The Tradition of the Canchules

Verónica Aguilar6a0120a608aa53970c01b7c8487081970b-120wi

Early Childhood Care and Development Officer

Save the Children in El Salvador

April 27, 2016

I’ve been in charge of the sponsorship impact area in Nahuizalco for a year now and since have been given the opportunity to witness firsthand the many traditions and festivities of my country that I otherwise had not been a part of. The people I work with in our sponsorship communities are always inviting me to the many important celebrations they have.

An altar to honor the dead, as is tradition during the Canchules Festival in Nahuizalco, El Salvador

Last year, I attended a very special tradition called the Canchules Festival. In the now almost extinct language of our ancestors, canchules literally means ‘demonstration of the cooked,’ or could also be interpreted as ‘an offering of food’. It is celebrated every November 1st across the whole municipality. On this day, people make altars to honor the lives of their loved ones who have passed. Families lay out offerings of prepared meals, usually their relatives’ favorite dishes, fruit and handmade sweets. Altars are decorated with colorful paper, flowers and photos of their departed family members.

The tradition welcomes visitors, both locals and foreigners, to visit each altar and take some food. However to do so, they must first say this prayer: “We’re angels from heaven and we come to ask for canchules to continue our journey.” In exchange for the food, the owner of the altar can impose a small penance on the visitor, such as asking they say another prayer, run, dance or even tell a joke.

On this day, both children and adults walk the streets with a bag to keep the food they collect as they visit each altar. One can also see women wearing refajos, a fabric wrapped tightly around the body to make a skirt, the traditional garb of this culture.

People also may visit cemeteries to pray and place flowers on the tombs of their deceased family members. Some community members even bring the altars to the cemetery and place their food and beverage offerings right on top of the tombs!

This is a tradition to be enjoyed with the entire family and to remember times spent with the loved ones who have passed. The Canchules Festival has some similarities with the globally-recognized Day of the Dead celebrated in Mexico, but what makes this tradition special for the people of Nahuizalco is the small prayer one has to say in order to receive some tasty food.

Women wearing refajos, the traditional garb of Nahuizalco, while visiting the altars during the festival

We are very proud of this tradition and preserve it from generation to generation. Children in particular enjoy this day by collecting as many offerings as they can and also by seeing their friends pay the small penances!

In all of El Salvador, as in other Latin American countries, the first two days of November are centered around honoring the dead, but with variations in each region. However, Nahuizalco is the only place in El Salvador to celebrate the tradition of canchules.

What traditions do you have to honor loved ones that have passed? Do you memorialize them in a special way in your culture or with your close family members? We would love to hear about your personal ways to celebrate and honor the departed.

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

A Teacher Joins Literacy Boost

6a0120a608aa53970c01b7c8486bb5970b-120wiMengos Nazare

Basic Education Coordinator

Save the Children in Mozambique

April 22, 2016

It’s in a primary school in Mozambique where I meet 31-year-old Malica, an experienced teacher. Malica is a wife, a mother of two children and a working professional – but she manages to reconcile all these roles, admitting that it’s not easy. In her pursuit to constantly improve the learning environment for her students, she sought out teacher training programs outside of her regular work duties. It was due to her extra engagement in the community that she was recommended by the local authorities to be a part of a sponsorship-funded teacher training course offered by Save the Children in Mozambique.

Malica, a teacher in Nacala Porto, is excited to join the Literacy Boost efforts

Malica is involved in the local school council, in which she’s tasked with making sure that children are cared for properly. She also works to better community members’ understanding of the value that the school and an accessible education has for benefiting the larger community. Because of her strong performance in these roles, Malica was selected to be a Literacy Boost teacher’s trainer.

Literacy Boost is a program that aims to enhance early reading and writing skills. Its strategies are based on evidence of what works in teaching children how to read: a well-trained teacher, plentiful and interesting books to read and a supportive home environment. Since we believe learning takes place both in and out of school, Literacy Boost works with teachers, parents, community literacy volunteers and youth to create a holistic reading program that sets the stage for a bright future. Learning what this program could mean for the children of her community, Malica was filled with joy at the idea of becoming involved to train teachers. She was not expecting this good news and recognizes that working in Literacy Boost is a new experience in her life that will even further improve her work as a teacher.

Malica teaching a lesson at her school in Nacala Porto

She tells me that teaching is very challenging in her community, especially when dealing with overcrowded classes where she and other teachers struggle to give the necessary attention to each pupil. Malica believes that every teacher should have the mindset that they are almost a second parent for the children, and so they must be able to always give their best to guarantee that children grow up safe and healthy, and that they get the quality education they deserve. She thanks sponsors for making this opportunity possible.

