By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
You can learn a lot about the children you sponsor through the exchange of letters. For Bernadeta Milewski’s family, their sponsored child Hermie is like a second daughter, despite more than 8,000 miles between them.
After four years of sponsorship, Bernadeta, her husband, Evan, and 6-year-old daughter Nadia traveled in May from Connecticut to see Hermie and her family in San Joaquin, Philippines. It was a dream come true for everyone, Bernadeta says. “When we saw each other for the first time, there were no words, just long hugs. Tight hugs,” she says. “So much affection. In my wildest dreams, I didn’t know it could be so amazing.”
The Milewskis were there for a couple of reasons — mainly to see 12-year-old Hermie, but also to assist her family, whose home is vulnerable to flooding. Fortunately, San Joaquin did not experience much damage from Super Typhoon Haiyan last November, but Hermie’s home is near water and has suffered harm in other storms. Sponsors typically don’t see their sponsored children’s homes, but the Milewskis were permitted to do so to assess the best way of helping, whether it was renovating the existing home or purchasing property elsewhere.
Ultimately, after thorough discussion with Hermie’s family and local staff, they decided to build a new home; they also purchased a fishing boat for Hermie’s father. Hermie, her mother and siblings depend on his income — often $2 to $4 a day — for their day-to-day needs. The new boat will improve their situation tremendously as it will increase their earnings significantly. “Our plan was to assist Hermie’s family with their living arrangements so that they could have a safe place during typhoons,” says Bernadeta, “but when we learned that Hermie’s father had been working for someone else for over 20 years and therefore making very little money, we quickly decided to help with the purchase of the fishing boat as well.”
The Milewskis sponsor three children through ChildFund; although they have relationships with all of their sponsored children, Hermie was always very special to them, Bernadeta says. Early on, “she was calling us Mommy and Daddy and telling us that she was dreaming of meeting us. We knew we would do everything to make her dream come true. We really love the whole family there. During our two-day visit, there was no awkward moment. We were really kind of reunited.”
Writing letters is very important to the sponsor-child relationship, Bernadeta emphasizes. During the trip, she met other children enrolled in ChildFund-supported programs who hunger for communication and encouragement from their sponsors due to a lack of correspondence. She promised that she would let other sponsors know how much the sponsored children look forward to receiving letters and establishing a relationship with their sponsors.
“They would love to get letters from sponsors,” Bernadeta says. “It’s very important to remind people that it’s not just about the monetary donations. Letters are extremely important. As sponsors, we can tell the children about things they do not know even exist. We can motivate them, encourage them and offer praise. Through letters, they learn about other kinds of opportunities — opportunities their own parents for the most part are not aware of.”
For instance, Hermie’s parents had never been to the main city in their province, Iloilo, until the Milewskis’ visit. “For Hermie, we hope life has more in store, and we want to make sure that she has big dreams,” Bernadeta says. Sponsors don’t take the place of parents, but they often provide a new perspective for children, giving them hope for the future.
“When you become a sponsor, you sign up for some sort of relationship,” Bernadeta says. “If they can feel that someone cares about them, that gives them confidence that they’re really lacking.”
Bernadeta acknowledges that writing to your sponsored child may seem difficult at first and gave some tips to other sponsors:
“I always introduce myself, tell the child who we are and why we sponsor. I am always very positive and ask lots of questions as this opens up a dialogue. I ask what the child likes doing, what holidays he or she celebrates, what their favorite subject is. I always stress how important it is for them to study and encourage them to do their best. We include stickers, postcards, bookmarks, balloons, coloring pages and photos we take during our vacations and on special occasions. As sponsors, we have a very important role in their life. We can provide something different than their immediate families do.”
After the Milewskis’ return home, they received a letter from Hermie. She wrote, “I will give my best to attain my dreams in life to help my family to combat poverty. I will follow you to help the poor so I will not disappoint you, and I will not waste your dreams on me.”
For more tips about writing letters and developing a friendship with your sponsored child, visit ChildFund’s website.
