early childhood development

Uphill Climb to Provide Health Care to Rural Indian Families

By Saroj Pattnaik, ChildFund India

One in a series this week for World Health Day (April 7) 

Saraswathi

Saraswathi and her baby at a parenting workshop in southern India.

On a hot afternoon in southern India, the atmosphere inside the small community center  was unbearably sultry. But for a group of women, the heat was not terribly bothersome, as they were in the middle of an informative and eye-opening session on child care and parenting skills. 

Led by Beula Ruth of the Kalaiselvi Karunalaya Social Welfare Society, one of ChildFund’s local partner organizations in the state of Tamil Nadu, the workshop was aimed at educating pregnant and lactating mothers about prenatal and postnatal care. 

“I had no idea about exclusive breastfeeding. I didn’t know that a child needs only breast milk for six long months,” says Saraswathi, a first-time mother of a 5-month-old baby. “This is something that I am hearing for the very first time.” 

Beula agrees and adds, “Every time, we come across some women who don’t have the basic knowledge on child care. This is why we continuously conduct such awareness sessions in our project area.” 

There has been substantial improvement to government health services in India, but a majority of people living in rural areas still don’t have access to health care.  And that’s where ChildFund comes into the picture, by working with the government and local partners to bring public health services to underserved communities.  

Here are some of the stark facts about the lives of rural Indians:

  • 66 percent of the rural population in India lacks access to preventive medicines
  • 31 percent of the rural population has to travel more than  18 miles for medical treatment
  • 10 percent of all babies die before their first birthday
  • 56 of every 1,000 Indian children will die before they turn 5
  • Only 35 percent of all Indians have access to improved sanitation facilities
  • Just 3.9 percent of India’s 2011 GDP was spent on public health

(Sources:  National Rural Health Mission, Government of India; WHO; Indiafacts.in) 

health camp in India

A doctor sees patients during a health camp organized by Pride India in the district of Raigad.

As part of our Early Childhood Development program, ChildFund and its partners in India conduct training sessions for mothers, discussing good nutrition (both for themselves during pregnancy and for their children under the age of 5), developmental benchmarks and preventive health care, among other issues.  

Last year, there were more than 9,000 training sessions across India, with more than 180,000 parents and other caregivers participating. As a result, more than 86 percent of births  occurred in hospitals or other health institutions, and more than 68,000 children have been fully immunized. 

“We make sure that all the communities have the access to government health facilities and if they don’t we bring those services to their doorsteps,” Beula says. “Our ECD workers and volunteers continuously monitor the health of children, pregnant women and new mothers and refer them to nearby hospitals whenever necessary.”   

Like Beula, Anita Ghalekar in Chochinde Kond — a remote village in Maharashtra State’s Raigad district — is a busy woman. Even after her retirement from ChildFund’s local partner Pride India, she is committed to maintaining access to health services for local families.     

health care in home

Anita Ghalekar monitors a boy’s growth in his home in the Raigad district.

Besides overseeing ChildFund’s home-based ECD intervention activities in her region, Anita leads 15 health camps, which provide workshops and care in individual villages. 

“We make sure that all the villages in and around our program area are covered under our programs designed to ensure basic health care of the people, especially children, new mothers and adolescent girls,” says Virendra Kulkarni, manager of Pride India. 

“And we implement these programs in such a way that the communities take ownership of them,” he adds. “For example, when we conduct health camps, villagers provide us accommodation, beds and other logistic support required. And this has helped us reach out to a wider population and implement our program successfully.”  

Dr. Vijay Kumar Singh, who led a health camp in Uttar Pradesh recently, says, “ChildFund is doing a great work. They are reaching out to people in those places where the government health service has not yet reached.”

Ester: Passing to Others What She Is Learning

By Sagita Adesywi, ChildFund Indonesia

As we conclude our 75th anniversary blog series, we are focusing on success stories of youth and alumni from ChildFund’s programs in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Europe. Today we meet Ester, a tutor at a ChildFund-supported Early Childhood Development center in Dula Luri, East Sumba, Indonesia.

