A People with No Place

The five mothers sitting on plastic chairs beside me were decidedly cool while I sweated in the heat that was building, even on what was a relatively cool Myanmar morning.  They were dressed in beautiful saris and long, colorful skirts and headscarves, and smiled widely in welcome.  Through translation from English to Burmese to a local dialect of Arabic, I explained I had come from the US to visit the Save the Children program here in this camp for internally displaced families and wanted to hear their stories… stories of how they came to be in a teeming, dirty camp only six miles from their homes in the nearby town.  Homes they had not seen now for more than three years—homes that no longer existed after they were forced to leave.

 

One by one, they told me about their lives before – as a rice trader, a bicycle repair shop owner, and one lady whose livelihood was the family coconut mat and bamboo shop.  Several were at home with young children. They described a past life of simple pleasures and peace, room for their children to grow up and a decent school for them to attend. Although all of them were poor, they worked hard to have enough to send their children to school, get medical help when needed, and make sure they had a childhood. That was before, what they call, “the events.”

 

Inside the camp, much of that life was gone.  These mothers were no longer allowed to work and support their children.  They survived now on aid – food rations, informal education and very basic medical services provided by donors from their and other governments, and delivered by agencies like Save the Children.  Basic bamboo and tin shelters jammed together along a deeply rutted road was now home for these families, and tens of thousands of others. Blog

 

Hamida described how the only way she could continue to provide nutritious food for her four children was to take part of the dry ration of beans that was meant for her and sell it to buy a few vegetables and eggs.  She was struggling to keep her eldest in school, a daughter she adopted in the camp when the girl’s mother died in pregnancy, and was determined to get her into the 1st grade and beyond. Kahin Mer Cho had a 3-year-old and a 5-month-old, both born in the camp, both born at home.  She described her intense fear when her first child was born—at that time there wasn’t access to medical services in the camp and she worried something would go wrong.  She told me even today there are others not as lucky as she was, who were losing children and losing their own lives in childbirth.

 

Another mother, speaking quietly, described how she had to take her oldest, a girl who had gotten through the 6th grade, out of school because she could not afford the very basic supplies for her to stay.  When I asked if she had a plan for her daughter, she said she wanted to get her some training, perhaps in sewing with a machine, but the teenagers are not allowed to leave the camp so she now stayed at home and helped with household chores.

 

As I listened to these stories of life before and life now I was struck by the intense impact on these mothers – but mostly on their children. If things don’t change, a whole generation will grow up here in this camp.  Despite the incredibly hard work of my colleagues at Save the Children and many others, these children will have limited educations, suffer from high rates of malnutrition and stunting, with many girls being married off early and having children while they are still children themselves.  Sadly, some families will give their children up to traffickers to get them out of the camps, a situation that most likely will lead to horrific exploitation.

 

The reason for the violence against these mothers, the hatred that forced them and their families from their homes, burning everything they ever had, is a complicated one.  In my short time in Rakhine I could only get a shallow understanding of century old tensions between the Buddhist and the Muslims that caused the flares of violence over three years ago now.  Violence that has added hundreds of thousands of people in Myanmar to the global flood of displaced people – the largest since World War II.

 

I would not begin to tell you I understand the deeper issues and history.  But I do understand the suffering I saw in the children I met in the camps.  No child deserves to have their future taken away and all children have the right to a decent education, to survive and to thrive and to be protected from abuse. And every mother’s heart is broken when she can’t provide it.

 

The hope is in the new government here in Myanmar, one just forming and still struggling to lead.  A government built on the foundations of democracy, rule of law and basic rights for all, with leadership that also lived through those things being taken away. The five moms I sat with in that dusty camp need access to those things just like every other person in Myanmar.  There are many on both sides working toward that goal, and it will take care and time, but the futures of the children I met should not be the price to pay to get there.

 

Assessing the Needs of Children in the Aftermath of Fiji’s Cyclone Winston

Iris headshot

Iris Low-McKenzie

CEO of Save the Children Fiji

Fiji

February 22, 2016

The night Cyclone Winston barrelled through Fiji was one of the worst experiences of my life. It was difficult to sleep with roaring winds outside and trees falling.

My children were scared as the winds howled and screamed.

Thankfully my family and my home in Suva in the east of Viti Levu island survived the night, but it was nothing short of terrifying.

