ChildFund International Blog

Sonam’s Fight Against Child Marriage

By ChildFund India staff

Oct. 11 is the International Day of the Girl Child, a day set aside by the United Nations to recognize girls’ rights and the special challenges they face. This year’s theme for the day is The Power of the Adolescent Girl: Vision for 2030, so ChildFund’s blog will focus this week on girls who are working to achieve great things now and in the future.

Sonam, 17, a child marriage activist from Madhya Pradesh, India, accepts an award.

Sonam, 17, a child marriage activist from Madhya Pradesh, India, accepts an award.

In India, the country with the most child brides worldwide, an estimated 47 percent of girls are married before age 18, putting their physical, emotional and mental health at risk. Although it is illegal in India for girls under 18 and boys under 21 to marry, the tradition remains entrenched.

For a long time, ChildFund has worked with adults and youth in the state of Madhya Pradesh, where the practice is particularly prevalent, to end this harmful tradition. For many in this fight, the stakes are personal.

When 17-year-old Sonam’s parents insisted that she get married, she protested, and together with her youth club members who had taken an oath to become role models for others by not becoming the victims of early marriage, she spoke with her parents. She shared that she did not want to get married before reaching the legal age and also wanted to study further to achieve her dreams.

At the launch of a 100-day child marriage awareness campaign in 75 villages earlier this year, Sonam was recognized for addressing the issue of early marriage and for standing up against her own marriage. Anmol Jeevan, the campaign, drew great support from the community, including village leaders and parents. Thousands of people attended the event where Sonam and other youth members received awards.

“ChildFund has changed my life — it came as a ray of hope in my life and has given me courage to dream about my future,” she said while accepting the award.

Sonam (left) at a literacy campaign event.

Sonam (left) at a literacy campaign event.

Sonam has been with ChildFund India since the beginning of the project, for more than six years.  She has actively participated in several of ChildFund’s programs, awareness camps and meetings on early marriage. She also encourages mothers to get their children immunized and provide nutritious food. She also has promoted literacy in her village by doing door-to-door counseling and getting children of her village enrolled in school. With Sonam’s and her youth club members’ persistent efforts, more than 62 community members have learned to read — out of the 142 illiterate village members they had identified.

After a lot of persuasion, Sonam’s parents were convinced that she should remain unmarried. With their support, she is now preparing for exams, with plans to become an engineer and help her village.

“If convinced properly,” says Sonam, “parents will support their daughters’ wishes to study instead of getting them married at an early age.”

And when they do, those girls will be able to make enormous contributions within their own communities — as Sonam has.

Listening to Girls’ Voices

Maria Antonia of Brazil

Maria Antônia in New York City.

By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

Oct. 11 is the International Day of the Girl Child, a day set aside by the United Nations to recognize girls’ rights and the special challenges they face. This year’s theme for the day is The Power of the Adolescent Girl: Vision for 2030, so ChildFund’s blog will focus this week on girls who are working to achieve great things now and in the future.   

Thinking about girls — especially those who are entering adolescence — reminded me of some favorite stories from past blog posts, featuring girls raising their voices to advocate for themselves and other young people. In March, Maria Antônia, a 14-year-old girl from Brazil, spoke about violence against children at the United Nations’ headquarters in New York. “It is very important to improve child-friendly services within the child protection network, so that children feel confident and safe,” she said. It was her first time in the United States, as well as the first time she’d seen snow.

In a post from 2014, this one from Indonesia, we met Stefanie and Irma, teenagers who were youth facilitators in a large, multi-age forum about dating violence, which has grown more prevalent there in recent years. It’s impressive how open children and youth can be about such sensitive issues, and it’s thanks to young people like Irma and Stefanie that Indonesian communities are making progress in stopping domestic violence.

Finally, in Ethiopia, four young women spoke out about children’s right to a complete education, during 2014’s Day of the African Child, an annual, Africa-wide event that marks the deaths of young protesters who marched for better educational access in Soweto, South Africa, in 1976. Eden, Helen, Aziza and Bemnet, all in their teens, addressed the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. You can read their words, which reflect the struggles they and other young people in their communities face.