By Erin Nicholson, ChildFund Staff Writer
Last year in Belarus, a young man named Vlad passed the Baranovichi University entrance exams. A significant but fairly routine achievement, perhaps, except that Vlad was born with cerebral palsy. And in Belarus, his acceptance into college was nothing short of groundbreaking.
Although cognitively Vlad is very capable — he can quote Dumas with ease and loves classical literature by Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky — the palsy makes his speech unclear, and he has trouble writing or using a keyboard. He almost missed out on going to college altogether; over and over he was prevented from taking entrance exams because students weren’t allowed any kind of assistance during the tests.
His break finally came after the vice rector of Baranovichi University attended a ChildFund-supported training on inclusive education, the USAID-funded project Community Services to Vulnerable Groups. She shared her new knowledge with colleagues, and Vlad was able to take the exam by answering questions verbally. He passed and even had the highest scores among all applicants that year.
In Belarus, more than 26,000 children are considered to have a disability and as many as 120,000 have special educational needs, according to UNICEF. These are alarmingly high numbers, especially for a country with just under 9.5 million people, and have nearly tripled since 1990. A complex mix of problems may be to blame, including the lingering effects of post-Soviet Union economic depression and the trauma of the Chernobyl nuclear plant explosion nearly 30 years ago.
There is not any direct evidence proving that long-term radiation exposure caused an increase in health problems in Belarus, but the economic devastation following the disaster resulted in widespread post-traumatic stress, depression and anxiety throughout the population. Along with chronically high unemployment, the prevalence of smoking, alcoholism and overall poor nutrition contribute to an increase in disease and disabilities.
And in a country with limited economic resources, the infrastructure to support children who need assistance just isn’t there. So what happens to them? Institutionalization and exclusion from family and society is common, and children with disabilities, who are often seen as a burden or even an embarrassment, overwhelm orphanages. Rarely do they receive the physical, cognitive and emotional support they need — much less an education. The communities in Belarus where we work have seen some improvement, with the number of institutionalized children dropping to an average of 6 percent in 2009, down from the national average of 25 percent.
With the right support, life for these children can be better. As of 2012, 4,000 children and family members benefited from the USAID-funded inclusive education project. Vlad is gaining an education, as well as future opportunities and more independence. After college, he hopes to become a lawyer and fight for the rights of people with disabilities.
Recently, Belarus leaders have begun to prioritize inclusive education for children with disabilities, thanks in part to groundbreaking cases like Vlad’s and the work by ChildFund and other groups. More children are in a position to become leaders and have greater hope for the future, just like Vlad hopes to be.
Consider contributing to ChildFund’s Fund a Project for children living with disabilities in Belarus, giving them access to necessary classroom equipment. You can keep the momentum going for Vlad and other young people.
A few months ago, we wrote about Caio, a young man from Brazil who was one of 10 teens chosen to take photos for the World Health Organization’s adolescent health report. He’s a sponsored child and participates in the ChildFund-supported Photovoice program in Brazil. Now the WHO’s report has been released, and you can see Caio’s images (here and here). We encourage you to read the whole report, which quotes teens from around the world about health concerns affecting their communities.
By Sagita Adesywi, ChildFund Indonesia
In this blog post, we meet Nuren, a woman who worked for REACH, a project in Indonesia run by ChildFund and UNICEF that promoted health care of pregnant women and young children to help lower the infant mortality rate. REACH ended in December 2013, but the health-care training continues to make a big difference in these communities.
Nuren works in East Nusa Tenggara, training community health volunteers (known as cadres) and families about keeping infants and young children healthy and safe. Beginning in 2011, she traveled to homes and clinics in remote villages, where women traditionally have given birth without access to prenatal care or emergency assistance when it’s needed.
Most health cadres come from non-medical backgrounds, so they received regular support and monitoring during the project’s duration. Nuren’s routine visits helped to remind the volunteers how to provide basic health services, and she checked the amount of medical supplies to make sure health posts were fully stocked. Some visits took hours to accomplish.
