Berta’s First Letter Ever

Author Portrait_By Carla Urrutia, Sponsorship Quality Communications Coordinator
Carla Urrutia

Sponsorship Quality Communications Coordinator

Save the Children in El Salvador

June 28, 2017

In El Salvador, during primary school, letter writing is a skill every student must learn. I confirmed this with Berta, a 14-year-old girl who still remembers vividly the layout of a formal letter, which she probably learned in third grade. “A letter should start with the date, a greeting, the body, closing and a signature,” she shares while thinking back to her lessons. Everything she did back then was a letter-writing exercise in class, but she never imagined that knowledge would become useful to her in the future.

In the rural communities sponsorship works in, I have seldom met a girl with such confidence and straightforward goals as Berta. As I listen to her speak, I realize how special she is. I am amazed at how much one can learn from a child in just a few minutes!

Berta wants to be a forensic anthropologist. I was impacted by her answer and pleasantly surprised as I imagine any reader would be with Berta´s choice of profession, coming from a girl living in a remote rural area with little or no contact with the rest of the world! I asked her why, or if she knows what a forensic anthropologist does. She answered, “It’s because of a TV series that I used to watch, the name is ‘Bones’, I really loved it but it´s discontinued.” Her mother laughs and tells me she liked that TV series too. And for their surprise, I tell them I loved it too! So clearly we talked about Dr. Brennan and special agent Booth for a while!

Berta and her younger brother Alejandro in front of an old playhouse of theirs, at their home in Sonsonate, El Salvador.
Berta and her younger brother Alejandro in front of an old playhouse of theirs, at their home in Sonsonate, El Salvador.

After Berta and I have shared some common interests, she’s very proud to talk about some of her special treasures – the letters she receives from her sponsor!

She was 11 years old when she received her first letter ever in her life, from her sponsor. Before that, she had only learned about letters in school. “My sponsor asked me if I wanted to be her friend, and said she wanted to learn more about me.” Berta tells me she replied using the layout of a formal letter she learned in school, “I wrote the date and the greeting, then the body of the letter, all very formal. But after 3 or 4 letters we were friends already, and I wasn’t that formal anymore.”

Since that first letter, Berta and her sponsor have developed a meaningful relationship through their letter writing. For the past three years they have written back and forth, and little by little Berta found she needed more and more space to writer longer and longer letters to her new friend.

“I felt that 5 lines were not enough to write everything I wanted to share with her, and that’s how I came up with the idea of making colorful envelopes.” Today, Berta’s letters for her sponsor are very unique. She came up with the idea to personalize them by making a small envelope with colored paper, where she fits as many pages as she needs to reply to each letter.

Berta proudly shows her two favorite letters from her sponsor.
Berta proudly shows her two favorite letters from her sponsor.

“When I talk to her [through letters], I feel I’m unique, I feel we have a very unique friendship. She says she loves me, and I have said I love her, too. She says I’m a star and wants me to keep studying, she’s happy because I have excellent grades!” Berta shares proudly.

Berta tells me some of her friends are also sponsored, but she is the only one who receives letters frequently. “I know some sponsors are busy, but they should make some time to write a letter, because we feel happy when we receive a letter, it feels good to know sponsors have some time for us.”

Have you written to your sponsored child recently? Consider taking just a few minutes out of your day to inspire your sponsored child, and make a connection with someone who lives so far away and whose life may be very different from your own. You may also find you have more in common with your sponsored child than you thought! We guarantee, you will make him or her feel very, very special.

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

A Letter to Save the Children

Author Portrait_Victoria Zegler, Multimedia Storyteller
Victoria Zegler

Multimedia Storyteller

Save the Children U.S.

June 19, 2017

“Thank you for helping refugees for us!” 7-year-old Miriam from New York wrote in her letter to Save the Children back in January. Miriam and her younger brother Simon, 6, both wrote letters to the organization thanking them for the work they do for refugees.

“I wanted to write to Save the Children because I am thankful for the people who help the refugees,” said Simon.

Simon and Miriam have two older brothers and a baby sister. The family was living in London at the time the Syria crisis began to pick up a lot of media attention, but has since moved back to the United States. After the more recent attention in the public eye on the Syria crisis grew even more, their mother Jo, felt compelled to do something.

