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Cyclone Pam: A Report from Vanuatu

10-year-old James in front of his destroyed school

 James, at what remains of his primary school in Vanuatu. ChildFund/Vlad Sokhin/Panos Pictures.

Reporting by Vlad Sokhin, freelance photographer for ChildFund Australia

A Category 5 cyclone struck the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu on March 13, leaving 75,000 people without shelter and affecting 166,000 people overall, according to latest estimates. ChildFund Australia is providing aid through its partner organization there, Live & Learn Vanuatu. You can help by making a donation to ChildFund’s Vanuatu Emergency Response Fund. Here are some notes from the field:

“I was in a community shelter with my parents,” says 10-year-old James from Efate Island. “When the strong wind came, it was very noisy. I was afraid. Then my sisters and I fell asleep. Next morning, we came to our house, and it was destroyed. My school was destroyed too. Now I sleep with my parents in the tent and can’t attend classes.”

James and his family are among the tens of thousands of people left homeless in Vanuatu after Cyclone Pam devastated the archipelago. The family of five is currently living in an improvised tent.

James’ mother, Margaret, says she is worried about feeding her children and generating an income since the family’s crops were wiped out by the cyclone.

“We’ve lost everything — all our crops,” she says. “All we can eat now is fallen bananas and coconuts. Some taro survived too, but it’s not enough for our family. I will not be able to sell fruits and vegetables in the market to make some money. We barely have enough food for ourselves.”

Some schools have reopened in Vanuatu, but with 50 percent of the country’s educational infrastructure destroyed or badly damaged, thousands of children remain unable to attend. At this stage, it is unclear when James will be able to start classes again.

Access to clean water is also an immediate concern for families like James’. Most water tanks have been damaged or destroyed by the cyclone, and wells are contaminated. Some people are forced to walk long distances to fetch or purchase fresh water, while others are so desperate that they are boiling seawater to drink.

James, his 14-year-old sister, Priscilla, and his 3-year-old sister, Ester, are at high risk of waterborne diseases such as cholera, which causes severe diarrhea and can lead to death. ChildFund Australia is working with Live & Learn Vanuatu to restore access to clean water to help ensure the health of children and their families in cyclone-ravaged areas.

To help with the continued response effort, please donate today to ChildFund’s Vanuatu Emergency Response Fund.

James and his family in their temporary shelterJames and his family at their destroyed home. ChildFund/Vlad Sokhin/Panos Pictures.

 

Representing Her Peers on the World Stage

Maria Antonia in New York

Maria Antônia at Rockefeller Center in New York City.

Reporting and photos: Felipe Cala, ChildFund Alliance; Roberta Cecchetti, Save the Children; Agueda Barreto and Thiago Machado, ChildFund Brasil

Fourteen-year-old Maria Antônia has made a name for herself in her home of Crato, a city in northeastern Brazil, because of her determination and community participation. This week, she had the opportunity to be heard on a world stage: a panel on the prevention of violence against children, at the United Nations’ headquarters in New York.

“I see this opportunity as a process of inclusion,” she said before the event, “because young people from 10 different countries will contribute with relevant themes on our point of view, to achieve a better world.”

The March 23 side-event took place during the third gathering of U.N. members to negotiate the post-2015 development agenda, a global set of priorities to tackle such issues as poverty, hunger, inequality and disease in the next 15 years. The goals are expected to be finalized in September. The purpose of the side-event — hosted by the governments of Canada, Guatemala, Japan and Palau — was to highlight the importance of allowing children to grow up in violence-free communities, schools and homes, and to bring their voices to decision-makers in New York.

ChildFund Alliance, Plan International, Save the Children, SOS Children’s Villages International, UNICEF and World Vision International, as well as the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence Against Children and the Latin America and Caribbean Movement for Children, collaborated to organize the discussion.

Maria Antônia spoke about physical, psychological and sexual violence and children’s own recommendations to prevent and respond to violence, including ways to report incidents safely and increasing social services at schools and health clinics.

“It is very important to improve child-friendly services within the child protection network, so that children feel confident and safe,” she said.

The visit was exciting and somewhat overwhelming for Maria Antônia, who is sponsored through ChildFund and also takes part in community projects with one of our local partners in Brazil. This was her first visit to New York City, and on the first day, she went to Central Park and saw snow for the first time (“It was beautiful,” she said). The next day, Maria Antônia prepared to speak at the U.N. headquarters, a daunting prospect.

“Early in the morning, I could only think that I would not be able to represent children and adolescents,” she recalled. “I felt fear and insecurity. But after my speech, I was congratulated. And that made me very happy. I had the feeling that I did what I had come to do.

“I realize how important it is to improve the entire environment where I live — my home, my community and my school,” she added.