“When we had two new cadres in Sotual, we went there for a monitoring visit,” Nuren recalls. “We left the city at dawn to reach Nuapin village. We then walked for three hours through the forest from Nuapin village to finally reach Sotual. The return trip was more difficult, because it was uphill. We took a shortcut, and I almost fell off a cliff on the way back.
“The wife of the health cadre gave us pineapples, but unfortunately, none of us carried a knife. We walked all the way up the hill to our car before we saw an old man with a big dagger to help us cut and eat the pineapples. We weren’t even wondering if the dagger was clean or not, we were just so thirsty from the long walk!”
Upon reaching Nuapin, the group stopped by a health center. “The health worker asked where we came from. He was surprised when we told him that we had just visited our health cadres in Sotual, since they had never gone there before,” Nuren says. “With basic medical supplies in such a remote area and limited access, the health cadres are able to provide basic health care for young children. Seeing this is really rewarding for me.”
In 2011, the REACH project covered 40 villages and 14 health centers. By January 2013, it had expanded to 49 villages and 15 health centers, with more than 200 trained health cadres. Since the project ended, Nuren has continued her work with ChildFund in the eastern program areas.
One of the biggest challenges in the project area is the traditional activity called Sei, in which firewood is burned underneath a platform and mattress that a mother and her newborn lie on in a room with very limited ventilation, sometimes as long as a month. It is believed that this practice will make them strong and healthy, but in fact, it contributes to many respiratory problems. Another challenge is that the community’s water source is far away.
Nuren says that although the region continues to face some hardships, “I see the changes happening in the community. People now have a reasonable access to health services. This really helps in obtaining basic health care in critical situations, especially for young children who suffer fevers or stomach aches, as malaria and diarrhea are common in the area.
“I have seen the community is really enthusiastic about the health services they have in their neighborhood. Even though they know the health cadres are trained specifically to help young children, people now choose to go to the health cadres instead of the traditional healer when they are sick,” she adds. “People are also more aware of health issues. They learned not only to be aware of the common symptoms of diseases, but also how to prevent contracting them with healthy living habits.”
Our CEO and president, Anne Lynam Goddard, spoke about violence against children at the TEDxRVA conference in March, and today the speech is available on video. Anne’s speech, “Freedom From Violence,” focuses on “re-action”: More than just a single reaction to events, but acting again and again to achieve our goals — specifically ending violence against children. She was part of a daylong lineup of speakers in Richmond, Va., all addressing ways that we can individually and as a community make positive changes in the world.
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
Are you a smoker? Maybe you’ve quit, or have you never taken a puff? Perhaps, like many of us, you fall somewhere in between.
I have a lifetime count of less than 100 cigarettes, but I’m not protected: One in ten tobacco-related deaths involves a never-smoker. And of those deaths, one in four is a child — because there is no safe level of second-hand smoke.
Tomorrow, May 31, is World No Tobacco Day, a time to contemplate these grim facts and consider what we can do to make a difference.
In my early 20s, working in Saint-Louis, Senegal, I occasionally smoked, even though I hated cigarettes. Smoke filled that sleepy town’s only nightclub, and on Saturday nights, my Gauloises burnt down to my fingertips. Smoking was my cover charge for entertainment.
Several years ago, when I lived in Guinea, I watched children buy single cigarettes at the same shacks where they purchased food: hard-boiled eggs, bread cut to order, powdered milk packets, tea leaves by the gram, hard candy by the piece, tomato paste by the tablespoonful and Maggi stock cubes. Errand boys ran groceries for Mom and cigarettes for Dad, making shopping a gateway activity.
Nearly half of the world’s children regularly breathe second-hand smoke in public places, and two in five have at least one smoking parent. Among Cambodian, Thai, Senegalese, Filipino and Vietnamese, three in five children live in smoking homes, while in Belarus, Indonesia and Timor-Leste, it’s four in five. Southeast Asians suffer disproportionately from second-hand smoke.
