On the Streets of Kinshasa, Finding the Path Back to Childhood

 

Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is as busy a place as any in the world.  There are swarms of people, crowded streets and traffic jams. The streets of Kinshasa are always bustling—but for a child growing up on the streets, it is one of the toughest places I have seen for anything resembling a happy childhood. So Save the Children is working in Kinshasa to strengthen family and community networks to prevent family separation caused when families are too poor to support their kids and provide assistance to children in need.

 

When I traveled to DRC earlier this month I met Exancé, a 13 year-old boy who calls the Kinshasa streets home.  Exancé had been expelled from his family when his parent’s marriage failed—not an uncommon occurrence.  The break-up of his family led him to a secluded courtyard by a city marketplace, where he begged for food from traders or money from passing motorists.  He was hungry, withdrawn and so far removed from the life that a 13 year-old should have.  But thanks to a local merchant who volunteers for Save the Children to identify at-risk street children, was placed in a safe place to live—a transitional center run by a local partner—and have a chance to reclaim some of the sense of childhood that he lost. Best of all, the world to try to reconnect him to his parents would begin.

 

Exancé is one of the lucky ones, and safe accommodation may make all the difference.  At one such residential center for young boys, Centre BanayaPoverda, I met Gabriel—a 15 year-old whose story is very much a parallel to Exancé’s. When his father remarried after the death of his mother, he was beaten and kicked out of the house with no other option than to join the thousands of other street children.  But when he found a place at BanayaPoverda, he got the opportunity to attend school and work with a social worker who is now trying to find him a foster family.  Chatting with Gabriel, I was struck by how animated and engaged he was—and how different from Exancé, that quiet, tiny boy I met in the market.  Gabriel has made friends at the center and is making plans to become a tailor after he finishes school.

 

These centers provide so much more than shelter.  Children are fed, enrolled in school and supervised, but they’re also taught responsibility—they take care of the center and of each other. The objective in every case is to reunite the children with their own families or find them foster families, to provide them with the family unit that it so crucial in children’s lives.

 

Exancé and Gabriel’s stories started in the same way, but their experiences as street children were so different that it could have affected their lives in

starkly different ways.  Now that Exancé is in a similar situation, I hope that they can both look forward to what’s next and make plans for their own futures.

 
For now, though, it’s enough that they have a safe place to sleep and people looking out for them so they can enjoy being children again.  In hectic Kinshasa, it can be incredibly difficult to find the path back to childhood when it has been interrupted—but Save the Children is doing all we can to help point the way.

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On the Ground in the Philippines: Helping Kids after Typhoon Haiyan

 

This morning, children and families in the Philippines woke up to another day of fear, uncertainty and devastation.  After one of the worst storms to hit the Philippines—and one of the strongest storms ever recorded—ripped through the islands on Friday, the nation is struggling to cope with the scale of what they have lost and how they can begin to recover.

 

Save the Children response teams are already on the ground, working to reach families and children and help them get access to the basics: food, water and medical treatment.  We have been working in the Philippines for 30 years, so we were ready to jump into action when Typhoon Haiyan passed…but the impact on children is still not fully known.  For now, they urgently need food, shelter and medicine.  In the coming weeks and months, they will need reassurance, structure and a return to some kind of normalcy.  We’re there now and we’ll be there for however long they need us.

 

If you can, please help families who have lost everything. Support our Typhoon Haiyan Relief Effort as we mobilize our disaster response teams to reach children in need.

 

The storm has passed but the danger is not yet over.  Help us do all we can for children and families in the Philippines, to ensure that tomorrow is better than today.

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A Race to Save Lives on the Line

 

Drew, 11, pins a number on his t-shirt and stands beneath the palm trees bordering the track, waiting for his turn. His teammate crosses the line and hands him the baton, and then Drew is off and running as fast as he can.

 

Drew is one of more than 50,000 kids globally – 12,000 in the United States alone – who are hitting the ground running this month for Save the Children’s World Marathon Challenge(#WMC2013). The World Marathon Challenge is a relay race where kids team up and attempt to run a full marathon distance and to beat the world marathon record of 2 hours, 3 minutes and 23 seconds.