Sponsorship programs that focus on teacher training and literacy skills are at the forefront of our work in sponsorship-supported communities. We work with the whole community to emphasize the importance of educating children, so that students may develop the vital learning foundations that give them the best start in life. Again, thank you to our sponsors for bringing Literacy Boost to Mozambique!

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

Thank You from Safiatou

6a0120a608aa53970c01bb08db208a970d-120wi Safiatou, a Formerly Sponsored Child

Save the Children in Mali

April 15, 2016

My name is Safiatou. I was born on February 19th, 1997 and I live in the village of Kassanso with my parents. I have two brothers and two sisters. I am attending 9th grade in preparatory school, and have been enrolled in the Sponsorship program since I was in 4th grade. I was sponsored that same year and I remained with this sponsor until I reached the age limit for sponsorship, when I turned 18.

During my sponsorship I received many letters from my sponsor filled with kind words. He encouraged me in my studies. He always told me about the importance of education in life. I followed his advice, which helped me and continues to help me in my education.

My sponsor would send me puzzles, too. I needed careful reflection and concentration to complete them. It was an interesting activity, which I had never done before! My friends were not able to restore the puzzle, but I did not have much difficulty.

Thanks to the Sponsorship program, my community has benefited from three new classrooms, latrines with handwashing kits and a school headmaster’s office. We also have a portable water pump, with easy access to clean water that we didn’t have before. Utensils and staple foods such as corn, rice and beans are now provided at our school canteen. Safiatou working on the last correspondence for her sponsor

6a0120a608aa53970c01bb08db20d7970d-320wiWith the encouragement of my sponsor on the importance of education I will continue studying hard. I want to have a successful life and become one of the leaders of my country. I will also encourage my siblings and friends to study well at school in order to succeed.

I send all my gratitude to Save the Children for my sponsorship and the changes made for my community. Special thanks to my sponsor, for his support and advice that I will continue to follow and share with the other children of my community.

For Safiatou, the relationship she built with her sponsor over the years has changed her outlook on life, given her a sense of purpose and encouraged her to dream big. For her and the other children in Kassanso, the benefits of Sponsorship go beyond improving the health and quality of education for students, but also gives them a sense of pride and self-worth. Thank you for sharing your story with us, Safiatou!

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

Bringing the SDGs Down-to-Earth

6a0120a608aa53970c01bb085b704d970d-120wiAndrew Wainer, Director of Policy Research

Milagros Lechleiter, PPA Intern

April 15, 2016

The United Nations General Assembly approved the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September 2015 with massive fanfare: Pope Francis and President Obama were just two of the luminaries on hand to usher in the 17 goals and 169 targets covering everything from climate change to governance to poverty eradication.

But even as the SDGs overflow with ambition and goodwill, the lack of mechanisms to operationalize them means that the lofty goals risk being unfulfilled.

Last month, Save the Children gathered a group of NGO representatives and policymakers from USAID at InterAction to discuss how to make the SDGs work – and specifically work through U.S. foreign assistance. The centerpiece of the discussion is Save the Children’s new report: “From Words to Actions: USAID’s Integration of the Sustainable Development Goals.”

President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Closing Session: Post-2015 Development Agenda, in General Assembly Hall at the United Nations in New York, N.Y. Sept. 27, 2015. (Official White House Photo/ Pete Souza)

The report indicates that while USAID played a major role leading U.S government input into the United Nations (U.N.) SDG creation process – spearheadedby USAID’s Policy, Planning and Learning (PPL) bureau – there is less certainty on how to take the goals forward. “It will take a while to figure it out,” one USAID official interviewed for the report said. The report also reveals that USAID is in the early stages of aligning its workaday operations with the imperatives of the SDGs and it will take continued effort – similar to that needed to shape the creation of the SDGs at the U.N. – to operationalize them at the agency.

This is no easy task and our report identifies several concrete recommendations on how the world’s bilateral largest foreign assistance agency can advance the process. These report recommendations include:

• The appointment of a SDG coordinator to monitor and manage progress on SDG integration across the U.S. government and to ensure momentum for the SDG agenda into the next administration.

• Consistent with SDG 10 on reducing inequality, USAID should set clear benchmarks to ensure that the poorest and most marginalized people, particularly those living in conflict-affected and fragile states, are making progress to achieve SDG targets.

• Make ambitious financing commitments to support the SDGs at key moments including at the Nutrition for Growth Summit and the next G7 and G20 Summits

Interviews with USAID policy staff for the report show that given the copious amount of U.S. government input into the SDGs during their creation, much of the USAID’s work already aligns with the goals.