Simon and Miriam wrote letters to Save the Children, thanking them for their work with refugee children.
Simon and Miriam wrote letters to Save the Children, thanking them for their work with refugee children.

Simon and Miriam first learned about refugees in 2015. Word got around their school about the viral photo of the 3-year-old Syrian boy, Aylan, who drowned as his family tried to flee from Kobani to Europe. The image shows the young boy, dead, washed up on the Turkish coast. This image began to raise questions in the family home.

“It’s important for me to know what’s going on in the world,” said Jo. “I really want to teach my children empathy so it’s important for me to talk to them about the privileges they have.”

“I really want to teach my children empathy so it’s important for me to talk to them about the privileges they have.” shared Jo, Simon and Miriam’s mother
“I really want to teach my children empathy so it’s important for me to talk to them about the privileges they have.” shared Jo, Simon and Miriam’s mother.

After writing their letters to Save the Children, the family received a letter back, introducing them to the kind of work Save the Children does for refugees.

“We got a letter from Save the Children and it had a picture from one of the girls at the refugee camp,” said Miriam.

The family hung this photo, along with the child’s drawing, on their refrigerator next to their family photos.

“I felt happy to know that all of them were happy and were having fun at the refugee camp,” said Miriam.

With Save the Children’s unique refugee child sponsorship model, a number of sponsors may be matched with the same child, who represents the many refugee children who will benefit from our sponsors’ generous donations, providing access to low-cost, high-impact programs that are the best chance for success for these children.

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

Tiyende! Let’s Walk!

Author Portrait_Singilton Phiri, Interactive Radio Instruction SpecialistSingilton Phiri

Interactive Radio Instruction Specialist

Save the Children in Malawi

June 16, 2017

Before the introduction of sponsorship in rural Zomba in Malawi, walking along the dirt roads, lounging in the tobacco gardens, roaming markets in neighboring villages, or taking care of the family goats and cattle were all a part of normal pastimes for children. Very few remained in school.

This spoke volumes to Save the Children, as it recognized that communities unknowingly lived in the dark – unaware of the importance of sending their children to school. Darkness hedged over the next generation, as access to education, care and development were denied innocently to children.

As we began to mobilize community members to support our education programs, I saw that only a few parents allowed their children to enroll in sponsorship, unknowing that this resource would turn into an oasis of development.

As an Interactive Radio Instruction Specialist, I rolled out the Tiyende! program in Zomba, meaning “Let’s Walk!” in the local language, to help combat these barriers. This unique program brings quality educational lessons through radio instruction to children between the ages of 4 and 5, to help ensure they become lifelong learners by fostering a love for learning at an early age. The lessons help children grow to their full potential, engaging them in fun activities and vigorously preparing them for primary school. Since most children have never seen or heard a radio, this program attracts them to the community-based child-care centers, supported by sponsorship in their community, in order to participate.

Tiyende! radio programs helped Rodrick be better prepared for primary school
Tiyende! radio programs helped Rodrick be better prepared for primary school.

At the child-care centers, children sit together and listen to the Tiyende! radio program, which helps them learn shapes, numbers and the alphabet while listening to fun and lively audio prompts. For example, to help develop literacy skills, children are asked through the radio to write in the air or in the sand, as classes may be held outside, the letters they hear spoken. Radio sessions are a half hour long.

When enrolling at the sponsorship supported centers, children also have access to teacher-guided lessons that stimulate their physical, social, language and cognitive development. In addition to the interactive radio programming, thanks to sponsors these centers offer colorful learning materials and storybooks to help children get excited about learning, along with teachers trained on other interactive, child-friendly teaching methods.

In no time, the interactive radio programs began to yield positive results, as children were no longer seen wandering the market places but were in school during the day. Over 230 community-based child-care centers have been reached. Nearly 6,000 children from ages 4 – 5 years old have benefited from interactive radio programs in Zomba, and an estimated 2,000 out-of-school children returned to school as a result. Noticeable were increased enrollments at the child-care centers, even beyond Save the Children’s area of work, as the radio program is aired through a community radio available to anyone in listening range. There indeed was new horizon in sight for Zomba.

Children preparing to listen and learn with a Tiyende! radio broadcast in Zomba.
Children preparing to listen and learn with a Tiyende! radio broadcast in Zomba.

