Moms Saying No to Child Marriage

“How many of you were married before the age of 18?” This was the first question I asked the mothers I met in the Duhok refugee camp in Iraq, near the Syrian border. Of the 10 or so moms gathered in the Save the Children center, only one raised her hand. However, the reality for Syrian girls in refugee camps now is very different.

Save the Children research in 2014 showed that the rate of marriage for Syrian refugee girls rose to 25%. This is a relatively new phenomena for Syrian families, as the rate of early marriage prior to the start of the bitter civil war that has raged for more than seven years was only 13%. We want these moms who had gathered that morning in the Save the Children facility to continue to help us stop what was happening in the camp.

Early marriage is something Save the Children is working on in places like Nepal, Bangladesh, and Niger. It is an ender of many things for young girls – an ender to their education, an ender to many of their dreams, and, sadly, an ender to their lives in some cases. A girl married before the age of 18 is three times more likely to drop out of school. Girls married at an early age are more likely to have children at an early age. Sadly as a result, complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading causes of death among girls 15–19 years old. Their children are also more likely to be under weight and have complications during birth. A child having a child is rarely a healthy way to start a family.

A mom named Fatima explained that sometimes families are living in such poverty that the chance to have another family take on the responsibility of food and shelter for a young girl is too much of an opportunity to pass on. Girls are still seen as a “cost” to families with little recognition that girls can go on to become wage earners for the family if they get a basic education and are allowed to seek work outside the home. Sometimes, families are worried that their teenage girls will become pregnant before they are married and see an arranged early marriage as a way to avoid such a shameful event. And in some cases dowries will be paid and there is an economic incentive to marry off daughters to benefit the rest of the family.

All these factors point to an underlying reality in many parts of the world – that girls are just not valued as people in the same way that boys are. The mothers I met are trying to change that outlook, one family at a time. They celebrated International Day of the Girl in the Duhok camp in mid-October by speaking to their neighbors about the harmful practice of early marriage, meeting face-to-face with other mothers and working to convince them that early marriage is not the best path for their girls. Instead, they should stay in school and get an education. For these women, they had so many more opportunities before choosing to marry and have children. One mother named Adima who was sitting next to me admitted this was hard work, but that they were dedicated to making it happen.

Carolyn Miles, President & CEO of Save the Children, visits mothers in a refugee camp in Duhok, Iraq.

As we talked, my admiration for these mothers grew – even in the midst of a refugee camp, with very basic shelter, with food still rationed out to families, where many had been living for years, these women had a passion for their children that shone through. They recognized that girls did have the right to choose their own path and that the new tradition of early marriage was not in the best interest of their daughters. And they were willing to stand up and say so to girls, to other mothers, and perhaps most importantly, to men and boys too.

Through these kinds of programs in many parts of the world where child marriage is the norm – or has become so because of conflict and displacement – Save the Children works to empower girls and mothers to reduce the numbers of girls marrying before 18. Our latest analysis shows that 51 million girls will marry before 18 by 2030 given current trends. But we can change that story by engaging everyone in standing up and saying no to early marriage.  Click here to learn more about how you can support our work for girls around the world and help moms like Adima and Fatima be heard.

 

 

When You Teach with Heart

Yasintha Bere

Data Quality and Communication Officer

Save the Children in Indonesia

October 22, 2018

“Becoming a teacher is no longer merely a job. It has become a calling!” Solvi, a third grade teacher at an elementary school in Sumba, Indonesia, said enthusiastically in an interview with me.

Solvi is a passionate teacher who jumped right into her career after graduating with a teaching degree several years ago.

The commitment to dedicate one’s life to teaching children is not a desire that suddenly pops up. It takes many long years of focus and growth. When she graduated, the world of teaching, particularly to younger students, had been so intriguing and challenging. Who could miss the opportunity to work and play with children or to help them pursue their dreams? What a contribution to the future of this country a teacher could provide through this role. It was a mix of idealism and adrenaline the young teacher possessed as she entered the classroom her very first day.

Since then, she has learned that time can sap away your idealistic values and energy. Life may have not been as simple as expected. Solvi, a once passionate teacher felt she may have reached a breaking point, where she found herself reflecting on whether becoming a teacher was the right decision.

She found that most of her early grade students were still unable to read fluently or construct words, and that generally literacy skills were lacking for whole communities all around their island. Teachers tended to be impatient when students struggled to read, meeting their challenges with the traditional teaching methods that did not allow for flexibility in lessons to teach children at different reading levels. Without child-centered or fun activities incorporated into the classroom, younger children were bored and frustrated in class, and not interested in learning. Parents, either due to their own illiteracy or due to time spent out of the home trying to earn a living, were unable to support their children’s education outside of school.

9-year-old Anastasia, one of Solvi’s students, saw the change in how her teacher treated her.

After a few years dealing with these challenges, Solvi was close to giving up. She had changed from her formerly patient self, easily becoming angry with her students who were unable to understand the lessons. Likewise, her students felt awkward, uncomfortable and even scared in the classroom.

Then came an invitation for a series of trainings conducted by Save the Children for teachers of early grades. Solvi jumped at the opportunity to participate.

One specific training left a deep impression on her, on the topic of effective learning. She learned about how to realize and celebrate the different abilities of the children in her class. “We are taught that no child is stupid. They are all smart on their own. It depends on how we, as teachers, recognize their potentials and maximize [their abilities] for learning,” she said. Solvi and the other teachers learned different skills to use in the classroom setting, and how to deliver activities in fun and friendly ways for children.

Solvi then came back to her school with a fresh perspective, determined to improve herself in her role as teacher. The first thing she did was to provide additional tutoring in her home for students who could not construct words and read fluently. “Starting something new needs strong commitment and I am ready for this challenge for the sake of my students.” she said.

She had learned how to utilize the strategy of peer learning. Through this method, teachers pair students who are strong readers with those who are not. Using group or partner work in lessons not only helped make learning fun, but also benefited both struggling and strong readers with extra reading practice.

Within months, after applying the knowledge she learned from the trainings, her students’ performance began to improve. Before trying her new teaching methods, only 6 of Solvi’s 27 students could read fluently. By the second semester of utilizing the new methods, almost all her students could.

She had changed the way she approached her students. She learned how to understand and communicate with them based on their character. She set a good example with warm greetings and sweet words, to make her class somewhere all students felt welcome. She became much more patient and attentive to students with specific needs, building close relationships with each of them.

Today, Solvi’s students look forward to seeing her every morning.

Anastasia, one of her students, told me that she was surprised by her teacher’s transformation. While before she would be scolded for failure in class, now Solvi treats her more patiently. “I am sure my Ibu [honorable local term for female teacher] loves me.” Anastasia shared. “How we miss her terribly every time she is away from school. We cannot wait as the morning approaches to see her,” she smiled.

Solvi reflected, “I am very grateful Save the Children implements their program in our school so I can be a part of it. With all the training, coaching and mentoring sessions, I have become a good teacher for my students. I now have come to realize that this is the role I am meant to be filling – playing, learning and having fun with children!”

Today, Solvi believes that if the teacher can create a comfortable learning environment, students can easily grasp and understand whatever lessons they learn. She told me, “When we teach with heart, we transform love and intelligence!”

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