President Barack Obama addresses attendees during a plenary meeting of the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit at the U.N.’s headquarters in New York, Sept. 27, 2015. (Reuters/Mike Segar)

It was clear from the research that the previous Washington and U.N.-focused work which fed into shaping the SDGs is now shifting to the field with a focus on implementation. USAID headquarters has started a dialogue with its missions – simultaneously socializing the SDG concept with agency field staff and querying missions to assess how they can tailor their in-country work to align with the goals.

Given the scope of the goals, USAID will be challenged to integrate the SDGs into its operations; but given the momentum generated by its successful work on them at the United Nations, the SDGs don’t have to remain merely an ambition – they can be integrated into the daily work of governments, civil society organizations, and foreign assistance agencies like USAID.

A Thirst for Change in Flint, Michigan

6a0120a608aa53970c01b7c835117d970bMichael O’Neil, Director of Global Safety and Security

Save the Children International

April 14, 2016

It’s a nippy 29 degrees and I can see my breath. The sun was shining a few moments ago, a rare occurrence, but now it’s obscured by dark clouds, and the biting wind blows at our backs, bringing with it a flurry of snowflakes. But the people still come, descending on the driveway, thirsty.

Thirsty might seem a strange word to describe people in a snow storm in a region surrounded by the largest bodies of fresh water in the world, but it seems an apt description for the residents of Flint, Michigan. My numb fingers load cases of water into one woman’s car. Her baby is in the passenger seat asleep. She needs water, not only for drinking, but also to bathe her baby. “Thank you,” she mouths through her closed window as the last case is loaded and the car trunk is closed. The baby, oblivious to the ugly weather raging on outside, continues to sleep.

I’m here in Flint with Save the Children as a part of the humanitarian response to the water crisis. We’re helping distribute water, healthy food, and hygiene supplies. And perhaps even more importantly, we are here partnering with early childhood education programs to provide learning opportunities and nutrient rich foods to help mitigate the impact of lead.

Save the Children staff delivering water one snowy day in Flint, Michigan. Whether rain, sleet, or snow, Save the Children is out there helping to distribute vital water for drinking and hygiene to the people of Flint.

The crisis started two years ago when the city’s water source was changed from the treated Detroit Water and Sewage Department to the FlintRiver.  The improperly treated water corroded the pipes, which then contaminated the drinking water, exposing 100,000 people to elevated levels of lead and other metals. Over 27,000 children have been exposed, and are now at risk of impaired hearing, impaired blood cell formation, and critical developmental delays.

For parents of small children, like the woman whose car I loaded, the risks of bathing their children in this water are just too great. They are advised to use bottled water. But imagine, having to pour a couple of gallons of bottled water into a basin each time you had to bathe your child. It’s a little easier with the gallon-sized jugs, but today, we only had the individual bottles. “My hands get raw opening so many bottles,” she said when we told her we were out of the jugs. “But, it’s what you got to do.”

Good nutrition, rich in iron, calcium and Vitamin C — and high quality early learning programs, can help reduce the harmful effects of lead exposure.. At a day care center at the local YWCA, Save the Children is providing young children with that vital infusion of critical nutrients to bolster the immune system and mitigate lead exposure. “Look at my mustache! See?” says Elijah, 5, his upper lip slathered with green. Another student, four-year-old Jameer, overhears and shouts that he likes the pink one best, “because it tastes good.” “Pink is my favorite!” cries Adonai, 4, in obvious agreement.

Katie, the head teacher at the daycare, makes nutrition fun for the kids, talking about colors and flavors and inviting participation.

One of the mothers at the daycare came up with the idea as a creative way to get her daughter to consume fruits and vegetables. There are three recipes so far that we simply call Pink, Yellow, and Rainbow. The Rainbow smoothies actually turn out green, but Katie, the head teacher at the daycare, gets the kids really excited going through the colors of each of the ingredients. The red comes from the apples, the orange from the orange juice, and by the time she gets to green… “Spinach!” the kids shout, Adonai throwing her hands in the air. Jameer downs his smoothie and proudly shows me his empty cup.

He must be thirsty—thirsty for nutrients to keep his body strong and safe. The woman at the distribution site is thirsty too—thirsty for water that won’t harm her baby. And Flint is thirsty—thirsty for a real solution to the water crisis. Save the Children is here doing what we can to quench that thirst. But one cup of water isn’t enough. There are no quick fixes for the water crisis. Save the Children intends to continue to support young children in Flint for the long-haul. In addition to improving the nutrition of Flint’s most vulnerable kids, we are also partnering with the University of Michigan-Flint’s Early Childhood Development Center, and with child care providers across the city to ensure that children are able to participate in learning and play opportunities that are designed specifically to help with young minds continue to grow and develop, despite the negative impact that the lead has had.

We are very grateful that the generous support of GSK and their employee giving program is helping us to respond. Every child in Flint has a right to grow, develop and thrive —- Save the Children is here, partnering with Flint, to help ensure that every child has a fighting chance in life.