At the U.N.’s Day of the Girl website, read about the special challenges girls face, including early marriage, gender-based violence and poor access to education and job opportunities. Also, if you’re on social media, use the hashtag #dayofthegirl to learn more and discuss these issues.

Turn Goals Into Action to Protect Children

Brazil sisters

Maria Eduarda, 10, and Iasmin, 4, are sisters who live in Brazil. Both look to the future and dream of being teachers.

By Erin Kennedy, ChildFund Director of Advocacy

I can’t stop thinking about something I heard at one of the side events in the run-up to the recent 2015 United Nations Summit, in which the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted: “There are millions of girls who grow up around the world expecting to be beaten by their husbands because they saw their mothers being beaten.”

This statement, by Susan Bissell, who’s heading up the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children, made my own two little girls spring to mind. What will they expect? I wondered. Certainly not that. Thankfully, not that.

My girls, of course, expect all their needs to be met. They expect Mommy and Daddy to love them, respect each other, feed them, care for them when they’re sick, keep them safe. The 3-year-old, my sunshine climber, and her 2-year-old sister, my feisty hugger — both expect to be queens of all they survey. And that’s as it should be. (Within reason.)

But what if they’d been born into a community where they watched their mother experience endless physical and emotional violence and grew up thinking that was just the way things were? What if they grew up afraid to go to school because of the dangers along the way? What if they had to leave school to work in pesticide-laden fields or dangerous mines — or marry someone at age 12?

That’s not what I want for them. Oh, no.

But for too many girls worldwide — boys, too — these are the exactly the kinds of things they can expect as they grow up. For them, it starts early: About 60 percent of children ages 2-14 experience physical punishment from their caregivers. More than 120 million girls have experienced sexual violence. Some 85 million children are trapped in hazardous work.

However, we know that moms and dads around the world want more for their children. We all do, not just in the richer countries.

So we should all be able to agree that it is time to give all children a chance to fulfill their dreams instead of having them derailed by violence. And now, more than ever, we have a chance to make that possible.

We celebrate the newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals, the world’s newest statement of what it wants for itself. And we celebrate the inclusion of violence against children as a priority throughout that statement. That’s a great first step.

But for this world to achieve a future in which children are free from violence and exploitation, we must step forward together — governments, communities, families and, especially, children — toward that future. We need to roll up our sleeves and take this high-level, political commitment embodied in the SDGs and turn it into more than a document gathering dust on the shelves of the U.N. — we must transform it into concrete commitments enacted for children around the globe. Word into deed.

How? The more important question is who. The answer is all of us.

Governments, the United Nations and civil society must take decisive actions and make real investments in protecting children: stronger laws and policies and well-supported systems and services that are funded and targeted. This will make it more possible for communities to do the work of transforming themselves into environments structured around children’s well-being. With stronger safety nets, families can more easily make choices based on love rather than desperation. Children, freed to have safe childhoods, can live at their potential and contribute in their unique ways.

We also need to recognize that, despite all, children already do contribute. Listening to them is a great place to begin this important work.

ChildFund Alliance (including its U.S. member, ChildFund International) has spent the last several years doing exactly that, consulting with more than 16,000 children in 50 countries. In this extensive research into children’s primary concerns, the idea that bubbled up to the top was prevention of violence. It also came clear how strongly children are invested in being part of the solution.

Children know what they want for themselves. We must act before the world beats this vision out of them, before yet another generation’s potential is lost to the world, slipping into a renewed cycle of poverty and inequality.

What does the world really want for its children?

I know what I want for my own, and that I’ll do everything to make it happen.

The world should do no less.

Day of the Girl: Hope for Mung

Mung of Vietnam

By ChildFund Australia and ChildFund Vietnam staff

Oct. 11 is the International Day of the Girl Child, a day set aside by the United Nations to recognize girls’ rights and the special challenges they face. This year, its theme is The Power of the Adolescent Girl: Vision for 2030, so ChildFund’s blog will focus this week on girls who are working to achieve great things now and in the future.   

