Reporting by ChildFund Sierra Leone
Over the course of January’s 31 days, we’re making a blog stop in each country where we serve children, thanks to the generous support of our sponsors and donors. In Sierra Leone, children are discovering new opportunities through education and sponsor support.
Located on Africa’s west coast, Sierra Leone is still recovering from a 10-year civil war that ended in 2002. Tens of thousands of lives were lost and about a third of the population was displaced.
Sierra Leone’s maternal and infant mortality rate is among the world’s highest because of malnutrition and lack of access to health care. It’s also one of the world’s poorest countries, with almost three out of four people living on less than the equivalent of $2 a day.
ChildFund began work in Sierra Leone in 1985, and today is one of the leading child development agencies in the country, with a strong focus on child protection, psychosocial support and skills building for children and youth.
Nearly 60 percent of Sierra Leone’s school-age children do not attend school. ChildFund has worked closely with local partners to educate community members on the value of education for their children and the long-term benefits of nurturing and protecting the next generation.
Child sponsorship has played a critical role in not only providing desperately needed services to Sierra Leone’s children but also helping them experience the joys of childhood. Sponsors’ cards, letters and words of encouragement are just what these children need right now.
Reporting and video by ChildFund Guatemala
Over the course of January’s 31 days, we’re making a blog stop in each country where we serve children, thanks to the generous support of our sponsors and donors. Today we are inspired by the enthusiasm and commitment of youth leaders in ChildFund Guatemala’s programs.
As a country, Guatemala is struggling to recover from a long history of internal strife. Although civil society is improving, years of conflict have exacted a price on the young, who are often overlooked and unprotected. An estimated 657,000 boys and girls do not attend school in this country because of a lack of access or because of the cultural acceptance of child labor. Children of Mayan descent are more apt to serve as child laborers. In fact, Guatemala ranks the third highest in child labor statistics among Latin America and Caribbean countries.
ChildFund Guatemala is working to be an agent of social change, delivering programs and services that protect and promote children’s rights. A number of programs are aimed at youth, who too often are caught up in violence and drug trafficking. As ChildFund and its local partner organizations have helped youth develop leadership and life skills, the youth, in turn, have become advocates for change.
Last year, ChildFund Guatemala convened a Youth Spokesperson in Action conference, bringing together young people from ChildFund’s project areas across the country. The youth received training, exchanged experiences and ideas and developed leadership skills that will benefit their home communities.
The conference was groundbreaking for most of the young attendees. Watch the video to see Guatemala’s youth in action.
by ChildFund Cambodia
Over the course of January’s 31 days, we’re making a blog stop in each country where we serve children, thanks to the generous support of our sponsors and donors. Today we catch up with Phalla, a youth in Cambodia.
In many rural villages of Cambodia, young people are forced to migrate to urban centers in search of work. For Phalla, now 23 years old, this journey has been made twice – first, to work alongside her father in construction and a second time as an unskilled laborer in a garment factory.
To generate more livelihood opportunities, ChildFund Cambodia has been implementing the Youth for Development program in Svay Yea commune. This provides vocational training to young people as well as leadership, life skills and business training.
After losing her father, Phalla returned again to her village, but earned very little from farming and selling sugar palm. After joining the ChildFund youth program, Phalla chose sewing as her training course, and eventually, she and five other trainees established their own tailor shops. ChildFund provided each of them with sewing machines and materials, as well as ongoing business mentoring.
Phalla’s entrepreneurship doesn’t end there – she now generates a second income by raising chickens and ducks at home. “In the past, I usually followed others without having a clear goal. Now I have a specific livelihood that allows me to stay in the community with my family,” she says.
Because of her commitment, Phalla has also been selected to be a community resource trainer, so that she can pass on her knowledge and skills to younger people in her community.
Reporting by ChildFund Bolivia
Being a child in Bolivia can be extremely challenging. Six of every 10 children have unmet basic needs, and half of the nation’s youth population live in poverty. Life is even harder for indigenous children, who are often marginalized and do not have easy access to education and health services due to geographic, cultural and economic barriers.
One of those children is Marielena, an 8-year-old who lives in rural Bolivia with her mother and three siblings: Juan Jose, 10; David, 4; and Jonas,18 months. Their house is made of mud adobe blocks and consists of two rooms – a bedroom and a kitchen. They have no indoor plumbing, and for fresh water they rely on a water tanker that drives by the community every two days to fill water tanks for $1.