Learn more about our work in Flint



Sponsorship For the Whole Family

6a0120a608aa53970c01bb08d40bd4970d-120wiSave the Children in Egypt

April 6, 2016

“Communication with my sponsor helped me develop a clearer sense of what the most important values in my life are,” says Asmaa.

Asmaa is 14 years old and lives with her parents in Kom Al-Mansoura. Her mother is a housewife and her father a laborer. She has four siblings who are also enrolled in school. Their living conditions are below the average within their remote community. Asmaa’s father has to work really hard just to be able to cover their basic needs. He must travel to a neighboring village to find work, which means he is not available to his family most of the time.

Despite financial struggles at home, Asmaa is a very clever and ambitious student and has always been at the top of her class. She loves to write stories and read books. Her dream is to become a doctor and build a hospital one day so she can help people living in remote areas like her village. “All I wish for is to help the people in my village stop struggling to reach the advanced health services, which are only available in the capital,” she says. She wants her village to be as clean and modernized as Assuit, the capital city of this part of Egypt. She hopes that people will stop throwing rubbish in the street that leads to her school and start planting trees instead.

Asmaa thanks her sponsor, Sofya

Asmaa participated in the School Health and Nutrition activities implemented by Save the Children at her school and was a member of the Students Nutrition Committee. As a member, she took the lead in spreading health messages to both peers and her family, raising students’ awareness about healthy habits and behaviors in school and in the community as a whole.

“I am very grateful, Asmaa taught me and her siblings many useful things about hygiene and healthy cooking,” says Asmaa’s mother. For example, Asmaa showed her mother how to clean cooking oil so that it can be reused. She taught her siblings about how unhealthy it is to eat chips and drink soda all the time, and now the whole family drinks milk and eats healthy snacks instead.

Asmaa tells us she always believed that a sponsor can make a huge difference in a child’s life– that sponsors help children learn about interesting things like different cultures and languages. Asmaa has fond memories of her own letter-writing experiences with her friend and former sponsor, Sofya. Now she delights in helping her brother read his letters with his own sponsor.

Sponsorship programming sends a ripple through the whole community, benefiting children and their families alike. Thanks to the life lessons Asmaa has learned through the kindness offered to her by her sponsor on the other side of the world, she is now even more determined to help others in her own life. Good luck in pursuing your dream of bringing better health care to the villages of Egypt, Asmaa. We believe in you!

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

“I Don’t Want to Be in Prison”

6a0120a608aa53970c01b7c82e2af3970b-120wi Sacha Myers

Information, Communications and Media Manager

Save the Children in Greece

April 4, 2016

Nothing quite prepares you for seeing a child refugee locked in a detention center.

I’ve read about children in detention centers. I’ve heard people speak about it and I’ve watched videos. But seeing children with your own eyes locked behind a barbed wire fence is a completely different and horrifying experience.

When I visited Moria detention center on the Greek island of Lesvos, some children were playing in the concrete yard, while others stood by the fence with their fingers laced through the wire, listlessly watching the outside world go by—desperation etched on their faces.

My first feeling was confusion and disbelief: these are children who have done nothing wrong – why are they locked up?

Then came the sadness, followed quickly by a burning sense of injustice in the pit of my stomach.


6a0120a608aa53970c01b8d1b890c8970c-320wiMany of the children I saw that day in Lesvos are alone – they don’t have their family to protect them and look out for them. No one to watch their back while they sleep; no one to keep them motivated when the days are long and the challenges seem Greeceinsurmountable.

Most children have fled bullets, bombs and death. They are in Greece because they made a choice: they chose to live and seek safety in another country. And now they are being punished for it.

A child in detention in Greece told one of my colleagues: “I feel so lonely because I was separated from my friends and family and brought here by force…I want to get out of here. I don’t want to be in prison.”


The current border closures with the Balkan countries in northern Greece and the new EU-Turkey agreement mean thousands of children traveling alone are currently stranded in detention centers, police stations and overcrowded reception centers in Greece.

Others are sleeping rough in parks and informal camps, too scared to ask for help for fear of being locked up. This means children traveling alone are facing an increased risk of abuse, violence and exploitation. They also make an easy target for traffickers.

The Greek authorities are overwhelmed and do not have the resources to provide the right protection and services these children desperately need. The existing facilities for children traveling alone are full and the Greek authorities are scrambling to find alternative accommodation.

Save the Children is working with local partners and the authorities to provide shelter, information and support for children travelling alone in Greece. But with thousands of children living in deplorable conditions and more arriving every day, the EU and Greek authorities must act now to end the unjustified detention of children and provide safe, open facilities for children.

Because no child seeking safety deserves to be locked away.

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