By the end of 2020, COVID-19 had claimed 16 thousand lives out of 745 thousand cases registered in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Panama, countries where around four (4) million children between 0 and 4 years of age live. The impact of the pandemic resulted, in these five (5) Central American territories, in a reduction of -4.91% of GDP and increased inequality by 3.62%, with a poverty index that grew by 3.33%.
The figures for public investment with respect to GDP related to education is only 4.78%; the rate of malnutrition in early childhood is 10.38%. And, although access to primary education is 85.68%, the time spent in pre-primary school is less than 2 years.
Against this backdrop, by 2021, millions of children in Central America will be out of the education system. And the region faces multifactorial social challenges that, therefore, require a multi-sectoral response. Six (6) organizations of the United Way Worldwide network, with more than 20 years of experience, together with allies in El Salvador, and with the support of Great Place To Work and FEMSA Foundation, join together to promote, hand in hand with the public and private sector, the advancement of Early Childhood Development in the region.
Central America Grows seeks to improve the quality of early childhood services through the implementation of four (4) impact areas: access to early care and stimulation, family awareness and healthy home environments, health care and food security, and awareness of the importance of early childhood development. Actions focused on increasing the capacities of the educational and social system in a comprehensive manner will be implemented in the five (5) countries.
To officially kick off the initiative, the launch of Central America Grows will take place via virtual streaming on Thursday, September 16th at 10:00am ET, with an agenda to sensitize corporate and public sector leaders on the strategic importance of early childhood development. Along with keynote expert, doctor and world renowned scientist in early childhood development, Jack P. Shonkoff, M.D., Director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, will speak for the first time in Central America with a talk focused on the brain development of children in inequitable contexts.
The event will also include the participation of the following speakers: Karla Segovia, Executive Director FUSAL; Haydee Trigueros, Executive Director FUNDEMAS; Belia Meneses, Executive Director United Way Guatemala; Patricia López, Executive Director Honduras; Olga Sauma, Executive Director AED Costa Rica; Marisa Arias, Executive Director United Way Panama; José Pedro Ferrão, International President United Way Worldwide; Eduardo Queiroz, VP for Latin America & The Caribbean UWW; Juan Carlos Guaqueta, Director of Capacities for Latin America & The Caribbean UWW; Lorena Guillé-Laris, Director of FEMSA Foundation. And, Lesslie Davidovich, CEO Central America & The Caribbean Great Place To Work.
"It is a transformative and multi-sectoral regional initiative, in five (5) years we seek to achieve more than 5 million dollars mobilized to directly benefit more than 340 thousand children, and achieve more than 1.39 million indirect beneficiaries. A challenge that we will be able to address in collaboration with the private and public sector," says Eduardo de Campos Queiroz, VP for Latin America & The Caribbean United Way Worldwide.