By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
Today we celebrate the second International Day of the Girl Child, declared by the United Nations General Assembly to recognize girls’ rights. In 2012, the day focused on ending child marriage, and this year’s theme is related: Innovating for Girls’ Education.
Years ago, when I began working in the developing world, I thought I knew the reasons behind girls’ early marriage and lack of education. But the longer I lived there, the more I discovered complexity and nuance. We still struggle to end child marriage and educate girls.
Imagine for a moment you’re a teenaged girl living in a developing country.
Your name means beautiful.
At the beginning of each school year, your brothers move to the district capital to board with distant relatives. While they learn math, chemistry and physics, you pound rice in a mortar and pestle, cook meals over a three-stone fire, and tend the family’s garden, goats and chickens. Each week on market day you harvest avocados and mangoes to sell in the open-air market, bartering for whatever you can’t grow — rice, flour and oil.
You carry water home from the river in a basin on top of your head, moving slowly to avoid spilling the precious liquid. In sunny weather, you wash laundry by hand, laying clothes out on bushes to dry.
Each day, you gather branches from the forest, carrying them tied in a bundle on your head. At home you chop the wood into equal lengths to feed between the stones of your cooking fire.
In the evenings you prepare snacks to peddle in the streets: grilled peanuts, popcorn and ginger juice. Hearing the generator at the local bar shut off, you stack bowls of your mother’s specialties on your head and hurry to meet the village men as they celebrate the latest soccer match. You offer fried plantains, sweet potatoes and cassava, crisp with fragrant peanut oil.
This month, you turned 15. Soon, you expect to marry a man at least twice your age. Within another year, you’ll carry your first baby on your back. You hope your husband will allow you to return to school or learn a trade.
Long ago, your older brothers passed their high-school leaving exams. The eldest studies engineering at university. The second graduated from teacher-training college, and the third works at a nearby government office — one of the few salaried occupations in your country.
Your parents rejoice in their sons’ academic success; it brings your family a measure of economic security — an excellent return on investment. Your family will prosper.
You and your older sister completed primary school with certificates of merit, exceeding your community’s expectations. Your family speaks of you with pride. Your domestic skills attracted the attention of respectable families in the village, and your father now has several alliances to consider. Whomever he chooses as your husband will pay a substantial dowry.
Had you stayed in school, your marriage options would be fewer. An educated girl sparks no interest among village men. After a certain age, a girl cannot marry and enjoy the security of a husband. Your mother argued for you to leave school — like your sister before you — to prepare for marriage. Your father sadly agreed.
You are his favorite, the child he carried, running for miles to a hospital, as you convulsed with malaria. An old man now, he fears he can no longer protect you.
You will be beautiful on your wedding day.
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
When you were young, did your parents read you bedtime stories?
One summer my youngest sister lived with me. She was 18, between high school and college. My daughter was 6. Every night, I read the two of them bedtime stories. Together, we finished the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit and the entire Chronicles of Narnia.
Sept. 8 is International Literacy Day, a time to recognize how crucial literacy is to social development, along with the intrinsic benefits of reading and writing.
Children in developing countries often don’t share the experience of bedtime reading. At night, when families sit together in the darkness, parents sometimes tell stories — folk tales or oral history about ancient gods and kings, proud empires and illustrious ancestors. But many of these adults are illiterate, and books are scarce in their countries. Electricity, if it exists at all, is unreliable. On the equator, days are short. The sun rises at 6 a.m. and sets at 6 p.m. every day, regardless of the season.
In some countries where ChildFund works, there are no bookstores or public libraries; lack of demand results in no supply. Whatever reading material is available is far too expensive for all except the very wealthy. In the end, there is no culture of reading.
Even school classrooms often lack textbooks. Teachers lecture from hand-written notebooks — signed and stamped by the government ministry. They write on the chalkboard, and children copy into their own notebooks. Transcription errors handed down over the years create some misconceptions.
