By Corinne Mazzeo, ChildFund Health and Nutrition Advisor
The 5th Birthday and Beyond campaign recognizes the importance of investing in the first five years of life to ensure that children survive and thrive well beyond their fifth birthday. ChildFund is one of more than 100 nonprofit organizations, businesses and philanthropic groups participating in this effort.
The period from conception to 5 years is a critical time in human development. Starting even before a child is born, the brain is developing. In fact, the brain is developing most rapidly — and is most vulnerable — during these first few years of life.
Before a child turns 3, his or her brain is 2.5 times as active as the average adult brain, making more than 700 new synapses (connections between nerve cells that transmit information) each second. This defines a child’s health and developmental trajectory and determines a great deal of his or her future.
This is why investing in programs that target infants and young children — the age group from conception to 5 years — is so important. Children aren’t the only ones who benefit; so do their families and society as a whole. For every dollar invested in early childhood development, there is a return of between $4 and $17, which contributes to a healthier and more peaceful society. Also, according to the World Bank, high-quality services for infants and young children promote gender and socioeconomic equality.
When considering how to design high-quality services for this age group, it is important to recognize that all aspects of a young child’s life are interconnected. Their physical health depends on good nutrition, and their home lives strongly influence their emotional well-being.
Let’s look at nutrition and brain development. If a baby is undernourished, she can’t learn as well as she should, she can’t fully interact with her peers, and she can’t explore. The link between nutrition and physical growth may seem obvious — how often do we tell our kids, “Eat your vegetables so you will be strong” — but nutrition is also essential for brain development. Just as the body needs nourishment to grow and develop, so does the brain.
In recent years, we have learned more about brain development, and it is clear that children need more than just good nutrition to reach their full physical and cognitive potential.
Another critical piece is stimulation, which is necessary to build and strengthen the brain’s architecture. Children’s early experiences with caregivers and their environment have a direct impact on their physical and mental health throughout their lives. Love, affection, interaction and play — along with fulfilled health and nutritional needs — create the attachment that stimulates healthy growth and development.
As a result, leaders around the world — including ChildFund — are increasingly focused on the integration of nutrition and stimulation. A growing body of research suggests that when these two areas of intervention are combined, the whole is greater than the two parts. An infant benefits more than if the interventions are delivered separately. So, what does this look like in real life for a mother and her baby?
One example is that well-baby visits address the interconnected needs of parent and child. Usually, when a mother brings her baby to a clinic for growth monitoring, she receives education and counseling on infant feeding practices (and, ideally, about her own nutrition as well). But this meeting can also be an opportunity to discuss the importance of stimulation to facilitate the baby’s brain development.
For example, a health worker can encourage the mother to actively engage with her baby and talk to him during mealtimes. This simple message builds upon the existing counseling about nutrition and can help reinforce the importance of responsive caregiving. When the mother is empowered to interact with her child this way, the baby’s cognitive development improves — and so do his chances for a brighter future.
By Erin Nicholson, ChildFund Staff Writer
Last year in Belarus, a young man named Vlad passed the Baranovichi University entrance exams. A significant but fairly routine achievement, perhaps, except that Vlad was born with cerebral palsy. And in Belarus, his acceptance into college was nothing short of groundbreaking.
Although cognitively Vlad is very capable — he can quote Dumas with ease and loves classical literature by Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky — the palsy makes his speech unclear, and he has trouble writing or using a keyboard. He almost missed out on going to college altogether; over and over he was prevented from taking entrance exams because students weren’t allowed any kind of assistance during the tests.
His break finally came after the vice rector of Baranovichi University attended a ChildFund-supported training on inclusive education, the USAID-funded project Community Services to Vulnerable Groups. She shared her new knowledge with colleagues, and Vlad was able to take the exam by answering questions verbally. He passed and even had the highest scores among all applicants that year.
In Belarus, more than 26,000 children are considered to have a disability and as many as 120,000 have special educational needs, according to UNICEF. These are alarmingly high numbers, especially for a country with just under 9.5 million people, and have nearly tripled since 1990. A complex mix of problems may be to blame, including the lingering effects of post-Soviet Union economic depression and the trauma of the Chernobyl nuclear plant explosion nearly 30 years ago.
There is not any direct evidence proving that long-term radiation exposure caused an increase in health problems in Belarus, but the economic devastation following the disaster resulted in widespread post-traumatic stress, depression and anxiety throughout the population. Along with chronically high unemployment, the prevalence of smoking, alcoholism and overall poor nutrition contribute to an increase in disease and disabilities.
And in a country with limited economic resources, the infrastructure to support children who need assistance just isn’t there. So what happens to them? Institutionalization and exclusion from family and society is common, and children with disabilities, who are often seen as a burden or even an embarrassment, overwhelm orphanages. Rarely do they receive the physical, cognitive and emotional support they need — much less an education. The communities in Belarus where we work have seen some improvement, with the number of institutionalized children dropping to an average of 6 percent in 2009, down from the national average of 25 percent.
