Reporting by Mark Can, Punena Parish HIV/AIDS Project Officer
A young mother, 32-year-old Lakot, describes her life after being diagnosed with HIV. Two years ago, she joined a ChildFund-supported group in her village in northern Uganda, which has allowed her to receive support from people going through similar challenges. Dec. 1 is World AIDS Day. In Uganda, approximately 1.5 million people are living with HIV, according to 2014 statistics from UNAIDS, and most people in sub-Saharan Africa are either directly or indirectly affected by the disease.
I joined the family support group 2 years ago. Before I joined, life was hard. I was living in fear and isolation because I was HIV positive.
After joining the group, life became easier. From the other members, I learned a lot about how to take care of myself and my family. I sometimes used to forget to take my medication, but the group members remind me, and if I need it, they escort me to pick up my drugs. Now I have no fear of living with the disease.
I also realized that I was not alone and that I could freely live and talk about it. That’s why I am even free to talk to you right now.
In the process of our meetings, we decided that we needed to save some money to support ourselves in times of need. So, we started the bol chup (village savings and loan) group. We meet every Monday and collect money after our support meetings. This group helps us when we are in need of money; we borrow funds and pay them back with little interest.
Because of the family support group meetings, I realized the need to disclose my status to my children.
I am appealing to the government and to nongovernmental organizations asking they support our groups more, in terms of finances and sponsorship for our children, so they can continue to study in school.
From Ya Sainey Gaye, ChildFund The Gambia:
James Pimundu, national director of ChildFund The Gambia, shared his thoughts about the United Nations’ goal to end the spread of HIV by 2030. He also highlighted the need to reflect on the challenges faced during the past in the fight against HIV and AIDS. Pimundu called for strong partnership with other international nongovernmental organizations, the private sector and civil groups to complement government initiatives.
He also touched on the impact that HIV and AIDS have on people’s lives, especially in the area of child mortality: “It creates marginalization of those infected due to the stigma attached to its name. This can hinder the fight for control and, by extension, eradication of the disease. ChildFund believes that through engagement with marginalized people — and using the power of advocacy, community mobilization and a host of other strategies to reach those affected directly and indirectly — will help us succeed in the total eradication of HIV and AIDS by the year 2030.”
Finally, Pimundu called for changes in attitude, bringing about greater support and understanding of people diagnosed with HIV and AIDS. Together, our collaborative actions will certainly bring a halt to the spread of the disease, he added.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
If you were president, what is the one thing you would do to keep children safe?
We put that question to 1,188 children and youth ages 5 to 18 in ChildFund’s U.S. programs in Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas. When we take a look at their answers, the common denominator is fear.
What would they do as president? Most say they would keep children away from predators, bullies and strangers. Some would make children stay inside their homes, lock down schools, put stone walls around parks.
Some would even implant tracking devices under children’s skin and in their teeth.
More than 30 percent spoke about enforcing adult supervision, setting up alarm systems and giving children safe places to go.
Another 7.5 percent recommended keeping children isolated and restricting their movements or staying with their parents at all times. And 18 percent say they would create, change or enforce laws, mostly to keep children safer. Others would shut down the Internet or use technology to track down sex offenders and predators and keep them away from children.
Children usually are reflecting the concerns — voiced or not — of the adults around them.
Part of this sense of danger and insecurity is likely based on real problems in their communities; the children polled are from disadvantaged and poor areas, with more than 20 percent of the population under the national poverty line. High dropout rates, domestic violence and substance abuse are documented issues, along with other hardships associated with poverty.
“While children responded overwhelmingly that they feel the safest at home, we know that many homes are not safe environments for children in these areas,” says program director Julia Campbell. “In previous surveys and consultations with children, they are reluctant to talk about what goes on at home and mainly focus on the problems outside the home. Perhaps compared to the other choices, home still feels the most safe to them. It’s still what kids know best and what they prefer.”
But children also are reacting to perceived problems, too. They’re scared of being targeted by sexual predators, kidnappers and other villains around every corner. Dangerous people exist, of course, but are they as omnipresent as some of the children’s answers suggest?
We need to pay attention, even when what they say seems a little off the wall. Children usually are reflecting the concerns — voiced or not — of the adults around them. Just read some of their answers to “If I were president …”
I would make a small town and keep them in there. There wouldn’t be no bullying, no people trying to get them.
