By Rashmi Kulkarni, ChildFund India
Last December, ChildFund India launched a nationwide campaign called Books, My Friends to provide bags full of age-appropriate books for 115,000 children ages 6 to 14 across India. The goal of the project is to make reading fun for children while helping them improve their reading, comprehension and learning abilities. We hope to create a love of reading that continues through adulthood.
In India, we work with children who live in rural villages and urban slums, and lack of education is a big concern everywhere. Many children living in poverty can’t read at grade level and often don’t have access to books at home. In rural communities, children are often limited to textbooks printed on poor-quality paper. Many parents are barely literate, so a culture of reading has not yet taken hold. Without strong reading comprehension, children can’t excel in school.
To address this situation, ChildFund India started the Reading Improvement Program, our flagship education initiative, and the Books, My Friends campaign, which encourages students to read for pleasure.
Shreelakshmi, a seventh-grader from the southwestern state of Karnataka, received a reading bag in December during the launch of Books, My Friends. She had a chance to meet Anil Kumble, a world-renowned cricket captain and major sports celebrity in India.
Shreelakshmi recalls the meeting fondly: “The experience of receiving books from Anil Kumble is still fresh in my mind. He and the ChildFund team spoke with us freely and inspired us to read more books. I am very grateful to ChildFund for giving me this opportunity,” she says, a smile spreading across her face.
Shreelakshmi received 17 books, and she’s already read many of them. Her favorite was Kadhakalu Maha Nagara, about a girl who had no one to read a story to her. Finally, she finds one person who starts telling stories to her daily. Slowly, other children start joining her to listen.
“I, too, like stories, and my brother also sometimes reads them to me,” Shreelakshmi says.
Since most of her neighborhood friends also have received reading bags, they enjoy reading and discussing books together.
Parents say it’s great for their children to have something constructive to do with their time, and Shreelakshmi’s teacher adds that the habit of reading appears to be taking hold, just a few months into the project.
Watch this space for another story soon about Books, My Friends and the Reading Improvement Program.
Video by ChildFund Bolivia
In La Paz, Bolivia, members of the Avance Comunitario Youth Club are talking about alcohol abuse and gang violence, two serious problems in their community. In the video, one girl points to bushes where gang members hide from police lights. If you were to draw a map of your neighborhood, the way these teens did, what kinds of dangers would you draw? By creating awareness of community issues, the members of the youth club — one of several supported by ChildFund and our local partner organizations in Bolivia — are leading the way toward solutions.
Photojournalist Jake Lyell arrived in Nepal three days after the 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck April 25 and accompanied ChildFund’s emergency relief team as they delivered supplies to devastated communities. Here is his personal experience of this humanitarian crisis. You can see more of his photos here.
Parts of Nepal are devastated. I say parts because I expected my plane to land in a rubble-piled wasteland; it didn’t. There was a runway, an immigration officer and a functioning baggage carousel.
Kathmandu’s ancient temples, however, are in ruins. Many multi-storied buildings have toppled down. But the capital city, still in shock, manages to keep pace at least somewhat. I still have the bandwidth to create this blog post, after all.
Upon exiting the Kathmandu valley, things become steadily worse. To the northeast, in Sindhupalchowk District, despite being further away from the epicenter of the earthquake, homes have been flattened. People sit in uncertainty by the side of the highway, while others comb through the wreckage of their former dwellings, searching for food or possessions.
I begin to experience something that I never have felt before — an eerie sixth sense that comes from gaping at grand mountains and pristine rivers juxtaposed with piles of debris and the stench of bodies. Death seems nearer than ever before.
After a long journey, I arrive with ChildFund staff at one of their food distribution points. As the car comes to a stop, Aileen Santiago, the ChildFund Japan emergency worker who has been sitting next to me since we left Kathmandu, bolts out of the vehicle to meet a woman she recognizes. It’s clear that they haven’t seen one another since before the quake hit. Without a word, they embrace as grief paints their faces and the tears come, expressing what I’d been meaning all along but couldn’t quite put into words.
Assistance is arriving to Nepal’s hardest-hit communities. Despite what you may have read, not all food and other resources are held up at roadblocks or customs. ChildFund and other organizations are contributing to the relief effort, and I can attest firsthand to the blessings a contribution toward that work brings.
Good news will come; but for now, we take a moment to grieve.
Reporting and photos from Emmanuel Ford, ChildFund Liberia, and Arthur Tokpah, ChildFund Guinea
This week, ChildFund’s president and CEO, Anne Lynam Goddard, visited Liberia, which was declared free of Ebola last Saturday, and Guinea. Guinea and Sierra Leone still have some active cases of Ebola, but the numbers are considerably lower than several months ago, at the height of the epidemic.
