Voices of Children

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In Pursuit of Excellence

Brazilian girl

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

Mother and daughter in Ecuador

“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

police in Oklahoma

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.

Celebrate Global Handwashing Day!

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.

My Favorite Book

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!

Agatha

Agatha

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.”

Anastasia

Anastasia

“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.

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Bikes and Education Mean Freedom

mozambique_bike

Maria (right) and her Dream Bike.

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.

 

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