Reporting by ChildFund Ecuador
According to Ecuador’s last census, 44 percent of the country’s mothers had their first children between the ages of 15 and 19. For many of these women, becoming mothers meant an end to their formal educations. In Ecuador and other countries around the world, though, women are learning — and sharing — important information about raising children, eating healthy diets and making an income. Here are the words of Evelin, a young mother from Ecuador whose life changed after going through training supported by ChildFund.
My name is Evelin. I am 20 years old, and I have two beautiful daughters who are my reason for living. Naomi Marisol is 4, and Emily Lizet is 3 years old.
When I was 16 years old, I was pregnant, so Segundo, my husband, and I decided to move and begin our lives as a family. He is 32 years old, and he works as a day laborer at a farm close to our house in Imbabura Province.
With the arrivals of my little girls, my life completely changed. I had to leave my studies and assume my new responsibilities in my home with my girls and my husband.
One day while I was in the community store, I met a neighbor who told me that ChildFund was carrying out workshops for the mothers of children under 5 years old and that she was participating. She told me that it was a wonderful experience because she was learning about stimulation, nutrition and some other things.
This sounded very interesting to me, so I decided to talk with my husband and ask him to let me participate in this training. At first, he said no, but I argued that this could be a good opportunity for me to learn new things that could help me to keep my family healthy. And besides, I would share with other mothers and would not feel so lonely at home, so he agreed.
When I began as a participant in ChildFund’s Early Childhood Development program, the trainer mother introduced me to the rest of the group, and since then I have felt comfortable and enjoyed the meetings very much. Despite my home chores, I always did my best to not miss any classes during the 10 months that the process lasted.
During this time, I realized that I had been doing some things the wrong way. I had a bad temper, was very rude with my daughters and my husband, and I was not sociable because I spent all day at home. So, I was isolated from the rest of the people in the community. I also was afraid to speak in public. I was very shy.
Since I participated in the program, though, a lot of things have changed. I learned how to prepare healthy and nutritious food for my family. Since starting our family garden, I have been contributing to the family livelihood because I save money by not buying vegetables and fruits in the market. I am more sociable too, and now I am more involved and interested in the community. My older daughter goes to the community’s child care center, and I was designated president. Now, I feel valued and self-confident, and I know that if I express what I feel, people will listen to me.
By Saroj Kumar Pattnaik, ChildFund India
Bursts of rain and wind punctuate an otherwise pleasant day in India’s Nagapattinum district. The streets are quiet in the village of Sampathottam, and it’s time for lunch. The scent of a dry fish curry wafts through the air. Govindaraj, though, is impatient and waiting for the rain to stop.
“I don’t like this rain, like the way I hate the sea,” he says, visibly irritated. “Since the morning, I am waiting for this rain to stop. I will get the flowers from the market. Every year, I offer these flowers to my parents on their anniversary.” This isn’t a happy anniversary, though. It’s the 10th anniversary of his parents’ death and the Indian Ocean tsunami, which claimed 230,000 lives in South Asia.
Govindaraj lost his parents, his elder brother and 10 other members of his family in the 2004 tsunami that killed more than 7,000 people in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu alone. He dusts off the photographs of his lost relatives.
“She is my mother, he is my father, and the other one is my elder brother,” he says, pointing to the pictures. “They were among the 13 of my family members who became prey to that devastating tsunami and left me alone to die, every day remembering them. Anita is also an unfortunate child like me.”
Thirteen-year-old Anita is Govindaraj’s cousin, who also lost her parents in the tsunami and is now being taken care of by Govindaraj and his wife Malakodi.
“I am lucky to have survived nature’s fury,” Govindaraj says. “Actually, I was at my uncle’s place where my wife and Anita were, when that killer tsunami hit our village. It destroyed everything, killed my entire family and that of Anita’s,” he says, turning his face toward the door to hide his tears.
Comforting him in her arms, Malakodi says,“It’s God’s decision. What can we do?
“We were fortunate enough that our village, Perumalpettai, is located a bit higher than the other villages. The tsunami water did come to our village but did not sweep us along. We survived. Only those who were near the shore at that time were killed or have gone missing,” she says.
