Flavia Crosses the Gorge

Photos and reporting from Gelina Fontaine, ChildFund Caribbean

As you may have read in her two-part diary, Flavia Lanuedoc was scared of crossing the 250-foot river gorge near her home in Boetica, Dominica, where flooding has caused great damage. Late this week, we heard that she crossed the gorge. Here are a few pictures. We wish Flavia and her neighbors well, as they recover from Tropical Storm Erika.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Moving People by Helicopter and Pulley in Dominica

Photos and story by Flavia Lanuedoc, ChildFund Caribbean

Flavia Lanuedoc works as a sponsor relations officer for one of ChildFund’s local partner organizations in Dominica. She lives in Boetica, a village that was cut off from help after flooding from Tropical Storm Erika in late August. This is the second of two parts of her story. Read part one here


This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Having filled some of the most basic needs, village leaders soon decided that we needed an emergency route in case someone needed to be taken out of the village for medical reasons.

More than 50 years ago, people had built a path across a 250-foot gorge with rocks and dirt, connecting Boetica and Laplaine. Now, it needed to be tackled and tamed once more. Villagers placed a rope over one side of the cliff, then scaled the cliff and climbed up the other side.

During the next few days, helicopters brought in much-needed supplies, and we decided at a meeting that we needed to get the sick and elderly out. Eight people were airlifted, and soon, children and youth who attended school and college in town were airlifted too. Firefighters helped us bring in supplies with a pulley over the gorge once helicopters were no longer available.

A century-old villager died, and his coffin was pulled across the gorge to its resting place. Electricity returned almost two weeks after the storm, so I was able to receive and send emails. I visited several of the ChildFund-enrolled children’s families in Delices (though the road remained dangerous, especially when wet), helped in village cleanups, distributed relief supplies and assisted in any other way I could.

Getting out of the northern section of Boetica to the rest of the island is no easy feat; neither is it for the weak nor faint-hearted. I dared not climb the ladder or crawl down a cliff using a rope, and I didn’t walk along cliff edges or on the deserted beach, either.

However, with families to serve and community mobilizers to support, my task would have been impossible without the village heroes. I am able to function effectively as a sponsor relations officer (despite being cut off) because villagers climb the ladder and ropes and help me carry letters and other documents from the area offices to ChildFund Caribbean’s national office.  Thanks also to the staff members who supported me in so many ways.

My experience is overwhelming evidence that the local people are the first responders. They have the skills and experience of traversing this terrain and, most importantly, the resolve to create the means of survival in times of disaster.

Read more about Dominica’s flooding and support ChildFund’s Emergency Action Fund, which helps us react quickly to disasters and provide help to children and families in the immediate aftermath.

Community Support Makes a Difference in Flooded Dominica

Damage from Tropical Storm Erika.

Damage from Tropical Storm Erika.

By Flavia Lanuedoc, ChildFund Caribbean

Flavia Lanuedoc works as a sponsor relations officer for one of ChildFund’s local partner organizations in Dominica. She lives in Boetica, a village that was cut off from help after flooding from Tropical Storm Erika in late August. Despite spending her whole life in the area, Flavia had never seen anything approaching a disaster of this magnitude. Here’s part one of her story. We’ll post the second part tomorrow.

Flavia's yard became a river.

Flavia’s yard became a river.

The early hours of Aug. 27 had brought with it torrential rains, so I peeped outside to survey what damage had been done. To my disbelief, the yard of the house where I had lived all my life had turned into a raging river.

As I turned from the window, I saw that water and mud were rushing in through the other door. I screamed and ran to wake up my children. Within a split second, water was gushing into the house, bringing with it thick mud. It soon became obvious that our efforts to prevent the water from entering were futile. We gave up, and our focus now turned to saving the items that were at floor level.

Soon, seven men barged into our yard. Every community has “village champions” who carry out search-and-rescue efforts, even if they have little or no training.

