Reporting by Ahmadullah Zahid, ChildFund Afghanistan
After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s, Malik Nader fled to Pakistan and lived there as a refugee for 20 years before returning to his homeland. Now 41, the father of eight lives with his family in Sheikh Mesri New Township, a refugee resettlement community near Jalalabad, in eastern Afghanistan. ChildFund is at work in Sheikh Mesri through its RESTART program, a collection of services designed to help meet the needs of the community’s youngest children for education, nutrition, water and sanitation. In this remote, dry landscape, water was the greatest challenge. Malik shares his story as we mark World Water Day on March 22.
When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, we lost everything. We had to take our last option ― migrating to Pakistan ― and it was very difficult to live with no basic services in another country. We settled in a refugee camp, where we were provided tents and some food items.
Like other Afghan refugees, I started working as a laborer to feed our family. Twenty years of my life passed without any promotion to any other work, but still we were happy that our families and children were safe.
But after a while, the Pakistani government began destroying our small mud houses and camps, and we became afraid again. Nothing in our lives was guaranteed, and we had to deal with the Pakistani police every day. Tired of this, we finally decided to return to our home country.
Arriving in Afghanistan with only a Voluntary Repatriation Form from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), we received a piece of land from the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriations. And so we began our new lives in Sheikh Mesri New Township.
At first, we lacked even the basics for life such as water, health care, food, decent roads and jobs. It was just like 20 years ago, making a start in Pakistan.
The most difficult problem was drinking water. We spent as much as five hours a day bringing water from far away to meet the needs of our children and families. Awhile after we arrived in Sheikh Mesri, the UNHCR built some wells, which helped to some degree, but they were often out of order, and water would be unavailable.
Then, last year, ChildFund built seven solar-powered water systems in Sheikh Mesri. The design is great! It’s very easy to collect water, and it’s accessible to everyone ― enough water 24 hours a day. We had dreamed of seeing water flowing in our camp, and the solar-powered water systems made our dream come true.
In fact, the UNHCR is building similar solar-powered water systems in Sheikh Mesri, which will solve 100 percent of the water needs of the Afghan returnees who are making their lives here.
Now life feels more stable, and Sheikh Mesri feels like a place where we can stay.
Were you inspired by today’s blog? Share your thoughts on the subject with your Twittter followers! This week, ChildFund is encouraging its supporters to “tweet-out” for World Water Day using the hashtag #Water4Children. Top tweeters will receive water gifts sent to a family in their honor. More details here.
By Patricia Toquica, Americas Region Communications Manager
School sponsorship is a new initiative of ChildFund Brasil to reach children in the most remote areas of the Amazon forest and improve their educational opportunities.
Raimundo and Tomé are the local teachers in Tres Unidas, a small community located along the banks of the Amazon River, three hours by boat from the Brazilian city of Manaos. This community is part of the Kambeba indigenous group, one of hundreds of ethnic groups that live in the Amazon forest, a vast green territory more than twice the size of Texas.
Elementary schools in remote areas of the Amazon lack basic infrastructure, such as proper roofs, desks and even bathrooms. “Sometimes children take their lessons outside, under the shade of a tree, because it gets very hot during the day in the classroom, not to mention during the rainy season,” explains Tomé.
Most of the classes are multi-grade with an average of 30 students, ages 4 to 12 years. The children’s age differences make it difficult for teachers to follow up on programs and individual progress. “We divide the board into four parts and the children into four groups according to their ages; we work with them in separate activities, depending on the topic,” says Raimundo.
Still, every single child in this little village of palm-thatched huts housing about 20 families goes to school every day and looks forward to learning.
The ChildFund school sponsorship program in Brazil is a new initiative developed in partnership with the Sustainable Amazon Foundation (Fundação Amazonas Sustentável – FAS). ChildFund seeks to improve school infrastructure and access to quality education for school-age children in isolated communities deep in the Amazon forest. Launched in September 2012, the program also aims to raise children’s awareness of the importance of sustainable use of their resources, so that they can become “true guardians of the forest.”
For Raimundo, who is also the Tres Unidas school director, educating children in his community is about delivering formal curriculum and also focusing on indigenous culture. It’s important that the children learn about traditional history, rituals, language and medicine.
