By Arthur Tokpah, ChildFund Guinea
“I should have graduated from high school like my friends,” Mariame says. But like many young Guinean women, she felt pressure to marry. Yielding to local tradition, Mariame wed an older man when she was only 13. He moved her to the capital city of Sierra Leone, where she didn’t know anyone.
“My parents obliged me to get married to a man who gave them the impression that he would allow me to continue school,” recalls Mariame, who is now 18. “After moving to his house, he said he did not marry me to go to school but to take care of the home and bear children for him.”
Mariame was able to leave her marriage and return to school, but many Guinean women don’t have the same opportunity.
According to UNICEF statistics from 2015, 21 percent of Guinean women ages 20 to 24 were married by the age of 15, and 52 percent were married by the time they were 18 years old, often to men more than a decade older in marriages arranged by their parents.
But Mariame and many other young people in Guinea are now speaking out to advocate for the rights of girls and young women — and against early marriage — with the support of ChildFund Guinea. Last month, our local partners in Kindia and Dabola held three public forums about early marriage, female genital mutilation and violence at school. More than 100 girls and boys ages 12 to 17 spoke openly about these issues, which are often kept quiet there, and recommended solutions to teachers, parents and government officials.
Public discussion is an important step in changing harmful traditions and attitudes that keep girls and women — and entire communities, by extension — trapped in poverty. We applaud the bravery and honesty of young people like Mariame who are shining a light on Guinea’s problems.
By Rachel Ringgold, ChildFund Staff Writer
“Asked what peace is, children drew inspiration from their homes, communities and surroundings. There was maturity in their innocence. There was resonance in their honesty. Children have a lot to say about peace. It is time we listen.” – ARNEC’s “ECD & Peacebuilding” report
Since April 2014, ChildFund has been a core member of the Asia Pacific Regional Network for Early Childhood (ARNEC), a group of nongovernmental organizations and United Nations branches advocating for effective early childhood development policies and practices throughout the region. ARNEC partners have built cross-disciplinary partnerships to share their knowledge about young children, and last year, a technical working group surveyed 119 children ages 3-8 from six Asian countries about how they perceive peace.
The answers were illuminating, especially in Timor-Leste, which became independent in 2002 after many years of conflict with neighbor Indonesia. ChildFund has worked there since 1990, and there has been internal strife as recently as 2006. Of course the children who were surveyed were born after the official end of the conflicts, but the collective memories of violence are fresh in Timor-Leste’s communities.
Many children said in the survey that nature and playing feel like peace, and they strongly dislike bad words, throwing stones, stealing, fighting and hitting.
“I like mountains, trees and flowers because they give us food,” says 6-year-old Luzinha, while 5-year-old Rosalinda expresses empathy: “When people fight each other, it gives me pain.”
Many children said, “I don’t know” when they were asked what peace means to them.
During the first years of life, children’s brains develop rapidly, and their earliest experiences are foundations for everything that follows. Although these children didn’t know how to define peace, they still know how peace feels. Being in nature — seeing, smelling, hearing and touching the world around them — feels like peace. So does playing, or being with friends. Peace is less of a noun and more of a verb in these children’s vocabulary. It means actively engaging with the world and participating in happy, harmonious exchanges with the people around them. It’s the absence of violence.
So, how are we listening to these children’s voices and conveying their messages?
In October 2015, staff members from ChildFund Timor-Leste shared their findings at an ARNEC conference in Beijing, contributing to a larger discussion about peace-building and ECD across the region.
Also, our national office in Timor-Leste is incorporating peace-building ideals into its ECD curriculum, an innovative idea because of the ages of the children: five and younger. As we build this platform for peace, ARNEC members and ChildFund staffers will research its effects on children and advocate for its expansion into national education policies throughout Asia.
Children already know how peace feels. Our job, as adults, is to create space for them to practice what they know and nurture their instincts for nonviolent problem-solving, sharing and collaboration. And we can observe and learn from the youngest among us.
In January, we announced the winner of ChildFund’s second annual Community Video Contest, an entry from Bolivia starring Andreina, a young woman who helps others despite living in poverty. Her prize from ChildFund was $150, which could be used for educational purposes, including film equipment or editing software.
Instead, Andreina decided to donate the money to a local preschool in La Paz to provide puzzles and toys that would stimulate the children (ages 5 and under) intellectually and creatively. These learning materials will help teachers create an early stimulation classroom at the school, which is attended by 53 children enrolled in ChildFund’s activities. Abraham Marca, our communications officer in Bolivia, shared some details.