These men were bearing news of hope as well as horror. Their tidings still resonate as if it was yesterday: “Give thanks, all of you. Say praises to the Lord, because if that road in the corner did not break, all of you would be dead.” And without even pausing, they entered the house and began assisting us. It took all of us over an hour to clear the mud from inside the house and then pour buckets of water to clean it off. They quickly moved on in search of another family in trouble.

Flavia sweeps mud out of her home.

Flavia sweeps mud out of her home.

After the rain ceased, it was time to survey the village. I was amazed at the devastation. We were blocked from the nearby village of Delices, on the southern end, and the main bridge on the northern end linking us to the rest of the island was gone. There was rubble and debris all over.  We were trapped in the village without water, electricity and means of communication.

Dominica has been identified as the island in the Caribbean with the highest number of cell phones per capita, but that meant little for our village and our ability to reach the outside world at a time when it mattered most. Going from one village to another was dangerous, as one had to go through huge mudslides, boulders and rocks. Before long, a villager discovered one little spot with cell reception, and it became the meeting place where villagers would gather to contact their loved ones and transact business via phone. Those from the neighboring village who were cut off by a landslide braved the dangerous journey to that little spot to communicate with the outside world as well.

With no electricity in the village, it was hard to keep phones charged. But as luck would have it, a shopkeeper had a small generator, so villagers were able to recharge their cell phones there.  Meanwhile, the owner of the village shop had to begin rationing his stock to ensure that everyone was able to have some food and drinking water.

The days that followed were hard on my children. My 17-year-old son refused to sleep in the bedroom and chose rather to sleep on a chair so he could keep an eye on the door to see if water was again coming in.

Tomorrow, making contact with the outside world.

Catch up with Momodou

Momodou and his sponsor

Momodou Bah, accompanied by his sister Sunkaru, meets his sponsor, Debbie Gautreau, in person for the first time. Photo by Alena Kuzub.

As you may recall, we met a ChildFund alumnus from The Gambia, Momodou Bah, this summer when he was a Mandela Washington Fellow, an honor bestowed annually by the White House on 500 young African leaders. After going to Washington, D.C., for the fellows’ week-long summit — and meeting President Obama — he and his sister went to Boston to meet Momodou’s sponsor, Debbie Gautreau. It was a very special meeting, and you can read all about it. Today, Momodou is back in The Gambia, employing the ideas he learned during his stay in Richmond, Virginia, and Washington, and Debbie hopes to visit him next time in Africa!

Selamawit Is Not a Cliché

Ethiopia food crisisSelamawit, 5, is suffering in Ethiopia’s food crisis. She and her brother have kwashiorkor, a protein-energy malnutrition disorder.

By Christine Ennulat, ChildFund Content Manager

Happy World Food Day! There are starving children in Africa.

At how many dinner tables in how many homes have finicky children been scolded that way to get them to eat their dinners?

Or maybe it was India — “There are starving children in India. Eat your meatloaf.”

And how many children have rolled their eyes at their admonishing parents? How many of those parents really were speaking from a place of gut knowledge about what it means for a child to starve?

Clichés come to be clichés because they’re true. There are, and ever have been, starving children in Asia and in Africa. They are also in South America and in North America — right here in our back yard. All over the world.

A truth devolves into a cliché through overuse. We become numb to the idea.

The whole world has become numb to the idea of starving children. That’s why fundraising for a slow-onset crisis like a drought is so challenging, much more so than for a splashy, sudden typhoon or a devastating earthquake.

But 5-year-old Selamawit is not a cliché. She’s a little girl who lives in Ethiopia, where 8.2 million people right now are suffering through a food crisis.

Selamawit became so malnourished that her condition tipped into kwashiorkor, or protein-energy malnutrition, which causes loss of muscle mass, irritation, fatigue, skin issues, diarrhea, liver damage, failure to grow and more. Kwashiorkor is behind the round bellies we see in the now-clichéd photos of starving children in developing countries; the lack of protein causes fluid to collect in the abdomen and elsewhere.

