By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
At ChildFund, we often talk about children and youth finding their voices and making their needs known to their families and other adults. That’s something new LIVE! artist Fernando Varela knows about.
“I always sang as a child, but nothing too serious,” he says. When he was about 20, he decided to pursue opera singing, an ambitious goal. Hailing from Puerto Rico, Fernando was considered a late starter in the world of classical singing, but he’s achieved great success in just a few years. He and his tenor singing group Forte (who met in person only days before performing together) were finalists on the show America’s Got Talent in 2013 and are now on a major North America tour.
On the NBC talent show, Fernando and his fellow singers, Sean Panikkar and Josh Page, performed for about 12 million TV viewers each week, which Fernando describes as “an insane number of people.” They sang at Radio City Music Hall and Carnegie Hall, two of the most storied theaters in the country, and were signed by Columbia Records minutes after the show ended. Forte now has a new album, featuring opera classics as well as pop ballads, following their classical crossover approach to music.
In April, Fernando will be supporting ChildFund as a LIVE! artist during four dates in Hot Springs, Ark. Helping children is a major passion in his life; Fernando and his wife started a scholarship fund in their home state of Florida to help children in music, providing others with the help he received as a young man. Early in his career, some friends helped pay for his voice lessons, and others purchased plane tickets so he could fly to auditions.
If I can share with the audience the change that ChildFund creates in children’s lives, I’m not just entertaining. I’m making a difference.
“I had so many people that supported me, especially in the early stages of my development,” Fernando recalls — so working with ChildFund was a natural fit. He found out about our organization through a friend who attends some of his shows, and her brother is a sponsor.
“I think music is such a powerful tool,” Fernando says. “It’s a universal language. People really get to go on a journey and feel a lot of things. I always wanted to have a foundation, to have a cause. We just started now instead of waiting. If I can share with the audience the change that ChildFund creates in children’s lives — through fulfilling basic needs that we take for granted — now I’m not just entertaining, I’m making a difference.”
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
ChildFund’s president and CEO, Anne Lynam Goddard, will speak tomorrow at the TEDxRVA conference in Richmond, Va. You can view her speech as it streams live online Friday afternoon.
The theme of the event is “re__,” an invitation for our community (Richmond and beyond) to actively participate in making the world better. Anne’s speech, “Freedom From Violence,” focuses on “re-action.” That means more than just reacting to events, but acting again and again to achieve our goals — specifically ending violence against children.
Here’s a quote from her talk: “Threats to the most vulnerable and smallest among us — children — come not only from having too little food, but also from having too much violence in their lives. It is not enough to help children survive, but we must also have a world safe for all children to thrive.”
Anne also will share her story about how violence affected her family and encourage the audience to participate in the “Free From Violence and Exploitation Against Children” campaign supported by ChildFund Alliance.
Her presentation will begin at about 1:15 p.m. EDT Friday, and you can stream the video here.
By Priscilla Chama, ChildFund Zambia
As we conclude our 75th anniversary blog series, we are focusing on success stories of youth and alumni from ChildFund’s programs in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Europe. Today we meet Phanny, an automotive repair supervisor in Zambia.
“I never imagined when I was growing up that one day I would work as a supervisor in one of the prestigious companies in this country. I supervise a team of men who work in automotive repair, vehicle servicing and boat repair. I owe my success to a man that sponsored me through ChildFund, and I’m really grateful. My life has turned around for the better, and I wake up every morning with a reason for living.”
These are the words of 28-year-old Phanny, a supervisor at Autoworld, which sells an extensive range of automotive, marine and lifestyle products in Zambia.
Phanny’s parents died when she was only four years old, and none of their relatives offered to take in Phanny and her 16-year-old sister after they were orphaned. So, the sisters remained in their parents’ home, and Phanny’s sister dropped out of school and resorted to doing odd jobs so that they could survive.
“My life before ChildFund was very difficult,” Phanny explains. “My sister only made enough for us to have a meal, I had no hope of ever starting school, and most of the time I joined my sister, washing people’s clothes and cleaning their homes for food.”
Phanny’s big breakthrough came when her sister heard about the ChildFund sponsorship program (then, Christian Children’s Fund) and the girls were immediately enrolled in programs at Tiyanjane Community Association.
