Information and stories addressing children.

“As a girl, I am always being told that things happen because of fate, but it’s the things I do, not luck that determine my fate,” says Sikha, a young girl from the slums of Kolkata and one of the children featured in “The Revolutionary Optimists,” a documentary following several children living in the slums of Kolkata and making a difference.

Salim is an eleven year old boy who lives in a community that has no water. Every morning at 4:30, he has to go to a neighboring slum to collect water for his family. By mapping their community and collecting data, he is leading a team of child activists to persuade the government to provide their community with a water tap. Priyanka is a sixteen year old girl who teaches and leads a dance troupe as a means of fighting tradition and the pressure to enter into arranged marriage and to keep girls in school. These children and others featured in the film are the child activists of Prayasam.

Founded by Ashoka Fellow Amlan Ganguly, Prayasam is an organization that doesn’t work to rescue children; rather the organization empowers them to become “agents of change.” The philosophy is to reach out to these children who live in dire circumstances but believe that they decide their own fates. Prayasam works with six child advisors and more than thirty children as core members who take the lead in spearheading projects that address social issues within their communities.

Through methods from street theater to data collection, the children have managed to organize education campaigns, first aid training, and vaccination drives for polio, and turn garbage dumps into playing grounds. Fueled by child-led activism, the work of Prayasam and its child activists has had a considerable effect on health, hygiene, and sanitation in their neighborhoods having decreased cases of malaria and diarrhea.

Inspired by the film, the BAVC Producer’s Institute for New Technologies developed a project called Map Your World based on Salim’s mapping of his own communities. The technology would allow other child activists to map their community, track and collect data on health issues, and improve health in their communities using cell phones.

“The Revolutionary Optimists” was the recipient of the Hilton Lightstay Sustainability Award this year from Sundance and is set to officially open in New York on March 29 with other cities to follow.

– Rafael Panlilio

Source: Ashoka, PrayasamRevolutionary Optimists, Telegraph India

Syrian Lost Generation
A lost generation of children is quite the dramatic phrase. One would expect it to define a group of children whose duress has gone unnoticed. For the children in Syria, it’s a slightly different case. As the reports of casualties are noted everyday, the biggest issue should be the loss of not only physical life but the psychological well being of children and their futures. Their plight, however, is overshadowed by external, as well as internal, desires to cease political unrest and see a new regime replace al-Assad’s.

UNICEF has been working consistently both inside and outside of Syria to try to maintain some level of balance and peace in the lives of these children. By first addressing their basic needs, 4 million people who have remained in Syria now have access to clean drinking water. 1.5 million children have received vaccinations against polio and measles. And aside from the 6% of children who are currently still able to attend school, 75,000 have been lucky enough to attend ‘school clubs’ to keep up with their education. Even for the quarter million refugee children, UNICEF has managed to extend its basic services as well as offering protection against abuse and exploitation, two things all too common in the chaotic and insecure camps.

Resources are limited, however. Despite its plea for $195 million to continue support until June of this year, the UN reports that only 20% of that requested funding has been given. About 2 months after this request, former Senator-now-Secretary of State John Kerry announced the $60 million apparent ‘non-lethal’ aid package to Syrian rebels. While terms of ‘non-lethal’ and ‘food and medical supplies’ are tossed around, there is no direct language addressing the key issues that are important to every single person and party involved directly and indirectly in this conflict.

The Secretary of State has made it clear that his goals are to support the rebels in preventing and stopping President Bashar al-Assad from staging attacks against his own people. While the US government is set on securing the future of Syria, it seems only logical that they would realize that without providing psychological services, safe havens of learning, and adequate medical facilities to Syrian children, there will be a bleak future for Syria.

The trauma and permanent damage UNICEF reports is inevitable for Syria’s lost generation. It is going to affect the politics, economy, and every aspect of their country once they become of age and replace the current generation.

