Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Turning Paper to Action – Ending FGM and Child Marriage

Post By: Carol Sherman, Plan Kenya Country Director

The Girl Summit in Kenya aimed to end FGM and child marriage.

Around the world, girls and women are forced to live with the consequences of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and early marriage.

Although Kenya has made strides in outlawing FGM and child marriage, as well as protecting children’s rights, such practices are still rampant.

Often motivated by cultural beliefs, FGM can lead to early marriage and health complications and is often forced upon girls aged 7 to 12.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Children of Syria…A Generation at Risk

Post By: Arjimand Hussain, Emergency Response Manager, Plan International

Vulnerable Syrian refugee children in Egypt live a life of misery, despair, and challenging school conditions. Plan International is trying to make quality education possible for some of them and improve their lives.

Sitting on the sands of the Mediterranean coast in Alexandria, Egypt on a June evening, 11-year-old Nada asks her mother if she will ever be able to see her father again and go back to her school in Syria. Her mother gives her hope:

“Yes of course, my dear, very soon,” her mother says. 

The fact is that Syrian children like Nada may not be able to go back to their country any time in the near future. Syria's conflict rages on.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Development Goals Face Challenges if we Don’t Start Counting Every Child

Post By: Nicoleta Panta, Count Every Child Advocacy Manager for Plan International

Imagine a typical family photo. You've got mom and dad there, looking happy and proud. You have the kids with their beaming smiles, all cheerful and mischievous. It's a happy moment, captured in time, everyone in their rightful place, and everyone accounted for.

Looking at that family picture, you can clearly see how many of them there are. If you're the one in charge of their wellbeing, you have a good idea of how big their house needs to be, how much food they probably go through in a week, who is going to school, and who is going to be looking for a job soon – all from that picture.

But let's imagine that one of the family members is suddenly not in the picture. Imagine little Maria vanishes, leaving an empty, unfilled space. She's still somewhere, but she's not in the photo. We think we can see everyone, but someone's missing. Again, if you're the one responsible for looking after that family, how could you make that child count without being able to count her?
Plan civil registration event at
City Hall in Paraguay as part of a
"Right to Identity" program.

That's the kind of question we need to ask ourselves as we look towards the post-2015 development agenda, beyond the completion of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) next year. But, we aren't talking about just one family; we are talking about entire populations.

That picture is similar to the systems countries have in place to monitor major life events like births, deaths, and marriages. These civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) systems give governments the data they need to plan for the present and future needs of everyone living in a country.

Got a lot of school-aged children in the north, but not enough schools, teachers, and books? Time to do something about that. Are a lot of people dying from polio in the south? Could be an outbreak. You'll need to make sure you have enough health centers, doctors, and vaccines in order to contain it.

There are huge benefits for everyone if governments can get a firm hold of when, where, and how many people are born – and also how many people die. This information is invaluable as it informs decisions on everything from where you need to build schools, to what vaccines are required, to where infrastructure should be developed.

You might think that this problem isn't that widespread, yet the stats don't lie: more than 100 developing countries around the world don't have efficient, well-functioning CRVS systems.

This has led to a situation today in which 230 million children 5 years old or younger are invisible because they haven’t had their births registered. Their governments don't even know they exist.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Take Action and Get More Children into School

Post by: Nigel Chapman, CEO of Plan International

Plan International CEO Nigel Chapman wrote a recent op-ed for Devex emphasizing the importance of girls’ education and why it is imperative that countries follow through on the pledges made to invest in education at the recent Global Partnership for Education Conference.
Nigel Chapman is the CEO of
Plan International.

Plan International is working around the world to ensure the basic human right of access to quality education is met for boys and girls. You can read more about our programs here.

Below is an excerpt from the op-ed:

The Global Partnership for Education conference happens every four years, and it’s the only opportunity governments have to directly pledge funds to support education. I attended the event and was extremely moved by the speeches of leaders from around the globe, many of which were extremely honest. Some women leaders had experienced barriers to education themselves. For them, ensuring girls get educated is personal, and it was great to see specific mentions of girls’ education in some pledges, which shows how seriously some countries are taking girls being out of school.

You can find the full op-ed on DevEx.

