The Government Is Leaving Children at Risk — Are You?

 

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This blog was first published on The Huffington Post.

 

It’s been 10 years since Hurricane Katrina revealed how ill-prepared our nation was to protect children from disaster. New research shows that far too little has changed.

 

Most of the recommendations made by the National Commission on Children and Disasters after a deeply-flawed Katrina response remain unfulfilled, a new Save the Children report finds.

 

That’s unacceptable. It’s also extremely dangerous for our nation’s children. Their lives and futures are at stake. To this day, child survivors still carry deep emotional scars from their Katrina experience.

 

Take siblings John and Johnisha. They were 14 and 15 when Katrina barreled down on New Orleans. Their struggling family had no car to leave the city, so the pair joined an aunt taking refuge in the Superdome.

 

For five days, they witnessed death, heard accounts of rape and feared going into blood-streaked bathrooms. They were hungry and could find no milk, diapers or medical care for their ill baby cousin. They feared their parents had drowned and had to talk their desperate aunt out of committing suicide. John stood guard all night to make sure a leering man didn’t attack his sister.

 

When they finally evacuated, the siblings could not find their parents for weeks.

 

“I was lost for years, especially after losing my grandparents,” Johnisha says now. “It was a lot that I had to deal with mentally as a kid.”

 

The good news is, thanks to the work of the commission, the United States now has sheltering standards designed to protect children. Those simply didn’t exist before. But our experience from Hurricane Sandy and other recent disasters shows that much work remains to make sure those standards are applied consistently.

 

Unfortunately, the nation is much farther from ensuring many other protections children need in disasters. Our nation’s emergency pediatric transport and care capacity, access to mental health services for traumatized children, and federal preparedness and recovery support for schools and child care centers all remain inadequate.

 

Nearly four-fifths of the commission’s 81 final recommendations remain unfulfilled. Congress and the President need to finish the job before the next massive disaster strikes.

 

In the meantime, families must do everything they can to protect their children. That starts with ensuring they can stay connected if disaster strikes.

 

Hurricane Katrina separated families, leading to 5,000 missing children reports. John, Johnisha and many younger, extremely vulnerable children were not reunited with their parents for weeks.

 

Yet, a recent survey of American parents shows that most families don’t have agreed-upon meeting places or out-of-town emergency contacts.

 

If an emergency separated your family today, would you be able to quickly reach your children? What if local communications were down?

 

Take a minute to create emergency contact cards for your children. Keep one copy and put the other in your child’s bag or wallet. It can give you piece of mind and serve as a lifeline to your child during emergencies.

 

As we remember the devastating toll of Hurricane Katrina this summer, we all have a role to play in keeping children safe. Disasters can strike anywhere at any time, and — unlike with Hurricane Katrina — we may not always get advanced notice.

 

Download the report and take action to Stay Connected at www.SavetheChildren.org/Katrina10, and watch real stories here:

 

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Five Ways I Think Like A Millennial (Sort Of)

 

This blog was first published on the InterAction website. Carolyn will be speaking at the InterAction Forum on June 24 on the panel: ‘Meh’ to ‘Yes!’-Simple Moves to Win Support for Our Sector.

 

CAROLYN-MILES-BIO-IMAGE-2011-SMALL2My 22 year-old son is a member of the Millennial Generation and is, at first glance, a completely different creature than I was at his age: I wore shoulder pads; he wears ear buds. I tuned the radio; he streams songs online. I searched for a phone booth to call a friend; he reaches into his pocket and sends a text.

 

But as it turns out, we’re not so different. I am – basically – a Millennial myself. Bill Gates told me so.

 

Well, sort of. Through new research from The Narrative Project, an initiative of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, we’ve learned that communications tailored to members of the public who are engaged in global aid (like those of us attending the InterAction Forum June 22-24) also resonates with the Millennial Generation. Millennials grew up in a world where people are increasingly connected through technology – and they share common interests with people from different societies and backgrounds. These young people are comfortable talking about global issues, and are compelled to take action when something is important to them.

