Sept. 21 is the United Nations-designated International Day of Peace, celebrated throughout the world.
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
When I first moved to Senegal, I learned a local language. For official business we spoke French, but in the field we spoke Wolof, the language of teranga, kalante and jamm — hospitality, joking kinship and peace.
When greeting someone in Wolof, the answer is always “peace, only peace.” How are you, how’s your household, and your work, your farm, your herds, your day (or night), how’s the family (just double-checking) and, ending the ceremony, are you all in peace? Jamm’ rekk.
Life in Senegal was peaceful. Senegal’s first president, a famous poet and war hero, was Catholic and part of the Serère population in a predominantly Muslim, Wolof land. Léopold Sédar Senghor, who served as president from 1960 to 1980, transformed his nation into an exceptionally tolerant and democratic society. A visionary in human and economic development, Senghor led Senegal to independence.
Years later, I lived in neighboring Guinea, where joking kinship also reigns. Studying Pular there, I immediately recognized the ritual response: jam tun, only peace. Guinea’s recent history has been much more turbulent than Senegal’s, and the U.N. designated the country in its Human Development Index as one of the world’s 10 least developed.
Lacking peace, a country struggles to educate its children. It can’t provide health care, employment opportunities for youth, infrastructure or public services, safety and security, or a stable economy. Since a country and its peoples have no future without peace, peace is a human right.
Each summer, the Fund for Peace publishes a Fragile States Index (FSI), scoring countries on 12 socioeconomic and political indicators. Overall scores fall into four categories: Sustainable, Stable, Warning and Alert. A county’s FSI level often tracks closely to its HDI tier: Very High, High, Medium or Low.
The HDI measures health, education and income (adjusted for inequality) at a moment in time, while the FSI predicts future conflict. Factors such as the number of refugees, uneven economic development, the flight of educated citizens to other countries, economic decline and poverty, human rights and external influences are all taken into account to determine a country’s status in the Fragile States Index.
Over the past decade, Belarus and Indonesia — countries where ChildFund works — experienced the most notable improvements in the world. Senegal, on the other hand, shows the worst long-term performance. In 2007, Senegal was on par with Brazil. Then the country tumbled 55 places and, in the 2014 report, is now at the Very High Warning level. Why? Refugees from the conflicts in Guinea and Mali, emigration of Senegal’s educated populace, political competition and demographic pressures, such as drought, flooding, food and water scarcity and chronic malnutrition. Guinea, trapped at High Alert, is unlikely to improve. Ebola has devastated the nation’s precarious health system and damaged its economy.
Please consider sharing your peace with a child in Guinea or Senegal.
Reporting by ChildFund Mexico
One day, Antonio felt terrible, suffering stomach pain. He needed to go to the hospital, about a four-hour drive from his home village, Huehuetla, in Mexico’s Puebla state.
It turned out the problem was appendicitis, and despite the long trip, Antonio’s operation was successful. He was able to get to the hospital with the help of ChildFund Mexico, in which he’s been enrolled since he was 2, and the support of his sponsor. Antonio is known for his smile, his good grades and his teaching skills. Yes, even at 10, he’s a teacher.
Antonio speaks two languages — Spanish and Totonaco, his community’s language.
His gift is being a translator for his mother and grandmother, especially when they need to go to the doctor.
Antonio knows that his family members, who speak only Totonaco, have a hard time communicating with Spanish-speaking doctors. So when he accompanies his mother and grandmother to clinics, Antonio is able to tell them what the doctor is saying and respond to the doctor in Spanish.
He also teaches Spanish and Totonaco in the community.
He starts the Totonaco class for children by saying:
“Pastakgasinil.” (Thank you.)
Antonio’s family is poor, but they have better access to health care and nutritious food through ChildFund and the local partner organization. In return, the family members volunteer their time and skills to help others.
Antonio says that he wants to major in math in college, and he dreams about owning a store, earning money to help his family.
He adds: “Hasta chale,” goodbye in Totonaco.
Read our story from Saturday about the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.
By Meg Carter, Sponsorship Communication Specialist
Every continent is home to languages, cultures, histories and beliefs dating to pre-colonial times, which we often place under the umbrella of “indigenous cultures.” In many countries, indigenous populations fall into conflict with rulling governments and majority populations, and other times, their languages and traditions gradually disappear through assimilation. Poverty and isolation are other common challenges.
