In the Field

Think About Hunger This Human Rights Day

By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist

When you think of human rights, what comes to mind? For many, the phrase means the rights of freedom, equality and security; protection from slavery, torture or arbitrary arrest.

I think of hunger. So do the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Both recognize the fundamental human right to be free from hunger.

Ethiopia meal

An Ethiopian family’s meal. Photo by Jake Lyell.

In June 2007, when I first arrived in Busia, Uganda, a district bordering Kenya and Lake Victoria, I marveled at its fertility. The corn, or maize as it’s called overseas, was higher than an elephant’s eye. Leafy mounds of soil lining the dirt paths that connect each household hid new tubers — potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams and cassava.

Matooke, a plantain every Ugandan woman steams in banana leaf wrappers with crushed peanuts and chunks of smoked fish, was piled high in marketplaces. If a tomato spoiled before I could eat if, I tossed it outdoors; within a few weeks, a sturdy plant sprouted, its seeds warmed by the equatorial sun. Uganda had problems, but hunger was not one of them.

Yet when I left Busia six months later, we spoke nervously of food security. The rains had come, but not at the right times, duration, location or intensity. For centuries, rain fell reliably in certain parts of Uganda, so farmers traditionally settled and cultivated there. Then, suddenly, the rain swerved around Uganda’s arable land to spaces uninhabitable for water — forests, infested with deadly tsetse flies, and deserts, the preserve of nomadic herders. Uganda’s second harvest was not plentiful in 2007.   

Global climate change infringes on the human right to adequate food.

Ugandan mothers

Mothers in Uganda learn how to prepare healthy dishes at a nutrition workshop. Photo by Jake Lyell.

Hunger kills more children every year than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. Poor nutrition causes half of all deaths in children under age five. One of every six children in developing countries is underweight; one in three is stunted.  

South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa form hunger’s center of gravity. In Africa alone, 23 million children attend school hungry.

Small farmers make up fully half of the world’s food-insecure population. Sadly, despite producing some food, they still lack the resources to meet their families’ nutritional needs. Another 30 percent of the chronically hungry are fishers, herders and people who live in rural regions but do not own land. Poor urban dwellers round out the hunger rolls. The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization identifies four dimensions of food security: availability, access, utilization and stability. Failure of any one of these means hunger.

Worse, even when consuming sufficient calories, children can still suffer from micronutrient malnutrition. So-called hidden hunger — harder to diagnose, since it doesn’t present as a wasted body — is caused by an inadequate supply of vitamins, minerals or trace elements. And it impairs physical, emotional, behavioral and cognitive development.

Indonesian child

In Indonesia, hunger is also a serious problem.

Of the 20 countries most affected by hunger, ChildFund works in eight: Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Kenya, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Uganda and Vietnam.

According to UNICEF, Ethiopia, India, Sri Lanka and Vietnam are among the nations most successful in scaling up children’s nutrition and improving government policies. During the past decade, Ethiopia reduced stunting from 57 percent to 44 percent through a national nutrition program, provision of safety nets in the poorest areas and nutrition assistance at the community level.

We still have far to go. Please help us recognize Human Rights Day by giving a gift from the Nutrition and Agriculture section of our catalog.

In Ormoc: ‘It Was the End of the World – We’re Lucky to Be Alive’

By Julien Anseau, Asia Region Communications Manager

Julien, who has joined ChildFund’s emergency response team on the ground in the Philippines, provides a firsthand view of the damage wrought by Typhoon Haiyan in Ormoc, 60 miles southwest of Tacloban, where ChildFund have been working with children for many years and is now focusing its response.

As the ferry from Cebu pulls into Ormoc, the devastation before me is unbelievable. Buildings and houses have been flattened, electricity pylons blown down, cars turned over, palm trees ripped apart. As I disembark, people walk toward me holding out their hands and asking for food. I note the long lines of people desperate to board the ferry back to Cebu, as many try to leave this hard-hit island.

Filipino children regroup after the storm

Sunny, 13, (third from left): “I was very scared. I could hear the roofs being blown away and houses crumbling.”