It gives me optimism as I see Tiyende! transitioning children each year to primary school, where child-care center graduates take the lead in their classes and have greater achievements than those that go straight from home directly to primary school.

Among the many learners who have benefited from Tiyende! is 13-year-old Rodrick, a seventh grade student. He started learning how to read and write while at the community-based child-care center in his village of Nkundi. He shared proudly, “I do well in primary classes because I started reading and writing at the [community-based child-care] center,” said Rodrick. He added that, “When I grow up I want to be an Immigration Officer so that I can protect my country,” Rodrick is usually top of his class and is just one among the many former Tiyende! participants doing well in school.

The saying that “the darkest hour comes before dawn,” is true. I am extremely happy to see that sponsorship has brought a great irreversible change in the lives of the children and communities here. Please accept our greatest thanks, from the Malawi sponsorship team in Zomba.

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


Linh’s Fairy Tale

Author Potrait_Nguyen Thi Nga, Field Project AssistantNguyen Thi Nga

Field Project Assistant

Save the Children in Vietnam

June 9, 2017


Working in sponsorship, every journey makes an impression on my life.

I really appreciated the opportunity to meet with Linh, a 10-year-old girl enrolled in our sponsorship programs, as she welcomed her sponsor for a visit to her small village in the mountains of Vietnam. Here, in Phong Hai commune of Lao Cai province, people live high up in rural mountain villages and rely on agriculture, growing crops such as maize, rice, cassava or tea, to support their families.

I still remember the happiness that filled her face when she expressed her feelings about the day her sponsors would arrive. Her eyes lit up and she smiled brightly, and I felt a warmness touch my heart.

It was a rainy day, and she was playing with her friends while waiting for the exciting arrival. Suddenly, she caught the smile of her sponsors. She recognized them immediately – they had included a photo of them in their first letter to her which she cherishes.

Linh and her sponsors making gu cakes.
Linh and her sponsors making gu cakes.

What an amazing thing! Thanks to sponsorship, she was able to get acquainted with her two foreign friends, coming from a faraway country on the other side of the world – Italy. Their names are Federica and Manolo, a married couple who have been getting acquainted with Linh through letter writing over the past year as her sponsors.

She felt unbelievable, almost like a little princess from the fairy tales her mother had told her when she was younger. She felt one of those stories had become her real life when she met her sponsors, as they came to her school and met with her teachers, friends and her family.

“Hardly did I have [such a] memorable time like that. We talked to each other and played special games, like badminton… Then, we made traditional cakes.” These special cakes, called “gu cake”, is a traditional dish of the Dao ethnic group, an ethnic minority of Vietnam that lives in this area. It is made by wrapping a mixture of purple sticky rice, green beans, salt and pork in banana leaves and bamboo strings, and then boiling for a very long time, up to 5 or 6 hours. They are made to celebrate the Tet holiday, or the Lunar New Year, in Vietnam, and traditionally are placed on an alter to worship ancestors.

“It was also my first time to make these cakes by myself. It was such an interesting experience with my sponsors. What a pity! I could not speak with them a lot to express how glad I was because of our languages and my shyness. Perhaps, no words could ever describe my happiness at that time.” Linh said to me later, when reflecting on the visit. “I am truly a lucky girl to have met my sponsors in my life. Despite [the] far distance, they came to visit me with kindness and friendliness. I honestly appreciate their coming and love for me.”

Sponsorship staff member Nga, Linh and her sponsors, Federica and Manolo
Sponsorship staff member Nga, Linh and her sponsors, Federica and Manolo.

It was with a saddened voice when she spoke about saying goodbye to her sponsors. I would like to express my sincere thanks to those sponsors that visit our programs. It is such a unique and amazing opportunity to make a connection across distances and cultures. Thanks to our sponsors for their kindness in helping disadvantaged children in Vietnam and the world over. After participating in this visit, I have more motivation and passion about my work at Save the Children, with the big mission to better the life of children.

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

Despite Progress, Too Many Children Are Still Dying From Diarrhea

Written by Carolyn Miles, President & CEO, Save the Children | Originally published on HuffPost  |Photography by Amr Dalsh / Reuters

Why are children still dying from this preventable and treatable illness?