Ester of Indonesia

Ester, an ECD tutor from Indonesia.

I was a sponsored child since the third grade, and ever since, my life has been with ChildFund. When I graduated from high school in 2001, the director of ChildFund’s local partner organization here asked me if I was interested in teaching young children. At first, I was confused, as I had no experience in teaching, but I was happy that I was asked and felt that it was a calling to contribute to my hometown, so I said yes! I was trained for three weeks on early childhood development (ECD) curriculum, daily activity planning, teaching and learning themes and children’s personalities.

I practiced talking in front of the mirror at home what I had learned in the trainings. Sometimes, I gathered children in my neighborhood to practice teaching them. Many of them laughed at me.

After the trainings, we went around in Dulaluri, from house to house, assessing how many young children were in the area. In the beginning, we had about 60 children. Since we didn’t have a permanent building yet, we did the activities moving from one person’s house to another’s every couple of weeks. At that time, not many people understood the importance of early childhood development. So, sometimes, children just didn’t come. We would then go visiting their house to talk with their parents.

In just three years, ChildFund built us a permanent building and we didn’t have to move around anymore. I think that sometimes children do not get their parents’ full attention at home. While in the ECD center, they can be really close with us, learning and playing together. Children also bring home what they have learned.

The training I just had is about early childhood development and disaster risk reduction. When I thought about disasters, I only thought about earthquakes, wind storms and heavy rains. Through the training, I learned about the vulnerabilities and risks around us, such as how our broken floor and roof could be really dangerous for our children in the ECD center. If the broken roof falls apart, it would be a disaster! In heavy rains, the center’s gutters would be flooded. We need to make sure our children are not playing near the gutters, since they love to play in the rain outside.

Ester with children

Ester with children from her ECD center.

This training benefits us and the children. We learn how to teach children about hazards, such as playing with a knife or fire could hurt them. Children learn how to save themselves too when disasters occur and learn how to explain who they are if they are lost or separated from their families. They can say their names, the names of their parents and where they live. I never thought these were important things, but through the training, I understand how this can help the children get back to their families.

Some of the children come from far away to the center, crossing the main road with their parents or older siblings. We are worried for them. I want the parents to also learn about the hazards of the main roads.

 If we didn’t have the ECD center, our children would fall behind other children who receive these services. When I was a kid, I didn’t go to an ECD center, as there wasn’t one back then. I grew up shy. If I saw a stranger, I would run away. Children in our ECD center are more confident. They aren’t that shy when we have visitors in our center.

ChildFund has changed my life. I only wanted to be a good person and pay forward to as many people as possible what I have gained from ChildFund.

In Kenya, a Strong Resolve to Serve Children

By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

As part of our 75th anniversary blog series, we are talking with staff members about how they’ve seen ChildFund make a difference for children and what they hope to see our organization achieve in the future. Today, John Ngugi, a grants coordinator from our Kenya office, shares his perspectives.

75th ChildFund logoJohn has been with ChildFund for eight years, formerly working in field operations and now as a grants coordinator. One of his top concerns for Kenyan children is access to a quality education. “They don’t have good schools,” John says. “The teachers are not well-trained,” and better schools are too expensive for children living in poverty to attend. 

He added that Early Childhood Development programs, a hallmark of ChildFund’s current work, are making a difference in Kenya by emphasizing good nutrition and helping parents attain greater knowledge and skills, which consequently help children develop into healthy adults. In John’s current role, he also emphasizes ChildFund’s commitment to being a good steward of donors’ funds and carrying out their wishes.

John Ngugi of ChildFund Kenya

John Ngugi

In five years, John adds, “we’ll have stronger ECD programs, and we’ll have more donor participation in programs.”

When John and I talked, it was just a short time after the deadly terrorist attack at the WestGate mall in Nairobi, which is not far from ChildFund’s national office in Kenya. Although the attack caused the closing of our office temporarily, John emphasized that he and the other staff members there are committed to ChildFund’s work.

“Our resolve is to continue,” he says. “You have to be courageous in development.”

