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Happy International Women’s Day!

Liberian women
Today is International Women’s Day, a time to celebrate the important women in our lives. These Liberian women helped a 5-year-old girl get necessary medical treatment abroad.

By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

ChildFund’s primary focus is helping children who live in poverty, but it doesn’t take long to figure out that women play key roles in this mission. Whether they’re mothers, grandmothers, sisters, government officials, business owners or other role models, women influence the course of children’s lives and shape communities and nations. One day is not nearly enough to celebrate the important women in our lives, but it’s a start. Below, meet some of the remarkable women connected with ChildFund around the world.

Phanny, a former sponsored child, is now a supervisor at Autoworld in Zambia. She’s the only woman who works at her branch, an accomplishment that’s even more impressive given the fact that Phanny had to miss school sometimes to work odd jobs with her sister after their parents died.

Else, another former sponsored child, just graduated from nursing school in Indonesia. She’s from a village where few people continue their studies after high school, but Else is now pursuing a master’s degree in nursing so she can work in a hospital.

“I love taking care of young children,” she says. “Soon, I will be working in a hospital, helping young children in need.”

Johanna, a ChildFund-supported trainer mother from Ecuador, is taking steps to end the cycle of parental abuse and neglect that has affected many children. She estimates that up to 20 percent of children in her small village suffer abuse at the hands of their parents. Through home visits and workshops, Johanna works with parents and other caregivers to show them how to support their children’s development.

“Children don’t feel respected by their parents,” she says. “It’s something that really scars them. It’s like an inheritance, because the child learns these things and replicates them.”

Rita, a young mother in Guatemala, is training to be a guide mother, an important role in many Central and South American communities where we work. Despite the demands placed on her time by two small children, Rita takes weekly classes on parenting skills, children’s learning styles, children’s rights, nutrition, play and more. She’ll then lead education sessions for other mothers in her community.

“I didn’t get a chance to study,” she says, “so this is also my turn to learn.”

Today (or any day at all), let’s think of the women who have made a positive impact on our lives — and thank them!

On the Migrants’ Trail: Children Traveling Without Parents

Idomeni migrant camp

Thousands of migrants wait at the Greek border town of Idomeni, where they wait to cross into Macedonia.

By Julien Anseau, ChildFund Global Communications Manager

Julien Anseau has worked with ChildFund in Asia and specializes in emergency communications. In January and early February, he joined our assessment team as they traveled through Turkey, Greece, Macedonia and Serbia to take stock of needs among Afghan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants, particularly children. In Julien’s second report, he speaks with people at camps in Greek and Macedonian border towns. 

Since the events described here, in the past week violence has broken out in Idomeni, Greece, because of a bottleneck caused by Macedonia’s new daily cap on the number of migrants allowed into the country, as well as other restrictions. Thousands are now stranded in Idomeni and nearby camps, causing serious tension and questions about what will happen next.    

In Idomeni, 350 miles north of the Greek capital, thousands of migrants are waiting to cross the border into Macedonia. Only a few hundred are permitted to cross the border at a time, yet more and more buses continue to drop off migrants eager to keep moving and reach their destinations. A Greek policeman tells me, “Today is busy. Very busy. As always. Five thousand people are waiting to cross the border. We can only accommodate 1,200 in the camp. And still they keep coming. There is no end in sight.”

Families sit and wait around the train tracks and in the surrounding fields. Some sleep around the dying embers of a fire; others hang their washing while children play soccer. Many line up for medical assistance, warm clothes and food for their children. The long journey is starting to take its toll on people, particularly women with children, disabled people and the elderly. People are exhausted and lost. An Iraqi woman with four children tells me she wants to give her children freedom and a brighter future.

In Idomeni, only a few hundred migrants were permitted to cross the border at a time, and now there are further restrictions by Macedonian authorities.

In Idomeni, only a few hundred migrants were permitted to cross the border at a time, and now there are further restrictions by Macedonian authorities.