Aug. 9 is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, a day to recognize and honor these ancient cultures. Let’s take a look at Bolivia, one of the countries where ChildFund works. The Quechua and Aymara proudly trace their origins to the Incan Empire. Nearly three out of four Bolivians belong to one of 37 native peoples. The country’s population speaks 42 languages, and two extinct languages also have been discovered.
Many of Bolivia’s indigenous groups believe in reciprocity, particularly in nature. According to their traditions, when people fail to live in harmony with their environment, their bodies weaken, their spiritual well-being decreases, and the crops they depend on start to fail. The country’s diversity extends to its crafts, music and cuisine.
Bolivian women weave cloth by hand on wooden looms, using hand-spun and hand-dyed fibers. They produce rugged cloth in distinctive colors with wild cotton, twisted together with agave or wool from the family’s herd of alpaca, llama or other animals.
Some regional textile patterns date back more than 1,000 years, featuring Incan designs. Images of stone carvings at temples grace everyday apparel: ponchos, bolsas and bolsitas (large and small drawstring bags), chumpi or ch’uspa (hand-woven belts or bags), unku (tunics), monedero (purses), and ch’ullo (knitted caps).
In the evenings, people play flutes fashioned from aquatic reeds, creating a fusion of Incan chants and Spanish dance tunes. Traditional musicians favor pan pipes and quena (a flute with notched ends), accompanied by the charango, a small, 10-stringed instrument resembling a ukulele.
Along with corn, potatoes and beans, quinoa — a grain rich in vitamins and minerals — forms the basis of Bolivia’s indigenous diets. Known as the lost crop of the Incas, quinoa is traditionally prepared in soups, stews, sweet or savory fritters and spiced drinks.
Below is a simple recipe for p’isque, the Quechuan word for stew.
P’isque de Quinoa (serves 6-8)
1 cup water
1 cup broth (chicken or vegetable)
1 cup quinoa
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup julienned onion
1 cup peeled, chopped tomato
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 cup milk
1 cup soft mild cheese, shredded
Combine water, broth and quinoa in a saucepan; bring to a boil, then cook over medium heat about 15 minutes, until the liquid is completely absorbed.
In a separate pan, sauté onion in butter until soft, stir in chopped tomato and cumin and cook to a sauce. Reduce heat. Add quinoa and milk. Stir in cheese. When the stew reaches the boiling point again, add the eggs and continue stirring until fully cooked.
Serve with boiled potatoes and/or chunks of roasted chicken.
By Saroj Pattnaik, ChildFund India
At Avadi Municipal Middle School in Thirvalluru, India, the story of the animal kingdom is literally painted on the walls. Each day, students entering the school are greeted by a massive mural, a colorful landscape with wild animals in their environment.
On another wall of the fourth-grade classroom are posters demonstrating fruits and vegetables and their importance in our daily diet.
“These are things our students get to see every day,” teacher P. Jayanthi says. “They not only see those paintings and posters but learn a lot from them. Now, it is easy for us to teach our students through these materials.”
The paintings and other learning materials were made available to the school by ChildFund India under its Enhanced Education Quality Improvement Program (EQuIP). Supported by the Caterpillar Foundation, this program is being implemented in about 100 primary and middle schools around Chennai, the capital city of the southernmost Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
The three-year project, which started in September 2011, seeks to make comprehensive quality improvements in 100 schools in Villivakkam and Ambattur areas of Thiruvallur and Chennai districts of Tamil Nadu. These schools are run by the government and most students are from impoverished homes. Many are from the first generation of their families to attend school, so they may lack full support at home. So far, the project has reached more than 4,800 students.
“These wall paintings and hangings have made our task fairly easy. They not only help the classroom look great, but also help us in a great way to engage children in learning activities continuously,” says Mercy, a teaching assistant.
“All the classrooms of our school have some kind of thematic wall paintings, and we have observed that the paintings have helped gain students’ focus and increase learning,” she adds. “This has helped us greatly in teaching slower learners or those who take a longer time to grasp any subject material. We are thankful to ChildFund India for this support.”
Under EQuIP, schools were provided with learning modules specially designed for delayed learners, as well as workbooks, whiteboards, pencils, art materials, science sets, ceiling fans, round classroom tables and computers, among other resources. ChildFund has also appointed teachers trained to work with delayed learners.
The project has the following key objectives:
“Many slower learners suffer from low self-esteem and lack confidence,” says teacher N. Nalini. “You can address this not only by praising small achievements but also by personalizing lessons.
