Voices of Children

A Show of Hands for Nonviolence

Free From Violence handprints

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.

Please share the photos with your networks, create your own handprints, and help us build support for letting children grow up free from violence by emailing us pictures of your handprints. Below, see photos from Afghanistan, Bolivia, Brazil, the Caribbean, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Indonesia, Mexico, Mississippi, South Dakota and Texas.

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African Children Raise Voices for End to Forced Marriage

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Children gather around a memorial structure for 13-year-old Hector Pieterson, who was killed in Soweto on June 16, 1976.

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.

Mamadou, a 14-year-old from Guinea.

Mamadou, a 14-year-old from Guinea.

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.”

Creating New Readers in India

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Pooja (in white wrap) discusses books from ChildFund with her friends in a village in India’s state of Andhra Pradesh.

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.

Pooja with her books.

Pooja with her books.

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.

The Freedom of Speech in Guatemala’s Highlands

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This is a first-grade class at Patzite, Guatemala’s primary school, where more students stay in school than in other communities in the highlands; only 4 percent of its 150 students drop out before sixth grade. Still, a high school in town has only 60 students.  

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.

Felipe, my Spanish-to-English translator, holds a homemade horse toy at a local home.

Felipe, my Spanish-to-English translator, holds a homemade horse toy at a local home.

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.

Heidi Karina, 4.

Heidi Karina, 4.

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.

A boy outside his classroom at Patzite's grammar school.

A boy outside his classroom at Patzite’s grammar school.

 

Drawing a Line on Violence and Alcohol Abuse

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.

Reflections of Life in Kenya

Reporting by ChildFund Kenya

Children enrolled in ChildFund’s programs near Nairobi participated in an art exhibition featuring photos and paintings they made, often depicting their surroundings.

 

Weslyne

Weslyne and his photo.

Weslyne, who is 13, shows a photo he took of the Dandora dump near his home. Covering an area of 30 acres, the dump accepts about 850 tons of solid waste generated daily by the 3.5 million inhabitants of the city of Nairobi, Kenya. The dump, which is the largest in Africa,was once a quarry that the City Council of Nairobi sought to use temporarily. But it still exists, 40 years later, despite having been declared full.

Residents have to live with the stench, trash and dirt. Waste pickers pounce on trash once it is offloaded by incoming trucks. Birds, pigs and people scavenge heaps of rubbish for food, scrap metal, polythene bottles and bags, which are often sold. Weslyne explains that the dump also attracts children and youth who would rather scavenge than go to school. His photo shows a boy drinking water from a bottle that was probably scavenged from the trash.

Dennis and his painting.

Dennis and his painting.

Dennis, 14, also lives in Dandora. He explains that many children in his school smoke. Because of lack of parental guidance and peer pressure, boys will begin to start smoking to “fit in, be cool and be adultlike.”

 

Regina and her photograph.

Regina and her photograph.

Regina, 14, comes from Mukuru’s fuata nyayo (the Swahili term for outskirts). Mukuru is a slum on the eastern side of Nairobi. It is one of the largest slums in the city, with a population of around 700,000. Mukuru is sub-divided into eight villages and is located in the middle of the main industrial area of the city, bordering the Nairobi River. It is characterized by congestion, narrow alleys, poor drainage, lack of sanitary facilities and open sewers. Regina explains that her photo shows children walking alone and dangerously close to the edge of the river.

Day of the African Child 2014: Focus on Education

Day of the African ChildReporting by Tenagne Mekonnen, Africa Regional Communications Manager 

In 1976, thousands of black school children took to the streets of Soweto, South Africa. In a march stretching more than half a mile, they protested the inferior quality of their education and demanded their right to be taught in their own language. Hundreds of young boys and girls were shot down by security forces. In the two weeks of protest that followed, more than 100 people were killed and more than 1,000 were injured.

To honor the memory of those killed and the courage of all those who marched, the Day of the African Child has been celebrated on June 16 since 1991, when it was first initiated by the Organization of African Unity (now known as the African Union). ChildFund takes part in the day, which draws attention to the lives of African children today. This year’s theme was A Child-Friendly, Quality, Free and Compulsory Education for All Children in Africa.

Below, we offer excerpts of speeches given by four young women enrolled in ChildFund Ethiopia’s programs, who spoke to the African Union in Addis Ababa on June 16.

Eden, age 16.

“Governments have the ability to give quality, free and compulsory education for all children in Africa by having a meeting with all African leaders and discuss the issues about what things can be done to create a better education system and prepare training for all African teachers.”

Helen, age 14.

“Even though formal schooling is important, this is not enough. Our families are the people that we see when we first open our eyes. And we learn a lot of things from them and most importantly from the society. If a child is to be educated, then the contribution of families, society and friends is very important. This is because they build us in a very faithful, good manner. This is what we are looking forward to, and I believe we are on our way.”