 

This latest research shows that we respond to the same kinds of messaging…which makes me more like a Millennial than I ever thought possible.

5 Ways I Think Like A Millennial:

 

  1. I don’t believe birthplace = destiny

Millennials know that people don’t choose where they’re born, but in too many cases the simple fact of geography determines much of their future including their economic prospects, educational opportunity, and access to healthcare. This imbalance of opportunity simply isn’t fair – and it’s why equality is a major focus of Save the Children’s future strategy.

 

  1. I care about individuality

Statistics showing progress year-over-year, or even decade-over-decade, are great…but Millennials know that’s not the whole story. In fact, narratives that focus on progress score below those that stress partnership, morality, and autonomy among most Millennials and members of the engaged public. I agree: I want to meet the people behind these statistics and hear their stories so that I can relate to them on a more personal level. So I travel as much as possible, hearing directly from the children and families we’re working to serve.

 

  1. I think globally and act locally

I don’t think the only people who need help are “over there.” I know it’s important to make a difference in my own backyard – for example, though Save the Children’s programs reaching kids in the United States – while still taking action for others around the world.

 

  1. I know we can change the world

Like most Millennials, I think my own actions can make meaningful change – and that I can have a personal impact on reducing poverty.  But we also believe that our government can make “a great deal of difference” (in the US, 59% of Millennials and 50% of the Engaged Public), so partnerships like those highlighted at the InterAction Forum are crucial.

 

  1. I think Taylor Swift is awesome

Okay, this one’s a little off topic, but it’s just one more way I’m an honorary Millennial…her songs are catchy!

 

This new research from The Narrative Project will help those of us working in global aid better understand how the Millennial Generation is becoming the next generation of engaged, active and inspired leaders. I look forward to talking more about this new narrative with you all at the Forum!

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Getting to Zero — and Staying at Zero

 

This blog was first published on The Huffington Post.

 

I was recently able to congratulate Liberia and its leaders for being declared “Ebola Free” by the World Health Organization. That was a big deal for me, because when I visited that country at the peak of the epidemic last year, I didn’t know how long it would take for us to get to this point. I knew we had to do it, not just for the 2.5 million children living in areas affected by Ebola, but for all children around the world vulnerable to epidemics and outbreaks. In our interconnected world, a highly contagious health threat to children in one section of the globe, is a threat to all children. And even though Liberia made it to this milestone, its neighbors, Guinea and Sierra Leone, are still seeing new cases.

Save the Children has been hard at work over the last year in order to help bring the world to this point. In Liberia, we’ve reached over 165,000 people, built two Ebola Treatment Centers, provided psychosocial support to more than 5000 children, reunified 65 children with their families and much, much more. But we didn’t do all of this alone.

Government leaders around the world, realizing the serious nature of this crisis, quickly pledged financial support and donated expertise, talent and time. In the U.S., an emergency appropriations measure allowed for a significant and effective emergency response by the Center for Disease Control, USAID and others.

 

The private sector was also with us. Companies increasingly have global workforces and their leaders understand better than anyone how important identifying and containing global health risks and epidemics has become. This is one of the reasons that major tech firms (like Google and Facebook) and the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation stepped into this fight with us.

The people of Liberia and their leaders deserve the lion’s share of the credit. Without their determination, perseverance and willingness to partner, none of this would have been possible.

 

All of this goes to show that problems of this magnitude cannot be solved by just one group — or by multiple groups working in isolation from each other. Everyone has a role to play and partnerships will remain critical as we go forward in this fight. Important pieces of work remain for us to accomplish together including:

 

• Continuing to support response efforts. No country will be safe at zero until all countries are at zero.

• Investments in global efforts to strengthen our collective response to future health emergencies. In addition to reforming international emergency health systems, we will need bold new initiatives to help other countries strengthen their own preparedness, disease detection and response capabilities.

 

I know the world is up for this challenge and one of the things that gives me hope is the commitment and creativity we have seen, and are seeing, on so many fronts and from so many partners.

