In the years since Ruth Curran first served as a volunteer in St. Lucia, she accepted a position on our Board of Directors, and thereafter joined our staff as Director of Partnerships. As an author, blogger and organizational behaviorist, Ruth believes things happen for a reason. For instance, she believes the understanding seized from her life-changing brain injury two decades ago has led her to her work today to help children in Global Volunteers’ partner communities to reach their full potential. By applying her professional and personal skills to Global Volunteers’ service work in St. Lucia, Tanzania and around the world, Ruth applies concepts from her book “Being Brain Healthy“ to help vulnerable and committed mothers to raise healthy children.
By Ruth Curran, Director of Partnerships
In the first 1, 000 days of a child’s life, all the intellectual potential of a lifetime is mapped. Care and programs aimed at preserving and protecting that potential is key to ensuring the child’s optimal development. That’s why early childhood education and a wide range of interventions are so important, in a very real way, it does “take a village” to raise a healthy, capable child.
This is a recent understanding in brain development. As recently as ten years ago, we weren’t connecting an individual’s ultimate adult potential with their gestation and early childhood.
St. Lucia volunteers provide targeted health and nutrition campaigns, household gardens for supplementing meals with nutritious food, early childhood activities to encourage strong mother-child bonds, and psycho-social support for the entire family. These interventions are expected to raise the cognitive capabilities of children over 10 to 15 years.
Global Volunteers is approaching the project in the right way by providing the best supportive environment for brains to develop through proven essential services – all with and through the efforts of locally lead and managed organizations.
It’s fundamentally changed the way I see the world. It was a volunteer trip, and I expected to contribute. But at some point in the first few days I made a huge shift in my thinking – a mental pivot from giving to serving. And that shift carried me far outside my “comfort zone” – connecting my own research and passion for helping people to Global Volunteers’ work with mothers and babies.
Upon my return, I collaborated with Global Volunteers’ staff to develop a training program on brain development for Anse la Raye’s parents – emphasizing children’s pre-natal health, stimulation and nutrition after birth. That program has since contributed to the expansion of the St. Lucia demonstration program to the Reaching Children’s Potential Program in the Ukwega Ward of Tanzania.
After the car accident that caused her brain injury, Curran returned to school and earned a Masters Degree in psychology, with an emphasis on cognitive rehabilitation and the changes in the brain as result of disease and environmental factors. It was this education –and the hard work of stimulating her brain – which helped her regain all her functions. The brain has a great capacity to heal and recover from trauma, she says, but children can’t re-acquire what they lose to disease and under-stimulation.
All the interventions I worked with and developed came from the foundation of early brain development – how brains develop and how people can maximize that across the lifespan. I worked with a neuropsychologist and did neuropsychological evaluations as part of life planning for people with brain related disabilities – some due to injury and disease, but many due to just plain neglect or lack or nutrition, stimulation, support, education, social interaction.
My goal then was to deliver the most up-to-date, cutting-edge information in a form that is meaningful and usable. We’ve now developed parent workshops on child brain development for parents in five villages in the Iringa District of Tanzania. Read Ruth’s account of her volunteer service in Tanzania. It’s been greatly fulfilling to use my skills and to channel my energy into a program I have seen personally make a significant difference in children’s and mothers’ lives.
Read more about the Reaching Children’s Potential Program in Tanzania.