By age 15, many boys in developing countries have become smokers, but years can pass before their health deteriorates. Tobacco smoke contains 4,000 chemicals, including 50 carcinogens and another 200 lesser toxins. In Timor-Leste, fully half of all boys between ages 13 and 15 smoke. Among Belarusians, it’s one in three. But boys aren’t the only ones at risk; substantially more Brazilian girls than boys smoke.
Mothers who smoke often deliver babies prematurely or with lower birth weights, and exposure to second-hand smoke causes one in four sudden infant deaths.
Globally, tobacco consumption is on the rise, and so are its opportunity costs. Tobacco’s direct costs to Thailand could fund the country’s energy services. In Mexico, treatment of tobacco-related illness accounts for one in 10 health care dollars.
According to the World Health Organization, tobacco kills up to half its users. Every six seconds, tobacco takes a life. Every minute of every day, two die in high-income nations, and eight more die in developing countries.
ChildFund works in the world’s second, third and fourth largest tobacco-producing countries: Brazil, India and the United States. Indonesia also ranks in the top ten and, during the past decade, Mozambique, Zambia and Cambodia have experienced the greatest increases in tobacco production. In low-income countries, tobacco contributes to deforestation and supplants food crops. And it’s inefficient; agricultural land yields up to 15 times tobacco’s weight in edibles, which contributes to high rates of malnutrition.
Tobacco plants, like coca and opium, also are biohazards. Children often work in the fields, topping and harvesting green tobacco leaves covered with dew and raindrops. In the heat, that coating of water dissolves nicotine from the leaves. The nicotine solution can cross the skin barrier and pass into the bloodstream, causing acute poisoning. A day’s worth of absorbed nicotine is equivalent to smoking anywhere from 12 to 50 cigarettes.
You can make a difference with a gift of seeds from our catalog.
By Verónica Travez, ChildFund Ecuador
Families are crucial to ChildFund’s early childhood development programs, a fact that ChildFund Ecuador recently celebrated in three cities where children and youth are served.
ChildFund invited children, families, community members and local government and school officials in Latacunga, Imbabura and San Miguel de los Bancos to hear how participants in ECD programs have improved and changed their lives.
“I learned many new things,” said Fatima, a mother and a workshop leader. “I learned how to care for my 2-year-old daughter, how to grow healthy food and how to treat her with love and stimulate her appropriately. I learned that to guide our children, we must not mistreat them. Participating in workshops has helped me as a mother, as a wife and as a leader. The knowledge that ChildFund leaves in us is an excellent experience.”
The event was part of ChildFund’s ongoing 75th anniversary celebration worldwide, an opportunity not only to have fun but also to educate community members about the differences children and their families have seen in their lives.
Anthony, a 12-year-old boy from the city of Latacunga, congratulated and thanked ChildFund for its “unconditional support” to his family and especially to his community. Ecuador’s central and local governments have launched a national project to improve child care and child development, and ChildFund is committed to these goals as well, benefiting children and families across the country.
Reporting by Arthur Tokpah, ChildFund Guinea
ChildFund Guinea’s staff met with Mamadou Aly Diallo, coordinator of the Denkadi Federation of Dabola, a local partner organization that has provided support with distribution of goats, sheep and other items to 135 families living in need in Guinea. The goats were purchased by ChildFund supporters in the Gifts of Love & Hope catalog. Here is an interview with Diallo (pictured at left):
Please tell us about this project.
Diallo: We participated in a project that allowed us to support 700 children with school supplies and 135 families with goats and sheep for breeding; fertilizers, seeds and insecticides for gardening, and we also provide household latrines.
What benefit will the goats and sheep give these families?
Diallo: Families that receive goats have the potential to improve their lives. We thought it was beneficial to focus on this potential by providing them with the necessary skills, knowledge and animals that will permit them to take charge of their future.
In our communities, the populations are basically local farmers. Those who have the means purchase cattle that they use to cultivate land on a large scale, yield more products and generate more income. But poorer families cannot afford to rent or buy cattle.