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Red Nose Day: Giving Kids More to Smile About

 

The following blog first appeared on The Huffington Post

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Save the Children staff members Sara Bernabeo, Jeremy Soulliere and Ellen Gerstein with NBC “TODAY” show host Matt Lauer along his 230-mile bike trek to promote Red Nose Day. Photo by Susan Warner / Save the Children.

 

It’s rare we can all have the chance to come together and share a laugh, while, at the same time, fight poverty and its detrimental impact on children in the United States and around the world.

 

For 30 years, Red Nose Day has been doing just that in the United Kingdom, bringing together comedians, stars from television and the silver screen, musicians and entertainers for a televised event to benefit poverty-fighting nonprofits. And this Thursday, May 21, at 8 p.m., Red Nose Day is taking a leap across the Atlantic, making its debut in the U.S.

 

Save the Children is excited and honored it has been chosen as one of the 12 nonprofits to benefit from this first-ever U.S. television special on NBC, which will support our efforts to ensure all kids have a healthy start in life, a quality education and protection from harm.

 

Red Nose Day is the only time A-list actors, comedians and musicians like Julia Roberts, Will Ferrell, Julianne Moore, John Legend, Save the Children Trustee Jennifer Garner and many more will take part in stand-up acts, sketch comedy, parodies and music performances – all to help meet the immediate needs of the poorest children living in the U.S. and throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America.

 

The energy of Red Nose Day has also spread beyond the televised event itself. NBC “TODAY” show host Matt Lauer embarked on a 230-mile bike ride this past Sunday to raise money and awareness for the fundraiser. His trek kicked off from Boston’s Fenway Park, and ends this Thursday – Red Nose Day – at Rockefeller Plaza in New York City. Save the Children staff, family and friends cheered Matt on along his route through Connecticut on Monday, all proudly wearing red noses.

 

Red Nose Day is certainly putting the “fun” in fundraising, and if there’s one thing that connects kids all around the globe, it’s laughter. From my visits to classrooms in Haiti to playgrounds in Appalachia, it’s evident that laughter is the universal language of all children.

 

Through Red Nose Day, and the belly laughs it’s sure to generate, we can all give children living in poverty more to smile about.

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Stories of Motherhood from Central Africa to South East Asia

 

The following blog first appeared on The Huffington Post

 

Every year Save the Children’s State of the World’s Mothers report ranks the best and worst places in the world to be a mom, giving us a window into the shared strengths and burdens that mothers face.

 

All mothers carry the brightest hopes for their children’s health and wellbeing, whether their homeland is at the top, middle or bottom of the ranking. To show you how motherhood unites women from all corners of the world and walks of life, we have invited two moms from two different continents to talk about the trials and tribulations of motherhood in their countries.

 

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Metro Manila, Philippines: Rizelle, 17, pictured holding her three-week-old baby, lives in a makeshift home under a bridge in the slums of Metro Manila. But she was fortunate to receive post-natal check-ups and immunizations for her newborn.

 

Maria Christina H. Oñate is from Metro Manila, Philippines. Holding the 105th spot out of 179 nations, the Philippines is a middle-of-the-road country for moms that has made great progress in recent years, especially in reducing the child mortality rate for the poorest children in cities. Rosalie Djouma is from the Central African Republic, which at the 177th spot is the third worst place in the world to be a mom.

 

Together, these two women represent two countries with very different realities for mothers and babies. Both women have dedicated their lives to helping some of the most vulnerable moms and children in their communities as part of their work with the international organization Save the Children. Here, they share their stories of motherhood, as well as their hopes and aspirations for all moms around the world — whether they live in bustling Metro Manila or the rural countryside of the Central African Republic.

 

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Kaga-Bandoro, Central African Republic: Giselle and her son Ronny fled their home because of violence. “I am a woman,” said Gilselle, “and during war, it is always the innocent, it is women and children like us, those who do not fight, who suffer most.”