Thirteen-year-old Mung was born in one of the poorest villages in Kim Boi district in rural Vietnam’s mountains, and even here, she’s had a difficult life compared to many children.

Mung’s father passed away when she was young, and her mother has a disability and is unable to work. She struggles to provide for Mung’s needs with the approximately US$13 she receives from the Vietnamese government each month.

Her uncle tries to support Mung and her mother, as well as his own wife and two children. His rice fields produce enough rice to feed the family and pay for their basic daily expenses, but if a crop fails, they will be hungry for several months.

“When I get home from school, I feed the pigs, clean the house and cook for my mom to help her,” Mung says.

Mung has just completed seventh grade. She has a passion for learning and is a good student, despite having to borrow schoolbooks from her friends to follow the lessons. Also, her house is more than four miles from school, so it often took Mung and her cousin two hours to walk to school each day.

“I used to have to leave home at 5 a.m. to be at class on time,” she says. “It was so dark and freezing.”

Mung and her mother.

Mung and her mother.

In 2013, ChildFund Vietnam staff members identified Mung as being at great risk of dropping out of school due to her family’s financial situation. So, Mung was among 200 children in her village who received bicycles through the Hope Bike project, which was funded by KB Financial Group in partnership with ChildFund Korea and ChildFund Vietnam. She was also enrolled in a project designed to offer support to families struggling to provide for their children’s school needs.

Through the project, Mung receives paper and clothing for school, her fees are covered by direct transfer to her school, and she receives a daily meal to ensure her dietary needs are met.

“ChildFund’s support has helped to reduce the burden on my uncle,” Mung says. “He has been really tired taking care of the two families. Now he doesn’t have to worry about the expense to send me to school. I am provided with tuition fees, course books, a desk and lamps to study at home. I also get rice for meals every month. I feel like I am getting closer to my dream.”

Despite her challenges, Mung always tries her best to study hard, and her efforts are showing. She recently took part in a mathematics competition in her district and received an “encouragement award.” Everyone in the community is proud of her.

“I would like to become a teacher in the future to earn enough money to support my mom,” Mung says. “My goal next school year is to improve my grades in Vietnamese. Any teacher should be good at Vietnamese to convey what she means to her students.”

Protecting the Most Vulnerable — Refugee Children

“The children of Syria have lost their lives and homes and schooling and innocence — they have lost the precious and fleeting years we call childhood. Children deserve the right to be children, and we must make this as much a priority as every other consideration during this tragedy. The issues surrounding the entire situation are complex and nuanced, but our overriding imperative must be to protect children from the failures of adults.”

Read more from ChildFund President & CEO Anne Goddard’s Huffington Post column this month.


Women_and_children_among_Syrian_refugees_striking_at_the_platform_of_Budapest_Keleti_railway_station._Refugee_crisis._Budapest,_Hungary,_Central_Europe,_4_September_2015._(3) (1)

Women and children among Syrian refugees striking at the platform of Keleti railway station in Budapest, September 2015. By Mstyslav Chernov (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.


In Dominica, Resilience in the Face of Destruction

By Federico Diaz-Albertini, Americas Region Program Manager

Federico traveled to Dominica following Tropical Storm Erika. Flooding and landslides have caused major damage to the entire country, and at least 11 people lost their lives. Nineteen more people are missing and presumed dead. Authorities there say it’s the worst disaster to hit Dominica in 30 years. Read more about the storm’s aftermath on ChildFund’s emergency updates page.

Willma shows ChildFund staff her home, which was devastated by a mudslide.

Willma shows ChildFund staff her home, which was devastated by a mudslide.

On Aug. 27, a tropical storm decided to visit the island of Dominica. Unlike many of the storms that pass by this tranquil Caribbean nation, Erika parked itself above the island and deposited approximately 12 inches of rain during 12 hours.

The after-effects included widespread damage to infrastructure, water systems, crops, houses and, most importantly, people’s lives.  Approximately 300 families were moved to shelters; many others were cut off from access roads. At least one community, Petite Savant, has been declared too risky to rebuild houses there. Most of the population has been touched in one way or other by the disaster.