He notes that indigenous schools in Brazil typically have inferior infrastructure and learning materials. As part of their partnership strategy for the school sponsorship program, ChildFund Brasil and FAS are working to reduce the cost of delivering educational services to remote areas. “We don’t want to replace government but facilitate development,” says Virgilio Viana, director of FAS.
Thus, ChildFund and FAS are partnering with municipalities. For example, the municipality is covering the cost of providing teachers, and ChildFund and FAS, with the help of the community, are building or improving schools and also supporting teachers with additional training and teaching tools.
The School Sponsorship program is already piloting in the Sustainable Development Reserves of Juma and Uatumã, supporting 20 schools and nearly 300 students. In the long term, ChildFund Brasil’s goal, with the support of sponsors and donors, is to have a presence in eight natural reserves and reach children in more than 500 communities in the Amazon.
Reporting by Ahmadullah Zahid, ChildFund Afghanistan
On International Women’s Day, we’re spotlighting some of the amazing girls and women we’ve encountered in ChildFund-supported communities. We honor their struggles and cheer their successes.
A young girl stood before a panel of adults in a government office in northern Afghanistan. It was not her first visit.
What is your name, and how old are you?
My name is Nazifa, and I am 12 years old.
Are you happy with your family?
Yes, I am. My mother is a kind woman, and my father is often away from us, working.
Why are you in the district governor’s office?
I presented a written complaint to get out of being married to an old man.
How much is a 12-year-old girl worth?
To Nazifa’s grandfather, $2,000 sounded about right. This was the offer from the pair of community elders who approached him a year ago about arranging a marriage between his eldest granddaughter and a young boy from their rural village.
The three men, says Nazifa, showed her a picture of the boy and made her agree to the marriage despite her objections, which included her desire to continue school.
On the wedding night, she was taken to a room where an old man sat. She kissed his hands, the traditional demonstration of respect for elders by Afghanistan’s young people. And then she was made to sit next to him. She began to cry, harder and harder as she came to understand that this elderly man was her new husband ― that she had been deceived, and that there was nothing she could do. Finally, she fell quiet, and the man did as he wanted. He was 72 years old.
Nazifa’s grandfather left immediately after the wedding on a pilgrimage funded by Nazifa’s bride price.
Within two weeks, Nazifa’s husband began to abuse her.
The moment she saw an opening, Nazifa ran home to her mother and told her everything, and they submitted a complaint to district authorities. Eight months later, there was still no resolution.
ChildFund learned of Nazifa’s case through its Social Work Coaching project in Takhar province, which aims to improve child protection systems to address the needs of children at risk. In addition to working with local and national government authorities, the project trains social workers and community outreach workers on child rights, child development and protection, referrals and other social work services. ChildFund is one of several partner organizations in the project, which is supported by UNICEF.
After Nazifa told her story, the room fell quiet, her listeners struck by her tender age, her sweet face, her directness, her passion for education. Her questioner changed the subject.
Do you go to school?
Yes, when I am not coming to court.
When you go to school, does anyone bother you?
Yes, on the way to school and in class, they all laugh at me and say unpleasant words.
Do you want to continue going to school?
Yes. I will never stop going, even though it’s hard.
If you don’t succeed in getting out of this marriage, what will you do?
I am sure the government will decide in my favor. Otherwise, I can’t accept life with an old, disturbing man, and I will end my life somehow.
Nazifa was finally able to leave the marriage, and school is easier now, thanks to some support from social workers trained by ChildFund.
Authorities had no good answer as to why this case had taken so long, and there are many more such cases throughout Afghanistan due to the cultural breakdown following the country’s two decades of conflict. Social work is not really a formal profession in Afghanistan, but this is beginning to change as authorities recognize the need for it, thanks largely to awareness raised by ChildFund and others working to strengthen child protection systems in Afghanistan.
We work to expand people’s knowledge about the rights and worth of children, and we help protect as many children as we can from becoming victims.
Because a 12-year-old girl is priceless.
By Ya Sainey Gaye, ChildFund The Gambia
ChildFund’s national office in The Gambia, in partnership with Save the Children International, recently donated office equipment and supplies to the Child Welfare Unit, part of The Gambia’s armed forces. The donation was made at a presentation ceremony in the capital city of Banjul on Feb. 13.
