We’ve said it before and no doubt the history books will say it again and again, 2020 was a tumultuous year.

Given the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s easy to feel that there was little progress made or than in fact the world went backwards. Despite the challenges however, UNICEF Australia's projects across the Asia-Pacific continued to deliver life-saving changes for children and their families, thanks to support from people like you. 

Here’s three good news stories you might have missed.  
Children play at an early childhood development centre, established with support from UNICEF. © UNICEF PNG/2020/Fred Cook Jnr

1. Children in PNG can now attend pre-school  

“When there was no school in the area, our small children suffered,” says Peter, a father of two in rural Papua New Guinea (PNG). “It takes an hour for our children to walk to school in the morning and an hour to walk back home after school.” 

As a result, many girls and boys stayed at home until the age of 10, missing out on years of learning. In PNG, few children are able to enrol in, let alone complete, early learning. Before 2020, pre-school education did not exist in the country’s education system. 

"Now that we have a school here,
I am very happy.
When our teams visited Peter’s village, he attended early childhood development (ECD) training, and along with his brother, built two classrooms for their small community.  

“Now that we have a school here, I am very happy,” says Peter.  

“We see many good changes in the small children. Before starting ECD, they did not know how to read or write but now they they’re learning how to speak English and that makes us very happy.” 
Peter (middle) with his children 6-year-old Margie and 7-year-old Abison and right, pre-schoolers at play at an ECD centre. © UNICEF PNG/2020/Fred Cook Jnr

UNICEF works closely with the PNG Government to advocate for the importance of early childhood development. In 2020, the country’s Minister for Education announced that, for the first time, two years of pre-school would be incorporated into PNG’s education system. 

UNICEF has helped to establish 73 new ECD centres in hard-to-reach communities, benefiting more than 7,000 children, including 245 children with disabilities. 

Teachers are trained on inclusive education and classrooms were made accessible to ensure girls and boys with disabilities are not left behind.   
With support from UNICEF, Nang and her son Kum – who has a physical disability – has access to rehabilitation services and advice for the first time. © UNICEF Laos/2019/Sanoubane

2. Children with disabilities access support for the first time in Laos 

“I was really worried about his future… now I have hope,” says Nang. Her young son Kum has hemiplegia cerebral palsy, which makes walking and balance difficult.  

In Laos, children with severe disabilities are often kept at home due to stigma and discrimination, making it difficult for parents to access care and support for their children.  

UNICEF helped to develop the first ever model of care for children with disabilities in Laos. Our teams visit communities to provide medical check-ups and diagnoses, rehabilitation plans and support to families.  
"I learned from the training that children
with disabilities have equal rights,
especially the right to education.

Through this program, Nang learnt how to help Kum do basic rehabilitation exercises, and for the first time the family has access to rehabilitation services and advice. Today, Kum can walk with support from his mother, who built him a hand-made bamboo walking bar, and he happily attends kindergarten. 

“My son has made a big improvement,” says Nang. “Before joining the project, Kum could not sit, he crawled with his two hands when he wanted to move.” 

In 2020 alone, more than 100 children with disabilities were reached by these first ever government-led services. 

As village coordinator, Nang visits other parents of children with disabilities, and exchanges experiences and information.  

“I learned from the training that children with disabilities have equal rights, especially the right to education,” says Nang.  

Karno, here with his mother Esi, is now happy and healthy after recovering from malnutrition. © UNICEF Indonesia

3. More children are being treated for malnutrition in Indonesia   

At 18-months-old, Karno weighed as much as a three-month-old baby. During a village health outreach in Indonesia, health care workers found he was suffering from severe acute malnutrition.  

In Indonesia, more than 2 million children suffer from severe acute malnutrition, the most extreme and visible form of undernutrition which requires urgent treatment to survive.  

But only a small number of these children are able to access the treatment they need. Many families are unable to accompany their children to hospital for weeks at a time and screening for SAM is not conducted routinely in the community. 

Thankfully, Karno was taken to a community health centre and given ready to use therapeutic food – a peanut butter-like paste rich in vitamins and energy – to take home. His mother, Esi, also attended cooking classes, held by the community nutritionist, where she was taught how to prepare nutritious and affordable food for her family. 

"I want all parents to know the importance
of detecting and treating malnutrition to
stop this happening to other children.

After six weeks Karno was healthy weighing 8.8kgs with an upper arm circumference measuring in the healthy, “green” zone. 

“I want all parents to know the importance of detecting and treating malnutrition to stop this happening to other children,” Esi says. 

In 2020, more than 129,000 children were treated for severe acute malnutrition, an increase from 20,000 in 2018. 

Through this UNICEF supported program, boys and girls with severe acute malnutrition can now receive treatment at home with their families. This program increases the detection of children with severe acute malnutrition, by screening them in their own communities and improving access to treatment. 

Following the success of this pilot program, the Ministry of Health plans to expand the program to the entire country by 2022, so children like Karno can survive and thrive. 

These projects are supported by generous Australian donors and the Australian NGO Corporation Program.