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.
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. Improving the Health of Women and Girls is this week’s theme.
Visiting the doctor is usually a mild inconvenience in the United States. It may entail a drive across town and a sit in a waiting room filled with people coughing and sneezing. But in Senegal, which has only 822 doctors serving a population of more than 12 million, seeking medical attention is a major undertaking.
For some families, it’s too much. Sadio is the mother of 2-year-old twin girls in the village of Pakala, which is often flooded during the rainy season. This makes it difficult to travel 6 kilometers (more than 3 miles) to the nearest health post staffed by nurses. Awa and Adama suffer from respiratory problems, and Adama is especially sickly, having come down with a debilitating cold that required a doctor’s care — a 30-mile journey from home to a hospital.
Sadio and her husband Moussa, a farmer, have experienced loss before; their first child, Matar, died in 2007 at 13 months from diarrhea and a respiratory infection. But today their village has a health hut, which is staffed by a matron, community health workers and birth attendants. They can help patients with basic needs, but more complicated illnesses and ailments still call for a trip to the health post 3 miles away or 30 miles to the hospital.
Sadio reports that her diet improved during her pregnancy with the twins after receiving advice at the health hut, but her girls still face challenges from the respiratory infection; also, they were born underweight.
The health of women and girls is important to ChildFund, as we work with local partners to provide access to health care in isolated villages as well as underserved urban areas in developing nations. In Senegal, ChildFund is leading the implementation of a $40 million grant from USAID to establish community health care services for children and families in great need.
Over five years, we plan to establish 2,151 health huts and 1,717 outreach sites throughout the country, along with a sustainable national community health policy working in partnership with USAID and other key community development organizations. By the end of the project, we expect to have helped more than 9 million Senegalese people in 72 districts.
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
Think about your most important memories. Who figures in them? Your family, most likely.
So what makes a family? The United Nations defines family in residential terms: a household of people related by blood, marriage or adoption, making common provisions for food, shelter and other essentials of survival.
The U.N. designated 1994 as the Year of the Family, and since 1996, it has recognized the International Day of Families, celebrated annually on May 15. This year’s theme is “Advancing Social Integration and Intergenerational Solidarity.” In other words, bringing many kinds of societies and different generations together, including vulnerable groups, so they have a voice in political, social, cultural and economic decisions.
By nature, families make long-term commitments. Parents care for children and, in turn, adult children support ill and elderly parents. Especially in developing countries, families share resources across generations. Families also decide together about major purchases, work division and savings.
What Households Look Like
Marriage, childbearing, adoption, death, migration and divorce directly affect households. Income and other socioeconomic variables affect fertility rates and — over time — the number of children. Other factors such as delayed marriage, reduction in child mortality rates and housing shortages can lead to an increase the number of adult children living at home.
Large households with many children correlate with low personal income and, on a national basis, high fertility rates correlate with low gross national product (GNP).
In the countries we serve, three-fourths of households include two spouses, although in Sub-Saharan Africa, one-third of families have a single parent or a single grandparent as head of household. In Kenya, where elderly widows often raise grandchildren orphaned by AIDS, more than a third of households are female-headed.
Effects of Migration
Youth migration poses another challenge to family structures. In Africa, rural poverty and youth unemployment is reaching crisis proportions, affecting communities we serve in Ethiopia, The Gambia, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Mozambique, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Zambia.
In 1950, only 11 percent of Africans lived in cities, but by 1996, nearly a third had migrated from rural areas in search of jobs, social mobility and other opportunities. The U.N. projects that half of all Africans will live in urban areas by 2025. Family ties still survive because city dwellers often send money home, but distance and poverty can shred such bonds.
As we acknowledge the fragility of families, we also celebrate their inherent strengths — loyalty, support and shared history. We invite you to invest in training for young adults and single mothers through a gift to our Family Livelihood fund.
By Aydelfe M. Salvadora, ChildFund Timor-Leste
At a primary school in Timor-Leste, parents are becoming more involved in their children’s education through the Parent-Teacher Association.
“As a member of the PTA, I have to help so that my children will have a comfortable classroom,” says Madalena Soro, a mother of four. Two of her children are at EBC Samutaben, a primary school in the Bobonaro district, where AusAID and ChildFund Australia fund a project to promote child-friendly preschools and primary schools. Seventeen Early Childhood Development (ECD) centers and 13 primary schools participate, with more than 4,000 children benefiting.
