By Diana Benitez, ChildFund Guatemala
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.
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.”
By Sharon Ishimwe, ChildFund Uganda
Fredrick’s family grew their own food in eastern Uganda, like many other families in their village. They used the food for their meals and sold the extra vegetables. It was enough to help the family get by, but the income was too low to send Fredrick and his six siblings to school.
Fortunately, Fredrick, who is now 21, gained a sponsor through ChildFund in 2000. He was able to go to school then; and, today, he’s on his way to becoming a mechanical engineer. For most youths, sponsorship ends in their teens, but some sponsors continue to assist when a young adult pursues higher education.
As a child, Fredrick went to Magombe Primary School.
“When I first went to school,” he says, “I felt hopeless because I didn’t see a bright future in education. My parents were poor. I didn’t think I’d reach this level of education.”
But Fredrick worked hard and completed school with top grades. By this point, he knew that he wanted to be an engineer. So he remained optimistic and focused.
The assurance he got from his sponsor, Kathryn, through letters and gifts gave him confidence and the hope that he could achieve his goal. When Fredrick finally sat for his A-level exams in 2012, he scored an outstanding 15 points in physics, chemistry, mathematics and economics. With such a stellar performance, Fredrick feels his dream has drawn even closer.
He’s also working to earn his own income. Fredrick received one heifer through a ChildFund project and used monetary gifts from his sponsor to purchase a second heifer. Over time, these animals have multiplied to seven, and with proceeds from the sale of milk and calves, he has bought seven goats. The milk from all these animals has been of great help to the family, as they sell it and also use some of it at home.
“This helped me realize I could reach my dream with even the little I have,” Fredrick says. He plans to start his engineering training in January 2014.
The family has also managed to build a semi-permanent house, which is a major step forward from the mud-and-grass-thatched house they lived in before.
“I thank ChildFund and my sponsor Kathryn for supporting me. I can now be an engineer,” Fredrick says.
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.
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.’ ”
Reporting by ChildFund Mozambique
To mark World Water Day on March 22, we’re focusing on the myriad challenges children and families face without a reliable source of clean water.
My name is Fátima. I am 11 years old, I live in Gondola, Mozambique, and I attend Bela-Vista Primary School.
Formerly in my school there was no water source, which compelled us to walk long distances with a 20-liter container looking for water in other neighboring communities between 5 and 7 kilometers (3 to 4 miles) away from the school.
Consequently, our lavatories were unclean and classrooms floors were rarely mopped up, which exposed all of us to the risk of catching diseases related to poor hygiene.
Luckily, a water borehole has been dug on our school grounds by ChildFund, so now we are very happy because we do not need to walk long distances to access water anymore. Drinkable water can be obtained 7 to 10 meters (23 to 30 feet) away.
Our classrooms are not dusty anymore because we keep them neat, and our lavatories are always clean. We are less likely to catch diseases, as we now quench our thirst with treated water from the borehole.
This lady pictured in the red coat is my mother. She is pumping the water up here at my school for us to use at home. The beneficiaries of the water are not only schoolchildren but also the neighboring community. We don’t need to walk long distances looking for water to drink, to cook, to wash our clothes and to give our animals to drink.
Were you inspired by today’s blog? Share your thoughts on the subject with your Twittter followers! This week, ChildFund is encouraging its supporters to “tweet-out” for World Water Day using the hashtag #Water4Children. Top tweeters will receive water gifts sent to a family in their honor. More details here.
Reporting by Ahmadullah Zahid, ChildFund Afghanistan
On International Women’s Day, we’re spotlighting some of the amazing girls and women we’ve encountered in ChildFund-supported communities. We honor their struggles and cheer their successes.
A young girl stood before a panel of adults in a government office in northern Afghanistan. It was not her first visit.
What is your name, and how old are you?
My name is Nazifa, and I am 12 years old.
Are you happy with your family?
Yes, I am. My mother is a kind woman, and my father is often away from us, working.
Why are you in the district governor’s office?
