Guest post by Jen Butte-Dahl, Nokero
Jennifer Butte-Dahl is the head of alliances and the Bright Future Fund at Nokero International Ltd. Nokero (short for No Kerosene) develops affordable and environmentally friendly technologies that eliminate the need for harmful and polluting fuels used for light around the world, and then partners with local organizations to reach communities who need light most.
We can learn a lot from kids. In a phrase, they keep it simple. Kids don’t talk about building innovative partnerships, or crafting collaborative alliances. Kids find other kids who have similar interests, or have something they want or need, and they make friends. They play together, they learn from one another and they bring their diversity of talents together to shape the lives they live. My niece, Kaitlyn, is seven and a budding artist. She loves drawing little girl stick figures with skirts, long hair and high heels. Her best friend Sophie has a penchant for flowers and houses. They work together and fill countless sheets of construction paper with their vivid imaginations, creating colorful works of art together that are better than anything they could ever create on their own. And decorating many a fridge!
At Nokero, we are constantly working to hold ourselves to the lessons we learn from children. “Keep it simple” is one of our core values, and it touches everything we do, from designing new products to making new friends.
Today, we’re unveiling the Nokero Ed, a small solar light with a big mission: to change the lives of kids around the world who live without electricity. At the same time, we’re launching a friendship with ChildFund International, an organization with the drive and the know-how to help us get these little lights into the hands of children around the globe who need them. Our friendship is simple: we want the same things, and we each have something to bring to the relationship.
It all began with an innovation. Steve Katsaros, Nokero’s founder and chief inventor, was visiting Kenya late last summer, and was inspired by the children he met. They were enthusiastic to learn, eager for knowledge and excited by everything new. In each village, he handed out a few solar lights and asked for their feedback. But it wasn’t necessarily their words that made the most impact. It was the groups of kids crowding around each light to read and do their homework after dark. Sometimes two or three at once, but more often five or six, or ten, or more. It was uplifting and heartbreaking all at once. There was never enough light to go around.
When considered next to the daily, and oftentimes enervating cost of kerosene fuel, solar light is clearly the economical choice. Yet even a modest upfront cost holds many families back from making the switch from toxic kerosene lamps to clean, safe and healthy solar light. So Steve set out on a mission: design for extreme affordability. Keep it simple. Remove the bells and whistles. Make a solar light that could help kids learn and would be economical enough for more families to afford. Once we had the prototype in hand, we knew we had a powerful difference-maker for children around the world. But we needed to reach them.
And this is where ChildFund comes into the story. As serendipity would have it, we saw a ChildFund billboard while standing at a bus stop in Washington, D.C. The public service ad simply stated their mission: ChildFund is dedicated to improving the lives of vulnerable children worldwide—and that is exactly what we were looking for. It really is the perfect friendship. We bring the technology; they help deploy it to the communities who need it most. ChildFund programs serve more than 13.5 million children in 31 countries around the world. The majority of those children either live in unelectrified communities, or their families cannot afford electrical power.
So now we’re working together to bring sustainable and nontoxic solar light to the millions of children around the world living without access to electricity. Together, we are illuminating lives. Funds raised through the Global Light to Learn Challenge will support ChildFund in bringing clean, healthy Nokero solar lights to schools in unelectrified communities. Students will be able to study and read after dark, by checking out a light each night (just as they would a library book). The lights will also be used in classrooms to teach students about science, technology, renewable energy and the power of the sun.
An innovative partnership? Definitely. A collaborative alliance? Sure. But at its core, simply a great friendship between two organizations that can now achieve more together than they ever could alone. Together, we are coloring the world brighter, and drawing little suns and smiley faces all over the place.
by Cynthia Price, ChildFund Director of Communications
My morning routine was thrown off a bit today.
Usually I stare at my closet deciding which pair of shoes to wear. It’s a good problem to have because it means I have a closet full of shoes.