One of the program’s objectives is to strengthen schools through active PTAs. Parents and teachers are expected to understand their roles and responsibilities and how they contribute to a child-friendly school.
ChildFund is not new to Madalena; her children all benefit in different ways from projects run by our national office in Timor-Leste and Hamutuk, a local partner organization.
Her second child is a fifth-grader, and her third-born is in second grade. The youngest attends an ECD center in the same compound as the children’s school. Ricardo, the fifth-grader, has had a sponsor from Australia since 2007.
Madalena helped cook and provided vegetables and bread for workers who were renovating the school recently. She also was happy to assume the responsibility of supervising quality control whenever the workers asked her to check the alignment of blocks and proper placement of ceilings.
She excitedly anticipated the end result: a comfortable learning space for the schoolchildren. Before, children endured leaking roofs, which disrupted their learning, as well as unsecured doors and windows, which allowed the entry of stray animals into classrooms. Madalena says that before starting classes in the morning, the children had to clean the classrooms and the land around the school, putting their health at risk and reducing learning time.
But, today, with the help of parents, teachers and students, EBC Samutaben is more comfortable and has proper chairs and tables for the children. Teachers now have space to prepare their lesson plans and keep school records in a renovated faculty room. Madalena added that rehabilitated classrooms are not only good for students but for the entire community.
Still, the school has remaining challenges; animals continue to enter the school premises because there is no perimeter fence, and there’s no safe drinking water. Children also are at risk because the school is dangerously close to the community’s main road.
The PTA’s participation continues to be very important in improving the condition of the school, Madalena notes, and she hopes more parents will participate as time goes on.
By Sumudu Perera, ChildFund Sri Lanka
We asked community members in our ChildFund program areas as well as staff in the Sri Lanka office to share bits of advice that their mothers gave them when they were children – advice that they still value and want to pass on to their own children. Here’s a sampling of what they shared. Happy Mother’s Day!
Community Members Share Wisdom From Their Mothers
“Not every bad thing that happens to you is bad. Sometimes they happen for good.” – Rathnamalala
“Even the god worships good people.”– Deepangani
“A person who walks on others’ footprints never sees his own footprint.” – Airangani
ChildFund Sri Lanka Staff Recall Their Mothers’ Advice
“Listen to your elders. They have plenty of experience in life.” – Kaushalya
“Try to manage within whatever you have.” – Dilrukshi
“Don’t try to change others; change yourself.”
“Be a blessing to others.”
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund staff writer
Having children is hard work, no matter where you live and what kind of assistance you have available. But think of a mother living in a developing country. She may not be able to give birth in a hospital, and she may lack the proper nutrition that both she and her baby need to survive. As we prepare to celebrate Mother’s Day, here are some ways to show your appreciation for mothers who are striving to raise children in difficult circumstances. You even can give a gift in your own mother’s name if you’d like.
The Mama Kit, available through ChildFund’s Gifts of Love & Hope catalog, has supplies for a pregnant woman in Uganda to use during and after delivery, and qualified health professionals provide education for women to ensure safe birthing experiences. This is important because Uganda has a high infant mortality rate of 64 deaths for every 1,000 live births (2012), according to the CIA World Fact Book. For $35, an expectant woman and her baby have a better chance to survive.
Another item in the catalog is medicine for children and mothers in Liberia, protecting them from parasites, malaria and low hemoglobin levels. For $50, you can help stock ChildFund-supported clinics, which are run by trained community health volunteers. Health posts bring vital medication and education to communities that would otherwise go without.
The catalog features other gifts that make for great Mother’s Day presents. Mothers in Vietnam will benefit greatly from a small micro-loan of $137, which will allow them to start their own agricultural businesses. The income they earn provides food, clothing and educational opportunities for their children. In Honduras you can buy books for first-grade classrooms for only $9. When children learn how to read, the whole family benefits.
Mothers around the world want the best for their children. This Mother’s Day, consider helping a mom.
By Jana Sillen, PROTECT Project Manager, and Ya Sainey Gaye, Communications Officer, ChildFund The Gambia
Earlier this year, ChildFund held a mid-term review of the PROTECT Project, a partnership with the government of The Gambia that focuses on prevention and response to child trafficking in The Gambia. The main partners and stakeholders in the project from government agencies, armed forces, the police, immigration and child-focused organizations attended the meeting. The group heard about two children who were in dire circumstances, but today they are in school and have stable homes. We reached out to these children to hear about how they are doing today. For their protection, we have given them pseudonyms.