With the right support, life for these children can be better. As of 2012, 4,000 children and family members benefited from the USAID-funded inclusive education project. Vlad is gaining an education, as well as future opportunities and more independence. After college, he hopes to become a lawyer and fight for the rights of people with disabilities.
Recently, Belarus leaders have begun to prioritize inclusive education for children with disabilities, thanks in part to groundbreaking cases like Vlad’s and the work by ChildFund and other groups. More children are in a position to become leaders and have greater hope for the future, just like Vlad hopes to be.
Consider contributing to ChildFund’s Fund a Project for children living with disabilities in Belarus, giving them access to necessary classroom equipment. You can keep the momentum going for Vlad and other young people.
A few months ago, we wrote about Caio, a young man from Brazil who was one of 10 teens chosen to take photos for the World Health Organization’s adolescent health report. He’s a sponsored child and participates in the ChildFund-supported Photovoice program in Brazil. Now the WHO’s report has been released, and you can see Caio’s images (here and here). We encourage you to read the whole report, which quotes teens from around the world about health concerns affecting their communities.
Our CEO and president, Anne Lynam Goddard, spoke about violence against children at the TEDxRVA conference in March, and today the speech is available on video. Anne’s speech, “Freedom From Violence,” focuses on “re-action”: More than just a single reaction to events, but acting again and again to achieve our goals — specifically ending violence against children. She was part of a daylong lineup of speakers in Richmond, Va., all addressing ways that we can individually and as a community make positive changes in the world.
By Verónica Travez, ChildFund Ecuador
Families are crucial to ChildFund’s early childhood development programs, a fact that ChildFund Ecuador recently celebrated in three cities where children and youth are served.
ChildFund invited children, families, community members and local government and school officials in Latacunga, Imbabura and San Miguel de los Bancos to hear how participants in ECD programs have improved and changed their lives.
“I learned many new things,” said Fatima, a mother and a workshop leader. “I learned how to care for my 2-year-old daughter, how to grow healthy food and how to treat her with love and stimulate her appropriately. I learned that to guide our children, we must not mistreat them. Participating in workshops has helped me as a mother, as a wife and as a leader. The knowledge that ChildFund leaves in us is an excellent experience.”
The event was part of ChildFund’s ongoing 75th anniversary celebration worldwide, an opportunity not only to have fun but also to educate community members about the differences children and their families have seen in their lives.
Anthony, a 12-year-old boy from the city of Latacunga, congratulated and thanked ChildFund for its “unconditional support” to his family and especially to his community. Ecuador’s central and local governments have launched a national project to improve child care and child development, and ChildFund is committed to these goals as well, benefiting children and families across the country.
By Saroj Pattnaik, ChildFund India
Kshetrapal, 33, and his family live in the town of Firozabad in India’s Uttar Pradesh region, an area known for its home-based bangle industry. With no other source of income, the family saw no alternative but to do this difficult and often dangerous work.
“I and all my family members were spending more than 10 hours every day in joining, sorting and coloring bangles in a very distressful environment,” Kshetrapal recalls. “I never liked that work, but I had no choice at all.”
Along with his wife, his younger brother and elderly parents, Kshetrapal used to crouch over hot, smoky stoves for all those hours welding the ends of glass bangles and decorating them with glitter — until he enrolled in ChildFund India’s Sustainable Livelihood Development Program.
Started in 2012 as a pilot in Firozabad supported by ChildFund Deutschland (Germany), the program aims to empower people, especially youths engaged in bangle making, to adapt to changing circumstances and take up sustainable business ventures of their own choosing.
“The Sustainable Livelihood Development Program is a great program through which we can help the youth and women become independent and self-sufficient,” says Dr. Werner Kuepper, ChildFund Deutschland’s program director. “With the help of this initiative, the local youth can be free from the bangle work and start up something of their own that is new and has sustainability.”
The program’s organizers first examined the participants’ lives, including their education, their current livelihoods and what kind of work they wished to do. During the second phase, the participants were trained to come up with business plans, develop commercial models and test the new business models in open-market conditions. They attended classes, worked in groups and collected market information, as well as creating prototypes of their products.
“Many a time, I wanted to start some other business that would allow me to get rid of this distressful bangle making,” Kshetrapal says. “But I had no idea of how to start a new business, nor had I money for it.” But a friend of his brother mentioned the livelihood program, and Kshetrapal enrolled.
During the program, the father of four was asked if he had a business in mind. “I shared my thoughts of starting a snack-making business, which I had harbored for several years but didn’t know how to start it,” he says. “During the training sessions, I was informed about the risks and techniques of running a sustainable business. Subsequently, they fine-tuned my business model, and today I am doing the business quite successfully.”
Kshetrapal’s life has been difficult. He lost his first wife to tuberculosis seven years ago, and he had to leave college to work and support his family.
