Breaking Taboos

Afou is a smart, yet shy 15-year-old girl who lives with her parents and siblings in a rural Mali village. Her favorite subjects at school are biology, physics, chemistry and English. She enjoys spending time with her friends and she is determined to complete her studies to become a doctor.

Yet adolescent girls like Afou encounter many obstacles as they approach young adulthood. Historically, cultural customs have prevented adequate education in the areas of female hygiene, sexuality and reproductive health during these crucial years. Such basic knowledge is often not passed from mothers to daughters because such subjects are considered taboo. The consequences of this lack of communication are unwanted pregnancies, and sexually transmitted diseases.

Afou in her school yard

In addition, many young girls face the hardship of early or forced marriage — a dire situation that robs them of their childhood. In fact, teenage girls under the age of 16 are often forced by their parents to get married, which means they must leave school and any hopes of achieving a meaningful education are thwarted.

At age 13, Afou’s father wanted her to marry a man that she did not know. She disliked the idea of leaving school and not being able to play with her friends. Afou’s dreams of becoming a doctor were dashed and her future looked bleak.

However, in 2016, Save the Children implemented an Adolescent Development program in Afou’s village to combat these problems, raise awareness and enable adolescents to develop and grow to their full potential. The program provided courses in sexual and reproductive health while at the same time informs the community on the effects of early child marriage.

In addition, the program’s Peer Educators guide teens on how best to manage relationships with peers and parents through various activities and presentations. By 2018, the program reached 13,283 adolescents including 6,875 girls. As a result, the rates of teen pregnancy went down substantially. “Now the program is on track, and the awareness has paid off,” explains a peer educator.

Afou and her Peer Educators

Afou’s outlook brightened, too. She invited her parents to participate with her in various sketches and awareness skits held in the public square of the village and at school. This training gave her confidence to continue the discussions at home, and she soon persuaded her father to give up on the idea of an early marriage.

“No girl from our family will leave school. The mistakes we did in the past, will no longer be repeated; I am proud of the strong girl she has become today,” proclaims Afou’s Uncle Issa.

Afou and her Uncle Issa

Afou now collaborates with peer educators to help and advise other adolescents in her village. She is also preparing for her high school entrance exam. “The Adolescent Development [Program] has positively impacted my life and changed my parents mind. I love this program that helped me to reach grade 9. May God bless the work of Save the Children.”

COVID-19 Pandemic Reinforces the Need for Healthcare Facilities’ Preparedness

This post is part of a series authored by the BASICS (Bold Action to Stop Infections in Clinical Settings) team. BASICS is a new initiative that will transform healthcare and reduce healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) by at least 50%.

Written by the BASICS Team

In declaring the COVID-19 coronavirus a pandemic, World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged nations to “ready your hospitals” and “protect and train your health workers.”

Those two actions are at the core of what BASICS (Bold Action to Stop Infections in Clinical Settings) proposes: helping health systems to adopt simple, inexpensive measures to reduce infections at the point where care is delivered; measures supported by training platforms, upgraded water, sanitation and hygiene infrastructure, reliable supply chains and monitoring and accountability processes.

As the COVID-19 crisis has deepened worldwide, BASICS can play another role beyond reducing healthcare-associated infections and combatting antimicrobial resistance. Establishing a healthcare workforce equipped with the knowledge, training, resources and incentives needed to maintain a clean healthcare environment and the supplies is critical. Without adequate infrastructure, functional supply chains, modern training, monitoring progress and rewarding high performance, staff cannot protect themselves and their patients during routine care, let alone during high-risk events like a global pandemic.

Largely overlooked is the toll that COVID-19 is exacting on frontline healthcare workers, who are themselves becoming infected or spreading the disease because of a shortage of personal protective equipment like facemasks and gloves. A stable supply chain would help ensure that staff and facilities have vital materials. 

“Without secure supply chains, the risk to healthcare workers around the world is real … We can’t stop COVID-19 without protecting health workers first,” Ghebreyesus warned on March 3.