Working for ChildFund helps me to count my blessings more frequently. Many of the children we serve in developing countries don’t have shoes. They walk barefoot and get cuts and scrapes, which often become infected. Many children get diseases from walking barefoot.
In some communities, children can’t go to school if they don’t have shoes. Or the long trek to school may simply be too far to walk barefoot.
Today at ChildFund we’re participating in One Day Without Shoes, which seeks to raise awareness about those who don’t have the luxury of shoes. We’ll spend the day at work barefoot. We’ll have activities. Employees will be invited to walk barefoot in a “Walk Box,” where they can experience how difficult it is to walk across pebbles.
When I first started talking about a day without shoes, I heard some interesting comments. “I’m not walking across the parking lot. There are stones.” Another person said, “Are you kidding? There are staples in the carpet.”
I would simply respond, “Isn’t that the point?”
We take for granted our ability to walk anywhere we want, thanks to the multiple pairs of shoes in our closets. Just for today, try going barefoot. Try following in the footsteps of their tiny feet – without shoes.
by Virginia Sowers, ChildFund Community Manager
We awakened to a lovely, tropical day here in Kampala, Uganda, after arriving late last night following 30-plus hours of traveling.
David Levis, the Experience of a Lifetime winner, started out in Sacramento, Calif., on Saturday, and I began the journey from Richmond, Va. We met for the first time in Amsterdam, but after months of emailing and chatting by phone, it was like connecting with an old friend. David marveled at seeing three sunrises and two sunsets in a 31-hour period. I marveled that I was still awake!
We wanted to share with you what’s on tap for our week in Uganda. Today, we’ll be visiting the ChildFund Uganda office and meeting with National Director Simba Machingaidze and Sponsorship and Communications Manager Josephine Bazira-Muhereza. They’ll be briefing us on ChildFund’s work and the projects we’ll be visiting this week. We’re looking forward to having Josephine travel with us this week.
Tuesday, we’ll set out on a four-hour drive to Lango, Tela and Lira, essentially heading north. We’ll stop to visit two of David’s sponsored children, Robinah and Sarah. It’s going to be so amazing to see the children’s reactions when they get to meet David.
After overnighting in Lira, we’ll travel to Akani on Wednesday to visit Margaret and tour her community. We’re also hoping for a quick visit to Amunda, where David’s sister-in-law’s family sponsor a child, Brenda. We’ll end the day in Busia.
Wednesday morning, our first stop is the Buyengo Primary School. David’s middle school class in Sacramento has been corresponding with the seventh graders at Buyengo. Then, it’s on to Jinga for visit with 9-year-old Dixon. We’re so looking forward to seeing Dixon, who’s been ill recently, so we want to check on him.
We’ll arrive back in Kampala Thursday night and catch a bit of rest that evening. On our final day, Friday, we’ll travel outside the city a short distance to meet Shafik, age 6, and his family.
It’s going to be a whirlwind week. We’re psyched and we’ll keep you posted as we go along. Thanks for following the Experience of a Lifetime!
by Christine Ennulat, ChildFund International
Liberia’s 13 years of civil war ended in 2003. Nine years later the effects of war linger. In post-conflict societies, children are the ones who suffer the most as their parents struggle to rebuild shattered homes and livelihoods. Often, children come to be viewed as burdens, or even commodities. They became at risk for exploitative child labor, domestic violence and other abuses.
Healing has been slow. Liberia’s Poverty Reduction Strategy of 2008 includes a statement that speaks volumes: “A whole generation of Liberians has spent more time at war than in the classroom.”
Some years after ChildFund began work in Liberia in 2003, staff began to realize that, despite the ongoing rebuilding of Liberia’s decimated education system, young children ages 5 to 8 were not enrolling at the rate they should, and those who did were not staying in school.
In May 2010, ChildFund began a program called Participatory Research and Learning (PARLER) to identify the obstacles to school attendance in 25 communities and try to remove them. The program is funded by the Union de Banques Suisses.