When asked what she remembers about that day, Anita says, “I cannot recall anything about what happened on that day and how the tsunami was. The only thing I know is that it killed my parents and deprived me from the fortune of having parents. “
“I have only photographs of my parents. I miss them the most when people talk about them and about the tsunami,” she says, pointing at their pictures.
Elsewhere in the village, Mahesh and her husband Ashoghan and son Amrith survived the tsunami, but they were forever touched by the trauma of the day. A pregnant Mahesh was slammed into walls by the waves, and later she and her husband were confronted with scores of dead bodies while searching for their 3-year-old son in a shelter. They found him in a corner, alive but unable or unwilling to speak.
“It was a horrible situation out there,” Ashoghan recalls. “We decided to move to another place, as the atmosphere was affecting both our body and soul, especially my son, who had not spoken a word since we found him. We crossed a backwater river stretch and moved out of the village and walked throughout the night to reach a nearby town.”
Amrith, now 13, is sponsored through ChildFund and attends school. After the tsunami, he was able to spend time in a Child-Centered Space to help recover from the trauma. But the family still suffers hardship. Amrith’s younger sister, Joyse, who was born a couple of months after the tsunami, has a nerve disorder that has prevented her from forming words or walking. She receives treatment for her condition, which is paid for by the government, her father says.
Near Govindaraj’s home, K. Rathnavel, a leader of this community, is busy preparing for a commemoration event for the victims of the tsunami.
In between phone calls to other community members, he says, “I want to build a memorial dedicated to the people who lost their lives in the tsunami. I have yet to raise the required funds for it.
“But I am sure we will soon be able to erect a memorial in our village,” he adds confidently.
When asked to tell his tsunami story, Rathnavel’s confidence disappears.
“Whenever I see the ocean, I get reminded of how it took away hundreds of our fellow villagers – men, women and children alike,” he says. Most who survived have become so scared of the sea that they have given up fishing, the ages-old occupation of the village, Rathnavel says.
“Most of us live in these houses allotted to us by the government as part of their rehabilitation plan for tsunami-affected people,” he adds. “Our old place has now turned into a ghost village.
“We are simple human beings, not gods. You might escape from the place of nature’s fury, but you cannot control it. Now, we don’t take a chance. If there is any alert from the authorities, we simple abide and stay away from the sea.”
According to K. Krishna Kumar of the AVVAI Village Welfare Society, ChildFund India’s local partner in Nagapattinam district, “The 2004 tsunami taught us that resilience is the key to recover from difficulties and to bounce back. People in this region have seen unprecedented devastation and lost numerable lives but are now moving on. That’s life, and we tell the affected communities to be strong and look forward.”
“Today, a decade later, the important question before us is how prepared we are for another such disaster,” he asks. “The disaster forced the development sector to focus on resilience in their programming efforts. As the largest NGO in this region, we played a coordinating role in the post-tsunami rehabilitation and reconstruction process in partnership with various funding agencies and governments,” he continues.
Part of ChildFund’s response to the disaster, carried out through local partners like AVVAI Village, was to build Child-Centered Spaces to help children recover from trauma in safe places. In this district, we and our partners also started a program to help people find other sources of income after losing their livelihoods.
“The tsunami should be remembered as a history of setbacks and tears,” Kumar says. “But the motivation to go forward must be harnessed.”
By Teuku Maimunsyah, ChildFund Indonesia
Teuku Maimunsyah, or Popon, as he’s often called, shared his experience of the tsunami, when he lived in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, one of the hardest-hit regions. Today, he’s ChildFund Indonesia’s monitoring and evaluation specialist. These are his words. You can read more memories of the devastating 2004 tsunami on the blog and ChildFund’s website.
It was early Sunday morning when the earthquake woke us up. The earth was swinging hard, right to left, up and down. Everyone ran out of the house. Soon enough, we heard thunderous noise and saw four-story-high campus buildings collapsing. Our house was in the campus housing area of IAIN Ar-Raniry, Banda Aceh.
We had experienced earthquakes before, but we had never seen buildings collapsing. My mom was crying. My friend, Mardan, who had stayed over with us that night, was saying, “This is the end of the world!” Everyone was panicked and hysterical. Then, the tremors stopped.
