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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
By Saroj Pattnaik, ChildFund India, and Sagita Adesywi, ChildFund Indonesia
Our focus on child labor practices continues today in support of International Labour Organization’s World Day Against Child Labour.
Vipin, 18, aspires to become a doctor and is working hard to achieve his goal. Yet, there is unhappiness in his eyes. He worries about having time for his studies, as half of his day goes into bangle making. It’s the only livelihood option for his nine-member family, living in a half-constructed house on a narrow lane in Firozabad in India’s populous state of Uttar Pradesh.
Vipin wakes up for work at 4 a.m. each day. He sits before a hot stove and joins two ends of a glass bangle together, bangle after bangle, while his siblings sort the bracelets and decorate with glitter. Each family member spends at least five to six hours a day on this repetitive work, hoping that their collective efforts will bring sufficient income for their basic daily needs.
“I spend three hours in the morning and three hours in the evenings. Some days, I get my fingers burned and blistered. But I have to work; otherwise, we will not complete the day’s quota and incur loss,” says Vipin who recently sat for his 12th-grade exams.
“I have done well in my exams and I am preparing for the medical entrance exam,” he notes. “But I am not getting much time to read as I cannot just stop contributing to my family income. I don’t like the work, at least at this point of my life. But I have no choice,” he says, his voice breaking.
“See, we are a big family and we don’t know any other earning means other than bangle work, explains Vipin’s elder sister Kamlesh, as she comforts her brother. “Both our parents are aged and are not keeping well. So, we siblings have the responsibility to keep our kitchen running.”
Although she too was a good student, Kamlesh had to quit school and work full-time. “I took the decision because I wanted my siblings not to stop going to school. I am happy that all my younger siblings (two sisters and two brothers) are now studying and nursing big dreams,” she says.
For all the hard work her family does daily, Kamlesh says they earn a paltry 5,000 rupees (US$100) a month, which is much less than the family requires.
“We have seen lot of hardships since childhood,” she acknowledges. “But I am grateful to ChildFund India for choosing Vipin as a sponsored child. His sponsorship actually helped the others continue their studies.”
Vipin nods in agreement. “After being associated with ChildFund, I actually came to know what child labor is. I am now an active member of the ChildFund-initiated Youth Federation, which is campaigning against child labor in this town.”
Though Vipin and his siblings have additional support because of their enrollment with ChildFund, hundreds of other children work all day in home-based factories in Firozabad, a town famous throughout the country for its glass bangles.
“Firozabad is one of the worst examples of child labor. It’s because engaging children in the bangle process is a common and accepted norm in this area,” says Dola Mohapatra, national director of ChildFund India. “And getting a real estimate of the number of children working is quite a challenge. The problem is not just in numbers but also in the high level of acceptance among family members about engaging children [in the work]. It’s not seen as a ‘problem’ even by children themselves.”
Despite the ban on child labor in India, it’s estimated that more than 12.6 million children are still enduring hazardous conditions while working in various factories across India, while more than 200,000 children are working as domestic help.
The good news is that an anti-labor campaign launched by ChildFund in Firozabad is making inroads. Community factories are no longer employing children. However, it is estimated that more than 20,000 children are engaged in home-based bangle work, where most of the finishing work is being done.
“As a large number of families depend on bangle-making for their main livelihood, it’s not totally possible to move the families to some other occupation,” Mohapatra says. “We have been persuading families to adapt new occupations and at least keep their children out of this occupation.
“When we started our work, in 1995-96, we had to offer stipends for children as an incentive for parents to let their children come to ChildFund’s non-formal education centers. Over the years, we have seen changes in the mind-sets of parents,” he says.
“We are now seeing the emergence of children and youth leadership in spreading the message of education. These children were earlier working as child laborers – they were gradually weaned away and helped with completing their education. Their success stories have inspired parents. These children are now acting as a pressure group,” he notes.
“We have been successful in our endeavors,” Mohapatra adds, “but still a lot has to be done.”