Since last spring, when the virus began spreading quickly through West Africa, ChildFund has worked with governments and other nongovernmental organizations to make communities aware of preventive hygiene practices and also help survivors and children affected by the virus.
The centerpiece of our work, starting in October 2014, was the opening of Interim Care Centers, where children who had lost caregivers to Ebola could receive care and attention while being watched for symptoms of Ebola. People working at the ICCs were often Ebola survivors, who are immune to the disease. They also worked to find homes for these children — many of whom are orphans — after their releases from quarantine.
Today, ICC staff members are still checking on the welfare of these children and their caretakers, some of whom have taken in several children and need assistance. As schools and public institutions reopen, life may look more normal in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, but the struggle for children who lost parents, siblings and other loved ones to Ebola remains quite painful.
Goddard spoke to Ebola survivors this week at Kelekula Interim Care Center in Monrovia, Liberia: “The memory will be part of your life forever, and don’t think of being a victim but a survivor.
“I know this is not the end,” she added. “I know that many lives have been affected that will not go back to normal, and we know that it will take a lot to bring people, children, families and communities back on the path toward the future.”
Read more about Anne Goddard’s West Africa visit at her Tumblr page.
Headlines fly by fast, even when tragedy happens, like the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that occurred in Nepal on April 25. Right now, families like Ayush’s are struggling to get back on their feet after losing their homes, jobs and even loved ones. This video, filmed by Jake Lyell, shows the personal toll the disaster has taken on Ayush’s family, and this was before Sunday’s 7.3-magnitude aftershock, which has taken more lives and destroyed more homes. Please watch this video, share it and give what you can to help ChildFund’s relief efforts in Nepal. Thanks.
By Emmanuel Ford, ChildFund Liberia
Liberia is the first of the three hardest-hit West African countries to be declared free of Ebola, 42 days after the last confirmed case. The announcement by the World Health Organization came May 9 in Monrovia, prompting celebrations throughout the country.
Since March 2014, the Ebola outbreak has claimed more than 4,700 lives in Liberia and caused more than 11,000 deaths in West Africa overall. Neighboring Guinea and Sierra Leone continue to see infections, although at a much lower rate than before. In Liberia, the last confirmed Ebola death was March 27, and there have been no new cases since April 23.
On the morning of May 9, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf visited the ChildFund-supported Kelekula Interim Care Center for children affected by Ebola. She and her entourage toured the center and lauded ChildFund and its partners for our efforts in running the centers in Monrovia, Kakata and Ganta.
Welcoming the president were children who had spent time at the center, along with the center’s caregivers, many of whom had survived the virus and are now immune.
Speaking on behalf of the caregivers, Decontee, an Ebola survivor, spoke about some of the challenges of working there. “We went through sleepless nights taking care of 2- to 4-month-old babies at the center,” she said.
The Kelekula Interim Care Center was started in October 2014. Since then, the center has seen 55 children, three of whom died at Ebola clinics, and one who died of other causes after leaving the center. Many more have gone home — in some cases, new homes because they’ve lost their parents to Ebola. At this time, the interim care center staff members check in with children and caretakers every other week, and community members continue to wash their hands regularly to prevent the future spread of Ebola. Sick people are being screened for symptoms of the virus when they enter clinics or hospitals.
To date, ChildFund continues to distribute Hasbro Toys and TOMS Shoes, as well as school materials, to children throughout the country under its gifts-in-kind program.
“I am thankful to all of you who made this end a happy ending,” President Johnson Sirleaf said. “Thank God we are free, but we need to be more vigilant.”
By Nikita Haritos, ChildFund Indonesia
Three-year-old Ricky lives with his mother and father in South Sumatra, Indonesia, in a one-bedroom house, where the three share a bed under a mosquito net. Despite his humble home, Ricky has a collection of toys in a dedicated play area — and a mother who is learning about how he can develop to fulfill his potential.
“Ricky loves playing with his toy trucks and cars, but he is most happy when his older cousins come over to play,” says Dewi, his mother. “They spend hours together running around the yard.”
Ricky’s father is a mechanic at the local motorbike repair shop. Dewi stays at home and looks after Ricky, and she also participates in a parenting program developed by the government and available in her community through ChildFund’s local partner organization, LPM Sriwijaya. The organization’s staff members are working to expand the program to more families in the region.
An example of the activities I do with Ricky is to have him practice opening buttons, which will help him to develop his motor skills.
In workshops led by professionals, mothers learn how to manage childhood illnesses as well as practice better sanitation and hygiene at home. They also learn about the development of cognitive, social, emotional and motor skills, which are just as important as physical growth during a child’s early years.
Trainers show mothers how to play with their children and promote abilities that will help the young ones achieve their goals later. They also try to change some of the misconceptions and attitudes that cause problems within the community’s families.