While it is easy to see the general damage, one can only get the real feel and emotion of the situation while visiting families that have been most severely hurt by the storm. This became evident a little while after we arrived to the community of Marigot on the northeastern side of Dominica.

What we found at first was a smiling lady, Willma Stevenson, and her mother welcoming us.  As we made small talk and told jokes, we did not anticipate what we would encounter when visiting her house. The house had been devastated by the force of a mudslide from a cliff behind it. This area had never really seemed at risk of such destruction, but the heavy rains dramatically changed that.

In an instant, a home for a family of five, including three sponsored children, was uninhabitable, a structure that contained only the memories and personal effects of its members.

Luckily, Willma and the children were able to escape the house uninjured and are living with relatives. The children are doing well but are still affected by the sound of rain and the memories of the mudslide that took their house. Willma says she is grateful for her job in a nearby town, and she looks forward to establishing her family in a place where another natural disaster will not uproot them.

Your donations to ChildFund’s Emergency Action Fund help families recover from natural disasters.

My Favorite Book

During our month-long focus on literacy, ChildFund staff members asked children in Asia, Africa and the Americas to tell them about their favorite books and why they love them. You can support children’s reading habits in a couple of ways: ChildFund’s Just Read! program in the United States, or helping ship textbooks to schools overseas. Enjoy the pictures, too!



Brazil: Agatha is 6 years old, and she loves to read and dance ballet. At the local partner organization where she spends time, Sorriso da Criança (Smile of the Child), she often goes to the library.

“My favorite story is The Princess and the Frog,” Agatha says. “Because there’s a princess, and to me she is the best character. The frog falls in love with a princess, and after all, she discovers that he is a prince. In the end, they live together forever.”



“Before I could read, I used to ask my father to read stories for me. Now I can read by myself and I love it. I would say to all the children in the world: If you can, go to a library, it’s so cool!”

Philippines: “I always go to the library during my free time,” says Jamil. “I love looking through books about animals, like the hippopotamus. I wish to become a wildlife photographer someday.”

Bolivia: Reyna is 11 years old. She loves short stories like Aesop’s fables.

United States: Anastasia, 8, of Cheyenne River, South Dakota, received a princess book and a “pillow pet” from her sponsor, so she read the book to her new pet.

Brazil: Jéssica, 10, is a shy girl who loves to read. Her favorite book is Diary of a Wimpy Kid. “I really love to read, especially in my home. But the library is also very important in my life.”

Sierra Leone: Saio, 11, lives in Koinadugu District. “I am in class five. My favorite story book is The African Tea Pot.”

Sri Lanka: Sarujan, 10, loves to read under the shade of the mango tree in his garden. He likes comic books the best because they have lots of pictures.

“My favorite story is about animals living together in peace, in the jungle,” he says, explaining that he likes it because the animals live in harmony in their jungle home without conflicts or disturbances. “My grandmother tells the best stories,” he adds.

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Bikes and Education Mean Freedom


Maria (right) and her Dream Bike.

By Nyararai Magudu, ChildFund Mozambique Program Director

Maria enthusiastically picked up her school bag. Although it’s dirty and worn out, she clutched it close to her chest. Inside were a few workbooks without covers, a 30-cm ruler, a pen and a pencil. She lives in a remote and poor province in Mozambique with her parents, three younger sisters and two younger brothers.

Maria, 15, hoped for many things: a box with a compass, rulers and other mathematical tools, colored pens, a big rubber eraser, a scientific calculator, a student dictionary, even a computer. What a wish list. Poverty’s grip had often made her life miserable, she sometimes thought.

Anyway, it was a new day, she remembered, a school day, which came with new hopes and possibilities. Maria loves school more than anything. This morning, she grabbed her new bike, which came from ChildFund’s Dream Bike program, and rode majestically to school.

I used to be the last to arrive in class. Most of the time I missed the first lessons, or I dozed. Now, everything has changed.

Before she received the bike, Maria used to leave her home at dawn to walk six miles to school and often returned after dark. Although she was never physically abused during the daily journey, there have been several stories of girls who have been attacked and hurt in Maria’s district, Zavala, where ChildFund has worked since 2006.