 

Oñate: The Central African Republic is third from the bottom in the annual ranking of the best and worst places for moms. What was it like for you to raise children in a country that ranks so low for moms?

 

Djouma: As a nursing medical supervisor with Save the Children working in the Central African Republic, my experience as a mother is rather unique compared to many women in the country. My job allows me to provide for the health and education of my children and support my family. The sad reality for many mothers in the Central African Republic is that the social safety nets and reliable health services are not available, leaving them and their children vulnerable to extreme poverty.

 

Djouma: You’re fortunate to live in a country that does much better in the ranking than my homeland. What’s it like to be a mom in the Philippines?

 

Oñate: My son Diego is now a healthy, bright and curious three-year-old. I remember the wonderful time I was pregnant. As a working professional in Manila with health insurance, I had access to quality health services, which allowed me to take advantage of family planning counseling and newborn care. My son benefits from preventive care, immunizations and the luxury of doctors’ visits whenever he feels unwell, which is a far cry from the situation for many mothers.

 

Oñate: What are some specific challenges moms in the Central African Republic face?

 

Djouma: The current situation for mothers and children in the Central African Republic is critical. During the political and military crisis there are some mothers who have lost their husbands, their property and who do not have a source of income. Some children who have lost their fathers and mothers become easily exploited by certain groups of people. Many children are unable to continue their studies.

 

Rural mothers have similar struggles to those living in slums. The differences are that rural mothers have farm work, while those from slums have small businesses.

 

Djouma: What’s some of the progress the Philippines has made for moms and children?

 

Oñate: The Philippines is making strides towards progress in the care of moms and children with the introduction of programs through a new national social protection initiative, the implementation of health care innovations and by increasing the number of health professionals serving urban and rural communities.

 

In my work I get to listen to the people behind inspiring stories who unceasingly help vulnerable mothers and children access basic health care. They are committed community health workers who do home visits and counseling to pregnant and lactating women to ensure healthy pregnancy and safe delivery and care for newborns, including the importance of exclusive breastfeeding.

 

Djouma: The new report commends the Philippines for the progress it has made in reducing child mortality and narrowing the survival gap between the richest and poorest children in urban areas. What challenges still remain for the poorest moms and children in cities?

 

Oñate: My work on maternal and child health in marginalized communities in Manila brings me up close and personal to the everyday struggle of poor, unemployed mothers with usually four or more young children. The struggle to find ways of putting a meal on their table is constant and, more often than not, their health and that of their children takes the back seat.

 

These poor urban mothers are at risk of dying due to pregnancy and childbirth because of a lack of access to health services. These are mothers, including teenagers as young as thirteen, who experience unplanned pregnancies, lack adequate prenatal care, give birth at home with no skilled birth professional, have no access to emergency obstetric and neonatal care, and receive no postpartum care.

 

Oñate: What would it take to improve the conditions for mothers and their children in the Central African Republic?

 

Djouma: Many women are responsible for financially providing for their families and need additional support to generate incomes — whether through entrepreneurship or agricultural opportunities.

 

Families also need expanded access to education and health care facilities to help ensure the safety and wellbeing of children, in both rural and urban areas.

 

Save the Children’s annual State of the World’s Mothers report, which was released this month with support from Johnson & Johnson, has become a reliable international tool to show where mothers and children fare best, and where they face the greatest hardships. It is based on the latest data on health, education, economics and female political participation. The full report is available at:www.savethechildren.org/mothers.

 

Editor’s Note: Save The Children is a partner of Johnson & Johnson, which is a sponsor of The Huffington Post’s Global Motherhood section.

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For Babies In Big Cities, It’s Survival Of The Richest

 

The following blog first appeared on The Huffington Post

I will never forget the moment when I looked out the car window at a bustling, steamy intersection in the heart of Manila, and locked eyes with a young woman. She was holding a tiny baby while begging in the street.