Connecting Efforts to Protect Children and Empower Women Economically

Post by Ann Hudock - Plan International USA Senior VP of of International Programs 
This post was first published to InterAction’s blog on July 2, 2014 and is re-posted below in its entirety. For more information on Plan’s work in Zambia, please click here.
We walked to the Tuesday market in Lusaka, Zambia and I stopped to buy some avocados.
The woman who sold them had a horribly disfigured face that made it hard for her to speak. When she handed me my change she struggled to grip the money with her twisted and lame arm. 
After we walked away I asked my Zambian friend who accompanied me if he thought her injuries were the result of a cooking accident, a common cause of injury for women in Africa. He said no. Her boyfriend’s wife had doused her with acid. 
I was stunned. I asked how this could happen in a place as peaceful and easy going as Lusaka. He said that it was more common than I might realize and that the woman didn’t garner a lot of sympathy since she had been with someone else’s husband. 
I asked if the man had been attacked too. He said no and explained that there was a general belief that the man had not done anything wrong but the woman had threatened another woman’s livelihood by taking away her husband, since he was her only source of income. And, the children’s well being had been threatened by the possibility that the man would stay with the mistress, leaving his wife without means to care for her children. The wife had wanted to ensure there would be no chance of that by making the woman unattractive. She wanted to protect her children. 
It was a terribly warped and desperate idea of child protection. But the twisted logic reflects the lack of economic opportunities for women. And as countries in Africa commemorate the Day of the African Child beginning June 16 there is an opportunity to focus on the structural causes that threaten children’s well being. Child protection needs to include economic opportunities for women. 
When women can earn their own income they have the option to leave an unfaithful or unsuitable husband, and don’t feel compelled to marry someone for economic security. Investments in women’s economic wellbeing allow for greater access to education and health for their children. And, empowered women can serve as advocates against harmful practices such as female genital cutting, child marriage, and child defilement. Strong, economically independent women are role models for the next generation who can find their voices to condemn injustices against children.
Agnes (yellow shirt) is 15 and
engaged to be married.

As an organization focused on the needs and rights of children, Plan Zambia recognized that women’s economic empowerment is critical to ensuring a better future for children. In partnership with Barclays Bank, Plan implemented a program called Banking on Change, reaching out to 12,962 beneficiaries through community-based savings groups, with women accounting for 72 percent of participants. Through the program, women were trained in financial management, including how to save for expenses or emergencies, access instant loans in case of an emergency, and invest in and expand their small income-generating activities. Moreover, the women were offered entrepreneurship skills and tools to plan for their future and better provide for themselves and their children. Access to children’s education by members of the savings groups improved considerably (about 79 percent). 
While there is work being done to increase economic opportunities for some women, a vicious cycle still exists because many poor families decide to send their boys to school rather than their girls. Since many women still lack economic opportunities and there are few prospects for a return on the investment in girls’ education, girls are kept at home to care for family members with HIV/AIDs, provide childcare, and tend to domestic duties (that generally aren’t shared with boys). In some families, early marriage is seen as a form of protection for young girls, keeping them from being exposed to “worldly” vices and multiple sexual partners or pregnancies outside of marriage.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Children's Safety is Key to Attaining Quality Education

Post by Alice Iribagiza - Plan Rwanda Communications Officer

Enjoying the roar of the car engine and a free massage courtesy of the bumpy road, I gave up trying to compose a text message on my cell phone and decided to delight in the beautiful view of mushrooms growing down in the valley.

As we descended the hill, I realized what appeared to be mushrooms were actually plastic sheeting roofs of small houses. We had arrived at Kiziba refugee camp, home to 16,513 refugees in the Western part of Rwanda.

As we entered the camp, I was welcomed by the sound of beating drums.

Young children were happy and smiling, marching to the tune of Balancez les Bras (Balance the Arms). Five women were trying to keep the children in a straight line, which seemed to be a difficult task as they all wanted to enjoy the celebrations to mark the Day of the African Child to the fullest.
Uwera has been a caregiver in one
of the 10 preschool nursery centers
in the camp since 2010.

Singing and organizing the children at the same time, a woman caught my attention.

With a bright kitenge (African scarf) wrapped around her head, the colors vividly contrasted with the morning sun. Uwera has been a caregiver in one of the 10 preschool nursery centers in the camp since 2007.

"I was saddened by the situation of children who used to stay in their homes whenever their parents would go to work,” she explained. “Some were dirty, beaten by other children, wandering everywhere in the camp with high risks of being abused. That is why I volunteered to be a caregiver.”

