Fostering a Culture of Learning in Rwanda

Written by Nazanine Scheuer, Save the Children
This post originally appeared on Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs

Fostering a Culture of Learning in Rwanda
How can you learn if you can’t get books in your own language? And how can that situation be remedied if 1) your nation has only three local publishers and 2) they’ve published just 12 children’s books in the language spoken by the vast majority of your country’s citizens?

That was the challenge faced by schoolchildren in Rwanda – until Save the Children stepped in to create a social enterprise partnership platform that engaged the private sector in local book publishing. By enabling the start-up and training of Rwanda-based publishers and linking them to key actors across the value chain, we strengthened the supply of locally created, quality reading materials, stimulated demand and helped local entrepreneurs build thriving businesses.

The result? By providing students with vastly improved access to books that are both culturally relevant and language-appropriate, the venture is making significant strides toward creating a culture of literacy and learning in Rwanda. We have helped local publishers produce over 1,000 stories, of which more than 600 were approved for use in schools by the Rwanda Education Board. At the same time, the project has built – and continues to build – a new industry that’s making significant contributions to the local economy.

Why Local Publishing?
As Save the Children enters our second century of creating innovative approaches to improving life for children, women and their families around the world, we are increasingly engaging in market-based, impact driven solutions to social and economic challenges. Investment in these initiatives has become a driver of our strategy to build and strengthen local market systems and underpin long-term, self-sustaining economic development.

In the case of Rwanda, it was widely recognized that a shortage of books in their mother tongue, Kinyarwanda, was preventing millions of girls and boys from building literacy skills and discovering the joy of reading. Furthermore, what was available was poorly written, edited, illustrated and designed and/or for the wrong age group. Not only did local publishers lack the skills, knowledge and experience to produce high quality children’s books, but, as a result of low demand for non-textbook materials, they lacked incentives to produce good quality reading materials.

An added hurdle to availability of appropriate books was the lack of access to or within schools, as well as a lack of the skills necessary for teachers to use the books effectively.

Traditional literacy initiatives addressed the gap in book availability by developing materials externally or facilitating the translation of foreign-sourced materials into Kinyarwanda. While that approach was somewhat effective in the short term, it did not offer a pathway to sustainable solutions. Equally important, it largely ignored the role local publishers could play in enhancing their communities’ economies by building and expanding profitable business ventures with long-term viability.

Creating an Economic Eco-System
In 2013, with an initial investment from public- and private-sector partners, we designed and implemented the Rwandan Children’s Book Initiative (RCBI). The goal was to foster a reading and learning environment to improve literacy. By developing a local publishing industry through a comprehensive, multi-pronged approach, we were able to strengthen all aspects of the book value chain, from developers to end users. We created a thriving new industry in Rwanda and also achieved our objective of improving literacy outcomes and creating a culture of reading among children. In 2016, we received an additional investment that enabled us to further expand the model, building on the eco-system already created.

We focused our model on five key activities central to success:

Skills Development

o   Provide quality, relevant training and ongoing mentoring to the publishing industry and its constituents;

o   Work in partnership with private sector, book-publishing actors to tap into resources and expertise (i.e. a partnership with Penguin Random House.)

Demand Generation

o   Support the establishment of communities of practice for each segment of the industry;

o   Invest in initiatives that established a market for the newly developed, local-language books.

Supply Strengthening:

o   Maintain a book-review committee to provide feedback to publishers, assess quality and inform procurements;

o   Establish incentive-driven agreements to encourage publishers with low capital to invest in quality materials;

o   Facilitate an understanding of quality criteria to allow negotiation of better prices/more affordability;

o   Formulate quality-assurance guidelines;

o   Create a book purchasing consortium comprised of different projects/programs/organizations.


o   Invest in advocacy and policy formulation work to create a conducive book-publishing environment;

o   Engage relevant decision makers and build evidence to support the importance of a local publishing industry;

o   Build coalitions around the importance of involving the private sector to develop and maintain quality materials, educational opportunities and a knowledge based society;

o   Raise awareness through meetings, conferences, campaigns and media.

Through this model, we demonstrated the value of a “whole chain” approach that connects publishers with government agencies, the private sector and local communities. In doing so, we increased collaboration between these actors to establish a self-sustaining industry that draws on the local mix of skills and expertise.

Compelling Results
Thanks to RCBI, the quality, quantity and range of local-language children’s books published and distributed in Rwanda has grown significantly. In fact, there are now more than 1,000 books for children from 0 to 9 years of age available from publishers that received our support. An added bonus of the project is that girls are increasingly likely to be the protagonists in these stories and are more often portrayed in positive roles. By 2019, almost a third of the children’s books featured girls as main characters.

As for the impact on local economies, most of the participating publishing houses have grown, often from just one person to an entire staff. Notably, a third of the active publishers are women! With a stronger capital base, these publishers are able to compete for contracts and access markets that were previously unavailable to them. Additionally, the publishers are diversifying their activities beyond Kinyarwanda children’s books and even beyond the boundaries of Rwanda. Some have begun co-publishing textbooks in foreign countries, while others have sold rights for publishing their books in additional languages or sold rights overseas.