My first destination is the coastal community of Naungan. Children are on the streets, fetching water, looking for food or just hanging around doing nothing. I meet Sunny, a barefoot 13-year-boy who is sponsored through ChildFund. “I was in the school (evacuation center) with my family when the storm hit,” he tells me. “The wind was furious and howling. The noise was deafening. It went on for hours. It was dark outside and the school was shaking. I was very scared. Everyone was screaming and crying and praying. I could hear houses being smashed away and I thought the school would be next. When the storm ended, we went outside and could not believe the destruction. It was the end of the world. We’re lucky to be alive.”

As in other parts of Ormoc, 90 percent of the houses in this coastal community have been completely blown away. There is no electricity, and we’re hearing that power likely will not be restored for four months. All schools are closed and are in use as evacuation centers for the thousands who no longer have homes to return to. Everywhere I go, people are going hungry and asking for food. There is a huge need for rice, a staple of the Filipino diet. Noodles and canned food are also needed. Food aid is only just reaching Ormoc, and it’s only trickling in.

Filipino girl who survived storm

Michelle, 18: “People in the evacuation center were screaming, crying and praying. I cried and cried.”

I head back into town. There are long lines of people waiting for fuel and food, adding to the chaos. As I walk along the crowded main street littered with debris, a voice calls out, “Hey, ChildFund.” I turn to see a young woman. It turns out she recognized my green T-shirt. Michelle, 18, is also sponsored through ChildFund. She tells a similar story to Sunny’s. Her house has been badly destroyed and her dad is desperately looking for construction materials to fix it. There is a huge need for roof tarpaulins and plastic sheeting in Ormoc, as the rain continues to come down, making living conditions miserable. Pneumonia and flu are already major concerns, particularly among children.

Next, I meet Manny, 21, who participates in ChildFund’s youth programs. He shows me his house in the area of San Isidro, where ChildFund serves 144 children. “This is my house,” he says when we arrive. “This is how I found it after the storm. Everything is lost, everything!”

Filipino youth in front of destroyed home

Manny, 21: “This is my house. This is how I found it after the storm. Everything is lost, everything!”

As ChildFund responds in Ormoc, we know that children are particularly vulnerable in disaster situations. Many children are wondering the streets unaccompanied, while their parents look for food and water. Children who have survived this typhoon have lost their sense of security; their world has been turned upside down. The need for psychosocial support is great.

Late last week, ChildFund has opened its first Child-Centered Space in Ormoc. These are safe havens for children to come together, take part in structured activities and, for a few hours, forget the typhoon and just enjoy being children again. I learn that 114 children of all ages have come to play, draw and sing. For the first time since the typhoon hit, smiles appear on their faces. These activities help children deal with trauma and restore some normal routines to their lives. ChildFund also provides food to the children.

As we look ahead to the long-term needs in the Philippine islands battered by the storm, we see a huge need for rebuilding homes and restoring livelihoods. Yet, local officials and communities fear Ormoc will be overlooked and that aid will bypass them because of pressing needs in nearby Tacloban.

On the day of my visit, it continues to rain and it’s getting dark, hampering relief operations. The people of Ormoc are bracing themselves for another uncomfortable night. For thousands of young people like Sunny, Michelle and Manny, it means going to bed hungry, sleeping in damp conditions and reliving the nightmare of one week ago when the storm struck.

ChildFund has launched the Philippines Relief and Recovery Fund to respond to both immediate and long-term needs in the Philippines. Relief-phase interventions will include distribution of food and non-food items, responding to immediate health needs and establishing Child-Centered Spaces. The recovery phase will include restoring livelihoods and focusing on education, health and nutrition of children, while strengthening community-based child protection systems and conducting disaster risk reduction and emergency response training and capacity building.

Learn more about ChildFund’s response and how you can help.

Quenching the Thirst for Clean Water in Timor-Leste

Some of you may have camped in the woods without a nearby water spigot. Perhaps you had to walk to a lake or river and then boil the water to sterilize it. For a day or two, that’s an adventure. But imagine having to do the same thing every day of your life.

