By Himangi Jayasundera, ChildFund Sri Lanka
Nine-year-old Lojana dreams about having a bike. She wants one not just to ride to school, which is 2 kilometers away, but also because she would be able to live again full time with her grandmother in Sri Lanka.
Lojana lost her mother to cancer when she was just 3, and her father, who has remarried, lives separately with his new wife, while Lojana and her sister have lived at their grandmother’s house until recently.
An elephant trampled their home, and now all three live in Lojana’s uncle’s house, which is miles away from school. During the week, Lojana stays with a relative who lives closer to her school and stays with her uncle on weekends. Buses run infrequently, so a bicycle would help Lojana travel from her uncle’s home to school and require less moving around.
That’s where ChildFund’s Dream Bike project comes into play. We are working to raise money to provide 3,400 girls in 12 countries (including Sri Lanka) with bikes, which will allow them to travel to school safely and quickly, instead of walking long distances through sometimes dangerous terrain. Snake bites are very common where Lojana lives, and the hospital is a long distance away. Sometimes people die before they can get medical help.
Lojana is sponsored and receives financial support for her books and other educational needs from her sponsor, which is a “big relief,” according to her grandmother, who is struggling to make a livelihood. “I have a few chickens and sell about five eggs a day,” she says, noting that the family depends on help from Lojana’s uncle and ChildFund Sri Lanka.
Despite the hardships in her life, Lojana has big dreams: “I’d like to be a doctor one day,” she says.
You can help girls like Lojana achieve their educational dreams by donating a Dream Bike.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
For the past year, ChildFund Alliance (of which ChildFund International is a founding member) has been working to make sure the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, which take effect in September 2015, will include a goal to keep children free from violence.
So far, more than 300,000 people have signed the Alliance’s Free From Violence petition calling for such a measure. And recently, ChildFund’s national offices have created a visible show of support for this goal: handprints of children, youth and adults who want to see every child able to attend school, play with friends and conduct their lives without fear of physical, sexual or emotional violence. Here are some of the handprints we’ve collected.
Below, see photos from Afghanistan, Bolivia, Brazil, the Caribbean, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Indonesia, Mexico, Mississippi, the Philippines, South Dakota and Texas.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
This was the second time I’ve been to Guatemala, but it was very different from my first trip, which was a vacation taken with a friend. Both times, I saw plenty of beautiful terrain, including an active volcano, lakes, foliage and mountains.
But during my ChildFund trip, I had the chance to visit places that tourists never go.
Here’s a short video I shot from the car during one drive into the highlands; it may seem bumpy, but this was hardly the worst of the roads. This one was paved, after all.
I took Dramamine every morning, just in case.
Some moments were a little scary, like when we were trying to cross this ditch being dug for a water line. But we all got in and out each day without serious difficulty, thanks to good planning by my hosts from ChildFund Guatemala’s national office and our local partner organizations in the communities. Not only did they arrange transportation and lodging, but they also spoke to families, teachers and principals so I could interview them.
The most remarkable visit was to a family’s home in Patzite. We met Cristina, the mother of six children — including a baby girl born just the week before. She didn’t even have a name yet. Despite still being in bed, Cristina welcomed us warmly. Two of her children, 8-year-old Wendy Catarina and 7-year-old Marcos, are sponsored through ChildFund.
Inside their home, which had dirt floors and mud-brick walls like many in the region, the children and their mother sat on beds and greeted us. I asked questions about water and electricity (they have running water every third day, and they have electricity, although others in the village don’t), where the baby had been born (at home, with a midwife attending), how the children liked being sponsored.
Marcos says of his sponsor, “I have a new friend.” He hopes to be a lawyer, while Wendy wishes to be a doctor. Their 12-year-old sister, Ana Loida, says she likes to write and hopes to be a teacher.
Of course, money factors into those dreams. Ana is in sixth grade, and although Cristina and her husband, who is a day laborer, would like their oldest daughter to continue to high school, the cost of uniforms and books is high. Plus, Wendy has considerable physical problems: poor eyesight, a femur that doesn’t fit right into her hip, and ear and foot issues. Medical assistance costs money, too.
“She has many difficulties,” Cristina says. “Wendy has to leave home early so she gets to school on time. She can’t run or walk fast. She also has to sit near the blackboard. She cries at night because her foot hurts.” The nearest health center is a one-hour walk from their home, and public transportation is available only on Thursday and Sunday.
“If there’s no medicine there, we get a prescription, and we have to buy medicine ourselves,” Cristina says.
Still, she adds, the children have benefited from ChildFund’s presence in the community. Cristina’s first contact was with guide mothers, local women who had received training through ChildFund. “At first, I was a little afraid because I didn’t want people to ask my children things,” she says. But her initial reservations dissipated quickly. “Marcos is happier, and so is Wendy.”