This is important because generating income allows them to invest in the production of more books and other learning materials. For example, many publishers are investing in digital educational materials such as animations, alphabet apps and audio books and are building online e-bookstores. They’re also forming partnerships with local schools, writing books for older readers and offering books on important topics that align with national development priorities.

In all, we’ve counted more than 250 new actors contributing to the industry, whether as authors, illustrators/artists, editors, designers, booksellers or administrators, underscoring the thriving industry created by the project.

“There were no trainings for publishers and no local publishing schools. I had an interest in this field because I am a writer, and I worked in a printing company. When I started my company, I wanted to create products children would enjoy, but didn’t know which way to go to achieve that goal…. So Save the Children helped me bring my vision to life.”

– A Rwandan publisher trained by Save the Children

What’s Next?
The bottom line is that the RCBI project has exceeded its goals, helping children learn while also building a flourishing children’s book publishing industry in a nation that previously had no such aspiration. In our next phase, we plan to increase distribution across the country including in remote communities, amplify women’s empowerment and further improve literacy outcomes. Concrete examples include: establishing micro-libraries; starting women’s authorship groups; developing innovative, income-generating activities to increase book sales and incentivize reading.

Thanks to the support of our committed partners in the U.S. and Rwanda, this project has effectively changed the lives of children, women and entire communities. To learn more or get involved, please contact Nazanine Scheuer at And do stay tuned for the next chapter!

Leveraging Brain Science and Our Program Legacy to Support Early Child Development during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Educators, service providers and families are grappling to find the best ways to support early learning and healthy development while the world stays safer at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Save the Children has been actively leveraging our expertise as a leader in early education to support children and families across America through our SAVEWITHSTORIES campaign and our public COVID-19 Resource Page. We know that even while schools are closed, stores are empty, and many are struggling to pay bills, children’s brains are continuing to grow – with more than 1 million new neural connections forming every second, laying the foundation for all future learning, behavior and health. It is now as important as ever to help caregivers to provide young children with love, stability and learning opportunities in the face of uncertainty and change.

With extensive experience in helping rural communities prepare children for success in school and life, we are particularly mindful of the impact of the pandemic on children and families in geographically isolated and low-resourced communities. Here, infant mortality rates are higher than average and one in five children is growing up in poverty. These remote pockets are struggling with unemployment, violence, addiction and poor access to essential educational and healthcare resources – and the effects of the pandemic are intensifying these problems. Although rural communities face many of the same challenges as urban ones, they often don’t receive the same attention.

With a strong history of inspiring breakthroughs in rural communities across the United States, we are committed to focussing national attention on the needs of America’s forgotten communities, while bringing cutting-edge science and evidence-based programs directly to children and families there. Working with national and local partners, we employ a collective impact approach and build local capacity to deliver high quality early childhood education programs to those who need them the most. Vroom®, a Bezos Family Foundation innovation, is a critical resource in our work to advance early learning in rural communities. Vroom translates research on early brain development into meaningful, actionable activities for families to do with their young children. As families spend more time together at home than ever, Vroom’s science-based tips and tools inspire families to turn their shared, everyday moments into Brain Building Moments™. We have integrated Vroom into multiple facets of our pandemic response.

During this extraordinary time, we demonstrate our organizational commitment to collaboration, creativity, integrity, accountability and ambition daily in home offices, school cafeterias, warehouses, and front porches around the country to ensure that rural families have the resources and supports they need to foster healthy childhood development. While the pandemic has spurred us to innovate more rapidly, increase our use of technology, and accelerate our partnerships, we’ve also returned to our organizational roots: We’re leveraging our history of meeting the needs of children in rural communities, which began in the United States during the Great Depression.  

In 1932, Save the Children got its start in America serving children and families in Harlan County, Kentucky – the heart of coal country – by providing hot meals to children in coal camps. The impact was immediate. Undernourished children were better fed, school attendance increased and grades improved. This effort became the model for the federal hot lunch program. A decade later, children in more than 70,000 schools across the United States were served publically funded hot lunches. Now, almost 90 years on, in response to COVID-19 our local early childhood staff are working tirelessly to address food insecurity by supporting school meal preparation and distribution during school closures. In some communities, our staff facilitate daily “grab-and-go” meal pickups in school parking lots, elsewhere they ride school busses for hours to reach the most remote corners of their districts – all to ensure that no child goes to bed hungry while schools are closed. We have always recognized the importance of health and nutrition to children’s overall development and learning.

We’re also committed to providing educational and mental health supports along with our meal distribution activities. In collaboration with partners, we’ve paired educational resources within the meals, including Save the Children’s Weekly Learning Activity guides and Vroom’s curated Tips™ for activities – At Home, Calm & Connect, and Resources for Stressful Times. We are also connecting families with other critical resources such as cleaning supplies, diapers, books, school supplies, games and toys. We are taking every opportunity to make personal connections and share brief moments of joy with those who may be feeling lonely and isolated. Our staff members smile, wave and greet children and their families by name as they distribute meals and resources. Some have included personalized notes with the meals, while others have organized ‘parades’ to follow the buses distributing them; teachers and staff honk from their cars decorated with signs of encouragement and streamers, while families stand at their doors and gates to wave and cheer!

