Tag: Training

We Did It! Another 10,000 Children!

I wrote a post on November 10th with the dream that HHI could touch the lives of another 10,000 children in the last 2 months of the year. Well, we did it!

Our partners in Uganda, Medical Teams International, were able to successfully lead HHI trainings in 145 villages. They trained 4,507 parents – men and women – and they are each caring for an average of 2-3 children below the age of five, meaning that HHI reached another 9,014 to 13,521 children!!!

The team reported: “in the first week of the training, parents and children were unkempt, but in the last week; when summarizing with baby massage and baby cues, hygiene and neatness was at its maximum signifying that there was adoption and putting to practice what had been learnt!!!! And the peer educators vowed to continue training those that require the knowledge during their own free time!!!”

These are just the first of the outcomes, and they are of huge significance! The parents stated that they enjoyed learning new information and they liked it even better when it comes via someone who is of their own community, which is how they received HHI’s education.

Bravo Uganda!!!!

Voices From The Field: Part 3, The Mommies

A three-part series highlighting different perspectives of women involved with Hands to Hearts International.

Part 3: Ugandan community leaders Florence Okun and Norah Awio use the skills they learned during the HHI training when caring for their own families.

By Laura Barker

“To be a child in Uganda is not easy,” explains Norah Awio. Especially in the north, where decades of war have forced millions of people into refugee camps, being a child means having to endure countless hardships. Because “children. . . have no right to speak,” sexual and physical abuse is common. They work hard fetching water, collecting firewood, digging, and selling agricultural products. Their families often lack the funds or proper clothing to send them to school. In a place where “child labour is the order of growing up,” the education and training provided to parents and caretakers alike through Hands to Hearts is refreshing and widely welcomed.

Norah, 36, and her husband live with their five children and several more dependents in a modest one-room home in Kampala, Uganda. She works six days a week as a legal officer for the Locan Rebe Women’s Group, resting only on Sundays, when she attends church and catches up on housework. As a leader in her community, Norah works to mobilize women and tries to promote HHI training. It’s a difficult task, as many Ugandans are skeptical of help from outsiders, assuming it will cost them money to participate in their programs. But Norah knows firsthand the positive effects of HHI’s services and works to recruit more women whom she knows will also benefit. Although these women might initially be wary, once they attend the training, they too sing HHI’s praises. Some women can’t stop talking about it and soon begin to recommend HHI to their own friends and family members.

Florence Okun is another community leader and past participant of the HHI trainings. Her grown son is now studying at Makerere University in Kampala, but she continues to care for many people in her house: her brother, her mother who is paralyzed, and 8 other children that she has taken in. Some are orphans and others are the children of family members who are unable to care for them. “I decided to take some of these orphans because their parents are extremely poor and single mothers,” she says. “Secondly, I have a kind heart and. . . only one son.” Florence, 42, is also a member of Locan Rebe, a group formed by internally displaced women from northern Uganda “as a result of war and poor living conditions.” She is the Local Council 1 for her zone, a low-level government position responsible for general cleanliness in the area. In addition, she owns and manages a small hotel in the city.

Florence HHI’s new video – Share this YouTube with your Friends!

Like Norah, Florence is very appreciative of the early childhood development education she received through HHI and says she acts differently with her family because of it. She spends more time with her children, who are now more likely to tell her stories and bring their friends home. She learned that children develop all their senses as they grow and that they “require love, close attention, and encouragement by [the] parent.”

Norah, too, has learned to make more time for her children. “I used [to] think that giving children food was enough for them,” she says, “but during HHI trainings I learned that having time for your child [is] very important. . . and you become not only a parent to that child but also a close friend.” Because her work is exhausting, she never felt she had enough time to give to her children. But now she says she carries the younger ones around “with love” and chats with the older ones about how they feel and what is on their minds.

In addition to changing the ways in which they respond to their children, both Norah and Florence emphasized the positive change HHI has brought to their community as a whole. The women have become closer through discussions about the best childrearing practices. Being involved with Hands to Hearts, they said, has “restored their relationships.” “HHI brought oneness in our community,” says Norah. Florence agrees, concluding that “the level of love has increased.” In a country where the atrocities of war have touched the lives of every citizen, this is indeed a powerful statement.


