Children can be underestimated. They are born with the ability to absorb the world around them, and their experiences shape them in unique ways. The effects of early childhood development can have a significant impact on their success when it is time for school and future careers.

By age three, children’s brains are 82 percent of their adult size. It is vital to exercise the brain in its earliest years in order to reach developmental milestones later. Everyday activities like talking, reading and singing strengthen young children’s minds.

Trillions of neural synapses, or brain-cell connections, form in the first few years of a baby’s life. Connections will be lost indefinitely if a child is not stimulated with interaction and early experiences.

Playing, speaking and singing to babies prepares them to have a larger vocabulary, succeed in school and even increases their chance of graduating high school.

“The evidence is vast: exposing children before the age of five to stimulating environments strengthens their language development, social and emotional health, problem solving abilities, memory function, use of logic, analytical skills and ability to cope with new situations – leading to significantly better performance later in school,” said Alice Albright, Chief Executive Officer of Global Partnership for Education, in a Huffpost Education blog.

Albright points out that countries around the world have recently embraced the evidence and began to invest in their early childhood development programs.

Although early childhood development is important purely for the well-being of children, research has shown profound economic benefits as well. According to the Huffpost blog, for every dollar countries spend on pre-school programs, there is a $7 to $8 of economic, health and social progress.

Successful initiatives begin well before pre-school, with pre-natal maternal health, proper nutrition for breastfeeding mothers and adult caregiving skills.

Many cultures around the world benefit from classes that train the community to provide nurturing and age-appropriate activities in pre-school. Particularly low-income and disadvantaged communities often need extra efforts to create an engaging environment that will strengthen the cognitive development of children under two.

Quality early childhood care feeds a child’s ability to reach their full potential and contribute to their society.

Some obstacles developing countries encounter in establishing Early childhood care and education (ECCE) programs are a lack of funding, limited country capacity and low social demand. Organizations like Global Partnership for Education combat these barriers by providing technical and financial support, providing grants to finance the programs and supporting capacity development and knowledge sharing by pointing to the evidence.

Even though children do not talk back initially, they will learn and understand faster if they are engaged and spoken to. It is vital to educate populations around the world on the impact of early childhood care on development because it is not always prioritized simply for lack of knowledge. Quality ECCE can transform the resilience of communities and reap economic benefits.

Emily Ednoff

Photo: Flickr

Social Inclusion ProjectThe World Bank research supports the stance of many organizations around the world advocating for early childhood development (ECD) programs.

The Bulgarian government has been working to ensure increased educational opportunities for its youth with programs such as the Social Inclusion Project which was completed at the end of 2015.

The Project was designed to increase school readiness in children under the age of seven to ensure equal life choices, targeting low-income and marginalized families. The initiative has reached over 20,000 youth and the country’s kindergarten enrollment rate currently stands at 83 percent.

“Giving people the same life chances requires investments in early childhood development, providing kids, as one says here in Bulgaria, with their proper initial seven years,” said Markus Repnik, World Bank country manager for Bulgaria, in his address to the Minister and the government.

Repnik went on to say that “the project will provide these proper initial seven years for the most vulnerable children through pre-school training and services – so that these kids enter school at an equal footing, allowing them to successfully progress in their later education and life.”

Educational achievements correlate significantly with future employment opportunities. Productivity is declining in many Eastern European countries because many working-age people lack sufficient education to participate in the labor market.

Investing in ECD programs equips a generation to be conscientious, responsible and resilient especially during difficult economic conditions.

The Social Inclusion Project invested in infrastructure, building kindergartens and children centers and in services such as medical screenings, speech therapists, physiotherapists, pediatrician checkups and parental training.

This initiative was possible because stakeholders, policy makers and international partners decided to make a commitment to ECD.

By partnering with the World Bank, the Bulgarian Red Cross, UNICEF, the Bulgarian Pediatric Association and many other supporters, Bulgaria has equipped young people to pursue better jobs and ultimately have the ability to provide for future generations.

Emily Ednoff

Photo: Flickr

Child Malnutrition
Child malnutrition is the leading cause of death in children under five years old. Some 2.7 million children die annually due to undernourishment. However, promising research coming from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis is raising hopes to change that.

Two studies led by Jeffrey I. Gordon, MD and Dr. Robert J. Glaser demonstrate potentially life-saving progress in the treatment of child malnutrition.

Gordon and Glaser have been studying the connection between gut microbes and the development of children. Child malnutrition is often diagnosed in children with stunted growth and they have found that the gut microbes in these malnourished children resemble microbes of a much younger child.