I was curious about the earthquake damage around the neighborhood. I took my car out but felt like I was hearing a voice saying, “Don’t take the car, take the motorbike.” I left the car parked in front of our house with the key inside. I drove down to town on the motorbike and heard the voice again, telling me to stop. I stopped and went to a small coffee shop in Ule Kareng.
Suddenly, many people were running toward the airport while screaming, “Banda Aceh is drowning!” I thought about home and tried to hurry back but could not pass on the road as there were so many people out. People were shouting, “Turn back, turn back!” From afar, we saw dark water. We couldn’t even see the sky anymore.
Some nights, when we got so tired, we slept among the dead.
I took another road and got into my housing area. I saw nothing but water. It was about one meter deep. I walked through it to find my house. Debris and dead bodies were all around. I didn’t see my family, my house or the car. Everything was gone. My mind went crazy: “Where are my parents, my brothers and sisters?”
I felt just blank, couldn’t believe what had just happened.
I decided to go back downtown to the city mosque, where the land is higher. The road was filled with people, and I saw more dead bodies everywhere. Then I saw my car at the mosque. I felt angry, thinking someone must have stolen my car, and because of that, my family didn’t make it. If I found that person, I will kill him, I thought. But then I saw my younger brother, Ponbit, by the car. I was so relieved to see him and all of my family. My family had thought I was dead. Ponbit told me that the car had saved them because it was parked outside with the key in it. When they heard people screaming, “Water, water!” they just got in the car and drove fast. It was just a matter of minutes that saved them from the water.
Dad asked if I had seen our house. I told him everything was gone. He was really calm and even smiled. My father told me, “Why are you feeling stressed out? If God’s willing, God will take what we have. Everything we have now is from God. Even when you die, you don’t bring anything with you.”
Still feeling stunned, I nodded but then asked, “Where do we sleep tonight?” He said, “Why did you ask such a question? Allah creates this earth for our shelter, so wherever we could close our eyes and feel comfortable there, that is our house. This earth is our home, even though on top of dirt. So, don’t stress out. You better help people out there rather than just sit here feeling stressed.”
When the water had receded, I went back to see our house, which was left in ruins. Earthquake tremors still came every now and then, and people still shouted, “Water, water!” Even though there wasn’t water anymore, we ran.
Mardan also went back to his dorm. Nobody had survived. He had lost all of his friends. “If I hadn’t slept at your house that night, I might have been gone as well,” he said.
The river in the city, Krueng Aceh, was full of debris and dead bodies. The air felt sticky with the odors, everywhere. It was a devastating scene that you would never forget in your life.
The army soon came with big trucks to evacuate people. People from other cities like Aceh Besar and Takengon also came, bringing vegetables and fruits. I helped to remove dead bodies. I had never experienced something as heart-wrenching as this. At first, I was shaking when I found the dead bodies, but then, bodies after bodies after bodies, I slowly overcame the feeling. I learned some lessons, too. I saw one body with many clothes on, and that his pockets were full of money and gold. Perhaps he thought to save his belongings first, but sadly, he couldn’t make it. We collected all of the money and gold we found and gave it to the mosque.
In a day, we would remove about 100 dead bodies. Some nights, when we got so tired, we slept among the dead.
Volunteers also started to come in, and some were students from Medan. Many of them went back home again on the first day as they could not handle the situation. Some cried and threw up.
One night, we heard a woman wailing hysterically. A young man came over and checked on her. She said she had lost her husband and her children. The young man asked if she had other relatives, and she said yes. That man said she was lucky to still have some of her relatives, as he didn’t have anyone left. That man had lost all of his relatives, from his grandparents to his own family and others. It turned out they lived in one of the hardest-hit areas, Ulee Lhue. The whole village had been taken by the wave.
You would hear many heartbreaking stories. Many were so unimaginable. And we saw many children alone, without anyone with them. Some could say one or two things about their family, and some just couldn’t remember anything. At that time, reporters and media organizations had come to the city. I joined them, and we developed a system to register children. We took their pictures and put out their information in the media and at evacuation shelters. It helped people to find their children.
During such a massive loss, when you see people reunited, it warms your heart and lifts your spirit to think less about yourself and help people more.
