by Jose Felix, ChildFund Timor-Leste
“My goal is to become a leader of this nation,” says Benditu, 13, from Aileu, Timor-Leste. As an avid student in Year 6 at primary school, Benditu is lucky. His parents understand the importance of education – not only to Benditu’s future but also for the future of Timor-Leste. “My dad and mum want me to go to school. If I do not go to school, then they are angry with me,” says Benditu. “They also buy shoes, school books and clothes that I need for school.”
Raising awareness of the importance of education, particularly among parents, is a major challenge that ChildFund is helping address in Timor-Leste. Without personal experiences of the transformative power of education – in Aileu district, more than 50 percent of people have no formal education – many parents do not understand the opportunities that schooling can bring to their children. Instead of attending class, many children work alongside their parents to farm, fetch water and collect wood. Improving education in Timor-Leste must start with engaging parents to support their children’s education.
As a member of the Timor-Leste Coalition for Education, ChildFund Timor-Leste recently participated in Global Action Week. Awareness-raising events were held in Aileu and Ermera districts, drawing hundreds of students, teachers, parents and representatives from government, NGOs, the U.S. embassy and UNICEF. Speeches, marches and music were followed with question-and-answer sessions between local communities and education specialists.
The focus of this year’s Global Action Week was early childhood development (ECD). ChildFund Timor-Leste is currently supporting 80 ECD centers, some of which are home-based, across the country. A key focus of ChildFund Timor-Leste’s ECD program is to build the capacity of Parents and Teachers Associations so they can advocate and take pride in their community ECD centers. Alongside engaged parents and teachers, centers supported by ChildFund Timor-Leste are currently preparing more than 3,000 children for a successful future at school.
Events like Global Action Week are vital in influencing community perceptions of the importance of education. As 12-year-old Derina, a school student from Aileu, said, “We are all here at this event so that parents can influence us so that we all go to school. Parents should send their children to school because their children will be the future of this country.”
Reporting by ChildFund Bolivia
Snapshot of a struggling family in Bolivia: The father works on faraway farms and returns home only occasionally. The mother sells vegetables in the local market during the morning and part of the afternoon, leaving her children in the care of the eldest, who is 10. The youngest, Irene, is 5 months.
In 2006, the government of Bolivia instituted a new program, called Zero Malnutrition, with the goal of eradicating malnutrition in children under age 5. Knowing of ChildFund’s vast experience in child development, the Bolivian Ministry of Health and Sports invited ChildFund to implement a child development component through Zero Malnutrition in rural Oruro, the region where Irene’s family lives.
ChildFund’s contribution was to train “guide mothers,” volunteers who monitor and support the development of the children in their communities. ChildFund taught the guide mothers how to use our child development scale to screen children and identify specific developmental needs. They also received training in ways to work with parents to help them support their children’s development.
Maria was one of those guide mothers. She visited Irene.
“When I met Irene, I understood my mission,” she says.
On that first evaluation, Maria found that Irene had diarrhea, an acute respiratory infection, acute malnutrition, anemia and visible signs of emaciation, and that she was under both height and weight for her age.
Trained to recognize danger signs, Maria reported the case to the local health center, and staff from there soon performed a field visit. They provided Irene’s mother with medicine as well as an orientation on how to treat Irene.
Maria also evaluated Irene’s development and found she was not progressing in all areas as she should.
Within a year, after continued visits from Maria and with appropriate care, Irene was a healthy 18-month-old. She was still small for her age, but her weight was appropriate for her size. She also had caught up with her peers in three of five developmental areas.
Maria says the work is hard, but when she sees families in her community who have so little, she’s inspired to give her best efforts to teaching them what she’s learned about how to keep children on track and healthy.
Guest post by Sara Hommel
Sara Hommel prepared this blog last week as she concluded her tenure as associate director of the Wolfensohn Center for Development at The Brookings Institution, where she led the center’s work on early child development.
The first five years of life set the physical and mental pathways of the child, leading to positive or negative development for a lifetime. For children to positively develop in the early years, they must receive quality nutrition, healthcare, protection and cognitive stimulation. Children living in poverty often lack access to quality services to meet those basic needs. Organizations such as ChildFund seek to fill the gap for impoverished children, providing them with quality early care and education, nutrition and access to healthcare.
Early Child Development (ECD) is the foundation of human development, setting the basis for later success in education and adult employment. Everything that is necessary for children to physically and mentally develop — to be able to start school and perform well in school (and stay in school longer) — falls under the ECD umbrella. The final outcome of effective ECD, in terms of long-term human development, is educational attainment that allows for positive transition into the workforce, and the ability to function in the workforce to financially support oneself and one’s family. In this regard, the end result of effective ECD is the prevention of, or the ending of, poverty.
The human development cycle, with a foundation in early childhood, can be illustrated with a simple equation:
By providing impoverished children with the tools necessary for positive physical and mental development, early childhood programs help children get the right start in life, preparing them to start school with the ability to perform well and stay in school longer. Children who participate in ECD programs do better in school, attain higher levels of education, are less likely to become involved in crime and are more likely to be employed as adults.
Quality services in early childhood that are followed by quality education and health opportunities in the primary and secondary school years, prepare children for a lifetime of positive development and help stop the intergenerational transmission of poverty.