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Sonam’s Fight Against Child Marriage

By ChildFund India staff

Oct. 11 is the International Day of the Girl Child, a day set aside by the United Nations to recognize girls’ rights and the special challenges they face. This year’s theme for the day is The Power of the Adolescent Girl: Vision for 2030, so ChildFund’s blog will focus this week on girls who are working to achieve great things now and in the future.

Sonam, 17, a child marriage activist from Madhya Pradesh, India, accepts an award.

Sonam, 17, a child marriage activist from Madhya Pradesh, India, accepts an award.

In India, the country with the most child brides worldwide, an estimated 47 percent of girls are married before age 18, putting their physical, emotional and mental health at risk. Although it is illegal in India for girls under 18 and boys under 21 to marry, the tradition remains entrenched.

For a long time, ChildFund has worked with adults and youth in the state of Madhya Pradesh, where the practice is particularly prevalent, to end this harmful tradition. For many in this fight, the stakes are personal.

When 17-year-old Sonam’s parents insisted that she get married, she protested, and together with her youth club members who had taken an oath to become role models for others by not becoming the victims of early marriage, she spoke with her parents. She shared that she did not want to get married before reaching the legal age and also wanted to study further to achieve her dreams.

At the launch of a 100-day child marriage awareness campaign in 75 villages earlier this year, Sonam was recognized for addressing the issue of early marriage and for standing up against her own marriage. Anmol Jeevan, the campaign, drew great support from the community, including village leaders and parents. Thousands of people attended the event where Sonam and other youth members received awards.

“ChildFund has changed my life — it came as a ray of hope in my life and has given me courage to dream about my future,” she said while accepting the award.

Sonam (left) at a literacy campaign event.

Sonam (left) at a literacy campaign event.

Sonam has been with ChildFund India since the beginning of the project, for more than six years.  She has actively participated in several of ChildFund’s programs, awareness camps and meetings on early marriage. She also encourages mothers to get their children immunized and provide nutritious food. She also has promoted literacy in her village by doing door-to-door counseling and getting children of her village enrolled in school. With Sonam’s and her youth club members’ persistent efforts, more than 62 community members have learned to read — out of the 142 illiterate village members they had identified.

After a lot of persuasion, Sonam’s parents were convinced that she should remain unmarried. With their support, she is now preparing for exams, with plans to become an engineer and help her village.

“If convinced properly,” says Sonam, “parents will support their daughters’ wishes to study instead of getting them married at an early age.”

And when they do, those girls will be able to make enormous contributions within their own communities — as Sonam has.

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!



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.

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If You Can Read This, You Are Ahead of 757 Million Adults

8 yr old Urmila from India enjoying reading her fav story book.

Urmila, 8, of India, reads one of her favorite books. 

By Janella Nelson, ChildFund Education Technical Advisor

Imagine not being able to sign your own name or your child’s name. What if you couldn’t read a doctor’s instructions on your child’s medicine? This is the situation for millions of youth and adults around the world. According to the United Nations, approximately 757 million youth and adults are illiterate, with women and teenage girls making up two-thirds of this number. In the United States, 32 million adults can’t read, states a 2013 report from the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy.

Illiteracy is linked to poor outcomes in education, health, nutrition, sanitation, economics and even peace; areas with higher rates of illiteracy have higher rates of crime and conflict. Reading is a skill that carries you throughout life. In their early years, children learn to read, but quickly there is a transition, and then they must read to learn.

In their early years, children learn to read, but quickly there is a transition, and then they must read to learn.

Children growing up in poverty face several factors that prevent them from learning to read. Parental illiteracy, of course, is a major factor because they can’t teach their children a skill they don’t have, and illiterate adults often have a smaller vocabulary than their more educated counterparts do. In some countries, schools teach reading in a language foreign to the children, who may speak a local dialect or indigenous language at home. This, too, places children at a serious disadvantage.

ChildFund’s education programs put a special emphasis on learning to read in the grades one through three, because we recognize that learning to read early is essential to get children on the right track to continue their education. In several countries in Latin America, ChildFund has established “reading corners,” giving children dedicated time and books to read. In the Philippines, ChildFund has produced local storybooks, trained teachers in reading instruction, and hosted an eight-week summer camp for children who were struggling readers at school. In Afghanistan, ChildFund is developing radio stories to encourage parents to support their children’s reading habits at home, and also providing community reading clubs.

In September, we are celebrating literacy. This month, celebrate your ability to read this article while remembering the 757 million people who still need our support. Increasing literacy for children, youth and adults around the world benefits everyone.

Tomorrow, we’ll feature children who told us about their favorite books and stories, as well as how you can help encourage literacy worldwide.


