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.
By Himangi Jayasundera, ChildFund Sri Lanka
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’s subject is Kasun, a young man who lives in Sri Lanka.
Eighteen-year-old Kasun remembers a time when he was struggling to keep his eyes open, trying to finish his schoolwork after working late at his neighborhood diner. He had only a precious few hours of sleep before waking up at 4 a.m. to prepare for the diner’s breakfast rush.
After his mother died and his father abandoned him and his two sisters, life was not easy for the Sri Lankan teen. But he continued to work hard at school and tried to earn some money by working at night.
Being sponsored through ChildFund, though, gave Kasun support and the feeling that he was not completely alone as he continued to receive assistance for his education.
“I struggled through many obstacles to sit the GCE Ordinary Level Examination,” an exam secondary-school students take in Sri Lanka, Kasun says. “When I learnt that I had not passed the exam, I was so disappointed. I thought that was the end of the road for me.”
But an opportunity to attend a Vision Camp event organized by ChildFund Sri Lanka made Kasun realize that there were other opportunities available to him and that failing his exam was not the end of the world. Gradually his disappointment turned to hope. He was drawn by the many opportunities and ideas shared at the event and became interested in taking up a career in hospitality.
“I was so happy the day ChildFund Sri Lanka offered me training in the hotel trade,” Kasun says. He enrolled in a fully paid four-month vocational training program at Swiss Lanka Hotel School. “I finally felt that my life had a purpose,” he says.
While taking the course Kasun also began working as a trainee at South Beach Resort in the beach town of Galle. Upon successfully completing the course, Kasun now works at South Beach Resort as an assistant cook.
“The guidance I received was timely and invaluable, and I feel that I have chosen a vocation that I enjoy and in which I can succeed,” he says, smiling.
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 Rosa, a former sponsored child from the rural state of Jalapa in Guatemala and the youngest of six siblings. Today, she works for a local partner organization affiliated with ChildFund Guatemala. Here is her story in her own words.
Reporting by ChildFund Guatemala
One of my dreams was to work for the organization that helped me when I really needed it. Now, I’m working for ChildFund, and I want to share with you my own story!
My name is Rosa (people call me Rosy). At the age of 7, I started participating in the ChildFund projects through our local partner organization, Cactus. Nutritional, educational and health programs were implemented in the region where I was sponsored. I participated in the programs for 17 years, and it was the best experience!
The program that I participated in when I was 7 was the nutritional one, because in my community there were many children with malnutrition problems. At the same age, I started attending primary school; six years later, I started elementary school.
When I was 16, I was supposed to start going to secondary school. But it was a really hard time because my father did not allow me to study; he said that girls have to stay at home doing chores and have to get married to serve their husbands. Also, transportation was another problem. There were no buses, and school was so far away from my home, so the only option to continue studying was to move to another state. Too much for my overprotective parents!
So, people from the ChildFund project offered me a scholarship and helped me convince my parents to let me study. After long talks, my parents agreed with me. I lived with one of my relatives; they offered me a bedroom and enough food.
I was able to graduate, and I became the first girl to graduate as a teacher in my community.
After a couple of years, someone from ChildFund’s local partner Cactus called me to ask me if I was interested in working with them, and I said yes, of course. It was like a dream! So, I started working for Cactus and ChildFund as a sponsorship assistant doing many administrative chores.
Also, I worked as a program coordinator, and now I am working as a technician in the project Let Me Tell You, to increase children’s literacy, self-expression and research skills.
I have been working here for 17 years, and I am very happy working with children. I had a dream a few years ago, and now I am doing what I love to do.
ChildFund has been working for 75 years in the world, and working here means a lot to me. Serving the new generation is awesome! When I was sponsored, I received so much love, and it changed my attitude. Now I am returning all of these gifts to my children in the communities, and I like to see how children are changing their attitudes and aspirations, by reminding them that dreams can come true with perseverance and effort.
Now I am 41, and I have two children, Andrea Isabel and Julio Fernando, 5 and 12 years old. My two children are my inspiration, I love and am really proud of my parents, I have a family that always supported me and a job that I love! What else I could I ask for?
By Karlo Goronja, ChildFund Communications Intern
Many ChildFund staff members have hidden talents, but everyone at our international office in Richmond, Va., knows about Pam Brown’s way with a paintbrush. An executive assistant in our information technology department, Pam painted an intricate — and large — world map mural unveiled in our employee lounge last month. It’s adorned with individually decorated Watotos, the child figure that replaces the “I” in the ChildFund logo.
A few months ago, communications director Cynthia Price came to Pam with the idea of using the Watoto — Swahili for child — in a wall decoration commemorating our organization’s 75th anniversary.
“The whole idea intrigued me, so of course I said yes,” Pam says. “We brainstormed a couple of times, and once we were on a roll, ideas just kept flowing out of us.”