They were enrolled in ChildFund-supported programs six years ago, and both Marcos and Wendy found sponsors at the start of this year. Because only three children can be enrolled per family, Cristina plans to enroll the baby, who’s just starting to wiggle and fuss amid the blankets.
Cristina hopes for more opportunities for her children than she’s had. After finishing second grade, her father couldn’t afford to send her back to school, and Cristina had to weave cloth to sell. After a decade of working, she was married at age 18 and began having children. Today, she speaks only her local language, Quiché, although Ana, Marcos and Wendy can speak Spanish.
“After what I’ve seen,” Cristina says, “education is important. I try to make their dreams come true. Not knowing how to speak Spanish — it’s not what I want for my children.”
It’s a real struggle for many of the families I met in Guatemala’s mountains. I hope Cristina’s children and others I met can receive the help they need to continue school and have more options as young adults, whether it’s through sponsorship, grants or some other source. I also hope to return to these villages one day and see the changes for myself.
Reporting by Tenagne Mekonnen, Africa Regional Communication and Administration Manager, and Arthur Tokpah, ChildFund Guinea
Today is the International Day of the African Child, a day to honor children’s rights. The continent-wide event looks back to a terrible day in 1976, June 16, when thousands of schoolchildren marched in Soweto, then a township in South Africa, to call for higher-quality education and the right to learn in their own languages.
Hundreds of children were shot. The official number of deaths was 23, but estimates put the number much higher. One of the first casualties, 13-year-old Hector Pieterson, would become the icon of a movement promoting children’s rights. Since 1991, the Day of the African Child has marked the tragedy and served as an occasion to advocate for children’s rights across the continent — and, in particular, for children themselves to raise their voices.
This year, children from seven African countries marched through Soweto from the Mandela House to the Hector Pieterson Monument and Memorial Museum, joined by representatives of the South African government, the United Nations, international nongovernmental organizations and other official bodies.
During the march, children and others chanted slogans against early and forced marriage, this year’s theme for the Day of the African Child: “Don’t talk about us without us!” “Stop early marriage now!” “Girls are not a commodity — do not trade them for money, but send them to school!” Later, children performed dramatic monologues, poems and other speech advocating for children’s rights.
This year, the Day of the African Child is joined with a parallel celebration of this month’s 25th anniversary of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. The African Union crafted the Charter based on the United Nations’ global Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which marked its 25th anniversary in November. The Charter echoes the CRC but is geared more specifically toward Africa’s needs, particularly with regard to protecting children from harmful traditional practices.
The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child explicitly calls for all African countries to push the minimum age of marriage to 18, but child marriage — as well as accompanying issues such as early pregnancies and lack of education and job opportunities for young women — remains a challenge throughout Africa, home to 15 of the world’s 20 countries with the highest rates of child marriage.
“We young girls want to be in a school,” said one girl participating in the march. “That is where we belong — not to marriage.”
Soweto is not the only site where the Day of the African Child is celebrated, and June 16 is not the only day; in Guinea, which is recovering from the Ebola outbreak, thousands of children, joined by government and NGO officials, gathered on June 6 in Siguiri, a prefecture on the Niger River, to launch a Month of the African Child.
Near the site of Guinea’s celebration is a gold mine, and many young children work there, missing school and placing themselves in danger. That was the issue on Mamadou’s mind, and the 14-year-old ninth-grader was excited to exercise his right to speak out: “This moment is an occasion for me to pass messages to parents and even friends,” he said. “In my district, most of the children of my age and even younger are in the gold mine. Some are there through because of pressure from their parents. These children are not attending school. Instead, they spend every day from morning to evening digging hard, rocky ground in search of gold.
“Parents, please help your children to go to school,” he said. “School builds children’s minds and prepares them for tomorrow so that they can be helpful to you.”
He worries about his friends’ thinking that money is the answer to problems. “I am telling them that I agree with them that money is good, but you need to have the education and training to be able to manage money and know how to multiply it,” he said. “I tell my friends who have gone to the mine to go back to school for the education and training that will let them manage money, because school builds the mind.”
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
This is the second of three articles this month about Kate’s recent trip to report on ChildFund-supported programs in Guatemala’s highlands. Read the first.
In Guatemala’s mountain villages, the sense of isolation hits pretty hard when you see a woman or girl walking on the side of a dirt road while balancing a wrapped load on her head. It’s a dusty, hard slog, and the air is noticeably thin at 6,000 feet. I was breathing hard after a short walk, just carrying my camera and a notebook.
In this sort of environment, it’s difficult to believe that any information could be carried from one village to another. And yet two villages in two different districts had tiny children making nearly identical duck masks in the same week. I was a little surprised.