These findings suggest that the microbes themselves have become stunted. Healthy gut microbes are extremely important to the development of a child’s health. Such microbes contribute to the child’s ability to properly extract the necessary nourishment from their food. Without them, this inability means that even children who have received treatment for malnutrition can continue to have problems in the future.

The first study published in Science and carried out by Laura V. Blanton found that “that malnourished children have defects in this developmental scenario, leaving them with gut microbial communities that look younger than what would be expected based on their chronological ages.”

Blanton took samples from healthy and malnourished children from Malawi and implanted them in germ free mice. Knowing that mice eat each others feces, Blanton hoped that when caged together the healthy microbes would transfer to the mice implanted with the microbes from the malnourished children. She found just that, meaning that a process for implanting healthy microbes into malnourished children could be in the works.

The second study, done by graduate student Mark R. Charbonneau and published in Cell, targeted the effects of the mother’s breast milk on child malnutrition. Research shows that these mothers breast milk often contain low levels sialic acid, which is linked to healthy brain development.

Charbonneau, again using germ free mice, implanted healthy and malnourished microbes with differing levels of sialic acid. He found that the mice that received sialic acid at comparable levels to healthy mothers breast milk, grew much larger then the mice without it, even though each group of mice received the same diet.

Mice in both studies experienced “improvements in skeletal development and a better metabolic profile in the blood, brain and liver.” The researchers were also able to reproduce these results in germ free piglets, which more accurately reflect the metabolism of a human.

While the conditions of the two studies may not exactly represent natural conditions, microbial interventions in combination with more research could lead to improved treatments and perhaps even a cure. With millions of children and families relieved from the stress of finding their next meal, the globe moves one step closer to eliminating poverty.

Michael Clark

Sources: The New York Times, The Source, The Washington Post

Village HopeCore

Village HopeCore International, a nonprofit working to end poverty in the rural regions of Kenya, was founded in 1982 by Dr. Kajira “KK” Mugambi.

A native of Kenya and former resident of a village located at the foothills of Mt. Kenya, Mugambi started this organization 19 years after leaving Kenya in pursuit of an education in the United States. Mugambi used the skills and knowledge he acquired while in school to give back to his home country.

The organization divides its efforts into two main programs: its Microenterprise Program and its Public Health Program.

The Microenterprise Program relies on microloans to help local business owners and entrepreneurs get their businesses up and running. It consists of six steps:

  • The first step involves forming a group. This allows participants to support one another throughout the program.
  • The second step is what they call the “Merry-Go-Round.” This step requires the participants to donate a small amount of money once a month. One member receives these donations and it rotates each month until every member has received funds. These funds give the members the opportunity to start or sustain a business.
  • The third step involves distributing a “soft” loan. Once the members successfully complete step two, they are granted a loan of approximately $350. The group may then divide the money amongst themselves at their discretion. This step is used to teach them how to repay loans and for the organization to evaluate their ability to work as a group.
  • After the soft loans are distributed and paid back, the group moves onto the fourth step. Here, each member is given a hard loan that is expected to be paid back within two years. This loan gives the members more of an opportunity to grow and expand their businesses.
  • After this step, they proceed to the fifth step, which involves paying back the loans and creating a group loan security fund just in case any of them default on their loan.
  • The final step has the group engage in monthly meetings to support one another in their endeavors.

The Public Health Program helps counter many health issues in Kenya, such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV. It is divided into five different areas of focus:

  • The first one involves microenterprises, much like their other program, but instead, the funds are distributed to counter health issues.
  • Their second area of focus is a series of mobile health clinics and schools that are placed throughout rural Kenya. In total, they have 72 schools, with more than 20,000 students in 393 villages. These clinics provide clinical services, classroom health education, malaria bed nets and deworming medication.
  • Thirdly, Village HopeCore International provides villages with clean water systems and hand hygiene equipment for schools. This includes health clubs, tanks and hardware and monitoring and maintenance. They have these programs in more than 180 schools, reaching nearly 45,000 students in 516 villages.
  • The fourth aspect involves helping expectant mothers and children under the age of five, providing them with family planning services, deworming medication, Vitamin A and health education. Every year, they help around 9,000 families in 200 villages.
  • Finally, they assist with planning parenthood through clinical services, youth centers and health education.

Village HopeCore International recently received worldwide recognition for their services and the positive impact they are having on communities in rural regions of Kenya. In the future, the organization hopes to expand their reach throughout Western Africa.