While frequent handwashing is one of the most effective ways of reducing tranmission of infections and a pillar of the BASICS solution, handwashing is more effective when coupled with the cleaning of high-touch surfaces. BASICS addresses handwashing alongside cleaning practices that create “safe to touch” surfaces like bedside tables, doorknobs and faucets.

BASICS Partners Responding to the Pandemic

Save the Children, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, WaterAid and Kinnos have all mobilized responses to the pandemic.

Save the Children was among the very first international aid organizations to deliver critical supplies to health workers on the front lines of the crisis, as well as provide families with supplies and trusted information to reduce transmission and keep children safe. Its regional and country offices will be responding directly to vulnerable children and families to support their needs, with an emphasis on those in places with weakened health systems, fragile contexts or a limited capacity to respond due to other ongoing crises. 

Its global and national health teams are participating in daily conversations with the World Health Organization, the UN and other COVID-19 coordination bodies and advising the global READY consortium, which seeks to strengthen preparations among nongovernmental organizations for major disease outbreaks or pandemics.

The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s experts are involved in many aspects of research and are providing guidance to those responding around the globe to the pandemic. Since January, teams from the School have mobilized to help slow the spread and mitigate COVID-19’s impact. Its global public health experts are working around the clock to provide accurate, measured and objective information and advice to governments, industry and the public.

The School’s mathematical modellers have been mapping the virus since the earliest days of the outbreak. Their insights into patterns of transmission, behavioural response and control measures are also informing the global response, including helping assess how many hospital beds will be needed, the stress on healthcare systems and how communities can prepare.

WaterAid is supporting the sharing of hygiene messaging and activities through social media and other media channels based on global and national recommendations, including developing materials in local language and with visuals to showcase good hygiene practices. In some countries, building off existing hygiene programs, it is working with government on promoting hygiene, predominantly handwashing, through government-supported behaviour change campaigns in response to COVID-19. This may expand beyond government to others, such as private-sector employers, and expand to include improving infrastructure where needed in line with government action.

WaterAid is committed to tackling inequalities in all aspects of WASH. This extends to COVID-19, as we know the most marginalized and discriminated against will be impacted the most. WaterAid is committed to supporting responses that are gender and socially-inclusive.

Kinnos, the social venture whose colorized decontamination technology Highlight®  will be used in BASICS to help cleaners and other healthcare workers achieve full disinfection of surfaces, has sent shipments of Highlight® to China to help with that country’s outbreak.

Letter Delivery Party

Did you know there is a World Letter Writing Day? It is celebrated every September 1, and the idea behind this initiative is to encourage the practice of picking up a pen and paper to write a letter to someone special. This might sound archaic in these modern days of texting and social media, but you wouldn’t believe how meaningful receiving a hand-written letter can be for a child.

Save the Children has an initiative called Letter Writing Parties – events organized at local companies in the U.S. to provide employees with the opportunity to learn about Save the Children programs. The occasion also provides a chance to write a letter to a child who doesn’t receive letters regularly from his or her sponsor.

Katerine and her classmates working on artwork for their lettersRecently, we received dozens of these letters in our community near the impact area of Sonsonate in El Salvador, and I had the opportunity to witness a delivery “event.” We gathered two groups of around 20 boys and girls, and we told them we would be hosting a Letter Delivery Party! The children were surprised with all the colorful letters that came to us, and although some of them didn’t understand at first what was happening, they soon learned the letters contained messages of love and care for them. They were happy that someone from far away had taken a bit of his or her time to write a special letter just for them.

“I felt very happy today with the letter I received,” explains nine-year-old Katerine who has never received a letter from her sponsor. “I think if people want to say something important sometimes they write a letter, and when you get the letter they tell you that important thing. On the letters we read today, people wrote about their dogs, daughters, or that they are from Texas.”

In El Salvador, we have more than 12,000 sponsors, but only 1,500 of them write letters. That is more than 10,000 children who don’t get the chance to establish a friendship with his or her sponsor. That’s why the Letter Writing Parties initiative is so important – it gives children who do not regularly correspond with their sponsor an opportunity to enjoy the benefits of sponsorship. “To the person who wrote this letter for me today (his name is Shawn), I want to thank him and tell him that I have a dog named ‘Doggie,’ and a little sister who is three years old,” says Katerine.