By ChildFund Brasil Staff
ChildFund Brasil, with the financial support of telecommunications company Fundação Telefônica Vivo, has launched a project to fight against exploitative child labor in Brazil.
The project, Melhor de Mim (“The Best of Me”), is set to last two years and will target 500 children ages 6 to 14 in the Jequitinhonha Valley in the state of Minas Gerais. Working with its local partner organizations, ChildFund Brasil seeks to raise awareness of the risks of child labor through dialogue with children, teens, parents and other community members. Expert facilitators will lead the discussions. One notable part of the project is that it will also engage businesses who employ children. ChildFund’s goal is to educate employers about the serious risks that young laborers face, including physical dangers and missed educational opportunities.
In Brazil, hiring children under 13 is illegal. Yet, according to national data from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, 704,000 Brazilian children aged 5 to 13 were working in 2011. The majority of child workers are 10 to 13 years old, and 63 percent live in Brazil’s countryside. These numbers mark a 23.5 percent decrease of child laborers from 2009, but clearly the problem remains significant.
The majority of Brazilian child laborers, almost 55 percent, receive no income for their work, and those who are paid earn an average monthly income of only US$68. Child labor practices are receiving a spotlight today with the International Labour Organization’s World Day Against Child Labour.
The Best of Me’s activities began this spring with the enrollment of children involved in labor. The next step is to mobilize parents to make them aware of the project and sensitize them to the risks of child labor. After that, children will attend workshops using the Aflatoun method, which empowers children to play a key role in building a better society. By affirming children’s right to speak out on the issue and fostering dialogue among all parties involved, ChildFund seeks to facilitate sustainable change around child labor.
“The name of the project, The Best of Me, means that everyone becomes involved to the best of their abilities,” says Dov Rosenmann, ChildFund Brasil’s program manager. “Everybody is contributing their best to prevent child labor.”
By Martin Nanawa, ChildFund Philippines
Each morning, Marialyn wakes to the voices of fishermen returning from a night at sea. A cool ocean breeze carries the scent of salt and brine through the slatted bamboo floor of her home, which is built on stilts in a Philippines seaside community, keeping her family safe from all but the largest of ocean swells.
The eldest of three siblings, 17-year-old Marialyn helps her younger brothers get ready for school. But Marialyn herself won’t be going. She’s heading to work, a necessity because her family has a hard time supporting itself without her income.
Jerwin, Marialyn’s 14-year-old brother, is sponsored through ChildFund, which has helped him stay in school. But Marialyn, who was in college studying for an education degree, has taken a break from school to work. She started out at a cannery, tedious and sometimes dangerous work that doesn’t pay well.
In the Philippines, 5.5 million children and youth between ages 5 and 17 participate in some form of work. More than half — 3 million — are engaged in hazardous labor. In 2002, the International Labour Organization launched the World Day Against Child Labour, set annually on June 12, to call attention to the millions of children and teens who work.
ChildFund has been engaged in direct interventions against the worst forms of child labor for years now. In many cases, ChildFund has prevented children and youth from remaining or falling into hazardous forms of child labor and human trafficking, helping them return to school. We’ve also worked with communities to develop safer and more stable ways to help families earn money.
Marialyn no longer works at the cannery because of one of the programs ChildFund supports: the Pintado cooperative.
“ChildFund had initiated training for T-shirt printing in my community, and I thought I’d make myself useful and try,” Marialyn says. The thought of learning a trade that employed her creativity, as opposed to labor at the cannery, was appealing. She found herself easily taking to the craft, and she also learned other skills necessary for entrepreneurs, such as bookkeeping. Before long, Marialyn and other young people in similar circumstances had assembled the cooperative.
Pintado’s first client was ChildFund and its local partner, printing T-shirts for staff to wear. This venture turned out well, and soon more orders for shirts were coming in. Pintado’s members learned to apply their screen-printing techniques on more kinds of fabrics, and they began to print canvas tote bags. As bookkeeper, Marialyn keeps track of orders, materials and operating expenses. She has to be certain the numbers add up.