That is the situation for many people in Timor-Leste, which became independent from Indonesia in 2002. Some villages have little infrastructure, and families are forced to walk in extreme heat or heavy rain to get water for cooking, drinking and washing. Sometimes the supply is contaminated, which leads to disease.

ChildFund has provided wells and water towers to several communities, helping thousands of families. John Chuidian, a graduate student who interned in Asia this summer, traveled to several countries and made videos for ChildFund. This one shows the challenges a Timor-Leste village faced, as well as the relief a nearby source of fresh water brings. 

Extending a Hand to Six Mexican Communities

 Reporting by ChildFund Mexico

ChildFund Mexico

ChildFund staff members with a group of youth in the community of La Mira, Mexico.

ChildFund Mexico is teaming up with ArcelorMittal Mexico, a multinational steel manufacturer, to improve conditions for children in six communities in Michoacán, Mexico.

The new community-development project, launched in late June, will directly benefit 1,300 Mexican children and reach more than 7,000 people in the town of Lázaro Cárdenas over the next nine years. The project’s main purpose is to develop sustainable improvements in education, health, nutrition and livelihoods.

children in Mexico

ChildFund Mexico staffers talk to children about what they think their community, Lázaro Cárdenas, needs.


ChildFund has worked in Mexico for 40 years, and this project continues our tradition of empowering communities to become self-sufficient. Residents of the six affected neighborhoods participated in a study last year to help ChildFund identify urgent needs and challenges.

With funding from ArcelorMittal, a new community center has been established, as well as four smaller meeting points in other areas, giving children and adults places to discuss their communities’ needs. The goal is for residents to take the lead in evolving their groups into independent community organizations over the next several years.

“Through the Integral Community Development Project of Lázaro Cárdenas, we look to promote the well-being and socio-economic growth of the communities where one of our main operations is located,” said Felicidad Cristóbal, global director of the ArcelorMittal Foundation, the company’s social investment arm. “ArcelorMittal is one of the main companies in Mexico with a long-term strategy for corporate social responsibility supporting self-sustainable development processes. That’s why we value the partnership we have established,” says Virginia Vargas, ChildFund’s national director in Mexico.

national director

Virginia Vargas, ChildFund Mexico national director.

ChildFund The Gambia Launches Alumni Association

 By Ya Sainey Gaye, ChildFund The Gambia

A group of 37 formerly sponsored children — now young adults — have formed an alumni association in The Gambia. They hope to increase awareness of ChildFund’s sponsorship program at a community level, as well as ChildFund-supported projects that improve education, early childhood development, health care and other needs.

Gambian alumni

The ChildFund The Gambia alumni association.

“To ChildFund The Gambia, I have to say that you have indeed restored and nurtured the hopes and aspirations of over 20,000 people in this country through your sponsorship program, which all of us here today benefited from,” said Alieu Jawo, who was elected chairperson of the alumni group. “This is indeed a divine investment.”

Alieu, who is now 35, runs a graphic design and printing company, owns a general merchandise brokerage and serves as a shareholder and director of an insurance firm.

The Gambia alumni chair

Alieu is now chairperson-elect of the alumni group.

“My inclusion into the sponsorship program brought hope and joy to me and my entire family,” Alieu said, “as it was a serious nightmare for an ordinary farmer like my dad and any other average farmer to be able to send his or her kid to high school. There were no good ones around my village or region.”

But with the help of his ChildFund sponsor, who paid his school fees above and beyond the monthly sponsorship, Alieu was able to excel at primary school and continue his education. Other alumni echoed Alieu’s story.

“I was privileged because it gave me the opportunity to continue my education,” said 30-year-old Fatou Bojang, who received shoes and medical supplies too. “That meant less worry and burden on my parents.”

ChildFund The Gambia hosted the forum to formally launch the alumni association in Bwiam. Participants received a briefing on ChildFund’s organizational structure, a refresher on its mission and overviews of ChildFund’s five-year strategic plan and The Gambia’s strategic plan.

