Voices of Children

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Anista, Five Years Later

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By Rachel Ringgold, ChildFund Staff Writer

It’s been five years since we met Anista. She’s a sponsored child who lives in Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka, and we took a peek into her daily routine when she was 9. Some things in her life haven’t changed much since then.

Anista still brushes her teeth in the morning to get ready for the day. Her sister, Stella, still washes up with her, out in front of the same robin’s-egg-blue house. To get to school, they still walk half an hour to school, down and then back up the sides of the same misty mountains covered with tea bushes.

But a lot has changed in the last five years, too. Anista is 14 years old now, and she’s at the top of her ninth-grade class. On this visit with the family, the kids were on summer break, so they were home from school. Anista drinks tea, washes up and plays with her sisters — their favorite game is jump rope.

rs38394_dsc_0364Anista also helps her mother, Slatemary, do chores around the house. Five years ago, Slatemary wasn’t at home. In fact, she wasn’t even in the country. She worked abroad for years as a housemaid in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan. But last November, after not receiving a paycheck for several months, Slatemary returned to Sri Lanka — and she says she won’t leave again. “I want to be here,” she says. “I want to be home with my children.”

Slatemary, along with Anista’s father, has worked hard to give her family all she possibly can. Five years ago, Anista and her siblings didn’t have electricity or running water in their house, but now they do. And they have a TV, which is something else Anista and her siblings enjoy on days off from school — but they’re allowed to watch only educational shows, Slatemary says.

 

 

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And Anista has gone from being one of the little sisters to being the oldest child at home, as her two older sisters have jobs hours away in Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo. Watching the siblings, it’s clear Anista takes her role seriously — she keeps a watchful eye when her younger sister, Princey, climbs a tree, and she holds brother Kabilash’s hand as they descend the steep stairs from their village.

Slatemary says that what she truly wants from ChildFund is not physical or tangible. What she wants for her daughter is “good knowledge, a good attitude and to learn to be a good human being.” And, she says, “I don’t want my daughter to be like me — a tea plucker.”

It seems that Anista’s mother’s dreams are well on their way to coming true. Five years ago, when asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, Anista said she wanted to be a teacher. And her dream has grown since then. “I want to teach dance,” she says with a quiet determination.

We can’t wait to see it.

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Friends in Deed

Photo and reporting by Himangi Jayasundere, ChildFund Sri Lanka

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“I am thankful to have Darshika, who is my very good friend,” says Sasivini, 13, of Sri Lanka (at right). “Darshika is also 13 years old and studies with me in school. When something goes wrong at school, sometimes I quarrel with my classmates. When that happens, I feel lonely and isolated. But I am thankful for having a friend like Darshika, who intervenes and settles matters peacefully.”

Stay tuned for more stories about what children are thankful for.

Learning a Better Way to Fight

Photo by Jéssica Takato, ChildFund Brazil

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Thirteen-year-old Camilly of Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

When I visited ChildFund’s programs in Brazil earlier this year, girls and boys at a community center in Belo Horizonte were kicking and punching — while led by a teacher. They were learning basic moves in a martial arts class, and the teacher told me something interesting: Learning this ancient pugilistic art actually keeps kids from fighting.

And interest is growing. As more children learn Muay Thai and other martial arts, the center has begun offering a class at night for adults.

Camilly, 13, is one of several girls who take Muay Thai at the community center, and she is living proof that martial arts help people of all ages become more secure and confident, and less volatile. She’s practiced Muay Thai, also known as Thai boxing, since she was 10.

“I was very nervous and fought with everybody,” Camilly says, “but now that I do martial arts and play soccer, I’m getting better. In Muay Thai, we learn to have respect for others and not hit people outside of the fight. I changed a lot. I can settle things calmly, and I’m more patient.

“Now when something happens, I drink a glass of water, calm down, and everything is fine.”

In Pursuit of Excellence

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Maria Antônia, at the community center run by our local partner in Crato, Brazil. 

