I spent last week at the Clinton Global Initiative and the UN General Assembly meetings in New York. There was much talking about issues of international development, about the rights of children to an education, about stopping children dying from preventable things like pneumonia, about making sure that the world is free from hunger. But in the midst of all this talking, I noticed that there was simply not enough of one thing—not enough shouting. We need louder voices to make changes on what really needs to be done for poor children and families around the world. Simply put, we need more people to care and speak out. Loudly.
Traveling in rural Arkansas, you can sometimes forget where you are. The long stretch of bumpy highway, surrounded by cotton fields and rice paddies, could be in one of a dozen countries I’ve traveled to recently. And, unfortunately, the poor families I met could have been from any of those countries too—rather than living in the richest country on earth. The kind of poverty you find these days in America is shocking, and it makes me wonder what’s happened to cause so many families to be left behind.
Guatemala City, Guatemala
July 18, 2012
Sometimes the best way to serve families over the long haul is to step back. A recent change to U.S. foreign assistance policy is putting more local organizations in the lead on development projects around the world.
In Guatemala, chronic malnutrition keeps half the country’s children from developing properly. That fuels a vicious cycle of poverty that hurts children in rural, indigenous communities the most. U.S. investments to break this cycle have helped countless children and families, but new reforms mean Guatemalans will play a bigger, more sustainable role in fighting the worst rate of chronic malnutrition in the Western hemisphere.
Save the Children has worked in Guatemala for 14 years with a variety of public and private funding to help poor populations overcome the impact of poverty and three decades of civil conflict. As an international nonprofit humanitarian and development agency, we work alongside communities to implement integrated programs that improve health, nutrition, economic opportunities, disaster risk reduction, democracy and governance.
For the last five years, Save the Children was the prime recipient of funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to run a major food security project. In tandem, a local consortium created by Guatemala’s largest export corporations called AGEXPORT was running small scale projects with USAID funds opening up markets for poor rural farmers.
As a result of USAID’s policy called Implementation and Procurement Reform, AGEXPORT is about to move into the driver’s seat. Under this policy, USAID aims to spend 30 percent of its resources on local institutions by 2015. In Guatemala, USAID has required that a local organization be the prime funding recipient in a new Feed the Future project called “Rural Value Chains.” AGEXPORT has been selected to take the lead and AGEXPORT has asked Save the Children to play a supportive role by providing key technical support and institutional capacity.
We know that improving farmers’ access to markets leads to greater, steadier income through the year and–critically for children–to improved nutrition for their own families.
If the new project moves ahead as planned, AGEXPORT will bring its expertise with domestic market to the partnership, and Save the Children will bring our experience improving children’s nutrition and food security.
AGEXPORT’s selection as the prime grantee will also give the organization the opportunity to build capacity and institutional expertise to lead increasingly large-scale projects.
That bodes well for the future.
In the next grant cycle, I suspect that AGEXPORT may not need Save the Children or any other international NGO to improve conditions for Guatemalan farmers and their children. And Save the Children can move on to another area where our technical expertise and services are still truly needed.
Working ourselves out of a job is a development success.
I spent last week in Bangladesh, a country of 161 million people, many of whom live in the capital city of Dhaka. Many of those people, in fact 54 million of them, are kids under 15. And a high percentage of these children start to work by the age of 10 or 12 in order to help support their families.
April 2, 2012
Nora is a high school Senior from Pennsylvania who will attend Carleton College in fall 2012. She hopes to study political science, history, and literature. She participated in the 2011 Rustic Pathways summer program in South Carolina as a student volunteer and mentor with Save the Children’s U.S. Programs. This year, Save the Children and Rustic Pathways will host summer programs in South Carolina, Kentucky and the Dominican Republic.
When, recently, a friend asked me what the greatest thing I ever learned was, I replied easily with the answer of learning to read and write. This is such a basic gift, such a seemingly simple idea, that we often forget that in South Carolina, for example, 15 percent of adults are functionally illiterate. The downward spiral begins in elementary schools and, with this in mind, Save the Children created an enriched summer program at Foster Park Elementary School to help bring struggling students up to speed with their peers.