Early Childhood Development programs are a common thread throughout ChildFund’s work worldwide, but because needs and resources differ, the programs often take different shapes. Here, children and (usually) mothers attend weekly or monthly events at homes with room for small chairs and tables, plus storage space for art supplies. Guide mothers teach children how to count, name colors, say the alphabet and build other skills that will help them when they enter first grade. Mothers in the community attend nutrition classes and other programs that help their children develop properly.
The week I visited, children in Palima were coloring the faces of cartoon-like ducks and cutting them out to make masks; in Pachichiac, which was at least a two-hour drive away, children used finger paints to color in their duck masks. Smiles and quacks abounded in both villages.
Seeing consistency throughout the region, even in something as small as two groups of children working on the same project at the same time, was encouraging. The region is about to receive an influx of funding thanks to the Japan Social Development Fund, which has donated $2.75 million through the World Bank to help improve the health and development of 12,200 children younger than 2 who live in Guatemala’s highlands. ChildFund will lead the project, which is expected to start later this year.
More than 13,000 parents of the children will be involved, and the four-year project will cover 100 communities in the states of Huehuetenango, Quiche, San Marcos and Totonicapan, where nine out of 10 people live in poverty. Parents will receive more training and support through a Guatemalan government program providing community health and nutrition services, which encourage breastfeeding, good hygiene and nutritious diets. Also, tutors will show parents how to stimulate children with language, numbers and other concepts, just through daily routines.
Clearly, a project of this magnitude will require great coordination among ChildFund staff members, our local partners, guide mothers and families. But the seeds of teamwork already exist in the mountains, despite the hardships. You can see it behind the duck masks.
By Rashmi Kulkarni, ChildFund India
Five months after the launch of ChildFund India’s Books, My Friends campaign, we’re learning more about the children who are getting their first chance to own books and read for pleasure.
This spring, ChildFund India and its campaign partner, Macmillan Education, conducted a baseline assessment of 1,200 children across 15 Indian states, to understand their reading abilities. About 40,000 children have received books and bags since December through the Books, My Friends program.
The analysis showed that reading ability improved with age, although far too many children still can’t read. In the group of 6- to 8-year-olds tested, 66.2 percent were not able to read at all, while 44.8 percent of 11- and 12-year-olds and 29 percent of 13- and 14-year-olds were illiterate. Geography mattered as well, with higher literacy rates in the states of Delhi, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, while Rajasthan, Jharkand and Chhattisgarh had lower rates.
Pooja, 14, who lives in a village in Andhra Pradesh, was able to read at the level of an 8- or 9-year-old when she received her books in December.
“I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to read these books,” she says. Also, most of her time was spent in studying her textbooks or attending classes, so Pooja preferred to get away from books during her leisure time.
But because some of the books she received were in her local language, Telugu, they piqued her interest. Soon, she was enjoying them, and she moved on to the other books in her bag, which were in English. That presented an obstacle, since English is harder for Pooja to read.
With a smile on her face, Pooja says, “My school coordinator has helped me a lot in improving my English reading ability. She would patiently sit with me, make me read these story books and correct me whenever I went wrong. And as soon as I started understanding the stories, I started enjoying them and wanted to read more.”
As a result, Pooja has joined a group of other students who discuss their books.
“This campaign has really helped me make new friends,” she says. “All the students who have received these books have formed a group, and during weekends, all of us sit together to read these books and enjoy chatting with each other. The illustrations in these books make the reading all more interesting. I’m really grateful to ChildFund for giving me these books. Because of this campaign, I’ve made this extra effort to read, and today I can read an entire sentence in English without faltering.”
Reading is an important source of knowledge, happiness, pleasure and even courage. It opens your mind and transports you virtually into newer worlds. It develops your brain and helps in communicating and sharing ideas, and therefore is essential for advancement and development of any society.
Read Rashmi Kulkarni’s first story about Books, My Friends.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
This is the first of three articles this month about Kate’s recent trip to report on ChildFund-supported programs in Guatemala’s highlands.
When ChildFund staff members travel to the field, we often hire translators, even when we have some command of the language being spoken. But in Guatemala’s highlands, I needed two translators: one who could translate Spanish to English, and a second to translate from the local language to Spanish. Often, we asked our local partner organizations to help us out.
It definitely made reporting interesting. A couple of people compared the process to the childhood game of Telephone, which isn’t too far from the truth. Since it was hard to get direct quotes, I relied a lot on skills of observation in Palima, Patzite and Pachichiac, mountain villages that I visited in late April.
Bumpy dirt roads, bright blue tarps draped over mud-brick house frames, the scent of greens cooking on a rustic stove, chickens and dogs running loose, the smell of rain as a storm approached — they all fed my senses. So did the peal of 4-year-old Heidi Karina’s voice as she named colors in her native tongue of Kaqchikel, part of the Mayan family of languages. She’ll learn Spanish in school, but right now, she says räx for green instead of the Spanish verde.