By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

Getting ready to watch the games in Rio? I sure am. To mark this special occasion, I’ve got a few pictures from my side-trip to southern Brazil (see below, in the slideshow), which followed a wonderful visit to ChildFund’s programs in northeastern Brazil. One of my favorite moments was meeting Maria Antônia, whom we featured last year on the blog. She’s the girl who spoke about violence against children at a side-event organized by ChildFund and other international nongovernmental organizations at the United Nations headquarters in New York City in March 2015.

One of my hopes was to meet Maria Antônia in person while visiting her hometown, Crato, to find out what she had done in the year after her trip to New York. With the help of my ChildFund Brazil colleagues and our local partner staff, she and I were able to meet. She’s now about to turn 16, and as you’ll read, she’s doing well in and outside of school. No surprise there. Maria Antônia is a young woman destined for great things.

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Celebrating Our Own Heroes

By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

As usual, July 4 is the United States’ Independence Day, but this year, it’s also Zambia’s Heroes Day, which falls on the first Monday of July. Many countries celebrate holidays dedicated to heroes, whether military, political or humanitarian. Who are your heroes? They may be people you’ve never met or someone you’re related to. Maybe you have multiple heroes.

patricia capAt ChildFund, we hear from time to time about children and adults who take stands for someone else’s rights — a person who needs protection or could use extra support as he or she fights for what is right. It can be a lonely and scary feeling to be a hero, but we are thankful for people doing what they can to improve the world, despite personal risk.

In honor of Heroes Day in Zambia, please watch Jake Lyell’s video about Patricia, who was married at age 15. She is a hero in my eyes, and so are the people who helped her escape her marriage, which had already led to abuse and the end of her formal education. Questioning long-held traditions and creating awareness of early marriage’s harmful effects are bold stands in Zambia and many other countries. We need heroes willing to speak out for the rights of girls and women.

Young Faces of Sao Geraldo, Brazil

By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

On the last day of my trip to northeastern Brazil, my colleagues and I (an intrepid group of five, including my translator) went to a small community called Sao Geraldo. After driving all over creation the day before — through rain and mud, past itinerant donkeys — it was a relief to have just a 15-minute drive on paved roads in the sun.

After visiting a well-stocked playroom for children ages 5 and under at a community center supported by ChildFund, we walked to nearby homes to visit sponsored and enrolled children and their families.

Sao Geraldo is a brightly colored place, with yellow, turquoise, coral and white homes lining steep streets. Nearly every home was decorated with children’s artwork and family photos. But serious problems lie beneath the cheery exterior. Neglect and abandonment of children, as well as drug abuse and prostitution, are common here, we learned from our local partner’s staff. Parents, mainly mothers, are doing the best they can, but this is a community that relies on sponsorship and ChildFund’s support of the community center, which serves children and youth.

You can read more about Sao Geraldo on our website, but I wanted to share a few photos of the children we met. Many face an uphill climb because of poverty and few job opportunities in this region, but sponsorship and other kinds of support do make a difference in their lives, offering them hope.

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Marching to Their Own Beat

Video and text by Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

During my trip to northeastern Brazil in March, I visited many families of sponsored children and the community centers where neighborhood kids go after school. The centers are supported by ChildFund and run by our local partner organizations, and offer arts and crafts classes, music lessons, dancing, martial arts and much more for children and youth.

In Crato, a midsize city in the state of Ceara (which has been deeply affected by the Zika virus outbreak), a troupe of young drummers — boys and girls, ages 5 to 13 — played for our small group of visiting ChildFund staff members from Brazil and the United States.

After watching the children perform, we visited 13-year-old Poliana’s home and met her parents and siblings, who told us about their great experience with sponsorship. You’ll see Poliana in the video around :28; she’s the girl with the springy curls. Aside from drumming, she also takes ballet and likes to draw.

Brazil, as you may know, is a large country both in land mass and in population, and the northeast has just as many cultural traditions as the southern part of the nation. But because of Rio’s international fame (especially for its samba and bossa nova music), people in the U.S. usually know more about southern Brazil. The children in the drum troupe, however, are keeping northeastern culture alive by learning to play rhythms that are part of local musical styles baião, axé and forro.

“We’ve learned to play many different instruments,” says 13-year-old Francisco, who’s been drumming since 2013. “We’ve also made new friends, and our parents are proud of us.”