In the decade between 2005 and 2015, the world changed dramatically. The smart phone was introduced. New planets were discovered. Yet children were still dying from a preventable and treatable illness that has plagued the world since the beginning of time.

A recently-published study in the medical journal “The Lancet” showed that deaths from diarrhea among children under 5 dropped by 34 percent from 2005-2015 — a major step toward ensuring that no child dies of a preventable or treatable disease. But half a million children still die from diarrheal diseases every year and millions more are sickened by unsafe drinking water, which turns a simple sip of water into a potentially life-threatening act for a vulnerable child.

As the fourth-largest killer of the world’s children, diarrhea is a particularly infuriating enemy. Clean water, proper sanitation and good hygiene practices can keep children safe from the water-borne illnesses that make them sick and deaths can be prevented with low-cost interventions like oral rehydration salts and, more recently, vaccines. These seem like simple solutions — but for a child living in poverty, without access to basic health care, and with a body that may already be compromised by malnutrition or other preventable illnesses, a simple fix is anything but.

Over the past 15 years or so, Save the Children has been working to strengthen the communities where children at risk of childhood death live — to reach children in the hardest-to-reach places in the world. By training and equipping community health workers to correctly diagnose and treat pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria, we have been able to contribute to a massive reduction in child deaths worldwide.

In Bangladesh, which the study notes saw a 60 percent reduction in under-5 deaths from diarrhea from 2005-2015, Save the Children has helped decentralize pneumonia and diarrhea treatment from formal health facilities (mostly in large population centers) to community-level facilities. More than 1.2 million sick children received services from trained village doctors working in local clinics and communities, and 2,000 children were referred to formal health facilities for further treatment as needed.

The progress in Bangladesh and around the world is encouraging, but it’s not good enough and it’s not happening fast enough. Approximately 1,400 children still die every day in the world’s poorest communities and diarrhea-related illness, which can leave a child weakened and susceptible to other illnesses, has only fallen by about 10 percent in the past decade. So if we want to give every last child the opportunity to have a healthy childhood, we’re simply going to have to do better.

Using what we know works and leveraging local communities to deliver life-saving medication, we can further reduce diarrheal death and illness—and make huge progress toward Sustainable Development Goals #3 (“Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages”) while we see the benefit of fulfilling #6 (“Ensure access to water and sanitation for all”). This study is a great start, and it reminds us that we need more data to build the evidence for what we know works and to spark innovation around new solutions that will help save more lives.

The data shows us what’s possible. Our experience shows us what’s doable. Now we must show children that we refuse to measure progress in decades or centuries or even millennia, but in the healthy childhoods that all children deserve.

Oubeida’s Summer Break

Child Portrait_Oubeida
Mossi Hamadou

Sponsorship Operations Officer

Save the Children in Niger

June 2, 2017

Oubeida is among the first children to get a sponsor here in Maradi – an area with the poorest populations in our country of Niger. She was so cheerful when she received the exciting news that she had a sponsor of her own. Although she is just in fourth grade, she already has quickly come to understand the importance of Sponsorship in her community. Even in this short time, she shares happily that she has received many letters from her sponsor, and responded, telling her sponsor about her life, for example how she spent her vacation from school.

Oubeida and a friend outside at their village.
Oubeida and a friend outside at their village.

This year like every year, the rainy season coincides with school vacations in Niger, generally from June through September. Because the rains are so heavy, and many roads poor, travel is difficult during this time. Vacations are normally a period of ease and entertainment for students, but Oubeida decided that her vacations should be spent other ways. Today, with Oubeida’s help, we would like to share a typical summer break from school for the children of Niger with our sponsors.

Oubeida helping with the house chores.
Oubeida helping with the house chores.

She tells us, “Every morning, I wake up at 7 o’clock. I have my bath and I help my mother with the household chores. I first sweep the compound then I wash dishes and I help my mother grinding millet for the meal. I seek water and then we go to the farm. There, I help my mother working in her okra plot. In the afternoon, before we come back home we collect grass to feed the animals. At night, we meet with my friends at the village public space, where we play ‘chalele’ (a game of singing and dancing).’’

How did you spend your summer? Do you also have animals that need to be cared for? How is your life different from Oubeida’s? How is it the same?

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