Interview by Erin Nicholson, ChildFund Staff Writer
Jeff Miller joined ChildFund two years ago to manage our then brand-new LIVE! Artists program. Jeff recruits musical performers to partner with ChildFund, allowing us (along with volunteers) to promote sponsorship at concerts around the United States. (Find out how you can volunteer.) We asked him a few questions about his love of music and helping children.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
I’m an Iowa boy who somehow escaped the alluring clutches of the Midwest. I’ve lived in five states, including Pennsylvania, where I currently reside with my wife and my poodle, Ozzy.
Have you always worked in music?
This is my 25th year actually earning a living from some aspect of the music industry. However, there have been a few respites along the way where I have veered off the path, working in book publishing and serving on the senior staff as communications director for a U.S. congressman.
What brought you to ChildFund, and when?
I’ve been with ChildFund almost two years now. Prior to ChildFund, I worked at a similar organization – Food for the Hungry in Phoenix. About three years ago, my former boss had come to ChildFund. He dropped me a line asking if I’d be interested in helping launch LIVE! It took almost a year for everything to fall into place, but voila, here we are.
I signed up to sponsor my first child at a concert some 33 years ago when I was in high school. I’ve been sponsoring kids ever since. I’ve seen firsthand how sponsorship can impact the lives of the children and families in developing nations. It’s my passion. I’m a complete music nerd. To be able to combine my passion about sponsoring children with my interest and experience in music is truly a dream gig for me.
What’s your favorite artist and/or the best concert you’ve ever been to?
Oh, now you’re hitting the music nerd side of me on all cylinders! Paul McCartney, Dec. 3, 1989, at the Rosemont Horizon in Chicago. He hadn’t toured the United States since 1976, and my mom wouldn’t let me go see him that year, given that I was 12. I’ve never forgiven her. During the ’76 tour he mostly avoided his Beatles’ roots, attempting to establish his own identity as an artist. But when he returned in ’89, he embraced his heritage full on. The Beatles quit touring in 1966, so a good 50 percent of their catalog was never performed live by the band. So I sat in the stands with goose bumps hearing songs like “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and the closing medley from Abbey Road being performed live for the first time ever. It was like watching my generation’s Mozart perform live. Yup…I’m definitely a music nerd.
What has been your proudest accomplishment working for ChildFund so far?
3,098 children sponsored from July 2013 through June 2014! Bands are fun. Concerts are fun. Music is fun. But bringing hope and opportunities to the lives of children and their families is the true meaning behind all the fun. It’s the motivation and purpose of the work that we do. In the end the music fades, but these children will have impact on their communities for generations to come.
By Himangi Jayasundere, ChildFund Sri Lanka
“Soap and water, scrub, scrub, scrub,” hums Sashini as she washes her hands.
Like many of her friends, the 11-year-old did not bother too much with washing her hands properly before. Sometimes she and her friends would come home after playing outside or helping with paddy cultivation and wash their hands a little with water to get the mud and dust off. But now things have changed with a program organized by ChildFund Sri Lanka to promote proper hand washing, especially before meals.
Sashini was among 90 children age 6 to 14 who participated in the hand-washing program conducted at Mayurapada Kanishta Vidyalaya, a school in the Polonnaruwa district in north central Sri Lanka.
“We teach children about the importance of washing their hands, especially before meals,” says K.M. Chandralatha, a teacher. “But it happens within the classroom. This program was a practical experience in correct hand washing, and I think many of them got first-hand experience on the proper way to do it.”
Access to clean water is crucial for hand washing and other good hygienic practices.
The program commenced with an introduction to hand-washing day, followed by a practical demonstration by a science teacher, illustrating how harmful bacteria can be neutralized with the use of soap and water.
A midwife who works in public health taught the children good hand-washing techniques. “We talk regularly with parents on this subject, but we rarely get an opportunity to talk to children about the importance of hand washing,” says H.M. Chamali Piyaratne, the midwife. “It was a good experience, and I look forward to doing more sessions with children.”
Sashini adds that the program has helped many of her friends, who have in turn taught their younger siblings about proper hand-washing techniques.
“We were never taught to wash our hands like this before,” she says. “The experience of doing it with clear instructions has taught us how important it is.”
To further assist and promote hand washing and good hygiene among children, ChildFund Sri Lanka also provided two sinks to Sashini’s school.