The late performer Luiz Gonzaga is the prime example of the northeast’s musical tradition, with decades of songs featuring accordion, drums and prominent vocals. You may recognize a few similarities between his music and what the children are playing. Give him a listen!

Harvest Time in Ecuador

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“I like spending my time helping my mom in the garden, especially when it is harvest time,” says 6-year-old Samira of Quito, Ecuador. Photo by Veronica Travez, ChildFund Ecuador. 

United States Children’s Survey Shows Fear, Insecurity

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Children line up to meet a police officer and check out a squad car during ChildFund’s Just Read! Reading Festival in Oklahoma. Safety and security are on many children’s minds, according to our recent poll. 

By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

If you were president, what is the one thing you would do to keep children safe?

We put that question to 1,188 children and youth ages 5 to 18 in ChildFund’s U.S. programs in Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas. When we take a look at their answers, the common denominator is fear.

What would they do as president? Most say they would keep children away from predators, bullies and strangers. Some would make children stay inside their homes, lock down schools, put stone walls around parks.

Some would even implant tracking devices under children’s skin and in their teeth.

More than 30 percent spoke about enforcing adult supervision, setting up alarm systems and giving children safe places to go.

Another 7.5 percent recommended keeping children isolated and restricting their movements or staying with their parents at all times. And 18 percent say they would create, change or enforce laws, mostly to keep children safer. Others would shut down the Internet or use technology to track down sex offenders and predators and keep them away from children.

Children usually are reflecting the concerns — voiced or not — of the adults around them.

Part of this sense of danger and insecurity is likely based on real problems in their communities; the children polled are from disadvantaged and poor areas, with more than 20 percent of the population under the national poverty line. High dropout rates, domestic violence and substance abuse are documented issues, along with other hardships associated with poverty.

“While children responded overwhelmingly that they feel the safest at home, we know that many homes are not safe environments for children in these areas,” says program director Julia Campbell. “In previous surveys and consultations with children, they are reluctant to talk about what goes on at home and mainly focus on the problems outside the home. Perhaps compared to the other choices, home still feels the most safe to them. It’s still what kids know best and what they prefer.”

But children also are reacting to perceived problems, too. They’re scared of being targeted by sexual predators, kidnappers and other villains around every corner. Dangerous people exist, of course, but are they as omnipresent as some of the children’s answers suggest?

We need to pay attention, even when what they say seems a little off the wall. Children usually are reflecting the concerns — voiced or not — of the adults around them. Just read some of their answers to “If I were president …”

I would make a small town and keep them in there. There wouldn’t be no bullying, no people trying to get them.

I would keep children safe by putting the schoolhouse on lockdown.    

If they are ages 6-13, they should not go places without parents guarding them.

NO Guns, NO Drugs.

Ban drugs and walking home alone from school.

I would make a stone wall around the park and only kids and their parents can go in.

I would make the parks safe 24 hours.

Make sure that the parents are good; they don’t get drunk and beat their kids.

I would keep children safe by keeping ISIS away from America.

Remove every website.

I would have a soldier at as many doors as possible, make it illegal for people to use motorcycles, make animal shelters that don’t kill animals, and make it illegal to smoke or drink.

Have an online school because a lot of children get kidnapped walking home after school.

There are a few light-hearted and optimistic answers, like the children who would ban homework on Fridays and establish four-day weekends, but the vast majority of the young people polled suggest fairly extreme solutions to the question of keeping kids safe. And as we know from working in countries with political strife and other dangers, it’s hard for children to concentrate on playing, making friends, studying and reaching their potential when they’re afraid.

But if we look back to the children’s words, we can find a few answers about how to ease their fears and help them feel safer and more confident. We just need to listen:

Make parents teach children what’s right and wrong and lead them on the right path.

Have a class where all children go and talk to a teacher to tell them anything that is going on with their lives.

Listen to what they have to say and look for the best solution for their problems.

Talk to them about all their insecurities and just tell them that everything will be all right.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with warm thoughts and love. What are we thankful for at ChildFund? The chance to see children’s happy faces and hear their voices. Here’s a class at an elementary school in East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia, singing about a garden full of pretty flowers. Please enjoy.

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