Tree trunks were literally snapped in half and power lines with live wires lay across many roads. 

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Save the Children's response team assesses damage after Cyclone Winston barreled through Fiji

The clean-up will be immense.

Cyclone Winston was one of the most powerful storms ever in the southern hemisphere. Some will say this is evidence of climate change in action but that is a debate for later.

Right now, aid agencies like Save the Children are trying to get a clearer picture of what's happening in some of the more remote parts of Fiji, far from the capital and other towns.

My greatest fear is for those in outlying islands, which assessment teams are finding difficult to reach. Fiji consists of more than 100 inhabited islands, all of which were impacted by this monster storm.

Until communications are re-established, we won’t know exactly how these islands have been affected, and by how much the death toll is set to rise.

I pause and think back nearly a year ago now to another monster storm in the Pacific – Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu. It was days before the extent of the damage was known there, so we must brace for more bad news coming out of remote parts of Fiji.

The authorities have moved quickly to ensure that Fiji’s main airport at Nadi is cleared of rubble and re-opened. This will allow relief flights with aid workers and supplies to arrive.

We are fortunate because Fiji is home to a number of large and effective humanitarian relief organizations that will all work in coordination with one another to ensure that the needs of the most vulnerable are met.

I am of course particularly worried about the ongoing impact this disaster will have on children.

Children are the most vulnerable following disaster. So while other aid agencies, the UN and the Fijian Government with support from other nations figure out how to help communities physically recover, Save the Children will work with the Ministry of Education and UNICEF to ensure children’s educational needs are met following a number of schools being partially or completely destroyed.

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Many homes were left exposed after Cyclone Winston tore apart structures

Save the Children in Fiji has a history of working on education programs. It makes sense therefore that our relief operation over the coming weeks and months will focus on getting children back to school or at least into temporary classrooms, should their schools have been damaged or destroyed.

Save the Children knows from decades of experience working in disasters all over the world in places like the Philippines and Iraq that it's important that as many children as possible recommence their education quickly following emergency.

That’s because education – even informal lessons – give children who have lived through a terrible ordeal, a chance of normality, a safe place to learn as well as be supported by caring teachers and classroom assistants.

Part of Save the Children’s emergency response will also include setting up “child friendly spaces” at some of the 80-plus evacuation centers still housing families in Fiji. Child Friendly Spaces provide children with a safe place to hang out and play with other kids, while at the same time giving parents the much-needed opportunity to go out and assess the damage.

All the early signs are that Cyclone Winston will have a lasting impact on Fiji, an island nation and popular tourist destination visited annually by almost 700,000 foreigners.

It is our hope that at this difficult time Fiji is close to the hearts and minds of all. The scars from this storm run deep but with support from the international community we will recover.

To learn more about our work in Fiji, click here. 

Ethiopia: “It’s Heartbreaking to See my People Suffer Like This”

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Seifu Asseged

Communications Coordinator

Ethiopia’s Somali Region

February 18, 2016

I will never forget the smell.

The stench of rotting animal carcasses, spread across the barren land.

I remember watching large animals – cows and donkeys – take their last gasping breaths.  RS106115_IMG_9277

After months without rain there was nothing left for them to eat – the grass and tree leaves they normally lived on had all but disappeared. The worst drought to hit Ethiopia in more than 50 years had left them too weak to live.

It was more than three months ago, and yet I can still remember that smell vividly. It was everywhere.

I was born here in Dire Dawa in the east of the Ethiopia. In a few devastating weeks last year, the surrounding areas lost more than 100,000 of their livestock. Pastoral families are still feeling the impact.

I work in these areas, travelling regularly to see the communities hit hardest by the drought. Yesterday I met a group of six families who’d walked for three days to make it to a dusty roadside in the middle of the desert.

Here government water trucks would bring them water every second day, and they received food rations of various grains – a far cry from the camel milk and fresh meat they were used to eating.

A few skeletons remain, but most of the dead livestock have been cleared and destroyed as part of a Save the Children cash for work programme.

Now the challenges are different, and the needs even more pressing.

Six months ago the number of people in need of food aid in Ethiopia was 4.5 million, but that figure had increased to more than 8 million by October. Now it stands at 10.2 million.