By Christine Ennulat, with reporting by Joan Ng’ang’a, ChildFund Kenya
On any given day, Halima has her work cut out for her. As a community health volunteer in a rural area outside of Mombasa, she makes one or two home visits per day, checking in on families participating in ChildFund’s program to help children and families affected by HIV and AIDS in Kenya’s Coast and Nairobi provinces. Halima has 50 children on her list.
Launched in 2011 and run by ChildFund and several other partner organizations, the USAID-funded program takes a comprehensive approach to ensuring that these children and their caregivers have a safety net so they can build toward a more hopeful future. The program works to ensure that basic needs are met, including:
Today, Halima’s first visit is with Nadzua, age 35, mother of 11; she is a second wife, married into a family who lost their mother to HIV. In her packed-dirt front yard, she greets Halima warmly, a sleepy toddler balanced on her hip. Her 2-year-old son, Mbega, is the only one of Nadzua’s children home this morning — the others are at school, and her husband is in town.
The women sit outside, facing each other, and begin. Before moving on to today’s subject — how Nadzua can gain skills to improve her family’s income — there’s a lot to talk about: the children’s health and immunizations, how things are going at school, how their improved hygiene practices are working out, whether the family is getting the nutrition they need, how Nadzua is doing in the literacy classes Halima encouraged her to take.
How You Can Help
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It’s all hard with 11 children to care for, but life has improved since Halima’s visits began. “I have gained a lot from Halima,” Nadzua says. “I am more educated, more informed on how to take care of my children and my household.”
And she’s especially proud of herself on this day: She just harvested and sold 10 bags of green lentils, which meant she could cover her oldest son’s high school fees.
As Halima leaves a little later, she breathes a happy sigh: She loves her work. She loves seeing families thrive despite the devastation of HIV and AIDS. Because she knows exactly how hard it is.
Halima, a single mother of four, has taken in the three children left behind by her two sisters, whom she lost to AIDS. All three children are HIV-positive.
And, thanks to Halima and all she’s learned, all seven children are thriving.
On her way to her next appointment, Halima passes a school she visits nearly every week, educating parents about children’s needs, sanitation and more. “I’m proud to see that the parents in the village understand the importance of growth monitoring, and that they’re interested in their children’s school performance and attendance,” she says.
She’s also had a hand in one important improvement to the facility itself: Until recently, the toilets were dirty, spilling human waste outside — a biohazard. Halima contacted the local public health officer, who ordered the school administrator to either fix the latrines or close the school.
Halima’s next client, Mwau, is a widowed father of four, and he’s waiting. His wife died four years ago. “When one parent dies, it gets even more difficult to take care of the family,” he says. His children are a girl, 16, and three boys, 8, 12 and 14.
Mwau has participated in several of ChildFund’s workshops — on child rights, nutrition, health and economic empowerment. With other farmers, he’s a member of one of ChildFund’s village savings-and-loan groups. The men are also working together to find better markets for their wares. Thanks to what he’s learned and earned through the overall program, Mwau has been able to move his family from a rickety mud hut into a stone house.
Still, he worries about his children — especially his daughter.
“My daughter was most affected when her mother died,” he says. When the 16-year-old began coming home late after school, he wanted to yell at her, but he didn’t — in the workshops and from his talks with Halima, he knew there were better ways to handle teenagers. But this was really a job for a mother … and his children’s mother was gone. So, at his request, Halima stepped in.
“I explained that while she may want to enjoy the company of friends, some will not have good intentions toward her,” Halima remembers. “There are risks such as rape, and the consequences can be unwanted pregnancies and dropping out of school.”
Halima also encouraged the girl to help out at home — her family needs her. They all need each other.
It’s moments like this that keep her moving forward. “My drive is that people in the community listen to me,” she says. “I have a deep desire to see them grow and lead better lives.”
Reporting by ChildFund Mexico
One day, Antonio felt terrible, suffering stomach pain. He needed to go to the hospital, about a four-hour drive from his home village, Huehuetla, in Mexico’s Puebla state.
It turned out the problem was appendicitis, and despite the long trip, Antonio’s operation was successful. He was able to get to the hospital with the help of ChildFund Mexico, in which he’s been enrolled since he was 2, and the support of his sponsor. Antonio is known for his smile, his good grades and his teaching skills. Yes, even at 10, he’s a teacher.
Antonio speaks two languages — Spanish and Totonaco, his community’s language.
His gift is being a translator for his mother and grandmother, especially when they need to go to the doctor.