And Maria Antônia is returning home with tales to tell. “My friends will ask me about the city, my experience in a new and different place, but what I really want to talk about is the opportunity to be heard. It’s a dream I could never dream.”

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Washing the Germs Away

In La Paz, Bolivia, children are learning how to wash their hands thoroughly, as you can see in this video from the field. On March 22, we celebrated World Water Day, which highlights water’s important role in health, sanitation, agriculture, industry and education. When clean water is hard or impossible to access — as it is for 748 million people worldwide, according to the United Nations — the most vulnerable among us, including infants and children, tend to get sick and lose time at school, become malnourished and even die from preventable diseases. Making water available in communities and showing families how to protect themselves from diseases are two of ChildFund’s most important goals. Learn more about how you can help.

Safe Water for Better Health and a Better Life

hand washing in Sri Lanka

Teaching good hand-washing habits in Sri Lanka.

March 22 is World Water Day. Learn more about how you can help children get reliable access to clean water through our Real Gifts catalog.

By Himangi Jayasundere, ChildFund Sri Lanka

Five-year-old Murugan watches as water trickles out of a gurgling filter. As his cup fills with clear, clean water, the smile on his little face grows larger. Where Murugan lives in Sri Lanka’s Nuwara Eliya district, waterborne diseases like diarrhea are a serious problem and often lead to children becoming malnourished.

Children here have many health challenges, including poor water quality and lack of education about health care among parents. But ChildFund’s Ensuring Nutrition, Health and Children’s Health (ENHANCE) program has helped address the issue of safe drinking water by distributing filters to Early Childhood Development (ECD) centers and conducting awareness programs through local partner organizations.

Eight ECD centers, including Murugan’s, have received water filters, which remove lead and other impurities from water so it can be safely drunk. The filters also reduce the risk of potential diseases.

“This is one of the best water purification systems introduced to us. I want to thank ChildFund Sri Lanka for helping to provide clean water for children,” says Mrs. Puwaneshwari, a teacher at the Walaha ECD center. Together with T-Field, its local partner in Nuwara Eliya, ChildFund has built a dam to collect water from a spring and distribute the clean water through pipelines to the community. The project has benefited 170 families.

The awareness programs have emphasized boiling water before drinking it at home and teaching children and adults to wash their hands after using the toilet. ENHANCE takes an integrated approach to helping children establish good health, addressing nutritional needs, child care, family habits, personal and environmental hygiene, safe water and sanitation practices and food security.

“My child used to fall sick often, but after learning about the importance of boiling drinking water, I always boil our drinking water now, and I can see a difference,” says Malarselvi, a mother at the ECD center. “They don’t fall sick as often as they used to.”

A Mother’s Letter of Love

antonio 2

Antonio and his mother, who is reading a letter she wrote to him while she was pregnant.

By Nicole Duciaume, Americas Region Sponsorship Manager

A highlight of any trip to the field is the opportunity to cuddle and smile at chubby-cheeked babies. It always renews and refocuses ChildFund staff members from all over the world. There are few things more life-affirming than the innocence and love that spring forth in an infant’s gurgles and giggles.

But the sobering reality in rural Cochabamba, Bolivia, which a ChildFund team recently visited, is that both infant and maternal mortality rates are high. Many mothers never get to hold their babies in their arms, and some even lose their own lives, leaving their other children orphaned.

Yet there are signs of hope in Bolivia. In response to the high rates of infant and maternal mortality, the national government offers mothers small stipends to attend monthly prenatal appointments, screenings and checkups. They also offer incentives for giving birth in government treatment centers with trained health care providers.

ChildFund’s role in this effort is to offer prenatal appointments and tracking through our local partner organizations at zero cost to mothers. But, more than just checking the physical development of the babies and the vital statistics of the mothers, we also support the mother’s attachment to the baby within her — an emotional bond that, the doctor there explained, is as important as physical development.

Nicolas and his mother.

Nicolas and his mother.

That’s where a mother’s letter to her unborn child enters the picture, expressing her love, hopes, concerns and excitement in an early-pregnancy activity that ChildFund supports. Later, using life-sized dolls, mothers practice breastfeeding positions, diaper changing and infant massage. Often, they open up about other concerns in their lives.

During our visit, we met two babies born to mothers who had gone through ChildFund’s prenatal program. Nicolas is 4 months old, and Antonio is 18 months. Their mothers shared the letters they had written so many months earlier.

A letter to Nicolas: Dear son, I anxiously await you as my third child, even though I am afraid of the moment when I will give you life. But don’t worry. I will give you everything of me so that everything will be OK, my little love, and I will meet you with all of the same excitement as your older brothers. I only ask the almighty God that you are healthy and strong, because you are the light in our lives and we are all very happy to have you, my baby. Come and fill our home with love. More than anything, your dad will jump for joy when he sees you and has you in his arms.

