A Working Day for a Sponsorship Facilitator

Author Portrait_Sama Mahaman Laouali, Community Development Facilitator
Sama Mahaman Laouali

Community Development Facilitator

Save the Children in Niger

March 31, 2017

When the Sponsorship program started in Niger in January of 2015, I was among the lucky staff members tasked with implementing the program in the selected 25 communities. The fact that I am from the region of Maradi, where Sponsorship now works, doubled my commitment to work for the welfare of children in this area.

The work of a community facilitator is not an easy task, but it’s worth doing since it benefits children, their parents and the region as a whole.

Sama laughing and drawing with some sponsored girls.
Sama laughing and drawing with some sponsored girls.

When I wake up in the morning, I first have my breakfast and then I check everything is in working order on my motorcycle. Despite the hot, sunny days and sandy roads, I enjoy going to the communities.

We have become, as a part of Sponsorship, members of these communities. From afar the roaring of my motorbike can be heard, and children welcome me with their joyful “youyous”, a local saying used to describe the excited and joyful shouts of children, because they all know that I always come with good news – news from their sponsors or enrollments welcoming new children into the programs.

Smiling Sponsorship kids Djamila, Farida, Aicha & Maimouna.
Smiling Sponsorship kids Djamila, Farida, Aicha & Maimouna.

Children and parents are all proud when a child receives a letter from a sponsor. It’s new to them, but they already have confidence in Sponsorship’s activities. For parents, the program is a huge relief as they will not have to worry about buying school supplies. Children too believe in the change that will occur in their education, as their teachers are being trained and the school environment is already starting to transform. Reading camps are being set-up in communities and stocked with storybooks. The use of positive discipline is being taught to teachers, which means no more violence at school and children are made comfortable in class and are able to develop relationships with their teachers.

In these rural communities, letters coming from abroad are treasured and he who receives a letter from a sponsor is seen as a lucky child. Creating drawings for replies to sponsors is a scene of celebration as children are gathered to work together on them, and it’s marvelous.

Have you written to your sponsored child recently? We hear over and over that children “treasure” the letters they receive from sponsors – it truly is seen as a wonderful gift! We hope you will consider taking the time to write a quick note or send some photos of yourself and your family to your sponsored child. Know they will indeed treasure it for years to come!

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

 

Hope is Running Out

As I sit on the plane on the way back from Beirut, Lebanon, typing at 30,000 feet, my mind keeps going back to one of the more emotional moments I’ve experienced in a long time.  I’m back to a small set of chilly cement rooms where a mother, father and three children live in northern Lebanon, listening to them tell me about how they fled here after years under siege in their home village of Hamah in Syria.  The family had seen such heartbreak that it was hard to take it all in during our brief time together but now, at cruising altitude, it hits me like a fist.

Perched on thin mattresses on the cement floor, we asked the mother and father about their journey and what life was like for them.  They started by thanking Save the Children for the help we had given by putting doors and windows into the bare concrete walls, in installing a sink and toilet in the apartment, and making the stairs safe to use.  The father talked about how he has only been able to get sporadic work in the northern Lebanese village; Syrians are only allowed to work in construction, agriculture or low-skill odd jobs and it meant their resources were incredibly stretched.  A young boy, less than two years old, sat in his mother’s lap and a cute, energetic 4 year-old played peekaboo with me and giggled loudly.  Then one of our team asked an innocent question – why was their 8 year-old son, stirring under a blanket on the raised platform bed in the room, not in school?

The father looked down and we saw the pain cross his face as he told us that his son, Haddi, fell from a two-story balcony in the unfinished building eight months ago, shattering his hip.  After two unsuccessful operations, he had a third one three weeks before our visit; this operation cost the family all of their savings and put them further into debt.  His mother began to cry as she told us how they had tried to get him to the best doctor they could find and showed us the X-rays—images that showed three screws in a small, fragile hipbone. This boy was not in school because he was in intense pain and had barely moved since they brought him back from the hospital.  I saw the shocked look on the face of our local team member who managed the work on the apartment, who had not seen the family since before the accident and had no idea it had happened.