I presented a written complaint to get out of being married to an old man.
How much is a 12-year-old girl worth?
To Nazifa’s grandfather, $2,000 sounded about right. This was the offer from the pair of community elders who approached him a year ago about arranging a marriage between his eldest granddaughter and a young boy from their rural village.
The three men, says Nazifa, showed her a picture of the boy and made her agree to the marriage despite her objections, which included her desire to continue school.
On the wedding night, she was taken to a room where an old man sat. She kissed his hands, the traditional demonstration of respect for elders by Afghanistan’s young people. And then she was made to sit next to him. She began to cry, harder and harder as she came to understand that this elderly man was her new husband ― that she had been deceived, and that there was nothing she could do. Finally, she fell quiet, and the man did as he wanted. He was 72 years old.
Nazifa’s grandfather left immediately after the wedding on a pilgrimage funded by Nazifa’s bride price.
Within two weeks, Nazifa’s husband began to abuse her.
The moment she saw an opening, Nazifa ran home to her mother and told her everything, and they submitted a complaint to district authorities. Eight months later, there was still no resolution.
ChildFund learned of Nazifa’s case through its Social Work Coaching project in Takhar province, which aims to improve child protection systems to address the needs of children at risk. In addition to working with local and national government authorities, the project trains social workers and community outreach workers on child rights, child development and protection, referrals and other social work services. ChildFund is one of several partner organizations in the project, which is supported by UNICEF.
After Nazifa told her story, the room fell quiet, her listeners struck by her tender age, her sweet face, her directness, her passion for education. Her questioner changed the subject.
Do you go to school?
Yes, when I am not coming to court.
When you go to school, does anyone bother you?
Yes, on the way to school and in class, they all laugh at me and say unpleasant words.
Do you want to continue going to school?
Yes. I will never stop going, even though it’s hard.
If you don’t succeed in getting out of this marriage, what will you do?
I am sure the government will decide in my favor. Otherwise, I can’t accept life with an old, disturbing man, and I will end my life somehow.
Nazifa was finally able to leave the marriage, and school is easier now, thanks to some support from social workers trained by ChildFund.
Authorities had no good answer as to why this case had taken so long, and there are many more such cases throughout Afghanistan due to the cultural breakdown following the country’s two decades of conflict. Social work is not really a formal profession in Afghanistan, but this is beginning to change as authorities recognize the need for it, thanks largely to awareness raised by ChildFund and others working to strengthen child protection systems in Afghanistan.
We work to expand people’s knowledge about the rights and worth of children, and we help protect as many children as we can from becoming victims.
Because a 12-year-old girl is priceless.
By Virginia Sowers, ChildFund Community Manager
For the past few years, the ChildFund Alliance (a 12-member organization that includes ChildFund International) has been asking children to tell us what they would do if they were president or the leader of their country. As you can imagine, 11- to 12-year-olds have some definite ideas.
As U.S. voters go to the polls today to elect the next president of the United States, we wanted to share with you some very good ideas for changing the world offered up by children who have a lot of important things to say when asked.
If I Were President…
To help these children and others like them achieve their dreams, and maybe one day grow up to be president, consider sponsoring a child.
By Graeme Thompson, ChildFund Americas Regional Program Coordinator
Is saving even possible in rural, poor communities? That was a question a lot of people asked when the Aflateen program began in ChildFund’s Honduras and Ecuador operations last year. The answer, from the youth themselves, has been a resounding and, perhaps surprising to some, “yes.”
Aflateen is a global methodology for introducing social and financial education to youth, ages 14 to 24, and the program is a follow-on from the popular Aflatoun, which reaches children ages 7 to 13. ChildFund offices in Ecuador and Honduras had been working with Aflatoun, so they agreed to pilot the new Aflateen program in 2011.
“It’s an issue we’ve never had before,” recalled one youth participant attending a workshop in Santa Barbara, Honduras. “We’re not taught about these things in school.”
“I learned to spend my money on what was really useful and not just to waste it,” said another participant.
