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.
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.
Today’s Global Handwashing Day, which emphasizes the importance of washing hands with clean water and soap to prevent diseases and infections. Just months ago, we saw how proper handwashing could be the difference between life and death in West Africa during the Ebola outbreak. It’s also a skill nearly anyone can learn. Watch (and share) this video by Jake Lyell, where 5-year-old Joseph from Kenya teaches all of us how to clean our hands. You can help children gain access to clean water through our Real Gifts Catalog, too.
During our month-long focus on literacy, ChildFund staff members asked children in Asia, Africa and the Americas to tell them about their favorite books and why they love them. You can support children’s reading habits in a couple of ways: ChildFund’s Just Read! program in the United States, or helping ship textbooks to schools overseas. Enjoy the pictures, too!
Brazil: Agatha is 6 years old, and she loves to read and dance ballet. At the local partner organization where she spends time, Sorriso da Criança (Smile of the Child), she often goes to the library.
“My favorite story is The Princess and the Frog,” Agatha says. “Because there’s a princess, and to me she is the best character. The frog falls in love with a princess, and after all, she discovers that he is a prince. In the end, they live together forever.”
“Before I could read, I used to ask my father to read stories for me. Now I can read by myself and I love it. I would say to all the children in the world: If you can, go to a library, it’s so cool!”
Philippines: “I always go to the library during my free time,” says Jamil. “I love looking through books about animals, like the hippopotamus. I wish to become a wildlife photographer someday.”
Bolivia: Reyna is 11 years old. She loves short stories like Aesop’s fables.
United States: Anastasia, 8, of Cheyenne River, South Dakota, received a princess book and a “pillow pet” from her sponsor, so she read the book to her new pet.
Brazil: Jéssica, 10, is a shy girl who loves to read. Her favorite book is Diary of a Wimpy Kid. “I really love to read, especially in my home. But the library is also very important in my life.”
Sierra Leone: Saio, 11, lives in Koinadugu District. “I am in class five. My favorite story book is The African Tea Pot.”
Sri Lanka: Sarujan, 10, loves to read under the shade of the mango tree in his garden. He likes comic books the best because they have lots of pictures.
“My favorite story is about animals living together in peace, in the jungle,” he says, explaining that he likes it because the animals live in harmony in their jungle home without conflicts or disturbances. “My grandmother tells the best stories,” he adds.
By Nyararai Magudu, ChildFund Mozambique Program Director
Maria enthusiastically picked up her school bag. Although it’s dirty and worn out, she clutched it close to her chest. Inside were a few workbooks without covers, a 30-cm ruler, a pen and a pencil. She lives in a remote and poor province in Mozambique with her parents, three younger sisters and two younger brothers.
Maria, 15, hoped for many things: a box with a compass, rulers and other mathematical tools, colored pens, a big rubber eraser, a scientific calculator, a student dictionary, even a computer. What a wish list. Poverty’s grip had often made her life miserable, she sometimes thought.
Anyway, it was a new day, she remembered, a school day, which came with new hopes and possibilities. Maria loves school more than anything. This morning, she grabbed her new bike, which came from ChildFund’s Dream Bike program, and rode majestically to school.
I used to be the last to arrive in class. Most of the time I missed the first lessons, or I dozed. Now, everything has changed.
Before she received the bike, Maria used to leave her home at dawn to walk six miles to school and often returned after dark. Although she was never physically abused during the daily journey, there have been several stories of girls who have been attacked and hurt in Maria’s district, Zavala, where ChildFund has worked since 2006.
Now, instead of waking at 4 a.m. and trekking three hours to school, Maria has an hour-long journey. It’s still a long way, but she considers herself lucky.
“I used to arrive at school weary. The 10 kilometers was a long walk to freedom,” Maria chuckled. “Yes, education is freedom!”
When she walked to school, Maria often had to take 10 minutes to clean the dust and sweat off her face, arms and legs, making her even later to school.
“I used to be the last to arrive in class,” she recalled. “Most of the time I missed the first lessons, or I dozed. Now, everything has changed. It only requires me one hour to get to school. I’m investing more time now in my studies, and I can sleep for another hour. I can study for another hour, and I can ride to school for only an hour. I’m no longer weary; no more dozing. The benefits are beyond imagination.
“These are tangible benefits. There are also other ones,” Maria added. “My grades improved tremendously as soon as I got the bike. I developed high self-esteem. Some people who used to laugh at my poverty started to respect me. I was nominated to be a prefect* in my class after I got a bike. Believe me, I´m now a public figure in the school!”
*Prefects are students who are left in charge of the class when the teacher has to leave the classroom and are considered prestigious positions.
You can help girls like Maria achieve their educational goals by donating to ChildFund’s Dream Bike project.
By Arthur Tokpah, ChildFund Guinea
Most of the children ChildFund works with in Guinea’s Dabola prefecture used to walk 2 1/2 miles or more to get to school. Many dreamed of bicycles to get them there quickly and safely.
One day, the dream came true, when 8-year-old Lansana and his friends received bicycles from ChildFund. “We will no longer be late for school!” they shouted with joy.
“Before, I used to walk to school with my little brother,” Lansana said. “We often got to school late, because I needed to go slowly with him along the road. Most of my friends whose parents bought bicycles for them could get to school sooner than we did. But today, I am so grateful to the donors of this bicycle. Though we are on school vacation, the bicycle will be a great help for my brother and me when school reopens. We will no longer get to school late.”
Lansana also talked about how much the bicycle was already helping his family: “Even now, the bicycle is a help to me and my family because I use it to get to the football field to play with my friends and also do little chores for my parents. Thanks again to the donors and to ChildFund.”
You can help make a difference in a child’s life by donating a Dream Bike.
By Agueda Barreto, ChildFund Brasil
Six-year-old Guilherme was born in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, in a neighborhood that has seen significant criminal activity. He’s a lively and curious child, full of energy, and his life has improved a great deal since his mother enrolled him in ChildFund’s programs.
Guilherme and his younger brother, 4-year-old Gabriel, participate in activities at ChildFund’s local partner GEDAM. He and his brother no longer have to stay at home as much or at someone else’s house while their mother works. They can be children! Today, Guilherme’s writing a letter to his ChildFund sponsor with his mother, Fabiana, helping him.
“I’m writing the second letter to my sponsor, and my mom is helping me, so the letter can be beautiful,” Guilherme says. “I love to write to him, and I’m happy when I get news as well. Here at the organization, what I like to do most is judo, play soccer, jump rope, read books, dance, paint and color.”
Reporting and Photos from ChildFund staff in Mozambique, Sierra Leone and The Gambia
Although ChildFund’s Dream Bikes campaign began with a focus on India and Sri Lanka, children in several African countries also have expressed their desire for bicycles so they, too, can travel safely to and from school. Fanta, a 9-year-old girl from northern Sierra Leone, received a bike recently after her ChildFund sponsor sent the funds necessary for her family to purchase one.
“I have been dreaming about this every day, especially when I see my friends going to school on their bicycles,” said Fanta on the day she received her bicycle. “Now I can go to school early and return home early. I will now have time to study at home because I am not exhausted.” In the slideshow below are children from Mozambique and The Gambia with their bikes. More girls in Africa need bicycles so they can get to school efficiently and avoid danger along the roads. Learn more about Dream Bikes and how you can make a difference in a girl’s life.