To support parents and caregivers enrolled in our early childhood programs, we’ve developed strategies to engage families that comply with social distancing guidance and we’re tailoring our training and technical assistance offerings to address the needs of our local staff.Because our early childhood staff are local hires, they often face the same challenges as those of the families they serve – they too are members of the same community struggling with a lack of resources and services, increasing rates of drug addiction and incarceration, and limited economic opportunities. We’re providing more training on psychological first aid and on psychosocial support for caregivers to our front-line staff so that they can manage their own health and wellbeing, as they work to support so many other caregivers in their communities.

Our alternative program strategies allow our local staff to maintain communication and support families through telephone calls, text messaging, social media platforms and video conferencing to regularly check-in with families, identify their needs, and share information on local resources. To advance caregivers’ knowledge and capacities, our staff are reviewing information on child development with them and encouraging caregivers to engage in activities that promote healthy developing and learning while at home. In addition to regularly scheduled communication, our staff are offering “office hours” when families know they will be available to connect and receive support in the moment.

Mindful of the impact of the digital divide on rural communities’ access to online information, resources and supports, our alternative approaches include high-, low- and no-tech strategies, and have the flexibility to accommodate variation in access across our program participant population, as well as our local staff who themselves may not have reliable access. This work is informed by a recent technology needs assessment conducted by West Ed (2018) in the rural communities that we serve. It demonstrated that although a vast majority of our program participants have access to a smart phone, many lack access to broadband internet and reliable cell phone service. Additionally, many families struggle to cover the cost of their digital device and internet service, while paying for basic needs such as food and utilities. To meet the needs of these families, our staff are making printed materials and other resources available to families via mail, by home delivery, or by pick up at a central community location – such as a local grocery store.

For families with access to digital devices and reliable internet access, our alternative program strategies have allowed us to rapidly innovate and increase our use of social media and online platforms to engage our participants and their communities further. To address variation in our local staffs’ proficiency in using technology, we are providing coaching and peer learning opportunities to identify and scale successful strategies across our program communities. Staff are rising to the occasion. Despite their initial apprehension, many quickly acquired new tech skills and have reported the success of their first virtual meetings with their program participants. The rewards have affirmed their hard work: Caregivers are connecting and sharing ideas and strategies for incorporating learning and engagement into their new daily routines at home and children are excited to see familiar faces and to also engage! For some families, these virtual meetings have provided an opportunity for additional family members to participate in our programming, such as parents previously unable to attend home visits or parent-child groups due to their work schedules.

In order to reach and engage caregivers across our rural partner communities, our staff are using social media to make resources and prerecorded programming publically available, including virtual book readings, and Vroom Tip activity demonstrations. Community partners, school staff and local officials have joined as “guest readers,” and in some communities, local officials and businesses have provided gift cards to encourage participation in our virtual programming.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic is creating new challenges for families and providers around the world and is exacerbating the existing inequities facing children and families in rural America – Save the Children, together with our partners, is innovating and adapting to provide caregivers with the tools, resources and support needed for families to be safer and learning at home.

Highlights from the field:

Alma Rodriguez, Early Childhood Coordinator, shares a book and Vroom Tip with her home visiting families and engages them online.

In California, Save the Children is connecting with families on social media and pairing favorite children’s books with Vroom Tip activities to keep families engaged in shared reading while at home. Families respond to posted questions and share their experiences of Brain Building at home! One home visiting participant shared a video of her daughter joining in the #SAVEWITHSTORIES campaign! In the recording, her daughter sat proudly on the living room rug, carefully turning each page of her favorite book and retelling the story – complete with characters’ voices and lots of facial expression – just as she’d seen multiple celebrities do online!

Kim Bolling, Kindergarten Readiness Ambassador, delivering meal baskets and educational resources to local families.

In Kentucky, Save the Children staff are demonstrating the countless learning opportunities available while families prepare food and share meals together! Staff are boarding Rosie the Kindergarten Readiness Bus to deliver meal baskets that include ingredients for a family dinner paired with a printed booklet of Vroom Mealtime Tips! In a neighboring community, staff have created a weekly cooking show posted on social media featuring a caregiver and child demonstrating a Vroom Tip cooking activity.

Lacey Montgomery, Kindergarten Readiness Ambassador, fills a community resource box with educational resources.

In Mississippi, Save the Children is helping families to blend Brain Building Activities™ into their home routines to develop math skills and keep families healthy! Staff are distributing learning resource kits to program participants, local Head Start partners and families throughout the area through a local community resource box at the entrance of a playground closed due to COVID-19 (featured in photo). The resource kits engage caregivers and children in Vroom Math Tips and include measuring cups, rulers, ice cube trays, and Play-Doh. Additional kits include cleaning and hygiene resources, such as wipes, tissue and soap, all paired with related Vroom Tip activity cards.

