Reporting by Tenagne Mekonnen, ChildFund Ethiopia, and Christine Ennulat, ChildFund staff writer
Each year on June 16, along with many other organizations, ChildFund recognizes the Day of the African Child. Across the continent, children and adults affiliated with our programs will perform songs, skits and other presentations to call attention to children’s rights.
Despite the festivities, the Day of the African Child marks a tragic anniversary, when at least 176 children and youth were killed during a massive protest in Soweto, South Africa in 1976. Forty years later, African children still face many trials, including hunger, illiteracy, terrorism, civil warfare and gender-based violence.
The theme of this year’s Day of the African Child is “Conflict and Crisis in Africa: Protecting All Children’s Rights,” which focuses on child protection in regions where there is civil conflict. There are many well-known cases now, such as the kidnapping of Nigerian schoolgirls, ongoing civil war in Sudan and the rebel insurgency in northern Mali. Other countries are still tending to wounds from previous decades.
ChildFund works in Liberia, which suffered destructive civil warfare from 1989 to 2003, with a brief respite from 1997 to 1999. The impact of war, particularly the use of child soldiers, still echoes today as its government works to rebuild schools, infrastructure and a fractured society.
Armed conflicts, we’ve seen, make children less safe and more likely to be hurt, killed or exploited. Even in peaceful nations, though, children’s basic rights can be in jeopardy. Early marriage, forced labor and other corrosive practices cause harm all over Africa.
On our website, we have a photo story of 29-year-old Zambian mother Mavis, who was married and had her first child at age 13. Zambia’s child marriage rate is one of the world’s worst: 42 percent of Zambian women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married before age 18. As we well know, many girls who marry and become mothers early lose out on a lot of things that make life worth living: education, leisure, civic participation, fulfilling work and self-determination.
Their dreams for themselves often transfer to their children.
Mavis told us, “I want my children to be educated. I don’t want my children to experience what I went through. Because I don’t know many things — I don’t know how to read or write my name. I don’t want my children to earn a living by selling tomatoes like me.”
On the Day of the African Child, we need to consider Mavis and all of the girls and young women in similar positions. We owe it to them and their children.
On the ChildFund website, we have a story by Martin Nanawa (our communications officer at ChildFund Philippines) about a family from Manila, the nation’s capital. These six children have had a hard life, losing their father several years ago to a heart attack. Rachel, their mother, works as a laundrywoman, and until 2014, they lived in a shack under a highway bridge. Despite all of these trials, Rachel and her four eldest children have volunteered with ChildFund’s local partner, Families and Children for Education and Development. After losing their home and having few options, a friend who works at FCED nominated Rachel’s family for an award from a corporate foundation. They won, and the prize money has helped them move to a new, stable home.
“We never expected any reward for helping other people like ourselves,” Rachel says. “We volunteer because it’s fulfilling. Poverty doesn’t mean you have nothing to give.”
Reporting and photos from Himangi Jayasundere and local partners in Sri Lanka
Since May 16, heavy rains from Cyclone Roanu have caused massive flooding and landslides in Sri Lanka. More than 300,000 people have been displaced from their homes, and 200 people are either reported dead or missing. Fortunately, no ChildFund-enrolled or sponsored children and their family members were reported hurt or killed in the disaster, but some have had to leave their homes.
We are working with Sri Lanka’s government and other nongovernmental organizations to assist people in need, and in Puttalam District, we have set up two Child-Centered Spaces (you can see photos in the slideshow above) to help keep children safe. They also receive psychosocial counseling and opportunities to talk about their fears. Read more about the emergency response in Sri Lanka on our website.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
On the last day of my trip to northeastern Brazil, my colleagues and I (an intrepid group of five, including my translator) went to a small community called Sao Geraldo. After driving all over creation the day before — through rain and mud, past itinerant donkeys — it was a relief to have just a 15-minute drive on paved roads in the sun.
After visiting a well-stocked playroom for children ages 5 and under at a community center supported by ChildFund, we walked to nearby homes to visit sponsored and enrolled children and their families.
Sao Geraldo is a brightly colored place, with yellow, turquoise, coral and white homes lining steep streets. Nearly every home was decorated with children’s artwork and family photos. But serious problems lie beneath the cheery exterior. Neglect and abandonment of children, as well as drug abuse and prostitution, are common here, we learned from our local partner’s staff. Parents, mainly mothers, are doing the best they can, but this is a community that relies on sponsorship and ChildFund’s support of the community center, which serves children and youth.
You can read more about Sao Geraldo on our website, but I wanted to share a few photos of the children we met. Many face an uphill climb because of poverty and few job opportunities in this region, but sponsorship and other kinds of support do make a difference in their lives, offering them hope.
Video and text by Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
During my trip to northeastern Brazil in March, I visited many families of sponsored children and the community centers where neighborhood kids go after school. The centers are supported by ChildFund and run by our local partner organizations, and offer arts and crafts classes, music lessons, dancing, martial arts and much more for children and youth.