“I always keep this in mind and encourage them to work on their learning abilities. I encourage children to use our learning materials to observe, predict and solve problems. I invite them to tell stories and revise lessons on a regular basis. They like the attention given to them.” When the project started last year in this school, about two dozen children were designated as delayed learners. Now, 20 of these students have improved dramatically and are at par with their peers, she adds.
Eight-year-old Pallikondal had a problem in identifying animals a year ago. But today, she says, “I know everything about these animals in this painting,” pointing to the elephants.
School Management Committee member M. Laxmi is pleased about the progress her three grandchildren have made at school. “They are all doing well in their studies. I am very happy.”
Reporting by ChildFund Kenya
Children enrolled in ChildFund’s programs near Nairobi participated in an art exhibition featuring photos and paintings they made, often depicting their surroundings.
Weslyne, who is 13, shows a photo he took of the Dandora dump near his home. Covering an area of 30 acres, the dump accepts about 850 tons of solid waste generated daily by the 3.5 million inhabitants of the city of Nairobi, Kenya. The dump, which is the largest in Africa,was once a quarry that the City Council of Nairobi sought to use temporarily. But it still exists, 40 years later, despite having been declared full.
Residents have to live with the stench, trash and dirt. Waste pickers pounce on trash once it is offloaded by incoming trucks. Birds, pigs and people scavenge heaps of rubbish for food, scrap metal, polythene bottles and bags, which are often sold. Weslyne explains that the dump also attracts children and youth who would rather scavenge than go to school. His photo shows a boy drinking water from a bottle that was probably scavenged from the trash.
Dennis, 14, also lives in Dandora. He explains that many children in his school smoke. Because of lack of parental guidance and peer pressure, boys will begin to start smoking to “fit in, be cool and be adultlike.”
Regina, 14, comes from Mukuru’s fuata nyayo (the Swahili term for outskirts). Mukuru is a slum on the eastern side of Nairobi. It is one of the largest slums in the city, with a population of around 700,000. Mukuru is sub-divided into eight villages and is located in the middle of the main industrial area of the city, bordering the Nairobi River. It is characterized by congestion, narrow alleys, poor drainage, lack of sanitary facilities and open sewers. Regina explains that her photo shows children walking alone and dangerously close to the edge of the river.
Reporting by Tenagne Mekonnen, Africa Regional Communications Manager
In 1976, thousands of black school children took to the streets of Soweto, South Africa. In a march stretching more than half a mile, they protested the inferior quality of their education and demanded their right to be taught in their own language. Hundreds of young boys and girls were shot down by security forces. In the two weeks of protest that followed, more than 100 people were killed and more than 1,000 were injured.
To honor the memory of those killed and the courage of all those who marched, the Day of the African Child has been celebrated on June 16 since 1991, when it was first initiated by the Organization of African Unity (now known as the African Union). ChildFund takes part in the day, which draws attention to the lives of African children today. This year’s theme was A Child-Friendly, Quality, Free and Compulsory Education for All Children in Africa.
Below, we offer excerpts of speeches given by four young women enrolled in ChildFund Ethiopia’s programs, who spoke to the African Union in Addis Ababa on June 16.
Eden, age 16.
“Governments have the ability to give quality, free and compulsory education for all children in Africa by having a meeting with all African leaders and discuss the issues about what things can be done to create a better education system and prepare training for all African teachers.”
Helen, age 14.
“Even though formal schooling is important, this is not enough. Our families are the people that we see when we first open our eyes. And we learn a lot of things from them and most importantly from the society. If a child is to be educated, then the contribution of families, society and friends is very important. This is because they build us in a very faithful, good manner. This is what we are looking forward to, and I believe we are on our way.”
Aziza, age 15.
“Once upon a time, there were two young ladies. They were best friends, and they grew up in the same place. One of the girls has an interest to learn and study. Even when she was a child, she always asked questions. She loves asking and knowing different things. Even though the girl always wants to learn, her mother doesn’t have enough money to send her to school. So, because of their economic status, she spent her time helping her mom.
“The other girl never wants to go to school. She hates to study, but her family was rich. Even though she went to school, when she visits her smart friend, she brings her homework for her to do.
“When they grew up, both didn’t have happy endings. The rich girl has an unhappy ending because she didn’t study, and she was not strong. What about the smart girl? She was a smart, intelligent and hard-working girl, but she had an unhappy life because she didn’t have opportunities to learn. How did I know about the girl? Because she was my mother!
“She supports me, although she doesn’t have much money; she makes sure to buy me school materials and other essential things. By her strong heart, I haven’t any inferiority. Rather, I always worked hard to be an intelligent and smart girl, but the secret behind me is my dearest mother.”