Jennifer Blackwell, Early Childhood Coordinator, delivers disinfectant wipes and resources to first responders and local childcare providers.

In Tennessee, Save the Children staff are meeting a critical community need by providing local law enforcement officers, first responders, local child care providers and program participants with disinfectant wipes and educational resources.  Across the state, staff are sharing a recorded book reading every day on social media, modelling dialogic reading practices for caregivers and engaging children during the shared reading. Parents have reported that each time the Play & Learn Group leader pauses to ask a question, the children excitedly shout their answers back to her… eager to engage again with their group teacher and to connect the story back to their lives!

Michelle Hipp, Early Childhood Coordinator, delivers resource bags directly to families’ homes.

In West Virginia, Save the Children staff are ensuring that families have what they need to promote learning and healthy development at home by bringing resources directly to families’ front porches! They fill Vroom bags with food, books and printed learning resources – including Vroom Tips – for families who don’t have broadband internet or reliable transportation.

Key Resources

Coronavirus and Kids: Resources from Save the Children:

  • Weekly Learning Activity Guides for children under 5, students in grades K-1, and students in grades 2-6 (English/Spanish)
    • How to talk to kids about coronavirus (English/Spanish)
    • How to help kids cope with extended school closures (English/Spanish)
    • Five tips for adults for self-care and coping with stress (English/Spanish)
    • Relaxation activities to do at home with kids
    • Best practices for reading with your child (English/Spanish)
    • Fun ways to incorporate math (English/Spanish)
    • Ten family learning activities (English/Spanish)
    • Five tips for grandparents on staying connected
    • Our Picks: Free educational websites and apps (English/Spanish)
  • Vroom®:
    • New Vroom Tip™ collections (English/Spanish): Calm & Connect ages 0-5, At Home ages 0-5, Tips for Stressful Times
    • Vroom COVID-19 eNews
    • Vroom Moments at Home – new video playlist
    • Weekly Tip videos on Facebook ( every Tuesday at 10am PT
A mother cradles her newborn baby at a hospital in Kenya.

The Unintended Consequences of COVID-19 on Mothers and Newborns

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

The unintended dangerous effects of pandemics on maternal and newborn health are not new.

During the Ebola crisis of 2015-16, more women and girls died of obstetric complications than the infectious disease itself.

For COVID-19, the situation is no different. While some emerging evidence suggests that COVID-19-infected pregnant women may be at higher risk of pre-term birth[1] and that pregnant women with pre-existing conditions may face complications, it appears that healthy pregnant women face few direct adverse effects of the virus. There is also no evidence of vertical mother-to-newborn transmission during pregnancy or via breastfeeding, and the few infants with confirmed COVID-19 have experienced mild illness.[2] Current guidance on caring for babies of mothers with COVID-19 are available here.  

However, Save the Children’s own experiences responding to disease outbreaks in low- and middle-income countries, modeling data and other evidence point to a number of worrying indirect effects the pandemic may have on mothers and newborns. The myriad complications of the COVID-19 pandemic – from overwhelmed health systems to government lockdowns that may restrict a woman’s access to health care, and to families simply being unable to afford transportation to a distant health post because of lost incomes – are conspiring to disrupt maternal and newborn care and jeopardizing hard-won progress in reducing maternal and newborn mortality.

  • Facility care may be disrupted or diminished as health staff and materials, including those necessary for infection prevention and control (IPC), are re-deployed or prioritized for departments likely to see COVID-19 patients.
    • Fear of physical proximity may limit or alter care provision. Social distancing and the fear of spreading the virus may lead health workers to deny laboring mothers an outside birth companion or to separate newborns from mothers after delivery. We are aware of such instances occurring through the country programs we support and the working groups and forums we participate in. Essential care for every newborn should include immediate skin-to-skin contact and early initiation of breastfeeding. This is especially critical for pre-term and small babies whose survival relies on the practice of Kangaroo Mother Care, which includes – among other practices – early, continuous and prolonged skin-to-skin contact between the mother and the newborn.
    • Government-ordered curfews and lockdowns may prevent or inhibit women’s access to routine antenatal care or emergency care, or to cause them to give birth at home without the support of a trained midwife or health worker.
    • Families’ economic shocks from lost jobs and livelihoods may make the cost of transportation to a health facility or facility fees prohibitive.
    • Mixed messages about how the virus can be transmitted and fear of physical closeness may reduce breastfeeding rates.

Over the past two decades, individuals, families, communities and countries have achieved significant improvements in health outcomes for mothers and newborns. Maternal death rates globally fell 38.3 percent, from 342 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2000 to 211 per 100,000 live births in 2017[3]. Newborn death rates declined by 43 percent, from 31.5 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2000 to 17.7 per 1,000 live births in 2017[4]. The increased access to safe healthcare has been one of the main reasons for these improvements. For example, the percentage of births globally that were attended by skilled personnel increased from 64% in 2000 to 81% in 2019.[5]

The impacts of COVID-19 can easily erode some of these hard-won gains in reduced mortality over the past two decades.