 

2013-10-22-601by400.jpgFormer NFL running back Vince Workman warming up members of the Wilton High School sports teams for the World Marathon Challenge in Wilton, Conn. on Oct. 14. Photo by Susan Warner for Save the Children.

 

It is a fun event, and kids can get extremely competitive in trying to beat the world record. But they are also running for a more important reason: to raise awareness for the millions of children whose lives are on the line and funds to help those who save them. Every five seconds, a child dies from preventable causes like dehydration from a bout of diarrhea because proper medicines and trained health workers are not universally available. In the time it will take for children to run a record-breaking marathon, 1,481 children will die needlessly.

 

If there is a silver lining in all of this, it is that just a generation ago, these figures would have been twice as bad. Through U.S. government leadership and global commitment, the number of deaths to children under five declined to 6.6 million in 2012, from 12.6 million in 1990. When I think of the faces behind these numbers, I look at the kids taking on the challenge this month. They and millions more are alive today because of the historic progress made in reducing child mortality in places like Ethiopia, India and Mozambique.

 

While this is good news, we need to do better. We continue to lose children to pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria and we know how to prevent those deaths. And then, we need to do more in three areas where we have not yet made sufficient headway: reaching the poorest children with life-saving measures, ensuring all newborns get proper care; and providing children with good nutrition so they stay healthy and strong enough to fight off life-threatening illnesses. With adequate public support and appropriate levels of government investment in these areas, we can dramatically cut child mortality and give hope to families that their babies will have more than a slim chance of reaching age five.

 

That is why Save the Children is holding a global day of action this Wednesday, Oct. 23, where kids in 67 countries will run and raise their voices to highlight the need to give every child the very best chance to live a bright future, and will urge their elected officials to take action. Hundreds of teams around the globe, including schools from Connecticut to California, will race in solidarity on that day.

 

2013-10-22-601by400double.jpgA member of the Boca Raton Little League runs a relay lap at a race in Boca Raton, Fla. on Oct. 18. Photo by Angel Valentin.

 

In addition, here in the United States, Save the Children will share with members of Congress personal messages from kids taking part in the race. T-shirts will be signed with a message that reminds our legislators that their youngest constituents “run for children – do they?” Save the Children will urge Congress to unite in a common cause that enjoys bipartisan support and renew their efforts to reduce preventable child deaths globally.

 

Most American children who are running entered kindergarten at age five with little idea what a huge victory reaching age five truly is. I imagine some will celebrate breaking the world record, but I am thinking about the birthday parties for those 5-year-olds around the world who, without continued effort, would never have completed the race.

This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post
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Put the Frontline Health Worker Into the Post-2015 Framework

 

This post previously appeared in the Huffington Post and on the Skoll World Forum.

 

As world leaders gather this week to discuss the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and the Post-2015 Framework, no subject of conversation will be more important than the need for more frontline health care workers. In the last two decades, the world has made tremendous progress in reducing child and maternal mortality, due in no small part to the contributions of the local health worker delivering lifesaving care. Millions of people in impoverished countries are alive today because a midwife was by their side when they gave birth, or they were vaccinated as infants by a nurse, or because their families learned from a community health worker to adopt healthy behaviors like breastfeeding, hand washing, birth spacing, and sleeping under a mosquito net.

 

I saw the lifesaving power of local health workers first-hand last month when I visited Save the Children’s programs in Pakistan, a country with some of the worst health indicators on the planet. According to our latest State of the World’s Mothers report, the lifetime risk of maternal death–the probability that a 15 year old woman will eventually die from a maternal cause–is 1 in 110 in Pakistan. Compare this to the United States, where it’s 1 in 2,400 and you see my point. Pakistan’s children aren’t any better than their moms. For every 1,000 children born, 72 of them will die before they reach the pivotal age of five, more than ten times the rate of their American counterparts.

 

But as harrowing as these statistics are, you would never know it from visiting the maternal and child health clinic in Haripur district. It is one of the most impressive facilities I have seen anywhere in the world at the primary care, or village, level. The spotlessly clean unit is staffed by two female doctors and several nursing staff as well as a pharmacist–all health care workers. A warehouse stocked with supplies is available on-site and the facility provides services 24/7 as needed. Women come here for prenatal visits, for family planning counseling and products, and to give birth in a simple, clean and safe facility with excellent care. Three women were in labor the day I visited and when I saw the care they received, I knew I would have felt comfortable having one of my own children there.