Bemnet, age 14.
“Disabled children are not being educated; they might not be in a position to fight for their right to be educated. We need to fight for their right and give them educational materials. To give disabled children an education, government and family have a main role. If we provide a free and quality education for children, they can easily get self-confidence and a good education, which enables them to be successful and responsible citizens.”
By Nicole Duciaume, Americas Region Sponsorship Manager
Driving along a packed-down dirt road in Ecuador, we crossed a wood-plank bridge and saw some elderly grandmothers washing clothes by hand in the stream. An enrolled child lived nearby, and we could go speak with the family if we wanted. I jumped out of the car in record time and made my way over to the grandmothers, who greeted us with hearty smiles and soapy waves.
We talked with the mother about her children’s health and development, as well about ChildFund’s programs and what has changed in their lives in the year and a half since we started working in this community. The mother talked about the hopes and dreams she has for her children, and we talked about their ongoing needs and struggles as a family. During the conversation, she not only allowed us into her home but also invited us to take photos.
The two-room house has walls made of plywood and split reeds, leaving gaps where rain and insects come in, plus a tin roof and a bare concrete floor. The kitchen has a simple stove and water from a well. The other room has two beds, one for the parents and the other shared by three children.
Outside, there’s a wooden chicken coop next to a latrine constructed with leftover slats of wood, metal sheets and a plastic banner. Next to the home is the stream where families wash their clothes and often bathe. Here is a collage of some of our pictures:
By Christine Ennulat, ChildFund Staff Writer
I couldn’t stop looking at her: the regal profile, the swanlike neck, the strong, elegant shoulders. She looked like a dancer. She looked like Nefertiti, out of place amid the trash heaps and makeshift shacks of the Haitian slum where we met.
It was 1983, and I was a teenager on a summer mission trip. That day, we had walked through the fringes of Cap-Haitien to attend an open-air church service. After three weeks in Haiti, I thought I’d seen serious poverty. The uphill hike through the slum showed me different.
She was a congregation member, one of several young mothers not much older than the coltish adolescent girls who chased each other, laughing and barefoot, over the dirt paths strewn with bits of plastic, metal and glinting glass. Her baby cooed in her arms, his tiny hands opening and closing like starfish. She saw me looking and raised her eyebrows, her body language asking, Want to hold him?
I accepted his warm weight, and he and I enjoyed a little conversation of nonsense and smiles until my group stood to leave and it was time for me to hand him back.
She held up her hand and looked away: No. Keep him. Take him with you.
It took me a moment to fully grasp her meaning. Three decades later, I still don’t want to.
Three decades later, I am a mother, too. And I still think about that young woman. I call her Queen.
I also think about another girl in that mission group — let’s call her Maria — who also had my attention that day. In fact, she had everyone’s attention, because her tender soul was so moved by the poverty she saw that she cried prettily all the way down the hill.
This enraged me. I didn’t know why.
All these years later, though, I think I understand. Part of it was my wanting to feel as “deeply” as Maria clearly did. Plus, my anger wasn’t satisfying, which made me angrier.
Even more annoying was that Maria was getting all kinds of strokes for leaking all her feelings all over the place. But what good did they do? What was the point?
Not that my anger did any good, either. But it did plant a seed.
Queen has come to mind now and again over the years, especially after I had my own babies, when her image would pierce the idyllic, milky haze of (suburban, privileged) new motherhood at odd times. Eventually, I became aware that what had felt so wrong on that day was the friction between Maria’s pretty tears and that young mother’s quiet, tired dignity.
Queen deserved better.
The mothers I’ve met in my travels for ChildFund deserve better: the mother who got married at 13, got pregnant at 14, lost that baby and had another soon after. The widowed mother trying to keep her own AIDS in check at least until she can get her daughter through school. The mother who weeps over her husband’s beatings, and then over beating her little boy when she reaches her wits’ end. The young women who keep their pregnancies secret for fear that evil spirits will attack. The mothers who lose children to the evil spirits of malnutrition, infection, conflict.
The mothers who are working to heal — themselves, their children. The mothers who are reaching out for support, who are learning, who are fighting their way past their own fears to take hold of their own power and help their own children beat the odds.
“She’s so full of love!” my group leaders exclaimed about Maria. “So compassionate!”
What I understand now is that true love means knowing, and knowing that you don’t know. And compassion? Compassion wants action. Compassion needs legs.