In one activity, youth participants each fill out a chart, identifying money they can earn in a month and what they think they can save. Then they write down the cost of something they want – new shoes, a phone, a month at university. The chart then helps them easily see how much time they will need to save for that item. Saving is difficult, but the youth discover that even very high-cost items are reachable with a good savings plan.
In Honduras, 30 youth went through the program, spending three hours in class every other Saturday. They were led by five of their peers, who studied the teaching guide and revised the activities to suit the local context. The program includes modules on personal exploration, rights and responsibilities, savings and spending. As a capstone, the youth design, implement and, if necessary, raise money for a small community project.
In Ecuador, youth participated in a high-school-based version of the program. Additionally, a radio broadcast version reached hundreds of youth who live in outlying areas. Beyond financial topics, the radio program introduced themes like first relationships, personal self-image and friendships. The show also offered a hotline number so that youth could call in and ask questions.
Youth like the Aflateen program because it’s highly participatory and is tuned to their local experiences and realities. Given the success of the pilots, both Honduras and Ecuador are expanding their programs in the coming year.
Guest post by Tom Greenwood via ChildFund Australia
Thao is an only child. She lives with her parents and grandparents and attends ChildFund-supported Vi Huong preschool.
In Thao’s preschool class there are 15 children (12 boys and three girls). Altogether, there are 122 children in the preschool.
The preschool is a 2-minute walk away from her home. She likes it because she has friends there and she enjoys playing. Her favorite thing is the slide.
Thao’s mother, Yen, says: “I’m very happy because when Thao goes to school she has a chance to play with toys and meet her friends. It makes her more active and improves her knowledge. The teachers are so nice and kind. They consider the children like their own.
“I ask Thao about her day and she tells me what she ate. She says, ‘Mum, the food is really delicious!’”
Her favorite food is beansprouts and sweet rice.
When Thao grows up she wants to be a doctor so she can cure sick people.
She is one child in Vietnam who is already poised to make a difference.
Learn more about ChildFund’s operations in Vietnam and child sponsorship.
Reporting by ChildFund Belarus
Nastya was born with a congenital disability that required her to use a wheelchair starting at an early age. She’s now seven.
Nastya’s parents wanted their daughter to be educated; however, they believed in-home education would probably be the best choice for her. They worried that the social problems she would face at school would be too much for her. As a result, she never attended kindergarten and did not have opportunities to develop communication skills.
This situation is typical for families of children with disabilities in Belarus, where ChildFund began working in 1993. Parents wish to protect their child from discrimination and aggression. Yet, an overprotective upbringing is one of the major barriers to a child’s inclusion in society and participation in community life.
In 2011, ChildFund’s USAID-funded program “Expanding Participation of People With Disabilities” began to reach children like Nastya. Working with another NGO partner, Special World, we started “The First Step to Independence Project.” Nastya and her parents were among 30 families to participate.
The project provides social adaptation tools for children in wheelchairs and resources for their families. Children enjoy the art studio, dance and the Healing of Magic class, while parents work on parenting skills, discuss challenges and share successes with their peers at the parents’ club. Since the project began, children and their parents have experienced physical and psychological improvements and have become more sociable and self-confident.
Successful adults who have disabilities and use wheelchairs act as trainers and leaders, providing inspiration for the children and their families.
When Nastya joined a wheelchair dance class in June 2011, everything was new to her. She was shy and afraid that everyone would laugh at her if she failed. Step by step, with encouraging support from volunteers, peers and her parents, she started to dance.
All of the hard work and achievement was spotlighted during a youth forum in Belarus dedicated to an inclusive society. The event brought together on stage children with disabilities, their typical peers and young volunteers. Nastya appeared with three other children in a special performance, “Dance With Us.”
“Thanks to ChildFund, my daughter opened up and overcame her shyness,” says Nastya’s mom. “I look at the progress Nastya made during the last six months. Now, my daughter is looking forward to going to school. I am absolutely sure that she will find many friends at school.”
Discover more about ChildFund’s work in Belarus.