I would keep children safe by putting the schoolhouse on lockdown.
If they are ages 6-13, they should not go places without parents guarding them.
NO Guns, NO Drugs.
Ban drugs and walking home alone from school.
I would make a stone wall around the park and only kids and their parents can go in.
I would make the parks safe 24 hours.
Make sure that the parents are good; they don’t get drunk and beat their kids.
I would keep children safe by keeping ISIS away from America.
Remove every website.
I would have a soldier at as many doors as possible, make it illegal for people to use motorcycles, make animal shelters that don’t kill animals, and make it illegal to smoke or drink.
Have an online school because a lot of children get kidnapped walking home after school.
There are a few light-hearted and optimistic answers, like the children who would ban homework on Fridays and establish four-day weekends, but the vast majority of the young people polled suggest fairly extreme solutions to the question of keeping kids safe. And as we know from working in countries with political strife and other dangers, it’s hard for children to concentrate on playing, making friends, studying and reaching their potential when they’re afraid.
But if we look back to the children’s words, we can find a few answers about how to ease their fears and help them feel safer and more confident. We just need to listen:
Make parents teach children what’s right and wrong and lead them on the right path.
Have a class where all children go and talk to a teacher to tell them anything that is going on with their lives.
Listen to what they have to say and look for the best solution for their problems.
Talk to them about all their insecurities and just tell them that everything will be all right.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with warm thoughts and love. What are we thankful for at ChildFund? The chance to see children’s happy faces and hear their voices. Here’s a class at an elementary school in East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia, singing about a garden full of pretty flowers. Please enjoy.
By Lynda Perry, ChildFund Staff Writer
Many of us have seen the headlines coming from Europe and the Middle East, as millions of people seek refuge from violence. Families and children have left everything they know to face an uncertain future, often traveling by night on rough roads, facing armed guards and rebel gunfire. More than half of the nearly 60 million people displaced by war today are children, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency. They come from Syria more than any other country; more than 200,000 people have died in civil war there.
As of Nov. 23, 3,519 people have perished this year alone trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to safety in Europe. Their numbers grow every day, according to the International Organization for Migration.
As winter approaches and the plight of exhausted families on the road worsens, ChildFund is supporting a Swiss children’s aid organization, Terre des Hommes-Lausanne, to provide respite to families on the run. Now on the ground in Serbia and Macedonia, TDH offers families support and protection at all hours of the day or night, greeting them with warm clothes and blankets, personal hygiene supplies, maps, reliable information and help in connecting with families and friends. For mothers, there’s a private place to feed their children; for children, a safe place to play and, perhaps, feel like children again. Distressed families can also receive psychological support as well as health assessments and referrals.
Donate and help make fleeing children and their family members more comfortable and safe as they face a winter of uncertainty.
For more information about the refugee crisis:
International Organization for Migration: Missing Migrants Project tracks casualties in the Mediterranean with frequent updates.
New York Times: “I met several children who had arrived in Europe on their own. The youngest of them, Reza Mohammadi, was just 7 at the time. He was separated from his parents in a forest in Macedonia,” writes Katrin Bennhold.
Reporting by ChildFund International staff members
Today is Universal Children’s Day, when ChildFund Alliance releases its annual Small Voices, Big Dreams survey. Almost 6,000 children in 44 countries (in the Americas, Africa, Asia, Europe and Australia) answered questions about what their fears are, what they’d do if they were their country’s leader and what they consider their rights. Here are some memorable responses from children in countries where ChildFund works.
Hoan, 12, of Vietnam:
Teresa, 12, of Mexico:
Jeferino, 12, of Timor-Leste:
Agnes, 12, of Zambia:
Jonathan, 11, of Mexico:
Did you know that 2.4 billion people do not have access to basic toilets? That number includes some of the children and family members ChildFund works with in Africa, Asia and the Americas. When families don’t have clean and safe bathroom facilities, children become vulnerable to disease and malnutrition. Nov. 19 is World Toilet Day, and we’re asking for your help in sharing information about the lack of good sanitation in communities around the world. This video from Cambodia shows how a simple latrine has made a dramatic difference in 11-year-old Romduol’s life. If you share the video with your circle of friends and loved ones, use the World Toilet Day hashtag, #WeCantWait.