Selamawit is in treatment now, but she will likely never reach her full height. Her brain development may have been irreparably disrupted — time will tell. (Another cliché.)

And time will tell for Ethiopia, but we know what to expect for the coming months: The drought that has decimated the harvest nationwide is expected to continue well into 2016, thanks to what some are calling the strongest El Niño event on record. In a country where 86 percent of the population depends on subsistence farming, the failed harvest means that families must instead purchase all their food, and prices are rising. Poorer families can’t afford the food they need, so they reduce their intake dangerously.

It happens slowly and quietly. And it silences children.

You can help by donating to our Ethiopia food crisis response here.

And you can take the opportunity of this World Food Day to tell your friends and networks what’s happening in Ethiopia. Tell them about Selamawit, and about her brother, 7-year-old Temesgen.

Every day after that, keep an eye on the crisis, and encourage those around you to do so, too. You’ll have to look for it in the media, because it’s not a typhoon or an earthquake. We’ll keep you posted here.

Celebrate Global Handwashing Day!

Today’s Global Handwashing Day, which emphasizes the importance of washing hands with clean water and soap to prevent diseases and infections. Just months ago, we saw how proper handwashing could be the difference between life and death in West Africa during the Ebola outbreak. It’s also a skill nearly anyone can learn. Watch (and share) this video by Jake Lyell, where 5-year-old Joseph from Kenya teaches all of us how to clean our hands. You can help children gain access to clean water through our Real Gifts Catalog, too.

Sonam’s Fight Against Child Marriage

By ChildFund India staff

Oct. 11 is the International Day of the Girl Child, a day set aside by the United Nations to recognize girls’ rights and the special challenges they face. This year’s theme for the day is The Power of the Adolescent Girl: Vision for 2030, so ChildFund’s blog will focus this week on girls who are working to achieve great things now and in the future.

Sonam, 17, a child marriage activist from Madhya Pradesh, India, accepts an award.

Sonam, 17, a child marriage activist from Madhya Pradesh, India, accepts an award.

In India, the country with the most child brides worldwide, an estimated 47 percent of girls are married before age 18, putting their physical, emotional and mental health at risk. Although it is illegal in India for girls under 18 and boys under 21 to marry, the tradition remains entrenched.

For a long time, ChildFund has worked with adults and youth in the state of Madhya Pradesh, where the practice is particularly prevalent, to end this harmful tradition. For many in this fight, the stakes are personal.

When 17-year-old Sonam’s parents insisted that she get married, she protested, and together with her youth club members who had taken an oath to become role models for others by not becoming the victims of early marriage, she spoke with her parents. She shared that she did not want to get married before reaching the legal age and also wanted to study further to achieve her dreams.

At the launch of a 100-day child marriage awareness campaign in 75 villages earlier this year, Sonam was recognized for addressing the issue of early marriage and for standing up against her own marriage. Anmol Jeevan, the campaign, drew great support from the community, including village leaders and parents. Thousands of people attended the event where Sonam and other youth members received awards.

“ChildFund has changed my life — it came as a ray of hope in my life and has given me courage to dream about my future,” she said while accepting the award.

Sonam (left) at a literacy campaign event.

Sonam (left) at a literacy campaign event.

Sonam has been with ChildFund India since the beginning of the project, for more than six years.  She has actively participated in several of ChildFund’s programs, awareness camps and meetings on early marriage. She also encourages mothers to get their children immunized and provide nutritious food. She also has promoted literacy in her village by doing door-to-door counseling and getting children of her village enrolled in school. With Sonam’s and her youth club members’ persistent efforts, more than 62 community members have learned to read — out of the 142 illiterate village members they had identified.

After a lot of persuasion, Sonam’s parents were convinced that she should remain unmarried. With their support, she is now preparing for exams, with plans to become an engineer and help her village.

“If convinced properly,” says Sonam, “parents will support their daughters’ wishes to study instead of getting them married at an early age.”