 

Unfortunately, not everyone in Pakistan–or the rest of the world for that matter–is as lucky to have a health worker in such close proximity. By some estimates, there is a shortage of at least 1 million frontline health workers in the developing world. And many existing health workers are not trained, equipped and supported to deliver basic lifesaving care close to the community. The consequence of failing to close this gap is grave. Every 3 seconds, a child’s death is prevented thanks to care provided by a frontline health worker. When a health worker is not accessible, the situation is, predictably, far less rosy.

 

The challenge for all of us in the business of saving mothers’ and children’s lives is to ensure that every person, no matter where they live in the world, is within reach of a health worker. We can–and should–start at the UN General Assembly, and continue the drumbeat at the Third Global Forum on Human Resources for Health in Recife, Brazil in November. But, it will take more than a few high-level meetings to make this a reality. That’s why Save the Children, in partnership with the Frontline Health Workers Coalition, created The REAL Awards, a first-of-its-kind, annual global awards platform designed to develop greater respect and appreciation for the lifesaving care that health workers provide in the U.S. and around the world. Anyone can take a few moments to nominate an inspiring health worker and help spread the word about the countless unsung heroes who go above and beyond the call of duty. It will make a REAL difference.

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Spreading the Love of Reading Beyond School Walls

 

Some of my favorite childhood memories involve curling up with a good book and embarking on a world of adventures unfolding on each page. But for 250 million children around the world who cannot read or write, getting lost in a story is a pleasure they may never get to experience.

 

For me, it’s hard to imagine myself flipping through a book and only seeing pages full of symbols, unaware of their meaning or the stories they tell. But for more than a third of all primary-school age children around the world, that’s a reality they face every day. And going to school is not enough to guarantee learning.

 

Too many children around the world are at risk of never learning to read or read well, whether they attend school or not. Children like 10-year-old Sita from Nepal. Sita lives in Budhathok village, a remote farming community, where the nearest market is 90 minutes by car (if you’re lucky to have a car), families are struggling to make ends meet, and books and time for reading are a luxury they often can’t afford.

 

2013-09-07-Sita.JPG
Sita, 10, reads at home with books borrowed from Save the Children’s mobile library in her village in rural Nepal. Save the Children’s new literacy report proves that practice outside the classroom is the key to learning to read, especially among girls, children living in poverty and those with few books or readers at home. Photo by Sanjana Shrestha.

 

Knowing the importance of practicing reading at home, Save the Children brought a mobile library to Sita’s village through our Literacy Boost program, an initiative designed to help improve children’s reading ability by measuring their skill level, training teachers and engaging communities. Now Sita and her younger sister Tej, nine — both eager participants of our program — have become avid readers who look forward to selecting stories from a trunk full of books and taking them home.

 

The two girls and many children like them are living proof of the findings revealed in Save the Children’s new study, Beyond School Walls: A Boost for Readers. In it, Save the Children reviewed results from the first year of our Literacy Boost program in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Nepal, Pakistan and Zimbabwe.

 

The research proves what Save the Children has long believed to be true: practice outside the classroom is the key to learning to read, especially among girls, children living in poverty and those with few books or readers at home.

 

Take a look at a snapshot of our results:

 

• Girls attending Literacy Boost learned 6.5 times more letters of the alphabet in Pakistan, and 2.5 times more letters in Nepal, than female students who were not in the program.
• In Zimbabwe and Pakistan, female students participating in Literacy Boost made nearly twice as much progress in reading words and sentences correctly than girls not enrolled in the program.
• In Ethiopia and Zimbabwe, Literacy Boost students from homes with the fewest books more than doubled their word-reading ability over the course of the year.
• In Pakistan, children living in extreme poverty who participate in Literacy Boost were 91.6 percent more likely to stay in school than their peers who are not in the program.

 

Help spread the love of reading in your home and around the world:

 

• Talk and read to a child every day to introduce new words into their vocabulary.
• Promote reading during everyday activities like shopping, cooking and running errands.
• Tell your elected officials in Washington, D.C. that you support U.S. investments and policies to help kids learn to read around the globe.

