming to Italy and almost everyone who has been held here has a horrific story to tell. I met a Gambian boy who was 16 years old. He showed me the scars on his arm. He told me that the scars were all over his body. The wounds were caused by beatings and cigarette burns he had received by Libyan traffickers.

It’s our goal to give children back their childhood, for them to be able to play, be serene, to live with their families and to give them a chance to have a future. Children have an incredible energy. Sometimes I see children who have been on a boat for hours and hours get off the boat and immediately start playing and running around. These children have a right to have a childhood like everyone else. And up to now they have missed out on this.

I love to tell the story of the little Syrian girl called Hayat. She landed in Sicily, last August and is a survivor in every sense of the word! Her parents and her brother who was 10, all died during the boat trip to Sicily. A Syrian man, who was on the same shipwrecked boat, saved Hayat. He found her in the water, hanging on to a piece of debris. She was one year and eight months old. We saw them disembark, the man was a size of a giant and he held little Hayat so protectively. This man, who turned out to be a Syrian doctor had saved this little girl’s life. He absolutely adored her and she him. He wanted to adopt her but this wasn’t possible.

Hayat was placed into the care of child welfare services and Save the Children representatives were able to contact her grandfather and aunt who were living in Sudan. After a lengthy process we were able to bring over the grandfather and uncle from Sudan and reunify them with Hayat. This was a very happy moment for us, that she was able to return home to her own family. She was 1 year 8 months when she arrived and she celebrated her 2nd birthday with us, her foster family and her aunt and grandfather!

We’ve also witnessed mothers who have given birth on the rescue ships of the Italian Coast Guard, almost immediately after they had been helped off the rubber dinghy they had attempted the trip on. There was a Nigerian woman who gave birth on Christmas day, with the assistance of the Italian Red Cross. She was one of 900 migrants who arrived that day.

I’ve learned that people leave their homes because they feel that they have no other alternative. Perhaps they are fleeing the conflicts in Syria or Iraq, from violence in Nigeria or from extreme poverty. Children tell us that their families are too poor to care for them, they have no future prospects, and some do not have the chance to go to school. Now in Italy they will have the chance to get an education. These children want to be doctors or lawyers so they can defend the rights of the most vulnerable. Many also want to become football players- they know the names of all Italian and European football players! One young migrant we assisted was a promising football player in his country and he came here to pursue his dream.

I remember when we received a landing of about 800 people, migrants who came ashore on a cargo boat. An old woman had disembarked, and all of her life was in a little plastic bag. She sat on the dock and started crying inconsolably. A few days later I saw her in the first reception centre. She had been given clothes, food and a place to sleep. She gave me a hug and started to caress my hair. Little gestures like this are small tokens of humanity that keep me going.

These stories teach us so much and they give the Save the Children team and me the motivation to make a difference. These people are so courageous. The cases we see are emotionally very difficult but what keeps us going is the sense of humanity, the strength of human spirit. This might seem like rhetoric but it isn’t – I witness it every day.

A Traditional Wedding in Rural Afghanistan

Naila

Najzla Arzoo

Education Officer

Saripul Province, Afghanistan

August 10, 2015

 

Let us take you to Saripul province, one of the northern provinces of Afghanistan where we are implementing sponsorship funded programs, for a glimpse at a rural Afghan wedding.

Typically, the boy’s family together with some relatives will go to the girl’s house to get the formal positive response, which is confirmed by the receipt of a basket of decorated artificial flowers and a tray of candies and chocolates. This arrangement will then be taken to the boy’s house, accompanied by family members playing music and dancing, where more relatives have already gathered to wait for the basket. This becomes the engagement party. After the meal is served the family will continue playing music and dancing.

Bread

Girls baking bread for a wedding party

The night before the wedding ceremony there is another party called Henna which is commonly celebrated in the girl’s house or in a hotel. There will be around one hundred relatives and friends of both families. Guests first go to the home of the family that invited them to the party, before all gathering at the girl’s house together. Except for close relatives there will usually be separate halls for men and women to sit, be served their meal, play music, and dance. Henna, dye from the henna plant, is applied to the groom and bride’s palms after the meal. The bride and groom do not see each other at these gatherings prior to the wedding, but are permitted to meet on other days.

