By Emmanuel Ford, ChildFund Liberia
In 2012, ChildFund launched a program called Shine a Light in four countries — Dominica, Indonesia, Liberia and Senegal — thanks in large part to a major gift from a concerned donor. The project’s goal is to raise awareness of gender-based violence, assist child survivors of sexual abuse and help communities develop child-protective systems and responses. In four blog posts, we’ll learn about the progress made in these countries; today, we focus on Liberia.
In Liberia, Shine a Light was launched in Klay Town, Klay District, Bomi County. The project targets 200 children in two schools — 100 boys and 100 girls aged 10 to 17.
Schools in Liberia are rife with sexual exploitation and abuse. Sexual exploitation and abuse, a form of gender-based violence, is an abuse of a position of authority for sexual purposes. In 2012, research among 800 girls in four of Liberia’s counties found that 88.7 percent had experienced a sexual violation, 40.2 percent had engaged in transactional sex, and 47 percent had endured sexual coercion — citing classmates, teachers, and school personnel as the main perpetrators.
To respond to this enormous challenge with the aim of preventing sexual exploitation and abuse before it happens, the project has formed two clubs for girls. These clubs provide a safe space in the school setting where girls may interact with each other and community mentors. Community mentors are individuals who live and work in the same communities as the girls and who demonstrate interest in empowering both girls and boys to stop sexual exploitation and abuse at school.
Utilizing a dynamic and interactive curriculum, club members and community mentors together address important issues such as sexual harassment, HIV and AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, prevention of unintended pregnancy, and reproductive myths. Girls also receive financial education where they spend time learning about options for income generation, how to control spending, learning the differences between needs and wants, and how to save. Girls will be exploring options to open savings accounts and form savings groups.
However, because boys and teachers are also important partners to end sexual exploitation and abuse, the project engages these critical groups. For example, boys are learning about the causes and consequences of sexual exploitation and abuse and are receiving financial education. The project works with teachers and school administrators to reinvigorate and apply a school code of conduct for all personnel.
Gender-based violence has long been an issue of critical importance in Liberia. The national government started a national effort to fight gender-based violence in 2012, focusing on a community-based observation network to identify problems and address them quickly. In 2007, the World Health Organization worked with Liberia’s Ministry of Gender and Development to interview 2,828 women about violence in their relationships.
According to the study, 93 percent had been subjected to at least one abusive act. Of those who survived violence, 48.5 percent said they were forced to work as sex workers; 13.6 percent of survivors were younger than 15. Rape cases are the most frequently reported serious crime in Liberia, and in 2007, 46 percent of reported rapes involved children under age 18; sexual assaults frequently occurred during Liberia’s political strife as a tool to control civilians, according to a 2012 Liberian government report.
Despite the response by Liberia’s government, sexual violence remains a serious problem, with a total of 2,493 sexual and gender-based violent crimes being reported across the country in 2012 and 2013, according to the Ministry of Gender and Development.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who has taken on gender equality and gender-based violence as key causes in her administration, said in a November speech: “In Liberia, through the pain and anguish experienced by each of these victims, we have found the strength and the courage to start to build a new, transformed society — where women enjoy equal rights and fair treatment, and where their productive role in society and the economy is acknowledged. In my country, women occupy high-ranking government positions; rape, though continuing, has been criminalized; and women have greater property and custodial rights.”
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
ChildFund’s latest LIVE! artist, the Christian musician Carman, has inspired more than 500 people to sponsor children in programs around the world in just the past month — an amazing feat. We had the opportunity to speak with him last week just before his concert near Houston, a stop on his No Plan B tour.
Carman has performed his pop music for more than 30 years to audiences around the world while delivering a Christian message. “I feel like we have a lot of ministry and a lot of artistry, and ChildFund is included in that,” he says. “Always in my concerts, I give the audience the opportunity to give.”
During this tour supporting his latest album No Plan B, Carman is encouraging his fans to become sponsors through ChildFund. He says that he was impressed by the fact that our organization doesn’t simply deliver food and supplies to families in need; we help empower communities to create brighter futures for children.