In Crato, a midsize city in the state of Ceara (which has been deeply affected by the Zika virus outbreak), a troupe of young drummers — boys and girls, ages 5 to 13 — played for our small group of visiting ChildFund staff members from Brazil and the United States.
After watching the children perform, we visited 13-year-old Poliana’s home and met her parents and siblings, who told us about their great experience with sponsorship. You’ll see Poliana in the video around :28; she’s the girl with the springy curls. Aside from drumming, she also takes ballet and likes to draw.
Brazil, as you may know, is a large country both in land mass and in population, and the northeast has just as many cultural traditions as the southern part of the nation. But because of Rio’s international fame (especially for its samba and bossa nova music), people in the U.S. usually know more about southern Brazil. The children in the drum troupe, however, are keeping northeastern culture alive by learning to play rhythms that are part of local musical styles baião, axé and forro.
“We’ve learned to play many different instruments,” says 13-year-old Francisco, who’s been drumming since 2013. “We’ve also made new friends, and our parents are proud of us.”
The late performer Luiz Gonzaga is the prime example of the northeast’s musical tradition, with decades of songs featuring accordion, drums and prominent vocals. You may recognize a few similarities between his music and what the children are playing. Give him a listen!
Photos by ChildFund staff members and photographer Jake Lyell
Mothers are crucial to ChildFund’s mission, whether they’re guide mothers in the Americas spreading reliable health and nutrition information, three Indonesian mothers growing vegetables for their families, or a group of Ugandan moms who are contributing to a village savings and loan program. Or the numerous grandmothers raising their grandchildren in Mozambique after they lost their parents to AIDS. This Sunday is Mother’s Day in the United States, a time when many of us celebrate our mothers and mother-figures in our lives — women who are there to listen or laugh with us, or sometimes tell us hard truths. Above are some pictures of moms from around the world who are connected with ChildFund’s programs. We have more in common with them than you may believe possible.
Join us on our Facebook page today to share your photos and thoughts about your mother or other important women in your life. We’d love to hear from you!
Reporting from ChildFund Ecuador
A 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit Ecuador on April 16, leading to hundreds of deaths and widespread destruction in the western part of the country. ChildFund does not work in this region (only a few families in our program area were affected, and they have received help), but we are working with Alliance partner Educo, as well as Ecuador’s government and other nongovernmental organizations, to assist families in the worst-affected communities. Read more on our Ecuador emergency page.
Uganda has a serious malaria problem, with every single resident of the country considered at risk of contracting the mosquito-borne disease and infection rates growing in refugee camps in the north. Children under the age of 5 are particularly vulnerable to malaria, representing seven out of 10 deaths related to the disease, which causes fever, nausea and other flu-like symptoms. Last year, 438,000 people died from malaria, 80 percent of whom lived in sub-Saharan Africa.
Malaria is preventable and treatable, although many people in Africa don’t have the resources available to avoid it. In Uganda’s Kiyuni Parish, though, we’ve seen an improvement in rates of the disease because of support from ChildFund and our local partners, which have trained health workers and provided families with insecticide-treated mosquito nets.
You can read more about what’s happening in Kiyuni in a report from ChildFund Uganda, but let’s hear from Batulabudde Vincent, a laboratory assistant from Kiyuni Health Center, who has seen the difference with his own eyes: “I thank ChildFund and their malaria project for the great work they have done to reduce malaria through distributing mosquito nets and taking blood samples. Those found to have malaria parasites are given medicine. I thank them so much because since the time I came here, malaria rates have reduced, and death among children has also reduced.”
By Arthur Tokpah, ChildFund Guinea
“I should have graduated from high school like my friends,” Mariame says. But like many young Guinean women, she felt pressure to marry. Yielding to local tradition, Mariame wed an older man when she was only 13. He moved her to the capital city of Sierra Leone, where she didn’t know anyone.
“My parents obliged me to get married to a man who gave them the impression that he would allow me to continue school,” recalls Mariame, who is now 18. “After moving to his house, he said he did not marry me to go to school but to take care of the home and bear children for him.”
Mariame was able to leave her marriage and return to school, but many Guinean women don’t have the same opportunity.
According to UNICEF statistics from 2015, 21 percent of Guinean women ages 20 to 24 were married by the age of 15, and 52 percent were married by the time they were 18 years old, often to men more than a decade older in marriages arranged by their parents.
But Mariame and many other young people in Guinea are now speaking out to advocate for the rights of girls and young women — and against early marriage — with the support of ChildFund Guinea. Last month, our local partners in Kindia and Dabola held three public forums about early marriage, female genital mutilation and violence at school. More than 100 girls and boys ages 12 to 17 spoke openly about these issues, which are often kept quiet there, and recommended solutions to teachers, parents and government officials.
Public discussion is an important step in changing harmful traditions and attitudes that keep girls and women — and entire communities, by extension — trapped in poverty. We applaud the bravery and honesty of young people like Mariame who are shining a light on Guinea’s problems.