A letter to Antonio: With much love for the baby that I am anxiously waiting to arrive, so I can know you in person and feel your little body. I hope it will be a great moment when I have you in my arms because I will fill you with kisses.

Learning About Life in Guatemala’s Mountains

A Guatemalan family
A Guatemalan family in their home.

By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer, with photos by Carlos Gonzalez, ChildFund Guatemala

Last month, ChildFund’s Board of Directors and members of our executive team traveled to Guatemala, where they spent time in the field visiting ChildFund-supported projects and sponsored children, many of whom live in tiny homes carved into the sides of steep mountains.

“It’s part of the journey, finding out how everybody lives,” said Scott Lemler, ChildFund’s vice president of information technology. “They literally are farming on the side of a mountain.”

Scott joined other members of ChildFund’s executive team this week to report back on the trip to Guatemala at our International Office in Richmond, Va., for a Lunch & Learn session. Every couple of years, the board travels to a different country to see our work firsthand. Some of the most interesting stories this time came from the group’s visits to youth projects, which promote job training, entrepreneurship and an understanding of their rights.

Jim Tuite, vice president of finance and operations/CFO, met Alfonso, who is attending school and supporting his five younger siblings by making and selling doughnuts. Alfonso, whom Jim called the “Doughnut King,” is part of the ChildFund-supported My Chance program, which helps youth — many of whom have recently graduated from high school — create business plans and build their skills to run successful enterprises.

“One girl sells handicrafts,” Jim said. “One guy was developing modern Guatemalan linens for women.” Still others have started a bakery, an organic taco stand and an imported skin cream business. Many of the families the team met rely on multiple jobs to make a livelihood, much as economists encourage investors to diversify their portfolios, Jim noted. That way, if one income stream ends, a family has a backup source of money.

Cheri Dahl, interim vice president of global philanthropy and communications, met Alex, a young man who has been sponsored since 2003. He’s also a participant in My Chance, and he sells traditional medicinal herbs, a hot commodity in the region, where it’s difficult to get health care. Along with Cheri were board members who work in marketing and lead businesses in the United States, and one asked if Alex had a printed business plan.

“He brought out a business plan that would rival anything any of us have ever done,” Cheri told the Lunch & Learn group. Aside from his herbal business, Alex teaches middle school and is getting ready to attend college.

ChildFund President & CEO Anne Goddard noted that despite the successes the group saw in Guatemala, extreme poverty still keeps many people from achieving their full potential and provides a powerful reason to emigrate, a risky proposition. In October 2014, about 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product came from immigrants sending money home, often from the United States.

“The immigrant is somebody who is admired,” Anne said; she even saw a statue honoring immigrants during the trip. Aside from financial issues, violence in the home and streets is a major reason many Guatemalans wish to leave the country, she added.

Despite such challenges, the Guatemalans who met the board members and executives often expressed pride in their communities and wished to make life better there. A mother of three children, two of whom are sponsored through ChildFund, asked Cheri to deliver a message to our U.S. audience: “Can you get more sponsors?”

Learn more about Guatemala, and consider sponsoring a child there.

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After Ebola, Liberian Children Returning to Communities

Reporting by Emmanuel Ford, ChildFund Liberia

In Liberia, the last known Ebola patient was discharged from a treatment center last week. We’re receiving updates on children who were at the ChildFund-supported Kelekula Interim Care Center, which served 55 children who lost caregivers in the outbreak, providing them a safe place to spend their 21-day quarantine period after exposure to the virus. Afterward, staff at the centers coordinated with government officials to help place children with relatives or in stable foster care situations.

Social workers now conduct regular visits to the homes of all children who stayed at the KICC to find out how they are coping with the loss of their loved ones and how they are getting along with their caregivers. ChildFund also distributes packages of clothes, mattresses, school materials, footwear, toiletries and food, such as rice and oil, to each child while reuniting them with their caregivers.

These four children have returned to their communities and are living with family members or other caregivers. All have lost family members to the deadly virus but are managing to move forward in their lives. Here are their stories:

Liberia_Jesse

Jesse, age 6

At the KICC, Jesse liked playing with friends. They rode the swing and the merry-go-round and played football in the compound. Jesse enjoyed the food they served each day. He has been reunited with family friends who live in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital. “I am happy with the people I am living with now,” Jesse says.

His mother and grandparents all died from Ebola, and Jesse was visibly grieving when he was first reunited with his family friends, although he is doing better now. He looks forward to returning to school soon. “For now, we actually need some supports like clothes and school fees,” Jesse’s caregiver explains.

Liberia_Lawrence

Lawrence, age 15

Lawrence (left, in photo above) has a disability that causes him to struggle with balance and to salivate uncontrollably, which caused hardships for him even before the Ebola outbreak, during which he lost his parents and siblings. After staying at the KICC for 21 days, he now lives with Pastor Amos Weah — a “prayer man” taking care of eight children — and hopes to become a preacher himself one day.