What’s more, 400,000 children could fall prey to severe malnutrition in 2016.

Save the Children is among the main aid agencies screening for and treating severe malnutrition, but as long as they are returning home to families who are relying on food aid, I worry that children will remain at a terrible risk.

It is heartbreaking to see my homeland, and my people, suffering so much right now. I have never experienced anything like this drought before.

People tell me they don’t understand the weather any more. When it rains, it comes in patches. And while, in the midlands of Ethiopia, areas are still green and lush, some communities I visit haven’t seen rain in almost two years.

Part of my job is to document the drought and those people affected by it – to share their stories with the rest of the world.

After one assignment last August, my team discovered an entire community in desperate need of water. Within days I had organised for large quantities of water to be trucked to that area, reaching thousands of people.

Sometimes telling these stories can bring vital, practical outcomes for people in need. Sometimes they change the world.

I hope this story will fall somewhere between the two.

To learn more about our response to the Ethiopia Drought, click here.

Let Healthy Mouths Do the Talking!

Author Portrait_Maria Rosario Garcia

Maria Rosario Garcia

Philippines

January 18, 2016

February is National Oral Health Month in the Philippines. Since oral disease is a serious public health problem among Filipino children, this occasion is very important in reaching the majority of public school students who suffer from tooth decay and infections. To keep our Oral Health Month celebrations engaging, Save the Children in the Philippines enlists help from Child Health Promoters. These trained children can share information with fellow children about these significant health issues and help to make a big difference in achieving our goal of zero cavities and good habits for a healthy smile among all children. 

Neil Patrick the Child Health Promoter

Neil Patrick, the Child Health Promoter

An excited grade 6 student in Caloocan City has been confidently doing just this. His name is Neil Patrick and as a Child Health Promoter, he leads other children to good practices and shares his knowledge about being healthy by speaking for the younger children.

Neil Patrick and other Child Health Promoters like him have been receiving trainings from our School Health and Nutrition program about how to pass on information and lessons to other students. With Save the Children’s support they are also provided with materials like books and hygiene kits that they can use during their sessions.

“Last year, as the school year began, I became a Child Health Promoter in our school when I was encouraged by my classmate,” says Neil Patrick after we asked how he got his assignment. He continues, “I feel like I am fulfilling my dream of becoming a teacher by coaching young ones on the proper way of brushing their teeth and how to maintain a healthy smile. Not everyone has the understanding of how to take care of their teeth, that is why children in our school are very fortunate to be in front of me and to learn these skills now.”

Neil Patrick telling a story about dental hygiene to a captured young audience

Neil Patrick telling a story about dental hygiene to the young audience

Neil Patrick enjoys being a storyteller and speaking in front of the many children in his school. He reads a book titled Ay! May Bukbok Ang Ngipin ni Ani! or Ani has a Bad Tooth! to them during the Oral Health Month celebration.

He tells us as the next batch of children wait for him to begin and to listen to his story, “It is fun talking to kids because they are like my brothers and sisters. I am happy and I feel inspired whenever I help them.” With great role models like Neil Patrick, Save the Children in the Philippines is building a brighter future.

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

A Letter for Esnart

Author Portrait_Goodhope Siwakwi, Community Mobilization Officer, Save the Children Sub-Office, Kalulushi, Zambia

Goodhope Siwakwi

Community Mobilization Officer

Kalulushi, Zambia

January 11, 2016

“Another delivery for Esnart,” I thought as I got ready that morning. Excited, I tied the parcels to my motorbike and set off for Bulaya, the community where Esnart goes to school.

The morning was filled with birds singing, celebrating the rising of the sun and the rain showers. It was a wonderful day. As I approached the school, I heard children singing and excited voices. They were having a short break from class. Some seemed to be nearly in a frenzy as they ran around outside, enjoying playing soccer and other games.

At the sound of the motorbike, everyone’s attention shifted as they recognized me from the sponsorship enrollment exercises, the day that we gather the children’s information and officially enroll them in our programs. The children grouped around me, each one anxious to receive a letter from their sponsor.

Esnart’s mother greeted me warmly, “Mwaiseni Mukwai” meaning ‘Welcome,’ expecting me as I had told her earlier to be present at the time of the delivery. Esnart greeted me more shyly, but was eager to see what was contained in the parcel for her. I untied them from the motorbike and began to open them to go through the contents with the parents and teachers. I handed Esnart her letter and she excitedly thanked me, saying she was very thankful and felt special to have a sponsor to write letters to.