Equipped with a better understanding of ChildFund’s operations in The Gambia, the group drafted a constitution and nominated candidates for an executive board. Then the members cast votes.

Fatou and child

Fatou, a former sponsored child, is now a mother, senior researcher and a part-time college lecturer.

Staff from ChildFund’s national office challenged the participants to continue to make time for the alumni association, to work in their communities and to assist ChildFund as partners to promote child development and protection. The alumni, who well recall what sponsorship means to them, expressed optimism for the future.

“My enrollment in ChildFund sponsorship program really did contribute to what I am today,” noted Demba Sowe, 37. “I am now a father of five and an interpreter at the judiciary of The Gambia.”

Girls of Grace Team Visits ChildFund Projects in Brazil

By Tassia Duarte, ChildFund Brazil

Fifteen-year-old singer-songwriter Gracie Schram, along with the team from ChildFund LIVE! partner Girls of Grace, made a visit this month to visit ChildFund’s programs in Brazil, where Gracie sponsors a 1-year-old girl.

girls making crafts

Gracie makes crafts with girls at ASCOMED, ChildFund’s partner in Medina, while a film crew captures footage.

Gracie and representatives from Girls of Grace, which holds conferences across the United States aimed at teen girls, went to our programs in Vale do Jequitinhonha and Belo Horizonte in mid-June. They captured footage for a video to use at their conferences to promote sponsorship through ChildFund, which supports the events.

In Medina, children welcomed their visitors with posters and songs, and everyone participated in a traditional round dance. Gracie played with the children and then met Jovelina, her sponsored child.

“I was actually happy, even though it’s such a hard thing to see,” says Gracie. “But it’s really cool that I’m going to be able to be a part of her future and allow her to have a better life that she wouldn’t have without sponsorship.”

In Medina, while visiting ASCOMED, ChildFund Brasil’s local partner organization, Gracie

two girls

Gracie and Jovelina.

and a few Brazilian teenage girls made crafts, and she also sang for the children. The visiting team learned more about the activities children participate in that help them develop socially, and they saw a room specially designed for the children to write letters to sponsors.

In the rural outskirts of Medina, the team learned about conditions that were disturbing: families struggling to survive in houses with no bathroom or running water, living far from the closest bus station and with poor access to education and health care. “Being so close to the poverty makes it really real, and it forces you to really think about where and who you are,” Gracie says. “And to think that people need so many things like clean water and health care, it’s really hard to see that.”

In the region of Comercinho, the team met families that have benefited from ChildFund’s assistance. Water is scarce there because of drought conditions, and the little water available has not been healthy to drink.

ChildFund has worked to protect the nearby river, so animals don’t have access to the springs, which leads to pollution. Families are now able to channel clean water to their homes. Trained “water watchers” monitor the water quality and act to preserve it, a sustainable practice that will help their children’s futures, as will sponsors like Gracie.

Gracie playing guitar

Gracie sings for an audience of children in Medina.

Community Members Band Together to Improve Childbirth Practices

By Sagita Adesywi, ChildFund Indonesia

In Indonesia’s low-income communities, the expenses related to childbirth lead to difficult decisions. Mulyana, a trained health-care volunteer (locally known as cadres) in Pakan Sari, had a miscarriage when she was three months pregnant.

“The treatment at the hospital cost me about US$400,” she recalls. “We have enough money for food, but we couldn’t afford to pay the hospital. Thank the Lord, I received an allowance from the government and have a childbirth savings account as well. Otherwise, I don’t know how I would be able to pay.”

Indonesian health cadre

Mulyana, one of the health cadres, has dealt with the costs associated with having children herself.

Many women in Mulyana’s region go to traditional birth attendants instead of the hospital, which is often better prepared if a mother or baby encounters complications during birth. Improper medical treatments have contributed to the high number of deaths of mothers and babies. Indonesia’s maternal mortality rate, 228 deaths per 100,000 births, is among the highest in Southeast Asia; its infant mortality rate is 28 deaths per 1,000 live births.