With an average of 70 children in each class, the camp nursery centers play a big role in reducing child abuse. Young girls are particularly vulnerable.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Youth Input is Important for Plan International

Post by Sara Moore - Plan International USA Youth Advisory Board member

I am proud to be part of a Plan International initiative to include young people in its decision making.

Because Plan is an organization dedicated to empowering children and youth to realize their full potential, it only makes sense that young people have a say in decisions that affect them.
Kamanda and myself in the
Members' Assembly Conference room.

As a member of Plan International USA’s Youth Advisory Board (a group of youth from the United States that advises Plan International USA), I was peer-selected to serve on a panel of eight young people (called the Global Youth Advisory Panel) representing the four regions where Plan runs programs, as well as countries where Plan fundraises. Along with Plan staff, our task is to assist in the design and implementation of Plan’s Strategy for Youth Engagement in Internal Governance and Decision Making.

Plan staff and youth advisory members agreed that that the voices of young people should be heard at its many governing levels. So, we started with Plan’s highest governing body – the Members’ Assembly (MA) – a group of 40 delegates that serve on the Board of Directors for the countries where Plan fundraises. Twice a year, one to three board members from each fundraising office meet for a day and a half to discuss Plan’s work across the federation and guide the work of senior management.  MA delegates come with an assortment of valuable skills, but they are not youth and therefore are often out of touch with the needs, wishes, challenges, and struggles of today’s young people. Plan addressed this disconnect by giving young people a voice. The youth representatives challenge and influence decision-making and hold the organization accountable to the constituency with which it works.

I was joined by Kamanda at the MA meeting in Wiesbaden, Germany. Kamanda is from Port Loko district in Sierra Leone, where he organizes youth-led community projects and workshops with Plan’s support. We were peer-selected from the Global Youth Advisory Panel to attend the two MA meetings scheduled for this year – one in November 2013 and one in June 2014.

Left to right: Plan's Deputy CEO
Tjipke Bergsma, Kamanda, me, and
Plan's CEO, Nigel Chapman
It was really important to us that we brought the opinions of the entire Global Youth Advisory Panel to the MA. Prior to the meetings, we shared the pre-reading material with the group and received feedback on the issues to be discussed once we reached Germany. The pre-reading material was quite dense and included topics such as the yearly budget and global marketing designs, so digesting it presented a challenge. Luckily, we had tremendous support from youth engagement staff, Plan International’s Deputy CEO, senior management, and the Chairwoman of the MA so we could better grasp the nature of the meetings. Before the meetings began, Kamanda and I synthesized our peers’ comments and decided the best approach to collectively join the discussions.

Unlike the rest of the country delegations, Kamanda and I were not seated together during the meetings. Instead, we were seated next to our MA buddies, seasoned delegates who offered us guidance throughout the meetings. Only one representative from each country can comment on a specific topic during the meetings. Because we were not seated next to one another like the rest, we used Skype to instant-message and share our ideas! It worked out successfully, and Kamanda and I were able to provide feedback on several agenda items. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Would You Give up a Month of Your Life?

Post by Sue Richiedei - Plan International USA Director of Leadership and Capacity Building

If I told you that if you gave me a month, I would change
Sue Richiedei is the
 Director of Leadership and Capacity Building 
at Plan International USA.
your life, would you leave your job and family on blind faith? Or would you walk away from me? In today’s cynical world, where everyone wants to sell you something, no one would blame you for walking away

This month there are 28 women from 21 different countries who did not walk away.

They are the participants of the 60th CEDPA Global Women in Management (GWIM) workshop. Since 1978, the CEDPA GWIM program has brought together thousands of women leaders from all over the world on the promise that they would be transformed at the end of a month-long workshop. Participants not only take the leap of faith themselves, but they convince their employers, employees, and families that this workshop is essential to their development.

What’s even more amazing is that we get hundreds of applications for very few slots. This speaks to the need for more opportunities for the development of leadership skills for women. For years now, studies have supported what we who work with women at the grassroots level have known for years­­­­—that women move their families and communities forward with them. Women around the world are hungry for the tools that will help them not only to transform their own lives, but to advance their communities.

Thanks to a decade of support from our generous sponsor, the ExxonMobil Foundation’s Women’s Economic Opportunity Initiative, the program has been able to fill this void for over 600 women. The workshop focuses on professional leadership, women’s economic empowerment, strategic communications, fundraising, advocacy, project management, financial management, sustainability, and tools and technologies.

