By Christine Ennulat
Way back in college, I went to Haiti for six weeks on an interdenominational mission trip. Our team lived in an orphanage outside of Cap-Haitien, on Haiti’s northern coast, where our task for the summer was to add a second floor to a building in an orphanage.
The children were always around, but I remember in particular four little boys — Roro, Antoine, Roger and tiny Delice. They were a pack, always smiling, always curious about what this group of giant, sweating teenagers was up to.
I remember their throwing rocks into trees to knock down mangos and the insanely sour, thick-skinned grapefruit that I loved. I remember them looking on, grinning, as we toiled and complained while washing what must have seemed our overabundance of clothes at the orphanage’s well. I remember their small, rain-slick faces peering into the sick tent, where I suffered in quarantine with some unpleasant stomach ailment as a small river rushed past my air mattress, and Roro’s asking, “Ou malade?”
Roro was my favorite. He had twinkle to spare, and he and Delice seemed to have a special bond. I thought it was nice that the older boy looked out for the younger with such obvious care.
A few weeks into our stay, I had learned enough Creole to find out that the boys were not 8 or 9 years old, as I’d thought, but 11. All of them — including Delice, whose head reached Roro’s shoulder, and whom I’d thought was maybe 5 or 6. But as I thought about him and paid more attention, I recognized his more sober, angular countenance was at odds with his birdlike, stunted body.
When I asked the minister who ran the orphanage about his story, I learned that Delice’s mother had left him there as a toddler, and that he had been severely malnourished, which was the reason he was so small. He would grow more, but he would always be small.
Now, decades later, as I explore ChildFund’s work so that I can do my job of writing about it, I often learn hard truths. In researching our Early Child Development programs, I’ve learned about the importance of nutrition in a child’s development — physical, cognitive, behavioral and more. The other day, I ran across a widely quoted nugget from Carl Sagan, from a statement he made to Congress in 1994:
“When there isn’t enough food, the body has to make a decision about how to invest the limited foodstuffs available. Survival comes first. Growth comes second. In this nutritional triage, the body seems obliged to rank learning last. Better to be stupid and alive than smart and dead.”
For Delice, his body’s “decision” was outwardly obvious. There’s no way to know about the rest of it — what losses he may have had in his learning or social capacities — but, remembering his eyes and his demeanor, I’m pretty sure he was able to hold his own.
I like to think that Delice was one of the comparatively lucky ones — that, with the care he received in the orphanage and with a friend like Roro, he found his way in the world and has lived a productive, satisfying life.
What I know for sure, though, is that the world is too full of 11-year-olds who look like 6-year-olds and too many children who don’t survive malnutrition to reach age 5 ― children whose potential has been stolen by malnutrition and other effects of poverty. And that’s why ChildFund’s work to turn this around for children is so important.
By Kate Andrews, with reporting by Saroj Pattnaik, ChildFund India, and ChildFund Kenya staff
The first World AIDS Day was held in 1988, and a great number of medical and social advances have been made in the 24 years since then. Nevertheless, much remains to be done. Today, we turn our focus to ChildFund’s work in India and Africa.
Rajashri is a supervisor for the Link Workers Scheme (LWS), a program in India that helps children orphaned by AIDS and some who are HIV-positive. She provides medication for hundreds of children infected with the disease in 19 districts of Andhra Pradesh, a central Indian province with a population of about 76 million. Started in 2008 by the national and regional governments with help from ChildFund India, LWS targets high-risk groups with prevention and risk-reduction information.
ChildFund India has identified more than 7,400 children in Andhra Pradesh who have been orphaned or left otherwise vulnerable by AIDS or HIV.
Although African nations often receive the most attention when the topic of AIDS arises, India has approximately 2.4 million people living with HIV, the third-highest population in the world, based on a 2009 estimate by UNAIDS. According to the Indian government, the state of Andhra Pradesh reported the second-highest HIV rate in the nation.
The LWS program, which ChildFund supports, began in three districts in Andhra Pradesh in 2008, reaching 19 districts in 2011. About 23,000 volunteers have been engaged in this effort, and more than 11,600 HIV-positive patients have been identified and helped by the state’s health department.
ChildFund also is working in African countries to help prevent the spread of AIDS. In Ethiopia, we work with children, youth, parents and community leaders to provide HIV and AIDS prevention and testing interventions as well as make available social networks to counter stigma and discrimination.