However, there is a barter system that exists in these communities, giving people the opportunity to exchange goats or sheep for cattle; at least four sheep or goats equal one cow. Nevertheless, the idea behind providing goats and sheep to families is not limited to obtaining cattle. In a short time period, they can cultivate a herd of goats or sheep, which are easier to sell in local markets for quick income, allowing them to gain confidence and recognition in their villages. That’s why we thought that goats and sheep could be a solution for the short or long term.
How did the project work?
In 2013, we identified 135 extremely poor families who use traditional tools and bare hands to do their farming work, have only two small meals a day and whose children are not enrolled in school but rather work on their farms. Initially we provided a total of 200 animals (140 sheep and 60 goats) to 100 families (one pair per family). Later in September, the remaining 35 families received 140 sheep for breeding (two pairs per family).
Before delivering the animals to the families, the Federation signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Animal Husbandry. They immunized these animals and administered de-wormers.
What is the current state of the first 200 animals given to families?
Diallo: According to the Department of Animal Husbandry, 75 percent of the animals have reproduced. We are told that the children of these families play happily with the young animals, cherish them and also learn to care for them. We are hopeful that in a few years’ time, these families will be financially independent enough to plow their land, pay school tuition for their children and meet their basic needs.
By Abraham Marca, ChildFund Bolivia
Every day, Yobana wakes up ready to go to school, dresses by herself and has breakfast with her four older brothers. You may think this is quite normal, but not for 6-year-old Yobana, who had serious problems with her spine, left kidney and left shoulder.
However, good news came in the form of the support of her sponsor, Joan Elizabeth, and ChildFund Bolivia. Yobana has recuperated from medical procedures addressing her physical issues.
In 2011, doctors discovered a problem with her left kidney; the case was immediately treated, and Yobana was under observation for the following year. Her troubles continued with difficulties using her left arm, and doctors realized her spine and left shoulder were malformed. Surgery was the only answer. Joan Elizabeth offered support during the procedure and recovery; she and ChildFund Bolivia’s national office covered the costs of surgery and medication.
In order to get the best surgery possible, ChildFund Bolivia and Yobana’s family — with the help of Dr. Ovidio Aliaga, an orthopedic surgeon — researched their options; Yobana’s surgery took place in October 2013. The surgery proved a success, only physiotherapy was needed to make Yobana’s left arm perfect. After her last checkup, Dr. Aliaga said, “She is doing terrific! She can now dress by herself.”
It was a great pleasure to know Yobana, who is now happier. She helps her mother at home, and she also participates in ChildFund’s campaign against violence. Yobana also feels more confident at school.
By Martin Nañawa, ChildFund Philippines
In the weeks after Super Typhoon Haiyan devastated the central Philippines last Nov. 8, Martin Nañawa, a communications staff member in our Philippines office, reported on the children, youth and adults struggling in its aftermath. Six months after the storm, he reports on their recovery. This is his second dispatch; read his first here.
Taclobanons all knew fear on Nov. 8. That day, Christine, a teacher, survived being trapped in her two-story apartment. For several hours, she was caught with water below and water above. The storm surge flooded her home at street level, forcing her upstairs, where she endured harsh rain and strong winds after her apartment’s roof had been peeled away by the strongest winds she’d ever seen. Christine had to duck and cover in the stairwell, where she could also keep an eye on the churning tumult below.
Her fears would not end there, however. When the storm passed, all sorts of news — true and false — traveled fast among survivors. Some said the mayor was dead; others claimed rebels had descended on the city; still others said inmates were released so they wouldn’t drown in prison.
Power lines were down everywhere, so no one had any way of knowing what was true and what was not. Christine lived alone, and she feared for her safety. She first stayed with her aunt before evacuating to the neighboring island of Cebu, where the city’s urban comforts sharply contrasted with the desperation and scarcity in Tacloban.