Esnart’s mother fell to her knees and clapped three times, as practiced in our local culture, to show gratitude. She was short of words on how grateful she is for the sponsorship support of her daughter and her community.

“My sponsor is my role model and when I grow up I want to be a nurse so that I can help sick people in my community.” Esnart said.

Children love receiving any form of communication from their sponsors. It motivates them to go to school as well as other children to go to school themselves and enroll in the sponsorship program. It is so helpful for them to know that other people are concerned about them and love them too. Thank you, Sponsors!

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

Little Thuy Overcomes Her Shyness

Author Portrait_Tran Bich Phuong, Field-Based Project Assistant, Save the Children in Vietnam

Tran Bich Phuong

Field-Based Project Assistant

Save the Children in Vietnam

January 4, 2016

One of the most rewarding bonuses of my job is that I can see with my own eyes how our programs can affect one particular child. 

Thuy smiling brightly with the letter she wrote to her sponsor

Thuy smiling brightly with the letter she wrote to her sponsor

On my second day, as any excited rookie might feel, I fell into worry knowing that my job was not going to be easy. Thuy, the girl whose sponsor’s letter I was delivering, was a very shy girl who could not or did not care to say a word to my colleague and me. I have had some poor experiences working with children her age and circumstance. She was only 6, spoke very basic Kinh (the common language in Vietnam,) wrote even less and might have never met any strangers before in her lifetime. Though she said she was very happy to receive a letter from her “big friend” [Sponsor] in a faraway country, she seemed to struggle and showed very few signs of enjoying writing. It took us nearly one hour and a lot of effort to help Thuy to reply to her sponsor with a letter of just 40 words.

Over the next several months, my trips to the field lessened but the image of that little girl still appeared in my mind. I wondered how she was and whether she was less shy and smiled more. Though we were now using community volunteers for most of our letter delivery, a letter from Thuy’s Sponsor caught my eye as it made its way through our office and I took the chance to see her again.

Even though it was a weekend and I was not supposed to work, I felt so excited for the opportunity. After one hour travelling by motorbike along a terribly rough road, crossing two springs and countless mountain slopes, I arrived at Thuy’s house. I waited a bit for her while she was out playing with her neighbor friends across the hill. When she returned home and saw me, her smile was replaced by a look of reservation. I thought to myself, “Again this will be me sweating through my attempts to talk to and get closer with her, while the poor little girl remains silent as if I were not there.” I would spend the whole day there, I thought, doubting myself.

Thuy (left) with her mom holding her younger brother (center), and her cousin (right)

Thuy (left) with her mom holding her younger brother and cousin (right)

To break the ice, I suggested Thuy let me take a picture of her. She then surprised me and proved she was not as nervous as the last time we met! She actively asked me to take a picture of her with her friend, her mom and brother, and also with Ron, the dog. She smiled and posed very naturally! Knowing that I came along with a letter, she became enthusiastic to see it and then read it with unconcealed happiness. Although she was still struggling a bit with her reading and writing skills and it took quite some time to help her compose her letter, it was not so difficult to pull the words out of her this time and she was visibly enjoying herself! It was a pure delight knowing Thuy actually liked to write and to be written to. Thuy even asked me to spend a night with her family, which surprised me the most!

Was Thuy’s positive change the result of our activities and the interactions between her and her sponsor? I realized I could never know for sure. However, I do know that she surely enjoys writing letters now. Knowing that there is someone out there who cares and wishes her well puts a smile on her face. And what else could be more important than a child’s smile?

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

Sponsorship in Arizona

Author Portrait_Trish Zilliox, Program Specialist

Trish Zilliox

Program Specialist, Save the Children US

Arizona

December 28, 2015

To work as a Program Specialist with Save the Children, I moved to Flagstaff, Arizona and since then have enjoyed learning so much about my new town and the communities I live with, work with and travel to see. In my role I am tasked with ensuring our literacy, healthy choices and nutrition programs are operating robustly and engaging the students attending them. In addition to overseeing these programs, I partner with Sponsorship which serves each of the schools we work with. Sponsorship is a primary funding source, and thus a lifeline for sustaining Save the Children’s programs that reach hundreds of children in Arizona. 