By Ayusnita Pane, ChildFund Indonesia
Ayusnita, who works for ChildFund Indonesia as a human resources officer, shared her experiences from the 2004 tsunami, when she was a college student in Banda Aceh, one of the hardest-hit regions. You can read more about the tsunami on our blog and ChildFund’s website.
I was in my last semester at the University of Syiah Kuala in Banda Aceh, where I lived in a student dorm on the third floor. That Sunday morning, Dec. 26, 2004, I was watching television when the earthquake happened. Earthquakes were quite common in Aceh, but that one was shaking tremendously. Everyone rushed out of the building. Then we saw many birds flying above us. I didn’t know what kind of birds they were; it was like a death bird, so I thought, this is it, the end of the world.
To my confusion, I saw people were running and screaming “Water, water!” I didn’t really know what was happening, but I followed everyone. I looked back and saw everything was dark; it was like black water. I ran faster than I normally did, even though I was wearing a sarong. I tried to stop people in cars too, but no one stopped. Everyone thought to save themselves first.
I kept running and following people to the campus mosque. I thought if I die, I’ll die in a mosque. Everyone was panicked and screaming. Cars and motorbikes were lurching and honking. I made it to the mosque and went up to the second floor. But the tremors hadn’t stopped, so we kept coming downstairs and back up again every time people shouted “Water, water!” Soon, people were screaming, “Dead body, dead body!” At the time, I still didn’t understand how huge a disaster this was. Suddenly, many people were carrying dead bodies covered in mud, their clothes torn apart. It happened so fast.
Ten years later, I actually still don’t want to see anything relating to the tragedy. I just can’t watch it. I feel a little upset. Why do we have to keep remembering it? I didn’t lose my family, but only a close friend. I cannot imagine if I lost my own family. I don’t know how to tell my feelings. It’s unspeakable. Sometimes I wonder why I was so traumatized. I didn’t drown. I didn’t lose my family, but I just cannot help thinking about people who were affected.
After the flood, we were taken by car to the airport. I had a few bucks and my mobile phone with me, but there was nothing to buy and no cellular networks were on. No stores were open, because they were afraid of looting. One friend of mine sold her jewelry to get a plane ticket, but there were no flights. We just waited at the evacuation camp at the airport. At night, we slept on the road, because we were afraid of the airport would collapse from the earthquake. Soldiers came, providing us with water, rice and noodles.
Some of our male friends came back to the dorm to get some clothes, but everything was gone. In that very short time, during such a tragedy, people had looted our belongings. Some said people came from Medan in a truck to loot everything with many dead bodies still lying downstairs.
I stayed in the airport until Monday night, when my friend was picked up by her brother. I went out with them and back to my parents in Medan.
I thought, this is it, the end of the world.
One day, I got hysterical seeing the news on television. Another day, I just cried and screamed. I had nightmares too and didn’t go out for about three months. My family got me a preacher and prayed for me to release all the bad influences. None of us were aware that this was happening because of the trauma.
Three months after the tsunami, I went back to Aceh to finish my studies. I went to see the dorm; the campus areas were badly damaged. I didn’t see dead bodies anymore, but we still could smell something. It was really devastating for everyone.
After the tsunami, the cost of living had gone up crazily, including for renting a room or a house. So, I stayed in the evacuation shelter for about six months, moved from one to another when it became more packed with people. I took a job with a French nongovernmental organization while finishing my studies and finally found a rental house for a decent price and stayed there with a friend to share the costs.
All of my friends from the dorm were safe. But I lost five friends who didn’t live at the dorm; one of them was really close. She was in her house with her family that day and was swept away by the water. I know some people reunited years after the tsunami. Sometimes I hoped I could see her again. Her younger brother told me she didn’t survive. He is the only one from his family who survived because he wasn’t at home then. I have lost my hope. Two or three times, I chased someone who I thought looked like her. I called out her name, Amel, but when they turned around, I realized they weren’t her.
I stayed in Banda Aceh until 2010 but just had the courage to look for my friend’s house this February, in 2014. It was really heartbreaking and difficult for me. The area was totally destroyed, but I remembered there was a cellular tower near her house. She used to climb on it to play around. That tower was the only thing left there.
