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.
Having children in our ChildFund programs participate in the Day of the African Child ceremonies at the African Union earlier this month was a shining moment. We asked Joan Ng’ang’a, communications officer for ChildFund Kenya, to post about the experience of traveling with the children from Kenya to Ethiopia.
Wednesday, 13 June
It is 11 a.m. when Jane and James meet for the first time. Discussing what they hope to get out of the trip, their respective projects, and the excitement of flying for the first time, both students are anxious to start their voyage.
One hour before check-in, Jane and James get their passports. They have waited a long time but it is worth it. We get to the airport at 4:20 p.m., check in and proceed to gate number 7 for boarding.
“You mean, they just jump off the ground,” James questions, as he watches a plane take off for the first time. We all laugh. Our flight takes off as scheduled at 6:20 p.m.
We land at Bole Airport in Ethiopia around 8:40 p.m. and are warmly greeted by Tenagne Mekonnen, ChildFund’s regional communications manager in Africa. It’s been nearly a year since our last meeting, so I am excited to see her and she is happy to finally meet Jane and James. After dinner, the children run off to recite their work. Everyone is in bed by 10 p.m.; it has been a long day.
Thursday 14 June
On Thursday, we rise with the sun around 6 a.m. We enjoy a good breakfast and meet the team from Gambia for introductions. We meet Abdulahi and Ramatoulie for the first time. Together, we ride to the U.N. complex in our van. We really like our van because it displays our countries’ names.
Today is the day that all the children, from Ethiopia, The Gambia and Kenya, will compete in a Q&A before the African Union. They will also be able to share their prepared art work. Both Jane and James read their poems. We conclude the day with a lunch and a visit to the Gambian embassy. It has been an exciting first day.
Friday 15 June
On Friday, by 7:30 a.m., we have all had breakfast and the children have dressed in their traditional attire. The fabrics and colors of their clothing display their rich African culture. They are proud to represent their countries.
On our way in, James sees the Kenyan flag and we take some pictures. I am truly humbled to finally arrive at the African Union, a place I had only read about over the last 10 years. We take even more photos!
Our sessions begin at 10 a.m. with opening remarks from the Commissioner of Social Affairs, followed by more speeches from the organizers and representatives from the government of Ethiopia and ChildFund International. Like celebrities, the children get interviewed by two radio stations. Someone from a local newspaper interviews James, as well. Before long, the children are treated to tea time. They really like the break and enjoy their cake and soda.
After lunch, we tour the University of Addis Ababa’s museum. There we absorb the history and culture of Ethiopia. We are all fascinated by the stuffed lion at the entrance of the museum. It looked so real!
Saturday 16 June
Today is the actual anniversary of the uprising in Soweto, South Africa, in 1976. But since it’s a weekend, the children are allowed to sleep until 7:30 a.m. After breakfast, we all head to the Arada community to visit a children’s art club. Abdulahi speaks on behalf of the group. He briefly recaps the last two days of our stay in Ethiopia and the children get to know each other. Split into four groups, the children break off to view and learn more about pieces of art posted in the club. Some of us learn a new word, today: Jambo – hello in Swahili.
Our van picks us up at 5:30 p.m. and takes us to the awards ceremony and closing reception at the African Union. A surprise to us, Tenagne brings ice cream! We arrive at the AU and meet ChildFund’s regional director for Eastern and Southern Africa, Jumbe Sebunya, with whom the children take photos. The highlight of the evening is the presenting of awards by ChildFund. We are excited when Jane wins first place in literature in the high school group and James wins first place in literature for the middle school group. We take more photos than ever at this event!
Monday 18 June
It is 8:15 a.m. and we have arrived at the airport. We depart from gate number 7 and before long, the plane lands in Nairobi. We are finally home. James and Jane meet with ChildFund Kenya National Director Victor Koyi for a debrief. They tell him about their exciting trip, yet we all express happiness to be home!
Reporting by Emmanuel Ford, ChildFund Liberia
Amelia, 12, is accustomed to maneuvering around her home in darkness. Everyday activities like eating, cleaning and studying her fifth-grade lessons are best completed before sunset. Like many of the children in her school, Amelia lives in Klay Town, a community with no electricity. With the help of ChildFund and Nokero, Amelia’s future looks a little brighter.
“Nokero helps me pass my lessons in school,” she says. “It can save us from burning our houses [accidents with candles or lanterns happen all too often], and I will use Nokero to walk in the dark.”
Amelia attends the Gertrude Yancy Public School, where 48 Nokero solar lights were delivered earlier this year. Teachers, students and community members celebrated the arrival of the lights, which will reduce the need for dangerous and expensive kerosene lamps and mini torch lights.
“ChildFund has built our children schools, distributed shoes to them, and now they are coming with light bulbs,” said one parent.
But it is the innovation and design of the Nokero solar lights that have brought this community joy. Nokero, short for no kerosene, is a portable, solar-powered light created for multiple uses. In Klay Town, these lights illuminate the dimly lit classrooms of Gertrude Yancy Public School. Students may also check out a light to take to their homes. By enabling evening reading and studying, Nokero solar lights are eliminating a major barrier to learning in this community—darkness.
ChildFund and Nokero will continue their partnership to bring light to other children without electricity. Designed specifically for reading, new Nokero Ed book lights will be delivered to ChildFund children in communities without power. For children like Amelia, a book light can mean the difference between passing and failing classes. She is just one among millions of children living without sufficient lighting, and she knows it.
“I want all my friends to use Nokero to study their lessons, too,” she said.
For only $6, you can help Amelia’s friends and countless other children across the globe. Visit our website to donate a light to learn.