“Being enrolled at Tiyanjane project was the biggest relief for us,” Phanny says. “The sponsor I was assigned to was very kind. In our letters, my sister explained that I came from a child-headed household, and he became like a father to me. He did not just send us money for my school but also inspiring letters and cards. I looked forward to receiving them every month.”
With support from her sponsor, Phanny sailed through primary school and qualified for secondary school with good grades. She completed school in 2006 and decided to study motor vehicle engineering.
As you can see, I’m the only lady here, supervising a number of men. I feel like I’m living my dream.
In 2009, she started working for Autoworld as an assistant motor vehicle technician. She rose through the ranks through her commitment and love for the job. Today, she is the supervisor and still the only female at Autoworld’s downtown branch. She and her sister live together in a nice house, and Phanny’s sister no longer has to take odd jobs.
“As you can see, I’m the only lady here, supervising a number of men,” Phanny says. “My life has changed positively, and I feel like I’m living my dream. I have dreams of meeting my sponsor to thank him and tell him in person what his support has done.”
About her future plans, Phanny explains that she wants to further her education and open a garage of her own so that she can support other children in need in her community.
Reporting by Ya Sainey Gaye, ChildFund The Gambia
As we conclude our 75th anniversary blog series, we are focusing on success stories of youth and alumni from ChildFund’s programs in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Europe. Kumba, 24, was sponsored and enrolled in ChildFund-supported programs in The Gambia.
My experience with ChildFund has been a great one, and I would like to add some key memories about being sponsored. I received a lot of learning materials (pencils, erasers, rulers, crayons and books) and letters from my sponsor. Sometimes I use to share her letters with my family and classmates in school. One interesting letter that I remember receiving was with a photo of my sponsor with her three children: Grace, Lara and Sara.
I was a brilliant child performing very well in school, but my parents were so poor that they could not support my education financially. So when I got a sponsor from ChildFund, and she started paying my school fees and providing me with learning materials, that’s when I realized that I could reach my dreams in the future. I have been supported throughout my education, and without ChildFund’s support, my life would have probably ended up in the streets.
Interview by Saroj Pattnaik, ChildFund India
As we conclude our 75th anniversary blog series, we are focusing on success stories of youth and alumni from ChildFund’s programs in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Europe. Today, we hear from Manisha, a 17-year-old girl from India who has been sponsored through ChildFund since 2005.
I belong to a poor and humble family. I am studying in 12th grade, and my younger brother is in 7th grade. My father works as a supervisor in a glass manufacturing factory in Firozabad. He used to be the sole breadwinner for our family, but now my mother also adds to our family’s earnings by working with UNICEF as a community mobilizer. Both my parents are working hard to give us a decent life. We are now a happy family, and I love my parents the most.
But a few years ago, our family was not what it is today. My father was struggling to meet our basic needs. There have been times when my mother had to sleep with an empty stomach, as there was not enough food for all of us. Just to add to our family income, we all started making bangles at home.
I never liked that work of welding the ends of bangles together with the help of a gas stove. We used to sit for hours, welding and coloring the bangles in a very unpleasant atmosphere. Though I was going to school, I had to sit with my parents in sorting or coloring the bangles soon after returning home. I was unable to give much time to my studies. Both my mother and father were having health issues because of the smoke they were exposed to during the day-long bangle work. Even I had developed chest pains and was admitted to hospital several times. But we had no other option then but continuing this unhealthy work.
But things started to change when I became associated with ChidFund. I was enrolled in the Disha Children’s Program and also got a sponsor in 2005. Not only did I start getting the benefits of being a sponsored child, but our entire family benefited. Soon, my mother joined a self-help group promoted by the organization. Slowly, we reduced the bangle-making work at home, with my mother attending parenting sessions and supporting ChildFund field staff in encouraging other women to adopt best child-care practices.
In 2010, my mother was selected as a community mobilizer with UNICEF India because of the training she received through ChildFund. Then, we completely stopped bangle-making at home, and my father joined a glass factory as a supervisor. It’s purely our family’s association with ChildFund that helped bring in these changes.
As a sponsored child, I am very active in all program activities conducted in our town. Earlier, I was a member of a ChildFund-supported children’s club. Now I am an active member of a youth club. We have been participating in various training programs designed to develop our skills and leadership qualities.