“On March 3, we made the presentation at the school, and the teachers and children surprised us by performing a skit,” Abraham says. “Unfortunately, Andreina couldn’t attend because she is studying accounting and social work at a university. Instead, her mother and two younger sisters were there.”
Besides winning the international film contest, Andreina was a finalist in ChildFund Bolivia’s national photography contest, in which youth groups and local partner organizations throughout the country participate. She’ll soon receive an award from our national office in Bolivia, and the preschool also plans to invite Andreina to the opening of the early stimulation classroom.
This summer, after more than four decades of work in the region, ChildFund will close our last two offices in the Caribbean, in the countries of St. Vincent and Dominica. Although we’ll miss the many people we’ve met there over the years, we leave future work in the capable hands of the staff members of two local organizations. They’ve received years of training and support from ChildFund, and they’re committed to protecting children’s rights and helping them fulfill their potential. To learn more about what is happening in the Caribbean, please read this story on our website.
In this video shot by ChildFund videographer Jake Lyell in Emali, Kenya, we follow Isaac and his mother, Dora, on their trek to a freshwater spring more than three hours away on foot. If that weren’t tough enough, Dora explains that sometimes when they reach the spring, they find it’s gone dry that day. So, they walk three hours home with no water. This isn’t the only family living with such hardship. Check out the statistics. There are millions of people who don’t have clean running water in or near their homes.
“Without water, even if you have food in the house, you can’t cook. You can’t bathe or have something to drink,” Dora says. She hopes for a better life for Isaac, the only one of her four children who has survived.
Today is World Water Day, a great time to make a gift that will provide communities with wells, pumps and other sources of clean water. Too many people — just like Isaac and Dora — spend hours each week fetching water and carrying it home, if they’re lucky. We can help.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
In recent weeks, we’ve posted three stories by ChildFund’s global communications manager, Julien Anseau, who traveled through Turkey, Greece, Macedonia and Serbia with our assessment team as they collected information on the needs of migrants from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, particularly children.
Julien and Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter Zachary Reid, who also went on the trip, did an excellent job putting a face on the migration crisis facing Europe. Like the global scope of ChildFund’s work with children and family members who live in poverty, the problem in Europe is vast. But in both cases, real people are suffering. We just need to take a moment to learn their stories and see their faces.
Photos and Reporting by Rashmi Kulkarni, ChildFund India
World Water Day is next Tuesday, so let’s take a look at how Indian children have benefited from access to clean running water in their communities and schools. First, we see a group of schoolchildren from Udaipur, a city in western India.
One of the students, Kuldeep, says, “Before and after eating, we clean our hands and plates properly to stay healthy.” In the picture above, three boys — Mukesh, Lalu and Harish — wash dishes before lunch at school.
Next, girls from Orissa, a state on India’s eastern coast, talk about how a water pump provided by ChildFund supporters has changed their lives.
“It’s our daily routine to walk to the hand pump, which ChildFund has provided through the gift catalog, to get water,” one girl says. “Otherwise, we had to walk for several kilometers to fetch water.”
One out of 10 people in the world do not have reliable access to clean water. That’s more than 663 million people, or twice the population of the United States! Astounding, right? That’s why we should do what we can to spread the word about providing everyone access to clean water. This World Water Day, share information with friends — and lead by example however you can. ChildFund has several options for you to make a difference for children and their family members who don’t have easy access to clean water.
By Julien Anseau, ChildFund Global Communications Manager
Julien Anseau has worked with ChildFund in Asia and specializes in emergency communications. In January and early February, he joined our assessment team as they traveled through Turkey, Greece, Macedonia and Serbia to take stock of needs among Afghan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants, particularly children. In Julien’s final report, he continues the journey from Macedonia to Serbia.
Since the events described here, Macedonia and other European countries have limited the number of migrants allowed through their borders. This has caused a major bottleneck in Greece and occasional violence at border towns.
At least four trains arrive daily in Tabanovce, a Macedonian refugee camp near the Serbian border. But when we arrive, it’s deserted. The place feels eerie and empty, showing the transient nature of migrant camps.
Most migrants coming through here arrived from Greece, their landing point in Europe; they pass through Macedonia to Serbia and then, if they’re fortunate, on to Germany and other western European countries. Others take a route through northwestern Turkey, Bulgaria and Serbia. Both roads are well known to smugglers, who often make the journeys possible — at a steep cost.