Carman’s tour is going very well, he says, and his health is getting stronger daily; he was diagnosed with cancer in February 2013 but announced after a year of treatment that tests have shown no trace of multiple myeloma, a rare and often deadly form of cancer.
Carman has performed in several countries, including a stadium show in Johannesburg, South Africa, which broke attendance records at the time. Nelson Mandela even attended the show, he adds. “You hope that what you do affects people, not just immediately in front of you but around the world.”
By Corinne Mazzeo, ChildFund Health and Nutrition Advisor
The 5th Birthday and Beyond campaign recognizes the importance of investing in the first five years of life to ensure that children survive and thrive well beyond their fifth birthday. ChildFund is one of more than 100 nonprofit organizations, businesses and philanthropic groups participating in this effort.
The period from conception to 5 years is a critical time in human development. Starting even before a child is born, the brain is developing. In fact, the brain is developing most rapidly — and is most vulnerable — during these first few years of life.
Before a child turns 3, his or her brain is 2.5 times as active as the average adult brain, making more than 700 new synapses (connections between nerve cells that transmit information) each second. This defines a child’s health and developmental trajectory and determines a great deal of his or her future.
This is why investing in programs that target infants and young children — the age group from conception to 5 years — is so important. Children aren’t the only ones who benefit; so do their families and society as a whole. For every dollar invested in early childhood development, there is a return of between $4 and $17, which contributes to a healthier and more peaceful society. Also, according to the World Bank, high-quality services for infants and young children promote gender and socioeconomic equality.
When considering how to design high-quality services for this age group, it is important to recognize that all aspects of a young child’s life are interconnected. Their physical health depends on good nutrition, and their home lives strongly influence their emotional well-being.
Let’s look at nutrition and brain development. If a baby is undernourished, she can’t learn as well as she should, she can’t fully interact with her peers, and she can’t explore. The link between nutrition and physical growth may seem obvious — how often do we tell our kids, “Eat your vegetables so you will be strong” — but nutrition is also essential for brain development. Just as the body needs nourishment to grow and develop, so does the brain.
In recent years, we have learned more about brain development, and it is clear that children need more than just good nutrition to reach their full physical and cognitive potential.
Another critical piece is stimulation, which is necessary to build and strengthen the brain’s architecture. Children’s early experiences with caregivers and their environment have a direct impact on their physical and mental health throughout their lives. Love, affection, interaction and play — along with fulfilled health and nutritional needs — create the attachment that stimulates healthy growth and development.
As a result, leaders around the world — including ChildFund — are increasingly focused on the integration of nutrition and stimulation. A growing body of research suggests that when these two areas of intervention are combined, the whole is greater than the two parts. An infant benefits more than if the interventions are delivered separately. So, what does this look like in real life for a mother and her baby?
One example is that well-baby visits address the interconnected needs of parent and child. Usually, when a mother brings her baby to a clinic for growth monitoring, she receives education and counseling on infant feeding practices (and, ideally, about her own nutrition as well). But this meeting can also be an opportunity to discuss the importance of stimulation to facilitate the baby’s brain development.
For example, a health worker can encourage the mother to actively engage with her baby and talk to him during mealtimes. This simple message builds upon the existing counseling about nutrition and can help reinforce the importance of responsive caregiving. When the mother is empowered to interact with her child this way, the baby’s cognitive development improves — and so do his chances for a brighter future.
Reporting by Tenagne Mekonnen, Africa Regional Communications Manager
In 1976, thousands of black school children took to the streets of Soweto, South Africa. In a march stretching more than half a mile, they protested the inferior quality of their education and demanded their right to be taught in their own language. Hundreds of young boys and girls were shot down by security forces. In the two weeks of protest that followed, more than 100 people were killed and more than 1,000 were injured.
To honor the memory of those killed and the courage of all those who marched, the Day of the African Child has been celebrated on June 16 since 1991, when it was first initiated by the Organization of African Unity (now known as the African Union). ChildFund takes part in the day, which draws attention to the lives of African children today. This year’s theme was A Child-Friendly, Quality, Free and Compulsory Education for All Children in Africa.
