A million reasons to celebrate
When a class of children joined Zippy’s Friends at a school in São Paulo in June 2014, they took our total global enrolment past one million.
The school is in Paraisópolis, a difficult area with high rates of crime and drug trafficking. Tania Paris, who managed Amigos do Zippy in Brazil, describes the school as ‘an island which gives children opportunities for life.’
The class and their teacher, Regina, posed for a happy photograph outside the school, and back in our small office in southwest London we also celebrated, with champagne, balloons and a very chocolaty cake.
But what were we really celebrating?
In our first year back in 2002, Zippy’s Friends ran in a few schools and kindergartens in two countries – Denmark and Lithuania. We hoped it would expand to help more children in more countries, but we never dreamed that it would grow as quickly as it has and become recognised as one of the world’s most successful mental health programmes for children.
It has taken us 12 years to help our first million, but at this rate we will be able to help another million within the next five years.
But one million is just a number. A very big number, certainly, but it merely shows how many children we have enrolled. It doesn’t show how those children have been helped – or if, indeed, they have been helped at all.
That is why we have always attached so much importance to evaluation, to assessing what impact Zippy’s Friends has on children, both individually and as classes.
Over the years the programme has been extensively, independently and professionally evaluated in different countries and cultures, and the findings are remarkably consistent. Large-scale randomized control trials in Ireland and Norway have confirmed that children who join the programme develop improved coping and social skills. Bullying and problem behaviours are reduced, while academic achievement and classroom atmosphere improve.
There is also growing evidence that the benefits which children derive from the programme last for many years. In Lithuania, 68% of teenagers surveyed nine years after taking part in Zippy’s Friends said that it had helped them to overcome difficulties in their lives. In Mauritius, 96% of children remembered the programme after five years and 81% said they still used what it had taught them. Specifically, it had improved their communication skills, increased their self-confidence and self-control, and helped them to resolve conflicts.
We haven’t just enrolled one million children, we have had a real impact on their lives.
To all the wonderful people who have made this possible – our partners, supporters, teachers, parents and children – a million thanks.
Now, together, we need to help a million more.