Marielena is a small girl who weighs less than average for her age. She is prone to develop frequent eye, respiratory and skin illnesses, especially since the family lives near a dump and there is no sewage or clean water system for their community. With no hospitals or clinics nearby, it has been difficult for Marielena to receive treatment.
Education is another challenge in Bolivia, where only 30 percent of children are in school. Marielena is fortunate to attend first grade; however, she struggles with basic concepts, as she never had the opportunity to attend preschool or kindergarten.
The situation for Marielena is changing for the better now that she’s enrolled in ChildFund’s programs and has a sponsor. With ChildFund’s support, Marielena now receives basic medical attention as well after-school support to improve her performance in the classroom. Additionally, ChildFund and its local partners are providing the family with educational training on child nutrition and guidelines for overall health and hygiene that will help prevent illness.
Marielena’s mother remains the only income generator in the household. She makes a living by selling hotdogs and fries from a salchipapa cart, which was provided to her through ChildFund’s Gifts of Love and Hope catalog. Because she cannot work full-time and also care for her children, the family’s situation remains fragile; yet, day by day, their outlook is improving.
This is one example of how ChildFund, which began operations in Bolivia in 1980, is coming alongside families who are working to lift themselves out of poverty in a sustainable way.
Reporting by Ya Sainey Gaye, ChildFund The Gambia
Over the course of January’s 31 days, we’re making a blog stop in each country where we serve children, thanks to the generous support of our sponsors and donors. Today we visit a ChildFund-supported community in The Gambia that is moving toward self-sufficiency.
Positive change has come to the Kololi community in the last two decades. Much of the credit is due to the Kololi Cluster, an industrious group of women supported in their entrepreneurial endeavors by the Kombo North Federation and ChildFund The Gambia. After an unsuccessful try with a tie-dye operation in the early 1990s, the women of Kololi Cluster settled on making soap and detergent to generate income for their families’ basic needs. The group enjoyed a moderate level of success, yet they were not making great strides forward economically.
In 1999, a ChildFund supporter donated a milling machine for the community’s use, under the direction of the Kololi Cluster. In turn, the community Alkalo (village chief) gave a portion of his land to house the machine.
Although the Kololi Cluster members did not know how to operate the mill, they were organized and had experience working together to run businesses. They were up for the task of operating a prized piece of heavy equipment for the benefit of the entire village.
In most cases, a milling machine equates food security for the community it serves. Dried crops, such as maize, millet, rice and couscous, are a principal part of the African diet and are needed year-round. The availability of a mill at the village level reduces household expenses (fewer trips to market) and provides a source of steady income.
Before the arrival of the milling machine, women in the village bore the burden of pounding the dried crops into meal. The work was time-consuming and physically demanding.
The Kololi Cluster organized a team to run the mill. In return for their time and labor, each cluster member receives incentives and a portion of the profits to pay their children’s school fees or to purchase other necessities. When a cluster member was in urgent need of a medical checkup, proceeds from the mill paid the cost. A community child with disabilities, whose family previously could not afford to educate him, is now going to school. When a community member’s house was damaged by torrential rains, the Kololi Cluster helped her rebuild.
The women of the Kololi Cluster have opened a bank account to save and manage the profits earned from operating the mill. With money in the bank, they are able to respond to the everyday and the urgent needs of cluster members, all the while increasing the community’s self-sufficiency.
Over the course of January’s 31 days, we’re making a blog stop in each country where we serve children, thanks to the generous support of our sponsors and donors. Today we listen in on the dreams expressed by a youth in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
“If he succeeded in doing it, why not me?” asks 15-year-old Frehiwot, her face serious. “I believe nothing is impossible as long as one decides to do it.”
It’s an expansive dream for a child growing up in the slums of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. But her dream is not without precedent.
Frehiwot dreams of becoming like Kitaw Ejigu. “Kitaw was a famous astronomer,” she explains. “He worked hard in school, went abroad through a state scholarship to pursue higher education, completed his degree and became a great person in the world. I will study hard, and when I get scholarship to enter university, I will study and become famous, too.”