“After my wife’s death, my father also fell ill because of the excessive smoke, which we had to inhale for hours while making bangles every day,” he recalls. “Since then, I was thinking of an alternate livelihood option, and ChildFund has given me that opportunity. I am so very thankful to this organization.”
Today, Kshetrapal has his own business of producing and distributing snacks, which are highly popular in India. Early this year, he and a few other students presented their business models at an event organized in Firozabad, and he received a certificate from the Bonn-Rhein-Sieg University of Applied Sciences, a German university.
“Today, I am very happy that we have shifted from bangle making to snack making — from unhealthy and painful work to relatively safer and less laborious work,” Kshetrapal says. “My younger brother is now going to college. We are able to earn more than what we used to earn in bangle making. I am very happy and want to scale up my business soon.”
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
It’s time to give your toes some air, while raising awareness for children’s health and education. Tomorrow is One Day Without Shoes, an annual event hosted by TOMS that calls attention to the plight of millions of children whose future is at risk because they walk barefoot or have only thin sandals.
Here are just some of the problems these children face:
TOMS Shoes, one of ChildFund’s partners, started One Day Without Shoes in 2007 to encourage people to take off their shoes for a day and experience a bit of what is a daily challenge for millions around the world. We encourage all ChildFund supporters to give this a try — and explain to the people you meet tomorrow why you’re walking through your town, your school or your office without shoes on.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
Seven billion liters of water: That’s a big number, one that’s hard to imagine. But it has made the difference to at least 39,000 people who might have lost their lives to waterborne diseases over the past 10 years.
In 2004, one of ChildFund’s partners, Procter & Gamble, started the nonprofit Children’s Safe Drinking Water program, which provides packets of water-purifying powder to families in the Americas, Asia and Africa who don’t have reliable access to clean water. Recently, CSDW passed the milestone of delivering its 7 billionth liter of clean water, to a family in one of ChildFund’s programs in Brazil. ChildFund has helped distribute the packets. Seven billion liters equal one liter of clean water for every single person in the world, and CSDW estimates that the program has prevented 300 million days of diarrheal disease and saved 39,000 lives.
The program is part of P&G’s Clinton Global Initiative pledge to help save one life an hour by 2020.To celebrate the milestone, P&G has launched a social media drive now through April 22 (Earth Day). Every time you use the hashtag #7billionliters on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram during this week, P&G will donate an additional liter of clean drinking water. They hope to provide 1 million more liters this week!
“This new program is one example of why ChildFund values its partnership with P&G,” says Anne Lynam Goddard, ChildFund’s president and CEO. “Clean water means a disruption of poverty. Thanks to our partnership with P&G, not only are we changing lives in Brazil, but in many countries around the world, from drought-affected areas of Kenya to areas impacted by natural disasters in Indonesia and Mozambique.”
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
Have you heard the saying “When Mama ain’t happy, nobody’s happy”? The words are glib, but the sentiment behind them is right on target. A mother’s health and well-being have a huge impact on the future of her children and her community, both positively and negatively.
Consider a few statistics:
This month, as we approach Mother’s Day, ChildFund is considering the “Mama Effect” — how mothers’ lives influence their children’s lives, both now and in the future. We are working in 30 countries worldwide to provide children and mothers with the tools they need to live healthy, independent and empowered lives. Find out how you can give a mother a helping hand. Your gesture can make a difference to a whole family, a community and even the world.
By ChildFund Mozambique Staff
One in a series this week for World Health Day (April 7)
Olga Jeje has worked in Gondola as a doctor since 2009, and she’s experienced firsthand the partnership between ChildFund and Mozambique’s health department, a collaboration that helps provide basic health services for children and families.
“At the health services department, we work in close coordination with ChildFund, which supports vaccination campaigns against polio and measles, and also in reaching children with supplements of vitamin A,” Olga notes.
ChildFund has supported doctors and other medical personnel with transportation and by facilitating their moves from one clinic to another. As a result, about 8,000 children have benefited in Gondola.
Another result of the partnership between ChildFund and the District Office of Health Gondola has been the distribution of insecticide-treated mosquito nets purchased by ChildFund supporters, benefiting more than 100 children who now have a better chance of avoiding malaria.
Talking to community members, many say that ChildFund’s contribution to local health services has meant a lot.
“The presence of community health activists in the area, trained by ChildFund through the Community Caring for Children Programme, has been a great opportunity for us, because we now understand the benefits of taking our children to the health centers at the first signs of sickness,” says Julio Domingos, a community leader in Mazicuera. “We now know the importance of managing waste to avoid diseases, such as diarrhea, and we now know how important is to use a mosquito net in order to prevent malaria. We are now aware of the methods of how to prevent HIV and AIDS. We also see community activists paying visits to people living with HIV and AIDS, and we know that this gesture is very important for all of us.”