Traditional birth attendants charge much less than a hospital, but that advantage sometimes comes at the expense of current medical knowledge, properly maintained equipment and even good hygiene.

To reduce the number of maternal and infant mortalities, a government program called Desa Siaga (Alert Village) has been rolled out by the Indonesian Ministry of Health targeting rural and poor regions.

Indonesian health cadre

Yayah, another health cadre.

Desa Siaga programs aim to encourage self-reliant communities that actively address their own health challenges, such as maternal and infant mortality. Through this initiative, the government provides a childbirth allowance that pays all expenses incurred at a state hospital. Women must first go to their health post for prenatal appointments to receive the allowance.

In Pakan Sari, community members started a forum to discuss needs and healthy practices surrounding childbirth and pregnancy. Everyone in the community — husbands, neighbors, community leaders, midwives and health cadres — has a role to play in promoting birth preparedness. This participatory approach is aimed at raising awareness that pregnancy should not be a private concern affecting women only.

Supporting this initiative, ChildFund works with its local partner organization, Warga Upadaya, strengthening the health cadres’ capacity to assist midwives in the community. Health cadres attended training on monitoring of pregnant mothers, breast feeding, nutrition for children from birth to age 5, household economy management and community organization.

Each pregnant woman’s health status and due date is recorded, as well as who will assist with transportation or give blood if it’s needed. The record also shows the family’s financial resources, aside from the government allowance.

“We have endorsed the rollout of the Desa Siaga program in our neighborhood for the last year,” says Sigit Murjati, a community leader. “We have developed a community savings system to prepare for the costs of childbirth.”

These financial contributions are used to offset the costs of transportation and medical care during and after childbirth.

Indonesian health official

Sri Dwi Lestari, an official at the local health department (left), attends the launch of Desa Siaga.

When a state hospital is full, and the mother is then referred to a private hospital, the savings play a critical role since the government pays only for a stay at a state facility.

With the community preparedness system in place and health cadres all trained, Pakan Sari can better meet the needs of mothers and newborns. At the launch of the Desa Siaga program on May 15, 99 health cadres from 22 health centers came to Pakan Sari, as well as the sub-district head.

“This launching of Desa Siaga by the sub-district head is recognition from the government to the health cadres and the entire community,” says Sri Dwi Lestari, a community leader who works for the local health department. “This makes the community feel that they own the program, since the health cadres are all community volunteers. If the community doesn’t feel like they own the program, the program would not run so well.”

Hardships in Zambia’s School System

By Tenagne Mekonnen, Africa Regional Communication Manager

The road to education is hard, rocky and bumpy in Zambia. There are overcrowded classrooms, a shortage of materials, long walks to school and often not enough food.

Zambian children with mothers

John and Gracious, pictured with their mothers.

Flocks of children, age 8 and older, walk more than a mile each way to school every day, sometimes without having eaten breakfast. Some have no shoes, and their school may not have fresh water when they get there. Access to education is the right of every child, but poverty creates many obstacles to school attendance in Zambia and other countries that ChildFund serves. 

ChildFund strives to make the journey to school easier by working with the Zambian government to build standardized facilities that include libraries, labs, restrooms and learning materials. Sometimes we help provide shoes and uniforms too.

John and Gracious, two Zambian children, say they are happy just to be in school, even though it’s sometimes difficult to walk there. Their mothers now work for a small business that allows Gracious, 11, and John, 9, to attend school. They hope one day that there will be a school in their own community or a means of transportation other than their own feet.

Zambian community leaders at school

Community leaders meet at a new school.

Kicking a Ball Produces Light

 By Gabriela Ramirez Hernandez, ChildFund Mexico

Imagine having a soccer ball that produces light, just by playing with it. If you are a child with no electricity in your house, this seemingly magical ball will help you do your homework or light up the dinner table. Your family won’t have to spend money on candles.

soccer ball light

The Soccket produces light for three hours after 30 minutes of play.

The Soccket ball, produced by Uncharted Play, a U.S.-based social-enterprise company, generates light after a couple of hours’ play; kicking it for half an hour supplies enough kinetic energy to power a small lamp for three hours. The founders of Uncharted Play, which has been honored by the Clinton Foundation for its innovation, invented the Soccket for a class at Harvard University.