The centerpiece of PARLER is training older teens to facilitate participatory exercises (e.g., fun, animated games) with 5- to 8-year-olds to learn what keeps them from school. The exercises help children identify problems in their communities, prioritize them, analyze solutions and plan for the future.
Martin Hayes, ChildFund’s child protection specialist who helped launch the program, says, “In the long run, this helps build skills and leadership of the youth.” And it inspires older children to look out for the younger ones.
What kept the younger children from school, the youth learned, included bullying and harsh corporal punishment in the classroom. Girls faced the additional obstacle of parents keeping them home to do housework or prioritizing their brothers’ educations over theirs. Some of the children also would go to the nearby Nigerian peacekeepers’ base to beg instead of going to school.
Acting as advocates for the younger children, the youth brought these concerns to special committees focused on children’s needs. ChildFund has trained adult members of the committees to respond as appropriate, whether counseling parents or calling in authorities.
By July 2011, according to an external evaluation commissioned by the Bernard Van Leer Foundation, 1,234 5- to 8-year-olds had been involved in PARLER sessions.
School enrolment in PARLER communities is moderately higher than in communities without the program, and retention also is higher. Children from PARLER communities also miss fewer school days and spend less time on household chores or jobs outside the house and more time on homework. In schools connected with the PARLER program, children suffer less corporal punishment; their parents are more likely to discipline their children verbally than physically. Children involved with PARLER even get sick less often.
The gains are modest, but they are consistent across many types of child-protection risks. Again, healing is slow. But this work is moving it forward.
These improvements flow from giving children and youth tools to improve their own lives. “We’re providing them with skills to protect themselves,” says Hayes, “but also life skills for when they get older.”
by Virginia Sowers, ChildFund Community Manager
Uganda is once again in the news, and the focus is on children. Overall, that’s a good thing. There can never be enough attention heaped on this nation’s children, who endured 20 years of civil war from the 1980s to the mid-2000s. Yet, it’s important to distinguish between the Uganda of the early years of this century and the Uganda of today.
It is estimated that as many as 26,000 children in northern and eastern Uganda were abducted, raped and forced into servitude and military combat during the war. During the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) crisis, ChildFund responded with programs in some of the worst affected districts of Pader, Gulu, Lira and Soroti in Northern Uganda. We provided child protection and psychosocial support to thousands of children in the large camps of internally displaced people (IDPs).
Joseph Kony, who led the LRA, fled the country. Widely believed to now be in hiding in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kony remains a wanted man for the terrible atrocities committed on Uganda’s people and its children. And he continues to exploit children who come into his reach in central Africa.
“In the early years following the crisis, ChildFund Uganda focused on reintegrating formerly abducted children with their families and communities, as well as promoting the protection and psychosocial well-being of many other children who were not abducted but still were affected by the crisis,” says Martin Hayes, child protection specialist. “By 2006, the northern Ugandan city of Gulu no longer had ‘night commuters’— children on the run from the LRA abductors and who were afraid to sleep in their own rural homes,” Hayes notes. “Today, Gulu is a bustling town.”
The last 10 years have also seen the return of tens of thousands of the IDPs from camps back to their homes and a gradual return to normalcy. “ChildFund’s work has shifted to helping the Ugandan people get on with their lives,” Hayes says. ‘We’re working with our community partners to promote children and youth’s protection and healthy development – tangible support that is making their lives better.”
Since 1980, ChildFund has worked with community-based partners across Uganda to support the needs of children. ChildFund’s programs currently benefit approximately 784,000 children and family members through establishment of Early Childhood Development (ECD) centers and parental outreach programs, school construction and teacher training, youth leadership and job training. “We also have been working with communities and families to support the needs of children affected by HIV/AIDS, which is a tremendous problem in Uganda,” Hayes notes.
