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.
Photos and captions by Sharon Ishimwe, ChildFund Uganda
In the Kyankwanzi District of central Uganda, clean water is now available — in some places. The pictures here show the stark differences between villages with boreholes, water tanks, tip-taps and purifiers, and those that lack these resources. ChildFund Uganda, in partnership with corporate donor Procter & Gamble and local partner organization Community Effort for Child Empowerment, has worked to provide families with access to clean water. Those affected by HIV and AIDS are in the most need. Without fresh water in or near their homes, people are at greater risk of contracting waterborne diseases and are forced to walk great distances to bring home water.
By Julien Anseau, Global Communications Manager
Adanech has never lacked ambition — just opportunity. Before ChildFund started working in her community, her family, like many others, scraped every day to make ends meet. Today, the Ethiopian mother owns a business, employs five people and is looking to grow her enterprise further. “More importantly, my children are healthy and in school,” she says.
Adanech first learned of ChildFund’s Yekokeb Berhan program a little over a year ago and signed up for training in business development and micro-enterprise. “Before, we had no money,” she says. “It was a real struggle to make just enough money to live. I had a small weaving business, and I wanted to learn how to make a success of it.” She became involved in a savings group and was able to access a small loan on favorable terms.
The PEPFAR/USAID-funded Yekokeb Berhan program has worked in Ethiopia since May 2011 to put in place a child-focused social welfare network that allows all children, including the most vulnerable, to thrive. Focusing on HIV-affected communities, Yekokeb Berhan aims to reach 500,000 highly vulnerable children throughout the country and is a collaboration among Pact, Family Health International (FHI360) and ChildFund International, along with many local partner organizations.
Adanech took out a loan of 10,000 Birr (USD $500) to get started and has not looked back since. Now, after household expenses such as rent and food, staff wages and loan repayments, Adanech and her husband, Meteke, still have 3,000 Birr (USD $150) at the end of the month that they can save or invest in the business.
“Life is so much better now,” says Meteke. “We live for our children. We can send them to school. And they are healthy.” He adds, proudly, that their 9-year-old daughter, Bizuayhue, dreams of becoming a doctor and helping the family, and that 2-year-old Yohannes is “happy running around for now.”
Adanech’s community of Zenebework is one of the poorest in Addis Ababa. Most residents are migrants from poor rural areas, attracted to Ethiopia’s rapidly growing capital city by better job prospects. The city dump is nearby, and families scavenge for food and anything they can resell. The HIV infection rate is among the highest in the country, and a high proportion of children grow up in broken homes.
Yet Adanech is upbeat: “Life is also changing in the community. Life can change if you are given the opportunity. People here have never been scared of hard work. From the moment they wake to the moment they sleep, people here are working. They just need the opportunity to work smarter.”
At 28, Adanech is full of ambition. “I am looking to hire five more employees and buy a singeing machine to make more elaborate patterns on my fabrics, which I would then sell at a higher profit. The machine costs 10,500 Birr [USD $510], which is a lot.” For now, she sells her textiles at the local market, but she aspires to sell to merchants at Merkato, Africa’s largest open-air market, and in Bole, an upscale area in Addis Ababa.
“Sometimes, all people need is an opportunity,” says Meteke, 31. “Before, we did not have the money to grow our business. No one would give us a loan other than loan sharks, who asked for 100 percent interest. Now our loan repayment, including interest, is 450 Birr [USD $22] every month, which is manageable.”
Yekokeb Berhan’s livelihood support is important, says Abraham, a program officer for ChildFund’s local partner called Love for Children and Family Development Charitable Organization, which implements the program. “Giving families opportunities to earn a decent living is the most sustainable approach to helping them meet the needs of their children.”
He adds, “Ethiopia is seeing rapid economic growth, which is great. But with growth comes increasing inequality. I am proud of being part of this program, because I can see the changes in the lives of children who would otherwise have been left behind.”
In La Paz, Bolivia, children are learning how to wash their hands thoroughly, as you can see in this video from the field. On March 22, we celebrated World Water Day, which highlights water’s important role in health, sanitation, agriculture, industry and education. When clean water is hard or impossible to access — as it is for 748 million people worldwide, according to the United Nations — the most vulnerable among us, including infants and children, tend to get sick and lose time at school, become malnourished and even die from preventable diseases. Making water available in communities and showing families how to protect themselves from diseases are two of ChildFund’s most important goals. Learn more about how you can help.