In one corner of the overcrowded camp, amid the chaos one can hear the laughter and singing of children. ChildFund’s partner organization, Terre des Hommes, a group of Swiss non-governmental organizations focused on children, provides a child-friendly space staffed by social workers, psychologists and translators.

Under the supervision of caring adults, children draw, play and sing — activities that help them cope with stress. The center is well-equipped with toys, drawing supplies and child-sized tables and chairs. It also has a private room for mothers to breastfeed, change diapers and rest.

Mazen, a 15-year-old Syrian boy traveling with his uncle, proudly pins his drawing on the wall. They want to go to Germany. They have a phone number for some relatives there, but they don’t know the name of their city. Mazen dropped out of school and hopes to complete his education. He is the oldest child in his family and the only one his father could afford to send away.

Seventeen-year-old Amani is also from Syria. She is traveling with her cousins, and they are on their way to Sweden, where her brother lives. She is both excited and scared about her uncertain future. Like many others, she has left part of her family behind in Syria.

UNICEF reports a growing number of children traveling without a parent or guardian; they are claiming asylum in Europe as unaccompanied minors.

Kyriaki, a social worker with Greece’s Association for the Social Support of Youth (ARSIS), explains how her organization assists young migrants: “We coordinate with La Strada, an organization on the Macedonian side, in ensuring unaccompanied children safely cross the border. ARSIS sends lists of names and photos to La Strada and asks the unaccompanied children to walk across the border hand in hand. The group is then picked up by La Strada on the other side and taken care of in Gevgelija camp.”

La Strada International is a network of non-governmental organizations addressing human trafficking in Eastern Europe; its member group in Macedonia works in the Gevgelija refugee camp near the border of Greece. Stojne, a La Strada social worker, has heard many heartbreaking stories, especially from the youngest migrants.

A young girl shows a drawing she made at the Gevgelija refugee camp in Macedonia. Photo by Open Gate - La Strada Macedonia.

A young girl shows a drawing she made at the Gevgelija refugee camp in Macedonia. Photo by Open Gate – La Strada Macedonia.

“I’m a humanitarian aid worker, but I’m still a human being, and I can’t help but be touched by people’s stories,” she says. “I recall meeting a 16-year-old boy who fled Syria because he didn’t want to be recruited as a child soldier. His father gave him his life savings so that he could make it to Sweden. He left behind his parents and five brothers and sisters, including one sister critically injured after a bomb blast. He carries the responsibility on his young shoulders to make a go of it in Sweden so that his family can join him later. He was very stressed out.

“I hear these stories every day. I know I cannot solve all the problems and help everybody, but I try my best to make a difference as much as I can.”

The number of migrants, including children traveling alone, is expected to rise later this year as weather warms, experts predict. To protect young migrants, ChildFund child protection adviser Maggie Zraly says, improvements are needed in child-friendly accommodations and identification processes for unaccompanied children and those separated from family members during their journey. Children also need legal aid assistance, accurate information and referrals to people and organizations that can help them reach safe and stable homes.

Meanwhile, in Macedonia, Stojne has noticed a new — and more vulnerable — wave of migrants arriving.

“Before, it was mainly men traveling,” she says. “Now I am seeing more and more children, with families or alone. I am also seeing more and more elderly and disabled persons. The situation in their countries must be terrible for them to leave and embark on such a long and dangerous journey.

“People are tired. They just want to arrive. Migrants are grateful to the staff in the camp. They just want a better life.”

Read Julien’s first story, and stay tuned for a third post next week.

Searching for a Way to Help

migrants in northern Greece

A family waits in a park in northern Greece, near the Macedonia border. Photo by Julien Anseau. 

ChildFund’s needs assessment team recently went to Turkey, Greece, Macedonia and Serbia to learn how we can best help migrants — especially children — fleeing to Europe to escape strife in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. With hundreds of thousands of people entering the continent, this is Europe’s greatest humanitarian crisis since World War II. You can read stories by Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch staff writer Zachary Reid, who accompanied our team. Sunday’s article — the final one in his three-part series — focuses on the challenges and rewards of working with this population. Here are parts one and two.