Reporting by Abraham Marca, ChildFund Bolivia
Raquel, 19, is a young leader in her Bolivian community. We asked her to tell us about her sponsorship experience, what she’s up to now and her career plans.
How would you describe your friendship with your sponsor?
I have a beautiful relationship with my sponsor. She tells me about her country and sends me pictures with beautiful landscapes, places where she goes with her family. She also tells me about her daily life and how she worries about me and my family. I love when she sends postcards.
What have you learned from your sponsor?
My sponsor is consistent about writing; we keep in touch often, and we know what is going on in each other’s lives. I learned a lot about the value of friendship with her. I think she is my best friend because she has taught me a lot about other places, about respect for the family. Her letters are written in a simple way but tell me a lot. I know she thinks about me all the time.
Tell me about the new activity you’re doing now.
The local partner in my community started a silversmith training program, and I was curious about how to work with silver and make a ring myself. The day I made my first ring, I was very happy and proud. I continued making other small pieces of jewelry, first during my free time, and now I am part of a small association.
Now that you have learned this skill, do you have future plans?
I would like to own a business, making jewelry with my own style. I would also like to teach other youth to make rings, earrings and many more things. Of course, I would also like to learn more about this art.
I understand you are the association’s president. How do you feel about holding this position?
Well, all of my friends and partners elected me. They told me I am a responsible, dynamic and good friend, and they trusted me.
Now we run our association by ourselves. All of us are youth, and we learn something new every day. I know this is a big responsibility. All of us want to strengthen our small association.
What is your biggest challenge and biggest triumph?
My biggest challenge is to find the time to keep up with this new responsibility and stay on time. We want to build our own brand — not only a logo but an identity. We would like to be known in Oruro and throughout Bolivia.
My main satisfaction is to see us grow as people, both as silversmiths and as friends. Being at the silversmith workshop is fun. We all are friends and take care each other.
By Rashmi Kulkarni, ChildFund India
In parts of India, literacy rates are very low for a variety of reasons. One problem is a lack of electricity. When you are in the dark at home, it’s not easy to read.
In June, ChildFund India distributed nearly 40,000 solar-powered lamps to children in homes without electricity, as phase two of a national literacy campaign called Books, My Friends. In December 2014, our India staff members, with the help of local partner organizations and others, distributed 40,000 tote bags full of age-appropriate books in several languages. About 115,000 children have benefited from the program, which aims to make reading fun and also help them improve their literacy skills.
According to India’s Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) for 2014, many children are behind grade level in their reading skills. Among eighth-graders, about 75 percent can read at second-grade level, and 32.5 percent of second-graders can’t even recognize letters.
We used to use wax or kerosene candles. With the slightest blow of wind, the candles would go out.
In this campaign phase, called Toward a Brighter Future, children have received solar-powered lamps that allow them to read, do homework or other activities after the sun goes down.
“For me, my education is very important,” says Aarathi, who got a lamp. “I don’t like missing school even for a single day. Now that I have my own solar lamp, I can study anytime and anywhere. It’s so convenient and easy to use these solar lamps. We also use these lamps for doing group studies outside our houses.”
Although the lamps’ primary purpose is to help children study after dark, they also make it easier for family members to do household chores. “Earlier we used to use wax or kerosene candles,” recalls Jayamma. “With the slightest blow of wind, the candles would go out. We also used to feel hot while using them. Having a solar lamp is great. We don’t face any of those problems with this. My mother finds it very convenient to cook using this lamp.”
And for some, the solar lamp has a totally different benefit. “Now we can also play after dark outside our houses using these lamps,” say Prathibha and Swathi.
After the successful implementation of this second phase, ChildFund India plans to open two solar-powered model schools, more than 100 libraries in rural schools in 14 states and introduce mobile libraries, which will provide access to high-quality reading material and dedicated reading space for children and other community members.
Video by Christina Becherer, ChildFund Senior Manager, Corporate Strategic Alliances
Yesterday, Christina and her ChildFund colleague, content manager Christine Ennulat, met the Laroo Mothers’ Group, in the Gulu district of Uganda. In this video, they sing a song of welcome to their visitors. The mothers are proud of contributing to their new village savings and loan association, which allows them to take out small loans to start new businesses, pay school fees, cope with illnesses, or even come together to help another group member in need. We’ll be hearing more from them later, but for now, hear this!