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.
By Silvia Ximenes, ChildFund Timor-Leste
Cristina Moniz was busy as usual one morning three years ago, getting her children up for school and preparing breakfast for them and her husband, Joaquim Lopez, a police officer in the Timor-Leste district of Covalima. She passed by her 7-year-old son Deonizio’s room, and to her surprise, he was still in bed asleep.
Approaching his bed, Cristina discovered that Deonizio had a fever.
“I felt not well at all, got headaches and vomited all the time,” Deonizio recalls today. “With all those conditions, it prevented me from going out; I couldn’t go to school or play around with my friends.”
It turned out that Deonizio had malaria, one of the deadliest diseases in the developing world, especially for children. He and Cristina first went to the village health post, Salele Community Health Center, which referred Deonizio to the hospital, where he had a blood test analyzed.
Cristina was shocked that her son had malaria, but the health center’s staff advised her to give Deonizio anti-malarial medication on time and keep the home clean and mosquito-free. This isn’t an easy task for Cristina, who now has five children and many duties. But insecticide-treated bed nets that arrived from ChildFund in 2011 have helped.
“Before getting the bed nets, there were many mosquitoes around the house,” Cristina says. “We are happy because there are no more mosquitoes, no more sickness. Now, my family and I can sleep safely away from mosquitoes. No more malaria in our family. Deonizio can go to school any time,” she notes.
“I feel sure that mosquito will no longer bite me when I sleep under the bed net,” adds Deonizio, who is 10 now. “I’ll be freely doing my daily activities as usual, going to school, playing with friends.”
Having recognized World Malaria Day recently, we’ve learned about how many children are at risk of contracting this preventable disease in developing countries like Timor-Leste. Malaria kills 200,000 children worldwide each year, and many more become sick. However, the gift of a medicated mosquito net can mean good health, education and fulfilled potential for children in need like Deonizio and his brothers.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund International writer
On Earth Day and every day, ChildFund approaches its work with one overall mission in mind: helping communities become self-sufficient. That’s why we work with local partner organizations and provide training to community members wherever we go — so they’ll be able to succeed over the long term, allowing ChildFund to assist others in need.
In northern Ecuador’s Pichincha province, 200 families need a helping hand. ChildFund’s goal is to help them start and improve fruit and vegetable gardens, a program that will not only feed children but also set their families on the path to self-sufficiency. This Fund a Project, started in February, will provide vegetable and fruit seedlings, agricultural supplies and educational workshops. Our goal is to have 200 gardens in the region by August, which will directly help 750 children and 500 youth.
This is where your help comes in; our goal is to raise $42,600 by August. Children in this region of Ecuador sometimes suffer from undernutrition, and families often don’t make enough income to cover basic needs. A thriving home garden will provide families with a diverse supply of vegetables and fruit — instead of just corn, the most common regional crop — and give them the chance to sell the excess crops, increasing the family’s income by an estimated 30 percent.
With greater income, children will have more educational opportunities, and parents will be able to provide the basics: health care, clothing and bedding. In northern Ecuador, a garden represents hope and independence.
Will you help fund this project?
Reporting by Arthur Tokpah Mamy, ChildFund Guinea
Fatoumata is 13 years old and lives in Guinea. A student in Sougueta Primary School, which is supported by ChildFund, Fatoumata holds the position of minister of discrimination in her student government.
We asked her why she accepted this post.
“In my village, families do not easily accept each other. Those from the Mandingo ethnic group do not collaborate with ones from the Foula ethnic group,” she says. “Unfortunately, our parents’ bad behavior has extended even to the schools and is affecting relationships between students on campus.”
She notes that students often fight each other and that each group of students discriminates against the other.
“I want to talk about peace with my fellow students and, if possible, with our parents,” Fatoumata says.
Asked what advice she would give, Fatoumata doesn’t hesitate: “To my friends, I would say, ‘Make peace with each other because if we follow our parents’ bad ways, we will not grow to become good people.’
To the parents, I would say, ‘Help us grow and become good people in the future.’ ”
By Priscila Oliveira, ChildFund Brasil
Reflecting the fifth article of the Universal Declaration of Water Rights — ”Its protection is a vital need and a moral obligation of men to the present and future generations” — ChildFund Brasil strives to educate communities about water preservation for the benefit of future generations.
The project “Meu Meio, Minha Vida” (My Surroundings, My Life), is part of the Vigilantes da Água (Water Watchers) program and is a result of the efforts invested in the communities of Vereda, Bidó, Pedra do Bolo, Tombo and Empoeira, in the Jequitinhonha Valley, a semi-arid region in the state of Minas Gerais in eastern Brazil.
ChildFund Brasil’s local partner organization, Municipal Community Association of Medina, carries out the program, which trains community leaders to monitor water quality and educate the community on advocating for their right to have access to clean water. Currently, 18 men and women monitor water quality, which benefits more than 200 families.
For Maria de Almeida, a 42-year-old farmer from the community of Tombo, participating in the program has been valuable. “This project made us learn more about the water we use,” Maria says. “And, knowing that it was contaminated, we now fight for improvement and for the preservation of the springs. I feel happy to participate in the project and for the opportunity to educate other people.”