And when they do, those girls will be able to make enormous contributions within their own communities — as Sonam has.

Listening to Girls’ Voices

Maria Antonia of Brazil

Maria Antônia in New York City.

By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

Oct. 11 is the International Day of the Girl Child, a day set aside by the United Nations to recognize girls’ rights and the special challenges they face. This year’s theme for the day is The Power of the Adolescent Girl: Vision for 2030, so ChildFund’s blog will focus this week on girls who are working to achieve great things now and in the future.   

Thinking about girls — especially those who are entering adolescence — reminded me of some favorite stories from past blog posts, featuring girls raising their voices to advocate for themselves and other young people. In March, Maria Antônia, a 14-year-old girl from Brazil, spoke about violence against children at the United Nations’ headquarters in New York. “It is very important to improve child-friendly services within the child protection network, so that children feel confident and safe,” she said. It was her first time in the United States, as well as the first time she’d seen snow.

In a post from 2014, this one from Indonesia, we met Stefanie and Irma, teenagers who were youth facilitators in a large, multi-age forum about dating violence, which has grown more prevalent there in recent years. It’s impressive how open children and youth can be about such sensitive issues, and it’s thanks to young people like Irma and Stefanie that Indonesian communities are making progress in stopping domestic violence.

Finally, in Ethiopia, four young women spoke out about children’s right to a complete education, during 2014’s Day of the African Child, an annual, Africa-wide event that marks the deaths of young protesters who marched for better educational access in Soweto, South Africa, in 1976. Eden, Helen, Aziza and Bemnet, all in their teens, addressed the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. You can read their words, which reflect the struggles they and other young people in their communities face.

At the U.N.’s Day of the Girl website, read about the special challenges girls face, including early marriage, gender-based violence and poor access to education and job opportunities. Also, if you’re on social media, use the hashtag #dayofthegirl to learn more and discuss these issues.

Turn Goals Into Action to Protect Children

Brazil sisters

Maria Eduarda, 10, and Iasmin, 4, are sisters who live in Brazil. Both look to the future and dream of being teachers.

By Erin Kennedy, ChildFund Director of Advocacy

I can’t stop thinking about something I heard at one of the side events in the run-up to the recent 2015 United Nations Summit, in which the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted: “There are millions of girls who grow up around the world expecting to be beaten by their husbands because they saw their mothers being beaten.”

This statement, by Susan Bissell, who’s heading up the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children, made my own two little girls spring to mind. What will they expect? I wondered. Certainly not that. Thankfully, not that.

My girls, of course, expect all their needs to be met. They expect Mommy and Daddy to love them, respect each other, feed them, care for them when they’re sick, keep them safe. The 3-year-old, my sunshine climber, and her 2-year-old sister, my feisty hugger — both expect to be queens of all they survey. And that’s as it should be. (Within reason.)

But what if they’d been born into a community where they watched their mother experience endless physical and emotional violence and grew up thinking that was just the way things were? What if they grew up afraid to go to school because of the dangers along the way? What if they had to leave school to work in pesticide-laden fields or dangerous mines — or marry someone at age 12?

That’s not what I want for them. Oh, no.

But for too many girls worldwide — boys, too — these are the exactly the kinds of things they can expect as they grow up. For them, it starts early: About 60 percent of children ages 2-14 experience physical punishment from their caregivers. More than 120 million girls have experienced sexual violence. Some 85 million children are trapped in hazardous work.

However, we know that moms and dads around the world want more for their children. We all do, not just in the richer countries.

So we should all be able to agree that it is time to give all children a chance to fulfill their dreams instead of having them derailed by violence. And now, more than ever, we have a chance to make that possible.

We celebrate the newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals, the world’s newest statement of what it wants for itself. And we celebrate the inclusion of violence against children as a priority throughout that statement. That’s a great first step.