I was very quiet and shy as a child, but ChildFund’s activities have truly helped me to open up and express my thoughts clearly. I am now an educated and confident girl. I am well aware of my rights as well as my responsibilities. Now, I have a vision for my life – to become a doctor and serve the deprived and marginalized communities that don’t have access to quality health service even today.
Reporting by ChildFund Ecuador
As we conclude our 75th anniversary blog series, we are focusing on success stories of youth and alumni from ChildFund’s programs in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Europe. Today we hear from Belen, an Ecuadoran teen who is sponsored through ChildFund and also enrolled in our programs.
My name is Belen, and I am 16 years old. It makes me feel very good to know that somewhere in the world there is someone who cares about me and is interested in knowing how things are in my life.
My sponsor and I are in constant communication through the letters we send and receive. I love to receive letters from my sponsor. He lives in the U.S., and despite the fact that we do not speak the same language, thanks to ChildFund, the letters are translated, which makes our communication easier.
ChildFund has given me the chance to participate in programs such as the Youth Communicators group, which has allowed me to grow as a human being through sharing experiences with other youth my age and to learn different things such as producing TV and radio programs and writing about youth topics in a local newspaper.
I also participated in summer camps in different communities, which gave me enriching life lessons because I had the opportunity to share time with young people like me and we learned new things that help us to develop our abilities. Positive things like these have helped me to progress in my life.
Thanks to my participation in ChildFund’s projects, I have learned to communicate better with my sponsor, family and friends, and I have learned about values such as respect, honesty, solidarity, punctuality, responsibility and others. I have learned to go for and build dreams, to strive for them and look toward the future.
By Sagita Adesywi, ChildFund Indonesia
As we conclude our 75th anniversary blog series, we are focusing on success stories of youth and alumni from ChildFund’s programs in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Europe. Today we meet Ester, a tutor at a ChildFund-supported Early Childhood Development center in Dula Luri, East Sumba, Indonesia.
I was a sponsored child since the third grade, and ever since, my life has been with ChildFund. When I graduated from high school in 2001, the director of ChildFund’s local partner organization here asked me if I was interested in teaching young children. At first, I was confused, as I had no experience in teaching, but I was happy that I was asked and felt that it was a calling to contribute to my hometown, so I said yes! I was trained for three weeks on early childhood development (ECD) curriculum, daily activity planning, teaching and learning themes and children’s personalities.
I practiced talking in front of the mirror at home what I had learned in the trainings. Sometimes, I gathered children in my neighborhood to practice teaching them. Many of them laughed at me.
After the trainings, we went around in Dulaluri, from house to house, assessing how many young children were in the area. In the beginning, we had about 60 children. Since we didn’t have a permanent building yet, we did the activities moving from one person’s house to another’s every couple of weeks. At that time, not many people understood the importance of early childhood development. So, sometimes, children just didn’t come. We would then go visiting their house to talk with their parents.
In just three years, ChildFund built us a permanent building and we didn’t have to move around anymore. I think that sometimes children do not get their parents’ full attention at home. While in the ECD center, they can be really close with us, learning and playing together. Children also bring home what they have learned.
The training I just had is about early childhood development and disaster risk reduction. When I thought about disasters, I only thought about earthquakes, wind storms and heavy rains. Through the training, I learned about the vulnerabilities and risks around us, such as how our broken floor and roof could be really dangerous for our children in the ECD center. If the broken roof falls apart, it would be a disaster! In heavy rains, the center’s gutters would be flooded. We need to make sure our children are not playing near the gutters, since they love to play in the rain outside.
This training benefits us and the children. We learn how to teach children about hazards, such as playing with a knife or fire could hurt them. Children learn how to save themselves too when disasters occur and learn how to explain who they are if they are lost or separated from their families. They can say their names, the names of their parents and where they live. I never thought these were important things, but through the training, I understand how this can help the children get back to their families.
Some of the children come from far away to the center, crossing the main road with their parents or older siblings. We are worried for them. I want the parents to also learn about the hazards of the main roads.
If we didn’t have the ECD center, our children would fall behind other children who receive these services. When I was a kid, I didn’t go to an ECD center, as there wasn’t one back then. I grew up shy. If I saw a stranger, I would run away. Children in our ECD center are more confident. They aren’t that shy when we have visitors in our center.