While it is true that sometimes unbelievable things can happen, it is even harder to imagine when you look at the living standard in the Arada slum, where Frehiwot lives with her parents and two siblings in a mud-and-wood house covered by a rusted metal roof. The family uses an open, overfull mud latrine, right next to their house. Big green flies from there buzz outside their door and through the living space. The family’s water comes from a public well.
Frehiwot is fortunate, however, to be enrolled with ChildFund Ethiopia, through which she regularly receives school supplies. She will soon enter grade 10.
“I like school,” she says. “For me, school is everything, the place where one can be prepared to become the person he or she dreams of becoming in the future. I will even say that school is like my parents, because when I am educated and start to work in a country other than my own, what I have learned from school will take care of me like my own parents do, and even better. The government often provides scholarships to good students to do further studies, and I think that is a good opportunity. So all I need to do is to study hard and make good grades.”
Frehiwot’s highest grades are in her favorite subjects, physics and mathematics. She is also a member of the school media and science clubs, and she enjoys participating in school debates.
When asked how she would advise other children of her age about school given the chance, Frehiwot pauses, then speaks gravely. “I will tell them that school is a good place to be, and that if they want to be great people they should go to school and take their lessons seriously,” she says. “I will also tell them that if one is not educated, he or she is like a domestic animal. They obey anything the owner orders, whether good or not. So if you are not educated, you can be used by educated people any kind of way, for better or for worse. You are not able to read anything written against you.”
After a long silence and a deep breath, she concludes, in a soft voice, “My only hope is that I will secure a government scholarship and accommodation at the university. Otherwise I have nowhere to turn to for help.”
Reporting by ChildFund Vietnam
Over the course of January’s 31 days, we’re making a blog stop in each country where we serve children, thanks to the generous support of our sponsors and donors. Today we learn about ChildFund’s programs in Vietnam.
ChildFund’s operations in Vietnam began in 1995, and progress is being made through a variety of programs that reduce child poverty. ChildFund Vietnam primarily works in the health, education, child-protection, water and sanitation and livelihood sectors. “These projects make tangible improvements in the lives of children and the whole community,” says Deborah Leaver, ChildFund’s national director in Vietnam.
She points to several examples in the last fiscal year:
In addition to focusing on the physical well-being of children, ChildFund Vietnam also emphasizes the emotional health of children. Children’s Clubs provide a safe meeting space and opportunities to learn new skills. As part of club activities, ChildFund uses child-to-child communication methods, teaching children about child rights and other issues that impact them. In turn, children then communicate information and their perspectives on these subjects to other children in the club, as well as to the community at large.
“We see that more children are going to school and receiving quality health care and access to clean water; however, there are still many children who have yet to realize these rights,” says Leaver.
In 2012, ChildFund Vietnam will continue to ensure children are involved in the activities and decisions that affect their daily lives and their futures.
by Zoe Hogan, ChildFund Timor-Leste
Over the course of January’s 31 days, we’re making a blog stop in each country where we serve children, thanks to the generous support of our sponsors and donors. Today we visit the Uai-Bua school, which is benefitting from strong community support.
The school grounds of Uai-Bua primary school in the village of Ossu, Viqueque, is a shining example of what a community can achieve when it works together toward a common goal.
The Uai-Bua school shouldered a heavy responsibility in the local area – the school had just 11 classrooms to teach approximately 1,000 children, ages 6 to 14. However, the cramped conditions inside the rooms were not the only problem. The holes in the roofs and walls often exposed children to wind and rain during classes.
Concerned by the problem, the Uai-Bua Parents and Teachers Association (PTA) met with Jose, ChildFund Timor-Leste’s education project officer, to discuss how they could work together to improve the school’s facilities. The PTA had been waiting many years of country unrest for an opportunity to work in partnership to develop the school. “It’s been 10 years since independence, and nothing has happened until now,” said Acácio Monteiro, the school’s director.
ChildFund Timor-Leste first held a training workshop with the PTA to help them identify and prioritize the current needs of the school and write a proposal for funding aid. The training is part of a long-term strategy to build the community’s capacity to successfully advocate on its own behalf.
The PTA of Uai-Bua then submitted a proposal to ChildFund Timor-Leste outlining the renovations required for one school building, including two classrooms. The proposal was approved with funding from UNICEF, and the community also donated about 50 percent of the labor and local materials needed to help the funding go further
After a month of hard work by parents, teachers and the community, the building had new walls, a new ceiling and a sealed roof. The schoolchildren shared their parents’ excitement about the renovated classrooms. Rafaela, 10, confessed that learning for her and her classmates had been difficult in the past, especially when the roof leaked. She added, “I am looking for knowledge!” She is happy that her classmates will be able to learn safely in the renovated building.