A Focus on the Young at Indonesia’s 75th Celebration

Reporting by ChildFund Indonesia staff; photos by Sagita Adeswyi

75th ChildFund logoOur national office in Indonesia recently celebrated ChildFund’s 75th anniversary with a party whose VIP guests were children aged 4 and 5, who benefit from our Early Childhood Development programs. We wanted to share some photos from the celebration and also let you hear from Indonesians who have received support from ChildFund.

“I see ChildFund has brought many changes to our village. Many people, young and old, are now aware and understand about children’s rights here.” – Goti, of Kalikidang, Banyumas

Indonesian children

Children attend ChildFund’s 75th anniversary party in Indonesia.

“I hope ChildFund will expand its working areas and bring many more programs for us here, especially for children on the villages.” – Idalia, of Kupang

 

Indonesian dance

Children perform a traditional dance at the celebration.

“ChildFund has just been here in Mulyodadi for four years, but the programs have really helped the poor children.” – Kuswanto, of Mulyodadi, Bantul

handwashing

Washing hands has become a habit for the children in this community.

“Through the programs supported by ChildFund, pregnant mothers and mothers with young children know better how to take care of their health and their children.” – Evi, of Wonorejo

dental checkups

Children receive dental checkups by college students at the celebration.

 

“The programs encourage community participation, thus creating ownership in the community.” – Liest Pramono, of Marga Sejahtera, Jakarta

ChildFund Indonesia staff

ChildFund Indonesia’s staff members enjoy a moment of fun while preparing for the celebration.

“I am really happy I could have better access to health services through the ChildFund-supported health post in my neighborhood. I hope ChildFund continues its program for young children here.” – Marselina, a mother of four in Kupang

Happy and Hopeful in Rural Timor-Leste

By Jose Felix and Natasha Cleary, ChildFund Timor-Leste

“I like to come to the center because I want to play and learn. Mostly I like to play,” 5-year-old Roni says of the early childhood development (ECD) center he’s attended for two years in rural Timor-Leste.

Timor-Leste boy

Roni at his ECD center in Timor-Leste.

At Roni’s age, access to appropriate play, stimulation and social interaction is crucial to his lifelong development and success. At home, his favorite activity is playing with his neighbor. He also helps his mother and father with some simple chores. However, the government of Timor-Leste reports that only one in 10 children have access to pre-primary educational services that help ensure they develop socially, mentally and physically.

To address that challenge, ChildFund helped establish the Chauluturo ECD Center in the rural Lautem District, which Roni attends. For seven years, the center has provided a safe and supportive environment,as well as trained teachers and high-quality learning resources. “In the school, I feel good because I have a lot of friends,” says Roni, who wants to be a soldier when he is older.

Chauluturo is a community of about 1,200 people who survive mainly by subsistence farming. It sits about 143 miles from Timor-Leste’s capital, Dili, but the village is a five-hour journey by car from Dili because of poor roads and rugged terrain. Due to its isolation, Chauluturo hasn’t always had the resources to support an ECD center.

Timor-Leste ECD

Roni (center) and his friends at the ECD center.

ChildFund currently supports 76 ECD centers throughout the country, putting more than 3,300 children under the age of 5 on the pathway to reaching their full potential. The ECD program, which began in Timor-Leste in 2006, focuses on building awareness of children’s developmental needs among parents and center coordinators. Many parents from Chauluturo have received training to help them better understand their roles and responsibilities and how they can contribute to a child-friendly learning environment.

“I know this project will help the community, because before, the children didn’t have a center, and they just stayed home,” says the volunteer ECD coordinator, Sonya da Silva Ximenes, who receives ongoing training through ChildFund. “I am happy and hopeful about the current project. I learn a lot from the trainer, and I feel that the project is very good quality.”

‘Only Love Can Exceed the Benefits of Breastfeeding’

 By Patricia Toquica, Americas Region Communications Manager

It’s World Breastfeeding Week, and ChildFund joins the World Health Organization and other groups in avidly supporting breastfeeding as a key component of early childhood development programs.