“An example of the activities I do with Ricky is to have him practice opening buttons, which will help him to develop his motor skills,” Dewi explains. “We learned about the importance of breastfeeding. Many mothers, including myself, did not realize how nutritious it is for our children.”
Dewi is helping to ensure that Ricky will eat healthy food now and in the future; she recently started a veggie garden in their yard, where she grows corn, tomato and papaya. She has just planted spinach seeds, too.
Ricky’s favorite food is soup made from katuk, a green, leafy vegetable found in the tropics as well as Dewi’s garden. She cooks the soup over an open fire on the floor of her kitchen.
ChildFund and the local partner have also provided Dewi and other families with child development cards, posters that let parents track important benchmarks like crawling, walking, playing and speaking.
“It is reassuring to know that I am able to check for myself whether Ricky is developing properly,” Dewi says, “and so far we haven’t had any concerns. The program has been so important in reassuring me that Ricky is growing up into a smart young boy. It would be great if all mothers could be part of the program, too.”
Nikita Haritos is a student at Australia’s Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and is enrolled in the Australian Consortium for In-Country Indonesian Studies, or ACICIS. She worked as an intern for ChildFund Indonesia earlier this year.
Conditions in Nepal are dire after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake April 25. As of today, the death toll is more than 7,500 and climbing as assessments continue. The country’s National Emergency Operations Center, operating under its Ministry of Home Affairs, reports that more than 160,000 houses were destroyed, and nearly 144,000 more have been damaged.
ChildFund Japan, our Alliance partner, has worked in Nepal for 20 years and is helping distribute food in four villages in Sindhupalchowk, among the hardest-hit districts. On May 1, ChildFund Japan representatives brought 10 tons of rice, 1.5 tons of dhal (lentils) and salt to more than 10,000 children and family members. Longtime ChildFund freelance photographer and videographer Jake Lyell is documenting damage and relief efforts in Sindhupalchowk and elsewhere.
Jake has been to disaster zones before and says, “On my third day in the field, I can say that the area around where ChildFund works is the worst I’ve seen. It’s more remote, and the damage was very severe. It made our hearts sink.”
Jake’s not mincing words, but we are able to get help to some of the Nepalese families who need it most. Take a look at his pictures (as well as videos), and then donate what you can to help Nepal’s children through ChildFund’s Emergency Action Fund. You can follow our emergency updates, too.
Interview by Veronica Travez, ChildFund Ecuador
Lucia Rosa works as a community mobilizer for an Early Childhood Development program supported by ChildFund and our local partner FOCI, in Ecuador’s Imbabura province. Lucia serves as the link between our local partner and people in her community, and she invites mothers, fathers and other caregivers to learn methods that will help their children develop skills they need to achieve success later in their lives. We asked Lucia, a mother of two children, ages 9 and 13, about her experiences.
I got married when I was 25 years old, and I was at university studying — as a distance-learning student — to become a lawyer. When my children were born, I had to abandon my studies and devote myself to their upbringing and care. In my free time, I also helped my husband in farming.
One day, I met a community mobilizer who told me about a program for girls and boys under 5 that was being implemented by ChildFund and FOCI in my community. At the time, I had resumed my studies at a university in the province where I live, but I changed my career to become a preschool teacher. Because the ChildFund program had a lot to do with my career plans, I found it very interesting, and I began to attend the weekly meetings.
In my community, I helped form a group of mothers who had children under 5 years of age, where I passed on the information I learned in the training sessions. Since I had no children younger than 5, the other mothers appointed me workshop leader and gave me the opportunity to share with the group and to get more experience working with parents and children.
I always had my husband’s support throughout this process. On the days I had training sessions or workshops, I did the housework ahead of time, and then I could go out, feeling content.
After completing the training process, which lasted about 10 months, I now realize how much I have learned: for example, how important it is for children to develop according to their age, and how a good diet and living in a peaceful household contribute to their development. Children grow up safe and happy if they live in a home where there is no abuse among family members.
At the end of last year, I had the opportunity to apply to be a FOCI community mobilizer, and I won the job. I am now part of this organization that gives me the opportunity to serve my community. I finished my preschool teacher studies, and I am very happy because my family lives in harmony. My husband and I learned that to devote time and love to our children helps them grow up healthier and happier.
Photos and captions by Sharon Ishimwe, ChildFund Uganda
In the Kyankwanzi District of central Uganda, clean water is now available — in some places. The pictures here show the stark differences between villages with boreholes, water tanks, tip-taps and purifiers, and those that lack these resources. ChildFund Uganda, in partnership with corporate donor Procter & Gamble and local partner organization Community Effort for Child Empowerment, has worked to provide families with access to clean water. Those affected by HIV and AIDS are in the most need. Without fresh water in or near their homes, people are at greater risk of contracting waterborne diseases and are forced to walk great distances to bring home water.