ChildFund has changed my life. I only wanted to be a good person and pay forward to as many people as possible what I have gained from ChildFund.
Water means many different things to different people. Maybe you’re thinking that you need to drink more of it daily, or it’s time for a hot bath. Perhaps you are picturing a tea kettle on the stove? Do you think of lakes and rivers, glaciers and rainclouds?
Many of our readers have easy access to clean water. All it takes is turning on a faucet in the kitchen or bathroom. This sets us apart from many of the children and families ChildFund serves in 30 countries. Today is World Water Day, and we ask you to take a couple of minutes to watch this video showing how a lack of clean water affects every part of life, from infant mortality to education. Here are some ways you can help bring the gift of clean water to children and families in need.
By Gelina Fontaine, ChildFund Caribbean
As we conclude our 75th anniversary blog series, we are focusing on success stories of youth and alumni from ChildFund’s programs in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Europe. Today, we meet Alexia of Dominica.
So many people have dreams and don’t pursue them, but this is not so for 20-year-old Alexia. Born and raised in a little community on the outskirts of Roseau, the capital of Dominica, the talented and ambitious young woman was sponsored through ChildFund. Today, she is the first female police officer to emerge from her impoverished neighborhood.
She is the oldest of six children of a single mother who sells food items and walks long distances during the day, making money to send her children to good schools.
“I always tell my younger brothers and sisters to learn well at school and follow their dreams, because if I can do it, they can do it too,” Alexia says.
Alexia, who has a charming smile, has always appreciated her mother’s efforts and made the best of her education. She first entered the culinary field, working as a cook at a rotisserie restaurant, before deciding to go to school to become a police officer.
She currently serves on the Commonwealth of Dominica Police Force and is well respected in all parts of the island country. Alexia has worked as a patrol officer, a district officer and at the headquarters doing clerical duties. The journey continues for the young officer, and she has plans to further her studies in criminal justice so she will be better equipped to “protect and serve” her country and fellow citizens.
Alexia has inspired many young people, as well as adults, who have interacted with her; she is very polite and carries out her duty diligently. Her younger siblings all look up to her as their mentor and role model.
“I will always be grateful to the people at ChildFund,” she says. “They really encouraged me and motivated me to do well in life. They helped me with my school things, uniform and books and also helped my brothers and sisters.”
In Alexia’s spare time, she spends time with her siblings, encouraging them to take their education seriously and focus on the positives in life. She also motivates the youth in the community, reminding them that it does not matter where you are from, you can achieve your goals.
By Elena Karpenko, ChildFund Belarus
As we conclude our 75th anniversary blog series, we are focusing on success stories of youth and alumni from ChildFund’s programs in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Europe. Today, we meet Oleg of Belarus, in Eastern Europe.
Belarus’ 119,000 children with special needs, including about 30,000 with disabilities, often have problems gaining access to good education and services. They also cope with deeply ingrained social exclusion.
Oleg, a teenage boy who is affected by musculoskeletal issues, often felt like he couldn’t express himself. He wanted to show others that his life has meaning, but Oleg didn’t have the tools.
But life took a turn for the better when Oleg enrolled in a course offered by ChildFund Belarus called Leadership Without Limitations, part of a USAID-funded project, Community Services to Vulnerable Groups.
ChildFund achieved or exceeded all its annual targets, including improved capacity in 170 disability-focused organizations, more services for 535 children with disabilities, training for 257 parents and family members, incorporation of inclusive approaches in nine educational settings and other successful advocacy efforts.
Through the course, Oleg has learned how to take photos, which you see below.
His mother suggested a photography exhibit for the youth in his course, and ChildFund Belarus staff members embraced the idea. More than 120 people came to the event, which focused on organizations that help people with disabilities.
“I didn’t even think that the exhibition could change my life so much,” says Oleg. “If I hadn’t taken part in the course, I would never have come to the idea of exhibiting my photos.”
After the ChildFund event, he was invited to photograph a fashion show featuring children with disabilities, and those pictures were displayed in Oleg’s school. All of a sudden, people saw beyond Oleg’s disability: Here was a person with strength, talent and capabilities.