Ecuadorean mother and child

Mothers in Ecuador participate in peer-counseling sessions about healthy practices, including breastfeeding for the first six months of their children’s lives.

It’s a cold morning in Ecuador’s mountainous Tungurahua region, where a group of indigenous mothers and, often, fathers meets weekly in the Santa Rosa village community center. This time they’ve come to talk about an important topic for the healthy development of their infants: breastfeeding.

The ChildFund-trained guide mother shares with the group, which includes about 15 mothers, proven best practices and other information on how breastfeeding can make a world of difference for their babies.

breastfeeding information

This card reads, “Only love exceeds the benefits of breast milk.”

Mothers then break into groups to discuss and reflect on key messages the guide mother shared, including “breast milk is natural and is the best for your baby; there’s no other substitute,” and “only love can exceed the benefits of breast milk.” Mothers also discuss commonly held beliefs and traditions in their village that can become obstacles to exclusive breastfeeding in the child’s first six months, as recommended. They talk about the difficulties they face when feeding their babies (the demands of work and managing household chores as well as the needs of other family members) and share ideas for overcoming those challenges.

“During the workshops and sessions we have around breastfeeding, the feedback that we get from mothers is that children are improving, and that is what we want to hear,” says Rosario, the guide mother and facilitator. Sometimes the local nurse also comes to these meetings to provide additional support and information for the parents.

Just as it is a focus in this small Ecuadorean community, breastfeeding is a key component of ChildFund’s Early Childhood Development programs targeting children from birth to 5 years old in the 30 countries where we work around the world.

Ecuadorean mothers

Mothers in Ecuador work in support groups to encourage and educate others on the importance of breastfeeding.

“A community support network for mothers is essential,” says Magda Palacio, ChildFund’s Early Childhood Development adviser in the Americas. “The peer counseling in ChildFund is provided by guide mothers and is a cost-effective and highly productive way to reach a larger number of mothers more frequently, which directly reflects in the survival and health of children,” she says.

Peer counseling is the focus of this year’s World Breastfeeding Week, promoted by the World Health Organization under the theme: “Breastfeeding Support: Close to Mothers.” For ChildFund and other groups, this week marks another important occasion to highlight the importance of supporting mothers in their efforts to provide their infants with a healthy start in life.

During their peer-counseling sessions, the mothers in Santa Rosa, Ecuador, came up with their own list of breastfeeding benefits:

  • Protects babies from diseases.
  • Helps in their mental development.
  • It’s natural and is free.
  • It is always available.

These benefits are universal for all mothers and their infants. Please help us share this vital information during World Breastfeeding Week.

Simple Learning Tools Teach Lifelong Lessons

 By Joanne Hashim, ChildFund Indonesia

Many parents and teachers use things they have handy to teach lessons to children. Maybe you’ve glued macaroni onto paper or made figurines out of bread dough. Perhaps you’ve pressed flowers in a book. In eastern Indonesia, the same kind of thing happens every day.

teaching tool

Fruit made from newspaper and paint.

At an early childhood development (ECD) center in Sumba, Indonesia, which is supported by ChildFund, tutor Kristina made model fruit out of old newspapers and paint, resources she had nearby, so she could show her pupils, children ages 5 and under, what fruits look like.

“None of these things are difficult to make,” she says. “They just take time, but you see around here, we have no choice. We cannot just talk all the time in class. Children need to be stimulated in their learning, and we need teaching aids that children are interested in and can relate to, so that they have a better understanding of the topic.”

The ECD center in Sumba focuses plenty of attention on creating educational tools with locally available resources.

teacher and children

Gadriana, head of the ECD center, with pupils.

“A popular game is snakes and ladders made from cardboard and old books,” says Gadriana, head of the center. “We also use big dice to teach numbers. This one is made from cardboard. The only cost is in the paint and plastic to protect them.” Every day, children are allowed to choose the game they want to play and with whom they wish to play. As many as 10 children will line up to play “throw,” which has game pieces made out of used newspaper and spare wood.

congkak

Children learn counting through the game of congkak.