But also present along the migrants’ trail are ChildFund, our partner Terre Des Hommes-Lausanne, and other non-governmental organizations, which are trying to keep children safe on their journey.
“We focus on the special needs of children,” says Marija, a social worker with La Strada International, a group of organizations focused on human trafficking in Eastern Europe. Its member group in Macedonia staffs children’s centers at refugee camps in Tabanovce and Gevgelija.
“They come here to play, draw, sing and take part in games,” she says, “so that, for a while at least, they can forget the situation back home and the stressful journey ahead. It’s great to see smiles on the faces of children. It is important to allow children to express their fears and concerns; many are traumatized by war. For younger children, we provide diapers, milk, formula and blankets, as well as a warm place for mothers to rest and breastfeed in privacy. We also give information to mothers about preventing separation from their children along the journey. We ensure children know the full names of their parents and have copies of their parents’ identity papers.”
Often, Marija offers a listening ear: “We listen and support parents as they express the hardships they have faced along the way, the uncertainty of not knowing what to expect next, the fear that they will get stuck at a transit center, and anxiety of not knowing if and how they will keep going to reach their destination. Children’s stress often mirrors their parents’ stress.”
Along the Turkey-Bulgaria-Serbia route, we see migrants in Dimitrovgrad, a town in southeast Serbia near the Bulgarian border. They’ve walked through forests, over hills and across fields under cover of darkness to reach this point. Many migrants are men, but it’s not uncommon for women and children to travel this route, too.
Today, temperatures have plummeted, and it is snowing. I speak to a young man from Afghanistan who doesn’t want to be named. He is shivering, his pants are ripped, and his shoes are broken down. I ask why he has no belongings.
“My bags were stolen in Bulgaria,” he says. “A group of men took my bags, money and phone, and they beat me. Still, it’s better than braving the sea.” As of March 8, 444 people have died in the Mediterranean Sea in 2016, according to the International Organization for Migration.
The young man looks exhausted, but he continues: “I’m happy. I’m a free man now. I have a cousin in Germany. I don’t know which city he lives in, but I’ll call him once I arrive. I want to find work and settle.”
Later, we see 38 more migrants, including 14 children, arrive at Dimitrovgrad’s police station to get their papers stamped. We walk through barn-like doors to a large, open room with bunk beds covered by blankets.
There’s also a yard, just beyond the station. Clusters of girls and boys engage neighborhood dogs in play. Despite the harsh conditions they have faced, the children appear happy for a moment — a testament to their resilience.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
ChildFund’s primary focus is helping children who live in poverty, but it doesn’t take long to figure out that women play key roles in this mission. Whether they’re mothers, grandmothers, sisters, government officials, business owners or other role models, women influence the course of children’s lives and shape communities and nations. One day is not nearly enough to celebrate the important women in our lives, but it’s a start. Below, meet some of the remarkable women connected with ChildFund around the world.
Phanny, a former sponsored child, is now a supervisor at Autoworld in Zambia. She’s the only woman who works at her branch, an accomplishment that’s even more impressive given the fact that Phanny had to miss school sometimes to work odd jobs with her sister after their parents died.
Else, another former sponsored child, just graduated from nursing school in Indonesia. She’s from a village where few people continue their studies after high school, but Else is now pursuing a master’s degree in nursing so she can work in a hospital.
“I love taking care of young children,” she says. “Soon, I will be working in a hospital, helping young children in need.”
Johanna, a ChildFund-supported trainer mother from Ecuador, is taking steps to end the cycle of parental abuse and neglect that has affected many children. She estimates that up to 20 percent of children in her small village suffer abuse at the hands of their parents. Through home visits and workshops, Johanna works with parents and other caregivers to show them how to support their children’s development.
“Children don’t feel respected by their parents,” she says. “It’s something that really scars them. It’s like an inheritance, because the child learns these things and replicates them.”
Rita, a young mother in Guatemala, is training to be a guide mother, an important role in many Central and South American communities where we work. Despite the demands placed on her time by two small children, Rita takes weekly classes on parenting skills, children’s learning styles, children’s rights, nutrition, play and more. She’ll then lead education sessions for other mothers in her community.
“I didn’t get a chance to study,” she says, “so this is also my turn to learn.”
Today (or any day at all), let’s think of the women who have made a positive impact on our lives — and thank them!
By Julien Anseau, ChildFund Global Communications Manager
Julien Anseau has worked with ChildFund in Asia and specializes in emergency communications. In January and early February, he joined our assessment team as they traveled through Turkey, Greece, Macedonia and Serbia to take stock of needs among Afghan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants, particularly children. In Julien’s second report, he speaks with people at camps in Greek and Macedonian border towns.