So what can we do? It is essential to ensure mothers feel safe going to a health facility and health providers are empowered with knowledge and tools. WHO, Save the Children and other partners recommend that health facilities: 

  • Maintain and promote essential, evidence-based maternal and newborn health services such as antenatal care for pregnant women, skilled attendance during labor and delivery and essential newborn care; 
    • Practice IPC in all departments and wards, but especially in the spaces where pregnant women, laboring mothers and newborns receive care. This includes routinely cleaning and disinfecting surfaces to help prevent the spread of disease, and practicing strict hand hygiene (handwashing) before and after contact with the mother and newborn;
    • Encourage mother-baby contactinstead ofisolation. Mothers and newborns should not be separated. Mothers should be encouraged to breastfeed and practice immediate skin-to-skin contact for low weight/preterm babies while following the appropriate protective measures. For asymptomatic and non COVID 19 exposed mothers, this means practicing respiratory hygiene, avoiding touching the mouth and face, practicing hand washing with soap and running water or using sanitizer where possible, following distancing recommendations and reporting symptoms.
    • Engage mothers and communities to understand their needs, questions and fears, which will help to tailor approaches and health messages to communicate effectively, both about the risks of COVID-19 and the benefits of essential maternal and newborn health services. 

These are basic yet powerful actions that will ensure pregnant women, mothers and their newborns continue receive quality care during the pandemic and that those caring for them will help keep them healthy and thriving. Maternity and newborn wards, in which all staff are trained in and practicing strict hygiene and IPC protocols as second nature, become safer environments and places where the risk of acquiring an infectious disease is greatly reduced.

The BASICS model ensures IPC measures are embedded in the delivery of health care to pregnant women, mothers and newborns –in the midst of COVID-19 as well as for the future so that if the next pandemic hits, health systems will be prepared.






Reading Camp — Sharing the Joy of Books

Lao Cai is a province in Vietnam with 29 ethnicities; each speaks their own language. More than 60% of the population belongs to ethnic minority groups. While Vietnamese is recognized as the country’s official language, many children whose mother tongue is not Vietnamese struggle at school due to the visible language barrier: their textbooks are in Vietnamese, their teachers use Vietnamese as the language of instruction, and their parents don’t use Vietnamese at home. This confusion makes teaching and learning challenging.

However, Ly, a fifth-grader in Lao Cai, has a wonderful story to tell.

Like many other ethnic minority students, Ly is required to be bilingual so that she can do well at school. Speaking two different languages at school and at home left her confused when she started kindergarten.

A typical day for Ly consists of going to school in the morning and doing homework and helping her parents with chores in the afternoon. However, once a week, she attends Reading Camp. “At Reading Camps, we have many story books to read. There are lessons to be learned from those stories.” Ly said.

Reading Camp is a component of Save the Children’s Literacy Boost program. The program ensures that students like Ly are exposed to a friendly and encouraging Vietnamese learning environment, as well as have access to quality reading materials. Thanks to our generous sponsors, Save the Children is able to provide villages with mini Book Banks where children can come and borrow books anytime. The program also trains community volunteers to be counselors who facilitate reading camps, providing them with comprehensive session plans that have been adapted to local context. “Before Save the Children came to our community, children only had textbooks at school,” shared Ms. Hoai, a camp counselor. “But now, they have a cabinet full of books to choose from.”

Ly and classmates putting together reading materials to take home

Reading camps are all about helping children recognize the joy of reading — building their reading fluency and comprehension skills, and expanding their Vietnamese vocabulary. In each reading session, the counselors ask children questions, encouraging them to voice their mind while emphasizing that there are no right or wrong answers. As a result, children have shown visible progress and more confidence at school.

Unlike school where children stay at their designated spots, the camps give them the freedom to choose how and where they should sit.  “I can sit in a circle with my friends and discuss the stories we just read together,” explains a smiling Li. “I love it!” Ly is now paired with lower grade students so that she can help them whenever they have difficulty with pronunciation or word meanings.

Ly and a friend reading together at Reading Camp

“When I grow up, I want to be a doctor,” says Ly. We at Save the Children believe that all children deserve an education that will allow them to achieve their dreams.

Including Children with Disabilities During COVID-19

Written by Alexander Mentkowski

During global pandemics, the role of government is vital in protecting its citizens. Unfortunately, not all citizens are always included in government responses to emergencies, and the COVID-19 crisis is another example of this. One group of citizens that is often excluded are people/children with disabilities (P/CWDs).

In China, a teenager named Yan Cheng, with cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder which makes it difficult for a person to move and maintain their balance, suffered from neglect due in part to his disability. Yan Cheng stayed behind in his village of Wuhan while his father and brother left for Lunar New Year’s celebrations. His father contracted COVID-19 shortly after.