Research shows that, during story time, children bond with their parents, learning to read by matching the colorful pictures in their books to the storyline. Children also learn to think critically by observing the characters’ behavior. Bedtime stories begin a lifetime of reading.
Literacy is a fundamental human right. According to UNESCO, it’s the foundation for lifelong learning. It transforms lives, empowering people to improve their health, education and income. Without literacy, social and human development stalls.
UNESCO’s theme for International Literacy Day 2013 is Literacies for the 21st Century. In the United States, elementary school children learn computer-literacy skills, which are considered critical to success in modern society. Yet most of my 19-year-old information technology students in Guinea had never seen a computer.
Our measures for literacy in developing countries are limited to basic book-literacy. In Afghanistan, only 12 percent of youth attend secondary school. Of all of the countries we serve, Ethiopia has the lowest youth literacy rate — 63 percent for males and 47 percent for females. Only 16 percent of Ethiopian youths attend secondary school.
In many African countries, achieving literacy in their country’s official language (English, French, Spanish, Arabic or Portuguese) doesn’t occur until secondary school. Elementary school children are mostly taught in their local languages. They may not be able to write letters to their sponsors without assistance.
The United Nations declared Aug. 12 as International Youth Day in 1999, so ChildFund is taking this week to focus on challenges that especially affect teens and young adults, as well as celebrate young people who are showing strong leadership in the countries we serve.
Reporting by ChildFund Ethiopia
Mekdes, an 18-year-old girl from Ethiopia, received a one-year scholarship in March 2012 through ChildFund and our Twitter followers to mark International Women’s Day. We checked back with her in July 2013 to see how she was doing.
“I trained in hair dressing for six months and graduated in September 2012,” Mekdes reports. “I started working in one hair salon in our village four months ago, earning a monthly salary of 600 birr [approximately US$32] that enabled me to fulfill our basic needs and cover the medical cost for my grandmom, who has asthma. I have also bought a cell phone for myself and also started to fulfill my needs, such as clothing and shoes.”
Mekdes was chosen as a scholarship recipient for a Twitter campaign ChildFund launched in honor of International Women’s Day. She had encountered many hardships, having lost her father at a young age; her mother couldn’t take care of Mekdes on her own. She also had to drop out of secondary school despite having good grades after her grandmother lost her job. When we met her last year, Mekdes had to work as a hairdresser and a day laborer, but today she has the hope of one day owning her own business.
She has passionate feelings about International Women’s Day because it demonstrates that all women have the potential to be productive and involved in community development. Mekdes also explained that since women are vulnerable in many ways and are sometimes affected more by poverty, the need for supporting them in their pursuits is important.
“In the future, I have a plan to get further training in a boys’ beauty salon, and I have a plan to open my own beauty salon,” Mekdes says. “After fulfilling the income need, which is a priority for us to survive, I will continue my education. I would like to thank ChildFund for helping me to be successful in my life.”
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
Think about your most important memories. Who figures in them? Your family, most likely.
So what makes a family? The United Nations defines family in residential terms: a household of people related by blood, marriage or adoption, making common provisions for food, shelter and other essentials of survival.
The U.N. designated 1994 as the Year of the Family, and since 1996, it has recognized the International Day of Families, celebrated annually on May 15. This year’s theme is “Advancing Social Integration and Intergenerational Solidarity.” In other words, bringing many kinds of societies and different generations together, including vulnerable groups, so they have a voice in political, social, cultural and economic decisions.
By nature, families make long-term commitments. Parents care for children and, in turn, adult children support ill and elderly parents. Especially in developing countries, families share resources across generations. Families also decide together about major purchases, work division and savings.
What Households Look Like
Marriage, childbearing, adoption, death, migration and divorce directly affect households. Income and other socioeconomic variables affect fertility rates and — over time — the number of children. Other factors such as delayed marriage, reduction in child mortality rates and housing shortages can lead to an increase the number of adult children living at home.