The items — desks, paper, office chairs and filing cabinets — are intended to help establish operations of the newly formed Child Welfare Unit, which was established within the seven military barracks across the country. The unit has hotlines for Gambians to report abuse or neglect of children.
This partnership signifies that ChildFund and Save the Children stand with the Child Welfare Unit on a vital cause: protecting vulnerable children in The Gambia.
The country continues to suffer a food shortage, in part because of poor rainfall in the past year. As a result, food prices are higher than most Gambians can afford. Some children are sent to work by their families, leaving them vulnerable to physical and emotional duress.
At the presentation, Mustapha Kebbeh, ChildFund’s acting national director in The Gambia, spoke about his hopes that the Child Welfare Unit will help protect children from violence, exploitation and abuse. “As part of our core outcomes, ChildFund sees to it that children are provided with the right environment to develop in every life stage,” Kebbeh said.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
This week, we recognize Peace Corps volunteers, many of whom leave the United States to live thousands of miles away from family, friends and familiar cultural landmarks. In exchange, volunteers gain global perspective and unforgettable experiences.
To celebrate Peace Corps Week (Feb. 24-March 2), we spoke with a few of ChildFund’s Peace Corps alumni, who shared their stories of living in the field.
Bethany Tebbe, who joined ChildFund in January as a grants management officer, was posted in Togo, a western Africa country, from 2003 to 2007, where she worked in girls’ education and empowerment. “I was 22,” she recalls. “I didn’t have any preconceived expectations.”
At first, she lived in a mud hut with a thatched roof, no electricity and no running water — a home she recalls fondly. It was Bethany’s first time outside of the U.S., but she says that she adjusted fairly well to village life and especially street food. She bicycled constantly.
After a mishap on a mountain hike that caused a serious knee injury, Bethany was posted in a Togolese city with greater ease of mobility. During her time in Togo, she traveled to many African countries, including Niger and Morocco.
When Craig Stein, senior grants and contracts manager at ChildFund, landed in North Yemen in 1982, it also was his first experience overseas. Craig had decided to apply to the Peace Corps after taking a college history class taught by a former diplomat who had piqued his interest in Middle Eastern history and culture. “I wanted to do something different,” he says, and he hoped to work in a Middle Eastern, Islamic society. A posting for an English as a Second Language teacher opened in Hodeidah, Yemen, and Craig was accepted. He lived in a three-bedroom home with three other volunteers, and he later moved to a mountain village as an office administrator of a water project.
Upon his arrival, Craig experienced a great sense of welcome. He and a friend were traveling in the mountains north of the capital city of Sanaa, and they stumbled into a wedding ceremony. They were immediately invited to be guests — for three days, the typical length of a Yemeni wedding. “The Yemenis were a lot more open to Americans or Westerners than I anticipated,” he says. “I’d expected some hostility or at least suspicion, but that wasn’t the case at all.”
Although volunteers cannot choose the country where they are stationed, they do have some control over the type of work they do and sometimes can pick the environment where they’ll live — such as city versus village.
Elizabeth Frank, a program assistant for global programs in ChildFund’s Washington, D.C., office, was posted in Ukraine from 2006 to 2008. Surprisingly, Ukraine has the most Peace Corps volunteers in the world. Elizabeth lived in the western half of the country, which identifies strongly with its Ukrainian heritage; the eastern half has a stronger Russian identity.
“It’s a very divided country,” Elizabeth says. She lived in a small village with a population of 3,000 or so and taught English and HIV prevention. She came away feeling strong respect for Ukraine’s “resilient people.”
“Overall, it was fabulous,” she says, and she remains very close to some of her former students. Two of them came to the United States for high school because educational standards remain very poor in Ukraine; now, they’re attending university in Western Europe.
Elizabeth, Craig and Bethany remain attached to the places where they lived and served, and concur that their perspectives on global issues are strongly influenced by their time in the field.
Since finishing their stints as volunteers a few years ago, both Bethany and Elizabeth have maintained ties to the Peace Corps and the people they met on their tours. Bethany also spent a year in Malawi working for the Peace Corps Response, a short-term assignment that is focused on a particular area of expertise; Bethany’s focus was on HIV and AIDS.