The father informed a Wuhan charity for disabled people about his son and told them that Yan needs to be fed and assisted with changing his clothes daily. Unfortunately, Yan was only fed twice between January 24th to January 28th and died on January 29th.  The exact cause of Yan Cheng’s death has not been determined, but this is just one example of the barriers that P/CWDs face during a global health crisis.

The Disability Community

The World Bank and World Health Organization (WHO) state that P/CWDs account for 15% of the world’s population and 80% of them live in developing countries.  World Health Survey data from 51 countries revealed that people with disabilities were more than twice as likely to report finding health care provider skills inadequate to meet their needs, four times more likely to be treated badly and nearly three times more likely to be denied needed health care.

This research also finds that 100 million children have a disability and UNICEF’ has emphasized the specific considerations needed for children with disabilities. For example, girls and boys with disabilities may be at risk of exclusion from education if remote/distance learning programs are not accessible or they do not have assistive devices to allow participation and accommodate learning needs.

The importance of having an inclusive response to coronavirus towards C/PWDs is supported by Article 11 of the United Nation’s Convention of Rights for People with Disabilities (CRPD). Article 11  establishes that states will ensure the protection and safety of persons with disabilities in the national response to humanitarian emergencies. In addition to the CRPD, Article 2 of UN Convention of Rights of the Child, states that signatory countries respect that children within their jurisdiction, including those with a disability, do not suffer discrimination. It also calls for measures to ensure protection against negative attitudes, isolation, and stigmatization that may arise in the midst of a crisis such as the coronavirus.

Including Children with Disabilities During COVID-19

A briefing published by UNICEF on the considerations for PWDs includes recommendations that have been written by many disability-centered organizations such as the European Disability Forum and the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD). Recommendations from the European Disability Forum include:

  • Disabled People Organizations (DPOs) are the best placed to advise authorities on the specific requirements and most appropriate solutions on policies providing accessible and inclusive services. Similarly, children with disabilities are best placed to speak to their specific barriers, and should be proactively consulted.
  • All COVID-19 containment and mitigation activities must be planned and implemented with the active participation of persons with disabilities and DPOs. Children should not be left out of this process, child-friendly information and mechanisms should be included as part of these activities.
  • Involving women and girls with disabilities in all stages of responses and decision-making is critical. Girls with disabilities are especially vulnerable and hard to reach, so special efforts must be made to insure they are not left behind.

The World Federation of the Deaf focuses on how to engage with the deaf community, but their recommendations can be also incorporated for the general disability community:

  • National governments should work with deaf people through their representative organization – the national associations of the deaf – to ensure the provision of adequate information and safeguarding access to health and education services.
  • National governments, in partnership with the national associations of the deaf, must implement accessible emergency services for deaf children who are victim of physical, psychological and sexual abuse. This service must be accessible, ideally via direct communication, but also through SMS texting and via remote interpreting through Video Relay Services.
  • Governments at all levels, must undertake all possible measures to ensure deaf children and youth are protected from physical, psychological and sexual abuse and violence during the confinement period.

Recommendations from UNICEF’s Considerations for Children and Adults with Disabilities include:

  • Considering information channels that will be accessed by persons with disabilities. For example, as many children with disabilities are out of school, any information campaigns delivered through schools may not reach children with disabilities.
  • Provide support to education actors to ensure that distance learning platforms are safe and accessible to children with disabilities; teachers are trained on supporting children with disabilities remotely; and that any special education programs are included in measures to ensure continuity of education.
  • Women and girls with disabilities who experience disruption of essential services, restricted movements and have primary responsibility for caring for their families are at increased risk of gender-based violence (GBV). Ensure that any programs to prevent and respond to GBV are inclusive of women and girls with disabilities (e.g. ensuring that information and reporting channels are available in multiple and accessible formats).

For governments to uphold protections for P/CWDs during COVID-19 they should familiarize themselves and follow the recommendations provided by the disability centered organizations. The aim of these recommendations is to reduce the bad practices that have occurred since the beginning of the pandemic. These recommendations are made in the spirit of the disability rights movement saying, “nothing about us without us.”

“Was it worth the investment?” Looking back at almost ten years of Child Sponsorship Programming in Ethiopia (2002-2010): Findings from a Retrospective Impact Evaluation

Woliso is a beautiful rural area in the Oromia Region of Ethiopia where many families are subsistence farmers and children typically have to walk 30 minutes or more to get to their school, especially in the smaller communities.  Between 2002 and 2010, Save the Children invested US$22.5 million (in 2019 dollars) to improve the wellbeing of children and their families that resulted in several life-changing outcomes and impacts, some of them long-lasting. But does that mean it was “worth the investment”? Were our results “good enough” and how do we determine what “good enough” is?