People in these highland villages are isolated from the rest of Guatemala, particularly the capital of Guatemala City and nearby Antigua, where schools, jobs, running water and electricity are far more accessible. Although the highlands are just a couple of hours away from the cities by car, a lack of reliable transportation and job opportunities keeps many families in poverty.
As does the language barrier. Children learn Spanish in school, but most in the highlands don’t attend past sixth grade. How many of you reading this story took high school Spanish or French? And how much of it do you remember?
Anyone hoping for a professional job in Guatemala needs to be fluent in Spanish, and I overheard one person in our party advising a young woman that she also should study English to improve her chances for a job as a social worker. Such advice seems unreachable for people who stop school in the third grade, take up farming or weaving, marry in their teens and have six or seven children to care for. Hopes may be somewhat higher for the children, but few of them progress to high school even now.
A state-maintained highway runs near the district of Quiché, which gives people there an advantage over other communities like Pachichiac, which is far from any main roads. José Mario Lopez Ixcoy, general director of ChildFund’s local partner in Quiché, says that most people there speak some Spanish, at least enough to take menial jobs in cities, although, he adds, “sometimes they feel discriminated against in the city because of their customs.” People can walk half an hour to a bus stop, where buses come twice in the morning and return from the cities twice in the afternoon. School, health care and jobs are easier to reach, as a result.
The people in Guatemala’s highlands will need many things to happen to make school more accessible: better roads, regular transportation, funding for school uniforms and other necessities.
And, according to Aura Maria, a guide mother who lives in Pachichiac, the communities also need more job opportunities, reliable electricity and financial assistance for education and health care.
I learned how to say “thank you” in Quiché, another Mayan language: Maltiox, pronounced mal-tee-osh. It took a fair amount of practice, and although I got comfortable with saying it during the visit, the word is already starting to fade from my memory a month later.
Let’s not let the same happen with children who depend on us to think of their futures.
ChildFund Sri Lanka sent us this picture from the Sinhalese/Tamil New Year’s Day celebration, held in April. To celebrate, our local partner organization Abhimana in Dambulla, a town in central Sri Lanka, held a party. Here, you see children with their hands behind their backs trying to be the first one to eat a whole bun. The first to finish wins a prize!
By Rashmi Kulkarni, ChildFund India
Last December, ChildFund India launched a nationwide campaign called Books, My Friends to provide bags full of age-appropriate books for 115,000 children ages 6 to 14 across India. The goal of the project is to make reading fun for children while helping them improve their reading, comprehension and learning abilities. We hope to create a love of reading that continues through adulthood.
In India, we work with children who live in rural villages and urban slums, and lack of education is a big concern everywhere. Many children living in poverty can’t read at grade level and often don’t have access to books at home. In rural communities, children are often limited to textbooks printed on poor-quality paper. Many parents are barely literate, so a culture of reading has not yet taken hold. Without strong reading comprehension, children can’t excel in school.
To address this situation, ChildFund India started the Reading Improvement Program, our flagship education initiative, and the Books, My Friends campaign, which encourages students to read for pleasure.
Shreelakshmi, a seventh-grader from the southwestern state of Karnataka, received a reading bag in December during the launch of Books, My Friends. She had a chance to meet Anil Kumble, a world-renowned cricket captain and major sports celebrity in India.
Shreelakshmi recalls the meeting fondly: “The experience of receiving books from Anil Kumble is still fresh in my mind. He and the ChildFund team spoke with us freely and inspired us to read more books. I am very grateful to ChildFund for giving me this opportunity,” she says, a smile spreading across her face.
Shreelakshmi received 17 books, and she’s already read many of them. Her favorite was Kadhakalu Maha Nagara, about a girl who had no one to read a story to her. Finally, she finds one person who starts telling stories to her daily. Slowly, other children start joining her to listen.
“I, too, like stories, and my brother also sometimes reads them to me,” Shreelakshmi says.
Since most of her neighborhood friends also have received reading bags, they enjoy reading and discussing books together.
Parents say it’s great for their children to have something constructive to do with their time, and Shreelakshmi’s teacher adds that the habit of reading appears to be taking hold, just a few months into the project.
Watch this space for another story soon about Books, My Friends and the Reading Improvement Program.
Video by ChildFund Bolivia
In La Paz, Bolivia, members of the Avance Comunitario Youth Club are talking about alcohol abuse and gang violence, two serious problems in their community. In the video, one girl points to bushes where gang members hide from police lights. If you were to draw a map of your neighborhood, the way these teens did, what kinds of dangers would you draw? By creating awareness of community issues, the members of the youth club — one of several supported by ChildFund and our local partner organizations in Bolivia — are leading the way toward solutions.