“Child protection is at the forefront of all of our programs,” says Hayes. “ChildFund is working closely in partnership with the Ugandan government, the national university, international and national organizations and community residents to collectively improve the protective environments for children. Together, our goal is to strengthen Uganda’s national child protection system.”
by Tasha Chambers, Communications Associate
Under the direction of Rory Anderson, ChildFund’s external relations director, three ChildFund staff members met with the legislative aides representing the senators who will vote on the budget. Our mission was to encourage support of FY2013 International Affairs Budget and to oppose further cuts to development and diplomacy programs.
It was a great opportunity for ChildFund to explain its programs and how they make a measurable difference in the lives of children around the world. We also discussed how U.S. development and humanitarian programs, leveraged with private donors’ financial contributions, help provide lifesaving treatments for disease. All of these outreach efforts reinforce the compassion of the United States.
The good thing is that many senators get the importance of this budget. The not-so-good thing is that senators are struggling to decide exactly where to make cuts to preserve America’s legacy as a leading global power, despite the current financial climate.
While making cuts is a necessary action, the reality is that only 1 percent of government funding goes to humanitarian efforts; even though many Americans believe the percentage is much higher (most guess 25 percent). Ironically, surveys show that Americans believe our foreign assistance should be around 10 percent.
The International Affairs Budget has already been disproportionately cut by 15 percent in the past two years. We cannot let the small percentage that remains get any smaller.
If you agree, then please contact your member of Congress and voice your support for the preservation of U.S. humanitarian aid.
by Virginia Sowers, Community Manager
ChildFund’s Live! concert series picks up in March with Thompson Square, the husband-and-wife duo of Shawna and Keifer Thompson.
Working with various performing artists, our LIVE! concert series seeks to introduce new audiences to ChildFund’s work in 31 countries and the life-changing impact of child sponsorship.
Soon after their 2010 signing with Stoney Creek Records, Thompson Square, also known as T2, released their self-titled debut album, which included the platinum-selling, Billboard number 1 country single “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not,” a triple winner at the 2011 American Country Awards.
With two GRAMMY nominations and a growing fan base, Thompson Square is fast on the rise. Throughout the coming months, Thompson Square will perform nationwide, including many appearances with Lady Antebellum and Darius Rucker on Lady A’s “Own the Night” tour.
With their wide appeal, T2 is sure to reach diverse audiences, presenting a great opportunity to share the message and experience of sponsoring a child.
At each concert, Thompson Square will be telling fans about ChildFund’s mission. ChildFund is also seeking current ChildFund sponsors to volunteer at the concert venues. See the tour schedule for a concert near you. Volunteers will be asked to share their own experiences of sponsoring a child and assist with signing up new sponsors at the events.
Volunteers are needed over the next several months. Learn more by downloading the LIVE! Volunteer FAQs. To volunteer, call 800-458-0555 or send email to Questions@ChildFund.org.
by LaTasha Chambers, Communications Associate
2012 is a Leap Year. That means today, Feb. 29, is a bonus. For many of us, the extra 24 hours will go unnoticed, but for children across the globe this means another day of hunger, exploitation or even death from a preventable disease.
Your involvement can help change that.
A hop is a one-time donation to our Children’s Greatest Needs fund, which delivers programs to help children with everyday and emergency situations. Whatever dollar amount you give is combined with other donors’ gifts to provide essential services that children lack.
Perhaps you have a special interest in nutrition, water or health care projects? If so, then jump into monthly giving, with options for directing your gift amount and its end result.
Or, you can take the leap and sponsor a child into young adulthood.
A sponsorship of $28 each month ($35 for a child in our U.S. programs) changes children’s lives by giving them an opportunity to thrive and break the cycle of poverty. Sponsors have the unique opportunity to connect with a child through letters and photos.