Antonio knows that his family members, who speak only Totonaco, have a hard time communicating with Spanish-speaking doctors. So when he accompanies his mother and grandmother to clinics, Antonio is able to tell them what the doctor is saying and respond to the doctor in Spanish.
He also teaches Spanish and Totonaco in the community.
He starts the Totonaco class for children by saying:
“Pastakgasinil.” (Thank you.)
Antonio’s family is poor, but they have better access to health care and nutritious food through ChildFund and the local partner organization. In return, the family members volunteer their time and skills to help others.
Antonio says that he wants to major in math in college, and he dreams about owning a store, earning money to help his family.
He adds: “Hasta chale,” goodbye in Totonaco.
Read our story from Saturday about the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.
By Meg Carter, Sponsorship Communication Specialist
Every continent is home to languages, cultures, histories and beliefs dating to pre-colonial times, which we often place under the umbrella of “indigenous cultures.” In many countries, indigenous populations fall into conflict with rulling governments and majority populations, and other times, their languages and traditions gradually disappear through assimilation. Poverty and isolation are other common challenges.
Aug. 9 is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, a day to recognize and honor these ancient cultures. Let’s take a look at Bolivia, one of the countries where ChildFund works. The Quechua and Aymara proudly trace their origins to the Incan Empire. Nearly three out of four Bolivians belong to one of 37 native peoples. The country’s population speaks 42 languages, and two extinct languages also have been discovered.
Many of Bolivia’s indigenous groups believe in reciprocity, particularly in nature. According to their traditions, when people fail to live in harmony with their environment, their bodies weaken, their spiritual well-being decreases, and the crops they depend on start to fail. The country’s diversity extends to its crafts, music and cuisine.
Bolivian women weave cloth by hand on wooden looms, using hand-spun and hand-dyed fibers. They produce rugged cloth in distinctive colors with wild cotton, twisted together with agave or wool from the family’s herd of alpaca, llama or other animals.
Some regional textile patterns date back more than 1,000 years, featuring Incan designs. Images of stone carvings at temples grace everyday apparel: ponchos, bolsas and bolsitas (large and small drawstring bags), chumpi or ch’uspa (hand-woven belts or bags), unku (tunics), monedero (purses), and ch’ullo (knitted caps).
In the evenings, people play flutes fashioned from aquatic reeds, creating a fusion of Incan chants and Spanish dance tunes. Traditional musicians favor pan pipes and quena (a flute with notched ends), accompanied by the charango, a small, 10-stringed instrument resembling a ukulele.
Along with corn, potatoes and beans, quinoa — a grain rich in vitamins and minerals — forms the basis of Bolivia’s indigenous diets. Known as the lost crop of the Incas, quinoa is traditionally prepared in soups, stews, sweet or savory fritters and spiced drinks.
Below is a simple recipe for p’isque, the Quechuan word for stew.
P’isque de Quinoa (serves 6-8)
1 cup water
1 cup broth (chicken or vegetable)
1 cup quinoa
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup julienned onion
1 cup peeled, chopped tomato
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 cup milk
1 cup soft mild cheese, shredded
Combine water, broth and quinoa in a saucepan; bring to a boil, then cook over medium heat about 15 minutes, until the liquid is completely absorbed.
In a separate pan, sauté onion in butter until soft, stir in chopped tomato and cumin and cook to a sauce. Reduce heat. Add quinoa and milk. Stir in cheese. When the stew reaches the boiling point again, add the eggs and continue stirring until fully cooked.
Serve with boiled potatoes and/or chunks of roasted chicken.
By Sagita Adeswyi, ChildFund Indonesia
In Banten, Indonesia, teachers sang about how much they would miss ChildFund and its corporate partner, Krakatau Posco, as a six-month pilot project to improve their schools was coming to an end.
“Please don’t go, ChildFund,” sang the teachers. “Please don’t go, Krakatau Posco.”
March marked the end of Sekolahku Asik, Indonesian for “My School is Really Cool.” The project was a joint initiative between ChildFund Indonesia, Krakatau Posco, an Indonesian company, and the Community Chest of Korea to support Indonesia’s government in improving the quality of basic education.
“The Sekolahku Asik program has improved the schools’ infrastructures, teaching skills of the teachers, students’ engagement and employees’ participation in education,” says Min Kyung Zoon, president of Krakatau Posco.
The program was implemented in three elementary schools as a pilot in Cilegon, Banten, and 35 teachers from 13 schools in the region received training in interactive learning. Children attended consultation events to express what they wanted their schools to be like, voicing their views through drawing, writing and storytelling.