Reporting by ChildFund Philippines, ChildFund The Gambia and Lloyd McCormick, Global Youth Development & Livelihood Technical Advisor
Arnyline is 15 and lives in the Philippines. Saffiatou, 17, lives in The Gambia. What could they possibly have in common?
A few things, actually. They both live in extreme poverty. They are both involved in ChildFund’s programs in their countries. Neither had ever traveled outside of their countries — until their recent, ChildFund-supported trip to Amsterdam.
What brought them there was another thing they have in common: their interest in the goals of Child and Youth Finance International (CYFI), an organization whose stated goal is to ensure that 100 million children and youth in 100 countries have financial access and education by 2015. Founded last year by social entrepreneur Jeroo Billimoria, who also founded the social and financial education nonprofit Aflatoun, CYFI has a simple, audacious vision: “We dream that all children have a safe place to save their money, and that they can manage that money on their own.”
From April 2-4 in Amsterdam, the first-ever CYFI Summit brought 70 children and youth representing 40 countries together with international bankers and policy makers from around the globe. During the event, participants focused on the topic of financial inclusion and finance education for children and youth. Young people also met to voice their opinions for shaping the Child and Youth Finance Movement. They then brought their recommendations to the Summit, which included representatives from the United Nations; the central banks of Europe, the U.S., Africa, Asia; donors such as MasterCard, CitiBank and Levi Strauss; and international and local organizations. The youth engaged directly with these policy makers on a level footing and shared their views on financial issues that most matter to them.
Arnilyne and Saffiatou were among the 10 participants selected to present the young people’s recommendations, which included the following:
“What excited me is that they care for children in the world, and they want all the children to have a better future,” says Saffiatou. “My favorite part was the discussion on child finance as a subject in school.”
Arnilyne also has a great interest in financial literacy education, but she’s not sure how it could be added to her school curriculum. “We have no funds for it,” she says. “I think it would be effective if trainings and activities are conducted for this.”
She’s particularly excited about the idea of a child-friendly banking system, which would give children access to banks and low-minimum initial deposits.
The two girls, who hail from the tropics, remarked on Holland’s cold climate. But they also noted the warmth of the people they met there, which they both cite as common ground with their home countries.
“They care for children in the world,” says Saffiatou, “and they want to see children as the good leaders of tomorrow.”
Reporting by Zoe Hogan, ChildFund Timor-Leste
Around the world, little brothers regard their older siblings with a mixture of awe and admiration. In a small town in Timor-Leste, 6-year-old Silvino looks up to his 25-year-old brother, Marcolino, but for a special reason.
A few months ago, Marcolino became a ChildFund Community Health Volunteer, and his new role is to share important health information with his community. He has learned about malaria and dengue prevention, hygiene and the importance of encouraging parents to use the local health clinic.
His training is just one part of a comprehensive maternal and child health project funded by ChildFund Australia and the Australian Agency for International Development. ChildFund is working with local communities and government to enhance health care and knowledge in order to improve the health of children and mothers. In addition to 410 Community Health Volunteers, ChildFund has trained 84 professional health workers and 36 midwives, distributed 6,000 mosquito nets to families and provided vital health training to 312 schoolchildren and more than 21,000 community members.
“What I like most [about being a volunteer] is that I can learn new ideas,” he says. “Before, I didn’t have knowledge about health, but today I do. And I can share it with others who need it.”
Marcolino and Silvino live with their parents and two sisters, Umbelina and Abita, on a small farm near a dry riverbed and a collapsed bridge. Last year, a flood destroyed their house and washed away precious topsoil. Marcolino’s father, Jose, could plant only enough to feed his family. Like others in the area, they simply cannot afford to deal with expensive and debilitating health problems.
So, when Silvino developed a fever, headache and persistent cough in February, Marcolino’s training proved essential. Recognizing that Silvino’s symptoms were potentially serious, Marcolino and his mother took the boy to the nearby government health clinic. With timely access to proper treatment, Silvino recovered quickly and is now back at school. Two mosquito nets from ChildFund are also helping the family to reduce their vulnerability to malaria.
“I worry about my siblings getting sick,” Marcolino says. “It makes me sad.”
His concern is understandable. In 1999, when Marcolino was 12, the conflict preceding Timor-Leste’s independence destroyed many homes and most of the country’s public infrastructure. Without access to health care or basic services, four of Marcolino’s siblings died from respiratory illnesses that year. The youngest was a month old.
“I feel responsible for the children around here and their health,” he says. “They are the same as my brother.”
To date, Marcolino has spoken to 15 local families about how they can prevent common diseases, and he has plans to walk up into the nearby mountains to share the information with another 30 families. Marcolino has also referred about 20 people to the health clinic after identifying symptoms of malaria and dengue. “It’s not too hard to convince people to go to the clinic once they understand [the significance of their symptoms],” he says.
As an older brother, Marcolino looks out for his younger siblings. As a Community Health Volunteer, he’s now helping protect them — and all of the children in the area — from preventable diseases. And it’s obvious that Silvino is pretty impressed with that.
Reporting by Antonio Barranco
Hello. I’m 15 years old. I live in Saucitlán de Morelos community in the state of Oaxaca.
I live with my grandparents, my uncle, my sister and my mother. My uncle raises cattle and grows corn and beans for the family. From the corn harvest, my mother makes warm tortillas, and my grandmother cooks beans that are very delicious with her special hot sauce.
I finished junior high, and now I’m going to high school. I think I would be a great psychologist, because I think it would be interesting to help people who have psychological problems and fears to clear their mind of them. Some people have difficulty overcoming traumas or fears that keep them far removed from reality.
On afternoons when I have free time, I go to the library to read biographies of important people. I also like to draw and listen to music.