Craig eventually married an English nurse he met while working in that mountain village in Yemen. The couple went on to work in international development in Sudan, Sierra Leone, Senegal and the United Kingdom before settling in the United States.
“My Peace Corps experience had a profound effect on my life,” Craig notes.
By Cynthia Price, Director of Communications
I’ve never been a fan of carnations. I’m more of a roses and Gerber daisy girl. But then I went to Ecuador and developed new appreciation for this simple flower.
Carnations have helped transform the community of Santa Rosa de Patután, located in the province of Cotopaxi, two hours from Ecuador’s capital city, Quito.
During my visit I heard from community leaders about how their village had changed in the past decade and a half. You could say it had grown up. Fifteen years ago, Santa Rosa de Patután was a struggling community with no access to clean water or sanitation services. Adults in this isolated village had little income and few job opportunities. Alcoholism was rampant. Children were sick due to the lack of clean water and poor sanitation.
Today, though, there is much to celebrate. One of the first things ChildFund did when it began working with the community was open up access to clean water. We also helped educate children and family members about proper hygiene. Children’s health improved.
Access to water also meant that irrigation systems could be put in place to help grow crops and flowers, in particular carnations.
With the installation of irrigation systems, farmers realized that their lands could be productive. They would no longer have to travel to the cities looking for work in construction or domestic services. Seeing an opportunity for a locally based enterprise, they built greenhouses to grow carnations. A sea of red and white and pink carnations springing from the earth looks like a sunrise – absolutely breathtaking. When the carnations are harvested they are brought to buildings for processing and shipment to the United States, Europe, Russia and other countries in Latin America. Breathing in the scent is intoxicating.
At the same time that the carnations began to flourish, community members created their own credit union, with initial training and support from ChildFund. Profits generated from the sale of carnations are reinvested in projects for the community such as building better roads and creating a technology center for the children.
“It hasn’t been easy, we had to struggle a lot, and this is the result of many hours of meetings with the community to organize ourselves and make our business work,” says Nestor Moya, a community leader. “Fifteen years ago, we didn’t have water or electricity, but ChildFund gave us the foundations… and now we are entrepreneurs and administrators. We don´t have to work for anybody else.”
Hearing that success story has changed my views on carnations. I’d be delighted with a bouquet of carnations this Valentine’s Day. Beyond making my day special, those carnations would be changing the lives of the children and families who grow them with love.
That’s the sweet smell of success.
By Kate Andrews, with reporting from BØRNEfonden
As strife spreads through Mali, ChildFund Alliance partner BØRNEfonden reports that the children they serve will face many hardships in the future.
Groups of rebels have taken over the northern part of Mali and recently moved southwest as far as Diabaly, a rural town previously held by the Malian government. This recent encroachment has increased the urgency for an international response. Last month, the United Nations Security Council authorized a peacekeeping mission, and now the French military, leading an international coalition, is working to defend the North African country from rebels.
The children served by BØRNEfonden, a Danish organization, are in the relatively secure localities of Bougouni, Yanfolila and Diolila in the southernmost Sikasso region of Mali.
Nevertheless, says BØRNEfonden CEO Bolette Christensen, “At the moment many of the families, children and young people who have fled the northern parts of Mali stay with relatives in southern parts of the country. We must support them now and start thinking long term, or we will end up in a vicious spiral that makes it difficult for Mali to get firmly back on its feet.”
BØRNEfonden supports 14,000 children and families in 22 development centers in southern Mali, although the program is now working with more people, given the recent influx of refugees. Since March 2012, more than 300,000 northern Malians have fled to the southern part of the country, and others are refugees in nearby nations.
One of BØRNEfonden’s main objectives is to assist young Malians in creating small farms with irrigation systems; this program will contribute to the country’s long-term food security. BØRNEfonden will also support schoolchildren who have fled from the northern regions by providing textbooks and other teaching materials.
“Long-term development and targeting job creation, food security and education is more important than ever,” Christensen says.
Jake Lyell, photojournalist and videographer, provides a behind-the-scenes view as he travels to southern Africa to document the needs of the people of Zambia and report on the successes of ChildFund projects in the area. Enjoy the video.
By Abraham Marca and Ana Vacas, ChildFund Bolivia
It’s common to hear older Bolivians describing adolescents and children as being in their “donkey’s age” because they can be bull-headed.