“Children are the sum of what mothers contribute to their lives.”


Voices From The Field: Part 2, The Trainer

A three-part series highlighting different perspectives of women involved with Hands to Hearts International.

Part 2: From orphanage caregivers to mothers in the most remote villages in India, HHI Master Trainer, Sujatha Balaje, educates and inspires.

By Laura Barker

HHI Master Trainer Sujatha Balaje is a natural with children—she has been working with them all her life. Her mother runs a school and orphanage in Sujatha’s hometown of Chennai, India, a city of over four million people and the capital of Tamil Nadu State on the southeastern coast. Growing up, she helped care for the babies and worked part time in the kindergarten class. Her husband’s family also operated an orphanage in Chennai and it was through her work at this orphanage that Sujatha first became involved with Hands to Hearts International. When executive director Laura Peterson came to oversee HHI’s first training program at the orphanage in 2006, it was Sujatha who translated. More than her language skills, Laura immediately recognized the instinctual way Sujatha interacted with the children and her gift for working with people. She knew Sujatha was the type of person she wanted on HHI’s team.

Since February of 2006, Sujatha has been enriching the lives of hundreds of Indian women and caregivers and thousands of children through her dynamic training sessions on early childhood development. In her first year, she trained all the caregivers at the local orphanages and now leads four training sessions a month in rural villages in the remote Theni district. Because the women she serves live in extremely isolated areas, she is required to take several buses and sometimes walk several more kilometers to reach them. Trainings take place over two days and normally involve about 20 women at a time.

HHI’s program is designed to educate parents and caretakers on early childhood development and includes curriculum on cognitive, language, social, emotional, and physical development, responding to baby cues such as facial expressions and verbal sounds, and therapeutic baby massage. Sujatha masterfully weaves local songs, dances, and traditions into her agenda. “The purpose of the training,” she says, “is to educate mothers to understand the value of early childhood development . . . and to help them find the physical, emotional, and mental changes in their children.” She says her favorite parts of the trainings are the baby massage, songs and dance, and the focus on health and hygiene, an element of the program she herself designed. Sujatha is the star of HHI’s Baby Massage DVD in which demonstrates the massage techniques she teaches the women.

Traditional beliefs about education are slowly changing in India. While it was once common practice for parents to educate only their sons, now they are much more likely to send all their children to school. Sujatha praises the educational system in Chennai saying it is “considered one of the best in India” and also credits the Indian government with helping to change opinions on equal access to schooling by improving education across the board. Despite this progress, however, ancient practices still exist, though they differ from state to state, community to community and caste to caste. Mothers in rural places in particular have a tough time bringing up their children due to deeply ingrained gender bias for boys, a lack of education and health services, difficult environmental conditions, and bleak financial situations. It is Sujatha’s job to develop innovative and culturally appropriate lessons to give caregivers effective strategies for how best to nurture their children.

In the over four years she has worked for Hands to Hearts, Sujatha has had incredible success. Her effectiveness in the orphanages in particular is beyond compare. Despite the good intentions of staff members, the conditions in many Indian orphanages are tough. Most are overflowing with abandoned children who are still disproportionately female. Many of the children have disabilities or suffer from health problems. Staff members are poorly paid and receive little to no support and education. The combination of these factors can cause a deadly spiral, where sick children get sicker and overworked caregivers feel less and less competent.

Sujatha’s work teaching HHI’s program to the orphanage staff members, however, has had profound impacts. Children begin to grow and thrive and the staff begins to feel empowered, even bragging to each other about whose babies are gaining the most weight. Several months after facilitating training workshops there, several orphanages reported this astounding statistic: not a single baby had died since the training.

Even in very rural areas, word has spread of the program’s success. Once, Sujatha trained a group of tribal women with no prior education who had moved out of their cave dwellings only a few years before. Another time, a group of gypsy women requested training. The men in their group, although not actively participating, sat outside the circle to listen, prompting the local paper to write a story about this unusual event. In another tiny village, when more than 30 women showed up, Sujatha realized there was not enough room for all of them to gather in the small space provided, and talk began of canceling the session. The women were so excited about it, however, that they scrambled to find another option. The only solution seemed to be to move outside, so Sujatha ended up conducting her training right there in the middle of the street!