Thirteen-year-old Kristine also feared for her life. As the floodwaters of Haiyan’s storm surge poured into her house, she and her mother, her 18-year-old brother and 14-year-old sister climbed over stacked furniture to keep from drowning. Her brother opened a panel in the ceiling, and he helped them all up. In the ceiling, they each lay prone over a wooden beam as roiling rapids filled Kristine’s living room.
After the storm, they surveyed the damage to their home. The walls still stood, but the garage had collapsed, crushing their car.
Kristine and her family, like Christine, heard rumors about violence and roving bands of looters. Her father is a police officer, but he was stationed three hours away, and she hadn’t heard anything from him since Leyte Island lost power. Fearing for their safety, the family crawled back into the ceiling so intruders would not find them.
In the pitch-black night, all sorts of unearthly sounds haunted them and fed their fears of danger, both real and imagined.
Loud thuds and creaking at her home’s perimeter gate pulled Kristine out of her thoughts. She held her breath as she listened again, hoping it was just her imagination. There it was again. It sounded like someone was trying to push their gate open. Kristine heard her mother calling to her brother to stay put, but it was too late — he had climbed down from the ceiling to investigate.
He soon reappeared, wearing a grin across his face. Their father was home.
Returning to school
After the storm, the Philippines’ Department of Education announced that schools would reopen Dec. 2. Christine returned from Cebu — only to find her apartment had been ransacked. Many things were stolen, and the rest were damaged by the flood. Christine also found that belongings she had stored at Sto. Nino Elementary School had been stolen, along with various other items of school property.
Christine was beside herself. She had become a public school teacher to help people be better and because she loved children, and now she’d been robbed of even belongings she’d never deemed valuable. People seemed to just take things because they could. She couldn’t believe her misfortune.
Nonetheless, she had to come to work. But how would she teach? Teachers and students had lost their books and notebooks, and many children no longer had uniforms and shoes. Everyone still bore the shock of Haiyan, and nobody was in the mood, let alone prepared, to resume school.
Kristine also returned to school Dec. 2, but her heart wasn’t in it. Few of her peers were in attendance. It seemed to be too soon for everyone, especially those coping with far worse circumstances than her family. Kristine’s classmates sat and stared, and they wept for friends they’d lost in the storm.
At the same time, hundreds of evacuees crowded into Sto. Nino School, and both Kristine and Christine found ChildFund staff members among all the new faces. They were organizing a Child-Centered Space there, a place for children to recover from all the intense emotions caused by the typhoon.
Despite all of her trials and tribulations, Christine signed up as a volunteer. “I’m a teacher. I’ve been a teacher 27 years,” she declared. “I teach because I love children, and help is what they really need right now.” ChildFund staff members trained her and other volunteers to use curriculum developed specifically for emergencies. Instantly, Christine felt she’d made the right decision.
“I conducted CCS sessions at school through December, right until everyone took a break for the holidays. Then in January, we shifted to holding CCS on weekends, to make time for the school curriculum on weekdays,” Christine says. “It gave me so much joy seeing the children’s demeanor improve, hearing them laugh, play and sing again, witnessing children learn to be children again, despite all that’s happened.”
For her part, Kristine was happy that CCS activities filled the gap before regular classes resumed. “We couldn’t really hold class in the weeks after the typhoon,” she says. “But CCS helped us get over the intense memory of fear. When school really resumed in January, we were ready.”
ChildFund also helped Kristine and her classmates get ready to resume school by replacing lost school supplies. “It feels like such a small thing,” Kristine says, “but I was delighted to actually own something new after losing so many things to the storm.” It would be a while before simple things like pens and pencils could be purchased locally in Tacloban.
It’s now been half a year since Haiyan tore through Tacloban and other towns. Christine remains a ChildFund volunteer, and her local knowledge is invaluable to ChildFund’s staff members.
Sometimes she brings Kristine with her to ChildFund activities. During summer break, Kristine is learning outdoors skills through scouting.
“Haiyan’s hardship almost curled me into a closed fist,” Christine says, “but ChildFund reminded me to remain an open palm, sharing my blessings with others.”