Large households with many children correlate with low personal income and, on a national basis, high fertility rates correlate with low gross national product (GNP).
In the countries we serve, three-fourths of households include two spouses, although in Sub-Saharan Africa, one-third of families have a single parent or a single grandparent as head of household. In Kenya, where elderly widows often raise grandchildren orphaned by AIDS, more than a third of households are female-headed.
Effects of Migration
Youth migration poses another challenge to family structures. In Africa, rural poverty and youth unemployment is reaching crisis proportions, affecting communities we serve in Ethiopia, The Gambia, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Mozambique, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Zambia.
In 1950, only 11 percent of Africans lived in cities, but by 1996, nearly a third had migrated from rural areas in search of jobs, social mobility and other opportunities. The U.N. projects that half of all Africans will live in urban areas by 2025. Family ties still survive because city dwellers often send money home, but distance and poverty can shred such bonds.
As we acknowledge the fragility of families, we also celebrate their inherent strengths — loyalty, support and shared history. We invite you to invest in training for young adults and single mothers through a gift to our Family Livelihood fund.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund staff writer
Having children is hard work, no matter where you live and what kind of assistance you have available. But think of a mother living in a developing country. She may not be able to give birth in a hospital, and she may lack the proper nutrition that both she and her baby need to survive. As we prepare to celebrate Mother’s Day, here are some ways to show your appreciation for mothers who are striving to raise children in difficult circumstances. You even can give a gift in your own mother’s name if you’d like.
The Mama Kit, available through ChildFund’s Gifts of Love & Hope catalog, has supplies for a pregnant woman in Uganda to use during and after delivery, and qualified health professionals provide education for women to ensure safe birthing experiences. This is important because Uganda has a high infant mortality rate of 64 deaths for every 1,000 live births (2012), according to the CIA World Fact Book. For $35, an expectant woman and her baby have a better chance to survive.
Another item in the catalog is medicine for children and mothers in Liberia, protecting them from parasites, malaria and low hemoglobin levels. For $50, you can help stock ChildFund-supported clinics, which are run by trained community health volunteers. Health posts bring vital medication and education to communities that would otherwise go without.
The catalog features other gifts that make for great Mother’s Day presents. Mothers in Vietnam will benefit greatly from a small micro-loan of $137, which will allow them to start their own agricultural businesses. The income they earn provides food, clothing and educational opportunities for their children. In Honduras you can buy books for first-grade classrooms for only $9. When children learn how to read, the whole family benefits.
Mothers around the world want the best for their children. This Mother’s Day, consider helping a mom.
By Silvia Ximenes, ChildFund Timor-Leste
Cristina Moniz was busy as usual one morning three years ago, getting her children up for school and preparing breakfast for them and her husband, Joaquim Lopez, a police officer in the Timor-Leste district of Covalima. She passed by her 7-year-old son Deonizio’s room, and to her surprise, he was still in bed asleep.
Approaching his bed, Cristina discovered that Deonizio had a fever.
“I felt not well at all, got headaches and vomited all the time,” Deonizio recalls today. “With all those conditions, it prevented me from going out; I couldn’t go to school or play around with my friends.”
It turned out that Deonizio had malaria, one of the deadliest diseases in the developing world, especially for children. He and Cristina first went to the village health post, Salele Community Health Center, which referred Deonizio to the hospital, where he had a blood test analyzed.
Cristina was shocked that her son had malaria, but the health center’s staff advised her to give Deonizio anti-malarial medication on time and keep the home clean and mosquito-free. This isn’t an easy task for Cristina, who now has five children and many duties. But insecticide-treated bed nets that arrived from ChildFund in 2011 have helped.
“Before getting the bed nets, there were many mosquitoes around the house,” Cristina says. “We are happy because there are no more mosquitoes, no more sickness. Now, my family and I can sleep safely away from mosquitoes. No more malaria in our family. Deonizio can go to school any time,” she notes.