Also, stay tuned for another story by ChildFund’s global communications manager, Julien Anseau, later this week on the ChildFund blog.

Emergency Relief in Post-Cyclone Fiji

fiji pic

Photo from the Fiji government’s Facebook page. Click on the picture to see more photos of the cyclone’s damage to the island.

By Jacqui Ooi, ChildFund Australia

This week, Fiji experienced the worst storm ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere, when Tropical Cyclone Winston (a Category 5 storm) tore through the Pacific island nation. The death toll stands at 44 as of Feb. 26, with fears that this figure will rise. Tens of thousands of Fijians are living in evacuation shelters because their homes were damaged or destroyed.

ChildFund Australia is supporting the relief effort through a partnership with Habitat for Humanity Australia, which has a long-established presence in Fiji. It is actively involved in relief and recovery efforts.

ChildFund Australia has given funds to Habitat so it can provide the following emergency resources: temporary shelter kits for families, including tarpaulins, roofing materials, access to toolkits and training; as well as water purification tablets, household water filtration kits and hygiene materials.

Water’s Impact on Women and Children

By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

Aisha, 10, carries water back to her home in Uganda.

Aisha, 10, carries water back to her home in Uganda.

March 22 is World Water Day, a very important event for ChildFund and the countries where we work, so you’ll be seeing videos, pictures and stories about water during the next month. We don’t want to flood you (pun intended) with a lot of statistics all at once, but consider this:

In Africa and Asia, women and children walk an average of 3.7 miles a day just to fetch water.

This stat came from UNESCO in 2015, and the United Nations reported in 2013 that girls and women worldwide spend up to 6 hours a day collecting water because it’s one of their household responsibilities.

That’s a huge investment of time and energy, and it’s no wonder that children — girls, especially — suffer a loss of opportunity when their homes and schools don’t have clean water and sanitation.

According to UNICEF, one in four girls does not complete primary school, compared with one in seven boys. Water and sanitation are not the only reasons for this problem, but when girls do have access to clean water and private and safe toilets, they’re more likely to stay in school. Girls’ enrollment rates improved by more than 15 percent in some places after clean water and sanitation were provided.

Let’s think about these children’s needs this month and learn more about how we can help. You can start by reading the World Water Day website and watching this video about Aleyka, an Ethiopian girl who takes us on her daily journey to retrieve water. You may feel inspired to share your knowledge by the time World Water Day arrives.

On the Migrants’ Trail: In Search of a New Life

Afghan refugees in Greece

A group of Afghan migrants take a moment to breathe after reaching Greece by boat. Julien spoke with Hamid, who wears a red jacket, and Mehdi, second from left. 

By Julien Anseau, ChildFund Global Communications Manager

Julien, who has worked with ChildFund in Asia and specializes in emergency communications, joined our assessment team as they traveled through Turkey, Greece, Macedonia and Serbia earlier this year to take stock of needs of migrants from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, particularly children. This is the first of Julien’s reports from the field. 

Thousands of Afghans, Iraqis and Syrians are fleeing their war-torn countries and embarking on a perilous journey to Europe seeking refuge and a better life. In Izmir, a western port city of more than 2 million people in Turkey, many throng the streets, desperate to get to Greece — the entrance to the European Union.

Izmir, Turkey

Lifejackets for sale in the streets of Izmir, Turkey, the starting point for the journey by boat to Greece.

It’s an anxious and fearful time for many. The most dangerous point of the journey to Europe is the illegal boat crossing from the Turkish coast to the Greek islands.

According to the International Organization for Migration’s last update on Feb. 19, 413 people — including children — have died in the Mediterranean Sea in 2016. Migrants pay smugglers anything between $500 and $1,200 and take their chances aboard unseaworthy rubber boats in a desperate bid to reach Europe.

Around Izmir’s Basmane Station, shops sell everything migrants may need, as well as things they don’t. Merchants do a brisk trade in lifejackets, which cost about $25 each and are sometimes useless. This is just one of many examples of people making a quick profit on migrants’ desperation.

