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.
By Rachel Ringgold, ChildFund Staff Writer
“Asked what peace is, children drew inspiration from their homes, communities and surroundings. There was maturity in their innocence. There was resonance in their honesty. Children have a lot to say about peace. It is time we listen.” – ARNEC’s “ECD & Peacebuilding” report
Since April 2014, ChildFund has been a core member of the Asia Pacific Regional Network for Early Childhood (ARNEC), a group of nongovernmental organizations and United Nations branches advocating for effective early childhood development policies and practices throughout the region. ARNEC partners have built cross-disciplinary partnerships to share their knowledge about young children, and last year, a technical working group surveyed 119 children ages 3-8 from six Asian countries about how they perceive peace.
The answers were illuminating, especially in Timor-Leste, which became independent in 2002 after many years of conflict with neighbor Indonesia. ChildFund has worked there since 1990, and there has been internal strife as recently as 2006. Of course the children who were surveyed were born after the official end of the conflicts, but the collective memories of violence are fresh in Timor-Leste’s communities.
Many children said in the survey that nature and playing feel like peace, and they strongly dislike bad words, throwing stones, stealing, fighting and hitting.
“I like mountains, trees and flowers because they give us food,” says 6-year-old Luzinha, while 5-year-old Rosalinda expresses empathy: “When people fight each other, it gives me pain.”
Many children said, “I don’t know” when they were asked what peace means to them.
During the first years of life, children’s brains develop rapidly, and their earliest experiences are foundations for everything that follows. Although these children didn’t know how to define peace, they still know how peace feels. Being in nature — seeing, smelling, hearing and touching the world around them — feels like peace. So does playing, or being with friends. Peace is less of a noun and more of a verb in these children’s vocabulary. It means actively engaging with the world and participating in happy, harmonious exchanges with the people around them. It’s the absence of violence.
So, how are we listening to these children’s voices and conveying their messages?
In October 2015, staff members from ChildFund Timor-Leste shared their findings at an ARNEC conference in Beijing, contributing to a larger discussion about peace-building and ECD across the region.
Also, our national office in Timor-Leste is incorporating peace-building ideals into its ECD curriculum, an innovative idea because of the ages of the children: five and younger. As we build this platform for peace, ARNEC members and ChildFund staffers will research its effects on children and advocate for its expansion into national education policies throughout Asia.
Children already know how peace feels. Our job, as adults, is to create space for them to practice what they know and nurture their instincts for nonviolent problem-solving, sharing and collaboration. And we can observe and learn from the youngest among us.
In January, we announced the winner of ChildFund’s second annual Community Video Contest, an entry from Bolivia starring Andreina, a young woman who helps others despite living in poverty. Her prize from ChildFund was $150, which could be used for educational purposes, including film equipment or editing software.
Instead, Andreina decided to donate the money to a local preschool in La Paz to provide puzzles and toys that would stimulate the children (ages 5 and under) intellectually and creatively. These learning materials will help teachers create an early stimulation classroom at the school, which is attended by 53 children enrolled in ChildFund’s activities. Abraham Marca, our communications officer in Bolivia, shared some details.
“On March 3, we made the presentation at the school, and the teachers and children surprised us by performing a skit,” Abraham says. “Unfortunately, Andreina couldn’t attend because she is studying accounting and social work at a university. Instead, her mother and two younger sisters were there.”
Besides winning the international film contest, Andreina was a finalist in ChildFund Bolivia’s national photography contest, in which youth groups and local partner organizations throughout the country participate. She’ll soon receive an award from our national office in Bolivia, and the preschool also plans to invite Andreina to the opening of the early stimulation classroom.
This summer, after more than four decades of work in the region, ChildFund will close our last two offices in the Caribbean, in the countries of St. Vincent and Dominica. Although we’ll miss the many people we’ve met there over the years, we leave future work in the capable hands of the staff members of two local organizations. They’ve received years of training and support from ChildFund, and they’re committed to protecting children’s rights and helping them fulfill their potential. To learn more about what is happening in the Caribbean, please read this story on our website.