Aziza, age 15.

ChildFund Ethiopia teens

Young speakers enrolled in ChildFund Ethiopia’s programs.

“Once upon a time, there were two young ladies. They were best friends, and they grew up in the same place. One of the girls has an interest to learn and study. Even when she was a child, she always asked questions. She loves asking and knowing different things. Even though the girl always wants to learn, her mother doesn’t have enough money to send her to school. So, because of their economic status, she spent her time helping her mom.

“The other girl never wants to go to school. She hates to study, but her family was rich. Even though she went to school, when she visits her smart friend, she brings her homework for her to do.

“When they grew up, both didn’t have happy endings. The rich girl has an unhappy ending because she didn’t study, and she was not strong. What about the smart girl? She was a smart, intelligent and hard-working girl, but she had an unhappy life because she didn’t have opportunities to learn. How did I know about the girl? Because she was my mother!

“She supports me, although she doesn’t have much money; she makes sure to buy me school materials and other essential things. By her strong heart, I haven’t any inferiority. Rather, I always worked hard to be an intelligent and smart girl, but the secret behind me is my dearest mother.”

Bemnet, age 14.

“Disabled children are not being educated; they might not be in a position to fight for their right to be educated. We need to fight for their right and give them educational materials. To give disabled children an education, government and family have a main role. If we provide a free and quality education for children, they can easily get self-confidence and a good education, which enables them to be successful and responsible citizens.”

Merry Christmas From the Americas!

This gallery contains 6 photos.

By Abraham Marca, ChildFund Bolivia; Priscila Oliveira, ChildFund Brasil; Rosa Figueroa, ChildFund Guatemala

Season’s greetings arrive from Bolivia, Brazil and Guatemala, as children share their Christmas traditions. Over the course of the year, they have received great encouragement, love and hope from our sponsors and donors. All of us at ChildFund are thankful for your generosity and kindness!

Guatemala

Quema del diablo (burning of the devil), processions, posadas, firecrackers, eating tamales and drinking ponche (a traditional fruit drink) are traditions that people in the communities we serve in Guatemala practice before Christmas. “Feliz Navidad” means Happy Christmas, and the majority of the celebration happens the afternoon and evening of Dec. 24. Christmas is a very special day. Children share with the family and have fun, even when the economic situation is not good.

Yuri is 12 years old; she lives in the central highlands of Guatemala. At home, Yuri and her mother make tamales and ponche for Christmas. She has a tree in the back of her house, and she likes to decorate it for the season. “I would like every child to enjoy and celebrate Christmas as I do,” Yuri says.

“Hi, my name is Floridalma, I’m 12 years old, and I love Christmas because I participated in the posadas, traditional processions that start nine days before Christmas. The group sings traditional songs at various homes. For the season my family and I eat tamales and ponche.”

Brazil

Eight-year-old Leticia, a sponsored child: “This Christmas I think will be very good, because my uncles come to visit us and will bring me gifts, like dolls and clothes. I do not believe that Santa Claus exists, but I know that Dec. 25 was the day that the baby Jesus was born. I see Santa Claus only when I step in front of stores, never asked him for any gifts, but I want to get a bike.”

Six-year-old Joao: “I’m in the first year of basic school. I like studying, but I also like the vacations because it’s when Christmas comes. My father’s name is Geraldo, and my mother’s is Maria. I have two sisters, Sara and Nilma. I love Christmas; it’s a day of receiving gifts. I stare at the lights of the shops. I love lights flashing. On Christmas Eve my mother does supper, because we are a simple family. Before Christmas Day, a friend of my mother sends Christmas gifts by mail. I have won a basket with a boat, a game of little pieces to assemble and a [remote] control car. On Christmas Eve, I like to go to sleep early to wake up early to see if Santa left something for me. I love Christmas!”

Bolivia

In Tarija, according to our sponsorship team member Victoria Glody, there is a dance called trenzada, and the celebration starts two weeks before Christmas Eve, when children dance and sing carols (known in Spanish as villancicos) with small drums and flutes to “Niño Manuelito” — that’s what baby Jesus is called by children in Bolivia. During the trenzada, people dance around the streets on their way to the town’s main square; once they get there, everybody enjoys hot chocolate and a special type of bread, or buñuelos, which is basically fried pumpkin dough.

Cochabamba rural areas have a different and harder reality, reports Alain, a coordinator with one of ChildFund’s local partner organizations. Although children expect toys and gifts, their parents can’t afford them, but they have figured out smart ways to make wooden or clay toys. They also make clay nativity scenes to celebrate Christmas Eve at home. Children also dress as the old wise men or shepherds, with a cape and beard made of cotton and go out singing “Niño Manuelito” at their neighbors’ homes, and in return they get bread or fruit. For Christmas Day, it’s traditional to have breakfast with hot chocolate and “buñuelos” too. Parents and grandparents gather together at home as a big family.