We tried to think of what to say to this family, to give them some hope that their son would be okay.  In a circumstance I can only describe as fate, one of our visitors with me on this trip was from the Pacific Northwest and her daughter had been in an accident as a young girls and had the same operation for her crushed pelvis.  She comforted the weeping Syrian mom as best she could, telling her about her daughter’s story and full recovery.  But we knew that was with some of the best medical care in the world and months and months of rehabilitation. This was not after three surgeries, laying on a wooden bed with few medicines, no wheelchairs and no daily visits from a physical therapist. We wanted to give some hope but you could see in the parents’ faces that for this family, hope was fading.

Later we spoke to our team about trying to get more medical care for Haddi, care that would probably stretch the emergency fund we keep for such dire cases to the limit. We will somehow find a way to help him.

But there are so many sad cases as the Syria crisis moves into its seventh year.  So many thousands of cases of children’s lives lost or shattered, of childhoods cut short when 11 year-olds begin to work picking vegetables, when 14 year-old girls are married to “keep them safe”, when children leave their families to go on their own to try to get somewhere safer, better, saner.

As we spoke to some of UN partners the next day, I sensed some hope that, though it would be difficult, maybe on the horizon there will be a time when some of the 1.5 million Syrian refugees living in Lebanon feel safe enough to begin going back home. But as the war now stretches past the duration of World War II, I worry for the Haddis that we don’t reach, that we don’t know about, for whom hope and time is truly running out.

Please help us provide support and hope to Haddi and his family—and so many others like them—by donating to our Syrian Children’s Relief Fund.

Bipartisan McGovern-Dole Program Transforms Health and Education in Guatemala’s Western Highlands

By Dan Stoner, Associate Vice President of Education and Child Protection at Save the Children.

In August 2016, I had the privilege of visiting Save the Children’s IDEA project in Guatemala with Jonathan Cordone, the then Deputy Undersecretary of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

IDEA is a USDA project funded through the McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program. IDEA is one example of the many international humanitarian and development programs that would be a casualty of the President’s drastic proposal to cut U.S. international affairs funding by roughly one-third.

The justification for the cut was that the program lacks evidence that it is being effectively implemented to reduce food insecurity, but our Guatemala program shows that it is indeed making a difference in the lives of children.

Guatemala Blog Post 1

Guatemala’s Western Highlands

In the Guatemalan Western Highlands, more than 60% of indigenous children are stunted and more than half are malnourished.  Through the IDEA project, Save the Children feeds more than 43,000 school age children per year, directly addressing food insecurity in the most impoverished region of Guatemala.

A recent independent evaluation of the IDEA program indicated that as a result of the school meals, absenteeism in program schools dropped from 20% to 5% in less than 2 years.[1]  The same evaluation found the number of children who now pay attention in class increased by 40%.  When asked why more children were paying attention in class, teachers said “They are no longer hungry.”

The McGovern-Dole Program

The McGovern-Dole program goes beyond just feeding children who otherwise would not have, in many cases, even one nutritious meal a day.  It integrates health, nutrition, and education interventions that enable children to reach their full potential.   The IDEA program has transformed barren cinderblock classrooms into engaging environments (as seen below) designed to cultivate children’s curiosity and encourage their love of learning. As a result of the USDA McGovern-Dole program, these children have learned to read in two languages: the indigenous K’iche’ language and Spanish.

While the program is based in more than 260 rural schools in Quiche province, its impact extends beyond these communities.

Ministry of Education officials who have seen the program work, have adopted program methodologies and manuals from the IDEA program to be used in all of Guatemala’s public schools. The government officials were so supportive of the program that they asked Save the Children to implement it in schools that were more remote than originally planned and paid for the additional costs of doing so. This support and buy-in from the local government is a testament to the impact of USDA McGovern-Dole programming on the most vulnerable populations in Guatemala.

Guatemala Blog Post 3

In this story I am talking about one school, but one that is as vibrant as any I have seen in my 25 years in international development. The IDEA program reaches 260 schools.   McGovern Dole has 46 active programs around the world.  USDA and USAID reach millions of children in schools just like these every year.

The impact in the Western Highlands is an example of how the McGovern-Dole program reduces hunger and improves literacy and primary education globally. Each year, the McGovern-Dole program feeds over 3 million children and their families around the world while providing comprehensive education interventions designed to ensure the future success of today’s school-age children.