The schools received minor repairs, and employees of Krakatau Posco had the opportunity to volunteer at the schools, teaching children how to plant trees, wash their hands properly and how to dispose of organic and inorganic waste. More than 500 children benefited from the experience.
The schools now have better and cleaner restrooms, organized libraries with more books and fresh coats of paint on the walls.
“My school was quite dull,” says 12-year-old Novalina. “The restroom was dark and dirty. Sometimes I felt scared when I went there. I joined the competition with other students to tell what we want to be improved in our school. Now, my school looks really nice and much cleaner. We chose the color for the walls, too.”
Teachers, too, were pleased with the program: “We really like the training, as it has enhanced our knowledge and skill in an interactive teaching method,” says Tati Fatayati. “This brings changes to the students; where they might have been feeling bored with the teaching process in the class, now they feel it is more fun and interactive.”
Now that the pilot stage has ended, ChildFund and Krakatau Posco are working together to continue the program at the three schools, as well as other schools, this year.
By Christine Ennulat, ChildFund Staff Writer
This week, ChildFund joins organizations worldwide in celebrating World Breastfeeding Week, highlighting the benefits of breastfeeding, which could save the lives of as many as 1 million babies a year. In ChildFund’s work to ensure healthy beginnings for the youngest, breastfeeding is crucial.
Throughout the world, ChildFund-trained volunteers are working to educate families about the benefits — for both mother and child — of what the organizers of World Breastfeeding Week call “a world-class intervention.”
“Breastfeeding gives the child all the nutrients he needs,” says Saly, a community health volunteer in Senegal, to the dozen mothers seated around her on a large straw mat in a courtyard’s dappled shade. “We should consider breastfeeding even after six months, up to two years.” The women, each with a child at her breast, listen carefully. One rocks side to side. Another stares at her nursing baby, holding folds of colorful fabric away from a cheek that should be rounder than it is. Another gently jounces her little girl, who has fallen asleep and hangs limp in her arms.
Under a USAID-supported community-based health program led by ChildFund in Senegal, Saly is helping lead a nutrition and recovery workshop in her community. The participants are mothers with children under 2 whom health volunteers have identified as malnourished. Held for 10 days in a row, the workshops include growth monitoring, individual counseling and nutrition education delivered along with song and dance and a meal. “We gather the children with their mothers to teach the mothers how to help their children overcome the malnutrition,” says Saly. “When they return home, they will practice what we teach them here.” Education and support about breastfeeding is a central piece of what these activities provide the mothers who attend.
Breastfeeding is a key ingredient in preventing and treating malnutrition, but its benefits go beyond simply providing nutrients.
In many of the communities where ChildFund works, it is news to most mothers that breastfeeding within hours after birth confers antibodies that lay the foundation for a newborn’s immune system. “It’s like a vaccine for the child,” Saly says. Immediate breastfeeding benefits the mother as well, causing a hormonal shift that spurs her body to finish the process of childbirth and release the placenta.
And breastfeeding’s benefits are more than merely physiological. Saly explains, “There is a close relationship between the child and the mother during this time, because breastfeeding develops affection between the child and the mother, and it can help the mother to teach the child many other behaviors. Sometimes the child is making gestures and the mother is correcting. This is a kind of communication.”
A mother’s responses to her baby during feeding can dramatically boost brain development. So, it makes sense that breastfeeding is also associated with a three-point increase in children’s IQ.
Breastfeeding is indeed a world-class intervention: Exclusive breastfeeding from birth until six months is the single most effective intervention for preventing child deaths.
It’s surprising, then, that only 39 percent of women worldwide practice exclusive breastfeeding for their children’s first six months.
Why is that the case? The fact is that while breastfeeding may be natural, it’s not always easy. What does it take? Primarily, mothers need information and support to make breastfeeding happen. Families, health workers and volunteers, and communities at large, also need information so they understand both why breastfeeding is important and what their role is in supporting nursing mothers.
That’s why ChildFund would like to see breastfeeding goals become a global priority in international development. We invite you to add your voice to global discussions about breastfeeding, whether through social media, a note to your policymakers or just a conversation with a friend.
Or, the next time you see a mom snuggling her baby close in this very special, powerful way, give her a smile and a nod. She’s doing a good thing.