Below, we offer excerpts of speeches given by four young women enrolled in ChildFund Ethiopia’s programs, who spoke to the African Union in Addis Ababa on June 16.
Eden, age 16.
“Governments have the ability to give quality, free and compulsory education for all children in Africa by having a meeting with all African leaders and discuss the issues about what things can be done to create a better education system and prepare training for all African teachers.”
Helen, age 14.
“Even though formal schooling is important, this is not enough. Our families are the people that we see when we first open our eyes. And we learn a lot of things from them and most importantly from the society. If a child is to be educated, then the contribution of families, society and friends is very important. This is because they build us in a very faithful, good manner. This is what we are looking forward to, and I believe we are on our way.”
Aziza, age 15.
“Once upon a time, there were two young ladies. They were best friends, and they grew up in the same place. One of the girls has an interest to learn and study. Even when she was a child, she always asked questions. She loves asking and knowing different things. Even though the girl always wants to learn, her mother doesn’t have enough money to send her to school. So, because of their economic status, she spent her time helping her mom.
“The other girl never wants to go to school. She hates to study, but her family was rich. Even though she went to school, when she visits her smart friend, she brings her homework for her to do.
“When they grew up, both didn’t have happy endings. The rich girl has an unhappy ending because she didn’t study, and she was not strong. What about the smart girl? She was a smart, intelligent and hard-working girl, but she had an unhappy life because she didn’t have opportunities to learn. How did I know about the girl? Because she was my mother!
“She supports me, although she doesn’t have much money; she makes sure to buy me school materials and other essential things. By her strong heart, I haven’t any inferiority. Rather, I always worked hard to be an intelligent and smart girl, but the secret behind me is my dearest mother.”
Bemnet, age 14.
“Disabled children are not being educated; they might not be in a position to fight for their right to be educated. We need to fight for their right and give them educational materials. To give disabled children an education, government and family have a main role. If we provide a free and quality education for children, they can easily get self-confidence and a good education, which enables them to be successful and responsible citizens.”
By Nicole Duciaume, Americas Region Sponsorship Manager
Driving along a packed-down dirt road in Ecuador, we crossed a wood-plank bridge and saw some elderly grandmothers washing clothes by hand in the stream. An enrolled child lived nearby, and we could go speak with the family if we wanted. I jumped out of the car in record time and made my way over to the grandmothers, who greeted us with hearty smiles and soapy waves.
We talked with the mother about her children’s health and development, as well about ChildFund’s programs and what has changed in their lives in the year and a half since we started working in this community. The mother talked about the hopes and dreams she has for her children, and we talked about their ongoing needs and struggles as a family. During the conversation, she not only allowed us into her home but also invited us to take photos.
The two-room house has walls made of plywood and split reeds, leaving gaps where rain and insects come in, plus a tin roof and a bare concrete floor. The kitchen has a simple stove and water from a well. The other room has two beds, one for the parents and the other shared by three children.
Outside, there’s a wooden chicken coop next to a latrine constructed with leftover slats of wood, metal sheets and a plastic banner. Next to the home is the stream where families wash their clothes and often bathe. Here is a collage of some of our pictures:
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
When I grew up near Lake Erie in Ohio, I lived on the north coast; or, taking a Canadian perspective, the south shore. As an adult, I moved to England’s south coast, then the west coast of Africa, and finally, the east and west coasts of North America.
Water attracts people. It’s no coincidence that oceans, blood and amniotic fluid all share the same concentration of salt.
Worldwide, three out of five people live in coastal areas, and 50 million call tiny islands home. Although Small Island Developing States (known as SIDS) produce less than 1 percent of global greenhouse gas, their inhabitants suffer most from climate change. Of the 51 countries classified as SIDS, 12 are also among the least developed — including Timor-Leste, where ChildFund works. It gained its independence from Indonesia in 2002.
More than half of Timor-Leste’s population lives in poverty. The United Nations predicts its population will triple to 3 million by 2050, and the country faces a temperature increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius (3.4 degrees Fahrenheit) over that time, according to a 2012 report from the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
We must account for climate change as we address poverty, simply because of its impact on the availability of water and food.