This is just one example of a proven bipartisan program that gives children around the world a brighter future.  At less than 1% of the entire federal budget, slashing international affairs won’t make an impact on the deficit, but the impact on children will be devastating. Congress must continue to invest in programs like these – they’re worth every penny.

 

[1] Asociacion De Desarrollo Organizacional Communitara ADOC. Mid Term Evaluation of IDEA Project, SC/USDA. Aug. 2016. Guatemala. Pg 37

Witness Your Sponsorship Support in Action

Author Portrait_Victoria Zegler, Multimedia Storyteller
Victoria Zegler

Multimedia Storyteller

Save the Children U.S.

March 21, 2017

Leaving our Save the Children field office, it’s anywhere between a one to two-hour drive to the rural country side where sponsored children live, play and learn. The roads are dusty and narrow. Traveling along these remote roadways, you can feel every bump and dip in the dirt roads. Passing by children along the shoulder on bicycles and motorcycles, I can’t imagine what their journey is like.

As we drive down the lengthy highway, homes become father apart as the distance becomes greater.

Stepping into a classroom in Lufwanyama, Zambia.
Stepping into a classroom in Lufwanyama, Zambia.

As I get closer to the village, I notice the local community in action. Young children, teenagers, many of them, the mothers and fathers of the children we serve, having labored since dawn with nothing but their bare hands and tools made from the country’s natural resources. I admire their dedication, innovation and hard work. They have no one to rely on but themselves to get the job done.

As we approach the school grounds, children slowly peek their heads out of the newly built classrooms. The smile plastered across my face reflects theirs. I can’t wait to meet these incredible children and to show them pictures of their participation in our programs – solving math problems in notebooks and learning to read with new learning materials – all made possible by their sponsors.

And then it dawned on me – there aren’t many mirrors and smartphones here, so many of these children haven’t seen what they look like in months, maybe even years.

To me, it’s more than just taking their pictures, it’s about unlocking raw emotion.
To me, it’s more than just taking their pictures, it’s about unlocking raw emotion.

The children are eager and curious as they approach me, giggling. After taking their picture, I show the children and big, unfiltered laughter ensues.

To me, it’s more than just taking their pictures. It’s about unlocking the raw emotion deep down inside of them. Showing the happiness on their faces as the corners of their eyes begin to wrinkle. I admire their strength and resilience through the hardest of times. Their hope and hard work for better life. These children instill hope in me every day with their big ideas and willingness to learn. They give me faith in myself, my organization and – most importantly – in humanity.

The moment I see the smiling faces of those children, nothing else matters.

A memory that I will always remember: the excitement that broke out over stickers. The children flocked to me with their arms reaching out at the chance to collect a sticker. I watched the children place them on their hands, faces and their friends faces laughing all the while. This simple gift from generous sponsors made their day – and mine too.

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

 

Guarding Our Children’s Future

Author Portrait_Tribhuvan Karmacharya, Sponsorship Program OfficerTribhuvan Karmacharya

Sponsorship Program Officer

Save the Children in Nepal-Bhutan

March 17, 2017

Being born and raised in the hilly district of Pyuthan in Nepal, I consider myself one of the lucky few who was able to have a better chance at an education. I grew up in one of the most developed parts of Pyuthan, though calling it developed would be an overstatement. Many parts of this area, particularly in the high, upper hill regions, still lack electricity, and are so remote that hours on foot are required for daily tasks like collecting water for household use. I had the privilege of going to school and even continuing with my education, unlike the many children I meet with on a regular basis during field visits to this area.

I was quite unaware of Save the Children’s Sponsorship program until I joined the team myself in 2011. My primary role included collecting child replies from children for their sponsors, and collecting updates from the children about their daily life and about how they are benefiting from our programs. Most recently, we have begun to give extra attention to children who are not enrolled in school because they need our support more than ever, to truly turn around their lives.

A typical road in Pyuthan.
A typical road in Pyuthan.