In rural areas, wedding parties are not celebrated in wedding halls but directly in the bride’s house. The wedding begins with the gathering of a few girls in the groom’s house for some pre-wedding preparations. Girls and women from both families will design and decorate the bride and groom’s room. They prepare silky curtains, bed sheets, and other handicrafts. Usually hundreds of guests are invited to the wedding. In most cases, men will be invited for lunch and women will be invited to join them in the evening. After dinner, the bride and groom, in their specific wedding attire, will be accompanied by their close relatives and friends to a special decorated camp for all guests to see.

Gift

Preparing a trunk of gifts for bride in Eid

The couple’s faces are then covered by a shawl and a family member places a mirror under the shawl, symbolizing the bride and groom seeing each other for the first time through the mirror. Then with help from close friends or relatives, the bride and groom cut the cake. They will hold each others’ hands and give the special sweet water prepared of sugar and water, or juice, to each other to drink. This is followed by hours of celebration with music and dance, only breaking for guests to give gifts to the bride and groom.

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Mangane, an Example of Community Leadership

Mengos

Mr. Mengos

Basic Education Coordinator

Mangane, Mozambique

August 3, 2015

 

Mangane is one of the impoverished communities in Mozambique where the majority of people have no job opportunities, and resort to farming as their daily activity for survival and to sustain their families. Luckily, it is a community where sponsorship programs such as Basic Education, School Health and Nutrition, Early Childhood Care and Development, and Adolescent Development are all being implemented.

School

Mangane Primary School before Save the Children intervention

Prior to Save the Children sponsorship, the school dropout rate had been increasing because parents and caregivers did not value education. A total of 283 children were enrolled in school in 2013, and in 2014 that number has increased to 392, demonstrating an increase of nearly 40%. The sponsorship program helped community mobilization and bringing community leaders to play a role in children’s education. Mangane had only three poor classrooms, both uncomfortable and with unsafe conditions for both children and teachers. However now with the help of sponsorship funds, the community has four new conventional and furnished classrooms and an administrative block, as well as improved and separate latrines built for girls, boys, and teachers. Save the Children is also providing sports equipment to ensure that the school environment is fun and friendly!

Abacar Fadil, is a community leader from Mangane, testified in his own words, “… My name is Abdul Fadil, I am a community leader and also a school council member. I know for sure and see how fast Mangane Primary School changed. A high number of children at school is now visibe from the time [Save the Children sponsorship] came to implement programs in our community. Awareness on parents and caregivers was raised in order to make them understand the importance of school.

School_kids

Mangane Primary School after Save the Children intervention

I remember the time when parents were suffering a lot, every year rearranging the classrooms with local materials, children used to be with no lessons, during the rainy and windy days. Now everyone in the community is happy with what is happening, thanks to SCI programs and I would like to see this happening in other communities to help more children in need.”

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Durga Puja, Worship of the Goddess Durga

Moazzam

Moazzem Hossain

Senior Manager Basic Education

Meherpur, Bangladesh

July 27, 2015

 

The culture of Bangladesh reflects the way of life for the people of the country. Festivals of different religions and cultures is one of these reflections. Durga Puja, for example, is one of the most important events in the Bengali society's calendar, meant to epitomize the victory of Good over Evil. This festival is widely celebrated in Meherpur, across the Hindu community. Relatives from different parts of the country or from neighboring India join this ritual each year.

