Starting last Wednesday and throughout the rest of the semester, our group is going to be meeting to discuss the trip and also various topics pertaining to Ghanaians (specifically those with disabilities) and their culture. It being our first meeting, we largely spent our time going over logistics such as our itinerary, our activities in-country, vaccinations, etc. etc. But, we did briefly discuss a few articles on child development in developing countries.
It's so hard to imagine growing up without all the privileges and opportunities that I grew up with. Reading the literature pertaining to child development in developing countries presented me with staggering statistics; there are 559 million children under 5 years of age in developing countries, 126 million of whom are living in absolute poverty, and more than 200 million of whom fail to reach their developmental potential due to poverty, poor health and nutrition, and deficient care. The good news about this statistic is that children are amazingly resilient and can overcome much of the negative effects of poverty if, and that's a very big and important if, their environment and circumstances are changed or redirected. The bad news about this statistic is that if those circumstances are not changed, poor early development tends to lead to outcomes such as not completing (or in some cases, not even enrolling in) school, poor health outcomes, and growing up into poverty. It seems so unfair to be born into a life with the odds stacked against you. I consider myself a pretty strong-willed and resilient person, but if I was in that position I wonder if I could overcome those odds?
Reading this material reminded me of an NPR podcast of This American Life we listened to for a lifespan development course last semester entitled "Going Big". This episode featured a segment called the Harlem Renaissance about a project aimed at curbing urban poverty called Harlem Children's Zone. This project was aimed not at giving parents money or a job to get out of poverty, but at educating parents on the importance of early childhood development so that their children might pull themselves out of poverty. Among many other offerings, Harlem Children's Zone offers parenting classes (known as Baby College) that stress the importance of reading to children and building strong relationships, education for children, and a charter school to ensure that children complete school.
I think there's an extremely important message to be taken from this project that in addition to providing support in the traditional sense (monetarily, nutritionally, medically), we must also educate the younger populations (reading, writing, and arithmetic and also life skills and fostering healthy relationships) in order to stop the cycle of poverty and buffer against some of those negative outcomes of poor early development. I realize this is a pretty big bill to fill, but definitely worth thinking on.
One of our projects while we are in Ghana is to create a children's library for Sovereign Global Mission. Our OT honor society, Pi Theta Epsilon, at VCU raised money last year to purchase and provide bookshelves. Now, we are going to begin collecting children's books to stock the shelves. Teaching and raising literacy levels in Ghana is a very important step in the process of empowering younger generations towards overcoming the odds of stunted development and poverty. I'm so excited to be a part of this group going to Ghana to do what little I can to help children faced with unfair circumstances. Judging by our meeting last week, the amount of laughter we shared, and the fact that we completely lost track of time after a long day of classes is a good predictor of the time we hope to have while in Ghana.