Julia Hettiger

Sources: Street Insider, Village HopeCore, 2SenseWorth
Photo: Village HopeCore International

Reach Every Mother and ChildThe Reach Every Mother and Child Act of 2015 seeks to provide foreign assistance in order to end preventable maternal, newborn and child deaths globally within a generation.

Every day, approximately 800 women, almost entirely from developing countries, die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. The risk of a woman dying in childbirth is 47 times higher in Africa than in the United States. More than 17,000 children under five years old will die daily from treatable conditions.

Aiding women during pregnancy, childbirth and post delivery, newborns in their first 28 days and children under the age of five is of utmost importance.

Countries that experience the greatest need and highest burden of maternal and child deaths around the world will be primary targets. This strategy focuses on evidence-based interventions, country ownership, monitoring and evaluating programs, transparency and accountability, sustainability and public-private financing mechanisms.

The U.S. government will work with target countries and donors to implement a five-year plan established by the president to achieve the goal of ending preventable maternal and newborn deaths within a generation.

A Child and Maternal Survival Coordinator role will be created to oversee the strategy and ensure all U.S. government funds appropriated are used for international maternal and child health and nutrition programs.

USAID grants, contracts and cooperative agreements designated for the strategy will include targets for increased implementation of high-impact, evidence-based interventions and baseline measurements to quantify progress.

The president will publicly report on the U.S. government’s progress in implementing the strategy annually. Maternal and child health and nutrition initiatives will be detailed in the report along with descriptions of interventions or program designs, reporting on grants, contracts and cooperative agreements awarded and any innovative public-private financing tools that could be used to fund the strategy.

USAID is authorized to grant loans, set aside funds for the implementation of financing tools and make equity investments to carry out provisions of this act.

As of Jan. 29, 2016, the act has received bipartisan support from 37 Democrats and 28 Republicans in the House of Representatives and six Democrats and five Republicans in the Senate.

Summer Jackson

Sources: Borgen Project, Senate, Thomas – Library of Congress
Photo: Art Connect International

Preschool Access
Attending preschool can drastically improve the intellectual capacity of children. Research has demonstrated positive effects on learning and development in both the short and the long run.

A recent study from Northwestern University suggested that children from lower income families tend to perform significantly worse in the first years of elementary school. This is due to the fact that they usually did not have the opportunity to attend preschool.

Policy expert Whitmore Schanzenbach suggested that “by the time they reach kindergarten, disadvantaged children already show an achievement gap relative to their higher-income peers.”

Schanzenbach emphasized that “the poverty gap in school readiness appears to be growing as income inequality widens.”

Teachers at elementary schools have reported that children from less privileged families have more difficulty paying attention and exhibit more behavioral problems given no kind of education prior to elementary school.

This is because the state and the government usually do not focus their attention on expanding preschool access to children from marginalized sectors. They have concentrated mainly on improving education for children over five years of age.

According to Schanzenbach, a common proposal to bridge this gap is to make formal preschool accessible to poor children under the age of five. Given many ways to expand these educational programs, specialists at Northwestern designed a program that is cost-effective.

In their proposal, a well-developed framework would introduce the highest quality curriculum and nurturing assistance that would ultimately help these young children prepare themselves for further education.

It is important to emphasize that this is a project designed to be introduced in developing countries and rural sectors, where preschool access needs to be attainable.

Schanzenbach concluded that “the expansion of early education programs along these lines will lead to improved educational outcomes for disadvantaged children.” She added a list of other benefits which included lower crime rates, reduced teenage pregnancy and a decreased reliance on the social safety net.

Read Schanzenbach’s full study here.

Isabella Rölz

Sources: Brookings, U.S. Department of Education, NYTimes
Photo: U.S. News

Today more than 700 people are impoverished because of a lack of meeting basic needs and human rights. Innovative solutions provide different routes to solving the issue of global poverty.

Canadian student, Salima Visram, set out to revolutionize the way of life for those who live in deteriorated conditions with an ingenious solution that literally sheds light on the lives of students. Her invention: new solar backpacks equipped with a source of light that will charge all day and can be activated at night in order for students to study.

Instead of using toxic kerosene lamps, alternative technology allows for clean energy to be used. Not only is this a green solution, but also an economic one, as households can grab a backpack as their energy source instead of constantly replenishing their kerosene supply.

These solar backpacks have the potential to positively impact states that struggle with poverty, especially Kenya, where 92 percent of households utilize kerosene lamps.

The first to receive Visram’s backpacks were the residents of Kikambala village, where she raised enough money to produce 2,000 solar backpacks. Each backpack consists of a solar panel, battery pack and light.