This is no ordinary evaluation, of no ordinary development program. Save the Children’s Child Sponsorship program pools donations from sponsors to benefit whole communities. We invest in activities intended to produce measurable results for children, their families, communities, and the systems and policies that sustain change over time – benefiting both sponsored and non-sponsored children. And we innovate and test new approaches too. That way, the program seeks to achieve lasting social change by addressing the underlying issues including equality, protection, inclusion, and social norms. Worldwide, Save the Children’s Child Sponsorship Programs work with the most marginalized communities in 21 countries, for 10-15 years. This type of Child Sponsorship programming has been operating for more than 100 years, developed and created by Save the Children’s founder, Eglantyne Jebb.  But does this type of long-term programming work? How much difference does a Save the Children’s Child Sponsorship Program really make in people’s lives? And how well are the impacts sustained over time?

We wanted to find out the answers to these big, important questions! To understand the impacts of almost 10-years of programming in Woliso, we commissioned a “retrospective impact evaluation” – i.e. the type of evaluation that looks back into the past and assesses the value of long-term effects, good and bad, that remain from programming that happened a long time ago. In this poor rural part of Africa, from 2002 to 2010, Save the Children had invested in a package of programming: basic education; early childhood care & development; child and family health & nutrition; and adolescent development.

The evaluation team, led by Jane Davidson and Thomaz Chianca from Real Evaluation (, began their journey back in time in 2019 with help from the Ethiopia Save the Children staff and a local evaluation firm led by Zelalem Adugna Geletu. It was a messy business: not only is Child Sponsorship programmingcomplex and multifaceted, with activities aiming to reach children of all ages, families and communities, but Save the Children’s work in that area had finished up nearly a decade ago. The evaluators faced thin and patchy monitoring data, no secondary outcome data of any use, and they found themselves working in hard-to-reach communities and in very challenging economic and political environments.

But the hurdles were not too big! The evaluators used a range of innovative new evaluative methods and a protocol very different from the usual which, coupled with a large dosage of grit, determination and expertise, led to the production of this fantastic end-product: the final evaluation report, available online here. The visuals are inspirational, catchy, and the accessible writing style makes the reader feel great about themselves for understanding the key messages from such a complex undertaking: there’s no head-scratching!

One of the field researchers interviews a community member at the local school.

The report is packed with findings, so this is just a teaser:

1.     Returns to investment in Education: This evaluation estimated that having access to the schools built by Save the Children helped ensure, on average, an additional 4.5 years of schooling for the children and adolescents who attended those schools. The estimated additional lifetime earnings for those children/adolescents amounted to US$137.5 million. In other words, for every dollar invested by Save the Children in education there is a potential return of about US$12 in lifetime financial benefits to the (now) young women and men who attended the schools built by Save the Children.

2.     Returns to Investment in Water and Sanitation: Save the Children invested about US$4.7 million in building and maintaining water schemes and sanitation facilities. With no primary or secondary data available on the outcomes of this investment, the evaluators turned to a WHO study that calculated a return of US$2.7 to every dollar invested in water and sanitation in sub-Saharan Africa, from: (i) health care savings, (ii) reduced productivity losses, (iii) time saved fetching water, and (iv) premature deaths averted. To avoid overestimation, they discounted a 41% loss for water schemes that were no longer working. They estimated a return of US$7.5 million equivalent in benefits. This equated to an expected value of US$1.59 in benefits for every dollar that Save the Children invested.

3.     Ripple effects: A number of positive changes were inspired by SC’s work without having been originally planned or expected as an intentional effect, for example:

–        The development of a culture of community mobilization – examples included saving money collectively to resolve pressing issues in the communities and getting better organized to put pressure on government to help address important needs.

–        Changes in attitudes towards education, sanitation and hygiene – examples included families valuing sending their children to school, especially the girls, and open defecation being considered a shameful practice.

–        Creation of a national school health and nutrition (SHN) policy and plan of action for Ethiopia. This national-level change was inspired by Sponsorship’s successful community-level SHN efforts in Woliso. Sponsorship was invited to sit at the table with the Ethiopian government to help develop this national policy and plan. 

With this robust retrospective evaluation in hand, we can now confidently state that this US$22 million program in Woliso was worth the investment. The program demonstrated multiple, long-lasting, positive changes for children and their communities. That is not to say that Save the Children can claim all credit for the positive impacts. And in fact, if we could affirm that the results were100% due to our work, it would be a failure of the intended Sponsorship model, which is to engage in joint efforts and to be a major catalyst and enabler of change rather than the sole creator. In the same vein, the conclusions in this report do not belong to our evaluators or Save the Children staff alone, but were arrived at through careful consideration of insights from the communities we serve and partners we work with.

We are very proud of our Child Sponsorship work and think you will be too once you read our report! Enjoy the read and please consider sponsoring a child today!

Helen Moestue

MEAL Advisor, Sponsorship

For more information, contact:

A Real Friend

By: Elsy Alicia

Mail boxes are not common in Mexico, but my husband and I installed one outside our home in Yucatán for our 8-year-old son, Esdras Alberto. His biggest wish was to receive letters just like they do on his favorite television show, Blue’s Clues.  Almost at the end of every episode, the show host and his animated cartoon dog, Blue, sing a song about receiving mail and head to their mailbox to read one of the many letters their friends have sent them.