One of the many sponsored children in Arizona benefitting from our programs

One of the many sponsorship children in Arizona benefitting from our programs

The communities Save the Children partners with in Arizona are in rural areas, struggle with high poverty and exhibit great academic need for students in kindergarten through sixth grade. Four of the six sites I currently support are located on reservations of the Navajo and Apache Nations. It has been a remarkably insightful experience to get to know the communities, schools, staff and students. The unique culture of each nation is pronounced and tended to respectively. These communities and families are very tightly knit, and I’m honored that they have welcomed me in.  

There is an undeniable need for Save the Children to partner with these schools and districts. Challenges these communities face include high rates of unemployment, alcoholism and domestic violence. The feeling of extreme rural isolation is palpable, as are the challenges that come with it. Many families, for example, live without running water and electricity. This subject was eatured on NPR in January of 2015. I encourage you to visit www.navajowaterproject.org to learn more!

The beautiful Arizona landscape

The beautiful Arizona landscape

I have acted as a Sponsorship Liaison as well at some schools, and overseen Sponsorship operations in the process. It is a very intimate experience when sponsors write to their sponsored children. The kids’ eyes literally widen with wonder and curiosity. Letter writing is a meaningful way for these students to learn and interact with the larger world. Often we keep a map handy when we distribute letters, as they are great for sparking curiosity and learning about different parts of the country. Sponsor-to-child correspondence plants the seed for this idea that a friend somewhere far away is thinking about the life of these students’, their families, their school life and general wellbeing.

It really means so much to receive a letter. My only wish is that every single sponsored child is able to share in this unique experience. If you are writing to your sponsored child, your letters are changing a life. If you haven’t had the opportunity to write to your sponsored child yet, I highly recommend it. Your life just might change too.

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

Syrian Children Have a Right to Go to School

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David Skinner

Director, Education Global Initiative, SCI

Lebanon

February 16, 2016

The statistics are difficult to fathom. There are 1.4 million children who are affected by the war in Syria who are of school age and who are living as refugees in the neighbouring countries: Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. More than half of these children are out of school.

Over the last three years, Lebanon alone has taken into its public education system 150,000 children who are refugees from the conflict in Syria. Accommodating an additional 150,000 children in schools in the United Kingdom would be a challenge. But in Lebanon the proportions are different. In Lebanon there are only 150,000 Lebanese children in the public education system. So the influx of refugee children has meant that every state school in Lebanon has had to double in size in the last three years. Every school – double the size. 

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Syrian children attend classes at a Save the Children supported school for refugees in Tripoli, Lebanon.

In addition, the children who are joining the schools have been subject to severe stress. They have been moved from what was once the security of their homes in Syria. They have seen things that no one – let alone a child – should ever see. And their families are under severe economic stress because of the great difficulty that refugees have finding work in Lebanon. All of these factors are significant barriers to accessing the educational system in Lebanon.

The Lebanese people deserve enormous credit for what they have already done to help Syrian children go to school: schools have introduced a two-shift system; teachers are working longer and longer hours to support the refugee children.

But it is not enough.

There are a further 150,000 children who should be in school, but are not. Although teachers have received some support to help them assist severely stressed children with learning, more needs to be done. Although there is an enormous need to provide support for the youngest children, the provision for pre-school support for refugees is pretty much non-existent.

I am writing this in Lebanon, where I came to look at the kind of support that Save the Children is providing already, as well as the support that we should be providing in the future. Education is a human right, and it is the means by which society equips children with the skills and knowledge they need to thrive in the world. It also saves lives, protects and builds peace.

The Bekaa Valley is – on a good day – a 60-minute drive from Beirut (the Syrian border is only 60 minutes away). It is beautiful: snow-covered mountains on both sides of fertile pasture.

In the gaps between the houses and on random fields in the agricultural areas, landlords have let out spaces to communities of refugees for informal settlements. These consist of flimsy shanty huts. It is the children in these settlements who we are supporting.

One of our projects involves providing early childhood support. We have helped communities find the space and the materials to run early childhood development activities for three to six year olds. The spaces are temporary. We use tents or unfinished buildings; buildings that the owner had started to build but are now unfinished shells. We rent the shell, put in polythene windows, carpets and partitions, and create a serviceable space.

