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.
Water means many different things to different people. Maybe you’re thinking that you need to drink more of it daily, or it’s time for a hot bath. Perhaps you are picturing a tea kettle on the stove? Do you think of lakes and rivers, glaciers and rainclouds?
Many of our readers have easy access to clean water. All it takes is turning on a faucet in the kitchen or bathroom. This sets us apart from many of the children and families ChildFund serves in 30 countries. Today is World Water Day, and we ask you to take a couple of minutes to watch this video showing how a lack of clean water affects every part of life, from infant mortality to education. Here are some ways you can help bring the gift of clean water to children and families in need.
Reporting by Sagita Adeswyi and Ivan Tagor, ChildFund Indonesia
In recent weeks, two volcanoes have erupted in Indonesia, displacing thousands: Mt. Sinabung, in North Sumatra, and Mt. Kelud, in East Java. Although ChildFund doesn’t offer programs in either of the affected areas, we’re nearby and ready to help as needed.
Most of the more than 5,000 families displaced by Mt. Kelud have returned to their homes, and the government has provided them with cleaning and roofing materials. However, manpower and knowhow have been in short supply.
Enter 45 ChildFund volunteers from Boyolali, in Central Java — 30 adults and 15 youth — who helped families clean their houses and fix their roofs, finishing six or seven houses each day. Three midwives traveled with the group to provide basic health care as needed for both families and the volunteers.
It was a cloudy Sunday morning in La Paz, Bolivia, and at 6 a.m., all you wanted to do was to stay in bed with hot chocolate and watch TV. But that Sunday, Dec. 8, we had something special in mind, and we had to wake up early and start moving.
We were not just running for ourselves but were running to promote the campaign, too.
Four staff members from ChildFund Bolivia’s office — Katerina Poppe, Ana Vacas, Fernando Arduz and I — and our pal HyeWon Lee from ChildFund Korea ran 21 kilometers (13.1 miles, or a half-marathon) that day. Aside from the pursuit of good fitness, our goal was to share awareness of the “Free From Violence” campaign, a global advocacy campaign by ChildFund Alliance asking governments to ensure that children are free from violence and exploitation.
“It was a very exciting, tiring but fruitful experience,” HyeWon notes. “We had a long, hard run of 21 kilometers ahead of us, but it felt really nice to be with the co-workers, one next to each other, cheering each other on and sharing the exciting moment together.
“We were wearing ChildFund T-shirts with the phrase ´Libre de violencia´ [Free from Violence] printed on the back, and this short phrase really made our running much more meaningful. We were not just running for ourselves but were running to promote the campaign, too. It made it much harder to give up, and as a result, we all met at the finish line.”
Ana also shared her thoughts: “I have run quite a few races before but never for a specific cause. However, this time was different. The race took on a whole new meaning for me; I was no longer there as another participant just hoping to cross the finish line but as someone who was actively participating in efforts to create a world where children are free from violence.”
Katerina added: “To be part of this competition was a wonderful experience for me because I believe in this cause. I believe that we all together can do something to raise our voices and share our commitment to fight violence against children, especially girls.”
That Sunday will be in our memories forever; if we can overcome this challenge, others in life can be defeated with an effort.
This gallery contains 6 photos.
By Abraham Marca, ChildFund Bolivia; Priscila Oliveira, ChildFund Brasil; Rosa Figueroa, ChildFund Guatemala
Season’s greetings arrive from Bolivia, Brazil and Guatemala, as children share their Christmas traditions. Over the course of the year, they have received great encouragement, love and hope from our sponsors and donors. All of us at ChildFund are thankful for your generosity and kindness!
Quema del diablo (burning of the devil), processions, posadas, firecrackers, eating tamales and drinking ponche (a traditional fruit drink) are traditions that people in the communities we serve in Guatemala practice before Christmas. “Feliz Navidad” means Happy Christmas, and the majority of the celebration happens the afternoon and evening of Dec. 24. Christmas is a very special day. Children share with the family and have fun, even when the economic situation is not good.
Yuri is 12 years old; she lives in the central highlands of Guatemala. At home, Yuri and her mother make tamales and ponche for Christmas. She has a tree in the back of her house, and she likes to decorate it for the season. “I would like every child to enjoy and celebrate Christmas as I do,” Yuri says.
“Hi, my name is Floridalma, I’m 12 years old, and I love Christmas because I participated in the posadas, traditional processions that start nine days before Christmas. The group sings traditional songs at various homes. For the season my family and I eat tamales and ponche.”
Eight-year-old Leticia, a sponsored child: “This Christmas I think will be very good, because my uncles come to visit us and will bring me gifts, like dolls and clothes. I do not believe that Santa Claus exists, but I know that Dec. 25 was the day that the baby Jesus was born. I see Santa Claus only when I step in front of stores, never asked him for any gifts, but I want to get a bike.”
Six-year-old Joao: “I’m in the first year of basic school. I like studying, but I also like the vacations because it’s when Christmas comes. My father’s name is Geraldo, and my mother’s is Maria. I have two sisters, Sara and Nilma. I love Christmas; it’s a day of receiving gifts. I stare at the lights of the shops. I love lights flashing. On Christmas Eve my mother does supper, because we are a simple family. Before Christmas Day, a friend of my mother sends Christmas gifts by mail. I have won a basket with a boat, a game of little pieces to assemble and a [remote] control car. On Christmas Eve, I like to go to sleep early to wake up early to see if Santa left something for me. I love Christmas!”
In Tarija, according to our sponsorship team member Victoria Glody, there is a dance called trenzada, and the celebration starts two weeks before Christmas Eve, when children dance and sing carols (known in Spanish as villancicos) with small drums and flutes to “Niño Manuelito” — that’s what baby Jesus is called by children in Bolivia. During the trenzada, people dance around the streets on their way to the town’s main square; once they get there, everybody enjoys hot chocolate and a special type of bread, or buñuelos, which is basically fried pumpkin dough.
Cochabamba rural areas have a different and harder reality, reports Alain, a coordinator with one of ChildFund’s local partner organizations. Although children expect toys and gifts, their parents can’t afford them, but they have figured out smart ways to make wooden or clay toys. They also make clay nativity scenes to celebrate Christmas Eve at home. Children also dress as the old wise men or shepherds, with a cape and beard made of cotton and go out singing “Niño Manuelito” at their neighbors’ homes, and in return they get bread or fruit. For Christmas Day, it’s traditional to have breakfast with hot chocolate and “buñuelos” too. Parents and grandparents gather together at home as a big family.
In El Alto, 6-year-old Viviana says: “On Christmas day I take a walk with my family, I play with my little cousin, and that night we have hot chocolate and Christmas cake. I like that day because there is more joy at home.”
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.
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.
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.
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.