“Children love this game,” says Gadriana. “It helps them judge distance and count. Children also love to play congkak, which is a traditional game of counting with the aim of filling the opponent’s pots. The one that we use is made from egg cartons and seeds.” 

As children develop and get older, they need different educational resources.

“Each morning, before some of older children are allowed to play outside, they have to do two things,” says Margaretha, a tutor. “The first is to place pictures of themselves on sticks on the class attendance poster to indicate their attendance at school. The second is to pick up a folded paper from inside a small rattan holder. On each sheet is written a number, or a simple calculation. Each child has to either work out the calculation or sound out the answer before they go and play outside. For this activity, different colored seeds and sticks are used. Children learn to count by touching the objects as they count.

“Having this activity before school enables the teacher to engage and develop a bond with each child while providing direct one-on-one support to the child,” Margaretha notes. “It also provides the opportunity for children to work alone, with the teacher or in a group, as learning is seen as a communal activity. The other thing this activity does is provide structure and sense of routine to the day. With more than 30 children in each class, we have to manage children from the time they arrive.”

Tutor Kristina

Kristina stands by a wall of her pupils’ artwork.

Children also are surrounded by numbers and shapes in the form of pictures. “These learning resources are cheap and easy to make, so teachers and children feel more comfortable about using these resources,” Kristina says, and they are kept where everyone has access to them. The children have to ask permission, but it is usually given. “With these resources, they get to play with a range of different educational toys, and we know that they are learning while enjoying being a child. I wish I had these when I was a child,” she notes.

To keep everyone engaged in the learning process, we are always “developing new toys and learning resources. We sometimes have help from parents, but mostly it is the tutors who are working together,” Gadriana says. “Currently, we are looking at developing math resources for older children that encourage them to work more by themselves over a period of time. We want them to extend their concentration more and develop their self-esteem. We want children to see that math can be fun.”

Mamitas Making a Difference in Ecuador

By Kate Nare, ChildFund Marketing Specialist

“Please, don’t forget about us. Please, go back and tell the world about us here in Carchi.”

As I reflect on my recent trip to Ecuador with ChildFund, these words cycle in my mind. Spoken through tears with conviction and emotion, each mother we met pleaded with us to share their stories with the rest of the world. So, here goes.

The sun was barely rising on a Tuesday morning when our group set out in a bus from Ecuador’s capital, Quito, to visit communities in Carchi. This region of Ecuador borders Columbia, and ChildFund has been helping communities here since 1984.

We had been preparing for this trip for months, knowing that we would meet the mothers and children whose lives are being transformed through ChildFund’s Early Childhood Development program (ECD), which strives to holistically help children ages 0-5 to ensure they reach their full potential.

House in remote area of Ecuador

ChildFund works with vulnerable families in communities that are often far from cities or government assistance.

Surrounding us throughout our drive were crisp blue skies and undulating bright green mountains, speckled with colorful houses. When we think of poverty it’s easy to envision urban slums fraught with trash heaps and filthy alleyways. The view here was much different. It’s easy to think, “It’s beautiful! I could live here!” But I quickly learned that the beauty of the land masks the underlying poverty, discrimination, lack of opportunities and exclusion that the people who have lived here for centuries continue to face.

This fact became apparent as soon as we met Monica.

After four hours of jostling along bumpy dirt roads, steadily climbing up steep mountain sides, we came to a sudden halt. We were instructed by Mauricio, our guide and a ChildFund Ecuador staff member, that we would be visiting a home in the community.

Boy and mother outside their house

Monica and her son, Daniel, greet us in front of their home in Carchi, Ecuador.

We walked down a dirt path and were greeted by Monica and her 4-year-old son, Daniel. Fields of corn and wild flowers skirted her property. A scruffy stray dog rubbed against my leg, eager for a pet. Monica led us to her home, which had a corrugated tin roof, cinderblock walls and three rooms. We followed her into the living room and took seats in a semi-circle, eager to hear her story.