About two in three Timorese people already suffer from food insecurity; half of Timor-Leste’s population is under age 15, and malnutrition affects half of the children under age 5. In Timor-Leste, the hungry season lasts from October through February — until maize, the primary crop, is ready for harvest.
Although 85 percent of Timorese practice subsistence agriculture, the country cannot meet its nutritional needs, partly because insects, fungi and rodents ruin a third of the harvest during storage. Crops suited to the Timorese climate — such as rice, maize, wheat, barley, arrowroot, cassava, sweet potato, potato, cowpeas, red beans, peanuts and coconuts — provide acceptable caloric intake but insufficient protein. For its population to survive, Timor-Leste imports food and exports coffee.
So, what happens if Timor-Leste gets hotter and more crowded? Interactions between carbon dioxide (CO2), temperature and water are complex. The so-called “CO2 fertilization effect” benefits certain crops, such as rice, sweet potatoes and peanuts. Others, however, experience harm, especially maize and cassava. Too much carbon dioxide causes cassava leaves, an excellent source of protein, to become toxic.
Warmer temperatures cause crops to mature faster but at reduced yields. Peanut harvests, for example, could shrink by one-fifth. Warmth also favors pests, so incidence of insect damage and fungal diseases will increase. And farming requires rainfall at crucial stages. If Timor-Leste doesn’t receive enough — or gets too much — rain, the crops currently cultivated there may no longer thrive.
Coffee beans are especially vulnerable to heat, and if they don’t adjust to higher temperatures, farmers will move their plants up the central mountain, increasing deforestation and soil erosion.
Climate change also puts Timor-Leste at greater risk of floods, landslides, cyclones and drought — disasters that already affect the country. Grain yields decreased by 30 percent in 2007, due to a drought caused by El Niño, a disruption in the Pacific Ocean related to unusually warm temperatures. Climate models indicate a high likelihood of another El Niño event in 2014.
Climate change is a serious concern around the world, and it often seems like too great a problem for one person. But if each one of us does our part, we can make a difference; you can help improve the diets and incomes of families in Timor-Leste by making a gift of goats, cows or chickens.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
Here at ChildFund, we think a lot about children who are five and younger. A child’s fifth birthday is an important milestone because the most significant development — physical, social and cognitive — occurs in the first five years of life. This is when language, motor coordination, problem solving and self-control become more defined. But approximately 200 million children under the age of five are not receiving the proper nutrition, stimulation, and education that they need to reach their full potential.
That’s why ChildFund is taking part in 5th Birthday and Beyond, a campaign culminating with an event on Capitol Hill on June 25 that focuses on the health of children around the world. More than 100 nongovernmental organizations (including ChildFund), businesses, philanthropic groups and others have formed a coalition to create awareness of worldwide improvements in children’s health around the world and what remains to be done.
As ChildFund President and CEO Anne Lynam Goddard notes, “My great hope for the 5th Birthday and Beyond campaign is that it will inspire many more of us to invest in providing children living in poverty with the support they need — not just to survive, but also to dream, achieve and contribute.”
Some of the news is excellent: In 2014, 6 million fewer children will die before their fifth birthday than 25 years ago. Polio is largely eradicated, and in the past 12 years, fewer children have died from pneumonia, diarrhea, measles, malaria, and AIDS. Credit goes to many groups in the U.S. and around the globe, including U.S. foreign assistance programs, UNICEF, the World Health Organization and numerous NGOs like ChildFund.
Nonetheless, there are still many battles to fight, as 6.6 million children under five are expected to die this year, primarily from preventable diseases. Public awareness is the first step in overcoming these serious obstacles to better health among the youngest people in developing countries.
We’ll have more information as 5th Birthday and Beyond approaches, but for now, we ask you to go into your photo albums and find a picture of yourself when you were around five years old. Then, when June 23 (the launch of the social media campaign) comes, post your photo as your avatar on social media and send out a message about the importance of child survival and health to share with your community.
Here are some numbers that may help you, and don’t forget to tag your message with #5thbday. Thank you for your help!
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.