Something stays with me until today. At the campus mosque, I saw a little boy in front of me, about 7 or 8 years old, who was bleeding from a bad cut. He was crying, but I didn’t ask him anything. I was so confused about what was happening and overwhelmed by seeing so many dead people. I am thinking now maybe I was too selfish at that time for only thinking about myself. Even now, I still have his face in my mind.
I didn’t really know what a tsunami was until it happened in Aceh. Now, when we have an earthquake, I always wonder if there will be a tsunami or not, and where to go. In Banda Aceh, we see many evacuation route signs now, and the infrastructures have also been developed better.
Ayusnita has lived in Jakarta with her family since 2010 and joined ChildFund as a human resources officer in October 2014.
This week, we are marking the 10th anniversary of the Dec. 26, 2004, earthquake and tsunami, which devastated towns and villages in 14 Asian countries and claimed more than 230,000 lives. ChildFund works in India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia, which were all hit hard by the disaster. Saroj Pattnaik of ChildFund’s national office in India asked several people who live in coastal regions devastated by the tsunami to share their memories of that day. You can read more about the tsunami this week on our blog and here on the ChildFund website.
“That was a Saturday morning, and we had just returned home after a daylong fishing trip. I was inside the bathroom when the tsunami struck our village. It was like the entire stretch of sea came rushing towards us. We all ran for safety, holding each other’s hands, and found ourselves on a building that had been pushed up by the water. Suddenly, we realized that our younger son was missing. We searched all over, crossing through heaps of dead bodies, uprooted trees, broken boat parts and debris. Thoughts of his being no more had started killing us from inside. Five days passed, but we never stopped our search. And finally my wife found our son in a rescue center in another village. We were relieved. But other parents were not so lucky — their grief of missing their loved ones still continues.” — K. Rathnavel, 41
“I hate the word ‘tsunami.’ For the past 10 years, I have been going to the sea every day and talking to it. I ask the sea, ‘What did I do wrong? Why have you eliminated my entire family – just because I never liked to stay alone? Were you jealous of me just because I was the most loved and privileged one? You killed 13 of my family members and must be thinking that I am afraid of you. No. Actually, I hate you!’ ” — Govindaraj, 30
“It was terrifying, and I struggled to get our door open. While the water was gushing into our home, the door was pressed from outside by a wooden log. Suddenly, I realized my feet were not on the ground. I was floating. I forced myself out through the broken window. There was water everywhere, and it was perhaps going back to sea again. I still remember the power of the water. You couldn’t hold yourself in one place. It was taking you where it wanted. I managed to cling to a concrete house. When the water receded, my mother and brother returned home from another building while my father returned after searching for us. But we could not find our younger sister, who had been playing outside with her friends.” — Divya, 21
“When I hear the word ‘tsunami,’ dreadful pictures of the huge dark wave and the trail of devastation play in front of my eyes, and I start feeling the pain anew. It did not kill any of our family members, but it gave us lifelong suffering instead. I was very pregnant and was eager to welcome the new family member. But the tsunami water washed away our happiness. The strong current of the water swept me along and slammed me with some hard object. It was painful, but I managed to cling to a building wall and survived. Three months passed by, but there was no sign of any labor. Doctors advised me to go for an emergency C-section. I obliged, and my daughter Joyse was born. The joy of her birth, however, was cut short when we learned she was suffering from cerebral palsy, which left her dependent on others and suffering for her whole life. Watching her suffer kills us every day.” — A. Mahesh, 31, pictured with Joyse, 9.
“I cannot recall anything that happened on that day and what the tsunami was like. But from what I have heard so far, I visualize a dark, huge wave that came rushing toward our village and devastated hundreds of families, including mine. I am told that my parents were killed in that disaster and I was left to be cared for by my aunt. I have only photographs of my parents. I miss them the most when people talk about them and about the tsunami.” — Anitha, 14
This week, we are marking the 10th anniversary of the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. The disaster killed approximately 230,000 people in 14 countries on Dec. 26, 2004. At the time, ChildFund had programs in Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka, which all suffered massive losses. This month, the ChildFund Sri Lanka staff asked people to recall their experiences in the tsunami and the years since, and we included their pictures and quotes in this slideshow. In coming days, we’ll have more stories and pictures from Indonesia and India. You can also watch a 2005 video from Sri Lanka.