A Runaway Reclaimed
Lamin, 13, was found in Jiboro, at the Senegalese-Gambian border, and was taken to a shelter by the police. He ran away from the shelter and was found again at another border post and was taken back to the shelter.
Lamin’s father is a German national but left him with his mother in The Gambia. His mother died last year, which forced him and his brothers to live on the streets. He sometimes went to see his aunt in Barra to spend some time at her compound.
Social workers were able to trace his aunt in Barra and reunited Lamin with her. The aunt is pleased to look after him and is now ensuring he goes to school.
Lamin explained, “I am very happy that my auntie has enrolled me back into school, and her children are very kind to me.”
A Return to School
Fatou, 16, had completed grade 6, but her parents could not afford the fees for her new school. They decided instead to force her into marriage. She wrote to ChildFund The Gambia’s national director to explain her story and requested sponsorship to continue her education instead of having to enter into an arranged marriage.
The PROTECT Project referred the case to Sanyang Community Child Protection Committee (CCPC). The CCPC met with the Federation Board of Kaira Suu Federation, ChildFund’s local partner. The board agreed to grant Fatou sponsorship to continue her education up to the age of 24.
As a result, she lives with an acquaintance in Sukuta not far from her school. “I am very grateful to the management of PROTECT Project, the CCPC at Sanyang and my new host for helping me out in this difficult situation,” Fatou said. “I am also thankful to my parents for their understanding, and I promised them to do my utmost best in school to prove to my sponsors that I will not disappoint them.” She regularly visits her parents during breaks, and her teacher recently gave her high marks.
About the PROTECT Project
The Gambia’s PROTECT Project, a two-year program funded by the U.S. State Department, was started to develop a viable national child protection system with a focus on limiting child-trafficking on local and national levels.
About 320 law enforcement officials, social workers, district representatives and members of the Community Child Protection Communities have now received training on prevention and responses to child-trafficking and child protection issues. Before the training, some didn’t believe that trafficking existed, said Siaka K. Dibba, the project trainer.
Now more community members and government officials are more aware of the problem and are watching out for children.
By Gelina Fontaine, ChildFund Caribbean
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 focuses on preventing gender-based violence, which often starts with the most vulnerable – children.
Two years ago, I walked into Rapid City, S.D., airport and I saw my maternal grandma’s face that I love so much seemingly peering at me from these huge black-and-white photos of former Native American chiefs – it was the same bone structure, the same wide forehead and the same intensity of resilient stare. I remember smiling at the portraits with a nostalgic sense of love and recognition before hurrying to catch up with my ChildFund colleagues.
This year, I walk into the airport in Dakar, Senegal, and I see these sculpted, lean bronzed, dignified warrior-like bodies of my step-grandfather – my grandma’s husband – and I smile and ache with that same sense of instant love and recognition. I think to myself: our people of the Caribbean truly are the “melting pot,” influenced and built by so many races – Native Americans, African slaves, Indian and Syrian indentured laborers, Hispanics, French, English and Portuguese – all blending to make up my world, my genealogy and my heritage.
In South Dakota, we heard from our U.S ChildFund colleagues how teenagers in Native American communities were committing suicide at such a frequent rate that their parents were more consumed by mourning than cherishing their children who are still alive. Their recounting of these ongoing tragedies became unbearable to me when I learned that children as young as 5 years old were killing themselves for various reasons, including hopelessness and abuse and after witnessing it happening all around them to their siblings, extended relatives, schoolmates and community friends.
I left the U.S. not being able to internalize or envision the inner thoughts and external situations that would lead a young child to decide not to remain here with the rest of us.
I had shelved that discomfort until I walked into one of the first transatlantic slave houses in West Africa on Senegal’s Goree Island. Our guide took us to the statue honoring the first slave liberation in 1802 by the French island of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean, and I was proud to know that we islanders had shown the first demonstration of humanity and common sense by abolishing slavery.
The guide then took us to the slave holding compound – a preserved structure from centuries before and empty of the spirits of those once held in captivity. We went through the various rooms where men were weighed and measured for strength, where young virgins were holed in, where slaves were shoved into claustrophobic “time-out” 3-foot cells when being punished.