My colleagues and I set out to cover different areas to meet with these out-of-school children. Walking is never an option in hilly communities like ours – it is the only choice if you need to go somewhere. Sometimes children walk for hours just to reach their school. After leaving the motor road, I walked along the narrow dirt trails to meet with several out-of-school children. Of those I met with that day, a young 11-year-old boy named Aashik still frequently comes to my mind.

Aashik’s mother had been terminally ill for quite some time. He had stopped going to school in order to care for his ailing mother, and to prepare food and care for his little sister since his mother no longer could. His father and 17-year-old brother had moved to India in search of work, a common story for families here. I will never forget the moment his lips shut tight and his eyes welled up when I asked him if he liked going to school. I didn’t need his confirmation. I already had the answer.

As a father to two young children myself, I could not bear to see Aashik cry. At his age, I was happy and content with my life. I expect the same for my sons and I expected the same for Aashik. I made arrangements for him, as well as the other children I met with that day, to get enrolled in school again.

Tribhuvan following up with Aashik (middle) and his friend about how returning to classes is going.
Tribhuvan following up with Aashik (middle) and his friend about how returning to classes is going.

A couple of months later, I followed up with the 15 out-of-school children whose families I had counselled about getting their children back in school. Just 10 of them were still continuing with their schooling by then, the other 5, the older ones, needed to return to home-life caring for other family members and household tasks. Despite this sad news, my heavy heart settled a little when I heard that Aashik was one of the 10 still attending, and that his younger sister had joined school now too.

Thanks to the support of our caring sponsors, Sponsorship team members like Tribhuvan are able to make the long journey to reach children in some of the most remote regions of the globe. By working with community members and parents, we are able to bring out-of-school children like Aashik back to learning – by providing them with school supplies and helping parents understand the importance of a good education for their children. Without your support, none of this would be possible for Aashik and children like him. Thank you!

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

 

The day the Syrian war becomes longer than World War II

Originally published on Devex.com  

After six years of war, people were weary and on edge. Neighborhoods were hardly recognizable. Fresh food was a luxury that no one had. Schools were closed or moved elsewhere. Children’s bodies displayed pealing burns that only a bomb could cause. Nearly everyone knew someone who had been killed.

It’s hard to know whether I’m describing the end of World War II, or Syria today. Both wars battered entire generations of people, but one notable date separates these two horrific events. Today inexcusably begins the seventh year of the war in Syria, and on Friday, the war in Syria will become longer than World War II.

Sadly, the psychological toll of war is one of the greatest similarities between the two and will have the longest lasting impact in Syria, just as it did after WWII. We need to invest more in psychosocial support and make another concerted effort to convince all sides to end the violence.

Daily exposure to the kind of traumatic events that Syrian children face will likely lead to a rise in long-term mental health disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and social anxiety. Living in a constant state of fear can create a condition known as “toxic stress,” which, if left untreated, can have a life-long impact on children’s mental and physical health. Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child reports that toxic stress can disrupt the development of the brain and other organs and increase the risk of stress-related diseases, heart disease, diabetes, substance abuse, depression and deep-rooted emotional scars.

Among the 3.5 million Jewish people who survived World War II in Europe, and the 183,000 people who survived the atomic bomb blasts in Japan, many are known to have suffered from physical and psychological problems decades after the fighting ended. Research done by the Never Ever Again organization in Scotland even shows that the grandchildren of Holocaust and bomb survivors have experienced secondary and transgenerational trauma.

A new study conducted by Save the Children inside Syria shows that people are feeling the psychological effects of war: 84 percent of adults and almost all children said that ongoing bombing and shelling is the number one cause of psychological stress in children’s daily lives. And 48 percent of adults have seen children who have lost their ability to speak or suffer from speech impediments as a result of living in such a dangerous and uncertain environment.

A teacher we work with in the besieged town of Madaya told us that children are psychologically crushed and tired. “When we do activities like singing with them, they don’t react at all, they don’t laugh like they would normally. They draw images of children being butchered in the war, or tanks, or the siege and lack of food.”

Another teacher told us that children have been so traumatized they express wishing they were dead because at least heaven would be warm and would offer food and a place to be safe and play.

While the world has clearly not learned the lessons of past wars in many respects, as the war in Syria continues, one lesson we can learn from World War II is the importance of addressing psychosocial issues among children early and often.