Happily living with the Pastor, he said he liked being at the KICC and would enjoy going back there, where he ate well and had fun with other children.

RS28728_Zinnah-lpr

Zinnah, age 6

Ebola claimed Zinnah’s parents and four siblings, and he’s being cared for by a teacher, Mr. Brown.

“We used to ride seesaw,” he says of the KICC, and he learned about preventing Ebola, how to read and other basic life skills. Both Zinnah and his guardian are looking forward to the reopening of his school, and in the meantime, he plays with friends and often takes a leading role in their activities.

RS28729_Jestina communicating with her father

Jestina, age 6

Jestina lost her mother and grandparents to Ebola, but her father survived. He sells cabbage to make a living, and they live in one of Monrovia’s slums. Jestina (pictured while talking with her father) liked living at the KICC, where she had the opportunity to play with other children and also learn, during bedtime stories, about preventing the virus. She is hopeful that one day she will be a banker. “I want to be a money girl,” she says.

Jestina loves to write and read, and she wants to see that all children are happy and free from dangerous illnesses like Ebola. Her father says that she seems happier lately and plays with her friends frequently.

Girls Get a Hand From the White House

Indian student

Sheela, 19, is attending nursing school through ChildFund India’s Udaan scholarship program. Photo by Jake Lyell.

Earlier this week, ChildFund President & CEO Anne Lynam Goddard visited the White House for the launch of Let Girls Learn, a U.S. government initiative that aims to make education accessible for all girls worldwide, despite some daunting obstacles. Girls’ rights and the barriers to them figure strongly in our work at ChildFund, so it is thrilling to see such a major push led by the Office of the First Lady, involving USAID, the State Department, the Peace Corps and other agencies. You can read more of Anne’s thoughts on Let Girls Learn on her Tumblr page.

On the ChildFund blog, we’ve written about many girls and young women who have overcome significant barriers to attaining a full education — including early marriage, spotty electrical power, long walks to school and cultural mores that discourage women from getting an education. Read about Phanny, a Zambian woman who works as an automotive repair supervisor; Mahdia, an Afghani woman who is learning to read despite the objection of some of her male relatives; and Alexia, a Dominican police officer who encourages her younger siblings to remain in school. They’re heroines in our book.

Establishing a Firm Foundation in Fatumeta

Timor-Leste early childhood development

Abrigu, 5, counts the letters of the alphabet with the help of his teacher, Fernanda.

By Silvia Ximenes, ChildFund Timor-Leste

Fernanda, who works in an Early Childhood Development (ECD) center in Fatumeta, Timor-Leste, often begins class by asking the children questions.

“What do people usually use to communicate with each other?”

Most of the children confidently say, “A telephone.”

“Is there anything other than a telephone?” Fernanda asks.

The class becomes quiet. Five-year-old Abrigu and his friends are searching for the answer. Fernanda gives the children a clue: “Something that we watch the news or a movie with — what do you call it?”

“A television!” the children say simultaneously.

Abrigu and his father

Abrigu and his father, Agusto.

After hearing their answers, Fernanda explains today’s topic to the children: different means of communication. She talks about telephones, televisions, newspapers and radio.

The Fatumeta ECD center started in 2008 with support from ChildFund. In her class of 27 children, Fernanda uses methods and techniques she learned in ChildFund’s training programs. By providing the children with various types of games and learning activities, she hopes to help them learn important skills while also expressing their creativity.

As part of today’s lesson, Abrigu carefully writes the letters of the alphabet on a large chalkboard. Afterward, Fernanda asks children to count the letters — combining learning about the alphabet with counting exercises, which will enhance the children’s overall comprehension.

ChildFund, along with local partner organization Moris Foun, supplies the center with books, paper and pencils, as well as education training for the staff members. ChildFund’s goal is to support children so they can complete their studies and become confident, educated adults who can help their communities improve.

Abrigu’s father, Agusto, came with him to the center today. A farmer and dad of seven, Agusto is aware of the importance of education for his children’s future. He says that one of Abrigu’s sisters has also gone through the ECD program. She is now in the second grade  and is doing well, Agusto proudly reports. “She is confident in her learning and is progressing well because she had the opportunity to develop her knowledge in the very beginning through the ECD center.”

Mamta’s Path to Becoming a Teacher

In this video, Mamta talks about how the Udaan scholarship available through ChildFund India has helped her overcome financial challenges to attend university to become a teacher. Her parents are illiterate, and many of her friends in her village dropped out to get married, so what she is doing is remarkable.

“I want to teach other girls to continue their educations so they’ll be independent, like me, and have a good life,” Mamta says. Video by Jake Lyell.

 

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