We have also helped find Syrian refugees to act as facilitators (very often refugees who were fully qualified teachers in Syria) alongside facilitators from Lebanon. The centres are packed with young children. They are playing, they are singing. They are drawing and coloring.

But, above all, these children are developing their skills. They are learning how to socialize with children of their own age. They are understanding what a book is; how to hold a pencil. They are sorting objects and starting to understand basic numeracy. This is all done through fun activities and play. Activities that would be recognizable in pre-schools across the United Kingdom.

The centers are very popular with the children and with their parents. It is the sight of children engaged and happy and learning, despite the horrendous experiences they have suffered, that confirms that the work you do is having a genuine and positive impact on the lives of some of the most deprived children.

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Syrian children attend classes at a Save the Children supported school for refugees in Tripoli, Lebanon.

The other activity I visited was a homework support session. I was quietly skeptical about this when I saw it on my itinerary. It sounded a little trivial. But witnessing the reality made it clear quite how wrong I was.

Children from Syria are taught in Arabic. In Lebanon they are taught – after the first few years – in either French or English. Children who have left Syria have very often had to miss significant parts of their education because of instability at home or because of the journeys that they have had to take. They find learning in the Lebanese system hard. So we are helping them.

Most Syrian children attend the afternoon shift of the schools. In the morning we run sessions for a couple of hours, where they can get additional support for their learning. Save the Children’s support goes well beyond simply making sure they do the exercises they have been assigned for homework. It’s effectively remedial help across all the subjects that they are learning. The sessions are wildly popular. The group I visited had forty children in a small – very small – room with four teachers who were providing fantastic assistance. Despite the cramped conditions, the children were taking extraordinary steps in their learning.

Children like the ones I met in the Bekaa Valley have suffered enormously. They are facing an insecure and uncertain future. They don’t have – no one has – any idea when they will be able to go back to their homes in Syria. But they are determined that they are not going to be left behind. They are determined to do what they can to learn. Their parents are determined to help them. And we are determined to make sure that they have their right to learn fulfilled.

To learn more about our response to the Syria crisis, click here

#TravelTuesday: A Transformational Visit to Rural Peru

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Nicolle Keogh

Social Media Marketing Coordinator, Save the Children US

Andahuaylas, Peru

February 2, 2016

This past fall, just as children in the United States were settling into their back-to-school routines, I had the privilege of travelling to Andahuaylas, Peru to visit one of Save the Children’s education programs. Nestled into the Andes Mountains, the community I visited is just one of many in the country that have programs that are supported or led by Save the Children. 

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Third grade students actively participate in reading & writing class

Literacy Boost is one of our signature programs that’s implemented worldwide to create a culture of reading both inside and outside the classroom. In mountainous and poorly urbanized Peru where the lifestyles of most people revolve around tending to livelihoods in fields and gardens, 1.9 million people cannot read or write. The 150 elementary children who I met all came from working-class families in a region with one of the highest illiteracy rates in the country.

To make matters more challenging, the native Quechua language remains the mother tongue that children are born and raised speaking in this region of Peru. But as time goes on, most Quechua speakers must learn Spanish in order to function in their own country. This means that the students that I met—most of whom are the first in their families to attend school— are learning lessons in Spanish that their illiterate, Quechua-speaking parents are unable to help them with. You can imagine the challenge in trying to conquer illiteracy despite the many cultural differences between generations!

Literacy Boost focuses on 3 core methods to achieve success:        

  1. Measuring kids’ reading skills: children are given periodic, standardized tests to track their learning progress
  2. Training teachers to help children learn: we help teachers keep their children engaged and interested by fostering learning through games, songs and stories in literacy lessons
  3. Getting parents and communities involved in learning: by providing books, libraries and supplies, we inspire students to continue learning outside of the classroom
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Student Gerardo shows us his designated "reading corner" in his family's home

I spent the first few days of my trip observing Peru’s Literacy Boost program in action, including shadowing classrooms, attending teacher training, and even getting the privilege of being welcomed into one student’s home to check out his “reading corner”—a dedicated space in a quiet part of his family’s home where he can do his homework. By the end of the week, it was time for the main event: On September 10th, which is World Literacy Day, Save the Children, in partnership with Global Nomads Group and Students Rebuild, connected the Literacy Boost students in Peru with two high schools in United States for a virtual exchange. The live webcast, which you can view here, was conducted to expose children on both sides of the world to cultural norms and differences as well as facilitate a conversation about the importance of literacy.