 

Interested in learning more? Check out the full report, watch a short video and read more about Literacy Boost.

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Can Pakistan Help its Children Really Succeed?

 

There were shy looks and even a few tears from the children when the group of strangers entered the small room and plopped ourselves on the floor.  It wasn’t surprising. I got the feeling that the children probably didn’t see too many foreign visitors in their town, a remote village in the cornfields of rural Pakistan.  But after a few minutes they got back to business—learning with a joyful and infectious enthusiasm.

 

The teacher took the children through a variety of activities: identifying colors and fruits and vegetables, counting, doing puzzles and other activities to build fine motor skills.  Except for the fact that the counting aids were rocks and polished peach pits, and the space was tiny, we could have been at any preschool anywhere in the world. There was a library corner, a counting corner, a corner where colorful posters taught about the weather and plants and trees – many of the same elements you find in any early childhood classroom. And along the wall, each child had a folder with his or her own work carefully stored.

 

A little girl I met proudly showed me her work, taking each piece out of her folder and pointing proudly at her accomplishments. Her bright dark eyes shone with happiness as she showed me to another area in the room, before she and I did another puzzle, clearly her favorite activity in school.

 

All the colorful elements of the classroom had been produced by the enthusiastic woman who was the teacher – a local woman who provided a room in her house for the school and underwent regular training with Save the Children.  She received a small stipend each month to teach 26 two to four year-olds everything that they need to know to be successful when they went on to primary school.

 

This school was also part of a new model in Pakistan that focuses on children ages 2-8.  It works to ensure that these children get the most they can get from school, with a particular focus on literacy. Termed Literacy Boost, the program focuses on preparing children to learn to read—starting as early as preschool.  But it’s not just a school or the center where Literacy Boost works: parents, Parent/Teacher Committees and whole communities are brought together to practice reading.  Reading camps are run outside of school hours with children producing their own books and reading aloud to parents and friends, and lending libraries of books go home with children to be shared with families.  The idea is to surround kids with opportunities to read and to practice reading, even if it’s simple storytelling with a picture book to follow along.

 

Pakistan has policies at the national and provincial level to make sure every child who has the right to go to school actually has a school to go to and a trained teacher.  But in many rural areas, this universal access is not happening—and while primary school enrollment is 81% for boys, it is only 67% for girls.  Programs like Literacy Boost are targeted for both boys and girls and run by teachers in local rural communities, and early pilots have shown remarkable progress in learning outcomes for children enrolled in the program.

 

It’s no puzzle: through the roll-out of these types of programs, more children like the little girl I met will get a chance at success, a chance to learn to read and write and move Pakistan ahead.

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Linking Hunger and Economic Impact in Pakistan

 

During my visit last week to see Save the Children’s work in Pakistan firsthand, I was able to introduce the launch of an important series of papers by the prestigious journal The Lancet, following up on initial research done in 2008 by Drs Robert Black and Zulfigar Bhutta.   That original series first defined the link between malnutrition and child mortality, describing the impact that hunger and malnutrition has on a child’s ability to survive simple but dangerous diseases like pneumonia and diarrhea.

 

Establishing that link was an important scientific step for highlighting children’s urgent nutrition needs.  This latest research expands further on the health impacts—and, importantly, the economic impacts—of malnutrition, particularly in the first 1000 days of a child’s life, from conception through age 2.

 

As I highlighted in my opening remarks at the official launch event, 45% of worldwide under 5 deaths have malnutrition as an underlying factor.

That statistic is shocking enough. But since more and more child deaths are occurring in the first few years when nutrition plays such a crucial role, that percentage is actually going up around the world.  In Pakistan, 35% of under 5 mortality can be linked to malnutrition and 44% of children are stunted and suffering from chronic malnutrition and hunger—showing that an empty belly early on can decide
the course a child’s life.

Malnutrition is not just a health issue but a long-term issue for a country’s development.  The studies in The Lancet show that, on average, a high rate of malnutrition can cause a loss of 2-3% of GDP, as malnourished and stunted children never 

regain their early loss of brain development.  In Pakistan, physical stunting is literally stunting the development of the country.

 

But thanks to excellent presentations like that made by the co-author Dr. Bhutta, who comes from Islamabad’s Agha Khan University, and the country representative from UNICEF, Dan Rohrmann, the issue of malnutrition is finally getting attention it deserves around the world and in Pakistan.