Now, instead of waking at 4 a.m. and trekking three hours to school, Maria has an hour-long journey. It’s still a long way, but she considers herself lucky.

“I used to arrive at school weary. The 10 kilometers was a long walk to freedom,” Maria chuckled. “Yes, education is freedom!”

When she walked to school, Maria often had to take 10 minutes to clean the dust and sweat off her face, arms and legs, making her even later to school.

“I used to be the last to arrive in class,” she recalled. “Most of the time I missed the first lessons, or I dozed. Now, everything has changed. It only requires me one hour to get to school. I’m investing more time now in my studies, and I can sleep for another hour. I can study for another hour, and I can ride to school for only an hour. I’m no longer weary; no more dozing. The benefits are beyond imagination.

“These are tangible benefits. There are also other ones,” Maria added. “My grades improved tremendously as soon as I got the bike. I developed high self-esteem. Some people who used to laugh at my poverty started to respect me. I was nominated to be a prefect* in my class after I got a bike. Believe me, I´m now a public figure in the school!”

*Prefects are students who are left in charge of the class when the teacher has to leave the classroom and are considered prestigious positions.

You can help girls like Maria achieve their educational goals by donating to ChildFund’s Dream Bike project.


If You Can Read This, You Are Ahead of 757 Million Adults

8 yr old Urmila from India enjoying reading her fav story book.

Urmila, 8, of India, reads one of her favorite books. 

By Janella Nelson, ChildFund Education Technical Advisor

Imagine not being able to sign your own name or your child’s name. What if you couldn’t read a doctor’s instructions on your child’s medicine? This is the situation for millions of youth and adults around the world. According to the United Nations, approximately 757 million youth and adults are illiterate, with women and teenage girls making up two-thirds of this number. In the United States, 32 million adults can’t read, states a 2013 report from the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy.

Illiteracy is linked to poor outcomes in education, health, nutrition, sanitation, economics and even peace; areas with higher rates of illiteracy have higher rates of crime and conflict. Reading is a skill that carries you throughout life. In their early years, children learn to read, but quickly there is a transition, and then they must read to learn.

In their early years, children learn to read, but quickly there is a transition, and then they must read to learn.

Children growing up in poverty face several factors that prevent them from learning to read. Parental illiteracy, of course, is a major factor because they can’t teach their children a skill they don’t have, and illiterate adults often have a smaller vocabulary than their more educated counterparts do. In some countries, schools teach reading in a language foreign to the children, who may speak a local dialect or indigenous language at home. This, too, places children at a serious disadvantage.

ChildFund’s education programs put a special emphasis on learning to read in the grades one through three, because we recognize that learning to read early is essential to get children on the right track to continue their education. In several countries in Latin America, ChildFund has established “reading corners,” giving children dedicated time and books to read. In the Philippines, ChildFund has produced local storybooks, trained teachers in reading instruction, and hosted an eight-week summer camp for children who were struggling readers at school. In Afghanistan, ChildFund is developing radio stories to encourage parents to support their children’s reading habits at home, and also providing community reading clubs.

In September, we are celebrating literacy. This month, celebrate your ability to read this article while remembering the 757 million people who still need our support. Increasing literacy for children, youth and adults around the world benefits everyone.

Tomorrow, we’ll feature children who told us about their favorite books and stories, as well as how you can help encourage literacy worldwide.


Richmond 2015: Welcoming the World

Photographs by Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

This week marks the arrival of the UCI Road World Championships in Richmond, Virginia, home of ChildFund’s headquarters. It’s a time of excitement for the city and for our organization, which is the elite cycling event’s Charity of Choice. As you may be aware, we are promoting our Dream Bike campaign in connection with the races, and we’ve received support from the TWENTY16 women’s professional cycling team, which pledged to donate 10 Dream Bikes. This team includes Olympic gold medalist Kristin Armstrong, who finished fifth yesterday in the elite women’s individual time trials. Because Dream Bikes help girls achieve their life goals, we went to see these athletes from around the world chase their dreams through Richmond’s streets. Congratulations to all, and enjoy the pictures!

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