I treated the excursion as a historical exercise until we entered this dusky, elongated room where 30 or more children at a time were crunched together. In that instant, I had a flash vision of those children huddled in fear and cold, innocent and traumatized, trying their best not to cry aloud and barely able to breathe, with only two or three open slits in the wall facing the ocean for ventilation.
That was when my defenses went down, and I turned to the slit in the wall and remained silent and choked, hiding the tears from my colleagues. Every cowering, every tear, every thought of hopelessness I envisioned as experienced by these 30 children at a time had the face of my 6-year-old son stamped on their bodies. And I thought, no children of any ethnicity – be they Native American, African, Asian; the former slaves of Egypt to the the Oliver Twists of industrialized Europe; or those children today ensnared in the modern, underground slavery network of child abuse and trafficking should ever again die or have to live through that kind of inhumane experience.
Later that week as our ChildFund “Shine a Light” project team gathered to discuss gender-based violence and how to better integrate gender-based elements in our programming for children, I began musing that the “child” could be considered a third gender, like a third universal ethnic group.
When there is a rising situation of violence or a culture of violation and death, sadly, children are never exempt. Their misfortune and, often, their fatalities are unacceptable. The young child, still vulnerable and unable to take care of his or her basic needs or protect the self, the child still too innocent to distinguish cultural gender norms, the child who simply and for certain knows that she or he just wants to be safe and loved is the “third gender,” highly vulnerable to exploitation and requiring particular support and attention.
Children are gifts. They are assets, and that’s the cornerstone of ChildFund’s work. Their positive foundation as future ancestors of other generations is our daily fight.
Dr. Paul Dauphinais is a psychologist for Turtle Mountain Community Schools in Belcourt, N.D. He wrote this letter earlier this year after attending a tribal outreach gathering for American Indian youth, part of the work ChildFund supports in the United States. Here’s an excerpt.
I had an experience last week that was very moving and gave me great hope for the future of our youth and community. It was a Wednesday in the early evening. I was invited to go to the gym at Dunseith High School. When I arrived, there were children, youth and some of the outreach staff gathered near picnic tables. One of the tables had food that the staff had prepared. I was observing and enjoying the true friendships that the staff and youth showed. A couple of the girls then spontaneously began to serve the youth and staff. They assumed that responsibility without any adult coaxing. It was a pleasant experience.
The gathering really demonstrated to me that each person there genuinely cared for one another, making sure that everyone was served food and satisfied. The children and youth were respectful of each other and it was clearly evident that each one was welcome.
After the meal, several of the team leaders gathered youth in a large circle for the main part of the gathering, the Talking Circle. [Talking Circles are an important component of ChildFund’s cultural restoration initiatives.] The adult leader then began with an introduction of himself and his family in the language of the Anishnabe; he gave an explanation of respect in our cultural world. After this, Paco, a stuffed animal, was handed from person to person to say what respect meant to them and who and what they were respectful of in their lives.
When each youth had finished with their explanations, the rest of the circle applauded, showing respect and acknowledgement of the other person’s perspective. Each person in the circle was offered a turn. The insight that youth demonstrated in their speaking was a pleasure to hear, no matter their age. We have such great leaders-to-be who will be able to have insights into their daily lives and what it means to be Anishnabe/Mitchif. I was very proud to be a part of that group that night. [ChildFund believes that engaging children and youth in initiatives that connect them to positive Lakota values, practices and beliefs strengthens their cultural identity and their resiliency against inherent risks in their environment.]
All week, this past week, I wondered how these youth developed into such respectful and insightful beings; what is this process of growth? Who were they before they became involved with what is called Club Night? How do children mature in this manner – to become so respectful of each other and confident to speak about how one of the gifts of the grandfathers is part of their lives in the presence of others?
Club Night has been happening for many years through the leadership of Claudette McLeod and Turtle Mountain Outreach, and the staff of the Tribal JTPA, Turtle Mountain Youth & Family Center and tribal youth programs.
After the Talking Circle, the youth and staff played a group activity where there was not any bickering about rules or other negative behaviors. Everyone seemed to truly enjoy each other’s companionship, regardless of gender or age. At the end of the evening, the staff remains to assure that each youth has a ride home and that, if someone wants to talk about a concern or share a recent event, they are there.
I just wanted to jump in and be a part!
I thank the group for allowing me to be a part of the group that night.
Club Night will continue to be a part of program services and the dedicated staff will continue to be supportive to the youth. And I thank them for providing this opportunity for our youth.
With help comes hope.