“I feel sure that mosquito will no longer bite me when I sleep under the bed net,” adds Deonizio, who is 10 now. “I’ll be freely doing my daily activities as usual, going to school, playing with friends.”
Having recognized World Malaria Day recently, we’ve learned about how many children are at risk of contracting this preventable disease in developing countries like Timor-Leste. Malaria kills 200,000 children worldwide each year, and many more become sick. However, the gift of a medicated mosquito net can mean good health, education and fulfilled potential for children in need like Deonizio and his brothers.
By Kate Andrews
We all have friends or family members who have everything they want or need. They definitely don’t want one more thing taking up space on the coffee table. ChildFund has a great solution: Donate a gift to a child in your loved one’s name.
ChildFund’s Gifts of Love & Hope 2012 catalog offers all sorts of needed items (at many price points) that help children and entire communities. For the full selection, visit our online catalog, but we would like to highlight a few gifts here.
A chicken farm with 50 chicks — a food and income generator in Mexico and Brazil — is $144, or $72 for 25 chicks. Each chicken farm will help an average of 10 children.
Banana starter plants are important to families in Uganda who often struggle to meet their children’s nutritional needs. A gift of 20 plants, costing $35, can provide food and a possible cash crop. The extra income fills other needs like education, clothing and medication.
Another gift that leads to self-sufficiency is a set of gardening tools, which cost $54. Children can use hoes, spades, pitchforks and more to tend vegetable gardens. This gift comes from requests by children in Belarus, Ethiopia, Mexico and Zambia.
If you’re having a hard time choosing a specific gift, donations to the fund for Children’s Greatest Needs provide help to many children in dire need, whether they have limited access to clean water and food, or live in a region affected by political violence or a natural disaster.
Just in the past two months, Guatemala experienced a strong earthquake, and the Philippines felt the wrath of Typhoon Bopha. You can donate the amount you prefer on your order form.
To provide information about your gift to your loved one, you can even print a last-minute card from our website.
Happy holidays to you and yours!
By Kate Andrews
Who knew we had such musical (and comic) talent here at ChildFund’s international office? See for yourself with our 12 Days of Christmas Remix video that highlights selections from this year’s Gifts of Love & Hope catalog. A fruit tree sapling, a team of oxen, 12 head of cattle and other gifts are featured in song, all performed by ChildFund staff.
Instead of “five golden rings,” we have “five garden tools,” sung by Matthew Straw and Jetta Washington from our sponsor care department.
That’s a traditionally memorable line in the original song (can anyone forget Miss Piggy in the Muppets’ version?), and Matt and Jetta make the most of it. Matt says they drew some attention the day before the shoot while practicing in the parking lot with props. “We wanted to have the most impact,” he says of their decision to sing number five.
Melissa Wade of the marketing department is part of the team of “biker girls” and also sings the line about “11 wellness checkups.” She’s the only one pretending to ride a bicycle, in case you have trouble identifying her. Now “everybody walks past me doing that,” she jokes. “Typical Melissa, being silly.”
The video, which was filmed in ChildFund’s library after work hours, was a lot of fun to make, and everyone came up with their own performance ideas, the participants say. They hope the video will encourage people to donate gifts from the catalog, which are requested by children in the 31 countries ChildFund serves. Celeste Pounds, the senior marketing specialist who impersonates an ox in the video, was involved in creating the catalog from day one.
As for the video, it’s worth looking a little ridiculous if we can help children, she jokes, although she did put on her sunglasses “in hopes of not being identifiable.” She adds that it was fun to spend time with colleagues in a setting away from the typical work environment, and the “milk mustache” and garden tool lines are among her favorite parts of the video.