In El Alto, 6-year-old Viviana says: “On Christmas day I take a walk with my family, I play with my little cousin, and that night we have hot chocolate and Christmas cake. I like that day because there is more joy at home.”

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Marialyn Works Her Way Back to School

By Martin Nanawa, ChildFund Philippines

Each morning, Marialyn wakes to the voices of fishermen returning from a night at sea. A cool ocean breeze carries the scent of salt and brine through the slatted bamboo floor of her home, which is built on stilts in a Philippines seaside community, keeping her family safe from all but the largest of ocean swells.

Filipino teen

Marialyn lives in a coastal village in the Philippines.

The eldest of three siblings, 17-year-old Marialyn helps her younger brothers get ready for school. But Marialyn herself won’t be going. She’s heading to work, a necessity because her family has a hard time supporting itself without her income.

Jerwin, Marialyn’s 14-year-old brother, is sponsored through ChildFund, which has helped him stay in school. But Marialyn, who was in college studying for an education degree, has taken a break from school to work. She started out at a cannery, tedious and sometimes dangerous work that doesn’t pay well.

In the Philippines, 5.5 million children and youth between ages 5 and 17 participate in some form of work. More than half — 3 million — are engaged in hazardous labor. In 2002, the International Labour Organization launched the World Day Against Child Labour, set annually on June 12, to call attention to the millions of children and teens who work.

ChildFund has been engaged in direct interventions against the worst forms of child labor for years now. In many cases, ChildFund has prevented children and youth from remaining or falling into hazardous forms of child labor and human trafficking, helping them return to school. We’ve also worked with communities to develop safer and more stable ways to help families earn money.

teens screenprinting shirts

The youth in the ChildFund-supported Pintado cooperative have learned to screenprint T-shirts.

Marialyn no longer works at the cannery because of one of the programs ChildFund supports: the Pintado cooperative.

“ChildFund had initiated training for T-shirt printing in my community, and I thought I’d make myself useful and try,” Marialyn says. The thought of learning a trade that employed her creativity, as opposed to labor at the cannery, was appealing. She found herself easily taking to the craft, and she also learned other skills necessary for entrepreneurs, such as bookkeeping. Before long, Marialyn and other young people in similar circumstances had assembled the cooperative.

teens show T-shirt

Teens show the result of their work: a screenprinted T-shirt.

Pintado’s first client was ChildFund and its local partner, printing T-shirts for staff to wear. This venture turned out well, and soon more orders for shirts were coming in. Pintado’s members learned to apply their screen-printing techniques on more kinds of fabrics, and they began to print canvas tote bags. As bookkeeper, Marialyn keeps track of orders, materials and operating expenses. She has to be certain the numbers add up.

Pintado began earning a profit, and Marialyn and her peers made their first paychecks. Marialyn bought groceries for her family, and business has remained brisk. She also found herself saving a little money for her return to school.

Marialyn is determined to return to college the next school year. She’s applied for a scholarship, and the money she saves from Pintado will fund her upkeep at school. “I want to finish my education so I can be a teacher and help others learn,” she says.

In Guatemala, a Young Man Pursues a Dream

By Diana Benitez, ChildFund Guatemala

Tomorrow, June 12, is the World Day Against Child Labour, an annual event launched in 2002 by the International Labour Organization to highlight the dangers and disadvantages child laborers face.

In rural Guatemala, 18-year-old Didier works 10-hour days on a farm, and on weekends he attends high school. One day, he hopes to be a mechanic.

“I have to work daily because I need money to continue studying and also to help my family because our economic situation is not good enough. My dream is to finish high school to find a better job and to continue to college,” says Didier, a gangly youth who started working at age 15.

Didier lives with his parents, a brother and two sisters; their house has a tin roof, a cement floor and has just one bedroom. Didier’s father also works as a farmer. Didier earns only $35 a week, which goes toward school fees and his family’s survival.

Guatemalan teen studying

Didier goes to school on weekends and hopes to become a mechanic.

But a ChildFund project known as “My Chance” is helping him and other Guatemalan youths make plans for their future. Didier also has a sponsor through ChildFund.

In the My Chance program, teens meet for workshops and activities that help them create plans for vocational studies and how to become leaders in their communities, as well as learning entrepreneurial skills. ChildFund representatives and local partner organizations support the project.

Many Guatemalan children, especially in rural regions, do not attend secondary school; only a third continue their education beyond primary school. This contributes to a high level of adult illiteracy.

Next year, after he completes high school, Didier plans to study auto mechanics and to continue helping his family.

“Since I started my participation in the ChildFund project My Chance, I have other expectations for my life,” Didier says. “Now I can see that a positive change is going to happen in my future. Thanks to ChildFund and my sponsor, I am a better person, and at some point I will be a good example in my community.”

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