by Carolyn Miles, President & CEO, Save the Children
As I reflect back on 2011, the changes in the world and the world for children were vast, both here in the United States and around the world.
Here in the US, more children are living in poverty as we begin 2012 than in the last 20 years, both as a percentage of our kids and as a total number. Across the US, nearly 1 in 4 children live in poverty today—a frightening 22%. And these kids living in poverty are facing some of the greatest opportunity gaps our country has ever seen. On average, a poor 4 year old in the US is 18 months behind developmentally versus a middle-class 4 year old.
That’s why Save the Children focuses on literacy in our US programs and why we are starting earlier and earlier. By beginning additional work with kids on reading in pre-school and even earlier, kids in our programs on average improve by an additional five months of school in reading for each year they spend in our after school or in school literacy program in elementary school (above and beyond what would be expected during the school year). It’s a cost-effective way to give poor children a shot at getting through to high school and even college. It’s a program that helps to even the playing field—and there are many more kids who need these kinds of programs all around the US.
In Africa and Asia, kids first have to survive before they can thrive in school. For the first time in history, less than 8 million children died in 2010 from preventable diseases as reported this year. When I started working for Save the Children in 1998, the number was over 11 million—so saving over 3 million lives, due to the work of many organizations, governments, and private efforts, is real progress. And the progress is accelerating as health care improves in many countries, especially in Asia. But there is absolutely no reason we can’t save many more kids, especially infants, where in many critical countries like Ethiopia, 45% of deaths occur in the first month of life. We know the solutions for many illnesses that affect babies and we also know the way to get those solutions to kids. More trained and better-supported frontline health workers can save millions more lives.
While it takes resources and some outside help, the biggest factor in stopping a death sentence for so many children in the developing world is the political will and resolve of countries where kids are dying. In places like Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries on earth with $590 gross national income per year, support from governments like the US and UK, together with support from NGOs like Save the Children, and from corporations across the world, help empower government leaders who have decided their children don’t need to die. These coalitions are training millions of community health workers, often women with very basic educations, who can now diagnose and treat the main killers of children like pneumonia, diarrhea, and malaria.
To meet a few of these women, check out this video:
Africa is also the continent where HIV/AIDS continues to wreak havoc for families and children, though far more parents are living with AIDS now in Africa, thanks in large part to the PEPFAR and Global Fund programs that provide ARV drugs, largely supported by US taxpayers. The year 2011 marked the 30th year of the epidemic and kids in the developing world still face losing their parents, being left on their own, and the risk of mother-to-child transmission. Save the Children works across Africa to support communities to be able to take care or orphaned and vulnerable children.
We made a lot of progress in 2011, but we still have much more to do. Save the Children will continue our efforts to reach children in need with vital services and work to make 2012 a better year for the children of the world.
Photo credit: Carolyn Miles visiting a classroom in South Carolina courtesy of Save the Children