This occurred in January after she raised money via crowdfunding site, Indiegogo. Since then, Visram has said she wishes to “expand the project to a hundred schools in the county within the next year and a half.”

Sticking to her own agenda, in September, Visram delivered 500 backpacks to the students of Kikambala Primary School, marking her business’ first official order. This is not the only milestone Visram wishes to achieve, however, as her goals go hand in hand with Masomo Bora—Kenya’s mission to provide education to all children.

Visram’s dream began as a public funding project on Indiegogo, but continues today in hopes of bringing as many students “into the light” as possible.

Fortunately, the costs of production are cheap, and in two months alone an additional $50,000 has been raised—more than doubling the initial capital of $40,000 required to manufacture the first 2,000 solar backpacks.

The backpacks are able to provide between seven and eight hours of light using only three to four hours of sunlight. As more and more solar backpacks become available, the hope is that the 4,000 deaths that occur daily due to kerosene-induced illness will be significantly reduced.

Emilio Rivera

Sources: Indiegogo, IT News Africa, Compassion International
Photo: Conscious Living TV

Elementary school is a time that is remembered by new backpacks and the smell of fresh pencils and erasers. Small children proudly sport new outfits and seek out new friends in various classes.

This is the idealized picture of what a small proportion of the world’s children is able to enjoy. In war-torn developing countries, though, elementary schools look very different.

A recent article from The Guardian found that “Almost 50 million children and young people living in conflict areas are out of school, more than half of them primary age, and reports of attacks on education are rising.”

Multiple studies done over the years have found that when it comes to war, education is one of the first casualties. War and other such conflicts cause damage to buildings, displaced families, necessary certificates to be lost, and a change in priorities.

While this is often the case, new programs are springing up that provide access to school even amidst such turmoil.

UNICEF, for instance, has been working with the Ministry of Education to find solutions.

In an article focused on Yemen, the UNICEF site stated that they are, “working with the Government to help organize catch-up classes for those who have missed their education and encourage as many children as possible to return to school for the new school year.”

The combined efforts of UNICEF and the Ministry of Education have also worked to help children take exams that were missed due to schools being closed during the fighting.

War Child is another organization that has been working in several war-torn countries to improve education despite war and conflict.

On their site they shared, “In Afghanistan we’re providing education for the street children who use our drop-in-centres. We’ve also opened 20 Early Childhood Development Centres to provide 620 children aged 4-6 with a pre-school education.”

Similar work is being done in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Uganda and Syria.

These programs allow for children to receive the education that is needed to help end the cycle of poverty in these developing nations despite the negative impacts of war.

Katherine Martin

Sources: The Guardian, UNICEF, War Child
Photo: Google Images

Early childhood development (ECD), or the time from a child’s birth to turning 8 years old, is considered the most critical window of childhood development.

During this eight-year window, children undergo intensive physical and social growth, shaping their bodies and perceptions of society.

But many children in developing nations lack the nutrition, healthcare and social engagement necessary during ECD to have a strong foundation for future growth and development.

ECD initiatives, ranging from parental training to preschool, have been shown to dramatically improve children’s earning potential and help them to escape the poverty cycle.

In the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, the United Nations specifically addressed the value of ECD in Goal 4, stating that by 2030 all children will “have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education.”

The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, echoed the importance of providing aid to ECD for the termination of global poverty, saying, “Children have been educated who otherwise would have missed out.”

Through aid efforts, programs are sprouting throughout some of the world’s poorest regions, showing promising results.

The World Bank reports that children in developing nations who have participated in ECD programs have higher levels of cognitive and academic performance than their peers.

Children who have benefitted from ECD initiatives are also more prepared to enter primary school and learn more efficiently while in class. This early success in schools has led to lower levels of dropouts and grade repetitions.

As educational levels rise, so does earning potential. Especially for girls. For every year of primary education a girl receives, her earning potential rises 10 percent to 20 percent, and for every additional year of secondary education, her earning potential rises another 15 percent to 25 percent, empowering her in the workforce.

As the workforces in developing nations expand with more educated and skilled laborers, the population at large benefits from an expanded consumer base.

With increased earning and buying power comes a more complex and stable economy that is less susceptible to shock and a higher gross domestic income.

According to UNICEF, this increase in school attendance shrinks the gap between the wealthiest and poorest families, hoisting children and their families out of the poverty cycle.

Claire Colby

Sources: The Guardian 1, The Guardian 2 UNICEF, UN, USAID, World Bank
Photo: Sharp School