Monica is 41 and has four children, ages 18, 11, 6 and 4. She told us how her husband abandoned her and left her to care for the children on her own. Every day she works in the fields to make a living for her family and her father, whom she takes care of as well. As Monica shared these details, her voice broke and she began to cry. She said there were times in the past when she would come home from a long day, stressed and tired, and she would take this out on her children by beating them. The youngest, Daniel, whom she holds affectionately in her lap as she talks, became fearful and withdrawn at that time.

boy with head on his mom's shoulder

Daniel and his mother are now very close.

Recognizing that she needed support, Monica signed up when she heard that ChildFund, in partnership with a local partner, was training mothers in the ECD program. Soon Monica was attending meetings and learning the full benefits of ECD: a caring and loving household, proper nutrition and health care and stimulation and learning opportunities for young children. She came to realize how the abuse she inflicted on her children was harmful to their healthy development. After going through a 10-month training program, Monica became a certified trainer, known as a “Mamita.”

Hugging Daniel even tighter, Monica said she wants to use her experience to teach and support other mothers in the community so their children will be able to grow up healthy and empowered. In these excluded communities where ChildFund works, 18 percent of women are married by the age of 15. Forty-percent of women are married by 18 years old.

She shared how she wants to pursue her dream of finishing high school and becoming a teacher. And she smiled as she shared that Daniel is now playful, cheerful and likes to go to school. “All is worthwhile for the happiness and welfare of my children,” she said.

A little girl poses with ChildFund staff

Kate with a child in the ECD program.

We met many other Mamitas during our trip. Strong, empowered and dignified, they are each creating a ripple effect in their communities as they train other mothers to love and care for their children. Yes, they still face daily struggles. But their efforts on behalf of their children will bring more opportunities for

Four children smiling

Children giggle during recess at a local ECD center.

the community as a whole as their children grow up healthy, educated, and full of ideas to improve their lives. Monica and the 1,200 other Mamitas in Carchi are living proof of this transformation.

I now have a picture of Monica on my desk to remind me of her story, and why we do what we do here at ChildFund. I will never forget the Mamitas I met in Ecuador who are committed to a better future for their children.

A Glimpse Into the Life of a Guatemalan Guide Mother

By Rosa Figueroa, ChildFund Guatemala

As we prepare to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, we’re spotlighting some of the amazing girls and women we’ve encountered in ChildFund-supported communities. We honor their struggles and cheer their successes.

Julia, a mother of four with a third-grade education, cooks with firewood and lives in a three-room home. Her family subsides on her husband’s $6-a-day salary as a farmer. Despite these challenges, Julia has become a community leader through ChildFund Guatemala’s Play With Me project.

The program focuses on early childhood development and involving parents more fully in the care of their children.

teacher in classroom with students

Julia helps children develop motor and cognitive skills.

“My daughter Cristel is a very active and proactive child in school,” says Julia, who lives in the region of Baja Verapaz. “I practiced early stimulation techniques. When she started going to school, it was easy for her because she is smart; her teacher congratulated me. My daughter is successful because I am a guide mother. Four years ago, I started participating in the ChildFund project. Every day, I wake up early to get my chores done at home and wait for children and their mothers here in my house. I like it because my children help me.”

young children in classroom

A classroom of happy children.

As one of 10 local guide mothers, Julia teaches parents games, exercises and songs to practice with their children that will help them develop socially, physically and mentally. Other sessions focus on prenatal care, breastfeeding and preventing illness. In 2012, parents of more than 2,700 children were involved in the program, which also focuses on children’s rights.

“This project changed my life, because now I can serve my community more, and also because this is a good example for our children,” Julia says. “When they begin going to school, they look more interested. Here in the community, mothers participate because they know that this is a ChildFund project. They like it so much.”

Children Bloom in Central Java, Indonesia

Only about 1 in 5 children in Indonesia have access to a pre-primary education program. In the remote highlands of Central Java, ChildFund is working hand in hand with communities to refurbish Early Childhood Development centers and also train teachers and parents to nourish children in their critical early years of development.

The Mama Effect

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