With a newfound sense of confidence, alumni take what they learn from the workshop back to their communities, organizations, and personal lives. They acquire new funding, scale up their projects, and replicate programs being implemented by fellow participants to meet the needs in their communities. They step down the leadership and project management skills to their staff, co-workers, and beneficiaries. They adjust the way they communicate with their husbands and children, relieving stress in their personal lives.

Alumni have risen to top leadership positions in their nations, becoming cabinet and parliamentary leaders; founders and heads of non-governmental organizations; political activists and leading journalists. The first woman to run for president in Afghanistan, Massouda Jalal, is a CEDPA GWIM alumna. The first Woman Elder of the Luo tribe in Kenya, the Honorable Phoebe Asiyo, is also an alumna.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Girls’ Education: We Know What Works, But What Works Sustainably At Scale?

Post by Tessie San Martin - Plan International USA CEO

I was privileged to have been invited a few weeks back to a meeting assembled by First Lady Michelle Obama’s staff to discuss the challenges facing adolescent girls’ education.  Representatives and experts from a broad range of research, advocacy, and service delivery organizations, both public and private, that focus on the issue of girls’ education convened for a lively discussion. What was for me the most interesting part was hearing the remarkable consensus that exists on both the nature of the challenges and the solutions.

Many of the themes that were brought up were echoed a decade ago by Barbara Herz and Gene Sperling in their seminal What Works in Girls’ Education. Specifically, there was no disagreement about the facts that:
  • Improving access and completion rates for girls attending school is a multi-sector issue. Getting girls to attend and stay in school requires that we address not just poverty (income/school fees), but access to water and sanitation, protection, cultural norms, etc. We increasingly understand how these various initiatives should be brought together at the community level.
  • Tackling obstacles that girls face requires action at multiple levels. With regard to making sure girls are able to attend and successfully complete their schooling, simply dealing with national policy or modernizing systems at the Ministry of Education is not enough. Community-led programs lead to the best results.
  • Programs that tackle obstacles facing adolescent girls must give them a meaningful voice. Programs are more successful when they include youth in every phase of program design – from problem identification, to design, to development, to delivery and evaluation. Plan International and other organizations are developing effective tools to support meaningful engagement of youth at every level.
  • Effective and sustainable solutions must include boys and men in a transformative way to overcome gender biases and social norms that critically impact boys and men. The prevalence of violence against women globally is a direct implication of the socialization of men and boys, and failing to address this component is a critical gap to ending violence and to having more sustainable societies for men, women, boys, and girls to thrive.
While it is inspiring to see so much agreement on the state of girls’ education, we still haven’t converged around what works sustainably and at scale. It is here that more research and experimentation is needed. More work is required to better understand how various tools, approaches, and financing structures can be scaled and supported long-term.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Postcards from the Philippines: From Vulnerability to Resiliency

Tessie San Martin, CEO, Plan International USA This is part two in a two-part series covering Tessie's recent trip to the Philippines where she and other members of Plan International staff witness the rebuilding of the Philippines.

Post by Tessie San Martin - Plan International USA CEO

Today marks six months since Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines. As I referenced in yesterday's post, we are moving out of relief mode and into recovery. I’d like to share with you some specific examples of projects now underway and plans to help the people of the Philippines move forward and toward resiliency.

Safe Spaces 

Along with homes and businesses, many schools were literally washed away when the storm surge barreled in. During my visit to Hernani, I was shown around what is left of its high school by a brave young woman. She led us to where her class room used to be. It looked like a giant bomb exploded inside, blowing off the roof and carving huge holes across what remained of the school walls. That the sea could do this was sobering.

Standing inside what was the local high school.
Our young guide recounted that terrifying morning when her family, taking shelter in her house, saw the water rushing in. They fled to the roof and survived. Her aunt, uncle, nieces and nephews did not. I can see that this is exceedingly difficult for her to talk about.

I mentioned in my previous post that integration in our efforts is key. An extension of that is the way Plan is rebuilding a temporary primary and secondary school using local materials like coco lumber to replace the tents that have served as the school in the immediate aftermath. This puts the millions of felled trees to good use and gives community members the opportunity to work together gathering the material and assisting with the reconstruction.