Since the events described here, in the past week violence has broken out in Idomeni, Greece, because of a bottleneck caused by Macedonia’s new daily cap on the number of migrants allowed into the country, as well as other restrictions. Thousands are now stranded in Idomeni and nearby camps, causing serious tension and questions about what will happen next.
In Idomeni, 350 miles north of the Greek capital, thousands of migrants are waiting to cross the border into Macedonia. Only a few hundred are permitted to cross the border at a time, yet more and more buses continue to drop off migrants eager to keep moving and reach their destinations. A Greek policeman tells me, “Today is busy. Very busy. As always. Five thousand people are waiting to cross the border. We can only accommodate 1,200 in the camp. And still they keep coming. There is no end in sight.”
Families sit and wait around the train tracks and in the surrounding fields. Some sleep around the dying embers of a fire; others hang their washing while children play soccer. Many line up for medical assistance, warm clothes and food for their children. The long journey is starting to take its toll on people, particularly women with children, disabled people and the elderly. People are exhausted and lost. An Iraqi woman with four children tells me she wants to give her children freedom and a brighter future.
In one corner of the overcrowded camp, amid the chaos one can hear the laughter and singing of children. ChildFund’s partner organization, Terre des Hommes, a group of Swiss non-governmental organizations focused on children, provides a child-friendly space staffed by social workers, psychologists and translators.
Under the supervision of caring adults, children draw, play and sing — activities that help them cope with stress. The center is well-equipped with toys, drawing supplies and child-sized tables and chairs. It also has a private room for mothers to breastfeed, change diapers and rest.
Mazen, a 15-year-old Syrian boy traveling with his uncle, proudly pins his drawing on the wall. They want to go to Germany. They have a phone number for some relatives there, but they don’t know the name of their city. Mazen dropped out of school and hopes to complete his education. He is the oldest child in his family and the only one his father could afford to send away.
Seventeen-year-old Amani is also from Syria. She is traveling with her cousins, and they are on their way to Sweden, where her brother lives. She is both excited and scared about her uncertain future. Like many others, she has left part of her family behind in Syria.
UNICEF reports a growing number of children traveling without a parent or guardian; they are claiming asylum in Europe as unaccompanied minors.
Kyriaki, a social worker with Greece’s Association for the Social Support of Youth (ARSIS), explains how her organization assists young migrants: “We coordinate with La Strada, an organization on the Macedonian side, in ensuring unaccompanied children safely cross the border. ARSIS sends lists of names and photos to La Strada and asks the unaccompanied children to walk across the border hand in hand. The group is then picked up by La Strada on the other side and taken care of in Gevgelija camp.”
La Strada International is a network of non-governmental organizations addressing human trafficking in Eastern Europe; its member group in Macedonia works in the Gevgelija refugee camp near the border of Greece. Stojne, a La Strada social worker, has heard many heartbreaking stories, especially from the youngest migrants.
“I’m a humanitarian aid worker, but I’m still a human being, and I can’t help but be touched by people’s stories,” she says. “I recall meeting a 16-year-old boy who fled Syria because he didn’t want to be recruited as a child soldier. His father gave him his life savings so that he could make it to Sweden. He left behind his parents and five brothers and sisters, including one sister critically injured after a bomb blast. He carries the responsibility on his young shoulders to make a go of it in Sweden so that his family can join him later. He was very stressed out.
“I hear these stories every day. I know I cannot solve all the problems and help everybody, but I try my best to make a difference as much as I can.”
The number of migrants, including children traveling alone, is expected to rise later this year as weather warms, experts predict. To protect young migrants, ChildFund child protection adviser Maggie Zraly says, improvements are needed in child-friendly accommodations and identification processes for unaccompanied children and those separated from family members during their journey. Children also need legal aid assistance, accurate information and referrals to people and organizations that can help them reach safe and stable homes.
Meanwhile, in Macedonia, Stojne has noticed a new — and more vulnerable — wave of migrants arriving.
“Before, it was mainly men traveling,” she says. “Now I am seeing more and more children, with families or alone. I am also seeing more and more elderly and disabled persons. The situation in their countries must be terrible for them to leave and embark on such a long and dangerous journey.
“People are tired. They just want to arrive. Migrants are grateful to the staff in the camp. They just want a better life.”
Read Julien’s first story, and stay tuned for a third post next week.