Thrive to Five
Last week I traveled to Central Java, Indonesia, with ChildFund International’s Board of Directors to take a firsthand look at our programs, particularly those focusing on children aged 0 to 5.
Malnutrition and infant and child mortality remain high in Indonesia. Early learning opportunities are also limited, with fewer than half of Indonesian children participating in pre-primary school.
Our visit took us to Boyolali, on the slopes of Mount Merapi, Indonesia’s most active volcano. It last erupted in 2010, displacing 380,000 people from their homes and causing them to spend weeks in temporary shelters. Many families lost their homes, crops and livestock. ChildFund responded to the disaster by first providing humanitarian relief to affected children and then helping families on the long road to recovery.
Our first stop is at an early childhood development (ECD) center with breathtaking views of Merapi, basking in glorious sunshine. ChildFund first started working in this area because there were no education or health care facilities in the community. Initial challenges in early childhood education included attracting competent and qualified teachers. We also had to overcome a lack of understanding among parents of the importance of learning and playing for children at an early age as a way to stimulate cognitive, social, language, communication and motor skills development.
ChildFund mobilized families around the importance of having an early childhood development center, and we provided training to volunteer teachers on early childhood learning, curriculum development and age-appropriate child development. Today, the center is thriving and children are lively and engaged.
During our visit, children are drawing, playing together and learning about the dangers of fire. It’s great to see homemade toys and other learning materials in the center that mothers in the community have created using local resources. The parents also help prepare nutritious meals for the children attending the ECD center. Parents tell me they are now seeing the positive effects of the early childhood development — they’re noticing a difference in their children and feel they are on a good path for the future.
Next: We visit a village health services post.
Committed Communities Are Changing the World
My week in Bolivia is delivering inspiration, once again affirming the reasons why ChildFund works with children of all ages and involves community members.
We visited the Lucerito Integrated Development Center near Santa Cruz, where our local partners work hand in hand with communities, achieving extraordinary involvement by mothers, fathers, youth and volunteers who help deliver services and administer the center.
Chinda Ramos is one of the mothers who volunteers her time at the center, having received finance training from the Lucerito center’s accountant. “I run the accounting controls and as a leader mother I like to collaborate and participate,” she tells me. “We have monthly meetings to inform parents how our finances are going, and our books are totally open and published in a board for everyone to see that we work with transparency and accountability.”
I also meet Betty Zubieta, coordinator of the Lucerito project that started 10 years ago, serving 120 families. Today the project reaches more than 700 families including 1,100 children with health care, early childhood development, education support and vocational training for youth and mothers. “Our work is to prepare children and youth so that in a few years they will be able to run this center by themselves,” Betty says. “They are the future, and we are achieving it.”
It’s inspiring to see the high level of youth participation, and an equally high level of personal accountability. Seeing the youth so committed and participating in so many activities—from their own youth leadership clubs, to organizing communications and computer skills workshops for little kids and preventive dental and health campaigns for the community—makes me think that they are reaching their full potential and truly making a difference in the day-to-day life of their communities.
Real Elections that Matter
Egypt is going through an historic election, the first in its 5,000-year history. When I worked in Egypt several years ago, there were “presidential elections.” Parliament (more than 50 percent of whom were appointed by the president) put forward one candidate, and people voted either yay or nay on that one candidate. Needless to say, no one stayed up late on election night to find out the results.
The most hotly contested elections were actually for the boards of the local social and sports clubs, which played a dominant role in the social life of citizens throughout Egypt. (In a country dominated by desert, there’s a bit of green grass as well.) Once I was in a major traffic jam caused by everyone rushing to the local club to vote.
During my time in Egypt, the NGO I worked for implemented an education program that included a new type of voting. To support educational improvements, we helped create school committees, composed of elected local representatives with term limits. We had incredible turnouts for these elections – people were excited about the opportunity to have real elections that focused on real issues – the quality of their local schools. Such elections are also a great method for teaching about democracies at the local level. ChildFund continues that approach today in many of the communities we work in around the globe. Communities elect leaders for Childrens’ Well-Being Committees and locally run health posts and micro-enterprises.
Egypt was not my only experience with presidential elections in other countries. I remember in Indonesia once driving into the middle of a political rally. The campaign season there was very organized and very short (maybe we can learn something here). Each party was assigned certain days (and a certain color) over a two- to three-week period when they could actively campaign and hold rallies.
Unknowingly, I drove into a huge sea of decorated cars and red-shirted supporters that were bordering on being a mob. It was a bit scary to be caught up in the frenzy, and only after the rally moved on was I able to extract my car.
On the lighter side, a Filipino friend once told me when Marcos was in power in the Philippines, she resisted the one-candidate ballot by writing in Miss Piggy – which was read aloud when the ballots were counted. I admired her spunk.