But for this world to achieve a future in which children are free from violence and exploitation, we must step forward together — governments, communities, families and, especially, children — toward that future. We need to roll up our sleeves and take this high-level, political commitment embodied in the SDGs and turn it into more than a document gathering dust on the shelves of the U.N. — we must transform it into concrete commitments enacted for children around the globe. Word into deed.

How? The more important question is who. The answer is all of us.

Governments, the United Nations and civil society must take decisive actions and make real investments in protecting children: stronger laws and policies and well-supported systems and services that are funded and targeted. This will make it more possible for communities to do the work of transforming themselves into environments structured around children’s well-being. With stronger safety nets, families can more easily make choices based on love rather than desperation. Children, freed to have safe childhoods, can live at their potential and contribute in their unique ways.

We also need to recognize that, despite all, children already do contribute. Listening to them is a great place to begin this important work.

ChildFund Alliance (including its U.S. member, ChildFund International) has spent the last several years doing exactly that, consulting with more than 16,000 children in 50 countries. In this extensive research into children’s primary concerns, the idea that bubbled up to the top was prevention of violence. It also came clear how strongly children are invested in being part of the solution.

Children know what they want for themselves. We must act before the world beats this vision out of them, before yet another generation’s potential is lost to the world, slipping into a renewed cycle of poverty and inequality.

What does the world really want for its children?

I know what I want for my own, and that I’ll do everything to make it happen.

The world should do no less.

Day of the Girl: Hope for Mung

Mung of Vietnam

By ChildFund Australia and ChildFund Vietnam staff

Oct. 11 is the International Day of the Girl Child, a day set aside by the United Nations to recognize girls’ rights and the special challenges they face. This year, its theme is The Power of the Adolescent Girl: Vision for 2030, so ChildFund’s blog will focus this week on girls who are working to achieve great things now and in the future.   

Thirteen-year-old Mung was born in one of the poorest villages in Kim Boi district in rural Vietnam’s mountains, and even here, she’s had a difficult life compared to many children.

Mung’s father passed away when she was young, and her mother has a disability and is unable to work. She struggles to provide for Mung’s needs with the approximately US$13 she receives from the Vietnamese government each month.

Her uncle tries to support Mung and her mother, as well as his own wife and two children. His rice fields produce enough rice to feed the family and pay for their basic daily expenses, but if a crop fails, they will be hungry for several months.

“When I get home from school, I feed the pigs, clean the house and cook for my mom to help her,” Mung says.

Mung has just completed seventh grade. She has a passion for learning and is a good student, despite having to borrow schoolbooks from her friends to follow the lessons. Also, her house is more than four miles from school, so it often took Mung and her cousin two hours to walk to school each day.

“I used to have to leave home at 5 a.m. to be at class on time,” she says. “It was so dark and freezing.”

Mung and her mother.

Mung and her mother.

In 2013, ChildFund Vietnam staff members identified Mung as being at great risk of dropping out of school due to her family’s financial situation. So, Mung was among 200 children in her village who received bicycles through the Hope Bike project, which was funded by KB Financial Group in partnership with ChildFund Korea and ChildFund Vietnam. She was also enrolled in a project designed to offer support to families struggling to provide for their children’s school needs.

Through the project, Mung receives paper and clothing for school, her fees are covered by direct transfer to her school, and she receives a daily meal to ensure her dietary needs are met.

“ChildFund’s support has helped to reduce the burden on my uncle,” Mung says. “He has been really tired taking care of the two families. Now he doesn’t have to worry about the expense to send me to school. I am provided with tuition fees, course books, a desk and lamps to study at home. I also get rice for meals every month. I feel like I am getting closer to my dream.”

Despite her challenges, Mung always tries her best to study hard, and her efforts are showing. She recently took part in a mathematics competition in her district and received an “encouragement award.” Everyone in the community is proud of her.

“I would like to become a teacher in the future to earn enough money to support my mom,” Mung says. “My goal next school year is to improve my grades in Vietnamese. Any teacher should be good at Vietnamese to convey what she means to her students.”

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 976 other subscribers

Follow me on Twitter