Tag: Empowering Women

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!

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!


HHI’s India Fan Club hosts HHI in Bangalore

- Contributed by: Nishant Vatsal, IFC President

HHI’s India Fan Club was born almost two years ago, from the enthusiasm of a few, it has grown to now become a supportive group to HHI’s core work and mission.

Somewhat spontaneously, the IFC got put into action by HHI and was asked to organize and host HHI’s first ever training in our home city of Bangalore.  From day one of July, the India Fan Club (IFC) commenced reaching out to a matching set of adoption agencies and orphanages in the city. Next thing we know is that our proposal was accepted by Vathsalya Charitable Trust – the best match possible!

Trust me hosting the event was as easy as it sounds, with merely a few exceptional events, which proved to be the ultimate brick walls for IFC, seemed to demand response to questions like, “how badly we wanted to get a breakthrough; to what extent were we willing to persist and persevere to make this event possible?” – and we believe that we did answer the questions courageously, with a lot of enthusiasm and precision at the same time.

We had a dream and we protected it to realization. And we are really very happy that we could.

HHI’s two-day, free training on early childhood development (ECD), kick started on July 21st with 20 foster moms at Vathsalya Charitable Trust with an introduction session and a note of thanks from the President of IFC. It went all day, with breaks for light refreshments and a lunch break. Folks from IFC with help from administrators at Vathsalya Charitable Trust closely monitored the training site to make sure everything was in place.

Later in the afternoon, Laura (an immensely great personality / founder of HHI) and Florence (a very accomplished professional / HHI’s Program & Grants Manager) arrived in Bangalore.  Laura was driven to the training site by Nishant (President of HHI IFC / a mechanical engineer turned IT professional), where she met and thanked everyone. The story of HHI and Vathsalya were explained and appreciations exchanged, resulting in a new amity between HHI and Vathsalya Charitable Trust, Bangalore.

The same schedule was modeled on day two except that we finished an hour sooner for it was a Saturday and mommies had requested for it. Moreover, we also had the graduation ceremony in the cue for the day. Can’t deny, in Bangalore we take our weekends a little too seriously!!

On day two, the excited foster moms along with Laura, Florence, folks from IFC and Vathsalya Charitable were all in attendance. As the president of IFC, I was present on both days of the training actively observing. Personally, I greatly appreciate the interactive nature of the ECD educational programme, which really dwarfed the requirement of the understanding of the language of instruction, which was a bit complicated by the use of multiple langauges.

Of all the modules I was able to attend, I think I got it all. I am through and I have a feeling, my future wife is certainly going to be proud of me when I will share my HHI’s mind blowing knowledge of ECD with her! Well! ..sorry to be so dramatic!

Two days, 8 modules, 18 HHI certified mommies, 700 photographs, a ton of goose bumping feedback, several new friendships and lot of love in the air later, HHI’s first ever early childhood development (ECD) educational training programme in the city of Bangalore concluded.

Did I tell you what the average number of kids that the participants at HHI’s Bangalore training had fostered so far? Well! Its 24! The lowest number of kids fostered being 11 and highest, a whooping 44. And the average number of years since these mommies have been fostering the kids was 9.16.

Looking at these data points, as I said at the outset, Vathsalya Charitable Trust was undoubtedly the best match possible as a recipient of HHI’s training!

And the feedbacks that goose bumped all of us at HHI were these –

“Despite fostering so many children for so long, there are things we learnt in this training, we never knew. We now feel that we simply didn’t know nothing”. (Translated from Kannada and Tamil)

Another foster mom said, “ …the foster moms will now be able to give their children the best care possible”. (Not translated)

Also, we were unanimously told by the participants that that two of the most appealing elements of the HHI training were the baby massage techniques and the cogency, incisiveness and  lucidity rounded by brilliance in our India lead trainer Sujatha’s conduct.

Goes without saying, it was great time and huge honor for the IFC.

Thank you Laura for giving us this opportunity and all that you have done for us and the world!

We are proud of you!

Best regards,

Nishant Vatsal

President | HHI India Fan Club

India Fan Club of the Hands To Hearts International (HHI) is a tiny urban support group of seven members (mostly IT professionals), based in Bengaluru, engaged in the exceptional task of spreading the much needed awareness in the country about the great contribution that HHI is making in India and other challenging regions across the world.An eminent city doctor and an established musician cum fashion expert – who was also a writer at Rolling Stones magazine, India between 2007 and 2008 – are the pro bono advisors of the club.

P.S: On Sunday, July, 22nd, Laura hosted a celebratory dinner for the IFC at a famous Indian restaurant in Bangalore.

Please follow the following links for the photos of HHI’s July event in India:


HHI page on Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/HandsToHearts

HHI IFC page on Linked In:


Vote Laura for our Local Lady GODIVA

HHI’s founder and Director has been selected as one of only 9 women in the nation to become a semi-finalist in the local Lady GODIVA Program!

Out of more than 3,000 nominations, Laura’s been chosen because of her generous spirit, passionate leadership and commitment to HHI. The country was divided into 3 regions and we need your vote in order for Laura to be considered for the big Lady GODIVA award and $10,000 for HHI.

From June 5 to June 28 you can vote for Laura ONCE PER DAY. After voting closes, one woman from each region will receive a $1,000 grant and advance as a finalist to the next round of the program, where she’ll be eligible for a $10,000 grant!

Vote for Laura now and be sure to tell your friends!

Want to know more about Laura? Listen to why she founded HHI.

Curious about Lady GODIVA? Read her story.

Sujatha shares her HHI testimony


“I am blessed that I was trained by HHI as I gained more knowledge about care giving for babies. I don’t see this as a work rather I take it as a challenge and a glorious opportunity given to me to bring up a better tomorrow in every child’s life. Feeling proud to be a part of HHI’s global team.

I strongly felt that the reason for HHI programme’s success with small budget are the best co-ordination of grass roots level beneficiaries (i.e. mothers) and HHI’s highly professionalized training modules.”

-Sujatha, HHI’s Master Trainer in Tamil Nadu, India, leads HHI mommy trainings every month. She has also been our lead trainer since day one when HHI began our work at the orphanage run by Madras Social Service Guild (MASOS) in Chennai. Sujatha has also trained all of our other HHI trainers, around India and she worked in Uganda to launch our project there.

Thank you, Sujatha, for your kind words and even more for your love and dedication to HHI and all of the mommies, daddies, caregivers and babies that you help bring HHI’s message to!