Breaking Barriers and Stirring Dreams

Fred, a 13-year-old pupil in Uganda, was born with a cleft lip and defective voice box that affected his speech development. He underwent corrective surgery while he was still a toddler, but his speech did not fully recover.  Because of these speech challenges, Fred found it hard to attend school and associate with other children. He recalls how they used to laugh at him, ridiculing him with different names because he was not able to clearly express himself.

“My classmates avoided playing with me because I wasn’t able to talk to them,” he explains. “They only wanted me to be part of the games in which they would make fun of me and laugh, and I disliked coming to school because of that.”

Fred reading with classmates

To reach children that carry such burdens and keep them from leaving school, Save the Children has implemented an “inclusive education” program that provides real learning opportunities for children with disabilities. The program strengthens teacher capacity to support children with different learning challenges – whether they be physical, behavioural, speech, hearing or attention retention. Teachers are provided with specific training on how to deal with cases like Fred’s, including how to incorporate positive discipline in the classroom and provide a safer learning environment.

Fred outside his school

Additionally, the program has also increased community awareness about inclusive education, which has led parents to understand the importance of sending their children to school — even those who face such challenges — and Enrollment  at school as increased.

“Fred’s parents are supportive and willing to help when issues arise,” explains Rebecca, Fred’s English teacher. “Communication is much better now with his parents and we’re able to work together to support his learning.” Fred is now thriving at school and has dreams to become a lawyer one day so that he can help children who suffer stigmas that prevent them for reaching their full potential.  “I now love going to school and I have friends to play with,” he says. “Mybest game is football where I am a midfielder.”


The Power of Clean Water

Hannah lives in a small village in Zambia near an emerald mine with her parents, brother and sister in a house made of concreate blocks and iron roofing sheets.  Her father is a teacher and volunteer with Save the Children and her mother raises and sells chickens.  As a fourth grader, Hannah’s jovial personality and easy smile make her stand out.  She wants to be a nurse when she grows up.

Five years ago, Save the Children introduced the sponsorship programs in her community and built new underwater piping that provided clean water. Hannah vividly recalls the old rusted borehole at the school that had contaminated water and would run out in the hot season. That is where her family got their drinking water.

“The borehole was so old that the water used to be very muddy. I think rats used to die in there because the water had some rat fur,” she explains.

According to the Head Teacher at Hannah’s school, “the water would dry out and the month of October, during the hot season, was our worst. Children were made to stay home during these times and lessons were disrupted,” she explains.  “Children were slow to catch up on lessons; they would repeat a grade due to poor performance or not return to school at all.”

Today, with the new well, children in the village are eager to learn all the time and they now know how to practice healthy habits, including handwashing. Many households in Hanna’s village have also benefited from the clean water source, and personal hygiene has improved for everyone.

“Now that Save the Children has made us a better borehole, children are being kept in school throughout and our surroundings look beautiful because we have excess water to even water the grass and flowers,” boasts the head teacher proudly.

Hannah helping a friend write a letter to their sponsor

“The water is so nice, clean and cold like it has been refrigerated. I know it is safe because I have not heard of any of my friends that have gotten sick from drinking it. I even carry some of it at home in my water bottle” says Hannah.

Simply providing clean, quality water to a community makes an enormous difference in the lives of children.  It not only has the obvious benefits for health and hygiene, but it also allows children to learn and lead productive and happy lives. Thank you to our sponsors for making this life changing impact possible!

Hopes of a Young Leader

By: Maria Rosario Garcia, Sponsorship Communication Coordinator

At a time where most children are hooked on gadgets, 13 year-old Justin loves to spend time in his  neighborhood to read along with other children. He wants to encourage more children to read so they can help build a better community even at a young age.

Justin has lived with his grandparents since he was nine years-old after the death of his mother and his father’s absence from the family. Yet, despite this heartbreak, he remains positive about life. During our conversation, Justin’s eyes show a deep sense of sadness and longing for his parents. But I was surprised at the sudden change of his emotions. His eyes suddenly brightened up, as he said: “I use these hurtful experiences as my motivation to study and work hard for my dreams.”

Justin posing with his neighborhood reading audience

Fortunately, in 2016 he found support and opportunity through various Save the Children educational programs designed to improve the learning environment at school and in the wider community. He soon joined a reading camp that encouraged his passion for reading and story telling. Seeing some of his classmates struggle to read even simple words made him realize that if he could do it, others could, too. This in turn created a desire to share his knowledge and love of reading to his peers, and he soon became a reliable “Reading Buddy” at his school and in his community.

He believes reading is one of the most important things that children can do to educate themselves, fuel their imagination, and help their community to grow. During his free time, Justin walks around narrow alleys in his village to invite children to read along and listen to his stories. “I do this because I want to be an inspiration to young people and I want to help end poverty,” he explains.” He finds joy seeing the dazzling faces of other children who imagine that they are part of the stories. Weekends and holidays are not wasted for our little champion. Justin never gets tired of moving around and giving his time and effort to make a difference in his own way. Through his leadership, he continues to serve, encourage, and inspire children to dream and strive to become achievers.

