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 Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
Here at ChildFund, we think a lot about children who are five and younger. A child’s fifth birthday is an important milestone because the most significant development — physical, social and cognitive — occurs in the first five years of life. This is when language, motor coordination, problem solving and self-control become more defined. But approximately 200 million children under the age of five are not receiving the proper nutrition, stimulation, and education that they need to reach their full potential.
That’s why ChildFund is taking part in 5th Birthday and Beyond, a campaign culminating with an event on Capitol Hill on June 25 that focuses on the health of children around the world. More than 100 nongovernmental organizations (including ChildFund), businesses, philanthropic groups and others have formed a coalition to create awareness of worldwide improvements in children’s health around the world and what remains to be done.
As ChildFund President and CEO Anne Lynam Goddard notes, “My great hope for the 5th Birthday and Beyond campaign is that it will inspire many more of us to invest in providing children living in poverty with the support they need — not just to survive, but also to dream, achieve and contribute.”
Some of the news is excellent: In 2014, 6 million fewer children will die before their fifth birthday than 25 years ago. Polio is largely eradicated, and in the past 12 years, fewer children have died from pneumonia, diarrhea, measles, malaria, and AIDS. Credit goes to many groups in the U.S. and around the globe, including U.S. foreign assistance programs, UNICEF, the World Health Organization and numerous NGOs like ChildFund.
Nonetheless, there are still many battles to fight, as 6.6 million children under five are expected to die this year, primarily from preventable diseases. Public awareness is the first step in overcoming these serious obstacles to better health among the youngest people in developing countries.
We’ll have more information as 5th Birthday and Beyond approaches, but for now, we ask you to go into your photo albums and find a picture of yourself when you were around five years old. Then, when June 23 (the launch of the social media campaign) comes, post your photo as your avatar on social media and send out a message about the importance of child survival and health to share with your community.
Here are some numbers that may help you, and don’t forget to tag your message with #5thbday. Thank you for your help!
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.
Interview by Sagita Adesywi, ChildFund Indonesia
Yeyen, a 27-year-old mother of two who lives in Kapuk, West Jakarta, Indonesia, describes the effect an Early Childhood Development (ECD) center supported by ChildFund and Fronterra, a global dairy company based in New Zealand, has had on her family’s life.
“When my first son, Habibie, was only 3 years old, I forced him to read and write. I really wanted him to be ready to go to school. I wanted him to write the letters perfectly, but he wrote them like random drawings. He often cried when I asked him to write properly. It was really difficult. It frustrated me that sometimes I lost my patience and raised my voice, saying that he was a naughty boy.
“It was not that I was being mean to my own child, it was just that I really wanted him to be able to read and write so he could be the smart one in school. I really wasn’t aware that what I was doing to my son is not a good age-appropriate practice. I just didn’t know any better. ’Thankfully, not so long after, when we walked by an ECD center in our neighborhood, we saw children learning and playing together. Seeing that, Habibie told me he wanted to play and learn there too. I was surprised because I didn’t even ask him to! I was so happy that I took him to Mentari ECD center right away.
“In less than a year, my son could sing and pray very well, along with the other children at the Mentari Ceria ECD center. I had taught him how to pray at home before, but somehow he didn’t do that well. It seems the ECD tutors know better approaches for young children. The tutors are so nice and patient, while I used to get easily angry with Habibie. I see how the ECD tutors communicate using a nurturing tone of voice with the children. Soon enough, I also learned for myself how to communicate better with my son.
“It has changed me and surely has changed Habibie! Habibie now also likes to teach his younger sister, Alisa, how to sing and pray,” Yeyen says. Alisa also goes to the center, and she doesn’t receive pressure to learn how to read and write early, as Habibie did.
“Many parents yell when disciplining their child,” notes Eliana, a tutor at Mentari Ceria. “Yelling is not a form of discipline, but rather a punishment. We have learned so much from the training we had from ChildFund on early childhood development. Discipline is teaching through communication in a calm and gentle way. Children who are yelled at regularly will eventually learn to ignore their parents’ yelling.”
Tutors at the center have been provided with training in early childhood development, which they pass on to parents and caregivers, aiming to create a safe and caring environment with healthy interaction between adult and child.
“I don’t yell at my son anymore or at my daughter,” Yeyen says. “I pay attention to what I say and how I say it to my children. Having fun and interactive activities at the ECD center with other children and the changes in interaction at home have really helped boost my son’s self-esteem. I want my children to play and learn freely.”
By Saroj Pattnaik, ChildFund India
One in a series this week for World Health Day (April 7)
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:
(Sources: National Rural Health Mission, Government of India; WHO; Indiafacts.in)
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
John 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.
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.”
Reporting by ChildFund Indonesia staff; photos by Sagita Adeswyi
Our 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
“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
“ChildFund has just been here in Mulyodadi for four years, but the programs have really helped the poor children.” – Kuswanto, of Mulyodadi, Bantul
“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
“The programs encourage community participation, thus creating ownership in the community.” – Liest Pramono, of Marga Sejahtera, Jakarta
“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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
“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:
These benefits are universal for all mothers and their infants. Please help us share this vital information during World Breastfeeding Week.