 

I glanced down at my six-month-old son, sleeping contentedly in my arms inside our air-conditioned car. The enormous inequalities between my world and hers struck me as never before. The child in my arms was about the same age and no smarter, cuter, or better than hers. Yet due to mere circumstance of birth, I knew my son would have many more opportunities in life, while this mother and her child would struggle to survive each day to the next.

 

It’s been 20 years since that fleeting moment, but the vision of the mother and her child has stuck with me. It drove me to change careers and join Save the Children, where we work tirelessly to ensure that every mother and child has a fair chance in life.

 

These days, more and more mothers in urban areas are seeking better opportunities for their children. That’s why Save the Children’s new report, State of the World’s Mothers 2015: The Urban Disadvantage — released with support from Johnson & Johnson — focuses on the health and survival of moms and babies in cities. The findings reveal a harrowing reality: for babies in the big city, their survival comes down to their family’s wealth.

 

I have been back to Manila many times. I am happy to report that, along with other urban centers in the Philippines, it is an example of how cities can narrow survival gaps between the rich and the poor by increasing access to basic maternal, newborn and child services, and making care more affordable and accessible to the poorest urban families.

 

A child’s chance of dying before his fifth birthday has been steadily declining over the years among the poorest 20 percent of urban families in the Philippines. From when I first visited that country in the mid ‘90s until today, child mortality rates among the urban poor have been cut by more than half and the urban child survival gap has narrowed by 50 percent between wealthy and poor kids.

 

Sadly, the Philippines is one of just a few countries with such dramatic improvements for poor urban children. In too many countries, urban child survival inequality is worsening, even as those nations have been successful in reducing overall child mortality rates.

 

In my travels throughout the developing world, I’ve never had to look very far to see evidence of these differences. For example, in New Delhi, India – a city with one of the largest health care coverage gaps between rich and poor – it is not unusual to see a gleaming hospital steps away from a sprawling slum, and to have babies literally dying on the doorstep.

 

But it’s not just in the developing world where our report found stark disparities between the haves and have nots. In our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., a baby born in the lowest-income district, where half of all children live in poverty, is at least10 times as likely as a baby born in the richest part of the city to die before his first birthday. And while Washington, D.C. has cut its infant mortality rate by more than half over the past 15 years, the rate at which babies are dying in the District of Columbia is the highest among the 25 wealthiest capital cities surveyed around the world.

 

We all have a lot more work to do to ensure that every mother has the same opportunities for her baby, whether she lives in Manila, Washington, D.C. or anywhere else in the world.

 

Find out more about Save the Children’s new report atwww.savethechildren.org/mothers.

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New Consensus Challenging Us to ‘Embrace Previously Unimaginable Possibilities’

 

DevexBlogA consensus is emerging within the global development community about the rapidly shifting landscape: It is no longer about government or institutional donors, international nongovernmental organizations and projects.

 

Complex global challenges, evolving science and technology, and new resources — including private investments, are challenging us to think in new ways and embrace previously unimaginable possibilities. Poverty, illiteracy and hunger are seen as some of the great economic and business challenges of our time, worthy of the best minds and plans from both the business and philanthropy sectors. We are at a time in history where we can actually imagine solving these thorny problems. Read more at Devex.

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Into India’s Cities

 

View from Nazmul's house

A slum in the Ohkla area of New Delhi, India.

India is always a fascinating place for a visit to see Save the Children’s programs, but the one I made earlier this month was even more so than usual. I was meeting with Save the Children staff from all over the world to discuss key learnings from our urban programs. Since our founding almost 100 years ago, Save the Children’s focus has been on serving children and families in rural areas who have traditionally been the most marginalized, with the worst outcomes for kids in terms of health, education and abuse. But as populations shift, more and more disadvantaged families are moving to cities to try to lift their standard of living. In 2007 for the first time in recorded history, the number of people living in urban settings equaled those living in rural areas. As of 2014, 54 percent of the world’s population now lives in urban areas. By 2050, it is expected that this percentage will grow to 66 percent. And now many of the worst statistics for children are found in urban slums. This data is often masked by the better averages in cities and, as the gap between rich and poor widens, the poorest children are suffering in terms of surviving and thriving.