In this video, you’ll see the Soccket in action in ChildFund-supported communities in Mexico.

children with Soccket

Children in Mexican villages that ChildFund serves often have unreliable or no electricity at all.

ChildFund, Uncharted Play and Fundación Televisa are working together to supply Socckets to families who live without electrical power in the Mexican states of Puebla and Oaxaca. Today, about 180 children in these indigenous communities have a Soccket in their homes. Not only do these children have a new toy (a luxury), but their families also have a light source for reading and sewing at night.

ChildFund Mexico is evaluating the project and considering providing Socckets to additional communities.

The Isolation and Hardships of Refugees

By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist

What would you take if you were forced to flee your home?

Imagine you’re one of 44 million refugees around the world. With little or no warning, you must leave your home under threat of persecution, conflict or violence. Look around. Everywhere, people are running from all that’s familiar: Nearly one in two refugees is a child; two in five are women. In a single moment, people can lose everything.

Ivory Coast refugees

Children from war-torn Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) stayed at a refugee camp in Liberia in 2011.

In the chaos of war and conflict, children often end up unaccompanied, alone or left behind to experience events no child should ever see — all without the protection of family or the routine of school. Life in exile averages 17 years, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). If you had time to find only one thing to carry with you, what would it be?

Today, on World Refugee Day, we ask you to walk in solidarity beside those children who are still in transit.

Resettlement, Integration, Return

Consider Liberia. Last year the UNHCR completed repatriation of more than 155,000 Liberians scattered throughout West Africa — 23 years after the start of the civil war. ChildFund works in Liberia and also in The Gambia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, where Liberian refugees found shelter while the conflict in their country raged from 1989 to 2003.

Even when violence ends and peace and stability are restored, returning home may not be easy. In 2011, when I was teaching at Guinea’s national polytechnic university several of my young colleagues were Liberian refugees. They no longer spoke English — their native country’s official language — having received their entire education in Guinea’s French-speaking schools.

As the U.N. resettled and integrated the final 724 Liberians who had lived in Guinea, uprisings in neighboring Mali spiraled out of control. Displaced Malians scurried to safety in Senegal and Guinea — the same sanctuaries coveted by those escaping Côte d’Ivoire’s (Ivory Coast) election violence in 2011, as well as those fleeing the 2012 military coup in Guinea-Bissau.

Joining Mali on the International Rescue Committee’s (IRC) list of current hot spots are Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Where do refugees from these conflicts first seek asylum? They cross the borders into ChildFund countries Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. 

During 2007, I worked in Busia, a border town split between Uganda and Kenya. Refugees — mainly Somalis, Sudanese and Congolese — comprised 20 percent of Busia’s population on the Uganda side. By the end of that year, election violence in Kenya drove hundreds of thousands across the border at Busia, creating a humanitarian crisis in Uganda. A bitter irony of conflict and disaster in the developing world is that neighboring countries are the least equipped to support an influx of refugees.

Indonesia refugee camp

These children from Indonesia had to abandon their homes after a volcano erupted in 2010.

The IRC, which resettles more refugees and asylum seekers outside their native lands than any other organization worldwide, maintains a permanent watch list of four countries. Of these, ChildFund works in three: Sri Lanka, Indonesia and the Philippines. The IRC considers Sri Lanka vulnerable because of prolonged ethnic conflicts, while Indonesia and the Philippines experience nearly constant and unprecedented natural disasters.

ChildFund believes that a single family torn apart by war or natural disaster is one too many. We invest in disaster preparedness training in the countries we serve. Please take a minute to help us reduce the number of child refugees through a contribution to our emergency fund, ChildAlert.

Before joining ChildFund in 2012, Meg served in the Peace Corps’ health and education programs in Senegal, Uganda and Guinea. Between posts, she designed short-term projects for children and youth in Thailand and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. And stateside, she tutored two young girls whose family sought political asylum here from Iraq.

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