As Pam did the detail work on tiny islands in the Pacific, as well painting the sprawling continents, other staff members decorated paper Watotos, taking inspiration from the 30 countries where ChildFund works.
“For me, there’s special significance to the wall,” says Meg Carter, sponsorship communication specialist. “It reflects our love for the children, countries and cultures we serve. I lived in Guinea in 2010 and 2011, so I have many photos of children and daily life there. When we had the opportunity to participate in this project, I went through my photos to find the best ones. I wanted to show what it’s like for a child to live in Guinea.”
Meg’s Watoto displays the colors of the Guinean flag (red, yellow and green), the names of the country’s important holidays, and photos of children. She also created a Watoto for Mozambique using the same ideas.
“Many of the Watoto also reveal a deep understanding of the traditions and daily life in those places,” Meg says. “It says ‘We love you.’ It’s kind of like giving someone a Valentine that shows you know them deeply and want to be a part of their life.”
Although the wall has received much attention from staff and guests alike, perhaps the most important aspect to the artwork is its symbolism for our staff members, both in Richmond and abroad, and our many local partner organizations.
According to Pam, “I work for ChildFund, and I know the deep meaning of this mural firsthand and know how everyone feels about the welfare of the children this mural represents.”
Reporting by Sagita Adeswyi and Ivan Tagor, ChildFund Indonesia
In recent weeks, two volcanoes have erupted in Indonesia, displacing thousands: Mt. Sinabung, in North Sumatra, and Mt. Kelud, in East Java. Although ChildFund doesn’t offer programs in either of the affected areas, we’re nearby and ready to help as needed.
Most of the more than 5,000 families displaced by Mt. Kelud have returned to their homes, and the government has provided them with cleaning and roofing materials. However, manpower and knowhow have been in short supply.
Enter 45 ChildFund volunteers from Boyolali, in Central Java — 30 adults and 15 youth — who helped families clean their houses and fix their roofs, finishing six or seven houses each day. Three midwives traveled with the group to provide basic health care as needed for both families and the volunteers.
By Paul Brown, CEO, ChildFund New Zealand
To commemorate ChildFund’s 75th anniversary, we invited the leaders of each of the 12 ChildFund Alliance member groups to reflect on the past and future of their own organizations and the Alliance. Today, we hear from New Zealand.
How does an international nongovernmental organization in a country of 4 million in the southern Pacific help communities in Africa and Asia break free from poverty?
It becomes a better storyteller.
ChildFund’s shared vision of a world free from child poverty requires positive, long-term change for children and their communities. Ultimately, our success can only be measured with better outcomes for children, but in the early 2000s, ChildFund New Zealand had no way of telling the broader story of how we were achieving our vision. We needed to focus on how we connect our supporters with the children and the communities we serve to tell this story.
Founded in 1990, ChildFund New Zealand has made it possible for New Zealanders to sponsor children in more than 20 countries. By the mid-2000s, New Zealanders were sponsoring children in 881 projects around the world, impacting many lives. Although this kind of reach seemed impressive, it was difficult to amplify and celebrate the impact ChildFund was achieving.
At this time, ChildFund New Zealand had started to secure government support for projects. Our staff had begun to form strong relationships with a number of ChildFund’s national offices and the communities being supported. It became clear from all the parties involved that there was interest in developing ongoing and deeper relationships with select communities as a way to achieve sustainability quickly.
Flowing from this idea, we created our Dedicated Programme Area Partnerships Strategy, which enables ChildFund New Zealand to invest several millions of dollars each year into a targeted area to accomplish the community’s strategic goals. We also began layering grant funding and appeal funding for projects to support ChildFund’s in-country sponsorship programming.
At the same time, ChildFund New Zealand has invested in evolving its Auckland-based team, focusing on analysis and impact measurement and also training all members of the team to improve understanding of development and the context of poverty in the five Dedicated Programme Areas we support.
Today we continue to strengthen these partner connections, and we are even looking to connect these organizations with each other. In November, as part of ChildFund International’s anniversary celebrations, we hosted a workshop with our five partner countries (Kenya, Zambia, Sri Lanka, Timor-Leste and Vietnam) to facilitate idea exchange and sharing of best practices.
The last 10 years have brought important change in how we work — and how we think about our work. We have better knowledge of our partner communities. Our closer relationships mean that the team members have more detailed stories and reports to share with our supporters.
This past decade has seen ChildFund New Zealand mature from a mere conduit for funds to a development organisation committed to breaking the cycle of poverty in communities. Our most important decade, however, is arguably the one ahead of us.
Technology is already changing the way sponsors communicate with their sponsored children; our moderated communications must deal with the reality of an interconnected world. The millennial generation expects to see and hear about the impact of their donations almost immediately, not read bullet points in yearly newsletters.