 

For example, in India, more than 8 million children under the age of 6 live in slums and 71 percent of deprived urban children under 5 suffer from anemia. More than 54 percent of households in urban slums do not have toilets and public facilities are unusable due to lack of maintenance, leading to poor sanitary conditions, increasing children’s chances of getting sick and decreasing their chances for a healthy start. In areas of rapid and unplanned urban expansion, informal settlements often lack many of the basic services that city dwellers typically enjoy, such as electricity, clean water and sanitation, transportation, education and healthcare. In addition, the urban poor face higher food costs and a constant threat of eviction, removal and confiscation of goods.

 

Save the Children is working hard to shift our work to focus on both rural and urban settings – wherever the most deprived children find themselves.  As part of my recent trip, I witnessed a wide variety of urban programs operating in Delhi. This included a heartbreaking program that focuses on female sex workers. While the government does not want NGOs distributing condoms and educating sex workers on HIV/AIDS, they also don’t want to disclose the ages of these women. Sadly, however, many I met were clearly teenagers.  In fact, several looked no older than my own 13 year old daughter. They spoke freely to us about the challenges of making a living by selling their bodies to men, some living on the streets and some with their families while hiding their real jobs from them. We visited a bridge under which men frequent to seek sex from many of these women, in clear view of a police check point. It was a terrifying place, full of dark spaces and garbage and, based on the men watching us from the bank of the filthy stream that ran through it, clearly this was a well-known location for sex. Not only is being forced to sell themselves horribly demeaning for these young girls, but it’s extremely dangerous as well.

 

India bridge

Colleagues and I on our way to visit young sex workers under a Delhi bridge

The girls we met made tiny sums of money, most of which had to go for food or were given to their families for rent and other expenses.  They dreamed of going back to school some day and a few were able to stay in school at least part-time. When we asked them what they wanted to do when they grow up, like any teenage girl, they had dreams of being teachers, dancers and even doctors. Of course for many it is unlikely these dreams will ever come true.  But my prayers went out to them that hopefully a few would make it.

 

The teeming city of Delhi has literally hundreds of thousands of children living in extreme poverty, in some of the worst circumstances you can imagine.  There are complicated issues of land ownership, municipal laws and political corruption to overcome, but there is also the promise of better infrastructure, more services and more partners with which to create change for these children and their families.  As Save the Children looks to the future, our efforts for and with urban children will be key in delivering a better world for kids, no matter where they live.

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Giving Every Child a Fair Chance in Life Is a Defining Challenge For Our Generation

 

The following blog first appeared on The Huffington Post
In a rural village in northern Nigeria, a new mother named Laila is doing everything she can to care for her baby daughter, Rabia. But despite Laila’s efforts, Rabia’s future is not solely in her mother’s hands. If Rabia was instead born to a wealthy family in Lagos, for example — the largest city in Nigeria — she would be nearly four times more likely to survive to see her fifth birthday.

 

This is the lottery of birth.

 

All over the world, children’s chances of seeing their fifth birthday depend on where they are born, the wealth of their parents and their ethnic identity — factors that, for them, are purely a matter of chance.

 

New research released today by Save the Children reveals a story of fast but unequal progress in child survival. Despite unprecedented global improvement in the past two decades, more than 75 percent of the 87 developing countries included in the study are seeing inequalities in child survival getting worse. The world’s most disadvantaged children are being left at the back of the line.

 

If current trends continue, children drawing the shortest straw in this lottery of birth will continue to die from preventable causes for generations to come.

 

Giving every child a fair chance in life is a defining challenge for our generation, and it must be tackled head-on.

 

In September, when the UN is tasked with agreeing upon a post-2015 global development framework, leaders will have a critical opportunity to shift the global course of development, helping to ensure children are no longer left behind due to social, economic or geographic reasons. The new framework must aim to finish the job the MDGs started, putting the world on track to end preventable deaths — and by 2030, no post-2015 target should be considered met unless it is met for all social and economic groups.

