Tag: child health

Let’s Talk About ECD, Baby!

For a long time, those of us working the field of early childhood development (ECD) have been talking about its importance—particularly in the birth to age three range. And for a long time, it’s seemed as though we were the only people talking about it. Finally, though there is enough evidence that others are starting to not only talk, but to take action – fund projects, research, etc. Finally!

The Lancet Journal, one of the world’s most respected medical journals, just released another two papers on early childhood development. What they found resonates so deeply with HHI’s mission and vision it’s incredible.

UNICEF released this video about the debate regarding early childhood development. A few key things stand out:

1)  The return on investment in early childhood development is huge! Outcomes later in life are directly linked to experiences in a child’s first few years so reaching children before they are put on the wrong trajectory is crucial.

2)  We can make a difference by offering comprehensive programs (early learning, nutrition, health) with simple messages rather than data and ideas that most of the world’s caregivers’  don’t have the time, resources or knowledge to apply. Amazing validation for HHI’s work! This is exactly what we do! HHI is hands-on, interactive and assumes no resources or even literacy.

3)  There needs to be a dramatic shift in thinking—No more service silos. There needs to be cross-sectoral integrated services that work together on the issues of poverty reduction, health, early learning and nutrition. Narrow, vertical programs do not work!

4)  The papers also note the importance of the maternal support that this type of service provides, especially related to maternal depression. One of the reported outcomes from mother’s who receive HHI training is that they are more confident in their parenting skills. Confident mommies are healthier mommies!  They also report feeling more connected and supported in their community after their HHI group trainings – another factor that helps to lift marginalization and thus depression.

Coaching parents and providing them with support is crucial to supporting the developing child. “This is extremely important not only for a child’s development but also for a child’s survival,” said Dr. Nurper  Ulkuer, chief, early childhood development unit, UNICEF.

“Radical change is the only way we’re going to tackle this problem.” Dr. Richard Horton, chief editor, The Lancet. Governments and international agencies need to bridge services and work together in order to create the necessary change to truly change the world.What can you do? Keep talking about this issue! Continue the conversation on the importance of ECD and how it is the solution to so many problems.

“Every child has the right to develop to her or his fullest potential and to contribute fully to society. Our responsibility to pursue this goal is just as clear.”—Anthony Lake, UNICEF

We agree, wholeheartedly!

Nurturing Caregiving – Preventing Disease, Addiction, Violence and More

Nurturing relationships between children and their parent(s) or caregivers can be likened to an inoculation against the negative, lifelong problems that can develop from a childhood filled with adverse experiences.  When families are grappling with disease, violence, mental health issues, poverty, and other serious adverse experiences, children are exposed to toxic levels of stress that can have lifelong negative implications for that child and their greater community. This recent Opinion piece in the New York Times does a great job explaining this.  And it describes what HHI has been doing for almost eight years, for more than 140,000 vulnerable children around the world.

HHI has a very similar approach and results, though our program is more simplistic.  I believe that the “aha moment” that they refer to for a mother they describe, that is love awakening, and once that wakes up, nothing stays the same.


Protecting Children From Toxic Stress

Imagine if scientists discovered a toxic substance that increased the risks of cancer, diabetes and heart, lung and liver disease for millions of people. Something that also increased one’s risks for smoking, drug abuse, suicide, teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, domestic violence and depression — and simultaneously reduced the chances of succeeding in school, performing well on a job and maintaining stable relationships? It would be comparable to hazards like lead paint, tobacco smoke and mercury. We would do everything in our power to contain it and keep it far away from children. Right?

Children can be shielded from the most damaging effects of stress if their parents are taught how to respond appropriately.

Well, there is such a thing, but it’s not a substance. It’s been called “toxic stress.”
However, children can be shielded from the most damaging effects of stress if their parents are taught how to respond appropriately. “One thing that is highly protective is the quality of the relationship between the parent and the child,” explains Darcy Lowell, an associate clinical professor at Yale University School of Medicine and the founder of Child First, a program based in Shelton, Conn., that has marshaled strong evidence demonstrating the ability to intervene early, at relatively low cost, to reduce the harm caused by childhood stress in extremely high-need families. “Early relationships, where adults are responsive and attentive, are able to buffer the damaging effects on the brain and body,” she says.
By developing the ability to read a child’s cues, and by being emotionally available on a daily basis, parents can provide buffers that reduce the harmful physiological effects of high stress. “I feel like I enjoy my daughter more now,” Ana Patricia said. “And she enjoys me as a mother.”
Read the whole article here .