Ruth Iswariah, a global human resources generalist, took on two roles: narrating the beginning and end of the video and singing the “two sturdy shoes” line, which she does in Hindi, the national language of India. Many children in developing countries lack sturdy shoes, and Ruth takes that situation seriously, so she asked a friend to let her daughter be in the video to represent the children who need shoes.
“Even though the video is funny, it’s moving,” Ruth says. We encourage you to watch the 12 Days of Christmas Remix, share it with your friends and family, and consider giving a gift to a child in need.
By Kate Andrews
Are you planning to hit the doorbuster sales on Black Friday (or, as these events creep into Thanksgiving, Gray Thursday)? You may already have your game plan: dashing first to the electronics department, or maybe toward the toy section, depending on what you’re after. We want you to take a minute and consider buying some necessities for a child who won’t get a video game or an electric scooter for Christmas. She may be hoping for a mattress instead.
ChildFund International has its own gift guide for people in need around the world, with prices that can fit almost any budget. Plus, these gifts will make you — and others — feel good for much longer than a month. We’ve prepared some comparisons:
For $40, you can buy a Blu-ray player. Or for $35, you can purchase a “Mama Kit” for a pregnant woman in Uganda. This gift helps ensure that she will have a safer delivery with supplies that she can use during and after the birth of her child.
“Call of Duty: Black Ops 2” is the most popular video game in the country right now. It costs about $60. A mattress, which can keep two small siblings from sleeping on a dirt floor in Ethiopia or Uganda, costs $39. The bedding is made locally, so you’re also helping the community’s economy.
Some of you may buy a piece of jewelry, say, a pair of diamond stud earrings, which are about $200 on sale. Consider feeding 30 orphans for a week in India. Cost: $120.
Furby is back, and it’s one of the most popular toys for this holiday season. These robotic plush toys are $60. For the same cost, you can purchase real animals that can help a family: six chickens for $58, or a pair of rabbits for $59. Children in Kenya raise the baby rabbits, which they sell. Often the money goes toward school supplies or other important needs.
Of course, you may be considering some high-ticket items. A tablet, perhaps, or a television? The newest version of the iPad costs about $500 on sale. A dairy cow costs $497, providing nourishment and income to a family in Ethiopia, the Philippines or Sri Lanka. A wheelchair for a child in Ethiopia costs $398.
A television can cost anywhere from $400 to $1,500 for a top-of-the-line LED TV with a 55-inch screen. Consider putting some money toward a hand pump that will provide water for an entire Indian village. Price tag: $1,429.
We at ChildFund want you to have a wonderful holiday season, with plenty of time with loved ones and good cheer. As you are giving thanks for your good fortune, we ask that you consider those who are in need. For more donation suggestions, please visit ChildFund’s Gifts of Love & Hope online catalog.
Reporting by ChildFund Bolivia
Of Maria Elena’s nine children, she and her husband still have six growing under their care on the outskirts of a big city in Bolivia. All girls, their names are Angelica, Eva, Margot, Gabriela, Rosmary and Nazareth.
And then there is Regina. She belongs to them all, thanks to a contribution through ChildFund.
A few years ago, Maria Elena’s family received a cow through ChildFund’s Gifts of Love & Hope catalog. The girls named her Regina. Maria Elena says Regina was the “greatest surprise and blessing” of their lives.
The cow provided a steady supply of fresh milk for the girls during their growing years, with enough extra that Maria Elena was able to share milk with the community center each week. This helped ChildFund’s local partner organization, Lucerito, in its programs to reduce malnutrition, which is one of the main causes of child mortality in the area. Lucerito also offers after-school support activities, access to health care and skills development workshops. Several of Maria Elena’s girls participate in the programs.
When Regina has baby calves, Maria Elena and her family give them to other families, creating a chain of benefits that has extended and multiplied — literally — within the community.
This gift of love continues to yield more gifts of love, making a difference in the lives of many growing children who live in extreme poverty in Bolivia.
Please visit our online catalog and choose a special gift for a child in ChildFund’s programs.