Eliot Engel, the Senior Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee and Senators John McCain and Marco Rubio sat down to discuss how “providing military aid to Syria’s opposition would bring the humanitarian disaster to an end” in hopes of continuing a peaceful relationship with Syria after Assad’s rule. Engel is currently pushing for the US’s active involvement in training and arming ‘some’ rebels (although he graciously adds that humanitarian assistance will be provided as well).

Such an obvious focus on expanding the degree of fighting is not going to bring the civil war to an end. While that question requires a great deal more of serious thought, it would hopefully require a lot less hesitation to understand that the safety and education of Syria’s children, both in and outside of the country, requires immediate attention and aid.

– Deena Dulgerian

Sources: UN News Centre, Yahoo News, NPR

children
Each year, 3 million children die from undernutrition.

There are more than 165 million children under the age of five suffering from stunted growth, a marker for malnutrition.

In the media, malnourished children are often portrayed as being skinny with protruding stomachs. Yet, a protruding stomach is not the only marker for undernutrition. In fact, undernutrition comes in many different shapes and sizes. Stunted height, especially before the age of five, is a marker  “of multiple deprivations regarding food intake, care and play, clean water, good sanitation and health care,” according to The Guardian.

Children that face undernutrition in the first 1,000 days after conception are unable to fully, properly develop. Brain-synapse development and the development of the immune system are especially vulnerable and incorrect development of these major parts of the body can have long-lasting and serious effects on a person. Further, undernutrition leads to the deaths of 1 in 3 children and 1 in 5 mothers in developing countries.

The European Commission has recently launched a new effort that will hope to decrease the number of stunted children by 7 million by addressing malnutrition by the year 2025. This will be done through the provision of funds from donors – and from the EU humanitarian and development budgets – as well as by making this a global movement. Everyone must get involved to combat malnutrition, which is usually the result of impoverished situations that make it hard to access food, healthcare, clean water and sanitation, and education.

– Angela Hooks

Sources: New Europe, The Guardian
Photo: UN

How Can Golden Rice Help End World HungerDr. Gerard Barry, project leader for the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), is developing a type of genetically modified rice called “Golden Rice.” This rice contains the essential nutrient beta-carotene, the source of vitamin A, which is often lacking in the diets of people living in poverty. The GMO rice is referred to as “Golden” because beta-carotene produces an orange color once added to the rice. Dr. Barry and IRRI are working to address vitamin A deficiency in developing countries and hope that Golden Rice is the answer.

In an interview with National Public Radio, Dr. Barry spoke enthusiastically about engineering new types of rice pointing out that it is the staple food of a couple of billion people. His passion for the crop led to a career at IRRI and he quickly began working on Golden Rice which he explains has the potential to greatly benefit those living in impoverished conditions. IRRI hopes to distribute the GMO rice in Bangladesh and the Philippines, where the institute is located.

Vitamin A deficiency is a result of malnourishment and a limited diet. The consequences of this deficiency include tissue damage, blindness, and a weakened immune system. For those millions of people affected by vitamin A deficiency, one cup of Golden Rice a day could provide half the amount needed for a healthy diet. “This product has the potential to reduce the suffering of women and children and save lives,” said Dr. Barry. IRRI is working with nonprofit organizations to ensure the super rice reaches those who need it most. Once it has passed food and safety regulations, we will begin to see the real impact of Golden Rice.

– Mary Penn
Source: IrishCentral
Photo: Forbes

Mexico's First Midwifery SchoolIn Mexico, traditional midwifery services have been fallen steadily as women choose to have their babies in hospitals. However, many citizens who still live too far from hospitals need midwives. To meet this demand, Mexico has established its first public midwifery school, and young women are learning this ancient practice with the intent to graduate.

Guadalupe Maniero, the school’s director, explains that in Mexico, “hospitals are oversaturated, and so it’s a big problem.” Since the 2011 law that grants midwives a place among the country’s legally accepted medical professions, age-old stigmas have begun to fade. By helping to deliver babies, doctors have much more time to spend focusing on dangerous births in which the child and/or mother are in danger.