Esdras Alberto hasAsperger syndrome, a developmental disorder characterized by significant difficulties in learning and social interaction. Because of this, my son did not have many friends, so my husband and I would place letters inside our mailbox when Esdras Alberto was not looking and tell him that a friend from another part of the country had sent them.

Much to our surprise that friend became real the day he received the first letter from his sponsor Alma Beatriz, a teacher from Mexico City. Esdras Alberto came home very excited and told us how Save the Children staff had come to his school and had given him a letter written especially for him. It even came inside an envelope, just like he had seen in Blue’s Clues!

Every day after school Esdras Alberto talks about his letter and reads it out loud for us. By now, everyone in our house knows it by heart. He also reads it every night before going to sleep and keeps it in a special place near his bed. Some days, he places the letter inside our mailbox and pretends he just got it. Esdras Alberto says he feels very happy because he finally has a real friend.

Reading his letter or books has become a big part of Esdras Alberto’s life. Because of his Asperger’s, my son can easily get over-stimulated by his environment, especially by the loud noises of a second grade classroom. So when the world around him gets to be too much, he finds a safe place in the library of his school, which Save the Children recently renovated and equipped with new supplies.

Actions like these have changed my son’s life. Knowing he has a friend and a safe place to be in, has given him new confidence and we have watched him improve in so many areas.

Esdras Alberto working on a lesson in his classroom

We are very thankful for the work Save the Children does in our community and for the impact they have had in my son’s and my family’s life. Esdras Alberto is looking forward to receiving the next letter from his sponsor. He says he is excited to open our mailbox and find a letter from his real friend.

WaterAid Tanzania (Project was funded by the Canadian Government)

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%.

BASICS is built around the Clean Clinic approach, which incentivizes healthcare leadership to create a hygiene compliant health system at a low cost, and TEACH CLEAN, which empowers health care workers so that hygiene becomes second nature, are essential to reducing the number of Healthcare Associated Infections and deaths in Least Developed Countries (LDCs). But how can health workers practice the needed hygiene when there are no facilities to wash their hands or water to clean contaminated surfaces? A critical component of BASICS is to ensure Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) infrastructure is available to make our efforts successful. In rural Tanzania, healthcare workers, like Regina Kasanda, experience firsthand what it is like to provide care in a maternal ward with little to no access to water. Close access to clean water means healthcare workers, who have been trained to practice hygiene, can now implement what they learnt, mothers are able to stay long enough to receive the care they need but most importantly, unnecessary and sometimes fatal infections can be avoided.

To learn more about BASICS (Bold Action to Stop Infections in Clinical Settings), visit

Disinfection You Can See

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%.

What happens when a healthcare worker or sanitation employee can’t discern whether or not surfaces, protective equipment, tools and supplies are properly disinfected after use?

BASICS partner, Kinnos Inc., is a social venture who won USAID’s Fight Ebola Grand Challenge with an innovative product. They developed Highlight, a color additive, to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of cleaning and disinfection by making chlorine visible and changing the chlorine’s liquid properties to achieve full surface coverage. The blue color fades automatically once optimal disinfection time has passed. Clean Clinics and Teach Clean (watch our videos to learn more) will employ this innovative additive to train health workers on effective cleaning and disinfection methods. See this video and you will be impressed!

To learn more about BASICS (Bold Action to Stop Infections in Clinical Settings), visit

Achievements That Make a Village Proud

Roukaya is an 11-year-old girl living in a small village in the region of Maradi, in Niger, where she attends 5th grade at her village school. She is the eldest of her family and has a sister and three younger brothers. When her mother goes to the field or to a ceremony, Roukaya stays at home to take care of her younger brothers.

Like many children in her community, Roukaya did not understand the importance of attending school on a consistent basis; she did not pay much attention to learning or take time to study.

However, in 2016 Save the Children came to Roukaya’s community and attitudes toward education quickly changed. Through the sponsorship program, Roukaya gained a sponsor who wrote to her and encouraged her to study hard and to be attentive in class.  A great friendship was born from their exchanges, and Roukaya now considers her sponsor a member of her family. “My sponsor encourages me to make efforts in my studies,” she explains.

Save the Children also provided the teachers at Roukaya’s school with additional training that gave them new tools and strategies to use in the classroom.  These new approaches, such as applying positive encouragement and discipline as part of their teaching, resulted in students staying interested in their studies and continuing in school.  

Roukaya showing off her artwork

In addition, Save the Children field agents reached out to the wider village community and educated parents on the merits of their children staying in school and continuing their studies.

Today, nothing can stand between Roukaya and her studies. She is one of the best students in her class and dreams of becoming a teacher in order to contribute in the education of her brothers and sisters, and her community. Roukaya’s teacher Issoufou can attest to her hard work and diligence.  “Even this morning, she received a ten out of ten in grammar practice,” he explains proudly.  A rewarding achievement the whole village can be proud of.

Roukaya surrounded by her family