Unemployment abounds Union, a former mill town where thirty percent of children live in poverty. Most recent Census numbers suggest this alarming statistic will only continue to grow as these kids face the risk of being trapped in a cycle of teen pregnancy, gang violence, drug abuse and the lack opportunity. Save the Children brought 16 high school students to this program to teach and to provide good role models for kids who will eventually end up in a high school with a county graduation rate of only 55 percent.
The kids I had the privilege of knowing came from different backgrounds and had different abilities, but they were never limited in their curiosity or ability to love. Every day, I was moved by their resilience as they dealt with challenges at home, their success in reading more and more difficult books, and their desire to learn about the world outside of Union. I am so blessed to have been able to know these kids, who constantly surprised me with new questions and new ideas. I am so blessed to have been able to know their teachers, who work for six weeks every summer for very little pay simply because they care. I am so blessed to have been able to meet 15 other high school kids who truly believe in the value of education.
While I received my own, very different education, I constantly thought about whether or not I made the slightest bit of difference in the lives of the kids I mentored for those two weeks. The greatest issue that I face is knowing that those kids may never think about getting a post-secondary education and may never leave Union, South Carolina. But, as I reflect, I realize that there is a glimmer of hope. If my presence in their lives can make just one of these bright kids crack open an SAT book or dream about going off to college or want to travel beyond the Palmetto State, I have done something marvelous. As I move into a future that these kids may never know, I am comforted by the fact that one child may, someday, remember Miss Nora who taught some math lessons and who desperately wanted to help her global community. And, maybe, just maybe, that child will desperately want to do the same thing.
Ajla Grozdanic, Manager, Marketing and Communications, U.S. Programs
February 15, 2012
Meet Alicia, Jurnie and Savannah, three bright-eyed, all-American girls daydreaming of what they’ll grow up to be some day. Alicia, 11, from New Mexico, is the oldest of the three. She aspires to own a home and a business one day. Jurnie is an 8-year-old from Nevada who loves to care for people and wants to become a nurse when she grows up. Savannah, also 8, lives in Kentucky. She adores animals and dreams of becoming a vet. Living thousands of miles apart, these girls may never cross paths, but their road to success has one detrimental obstacle in common: poverty.
All three are from dwindling small towns in rural America, where, according to the latest Census report, one child out of four lives below the poverty line. Alicia is from a sleepy, poverty-stricken village, which counts a small convenience store among its only sources of income. Jurnie lives with her grandfather and younger sister in a low-income community of 800 some residents on the slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. And in Savannah’s remote hometown more than a third of the population, including her own family, is poor.
The number of Americans living in poverty jumped to historic highs. Bearing the brunt of this crisis are 16 million kids, the highest number since the War on Poverty began in the early 1960s. This means that more families than ever are scrambling to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads. For children like Alicia, Jurnie and Savannah, growing up poor in America means having your dreams, however humble, stolen from you.
Like most children living in poverty, the three girls are falling behind educationally. When she started fifth grade, Alicia was reading at the level of a second-grader. Jurnie comes from a financially struggling, unstable home environment and often has to endure long stretches of time without seeing her parents. This lack of stability and support has led to frequently missed school days and poor performance in class. While eager to learn, Savannah scored poorly on reading assessment tests and her school didn’t have the resources to provide her the extra help she needed to work through the challenges and succeed.
Kids who aren't learning and advancing in school are likely to remain in poverty as adults. To protect America’s future and security in the face of historic childhood poverty rates, we must invest in our children. Save the Children works to break the cycle of poverty through education and health programs designed to help kids in some of the poorest parts of the country overcome barriers that stand in the way of their dreams.
We helped Alicia, Jurnie, Savannah and thousands of other children who know all too well what it means to go without. After going through our education support programs, all three are now able to read at grade level and continue to make great strides toward academic and future success.
Photos courtesy Save the Children
As I celebrated Thanksgiving with my extended family this weekend, eating from a huge spread, sharing updates and stories and generally catching up at a big family gathering, I also thought about the many kids and families Save the Children works with all around the world and right here in the United States. I knew their lives were totally different from my own three kids’ and those of my many nieces and nephews. My sons and
I just got off the phone with my Congressman’s office. You see, Congress is in the midst of deciding spending levels for 2012, and I wanted to make sure my voice was heard. Some members of Congress want to cut foreign assistance programs by as much as 30 percent, which would have devastating consequences for children and families around the globe. I couldn’t stand by and watch that happen.