Rather than see these technological and social developments as risks and burdens on our resources, we can view them as opportunities to help remote communities interact with the world in ways that make them seem much less remote, that bring greater empathy and compassion. We can give communities not just a voice but ensure they are part of the global conversation.
And it is exciting and a privilege to be part of an Alliance that is leading this conversation.
Saturday, March 8 is International Women’s Day, which has been observed for more than 100 years. Equal rights, education, empowerment and independence for women and girls — all over the world — are the cornerstone of the day, tenets that ChildFund supports. Mahdia, the Afghani woman interviewed here, declined to have her photo published because she was worried about her husband and male relatives’ reaction to her likeness being seen by people outside the ChildFund Afghanistan office, particularly men.
A huge smile lights up Mahdia’s face as she reads a sentence from her Dari book, which teaches phrases in the language used in Mahdia’s community.
Mahdia is one of ChildFund Afghanistan’s cleaners and, like the majority of Afghani women, she is illiterate. Two times a week, she and I sit together, as we are taken through the intricacies of the Dari language in our quest to read and write it. She has an advantage over me in that she can speak the language, but as for the rest of the tasks, we both struggle.
For the rest of the day and ensuing days, the ever-present smile gets bigger and bigger, and there is a sense of something different about her — a confidence that is slowly uncoiling and emerging like the blooming of a flower.
Like Mahdia, I come from a poor background, but the difference between our somewhat parallel lives is that I was able to receive an education. Also, I was born in the country that, in 1893, became the first in the world to give women the right to vote. Today’s New Zealand women benefit from the struggle in which our mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers succeeded in ensuring equal opportunities for women. In fact, if you were to ask New Zealand men how they perceive the rights and opportunities for New Zealand females, they would more than likely tell you it is 60 percent/40 percent in favor of women.
Afghanistan’s women were awarded the right to vote in 1964. The new constitution established in 2004 states, “Any kind of discrimination and privilege between the citizens of Afghanistan is prohibited. The citizens of Afghanistan — whether man or woman — have equal rights and duties before the law.” But despite having the ability to vote and having a constitution that notes gender equality, the majority of Afghani women have not seen many significant improvements in their lives. Indeed, Afghanistan is recognized as being one of the most dangerous countries to be a female.
It is estimated that 75 percent of Afghani women have no education. The average lifespan of women is 49 years; 85 percent of women face, or have faced, abuse or physical violence. And Afghanistan still has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. Early marriage is extremely common as well.
Most women and girls face precarious prospects in a highly fragile environment buffeted by low economic performance and high poverty, food insecurity, as well as high levels of insecurity and exclusion on account of gender.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day and reflect on the progress made so far in the quest to achieve equality for women and girls worldwide, we also recognize what still needs to happen.
A month after International Women’s Day, with its theme of Inspiring Change, the people of Afghanistan will head to the polls to elect a new president. As many of the presidential candidates campaign on the need to recognize the rights of women and make promises of bringing improvement to women’s lives, many Afghani women are hopeful that 2014 will be a year of positive change for both them and their country. They are calling for changes in attitudes and positive action for women’s equality; if Afghanistan is to make progress, the status quo cannot continue.
Mahdia tells me that she is doing all she can to encourage her daughters to get good educations so they can have opportunities that she has been denied. She also tells me — with that big smile lighting up her face — that they are so proud of her learning to read and write.
As I sit here in Afghanistan, I can’t help but wonder how my life may have turned out had it not been for the opportunities I have had, because I was born a female in New Zealand.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
As part of our 75th anniversary blog series, we are talking with staff members about how they’ve seen ChildFund make a difference and what they hope to see us achieve in the future.
Since the 1950s, ChildFund has worked in underprivileged communities in the United States, particularly with African-American, Latino and American Indian children. Today, we support projects in Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas.
Julia Campbell, program director for ChildFund’s U.S. programs, spoke with us about the commonalities and the differences between the approximately 10,000 children we serve in the U.S. and those who live in other countries. American children’s situations are typically not as dire as they are for children in developing countries, where families often confront severe hunger, a complete lack of health care, dirty water and the spread of deadly disease.
“We in the U.S. are more focused on the softer side,” Julia notes. Self-confidence, community engagement, literacy and education are emphasized here. A major issue, she adds, is a “lack of involvement by parents, who sometimes are intimidated [by their children’s schools]. Inequality of education is a huge issue in the U.S., and a large part of it is determined by race.”
In Oklahoma, ChildFund and its local partners work to bring communities together, which can be difficult when distance between homes is great; in South Dakota, where we work with Lakota children and families, our programs encourage cultural engagement and work to prevent youth suicide. In Mississippi many children and youth have family members in prison, and young people in Texas, whose parents often came from Mexico, are trying to navigate a bicultural world, Julia says.