Let’s not wait another four years to make even the smallest step toward ending child poverty. Take a leap toward positive change today!
by LaTasha Chambers, Communications Associate
Respect for different cultures is so important, and it’s a value I constantly teach to my son. Working in a diverse environment is important to me because it’s challenging to “fit in” to a one-size-fits-all organization — our hair textures are different, our religious faiths may require us to wear a bindi or head covering or our attire may be an ethnic print. The bottom line is that although professionalism should be exhibited in all we do here at ChildFund, our unique identities encourage dialogue, show pride in who we are as individuals and represent the diverse global community we serve.
Recently, Mamadou Diagne and Emile Namsemon N’Koa from ChildFund Senegal visited our headquarters to share the wonderful community health work we are doing there. An African-American woman who happened to be visiting our office that day asked, “How does ChildFund go into these countries and expect change without disrespecting the culture?” That was a million-dollar question I had also planned to ask sooner than later, now that I’m a member of the ChildFund staff.
Diagne shared, in his native French, that ChildFund does not go into a community and force what it believes on a group of people who have long-held traditions, some of which are unhealthy like female genital cutting. He explained that you don’t break traditions with a hammer; you simply show community leaders ways that will improve the overall health of an entire community.
His hammer analogy was so moving to me. I couldn’t agree more. Relationships are not built by beating people down. Yes, many of us are passionate and unyielding in our efforts to eradicate poverty and give children a fighting chance in this world. But the fact that ChildFund engages in dialogue at a grassroots level that fosters new, healthier practices and traditions is the best way to create long-term change.
And that’s exactly what we want.
by Martin Nanawa, ChildFund Philippines
Children in ChildFund Philippines’ programs and a few of their school peers received a special treat last Sunday when David Archuleta made a surprise appearance at a ChildFund gathering held at a local school.
Children from the Teatro Bu-bot [arm-in-arm] Children’s Advocacy Theater had prepared all week to mount their much-touted “Many Faces of Poverty” performance for ChildFund Philippines National Director Katherine Manik, and her unspecified guest.
Little did they know that the special guest would turn out to be none other than recording artist David Archuleta, who is in the Philippines filming a television miniseries.
Archuleta, now 21, who finished runner up in the seventh season of American Idol in 2008, teamed with ChildFund for his 2011 My Kind of Christmas tour. He is also sponsoring a child from Honduras, his mother’s native country.
Archuleta has developed a large fan base in the Philippines since his American Idol debut and through his three previous visits to Manila. Filipinos are highly anticipating the upcoming miniseries Nandito Ako, starring Archuleta and local talents.
His unannounced appearance on Sunday caught the children by surprise. Thrilled and starstruck, the children quickly recovered to deliver the program they’d prepared.
Archuleta fell silent during the troupe’s simple performance, which the children themselves conceptualized, articulating the different faces that poverty and disadvantage assumes in their community. The 10-minute skit is wordless, preferring to describe exploitation, vice and neglect through music, movement and expressive dance.
Masks partially obscure each of their faces as they depict society’s fevers, which are shed finally through the expression of children’s growing cognizance and assertion of their rights and responsibilities. The skit illustrates how children, their community and ChildFund help foster an environment conducive to the totality of each child’s life and identity.
Moved by the performance that he described as “amazing” and “powerful,” Archuleta took the floor in turn, regaling the children with an a capella rendition of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge over Troubled Water,” followed by an encore of Robbie Williams’ “Angels.”
Archuleta then spent time meeting the children in small groups. Though he currently sponsors a child in Honduras, Sunday’s gathering was the first time Archuleta had the opportunity to interact with children in ChildFund’s programs.
The theater troupe, sponsored children and even the school’s marching band had time to ask Archuleta questions and share stories of what sponsorship means to them.
With translation assistance by ChildFund Philippines Program Director Mark Dasco, sponsored children told Archuleta: “Please help us share the privilege of sponsorship with others, by inviting more people to sponsor [children].”
As the event came to an end, many children said they would long remember this exciting day. As he departed, Archuleta expressed his happiness at meeting the children: “Gosh, I feel so good today! Thank you so much for this experience!”