Justin telling his story of how Save the Children has benefited him at a Sponsorship conference

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.

“Was it worth the investment?” Looking back at ten years of Child Sponsorship Programming in Ethiopia (2002-2012): 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 2012, 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 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 2012, 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 (realevaluation.com), 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 10-year 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: Sponprograms@savechildren.org

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.

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

Kindness in the Classroom

By: Nimma Adhikari, Sponsorship Communication Coordinator

My first visit to Kapilvastu, Nepal, was back in 2013 when I had accompanied my then supervisor to meet sponsored children in schools supported by Save the Children’s Sponsorship Program. Of those schools, some had very small classrooms for a large volume of students, while others did not have enough students. Some were undergoing construction building new classrooms, early learning centers and age-appropriate water taps. This was the fourth year of Save the Children programs in Kapilvastu. 

Fast forward to 2019, and I meet 14-year-old Goma, a grade eight student in one of the schools we work at in Kapilvastu. She remembers how she and her friends studied in cramped classrooms when she was in her primary school. They did not have enough classrooms to house all the students comfortably, and on top of that, most teachers walked around with sticks in their hands reminding them to behave. Learning was not much fun for Goma and her siblings. It was a task that she did to please her parents — especially her father who had a brief career as a teacher but had settled as a farmer.  

“Many years ago, a bunch of people had come to take our photos. Soon after, I received a letter from someone who I was told was my friend from Italy. Her name is Paola,” shares Goma who first started participating in Save the Children’s sponsorship program in 2014. “My school is much better now and so are my teachers,” she continues, “especially Lila ma’am and Sushil sir. They teach us Nepali and math.”

Goma playing her favorite game, football, with a school friend

Trained by Save the Children, the teachers in Goma’s school gain the trust of students by being polite, attentive, and responsive to their questions and individual needs in class. Discarding all forms of corporal punishment are some important lessons given to teachers during teacher trainings. “Lila ma’am asks us several questions before starting her lessons. Once she starts the lesson, we realize the questions are related to the current chapter. This helps us remember and understand important points made in the chapter,” explains Goma. In addition to that, Lila and other teachers in Goma’s school make sure they connect with their students by sharing interesting general knowledge they have learned.

Goma sitting outside her school

Goma adds that Save the Children programs, as well as her sponsor Paola’s kind advice to study well and take care of her health, motivated her to become a doctor in the future. “Knowing about her concern for me, it feels like she is my sister even though I have never met her.”

This was probably one of my last visits to Kapilvastu, as Save the Children will hand over the programs for continuation to the community and local government agencies by early 2020. Save the Children has now moved to other impoverished areas in the Mahottari and Sarlahi districts where lack of quality education and basic health facilities, as well as child marriage are just a few of the greater challenges for children.


Inclusiveness and a Happier Classroom

By: Nan Kay Thi Win, Community Development Facilitator

Edited By: Su Yadanar Kyaw, Senior Coordinator, Sponsorship Operations

Ei Chaw is eight years old and was born with a physical disability that affects her mobility and makes daily tasks challenging. The oldest of three siblings, she lives with her family in a small village in Myanmar. Because her parents both work long hours in a rubber plantation near their home, Ei Chaw and her siblings are cared for by their grandmother.

Her parents did not understand how to deal with her disability, and she was treated poorly at home. Instead of teaching her to take care of herself, they did everything for her, making her very dependent on others. At school, her teachers did not recognize the needs of children with physical disabilities, and Ei Chaw was often left out of group activities.

Ei Chaw with her mother and younger sister Hnin

Fortunately, in 2018, Sponsorship programs came to the village and conducted teacher trainings and community awareness on “Inclusive Education,” a program to enable all children to learn together and receive support for their individual needs. The program objectives are to increase and improve access to education for the most vulnerable children, particularly children with disabilities and children from ethnic minorities in early grades.

“Before our training, children with disabilities were accepted in the regular classroom but were not provided with proper accommodations,” explains Ei Chaw’s homeroom teacher Daw Aye. “Our school did not have the facilities to accommodate this group of children, for example appropriately sized passageways and safety handrails, and we didn’t really know how to address the different needs of disabled children.”

The training provided teachers with various strategies and tools to strengthen their capacity to include all children in their lessons. “I learned that there is lot of value in promoting peer learning because children are such a super resource,” shares Daw Aye. “I am now confident enough to handle the challenges posed by children with disabilities in the classroom. I realise the power of positive feedback, how it can help children feel included, and motivated to learn.”

Inclusive education ensures that all children participate in a range of activities – academically and socially. Children work together, share their ideas and learn to accept one another. They learn that the right to a quality inclusive education is for ALL children, not just those who are easiest to reach and teach.

Ei Chaw with her mother and ready for school

Ei Chaw used to be quiet and shy, but now school is one of her favorite daily activities. Her favorite subject at school is English, and she wants to be a doctor when she grows up. Ei Chaw tells excitedly how she participated in a sport competition at school. “I signed up in picking up potatoes competition. My teacher encouraged me to do that. The competition included running, it was really difficult for me, but my friends cheered me during the competition. I was so happy.”

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.”