The children at the third stage of Durga idol makingAt the beginning of autumn a rigorous preparation starts for celebrating this festival. The Puja committee hires the best clay artisans they can afford. Pals, or clay artisans, have an age old tradition of breathing life into images of Hindu Gods and Goddesses. For Durga Puja, first bamboo sticks are cut in various shapes and sizes to make the basic structure of the idols of the Goddess Durga, and the platform on which the colossal statue stands. Durga's figure is then shaped with straw tied with jute strings. The straw figurine of the Goddess is then applied with a first coat of clay solution with the percentage of water high. This helps to fill the crevices left by the straw structure. The second layer is applied with great caution as it is the most important layer, giving prominence to the figure. The clay mixed in this step is very fine without any impurities.

The lengthy and backbreaking process of constructing the idols is done diligently and methodically by the artisans, to create the most exquisite pieces of artistry. The perfection of idol making demands that the skeleton structure of bamboo and straw be done by one group of artisans, the clay mixing and applications are done by another group, and finally the head, palms, and feet are done by the highest graded Pals.

Durga

Goddess Durga ready for the worship

It is a popular belief that the Goddess Durga arrives and departs to predict the lives of people for the coming year. Durga reigns through her clay and straw figure for 6 days, standing on her lion mount, wielding ten weapons in her ten hands. At the end of the festival, the sculpture is taken in a procession, amid loud chants of, "it will happen again next year," and drumbeats, to the river or other local body of water. She is then cast in the waters, symbolic of the departure of the deity to her home with her husband in the Himalayas.

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How to Improve Reading in Mali

Catherine

Catherine Kennedy

Basic Education Advisor

Sikasso, Mali

July 21, 2015

 

I am a Basic Education Advisor with Save the Children, and I support several countries. I feel very lucky to have this job – you never do the same thing twice and you are always having new experiences and learning.

I come to Mali twice a year to help move education work forward, such as in terms of quality and reach. We identify priorities together based on issues they have found in their daily work, new priorities from the Ministry of Education, communities, and children, and new approaches and strategies from other countries or from the international education community.

Group

Cathy surrounded by children & adults in a reading camp

This visit, we are focusing on three things: improving the quality of our community-based reading clubs, using the data we gather on reading to help inform what we do, and identifying ways to make children safer at school.

The reading clubs are run by volunteers to give children the chance to practice and reinforce the reading skills taught to them at school. We hope that by making these clubs fun and child-centered, children will also develop a love of reading which will serve them through life. During my visit, we have visited six camps in three sites. Our basic education team in Sikasso chose one site that was good, one that is on the way to being good, and one that really needs help.

The one that was good was really very good – the volunteer was friendly, fun, and very engaging with the children. He invited their opinions and respected their ideas. It was obvious the children enjoyed the song, story, discussion, and reading time he led them in. It is important for me to see this, because it means that the team and I have the same idea as to what quality is, and we know what we are trying to achieve. The other visits reminded me how different these ideas can be for our volunteers, who have a very limited, often negative, experience of school themselves. As a team afterwards, we brainstormed ways to continue to help the volunteers through strengthening their skills and confidence.

Group2

Cathy surrounded by children in a reading camp

My second objective was to help the team analyze the latest data coming out of our Literacy Project. We saw some exciting trends emerging. For example, children learning in their own language are learning to read faster than those that are taught in French. We were also reminded of how inequitable systems can be, as schools with fully trained, motivated teachers that are on the government payroll are doing much better at teaching reading than schools where the teachers are community members, paid irregularly, and teach in remote locations with poor infrastructure. We discussed the implications around these findings, and how we can focus our energies and resources on those most in need.

The last objective was to make schools safer for children. We held a cross-sectoral workshop with other teams that work in schools, such as in school health and nutrition, sanitation, and staff from the emergency education project in the north of the country. Participants reflected on their own experiences as children, then on what they see now as professionals. We shared different approaches to keeping children safe, such as teacher training in positive discipline and child rights, school-based codes of conduct, and child governments and mothers’ associations, and discussed best practices within each. Then we identified gaps in our current programming and made a plan for the next 18 months to address the issues.