***

A few days later, in Athens, Greece, we see many more migrants, but this time, the mood is of elation and relief. They’ve made it to Europe. In Victoria Square, a central meeting space in the city, I met a group of young Afghans taking their first steps on European soil.

“Thank God!”

“Finally!”

Hamid, who says he is 20 years old but looks younger and may in fact still be a minor, describes his harrowing ordeal on the boat from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos.

“I’d been trying for three weeks to reach Greece,” he says in English. “I was losing hope, and then one night at 4 a.m., the smuggler came and said it was now or never. I grabbed my bag and followed him to the beach. Forty-seven of us piled up on a small rubber boat. The smuggler stayed on the beach and told one of us to steer the boat straight towards the lights on the island in the far distance. What was supposed to be a one-hour journey took five hours.

“A Syrian guy steered the boat into the darkness of the night,” Hamid continues. “None of us had ever driven a boat before, but he was brave. The high waves were crashing against the boat, and I was cold and wet through. Everyone was afraid, screaming and crying because we thought we were going to turn over. Some people were praying together. I can’t swim, and I thought I was going to die. When we arrived on shore, I was exhausted and lay down for a while, too tired to realize I made it.”

I can’t swim, and I thought I was going to die. When we arrived on shore, I was exhausted and lay down for a while, too tired to realize I made it.

Mehdi, another young Afghan man whom Hamid met earlier in the journey, jumps in: “We tried a few times to cross by boat. When the weather is bad and the sea is rough, smugglers drop the price. But we didn’t want to risk our life. We know some boats never make it. This time we were lucky. I’ve met some people on this journey who have lost friends and family at sea.”

Just that morning, as the city of Athens woke up, came news of yet another boat that didn’t make it to Greece. The boat capsized, killing several people, including children.

For most people seeking asylum in Europe, Germany is the destination of choice. Usually people have friends or relatives already living there, and the government has been welcoming of migrants fleeing political turmoil.

Ali, a man in his early 30s from Bamyan Province in central Afghanistan, says he hoped to complete his studies so he could rebuild his life away from the pervasive violence of his homeland. He was anxious to recharge his phone so he could tell his family that he was safe and learn the latest news on the migrant crisis.

The port in Athens, Greece, is where numerous migrants take their first steps on European land.

The port in Athens, Greece, is where numerous migrants take their first steps on European land.

“There are a lot of rumors and hearsay,” he says. “I heard that countries are closing their borders. I want to check online for myself.” Ali has kept in touch with friends further along the route to Germany, who relay practical information and advice.

Reaching Germany takes a great deal of planning and money, as well as procedures to protect migrants from losing their savings to dishonest smugglers.

Instead of paying smugglers directly along the route, Ali keeps his money in trust with a middleman back in Afghanistan. After hearing from Ali, this man released a payment to the smuggler who got Ali to Greece and made arrangements with the next smuggler along the route to Germany. If Ali had not reached Greece, the smuggler would have had to keep trying, or he wouldn’t have been paid.

The expense and trouble are worth it to Ali. “The insecurity in Afghanistan drove me out of my home,” he explains. “It’s a war zone. There is no education, no jobs, no safety, nothing. I am sad to leave my parents behind, but I have to save my life. This is not my first attempt to leave Afghanistan for a better life. The first time, I was caught without papers by police in Iran. I was beaten and sent back. This time I made it through.”

A few weeks after I met Ali, Hamid and Mehdi, the situation suddenly changed for Afghan migrants, who are no longer allowed to travel through Macedonia. Many are now stranded in Greece.

Stay tuned for more blog posts from Julien, and also check out Richmond Times-Dispatch staff writer Zachary Reid’s reports from his time spent shadowing ChildFund’s needs-assessment team in Europe. 