 

Beyond global and national leaders working to secure a post-2015 framework promoting equity at the core, we also need governments to implement policies and plans to proactively support this framework.

 

Civil societies, international agencies, development and corporate partners, and philanthropists also need to align behind these plans and offer their own contributions to help attain equitable progress.

 

For example, Save the Children’s long-established partnership with Johnson & Johnson has saved countless newborns in Uganda and Malawi through the Helping Babies Breathe program, which has trained birth attendants on neonatal resuscitation for newborns.

 

Amidst this story of unequal progress, however, we have seen a glimmer of hope. Inequality is not rising in all countries. Some leading countries, such as Rwanda, Malawi, Mexico, Nepal and Bangladesh, have reduced child mortality at not only a fast rate, but also an equitable one, where the progress for more excluded groups has been faster than the average national progression.

 

These countries should be the yardsticks by which we measure, because Save the Children‘s research found that pursuing an equitable pathway to reducing child mortality is linked to faster overall progress. The countries that have improved equitably have, on average, progressed 6 percent faster over the course of a decade than those that have not.

 

By investing in disadvantaged children, like Rabia, now, we can change their futures, and ours.

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In Helping Baby’s First Teacher, ‘A Path Appears’

 

The following blog first appeared on The Huffington Post

 

When I first met my daughter, she was 2 and a half months old. She looked perfect in her little crib in a crowded Vietnamese orphanage, but adoption is a process, and seven more months passed before I could take her home.

 

In the meantime, the staff was caring, but with so many little ones to diaper and feed, they didn’t have much time to play with Molly. Instead, they tied a string of beads across her crib. I imagine she passed many hours fiddling with them.

 

Thanks to that improvised toy, Molly’s fine motor skills were pretty good when I could finally bring her home. What she couldn’t do was balance her own head and torso if I sat her up. She simply hadn’t had the practice. And so even with the extra attention my husband and I were able to give her — and hours of on-the-floor tutorials from my older sons — sitting, crawling and walking all came later than they might have.

 

I read Molly books every day, wanting to expose her to her new language of English. Of course, as research has since made very clear, an ongoing stream of communication with our babies is key to their development, even if they’ve been around the same language from day one.

 

I feel so lucky that I was able to give Molly the early support she built upon to become the bright, curious and outgoing seventh-grader she is today.

 

Half The Sky

But I know millions of moms right here in America are having a much tougher time than I did, and they’re not always able to give their kids the books, attention and high-quality early learning experiences that give babies and toddlers a leg up.

 

As a result, the 15 million U.S. children growing up in poverty are typically more than 18 months behind their better-off peers by the time they enter school. Many never catch up.

 

So I’m very thankful that tonight at 10 p.m. the new PBS documentary series A Path Appears is showing that these children are not a lost cause.

 

In the film’s “Breaking the Cycle of Poverty” episode, Save the Children Artist Ambassador Jennifer Garner takes New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof to rural West Virginia to see how an innovative home-visiting program is turning the status quo on its head.

 

They meet Save the Children’s local home visitor, Tonya Bonecutter, who brings books, developmental activities and other critical support into the homes of struggling local families. Whenever possible, Tonya starts visiting moms during pregnancy. She also helps moms and other caretakers forge early connections with the school their child will eventually attend.

 

The result are phenomenal.

 

Keep in mind that the children we serve not only live in poverty, they face an average of four additional multiple risk factors — such as teen parents, parents who didn’t finish school and substance abuse. Yet 80 percent of children in our programs score at or above the national average on pre-literacy tests at age 3 and again at age 5. These kids enter school not only ready to learn but ready to excel.

 

Can you imagine living in a country where every child got the strong start they need to reach their full potential?

 

As Kristof says in the film, “It’s so much easier to prevent problems on the front end, then to spend money to try and fix things on the back end.”

 

Check out Jennifer Garner and Kristof in a bonus video here.

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