Now that the PTA has newfound skills in proposal writing and confidence in their ability to make a contribution, they’re already discussing what’s next for Uai-Bua school.
by Lylli Moya, ChildFund Honduras
Over the course of January’s 31 days, we’re making a blog stop in each country where we serve children, thanks to the generous support of our sponsors and donors. Today we meet a community health volunteer in Honduras.
With support from USAID and the Honduran government, ChildFund is implementing a four-year maternal and child health program in Honduras. The goal is to decrease maternal, neonatal, infant and under-five child mortality rates, particularly in rural areas with little access to health services. We’re following the stories of mothers and children, traditional birth attendants and community health volunteers who are participating in the program.
Jessica Carolina Funez is a 21-year-old community health volunteer in the community of Culguaque, three hours away from Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras. Her day starts early as she rises to clean house and prepare food for her family before going to work.
“I am a gardener at the community preschool center,” she says, explaining her job. However, her gardening tools are not the typical shovel and hoe. She is caring for something much more delicate than plants and vegetables. As a “gardener,” her job is to care for preschoolers four days a week.
She enjoys her job and also volunteering as a community health worker because she gets to help children. After receiving training from ChildFund, Jessica assists with a once-a-month weigh-in session for children under the age of two. “We weigh them, mark the weight on the graph, give counseling to mothers and give the children supplements like iron and zinc.” If a child is underweight or shows signs of slow development, Jessica or one of her fellow volunteers will pay a follow-up visit to the home to provide further information and counseling to the mother. “We help mothers care for their children so that they don’t become malnourished,” she explains.
Working with other children and attending health training sessions provided through ChildFund, Jessica says she has learned so many things, including how to take better care of her own six-year-old daughter and plan for the future.
Jessica is currently finishing her high school equivalent while studying business administration through a distance-learning program. Her dream is that both she and her daughter can one day attend university and become professionals.
by Priscilla Chama, ChildFund Zambia
Over the course of January’s 31 days, we’re making a blog stop in each country where we serve children, thanks to the generous support of our sponsors and donors. Today, we meet Matildah, a youth with disabilities, who realized her dream of competing in an athletic competition.
“I felt so grateful, humbled and honored to be crowned with a gold medal for best athlete of the year, contrary to what many people think about us, the disabled,” says Matildah, a 15-year-old Zambian. “That moment made me realize that I can do all that the so-called able, normal people can do, and I hope to do better than this next time,” she says.
Orphaned at an early age, Matildah is one of several hundred children with special needs who are benefiting from ChildFund Zambia’s Special Education Needs (SEN) project in Luangwa district, with support from ChildFund New Zealand. Luangwa has more than 300 children with special needs, who initially had no access to education. ChildFund Zambia has constructed classrooms, dormitories and teacher housing to create a positive learning environment for children. It’s made a world of difference for Matildah and her classmates, who are increasingly confident of their abilities.
A strong runner, Matildah was an eager participant in Zambia’s 2011 provincial athletics competition open to children with special needs from Lusaka, Luangwa and Kafue districts. The competition was held at the Olympic Youth Development Center in Lusaka.
“I love athletics but had no platform to showcase my talent. That is why I am so grateful that the organizers arranged a competition in which children with various disabilities like me could participate,” she says.
Matildah outclassed other competitors and placed first in both the 50- and 100-meter events. She beams with excitement as she recalls the experience of the competition and interacting with fellow athletes.
“Most of us were given an opportunity to travel outside Luangwa for the first time since we were born,” she notes. “As you know children like us are always kept indoors, but this is now changing because of the school for children with special needs,” she explains.
Matildah admits that just a few years ago she had no hope of ever getting an education. According to her grandmother, Matildah’s cognitive difficulties since birth meant she could not be enrolled in a regular classroom.
Her big breakthrough came when ChildFund introduced the SEN project, and Matilda was one of the first children registered. Matildah now attends school at Mwavi Basic, where she is enrolled in the special education unit and is in the second level.
“I want to finish school and become a teacher for children with special needs,”
Matildah says. For now, she loves going to school and also gardening. And, of course, there’s running.