Sujatha has been an invaluable staff member at Hands to Hearts. She is so highly regarded that when HHI began a sister program in Uganda, Sujatha was invited to lead the pilot training sessions in Kampala. She praises the techniques employed by HHI saying, “The activities of HHI are different, more effective and more personalized for the babies and I am lucky that I was trained by HHI as I gained more knowledge about caregiving for babies and training the mothers to give care for their babies.” In just less than five years of training parents and caretakers, she has touched the lives of thousands of women and children, giving them practical skills to use in their daily lives as well as inspiration for the future. Although her job is one of service to others, her own life has been enriched through the process as well. She has an elevated status in her family and has earned enormous respect throughout the region, as community after community benefit from her work as an HHI Master Trainer.


Review Voices from the Field, Part 1 – The Donor

Coming Soon:

Part 3: Ugandan community leaders Florence Okun and Norah Awio use the skills they learned during the HHI training when caring for their own families

New Perspectives of HHI

Written by: Laura Barker, HHI volunteer

As a volunteer for HHI, I have been working on a project to bring some personal stories to the website. I’m talking to donors, HHI trainers, and participants in order to learn about their experiences with the organization and how these experiences have helped them grow as caretakers and as women. Each of these women comes to HHI with a distinct perspective and world view and with a lifetime of culturally specific experiences—a donor from California, a master trainer from southern India, a mother from the slums of Uganda. Yet each of these women is now connected through their shared experience with Hands to Hearts. Certainly HHI has touched each of them in a different way, but it has made a significant impression on each one.

As for me, I’m new to HHI and have yet to see the program in action. But I have been fortunate enough to begin the process of learning more about this influential organization. I know from my own travel experiences in Central America and Africa that programs focused on educating the local community often leave the most lasting effects. Education—unlike tools, water pumps, or money—once given, cannot be taken away. Those who receive it not only get to use what they learn for their own benefit, but also become teachers themselves, passing along their new-found knowledge to their friends and children. In a place where material wealth is scarce and promises of help are frequently left unfulfilled, the gift of education is precious.

As an American, I certainly value my education, but am I really aware of how precious it is? The HHI participants in Uganda were saying that the education they received would change their lives forever—an extremely powerful statement. I may have more total education than the Ugandan women, but I’m not sure that any one part of my education has changed my life as profoundly as it did theirs. Imparting that type of education—the type that changes the way you think and the way you perceive the world around you—is the most valuable resource an organization can provide. I look forward to learning more about the way HHI touches its participants, its trainers, and its donors and to sharing these stories with the HHI community.

Stay tuned and share in the richness of the full version of each of these women’s stories in a feature called “Voices from the Field”.

HHI Wins International Research Award!

The Asia Pacific Regional Network for Early Childhood (ARNEC) has identified Hands to Hearts International as one of four sites to document innovative and noteworthy practices in early childhood development. HHI was chosen out of 24 applications from throughout the Asia-Pacific region and is the only program identified in all of India for this privilege.

ARNEC is a professional network designed to share knowledge of effective policies and practices related to early childhood for the benefit of all countries in the region. It is funded by UNICEF, UNESCO and Plan International among other other very esteemed agencies.

A panel of experts composed of ARNEC Steering Committee members, ARNEC Secretariat, and external Advisors took into consideration the following when evaluating HHI’s application: the programme’s focus and approach; how noteworthy it was, particularly focusing on whether it was inclusive, innovative and inspirational; and how well the programme was disseminated in the region. (see HHI featured on ARNEC website)


The documentation of noteworthy practices is ARNEC’s initiative to expand the knowledge base on innovative practice in early childhood in the Asia-Pacific region by highlighting promising and noteworthy practices that best support early child development, but are not yet widely known and can serve as an inspiration to others.

The ARNEC researcher assigned to HHI is Miriam Thangaraj, she has a MBA from Xavier Labor Research Institute, a Master’s of Education from Harvard University and is a PhD candidate in International and Comparative Education at the University of Wisconsin- Madison, USA. Field research has already begun at two of HHI’s program sites in India. Stay tuned for ARNEC’s reported findings, the programmes’ documentation report will be made available later this year.