U.N. Security Council members, and other countries that have been unable to bring warring sides to the negotiation table, need to increase investments in mental health care inside the country and insist that all sides agree to a minimum set of measures to ensure the protection and safety of children in Syria.

Programs that support children’s resilience and well-being must also be given special attention and additional funding. Children are incredibly resilient but only if they are given the proper outlets and tools to recover and thrive. Programs to support parents could also help children feel more supported.

Finally, relatively small investments to train teachers and school personnel in conflict sensitive approaches to education, such as art therapy, would yield positive results now and into the future.

In the U.S., Congress should take such critical investments into consideration as it determines the 2017 international affairs budget. Cuts now will hurt Syria’s children in the short and long term.

Children who survived World War II in Europe and Asia went on to become Nobel laureates, actors, scientists, fashion designers, teachers and more. Syrian children hold the same potential, but as the war drags into its seventh year, individuals and leaders must summon the will and the means to support children during this horrible time.

Summer Learning Camps

Author Portrait_Rida Abasambi Abagojam, Education Program Coordinator
Rida Abasambi Abagojam

Education Program Coordinator

Save the Children in Ethiopia

March 6, 2017

I felt very fortunate when I joined Save the Children’s Sponsorship team in Oromia as Education Program Coordinator in 2015. I work with a highly committed and energetic team that is shaped by Save the Children’s core values and principles, in always reflecting accountability and innovation to continuously improve the quality of our programs reaching children, even during difficult times.

Save the Children has been implementing Sponsorship programming that partners with local communities in improving children’s access to quality education, by providing trainings for teachers, teaching materials for classrooms and conducting a continuous dialogue with community members and parents to improve their knowledge, attitude and skills on children’s development and improving educational environments.

This past year, the Sponsorship team began programs in Summer Learning Camps (SLCs), so that children can continue their education and be engaged in learning during the summer break from school. So far, nearly 250 villages in West Showa now provide SLCs for their learners. Broadening our reach even further, some SLCs serve additional smaller neighboring villages.

A child and community elder enjoying storytelling time together in a Summer Learning Camp
A child and community elder enjoying storytelling time together in a Summer Learning Camp.

We travel on foot, walking long distances and crossing rivers, to meet community leaders, identify camp sites, select village volunteers to manage the camps and to deliver camp materials. I was one of the team leaders who went to a small rural village, to meet with local elders, community leaders and village members to discuss and identify a new SLC site.

One farmer was waiting to greet us. He led us to where the community members were already waiting for us, sitting in the shade under a big tree. After we greeted and introduced ourselves, we then discussed the SLC initiative that we hoped to start in their village. They were so happy that they blessed us and told us they would support us in any way they could. They shared they too understood the significance of keeping their children in contact with books and reading during school breaks. They were also thankful to hear that book banks, or portable libraries with reading and writing supplies, and different kinds of games would be provided for their children. They excitedly discussed the possibility of children being able to borrow storybooks to read at home.

As we finished our discussion they led us to the camp site they proposed. When looking to identify sites, we make sure that there are no natural hazards nearby like cliffs or rivers in which children could hurt themselves, as well as other hazards of town-life like stray dogs or nearby roads. As this location was in a shady and grassy field, we agreed it was a very safe place for children to learn and play.

Children excitedly gather for storytelling with one of the elders.
Children excitedly gather for storytelling with one of the elders.

We also agreed to build the tents for the camp together, and that the community members would provide wood to help construct the tents. They also said they would make wood benches for the children. Sponsorship then in turn provides the additional materials needed, like storybooks, educational games and the plastic for the tent itself, and helps train facilitators to run the camps in a child-friendly way, to help foster a love of reading in all the camps’ participants.

After a site is set up, we visit the Summer Learning Camps twice a month. I always feel happy when I’m able to do this, and see the children playing and reading at the camps. When I arrive during the elders’ storytelling time with the children, I really enjoy sitting for a moment to listen to the stories with the kids, and return back to my work station with renewed energy. I love my career and feel lucky to be part of such a dynamic team that is always turning challenges into opportunities, to create positive changes in the lives of the children our sponsors help us reach.

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