But this perception of youth is now changing in the city of Tarija in Bolivia, where eight local partners, assisted by ChildFund Bolivia, have given children and youths the opportunity to put forward their own solutions for community problems like alcoholism, garbage and poor-quality playgrounds.
“We might be small, but we can do big things” is the slogan of one of the youth clubs.
Forming Youth Clubs
This dream started with small steps. With support from ChildFund, young people created clubs by choosing their own names, designing logos and writing club constitutions with rules about honesty, punctuality, teamwork and more.
Next, the clubs participated in various educational modules, starting with leadership skills and photography. The children and youth started to identify problems and strengths in their community, often using photography. They then developed a project to address a community issue.
One of the main problems the children identified was pollution in their neighborhoods, as well as a lack of good recreational spaces. The few playgrounds were in poor condition. The youth also recognized that a lack of street lighting and persistent alcoholism made their neighborhoods more dangerous. These concerns echoed what we heard during our area strategic program with the Tarija communities.
After forming a club, the children in Guadalquivir planted 12 trees — which they bought themselves — during a clean-up campaign. In Nueva Esperanza, the club members started a campaign to prevent alcoholism and also purchased new lights for the community’s soccer field. A youth leader, studying architecture, designed a new playground and coordinated the project in Moto Mendez. One of Tarija’s rural partners had problems with the speed of traffic near a school so the children consulted the mayor. As a result, speed bumps were put in place. In the same area, the youth raised awareness among adults to use the garbage collection services that passed through the community once a week, instead of tossing trash out on the streets or burning it.
These are just a few examples of how children and youth can reach out, because as they tell us, “There are more ideas and, of course, a lot of energy.” Money is often short, so the club members have made alliances with local authorities and parents’ groups. Municipal governments have helped the children’s groups buy trees to plant in their neighborhoods.
Adults have been pleasantly surprised with the children’s drive, and now they are paying more attention to the young voices.
Guest Post by Pete Olson
Pete Olson is an American Formula car racer in the Asia Formula Renault Series. Olson’s Race for Children campaign is to raise awareness around the issue of child poverty while encouraging fans to become child sponsors. Olson shares his recent trip to meet sponsored child Trang.
After a decade of sponsoring various children through ChildFund, I finally made the decision to meet my sponsored child, Trang, and it was so worth it. Beyond the pictures and the letters from half a world away, my trip to Vietnam made my sponsorship experience that much more tangible. For the first time, I saw, in person, what my sponsorship had done for the little girl I’ve been communicating with over these past years.
To put it simply, meeting Trang is one of the most incredible things I’ve ever done.
My visit made me realize, more than ever, just how privileged I’ve been in my life. I have been very lucky to have so many opportunities, many of which I’ve taken for granted. The benefits my sponsorship are helping provide to Trang are things I’ve always been accustomed to having.
For instance, I saw how ChildFund has helped build a medical center in the village to provide basic health care; they’ve built a fresh water system so the community doesn’t have to walk to a stream to collect drinking and cooking water; and they’ve installed toilet facilities in the village to provide access to basic sanitation. It was eye-opening to realize these standard amenities were previously nonexistent in this community. But I was more shocked to learn from a ChildFund representative that some children have to walk over the surrounding hills to get to and from school each day. That’s probably an hour hike over – and we complain about the Stairmaster!
We gripe so much about trivial things when so many of our basic needs are met. We only have to do a little comparison with those who lack those conveniences to realize how thankful we should all be for what we have and often take for granted.
It is a shame that there are so many inequalities in the world, but I know that I can do my part, no matter how small, to help children like Trang to improve their lives. I sincerely hope that through the Racing for Children program and my own personal efforts, we can find many more sponsors for children like Trang. If more people were moved in the way that I was last month in Vietnam, I have no doubt they would contribute.
I’m already looking forward to going back to visit Trang and her community. I am so glad I made the effort. To think that I have been able to help so much with what we Americans think of as so little – it is really something.
Formula One World Champion race driver, Aytron Senna said it best, “Wealthy men can’t live in an island that is encircled by poverty. We all breathe the same air. We must give a chance to everyone, at least a basic chance.”
Indeed it is our duty, and yet our privilege – we should all do our part. Help a child in need by becoming a sponsor through ChildFund International.