In Namibia Moms Embrace HHI

Recently a group of mothers in Namibia gathered with their babies to participate in HHI’s first ever training in their country, all thanks to a young woman who was determined to make it happen.

Geri is from HHI’s hometown of Portland, OR, but she’s been living and working as a Peace Corps volunteer in rural Namibia for the last year plus. She speaks the language, offers support, training and friendship to all of her new community.  And not too long ago, she made reached out to Hands to Hearts and made a bold request, “please bring HHI to the families of my community.”

This is not how HHI normally works. It was outside our box.  HHI’s protocol is that HHI is always led via locals, for locals, in collaboration with a community or national organization.  But… we were intrigued and inspired.  HHI is not meant to be available for a few, no baby comes with an instruction manual, and Geri was living in this community, trusted by this community.  We couldn’t say “no”, so we said “yes!”.

And so begins the story of HHI going to Biro, Namibia.  Geri spent months on Skype calls with HHI’s staff, read all of our materials and worked hard to gain a deep understanding of not only our information, but our way of training.  And last month it all came to life!  The mommies of Biro gathered together outside of the health clinic, they learned from each other and from HHI about early childhood development and all sorts of different ways to better their babies health and brain development.


The moms really liked learning about general health issues and about the behavior and cues that babies make to communicate before they can speak.  Baby cues is a favorite lesson in HHI, it helps caregivers gain a greater insight into what their baby needs and thereby enables them to better respond, making life easier and happier for everyone. During the training the women enjoyed sharing new recipes and in a short time they quickly saw the children had more energy  to get up, play and interact with people. This in-turn led the mothers to interact more with their children as they now felt they understood the reasons behind why the children act a certain way, they felt more confident in getting more involved in what their child was doing.

Geri reported that the moms liked HHI’s training so much that they have now begun a weekly mother’s club to where they can discuss various child health topics and early childhood development.

Bravo Mommas!  And thank you Geri!


Fetzer Institute Awards Research Contract

The Fetzer Institute has chosen HHI as an “Exemplar of Love” and has awarded an $80,000 research contract to investigate HHI’s impact on child health and nutrition.  The research, will explore the loving interactions and connection between child and caregiver to see if there is measurable decrease on child malnutrition and improved overall health. HHI believes the power of love, which improves parent-child bonding, is multiplied when combined with greater understanding of child development and health information.

Jamia Milia Islamia University in Delhi, India will carry out the quantitative and qualitative research on HHI’s early childhood development training program in Odisha, India.  The Fetzer Institute is funding this research to foster awareness of the power that love and forgiveness can have in our world.

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“HHI is particularly relevant to our work at Fetzer because it demonstrates the incredible power of love at the beginning of life, the far-reaching effects of its presence or absence, and the simple ways in which it can be fostered, creating benefits on many levels,” said Tim Tavis, Fetzer Institute Advisor.  The research on HHI’s program will also explore the effectiveness of the program for helping caregivers and young children learn to love and the impact this has on the child, caregiver and the community.

“HHI will benefit greatly from this partnership from The Fetzer Institute,” said Laura Peterson, founder and executive director. “The benefit of having research done on our program, will contribute to the evidence for early investment in children’s lives, while forwarding HHI’s ability to reach the most children, at the earliest time possible.”

HHI has been training parents, extended family members, health workers, orphanage workers, day care workers and other caregivers on early childhood development, health, nutrition and sanitation for seven years. Children and caregivers show remarkable benefits after HHI’s training including decreased infant mortality, improved health and development, enhanced bonding between caregiver and child and a new sense of pride in caregivers for their critically important role.

To date, HHI has trained more than 39,000 caregivers who now provide improved care for more than 130,000 children.

HHI’s Program & Grants Manager, Florence Pourtal-Stevens is in India now working with all of our partners to launch this project this month!

Be Inspired ~ Voices From the Field

Read about HHI’s work and impact, from three different perspectives, from three different continents.

Our thanks to the women who shared their stories and to Laura Barker for capturing and writing them and Kara North for putting them into such a beautiful publication!

If you would like a copy of this booklet, please email us your name and mailing address. We would be happy to mail copies for free within the US.