From: Biniam Tekle (email@example.com)
Date: Mon Nov 30 2009 - 13:19:06 EST
FILM REVIEW: "One Childhood" offers glimpse at Eritrea's success in
By Henoch Derbew
Eritrean children learning in a “bunker school,” also called “zero-schools,”
during the war
21 November 2009 [MEDIAGLOBAL]: Achieving sustainability in child health and
education continues to be a challenge for national governments and
development experts alike. Despite the fact that billions of dollars have
been spent through a variety of programs in recent years, success has been
mixed throughout the global South. One Childhood, however, offers simple and
effective ways by which Eritrea has been investing in its future by caring
for its youth.
The documentary begins by chronicling the young country’s journey to
sustainable development that began during its 30-year civil war, where
various rebel groups pushing for independence were formed. As the war became
more intense, these groups combined and solidified their power on the
battlefield. At the same time, in areas and towns that they captured, they
also came together to deliver services for themselves and for the people
“behind the lines.”
Health care was a major priority and included the underground production of
various pharmaceutical goods. Youth education was also important. Eritrea’s
Ambassador to the United Nations, Araya Desta, described to MediaGlobal the
“zero-schools” that were established for children under 18, teaching a range
of subjects using books printed by the groups themselves. The Ambassador
said that, though many youth were eager to fight, rebel leaders encouraged
them to attend school so human capital would be available after
In 1991, the war ended and Eritrea peacefully seceded in 1993. The former
rebels became government leaders with a firm commitment to self-reliance.
Ambassador Desta explained that, following the war, Eritrea “inherited a
below zero economy. The country’s livelihoods and infrastructure were
devastated and there was 80 percent illiteracy. Whatever schooling existed
was focused in urban areas. Since that time, Eritrea has had to rise from
This reality revealed a necessity to improve both health and education at
the same time, especially for youth, to promote sustainable national
The documentary details the coming together of health and education for
national training to be given to “focal” teachers. These teachers travel to
cities for intense, basic health education with other teachers from all over
the country. They then return to serve their communities and teach others.
Through such training and teaching, the Eritrean government hopes to combine
the education of teachers with its health policy, believing that through
them, prevention of problems early in a student’s life will be more
cost-effective than treatment later. Stunted growth in children, for
example, is a major indicator of poor health from malnutrition and, if left
untreated, can lead to irreparable damage and greater susceptibility to
illness later in life.
Through adequate training, teachers can quickly diagnose problems in
students. The documentary’s title itself, One Childhood, explains the
importance of the training, which is based on the belief that every child
has “only one childhood,” and proper care in the early years of life is
essential for development.
The recently deceased former Minister of Health, His Excellency Saleh Meky,
explained in the documentary that though Eritrea shared a number of
potential roadblocks with many other African nations, the simple training of
teachers offers an effective solution and vital first step in child health
The Minister further pointed out that the expensive alternative of supplying
“legions of doctors and hospitals in remote villages” is not feasible for
Eritrea, but the incorporation of thousands of teachers into the national
health team is. Additionally, to promote community buy-in, eager community
leaders and parent-teacher association members are also invited to the
trainings for their input. In these ways, education is transferred from the
child to the family, and then to the community, promoting an equitable
distribution of health throughout the country.
Health care for Eritrean children, however, begins even before schooling.
Children are regularly measured by specially-trained community health
workers to see if they are growing properly. To help keep track of their
well-being, virtually every village, no matter how remote, has opportunities
for infants to be measured and assisted if need be.
Beginning in kindergarten and continuing through the primary school system,
trained teachers or health workers record children’s sizes and diagnose
potential diseases, making referrals to health centers if necessary.
By late 2008, 446 pre-school centers had already been created to care for
26,000 children, and over 2,000 teachers had been trained to provide health
services in 96 percent of schools.
In the Eritrean capital of Asmara, students are faced with urban issues,
such as increased chances for sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted
pregnancy, alcoholism and smoking. To address these once taboo topics,
trained teachers mobilize student peer-educators to create youth groups and
candidly discuss these issues. For more common healthcare, these students
also have the benefit of mobile clinics that visit classrooms to detect
Eritrea’s combined health and education policies today are still seen as
essential investments in the country’s future and receive top priority.
Ambassador Desta described his government’s continued support for health and
education as a necessary ingredient for Eritrea’s continuing development.
The strides that have been made in gender equity, child and maternal health,
and expanding education into all corners of the country have shown signs of
improvement and seem to be putting Eritrea on the right path. Still,
although Eritrea continues to improve, the ambassador and most experts admit
that more hard work remains.
One Childhood can be viewed on the World Bank’s YouTube channel at
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