Back to school – back to business at the Foundation

Lisa Jordan, Executive Director of the Bernard van Leer Foundation

By Lisa Jordan, Executive Director, 18 September 2012

After the summer lull, there is always a flurry of September activity. This year is no different, as we welcome exciting developments from around the world.

Starting here at home in The Netherlands, our local partner Sportbank held a sports day to mark the opening of the parliament on the Binnenhof, the government square in front of the Hall of Knights. Football players and Olympic champions left the politicians who participated in no doubt about how critical sport is to young children’s development.

As the Netherlands attempts to reduce its deficit to meet European Union rules, the sport budget has taken a big hit. Together with Sportbank, we’re addressing this shortfall by promoting public-private partnerships focused on children’s needs. Both governments and businesses need to realise that investing now in sport for children will pay off as they grow up to become healthier and more productive adults. As an old saying in the Netherlands goes, ‘voorkomen is beter dan genezen’, meaning ‘preventing is better than repairing’. At the event there was a call for a national agenda for prevention that we will follow up on in the months to come.

Over in Peru, a couple of weeks ago we co-hosted the first ever international conference on preventing violence in young children’s lives. Presenters from the US, Brazil, Burundi, South Africa and Colombia shared insights into how they successfully reduced various forms of violence – fatal shootings, gender, child abuse – in some cases by up to 30-50% in a period of just two or three years.

Participants from other countries will have also seen much to admire and emulate in Peru itself – committed political leaders, an organised children’s movement, a growing national budget, and scale-able programmes. Peru is fast becoming a terrific place for kids to grow up.

Further north, in New York, we’re delighted that the Clinton Global Initiative responded positively to our request to highlight investing in young children in its next meeting. Beginning on September 23rd, many of BvLF’s friends and partners will be speaking to a well-endowed and high-powered audience about how investing in young children is an irresistible investment opportunity. Stay tuned to our website and Facebook page for more on this event.

Among the work we look forward to highlighting in New York is the progress of our campaign for mother tongue-based early education in India, led by our partners Odisha Adivasi Manch (a state-level forum of indigenous people) and PREM, the Peoples Rural Education Movement. Tribal children are put at a severe and unfair disadvantage when they start school and discover that the language their teachers are using isn’t the one they’re familiar with from home.

The campaign achieved a major milestone in June, when the Chief Secretary of the state of Odisha ordered that all early childhood centres in tribal areas will be mother tongue-based. And then in September it acquired a significant new ambassador in the shape of Mr. Dilip Tirkey, the former captain of the Indian hockey team, a three-time Olympic champion and member of parliament.

My own travels this month have taken me to Turkey with one of the BvLF’s trustees, Robert Swaak. Only by seeing at first hand the people, projects and children we support can board members make informed decisions to govern our work.

We met the research teams that developed a baseline on the situation of children against which we will be able to measure our work to improve the living conditions of agricultural migrant workers’ children. And in Diybakir we met our partner Caca, which provides a safe space for children at risk of violence and is currently working with the municipal authorities on strategies to better address violence in children’s lives.

As the children go back to school after their summer holidays, the team of the Bernard van Leer Foundation is also back in full force.

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