The four-year program grants its graduates certificates that allow them to practice in legitimate health centers. By interweaving longstanding cultural traditions with modern-day needs and practices, Mexico’s first midwifery school has the potential to benefit the entire country for years to come.

Jake Simon

Source: NPR

Early Marriage as a Form of ViolenceIn 2020, more than 140 million girls will be attending a wedding – their own. Of these 150 million girls, 50 million will be attending their own wedding before they have even celebrated their 15th birthday.

These numbers are based on current rates of early marriage, according to the UN.

Most child marriages occur in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. In fact, nearly half of all young women are married before the age of 18 in South Asia. In Africa, this percentage drops, but only to one-third.

In light of International Women’s Day, whether child marriage should be considered a form of violence against women and children is up for debate. According to UN Women, early marriage increases a girl’s chance of becoming a victim of sexual violence in the home. It also limits a girl’s access to education because she is often expected to have children and take care of her husband and household. It is also associated with increased health risks due to early pregnancy and motherhood.

The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) was recently presented a petition by the World Young Women’s Christian Association (WYWCA) that urged CSW to help end child marriage by 2030.

Yet, fighting early marriage will be an uphill battle. In many countries and cultures, marrying at a young age is traditional and is not seen as a problem. In some areas, particularly poorer countries, there are not enough resources for girls to continue in school as their male counterparts. Marriage serves as an easy way to justify girls abandoning their education to stay at home. Another issue plaguing poorer countries and people is the practice of a “bride price.” Some fathers will marry their daughters off for the price of a cow, especially during difficult times. According to Catherine Gotani Hara, Health Minister of Malawi, “Someone will come in and give a father a cow for a girl when they are eight or nine years old and when they reach puberty they will give another cow.” Out of need or necessity, a daughter may be worth two cows.

Getting around the barriers surrounding child marriage will require the support of governments and the passing of legislation that raises the legal age of marriage, as well as provides more resources for schools so that girls can reach the same level of education as their male counterparts. Currently, this is what happening in Malawi. The rate of child marriage in Malawi is currently 50 percent but by 2014, the age of legal marriage will hopefully have moved up from 15 to 18. Only time will tell if these steps will help eradicate child marriage.

– Angela Hooks

Source: Guardian

Teenager Helps Residents of a Garbage DumpWhile most teenage girls her age are reluctant to take out the trash, Courtney Quigley is begging her parents to return to Guatemala City to help the poverty-stricken residents of a garbage dump there. In the past, Courtney has worked with Potter House, a nonprofit which helps the 11,000 people living in the garbage dump. Out of that population, 6,500 are children.

According to the Lake Zurich Patch, Courtney first fell in love with Guatemala when she was nine and her family took a trip to build playgrounds with Kids Around the World, an organization whose primary goal is to provide safe play equipment for children who find it difficult to be “just a kid.” Courtney describes the garbage dump as being 40 acres filled with trash and yet the children somehow manage to stay positive and in high spirits.

While her family has been on other mission trips, Courtney has fallen in love with Guatemala. She was able to return in 2011, meeting a family of seven who lived in a 9 x 10 shack. One of the children, a 15-year-old girl, was pregnant and Courtney decided that something needed to be done to help improve their living condition.

To help, Courtney and her friends are hosting a “Hope’s in Style” fashion show fundraiser on February 24 at the Garlands Center in Barrington, Illinois.

Although she is now living in the United States, the memory of the children in Guatemala still remains vivid in her mind.

“There is nothing here that is hopeful, but when you shake hands, hug, and talk to people, they are so full of hope, so full of faith,” Courtney said. Their determination to make the best of their situation is what inspires her to keep moving forward.