To find out more about the children and families undertaking this journey — and to help — read more on ChildFund’s website

A Closer Look at The Gambia

Feb. 18 is the 51st anniversary of independence in The Gambia, a small nation on Africa’s west coast that mainly relies on tourism for revenue. Its borders (other than the western coast) are surrounded by the much larger nation of Senegal. ChildFund has worked here since 1984. Our current focus is on early childhood development, training teachers and improving schools, and helping youth become prepared for successful careers. Below are a few pictures of Gambian people, and you can read more about their nation at the following links:

 

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A Bottleneck in Europe for Families Fleeing Violence

family at Serbian border

A family at the Serbia-Macedonia border, where families from Syria and other countries in strife are attempting to cross to freedom and safety. Photo courtesy of Terre des Hommes-Lausanne. 

In January and early February, Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch reporter Zachary Reid traveled through Turkey, Greece, Serbia, Macedonia and Hungary with ChildFund staff members, as we took stock of the situation facing refugees and migrants from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries. Reid’s first story, published Feb. 14, shows the complex situation families face as they enter ports in Greece, the first stop in the European Union for many.  

As months of news reports have shown us, the journey to Europe can be arduous and dangerous, especially for children, but the risks don’t end there. For several months, ChildFund has worked with Terre des Hommes-Lausanne, a group of Swiss non-governmental organizations focused on child protection, as its staff helps families passing through Serbia and Macedonia. Many are vulnerable to traffickers, and the majority need clean clothes and other basics. 

The numbers continue to grow, with no end in sight. 

“Last year, 853,650 refugees arrived in Greece by sea, mostly from Turkey, according to the International Organization for Migration,” Reid writes. “That was a 1,075 percent increase from 2014, when 72,632 people arrived. An additional 68,778 people arrived from Jan. 1 to Feb. 3 this year, despite bad weather and rough seas for much of that period.”

During the next two Sundays, Reid’s stories will focus on the promise of better lives in Europe, and ChildFund’s expanding mission to protect children in global emergencies. Stay tuned! 

 

An Entrepreneurial Sisterhood in Ecuador

Ecuador girls with chickens

Photo from ChildFund Ecuador.

Maria Angelina, María Beatriz and María Fatima are triplets who live in Ecuador‘s Carchi Province and participate in their community’s social and financial project, which is supported by ChildFund. Through this program, they have begun raising and selling chickens. The sisters say they’re saving money for university, so they can one day find professional work and help support their family. Ecuadorean youth ages 13 to 18 receive financial training through the Aflateen program, and explore concepts such as self-esteem, their rights, gender issues, drug abuse prevention, the environment and job-seeking skills.

Let’s Get Cooking!

Pique Macho Bolivia

In Bolivia, Pique Macho (meat, vegetables and hard-boiled eggs over French fries) is a favorite dish.

This week on our website, we have favorite recipes from our national offices in Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Guinea, Honduras, India, Uganda and the United States. We hope you’ll give them a try, and we have a few more recipes below for dishes suggested by ChildFund staff members around the world. You may need to visit a specialty or international grocery store, or order an ingredient online, but don’t let that deter you. Maybe you’ll find a new favorite dish or learn something you didn’t know about your sponsored child’s home cuisine. Post a picture on our Facebook page if you decide to cook a new dish, and happy eating!

From Bolivia: Pique Macho, as seen in the picture.

From Sri Lanka: Semolina and Coconut Rock (sweet); Deviled Potatoes

From Timor-Leste: Koto, or Red Bean Soup, is akin to a familiar Portuguese soup and Brazil’s national dish, feijoada. Portuguese is spoken in Timor-Leste and Brazil, so it’s not surprising that the same recipes would pass through their populations, too, with adjustments for taste and ingredients’ availability. Because red (or kidney) beans are more common than black beans in Timor-Leste, cooks use them in their soup, and pork or beef can replace chorizo.

From Uganda: Beef and Groundnut (Peanut) Stew; Katogo. Katogo is a dish made with tripe or sweetmeats (also known as offal) and matoke, a green and savory banana similar to a plantain. Are you feeling adventurous?

 

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