Through our Strengthening Community Safety Nets program in the Addis Ababa and Oromia areas, 50,000 orphans and vulnerable children affected by HIV and AIDS have received family-centered care and support. The program builds on existing partnerships with community groups and local volunteers to build the resilience of families and community structures to support children affected by HIV, especially those under age 11.
In Kenya, where an estimated 1.2 million people are infected with HIV (the same number as the far more populous United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), a ChildFund program has helped connect HIV-positive and other vulnerable children to organizations that offer anti-retroviral treatment and social assistance.
The number of vulnerable children attending school and receiving health care has risen since the 2005 institution of Weaving the Safety Net, part of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. Today, that program has concluded, but ChildFund’s work with orphans and vulnerable children impacted by HIV and AIDS continues. As of spring 2012, more than 73,000 orphans and vulnerable children were being served in Nairobi, and 3,200 HIV-positive children were enrolled in support groups.
Lucy, a 9-year-old who is HIV-positive, lives in Lamu, an island off the coast of Kenya. She, her grandmother, her aunt and four cousins share a one-room thatched home. When Lucy was a baby, her mother died from AIDS complications. Their village had few resources to deal with the disease, but now, with ChildFund’s support, Lucy goes to a district hospital to receive anti-retroviral treatment. She is healthy and thriving at school.
At age 8, Lucy started attending a support group for children living with HIV. “I know my status, and that is why I take my medicine, so that I can remain strong to be able to go to school and also play like the other children,” Lucy says. “My teacher and some neighbors know my status, too, and I know they love and support me.”
A side benefit of ChildFund’s and others’ work in Kenya has been a greater acceptance of those affected by HIV, lessening the stigma of the disease.
“When I was requested to enroll her in a support group, I hesitated, but today Lucy shares information about the support group discussions with all of us here,” her grandmother says. “Through her, we have learned a lot about HIV and AIDS.”
By Gabriela Ramírez, ChildFund Mexico Communications Officer, and Patricia Toquica, Americas Region Communications Manager
The beginning of November marks a special celebration in most Latin American countries: the Day of the Dead. The first two days of the month are dedicated to remembering and honoring loved ones who have passed away. These celebrations have their origins in the pre-Hispanic era and symbolize death and rebirth.
Earlier this month, we had the opportunity to celebrate this occasion with the Quechua communities while visiting ChildFund programs in Ecuador. Specifically, Nov. 1 is dedicated to honoring infants, while Nov. 2 is devoted to remembering deceased adults.
One of the most common customs is the making of altars to welcome departed spirits home. Vigils are held, and families go to cemeteries to be with the souls of the departed and to present them with offerings and flowers. Ceremonial foods include the colada morada, a spiced fruit porridge, and the guagua de pan (guagua means child in Quechua language), a bread shaped as a little child, wrapped in traditional clothing and beautifully decorated as a symbol of remembrance of those infants who passed away.
Sharing the traditional foods and customs with the mothers, children and elders in the community made us reflect on the precious lives of children and sadly reminded us of the many children who die every day, especially in developing countries due to lack of water, sanitation, food or proper care. Each day, nearly 19,000 children die before their fifth birthday. That’s almost 800 every hour, according to World Health Organization’s 2011 stats.
The celebration of the Day of the Dead – also very important in other countries where ChildFund works in the Americas including Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Bolivia – was a special opportunity to honor the many children who didn’t make it to their fifth birthday. It reaffirmed our commitment to work toward providing access to health care and nutrition, educating caregivers and creating safe environments for the growth and development of millions of children born into challenging conditions around the world.
This is our commitment. We want more children to be able to celebrate the Day of the Dead, and not just be remembered on that date.
By Cynthia Price, Director of Communications
The other week I was thinking about how much we love to scare ourselves at Halloween. We dress in creepy costumes and go to horror movies. Most of the scariness, of course, is just pretend.
But at ChildFund, we’re all too aware of the threats that are much more real and much more frightening to children living in developing countries.
Few things are scarier than unsafe drinking water, hunger, diseases and even a lack of education. Here are the frightening statistics:
If you would like to make the world a little less scary this year, then consider a Halloween gift to ChildFund’s Children’s Greatest Needs fund.