We hope you’re having a wonderful holiday, and for Christmas, we’re going back a year to a favorite post, featuring yuletide traditions and photos from the Americas. Please enjoy, and have a peaceful and joyous holiday season!
Reporting from ChildFund Mexico
Last month, the city of Puebla, Mexico, hosted the Sixth World Congress on the Rights of Children and Adolescents, a complex event focusing on child protection, freedom from violence, environmental problems and educational opportunities. Three young men from the Huehuetla area and two young women from Caxhuacan who are enrolled in ChildFund’s programs in Puebla attended the conference, along with ChildFund Mexico representatives.
The three-day program focused on these issues: the right to live free from violence, the Internet as a human right, child migration and the right to family life. The conference, which met for the first time outside of Geneva, Switzerland, coincided with the 25th anniversary of the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Mexican officials, including the national director of the Family Development Agency, Laura Vargas Carrillo, and Puebla’s governor, joined Kirsten Sandberg, president of the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child.
“We have a date with history, but above all with future generations, thinking tall, looking far and acting soon,” said Puebla Gov. Rafael Moreno Valle at the opening of the conference.
Teens attended workshops and discussions, and they shared some of their thoughts with ChildFund in writing.
An excerpt from 16-year-old Guadalupe’s journal:
“One of the activities in which I participated was about violence, which we debated and discussed, bringing up things we have done and experienced.
“Then a rapper told us how rap shouldn’t be associated with crime but used as a means of expression. We visited the Atoyac River outside Puebla, and we heard the story about Atoyac and its creation and pollution. We learned about the percentage of salt water and fresh water and how much water they use to make clothing. It made us think about how we waste water in unnecessary ways.”
All the participants were affected by an unexpected event, when a woman was ejected from the congress. She was the mother of a 13-year-old boy who was killed in July when a rubber bullet fired by a Puebla police officer hit him in the head during a protest gathering. The case has been heavily covered in the Mexican news, and when the woman was removed from the meeting, some delegations walked out in protest.
“When I arrived at the meeting, some adolescents had started a rally with banners on stage, due to the case,” wrote Ricardo Calleja Calderon, who served as a chaperone for the ChildFund youths. He added that the teens involved in the rally were respectful but also pressed authorities for answers and for mutual respect.
“This conference was very useful for the young people,” Ricardo wrote, “primarily to strengthen their spirit of cooperation.” It is still challenging for teens to express their feelings, and more work is needed to encourage dialogue and good decisions based on their knowledge of their rights, he added.
“We want to do more for children and teens,” Guadalupe concluded, “because if we know our rights, the injustices in Mexico will stop.”
You may have seen a New York Times article this week about a 4-year-old girl called Sweetie Sweetie who is staying at one of ChildFund’s Interim Care Centers in Sierra Leone. She lost her parents to Ebola, like thousands of children in West Africa. Sweetie Sweetie, whose given name we don’t know, has remained healthy and not shown signs of the disease. Here, you can read an update on her condition and learn how to help other children orphaned by Ebola.
A little reminder since Christmas is coming, and many of our sponsors want to give something special to the children they sponsor. For more tips about corresponding with your sponsored child, check this out.
Want to include something special for your sponsored child? Think flat.
Children cherish the little gifts and fun extras you add to your letters, but bulky objects cause difficulties and create problems with customs officials. Make sure that anything you include is flat, lightweight and not easily broken. Avoid items that can melt.
“Envelope add-ins” include:
To minimize the possibility that mail will be lost or stolen, make it appear to have less worth to those who may be interested in its contents. Never include anything of value, use plain manila or white envelopes, and keep external writing nondescript.
We ask sponsors not to send packages to their sponsored children.
Packages are frequently stolen, or they can be charged a prohibitive duty tax. If you would like to give a gift for Christmas, birthdays, or other occasions, we recommend gifts between $20 and $50. ChildFund requests a $3.50 donation when sending monetary gifts to help offset the costs associated with processing, distributing and safely delivering the funds. If you would like our assistance with giving your sponsored child a monetary gift, please call us at 1-800-776-6767. Our representatives will be happy to assist you.