Children wearing masks at an Early Childhood Development center supported by ChildFund in western India. Photos by Saroj Pattnaik. 

Today is the International Day of Happiness. Have a wonderful and happy day! 

peacecorps:

Peace Corps Volunteers Christelle Domercant and Ursula Wright recently practiced our Second Goal by sharing the story of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with preschool students who are learning English in Costa Rica!

Financial and Social Literacy Programs for Belarusian Children

Last week, ChildFund Belarus, with the support of the Aflatoun International Secretariat, hosted a roundtable discussion on the financial and social education needs of children in the Republic of Belarus, where ChildFund has worked since 1993.

ChildFund specialists, representatives of Aflatoun International Secretariat (the Netherlands), National Institute of Education, National Bank of the Republic of Belarus, Association of Belarusian Banks, representatives of retraining institutes, NGOs and educational institutions attended the meeting held in Minsk.

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Participants turned their attention to national priorities that call for development of financial and social literacy programs for children and improving financial literacy of the overall population.

Aflatoun, an international program that provides social and financial education for children from 6 to 18 years old, has worked well in other ChildFund-supported communities in Africa, Asia and the Americas.

Attendees at the Belarus meeting agreed to form a working group with the goal of bringing the Aflatoun program to children in Belarus. It’s an important step in preparing these children to succeed in life.

Learning From Guatemala’s Children

I just met two great children, Gabriela and Gerson, 10 and 8, respectively. These two stood up in front of about 100 people and presented on ChildFund Guatemala’s “I Learn” project, during a special event held in the city of Quetzaltenango.

The “I Learn” project helps children succeed in school by focusing on “improving critical thinking and logic, math and communications skills through reading and writing” explains Julio Tuy, ChildFund manager of the K’iché area, one of the most impoverished areas of Guatemala.

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School dropout is a big challenge in this country with great economic disparity. Children sometimes fall behind in learning because they face financial and logistical challenges that keep them from school. Many struggle to work and attend school at the same time. Children in rural areas typically travel long distances to school, and their families simply don’t have the financial resources to support them.

“Children who have fallen behind decide to drop out of school because they feel ashamed of being in a class with younger children who are learning faster,” adds Tuy. Through the “I Learn” project, ChildFund is helping ensure that children master critical basics and stay on track for their grade levels. This initiative is currently reaching more than 8,600 children around the country in 57 schools.

ChildFund has been able to expand the program across Guatemala, working through Ministry of Education alliances to incorporate the methodology into the curriculum. It’s a remarkable achievement. Even more impressive is seeing the skills that these interactive projects are developing in children, and how we are incorporating local cultural elements and materials into the learning process.

Gabriela and Gerson have clearly gained strong communication skills, as they spent a lot of time asking me questions and sharing their achievements and dreams. Both children proudly showed me medals they had won in mathematics and spelling contests in their province.

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“When I grow up, I want to continue studying and be a president like you,” says Gabriela. (No, I didn’t prompt her!) Gerson wants to join the army to “help people, and be able to save them from thieves and bandits.”

Great children! I’m looking forward to meeting more as my Guatemalan journey continues this week.

Independence From Poverty

For most Americans, the highlight of every summer – besides their own vacations – is the Fourth of July. It’s the perfect time to get together with family and friends, have a great barbecue and take the kids to see fantastic fireworks (which many parents will admit they themselves enjoy).

Before joining ChildFund International, I celebrated almost 20 U.S. Independence Days in developing countries. When you are far away from home, the celebrations take on a special meaning. The American community usually organizes a daylong event of food, games and music – often held at the American school where all our children attend. The American Ambassador is always on hand, and he (yes, it was always a he for me) reads the president’s Fourth of July message – something that most Americans probably don’t pay much attention to back home in the States. But being far from home, it always brought a tear to my eye.

One year in Indonesia, we organized something special – a parade of states. We divided into home state groups, with one person holding a state sign, and then marched into the school grounds to start off the day’s festivities. I was always amazed how many states were represented.

The countries where I lived also had their own versions of independence or national day celebrations, which citizens rightfully celebrated with pride. I guess most countries on earth (not every, but most) have at one time or other in their history been under the domination of a foreign power. Gaining sovereignty is one type of independence.

The other type of independence – the one I have spent my life working on – is independence from poverty. Many children are born into poverty – they inherit it at birth. But unlike political independence where all citizens of a country can gain freedom simultaneously, independence from poverty is fought for and earned one person at a time.

The children with whom ChildFund works came into poverty through their parents. It is not something that they chose, and the depth and overwhelming nature of this poverty is something that many Americans, I believe, have a hard time fully comprehending. According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty and every year, 3.5 million children die from undernutrition.

As we work with communities and also focus on individual children, ChildFund’s goal is for each child in our care to grow up healthy, educated and with opportunities to contribute. We want them to break the bonds of generational poverty, so their own children will inherit opportunity. With the help of many supporters, ChildFund is getting the job done – one child at a time.

Imagine one day the countries of the world celebrating “Independence From Poverty” day. I hope I’m around to join in the celebration.