Pintado began earning a profit, and Marialyn and her peers made their first paychecks. Marialyn bought groceries for her family, and business has remained brisk. She also found herself saving a little money for her return to school.
Marialyn is determined to return to college the next school year. She’s applied for a scholarship, and the money she saves from Pintado will fund her upkeep at school. “I want to finish my education so I can be a teacher and help others learn,” she says.
By Diana Benitez, ChildFund Guatemala
In rural Guatemala, 18-year-old Didier works 10-hour days on a farm, and on weekends he attends high school. One day, he hopes to be a mechanic.
“I have to work daily because I need money to continue studying and also to help my family because our economic situation is not good enough. My dream is to finish high school to find a better job and to continue to college,” says Didier, a gangly youth who started working at age 15.
Didier lives with his parents, a brother and two sisters; their house has a tin roof, a cement floor and has just one bedroom. Didier’s father also works as a farmer. Didier earns only $35 a week, which goes toward school fees and his family’s survival.
But a ChildFund project known as “My Chance” is helping him and other Guatemalan youths make plans for their future. Didier also has a sponsor through ChildFund.
In the My Chance program, teens meet for workshops and activities that help them create plans for vocational studies and how to become leaders in their communities, as well as learning entrepreneurial skills. ChildFund representatives and local partner organizations support the project.
Many Guatemalan children, especially in rural regions, do not attend secondary school; only a third continue their education beyond primary school. This contributes to a high level of adult illiteracy.
Next year, after he completes high school, Didier plans to study auto mechanics and to continue helping his family.
“Since I started my participation in the ChildFund project My Chance, I have other expectations for my life,” Didier says. “Now I can see that a positive change is going to happen in my future. Thanks to ChildFund and my sponsor, I am a better person, and at some point I will be a good example in my community.”
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
For 50 days, ChildFund is joining with numerous organizations to demonstrate support for government policies and programs that will allow women and girls to be healthy, empowered and safe — no matter where they live. This week’s theme is protecting human rights and promotion of leadership participation.
Violence, drug addiction and abusive households cause great suffering in Caribbean societies. In Dominica and St. Vincent, ChildFund’s work aims to give children and teens, as well as their parents, a firm foundation to live empowered, happier lives.
In April, 40 Dominican teens and young adults participated in a four-day workshop as part of the “All We Need Is Love” project, which is set to last three years. The participants, age 13 to 27, were nominated by their peers as potential leaders and role models.
“All We Need Is Love” offers activities that encourage teens and young adults to become leaders and set goals, as well as share these lessons with younger children. Because they lack employment opportunities, teens sometimes get discouraged, drop out of school, join gangs or become pregnant. Youth groups that offer training and encouragement can do a lot to provide hope to younger generations.
The program has four goals. Show young people how to:
The 40 youth ambassadors received training on how to work with their peers, and they’ll receive ongoing support from adults as they seek to create community centers and other spaces where youth can meet. College and graduate students from the United States — Virginia’s James Madison University and Boston College in Massachusetts — served as interns and volunteers to assist the program, along with Australian Volunteers for International Development.
By Ron Wolfe, ChildFund IT Project Portfolio Manager
In December 2004, as the Indian Ocean tsunami raced outward from the Great Sumatra-Andaman earthquake’s epicenter, the sea devastated the Sri Lankan coastline from the eastern city of Trincomalee to the western capital of Colombo. In the middle of this target stood Hambantota, a picturesque town on the island’s southern coast, which sustained devastation of a scale that is hard to comprehend.
Today, the visible scars of the disaster are primarily gone. The city has rebuilt, while much of the development has been relocated further inland. The children play, and civic life continues as it has for centuries. The tsunami, though, remains a part of the people’s identity.
A team from ChildFund headquarters was recently in Sri Lanka to deploy a new online tool called the Letter Translation Exchange (LTE). Its purpose is to facilitate the digitization of child and sponsor correspondence and reduce the time it takes to translate the letters. As part of the deployment process, we travelled from Colombo, the location of the ChildFund Sri Lanka National Office, to Hambantota to meet the staff in this district and the children we all serve.