Paula Gava, coordinator at the Medina community association, notes, “The program is a way of working on environmental issues as a whole in the community, of making everyone reflect on the environment. At the moment, we discuss the situation of water availability.
“The reality is that there is a lack of water during this period of drought, and furthermore, we’ve detected coliform bacteria contamination,” he adds. “We already have people mobilized and aware of the bad water they consume. Our job is to provide information so that the community can organize themselves, feel empowered to demand clean water and become part of the solution.”
As the program continues, community groups are working with Minas Gerais’ rural extension agency and municipal health and agriculture departments to improve the quality of water.
Reporting by ChildFund Ethiopia staff
Tariku, now 33, grew up in a family of nine in the Amhara region of Ethiopia. Without the support of ChildFund, he says he would not have been able to afford school materials or continue his education. Today, as a university graduate and a master’s degree student, Tariku has found success. The following is his story in his own words:
Today I am going to tell you about myself, about how ChildFund changed my life, as it did for many children, by providing various kinds of support. ChildFund played a great role in my life and helped me become who I am now. I enrolled in the project when ChildFund opened its office at Semen Shoa, in the Amhara region, in 1992 during the downfall of the Derg political regime. At that time, I was a grade-six student, while my father was a soldier and my mom was a housewife. We were nine in the family.
I am the youngest in my family, except one younger sibling. However, no one in my family has gone far from home or been successful in education. Since I joined the project, ChildFund supported me with educational materials, health care and fulfilling our family’s needs. Before, I had no means to buy books or other educational materials. The project provided me with everything I required for my education; that, in turn, increased my interest in learning.
After I finished my diploma in agriculture at Jimma University (a top Ethiopian teaching university) in 2000, I had the chance to join ChildFund’s local partner organization staff as a community development worker. After some time there, I moved to a project in Addis Ababa.
I received my first degree in business management in 2009, and now I am a graduate student at Addis Ababa University in psychology. I am now a sponsorship relations head at work.
“Supporting one child means supporting the family.”
One thing that I want to highlight is how ChildFund’s work is fruitful. There are many successful alumni who are working in many areas in different organizations. Supporting one child means supporting the family. For instance, my family has benefited a lot. I have created work opportunities for my elder siblings by supporting them financially, and I was able to teach my younger sibling.
The support I received in the Semen Shoa project is the basis of all my success. I can say that ChildFund was just as important as my blood circulation.
I am sure that I will keep on improving my life even after this, but I will give credit to ChildFund often. Now I am successful in my work. I want to be a role model and pass this message on to other children who are receiving support from ChildFund to give credit for what ChildFund did for them. I hope that many children will attain similar success to what I have achieved now.
Dry weather can lead to disaster in developing countries. Without backup water supplies during a drought, food gets scarcer and more expensive, and people — usually the most vulnerable — become malnourished. This scenario repeats itself all over Africa, and Burkina Faso was one of the most recent countries stricken.
However, this story has a happier ending than many, thanks to the leadership of Christian Children’s Fund Canada, part of the ChildFund Alliance. Beginning in April 2012, CCFC started a project that targeted 12,000 people at risk of illness and death related to malnutrition — mainly children under the age of 5 and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Canadian supporters and other Alliance partners, including ChildFund International, made donations that helped this project succeed.
The project, which ended in December, provided supplementary feeding and related training; distributed food rations; supplied seeds and fertilizer; and distributed goats and sheep. In the end, about 19,000 people in 20 communities in Burkina Faso benefitted.
With some funds remaining and new funding coming in, the focus in Burkina Faso has now shifted to helping the communities prepare for future droughts and become more resilient.
By Priscila Oliveira, ChildFund Brasil
Photographs span different languages and long distances, as a group of American and Brazilian students learned during an exchange program. In January, 12 students from Soka University in California’s Orange County traveled to Brazil to work with teens involved in ChildFund Brasil’s Photovoice project.
The group gathered in the city of Medina for a workshop. The teens and college students shared their approaches toward setting up pictures and, along the way, gained an appreciation for a different culture.
“It was an exchange where all students were engaged in teaching and learning,” says ChildFund Brasil Social Program Manager Dov Rosenmann.
The workshops took place at Medina’s Little House of Culture, another important project of ChildFund, which has worked in Brazil for 46 years. The space is meant to revive community bonds and pride in their cultural roots. Children, teens and young adults often find encouragement to pursue arts and other interests there while also gaining technological skills.
Besides participating in the Photovoice workshops, the American students also donated six digital cameras and one projector that will be used by students from the communities that participate in this project.
Photovoice was developed by ChildFund Brasil in partnership with social organizations all over the country with the goal of promoting peaceful coexistence and healthy social relationships among young people through the art of photography. Participants take pictures of daily life in their communities, many of which are lacking necessary resources.
In addition to acquiring knowledge about photography, the young people have the opportunity to express their points of view about the daily life in the community and to reflect with criticism about what they photograph. More than 300 youths have taken part in Photovoice.
The teens decide on which subjects to capture — often family relationships, local culture, nature and social themes. “The importance is to capture the elements that contain a meaningful story,” Rosenmann says.