At the culmination of the webcast, my Save the Children team members and I distributed hundreds of homemade bookmarks that supporters made as part of the Students Rebuild Literacy Challenge: for each bookmark made, our partners at Students Rebuild donated $1 to our Literacy Boost program to help youth around the world learn to read and write.

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Students in Peru participate in a live, virtual exchange with students from the U.S.

I feel so fortunate to have been able to travel and witness Save the Children’s impact on such a special group of young and impressionable children. Over 5 days, I observed first-generation students from a rural, impoverished village in the Andes become captivated in reading and spelling lessons. Watching them light up in the classroom and become fully engaged in their lessons, I witnessed not only the influence of Save the Children’s programs in the most remote of areas, but also the enthusiasm that education sparked in these children.

#TravelTuesday: A Transformational Visit to Rural Peru

Nicolle Keogh6a0120a608aa53970c01b7c8487081970b-120wi

Social Media Marketing Coordinator, Save the Children US

Andahuaylas, Peru

February 2, 2016

This past fall, just as children in the United States were settling into their back-to-school routines, I had the privilege of travelling to Andahuaylas, Peru to visit one of Save the Children’s education programs. Nestled into the Andes Mountains, the community I visited is just one of many in the country that have programs that are supported or led by Save the Children.

Class
Third grade students actively participate in reading & writing class

Literacy Boost is one of our signature programs that’s implemented worldwide to create a culture of reading both inside and outside the classroom. In mountainous and poorly urbanized Peru where the lifestyles of most people revolve around tending to livelihoods in fields and gardens, 1.9 million people cannot read or write. The 150 elementary children who I met all came from working-class families in a region with one of the highest illiteracy rates in the country.

To make matters more challenging, the native Quechua language remains the mother tongue that children are born and raised speaking in this region of Peru. But as time goes on, most Quechua speakers must learn Spanish in order to function in their own country. This means that the students that I met—most of whom are the first in their families to attend school— are learning lessons in Spanish that their illiterate, Quechua-speaking parents are unable to help them with. You can imagine the challenge in trying to conquer illiteracy despite the many cultural differences between generations!

Literacy Boost focuses on 3 core methods to achieve success:

  1. Measuring kids’ reading skills: children are given periodic, standardized tests to track their learning progress
  2. Training teachers to help children learn: we help teachers keep their children engaged and interested by fostering learning through games, songs and stories in literacy lessons
  3. Getting parents and communities involved in learning: by providing books, libraries and supplies, we inspire students to continue learning outside of the classroom
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Student Gerardo shows us his designated “reading corner” in his family’s home

I spent the first few days of my trip observing Peru’s Literacy Boost program in action, including shadowing classrooms, attending teacher training, and even getting the privilege of being welcomed into one student’s home to check out his “reading corner”—a dedicated space in a quiet part of his family’s home where he can do his homework. By the end of the week, it was time for the main event: On September 10th, which is World Literacy Day, Save the Children, in partnership with Global Nomads Group and Students Rebuild, connected the Literacy Boost students in Peru with two high schools in United States for a virtual exchange. The live webcast, which you can view here, was conducted to expose children on both sides of the world to cultural norms and differences as well as facilitate a conversation about the importance of literacy.

At the culmination of the webcast, my Save the Children team members and I distributed hundreds of homemade bookmarks that supporters made as part of the Students Rebuild Literacy Challenge: for each bookmark made, our partners at Students Rebuild donated $1 to our Literacy Boost program to help youth around the world learn to read and write.

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Students in Peru participate in a live, virtual exchange with students from the U.S.

I feel so fortunate to have been able to travel and witness Save the Children’s impact on such a special group of young and impressionable children. Over 5 days, I observed first-generation students from a rural, impoverished village in the Andes become captivated in reading and spelling lessons. Watching them light up in the classroom and become fully engaged in their lessons, I witnessed not only the influence of Save the Children’s programs in the most remote of areas, but also the enthusiasm that education sparked in these children.