Reporting by ChildFund Ethiopia
A water project in Ethiopia, which is estimated to benefit more than 16,000 people, was completed and dedicated in June after numerous technical and administrative challenges.
ChildFund Ethiopia worked with local partners in the Oromiya region of Ethiopia to provide fresh water to community members. Lacking a nearby source of clean water has been a terrible hardship to families. Before, children and women walked three to five hours to get water, which sometimes was polluted with bacteria that causes serious illnesses. Children also would be tardy to school or sometimes drop out because of the constant journeys for water.
At the dedication ceremony, Victor Koyi, ChildFund International’s east and southern Africa regional director, spoke about the need for sustainability and noted that the community will be responsible for maintaining the water source. Both community members and local government officials expressed their commitment to manage and maintain this new resource.
By Luza Marinho, ChildFund Brasil
Helping children grow up healthy and strong is a full-time job, and in Brazil, it means sowing the seeds for community gardens. ChildFund Brasil and its partner organizations are working with families in several communities to plant gardens and grow vegetables for everyone’s nourishment, especially children.
PROCAJ, one of ChildFund Brasil’s local partner organizations in the Jequitinhonha Valley, has 57 families participating in the project Planting, Harvesting, Eating. They grow vegetables for their households at the children’s community center, and the rest of the crops are sold, generating income for the families.
“Today we ate freshly baked vegetables and helped in feeding the kids at school. They have vegetables on the table every day,” says Maria, 68.
For many mothers involved, the project goes beyond physical nourishment; Uca says she has seen her self-esteem grow stronger as well. “Before the garden, I took anti-depression medication,” she says. “Today I don’t need it.”
Maria adds that the community gardens have also changed to how the community sees the families: “We were discredited; they used to say that we didn’t like working, that we just liked to plead. PROCAJ gave us confidence, believed in our efforts and our willingness to grow and succeed in life.”
By Saroj Pattnaik, ChildFund India
At Avadi Municipal Middle School in Thirvalluru, India, the story of the animal kingdom is literally painted on the walls. Each day, students entering the school are greeted by a massive mural, a colorful landscape with wild animals in their environment.
On another wall of the fourth-grade classroom are posters demonstrating fruits and vegetables and their importance in our daily diet.
“These are things our students get to see every day,” teacher P. Jayanthi says. “They not only see those paintings and posters but learn a lot from them. Now, it is easy for us to teach our students through these materials.”
The paintings and other learning materials were made available to the school by ChildFund India under its Enhanced Education Quality Improvement Program (EQuIP). Supported by the Caterpillar Foundation, this program is being implemented in about 100 primary and middle schools around Chennai, the capital city of the southernmost Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
The three-year project, which started in September 2011, seeks to make comprehensive quality improvements in 100 schools in Villivakkam and Ambattur areas of Thiruvallur and Chennai districts of Tamil Nadu. These schools are run by the government and most students are from impoverished homes. Many are from the first generation of their families to attend school, so they may lack full support at home. So far, the project has reached more than 4,800 students.
“These wall paintings and hangings have made our task fairly easy. They not only help the classroom look great, but also help us in a great way to engage children in learning activities continuously,” says Mercy, a teaching assistant.
“All the classrooms of our school have some kind of thematic wall paintings, and we have observed that the paintings have helped gain students’ focus and increase learning,” she adds. “This has helped us greatly in teaching slower learners or those who take a longer time to grasp any subject material. We are thankful to ChildFund India for this support.”
Under EQuIP, schools were provided with learning modules specially designed for delayed learners, as well as workbooks, whiteboards, pencils, art materials, science sets, ceiling fans, round classroom tables and computers, among other resources. ChildFund has also appointed teachers trained to work with delayed learners.
The project has the following key objectives:
“Many slower learners suffer from low self-esteem and lack confidence,” says teacher N. Nalini. “You can address this not only by praising small achievements but also by personalizing lessons.
“I always keep this in mind and encourage them to work on their learning abilities. I encourage children to use our learning materials to observe, predict and solve problems. I invite them to tell stories and revise lessons on a regular basis. They like the attention given to them.” When the project started last year in this school, about two dozen children were designated as delayed learners. Now, 20 of these students have improved dramatically and are at par with their peers, she adds.
Eight-year-old Pallikondal had a problem in identifying animals a year ago. But today, she says, “I know everything about these animals in this painting,” pointing to the elephants.
School Management Committee member M. Laxmi is pleased about the progress her three grandchildren have made at school. “They are all doing well in their studies. I am very happy.”