I am now sitting at the airport in Bamako, the capital of Mali, waiting for a delayed flight to Nairobi in Kenya. From there I’ll be going to the Democratic Republic of the Congo for a week to support their efforts to help children learn to read more effectively. I feel my time in Mali was well spent – they are a great team, and I love working with them. I wish I didn’t have to travel all night now, but at least the delayed flight enabled me to write my blog!

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Words from a Teacher in a Save the Children Supported School

Faima

Faïmi P. Moscova

Sponsorship Manager

Port-au-Prince, Haiti

July 17, 2015

 

Jadlin is a third grade teacher at a Save the Children-supported school located in Dessalines, and has worked there for over 5 years. He teaches children between the ages of 8 and 10 and lives very close to the school. Growing up, Jadlin liked to work with his classmates pretending to be a teacher. It is something that he truly enjoys. 

Group_outside

Jadlin with children in front of the school

Before the integration of Save the Children programming, Jadlin admitted he didn’t have sufficient training to manage his classroom or teach certain topics such as geometry or creative writing. The various trainings he has received through Save the Children have brought significant changes to his professional life. According to Jadlin he has learned new teaching methods in disciplinary techniques, how to better manage his class, and how to encourage his pupils’ participation. He now knows it is important to use questioning and group work in the classroom. “I considered myself like I was a dirty dish. Save the Children washes it and fills it up with knowledge.” he added with humility and fulfillment.

Jadlin recognizes he is not the only beneficiary of the organization. Now with help from Save the Children, the school has at its disposal services such as wastebaskets and a book loan program for third to sixth grade students. Parents also are more aware of the activities in the school and of their children’s education. However, children are still affected by flooding in the community during the rainy season and the shortage of potable water. Jadlin hopes that the organization will not only continue to support teachers training but will help the community solve those problems as well. 

image from http://s3.amazonaws.com/hires.aviary.com/k/mr6i2hifk4wxt1dp/15081319/2b0a6115-6d43-4677-a9f2-42512bd50118.png

Jadlin

Jadlin is proud to be a teacher at this Save the Children-supported school, and sends a big thank you to the sponsors for their support of Save the Children sponsorship programs. Be on the lookout for updates from Haiti on how Save the Children is helping communities solve other challenges facing children!

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Nung Traditions and Colors

Nhan

Nhan Thi Nguyen

Field Intern

Nam Lu Commune, Vietnam

July 14, 2015

 

After the 2 hour journey by motorbike, I finally reached Nam Lu Commune following an invitation from Hai, the Vice Chairman of the commune. Here the sunshine is brilliant and birds are singing. Today is the traditional festival which is celebrated on the first days of Lunar July. 

Traditional

Nung Di women in their traditional clothes

I heard the voices of young girls, mothers, and elderly ladies. They are all in traditional clothes, on their way to the People’s Committee where the festival is celebrated and chatting about the day. As they walk they tease each other and laugh out loud happily. This must be a very special festival to them.

In the festival itself there are a lot of activities, such as art performances, traditional games, and fashion shows. Songs and plays in the Nung language are performed by both young and old people in the commune. Although I don’t understand their language, seeing the villagers of different ages singing along with the performers and swaying while following the rhymes, I know the songs are beautiful and they love them. One of the most interesting parts of the festival was the fashion show, with the performance of young Nung ladies in their traditional clothing. They are not gaudy or colorful but Nung women are still very charming in them.

Casual

Nung Di people in their casual clothes.

Traditional foods are sold in small camps so that people can enjoy the performances and local specialties at the same time. I was so impressed by the seven-color steam sticky rice. Can you believe that Nung people can make all seven colors– from black, yellow, purple to blue, gray, red and orange– from only one ingredient, a kind of local herb? It is called the magenta plant, or chẩm thủ by Nung people. They also make pink chopsticks by dying them in the liquid made from this plants leaves. It’s so incredible. The local people here tell me that in traditional festivals like this one, every family in the commune makes seven-color steam sticky rice and pink chopsticks, with the hope that good luck and happiness will find them in the future.

Does your family have any traditional dishes that you serve at certain times of year and prepare in special ways? Share with us how you celebrate!

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