I’ve got to hand it to Maria, who, after all, did spend that summer sweating on that orphanage construction project, just like I did. And she probably grew up, just like I did.
Just like I hope Queen did. Like I hope her little boy did.
By Nicole Duciaume, Americas Region Sponsorship Manager
Read Nicole’s first post about her trip to Dominica, a Caribbean island nation where ChildFund works.
I often say that ChildFund’s work begins where the pavement ends, and this rang true in Dominica. Within a few blocks of a docked cruise ship, about 10 miles outside of the capital of Roseau, we parked the car and walked up a path of crumbling stones and packed earth.
It was there that I met Miranda, 31, and her 4-year-old daughter, Lashana. Miranda and her five children, who are enrolled in ChildFund’s programs, live in a small two-bedroom home she inherited from her grandmother. The home is made of weathered wood panels atop cement blocks. There are gaps where the ceiling and walls don’t meet, and broken windows outnumber whole ones.
They have lived without electricity for more than five years, and their bathroom is in the backyard, with a pit latrine and a hose for a shower, plus a few panels of plywood and rusted metal sheets for privacy. Her three sons, aged 17, 14 and 12, share one tiny bedroom; her two daughters, aged 9 and 4, sleep in a twin bed in the hall outside of the bedroom that Miranda shares with Lashana’s father.
Miranda does her best for the family. She encourages her children to go to school so they will have more opportunities than she had. The school down the road is supported by ChildFund and embraces the child-friendly methodology (including alternative discipline, age-appropriate furniture, bright and engaging learning environments and parental engagement). We had visited the school earlier in the day to distribute sleeping cots for preschoolers and to see a renovated library where children can read, study and imagine.
Lashana suffers from asthma and other respiratory problems, which often forces her to return home early from preschool; she often falls ill if any of her classmates are sick. Miranda believes in the power of early stimulation and education, something ChildFund encourages throughout Dominica and in other countries, so she has educational charts at home to promote Lashana’s learning of the alphabet, numbers, vegetables and fruits.
Miranda doesn’t have a formal education, so her employment options are limited.
She takes on odd jobs, anything to provide for her family — cleaning homes, washing laundry by hand and so on. Miranda also keeps a small garden in the backyard to feed her family and sell the surplus produce in the market. But heavy rains this year ruined her crops and waterlogged the seeds. As a result, the family is having a hard time making ends meet. This is why Lashana was all smiles as she told me her most exciting news: She recently received a goat from her ChildFund sponsor. Though Lashana knows it is her goat, she also realizes that this goat will help the entire family with milk to sell, and once they breed the goat, they will be able to supplement their income by selling the offspring.
The day-to-day life for this family is daunting, but they have hope. Sponsors help provide hope for many children through their support of ChildFund’s programs and the families themselves. Sometimes in the form of a goat.
By Nicole Duciaume, Americas Region Sponsorship Manager
The descent onto the mountainous island is one of beauty and circus spectacular. Our small propeller plane surfed the air currents tipping left, right, up, left, left, up, right, like a toddler taking his first clumsy steps while teetering on the brink of a near-certain fall. As the plane touched down, at the end of the runway was the ocean, waves relentlessly crashing into the rocky shoreline.
Leaving the airport, I was immediately reminded of why Dominica is nicknamed the Nature Island. We passed over so many beautiful rivers and brooks that feed the rainforest canopy, which engulfed the taxi as we wound our way to my hotel, my home away from home for the week ahead. This country is nothing short of breathtaking. It is the perfect destination for hikers, divers and cruise enthusiasts.
In February, I spent a week in Roseau, Dominica, where ChildFund’s Caribbean national office is located. Dominica is about 1,400 miles southeast of Florida — past Cuba, past the Dominican Republic, past Puerto Rico.
Its beauty at first hides the harsh realities of poverty affecting the most vulnerable of the island’s inhabitants, particularly children. Seaside mansions built into the cliffs are brightly colored with Caribbean hues, as they obscure the shantytowns behind them, shacks constructed with plywood and rusted metal sheets.
Here, children sleep many to a bed. Their fathers often have left the home, and their mothers barely eke out a living. Incidents of child neglect and abuse are high, while income levels are low. The cost of living is high, too. Despite the common view that the Caribbean is better off than other parts of the developing world, the harsh living conditions of children and youth in Dominica are on par with what I have seen in some of the most remote and impoverished parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America.
This is why ChildFund works here. This is why we do what we do.
Tomorrow, Nicole reports on a family from Dominica.