 

You can read more about the Pakistan launch here.

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Empowered Mothers Take Charge

 

As we sat and spoke with women at the counseling session on a warm day in Pakistan last week, it was clear to me that these women knew what they wanted—for themselves, for their families, and especially for their children. About 20 women, some in bright shalwar kamaz and others in dark burkas, sat under the shade next to a health facility. We discussed a topic important to millions of women the world over: how to build their families and plan for the future by thinking carefully about when to have children.

 

I was frankly surprised at the openness and candor of the women as I asked them sensitive questions about the decisions they make themselves and with their husbands, and the pros and cons of the available options. Pakistan remains a conservative society in many ways, but here the women demonstrated knowledge and understanding about the issue, and recognized how important it is to have the right to make reproductive decisions for their families. A mother’s choices have dramatic impact on the well-being of her children, which is why Save the Children works on the issue of family planning
with women around the world. For any mother, the health of her children—especially newborns—is affected by the age at which a mother first gives birth, adequate time between births, and the number of children she has.

 

This session was part of a comprehensive project Save the Children is implementing with the government in Haripur district, which rehabilitates health units to provide basic health services for pregnant mothers and newborns. The facility we visited earlier in the day is one of the most impressive facilities I have seen anywhere in the world at the primary care, or village, level. The spotlessly clean unit is staffed by two female doctors and several nursing staff as well as a pharmacist. A warehouse stocked with supplies is available on-site and the facility provides services 24/7 as needed. Women come here for prenatal visits, for family planning counseling and products, and to give birth in a simple, clean and safe facility with excellent care. Three women were in labor the day I visited and when I saw the care they received, I knew I would have felt comfortable having one of my own children there. In fact, in this district, almost 30% of mothers choose to give birth in the two primary care units that are part of this program. The other 71 facilities in the area account for about 60% of births and a small percentage of women go to district level hospitals. Clearly, many women in Haripur are choosing the quality and service they now find right in their own communities.

 

The challenge for our team in Pakistan now is how to expand our efforts beyond the two model centers, working with the government to implement the improvements we’ve made here across the entire district. We need to bring this effective model of health services to other poor communities where far too many children are still dying in the first critical month of life. If you would like to learn more about our maternal and newborn health programs, and the local health workers who are making a difference, please click here.

 

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All About Carolyn

 

Carolyn S. Miles is President & Chief Executive Officer for Save the Children, the leading independent organization inspiring breakthroughs in how the world treats children, achieving immediate and lasting change in their lives. The global Save the Children movement currently serves over 125 million children in the US and in 120 countries.

 

Carolyn joined the organization in 1998, was COO from 2004-2011, and became President and CEO in September 2011. During her senior leadership tenure, the organization has more than doubled the number of children it reaches with nutrition, health, education and other programs. Resources have gone from $250m to over $620m, 90% of which go to programs for children. Carolyn has focused on hunger, learning outcomes, and preventing child mortality as her signature issues.

 

Earlier, she worked in the private sector in Hong Kong for American Express and as an entrepreneur. While in Asia, she the confronted deprivation of the region’s children and committed herself to their welfare. Carolyn has served on numerous boards, including Blackbaud, InterAction, USGLC, MFAN and the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, where she received her MBA.

 

Follow us on Twitter and Facebook, and learn more about us at www.savethechildren.org.

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With No Way to Return Home, Syrian Refugees in Iraq Live in Limbo

 

The boy standing in the cement block doorway called to us to take his picture.  We couldn’t resist his bright smile in the bleak and dust of the refugee camp.  We went over and snapped a few shots and he looked at them proudly on our cell phones.  His uncle, who was hovering close by, came to talk with us and soon we were sitting in their one-room cinderblock home, sipping warm Coca-Cola in tiny glasses.  Nawzad’s father, uncle and mother told us how the two families had ended up here in Domiz, a refugee camp near the border with Syria. They picked up and left when there was no longer a village, no house and no jobs to keep them there – no home to stay for.

 

Carolyn talks to Syrian refugees in the Domiz Refugee Camp
Photo Credit: Sebastian Meyer/Getty Images

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