 – Pete Grapentien

Source: Lake Zurich Patch


Filmed in 2012, ‘Open Heart’ documents the journey of eight patients going through surgery at the Salam Center in Khartoum, Sudan. Salam is Africa’s only state-of-the-art, free-of-charge cardiac hospital offering children’s heart surgery and has been operating since 2007.

‘Open Heart’ follows Dr. Gino Strada, a surgeon at Salam and features Angelique Tuyishimere, the six-year-old daughter of a Rawandan farmer. Close to a third of the patients at Salam are under 14 making children’s heart surgery a common occurence at Salam.

Salam employs four cardiac surgeons  and is set up for 1,500 operations per year. However, due to funding issues, last year only 600 patients were operated on. Dr. Strada is forward about admitting the need in Africa is more than Salam can aid, but is still very happy with the progress that has been made and optimistic about the future.

Now, Davidson and the doctors – Rusingiza and Strada – will be attending the Oscars. If passport and visa issues are resolved, six-year-old Angelique and her dad will also be attending. Although he stands the chance of being honored at the Oscars, documentarian Kief Davidson still has not lost sight of the original problem being addressed – the lack of affordable healthcare in Africa, especially concerning the preventable diseases fought at Salam.

– Pete Grapentien

Source ABC News

Investing in the Future with Universal Pre-KIn his State of the Union address, President Obama called for action on something just as unprecedented as universal healthcare in America – universal preschool.

The White House has released an infographic sharing that at-risk children who do not receive a high-quality early education are 25 percent more likely to drop out of school, 40 percent more likely to become a teen parent, 50 percent more likely to be placed in special education, 60 percent more likely to never attend college and 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime.

The investment in preschools, therefore, means investing in the future of American life, according to an administration that has championed demands that every child one day receive an affordable college education, and who has also called for sharp restrictions to be placed on assault weapons as a result of increasingly sensationalized acts of gun violence.

The investment in early education may raise a generation out of poverty, as current reports claim that the United States provides, at the moment, some of the least access to the social mobility of the world’s utmost developed nation. This has proven disheartening to a society that functions on the ideals of the American Dream, which is that anyone can achieve anything if they work hard enough.

Investing in the future is a principle that is both bipartisan and essential to the capitalist identity of America. We can only hope that legislators can overcome their differences to invest in this preventative social program, as has been done in the states of Georgia and Oklahoma.

– Nina Narang

Sources: The Huffington Post, The Washington Post
Photo: Post University

Artwork From SOS Children's Villages

Artwork From SOS Children’s Villages in the Philippines

Since its inception in 1949, SOS Children’s Villages have worked to ensure that every child has a family and a home. Founded by Hermann Gmeiner, the first SOS Children’s Village was built in Imst, Austria with the vision that every child belongs to a responsible and secure family. As of 2013, SOS Children’s Villages is present in 133 countries and territories improving the lives of 2.2 million children and adults around the world.

In August 2011, the children and staff of the SOS Children’s Village in Mogadishu, Somalia were forced to evacuate a fourth time as war disrupted the area. They were not able to return until December 2012. Ahmed Mohamed, director of the SOS Children’s Village in Somalia, acknowledges that experiencing 20 years of armed conflict and an unstable government is detrimental to a majority of the Somali population and that SOS brings hope to children and families. In a class exercise in the village, children were asked to write letters abroad to illustrate what life is like in Somalia. Ali, a student, wrote that the conditions became safer and less worrisome in Mogadishu after the effects of SOS Children’s Village.

SOS Children’s Villages, inspired by friends and sponsors, has set a target to double the capacity to provide assistance to children by 2016. Siddhartha Kaul, the organization’s newly elected president, calls for increased sponsorship to help reach this goal of providing permanent caring family environments for one million children. Kaul speaks of faith and hope in attaining their 2016 goal, reflecting that, “for 63 years, supporters have responded to our work with tremendous faith and we seek their continued help.”

– Rafael Panlilio

Source: SOS Children’s Villages
Photo: Pinterest