Although the children are under some pressure to serve as English translators for their parents, “their potential is pretty much endless in this country,” she says, particularly when children and youth learn about opportunities here.
For Julia and her colleagues in the U.S., the primary questions are, “How do we define poverty and tackle lack of engagement?”
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
Today we observe UNAIDS’ first Zero Discrimination Day. Unfair or unjust treatment, either by action or omission and based on real or perceived HIV status, exacerbates the risks of infection and its progression to AIDS.
Do you think children living with HIV should be able to attend school with children who are HIV-negative?
It’s mainly a hypothetical question here in the United States, but nine out of 10 HIV-positive children live in sub-Saharan Africa. Imagine Mozambique, where one in 12 female youth and one in 50 children are HIV-positive.
Worldwide, one in seven people infected with HIV is between the ages of 10 and 24; nearly 15 million children are AIDS orphans — they’ve lost one or both parents to the disease — and four-fifths of those orphans live in sub-Saharan Africa. In Mozambique, Zambia, Kenya and Uganda, almost every child has a loved one with HIV or AIDS within their extended family. At a community meeting I attended in Mozambique last April, many more grandmothers than mothers arrived, carrying babies in their arms, struggling to raise the youngest generation.
Would you buy fresh vegetables from a shopkeeper if you knew she had the AIDS virus?
Imagine a dilapidated, open-air market in Busia, a town on Uganda’s border with Kenya. Rough wooden tables, weathered through years of use, define the makeshift stalls. Neat pyramids of tomatoes, sour green oranges, carrots and potatoes alternate with bowls of finely shredded cabbage, large smooth-skinned avocados and hands of sugar bananas. Shallots, their shoots still intact, and small spicy peppers lay all around. Some of the women minding shop call out their prices and specials; others recline beneath tattered woven mats that shelter them from the merciless sun.
Selling fresh vegetables is one of the few occupations available to women suffering from HIV and AIDS in this town. No longer strong enough to work in the fields, carry water on their heads, cook meals in heavy steel kettles over open fires, or scrub laundry against the rocks in a stream, they can still garden and sell their vegetables in the market. Many of these women discovered their HIV status only after their husbands died of AIDS. Most learned about their children’s infections at the same time. The young ones were infected in the womb, during delivery or from breastfeeding.
My questions — about children and school, vegetables and vendors — are ways to consider the stigma of AIDS and how discrimination occurs to this day.
Although nearly half of all new HIV infections occur in those aged 15 to 24, the proportion of young people requesting HIV counseling and testing is still quite low, due to stigma and fear of discrimination. Even those eligible for treatment may find it difficult to stay on their medication regimen, or they may refuse the social services they’re entitled to.
One bright spot: Girls who finish high school are less likely to become infected with HIV. So, if you sponsor a girl, encourage her in her studies. Ask about her hopes and dreams, and praise her academic accomplishments. Show her what education means to you. And, by all means, erase discrimination and stigma wherever you encounter it.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
This week, we turn the spotlight on ChildFund’s top leaders throughout our history. Visit earlier posts about our first six executive directors: Dr. Calvitt Clarke, Verbon E. Kemp, Dr. Verent Mills, Dr. James MacCracken, Dr. Paul McCleary and Dr. Margaret McCullough.
Dr. John Schultz joined Christian Children’s Fund in 1990 and served as sponsor services director before being elected president. He was an ordained Presbyterian minister, a Peace Corps volunteer in Nigeria and formerly worked for Church World Services.
The beginning of the 21st century was an extremely busy time for CCF. Among our many projects during Dr. Schultz’s era were mass immunizations in India and Sierra Leone, training for home-based care for AIDS patients in Uganda, the establishment of a guide mothers program in Honduras, the addition of Afghanistan to our program countries, and malaria prevention in India, Kenya, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Zambia.
In 2002, CCF joined 10 other countries’ child-focused aid organizations to form what would become ChildFund Alliance, which now has 12 member organizations that assist children and families in 58 countries.
“I am certainly deeply moved by the circumstances that I see children living in,” Dr. Schultz said in a 2002 Style Weekly interview. “Many of the places I go, children not only don’t have toys, they don’t have shoes on their feet. I think sometimes it’s very hard for Americans to even fathom there are places in the world where the majority of the population lives like this.
“If that were all I saw as I traveled around the world for CCF, I might get disheartened. What I see, of course, are the successes as well. I see teenagers who are sitting in front of a computer doing what teenagers do all around the world. I see children sitting in a safe nursery school with caring teachers. It really is as equally invigorating as it is challenging.”
Our current president and CEO, Anne Lynam Goddard, succeeded Dr. Schultz in 2007. At the beginning of our 75th anniversary blog series, she wrote this post, and you can read more of her thoughts on her Tumblr blog.