After visiting the Hambantota Area Office, the team arrived at one of 12 zonal offices of the Ruhulu Wellassa Area Federation, ChildFund’s local partner organization in this area, tucked beneath a thick grove of cashew trees. Each Zonal Office in this district is led by a community mobilizer who manages 200 to 400 children participating in our programs.
On the day of our visit, a number of children were there playing with friends and family and writing letters to their sponsors, some of them writing in English instead of their native Sinhala. ChildFund is offering language skills programs through the local partner. “English is an important skill that the children are eager to gain,” said Dilrukshi Ruwanpura, ChildFund Sri Lanka’s sponsor relations manager. It was impressive to see the children combining some of the benefits they receive from sponsorship and one of the essential components of sponsorship itself: one-to-one communication.
The LTE is ChildFund’s first step in modernizing that communication between sponsor and child. National Office staff will scan letters to create PDFs, which will be uploaded into an online document system. Translators can then access the system at any time and from anywhere via the Internet to translate the letters. Once translated, each letter will be printed out and mailed to the addressee. ChildFund currently manages approximately 1.5 million pieces of correspondence annually.
The technology is meant to enable the staff to do their jobs more efficiently while reducing the time it takes for correspondence to travel back and forth. “As we become more familiar with the LTE, our workload and the workload of the local partner will decrease,” said Dilrukshi. This in turn should allow even more time for the staff within each ChildFund area to focus on programs for the children.
Future ChildFund technology projects will eventually carry this further by facilitating sponsor access to the digital correspondence and providing a way to respond electronically. First, though, the LTE will continue to be deployed to additional countries. The team went next to Honduras and will soon be in Ecuador to scale up the LTE even further.
As we spent the afternoon with the children in Hambantota, they continued to impress us. One group of youth worked together to create a regularly published newsletter called Dawn, writing articles, taking photographs and editing and laying out the content. Others are involved in job skills training, such as hotel management, construction or information technology. One young woman proudly displayed images of the art she had created for a solo exhibition in her community, with art supplies provided by ChildFund. All showed the promise of becoming fully engaged in the continuing effort to lift up their country and make a difference.
By Sharon Ishimwe, ChildFund Uganda
Fredrick’s family grew their own food in eastern Uganda, like many other families in their village. They used the food for their meals and sold the extra vegetables. It was enough to help the family get by, but the income was too low to send Fredrick and his six siblings to school.
Fortunately, Fredrick, who is now 21, gained a sponsor through ChildFund in 2000. He was able to go to school then; and, today, he’s on his way to becoming a mechanical engineer. For most youths, sponsorship ends in their teens, but some sponsors continue to assist when a young adult pursues higher education.
As a child, Fredrick went to Magombe Primary School.
“When I first went to school,” he says, “I felt hopeless because I didn’t see a bright future in education. My parents were poor. I didn’t think I’d reach this level of education.”
But Fredrick worked hard and completed school with top grades. By this point, he knew that he wanted to be an engineer. So he remained optimistic and focused.
The assurance he got from his sponsor, Kathryn, through letters and gifts gave him confidence and the hope that he could achieve his goal. When Fredrick finally sat for his A-level exams in 2012, he scored an outstanding 15 points in physics, chemistry, mathematics and economics. With such a stellar performance, Fredrick feels his dream has drawn even closer.
He’s also working to earn his own income. Fredrick received one heifer through a ChildFund project and used monetary gifts from his sponsor to purchase a second heifer. Over time, these animals have multiplied to seven, and with proceeds from the sale of milk and calves, he has bought seven goats. The milk from all these animals has been of great help to the family, as they sell it and also use some of it at home.
“This helped me realize I could reach my dream with even the little I have,” Fredrick says. He plans to start his engineering training in January 2014.
The family has also managed to build a semi-permanent house, which is a major step forward from the mud-and-grass-thatched house they lived in before.
“I thank ChildFund and my sponsor Kathryn for supporting me. I can now be an engineer,” Fredrick says.