Katerine reading a letter from her new friend Shawn

We know it can be difficult to find the time, but we encourage you to pick up a pen and a piece of paper, and send an inspiring message to the little girl or boy you sponsor – we assure you it is worth the extra effort!

The Meeting of Two Worlds

By: Memory Mwathengere

When the news broke that an international visitor was coming to her village school, it sent shock waves through Dorothy’s small community in Malawi – they had never had a visit from a child sponsor before and they were all eagerly awaiting the big day.  You see, it’s a very special event when a sponsor is able to meet their sponsored child in person, and for Dorothy, the impending visit was no exception.  “I was very happy when I was told that my friend was coming,” she explained shyly.

Dorothy outside her school

Yet, at the same time, she was nervous that the visit would not actually happen. Sponsored children rely on their imaginations as to what their sponsor is like and the reality of a face-to-face meeting is sometimes hard to fathom, she explained.

Luckily, the big day arrived and Dorothy finally met her sponsor, Sabrina, who had come all the way from Italy with her partner. The community welcomed the pair in typical Malawi fashion — with joyful dancing and ululation.

Dorothy was surprised to see a young looking woman, “I imagined her to be light in complexion and older, and I was very happy to see her.” Sabrina went to Dorothy’s classroom to observe a lesson, and later she had the opportunity to observe program activities. “She asked me the type of sport and subjects I like; she also asked me to read a passage in an English textbook,” Dorothy recalls fondly. “Sabrina is very nice.”

Dorothy receiving gifts from her sponsor Sabrina

Dorothy was also happy with the gifts Sabrina bought her, particularly the school bag, notebooks and pencils. She indicated that her school items used to go missing, but with her new gifts, now she has somewhere safe to keep her things.  And in appreciation for her visit, Dorothy’s family presented Sabrina with some locally weaved baskets.

Encouraged by Sabrina’s visit, Dorothy’s parents now ensure that she does not miss school and Dorothy is inspired to work hard to become the doctor she is aspiring to become. “I would like for her to continue sponsoring me until I complete my education,” says Dorothy.

As for Sabrina, she was so inspired by her visit she has become a Save the Children Ambassador and plans on returning to Malawi to visit Dorothy as soon as possible!

Creativity and Passion Brought to Teaching

By: Carlin Trevin Lenggu, Data Quality and Communication Officer

Every day, Tika’s father takes her to school near their home in a small village in Indonesia. Even heavy rain does not discourage her from making the trip — she is too excited to be learning how to read and write! Her excitement in gaining new skills through fun lessons and activities is thanks to the support and encouragement of her parents, teachers and Save the Children’s early childhood education program.

Tika and her literacy teacher Katarina

Tika also benefits from the special training her teacher, Katarina, has received through the program’s Literacy Boost for early grade teachers.  This specific training provides teachers with new strategies and tools to help bolster their classroom instruction.  For example, Katarina had trouble preparing material that was both engaging and easy to follow for her first-grade students.  The literacy training showed her new, fun ways to approach lessons that focused on the needs of her students. “Now my class is alive with attractive and colorful material and I am excited to see that there is a lot of improvement from the children,” she proudly explains.

For example, Tika is now a model student and enjoys helping her classmates with their reading and writing. She can also attest to the difference she felt in the classroom.  “My teacher taught us in a different way and now it’s fun,” she says. “She provided us with new games and songs of the alphabet, and decorated our classroom with colorful alphabetic drawings.” Laughing, she adds, “my favorite game is guessing letters written on our back by a friend using their finger.” 

Tika (middle) with her friends checking out books in their school library

Katerina understands that motivation, hard work and commitment are key to providing proper education to young children.  Through her creativity and passion, Katerina is able to foster a love of learning in her students and see the positive results of her efforts.  The smile on Tika’s face says it all!