Richmond 2015: Welcoming the World

Photographs by Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

This week marks the arrival of the UCI Road World Championships in Richmond, Virginia, home of ChildFund’s headquarters. It’s a time of excitement for the city and for our organization, which is the elite cycling event’s Charity of Choice. As you may be aware, we are promoting our Dream Bike campaign in connection with the races, and we’ve received support from the TWENTY16 women’s professional cycling team, which pledged to donate 10 Dream Bikes. This team includes Olympic gold medalist Kristin Armstrong, who finished fifth yesterday in the elite women’s individual time trials. Because Dream Bikes help girls achieve their life goals, we went to see these athletes from around the world chase their dreams through Richmond’s streets. Congratulations to all, and enjoy the pictures!

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Mobile Banking Promotes Financial Security in Kenya

Mobile banking, or allowing funds to be sent electronically to a “mobile wallet,” may not spring immediately to mind as a major opportunity in developing countries. But in Kenya, a mobile banking project launched last November has helped families receive financial aid more quickly, efficiently and, most important, safely. In this video produced by our corporate partner Standard Chartered Bank, which created the Straight2Bank Wallet service, a Kenyan girl named Beatrice and her family talk about how they’ve used financial support through ChildFund to purchase her school books and uniforms, and ChildFund’s global treasurer, Sassan Parandeh, discusses its advantages in terms of security and broad social and economic change.

A Solution for Much-Needed Clean Water

Video by Jake Lyell

We hope you’re having a great holiday weekend. Are you spending some time in the pool, like millions of Americans do during the Fourth of July? Take a moment and think about water a couple thousand miles away. It’s very hard to find clean, drinkable water in many developing countries, but a lot of people are working on the problem.

That’s why our corporate partner Procter & Gamble’s Children’s Safe Drinking Water program is so important. For a decade, P&G has provided their Purifier of Water packets to children in vulnerable communities around the world, including in seven countries where ChildFund works. In just a few minutes, a child has clean water to drink. Watch this video and see!

This Father’s Day, Help Families Start the Reading Habit

siblings reading in the U.S.

Three siblings read at a ChildFund-supported program in the United States. 

Reading habits usually develop within families. Mom and Dad read to a child at bedtime, or an older sibling shows a younger one how to sound out words, or Grandma pulls a book of fairy tales off the shelf. In some homes, though, there are no books. Even in the United States.

That’s why ChildFund started the Just Read! program in some of the most marginalized areas in the country: Native American reservations in Oklahoma and South Dakota, African American communities in Mississippi and Hispanic communities in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley. You can learn more about the project and also donate age-appropriate books on our Amazon wish list. For Father’s Day, please consider helping a family develop the reading habit.

Share the Story and Help a Child

Children playing in an ECD center from Bolivia

 Children playing at an Early Childhood Development center in Bolivia.

ChildFund’s president and CEO, Anne Lynam Goddard, wrote about the importance of child protection for the Huffington Post this week. You can take a simple action – sharing this story via social media – and help children who are vulnerable to violence. Anne’s post is part of the Relay for Kids project, a partnership of SOS Children’s Villages, Johnson & Johnson and the Huffington Post, and each time you share her story on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and other social networks from now through April 24, Johnson & Johnson will donate $1 per action to support children worldwide who are affected by crisis. Thanks for your help.

Preparing for the Storm: Disaster Risk Reduction for 2015-2030


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By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

At ChildFund, we have spent many hours helping children and families cope with the aftermath of wars, disasters and other traumatic events. For the past 25 years, we’ve raised funds specifically for emergency relief and often remain in affected communities for months or even years, helping people recover financially and emotionally.

Hand in glove with disaster recovery is preparation for future emergencies, such as earthquakes, typhoons and droughts. To help communities be prepared, ChildFund supports disaster risk reduction efforts in several countries, including Indonesia and the Philippines, which are prone to destructive storms.

In March, ChildFund Australia’s international program director, Mark McPeak, led ChildFund’s delegation to the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan, an internationally significant gathering. At the end of the meeting, world leaders from 187 countries signed the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, 2015-2030, which sets seven global targets for the next 15 years. They include lowering the number of people killed or harmed by disasters; reducing economic loss, damage to infrastructure and disruption of basic services; increasing the number of countries with disaster risk reduction strategies and enhancing international cooperation to implement these goals.

McPeak notes in this piece for Devex that these targets are admirable, but right now, they are nonbinding and unfunded, which leaves them less potent than they could be. However, the door has not closed on discussions about funding and requiring governments’ participation, with opportunities ahead in the United Nations’ other conferences this year: the Third International Conference on Financing for Development in July, the global U.N. summit in September and the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris in December.

ChildFund’s chief goal at Sendai was to get other participants to understand and recognize the value of child and youth participation in disaster recovery and preparation.

“Children and young people are normally seen as helpless, passive victims of disasters,” McPeak writes. “During and after emergencies, the mainstream media, even many organizations in our own international NGO sector, portray children and young people as needing protection and rescue. Of course, children and young people do need protection. When disasters strike, they need rescue and care. But what such images fail to show is that children also have the capacity — and the right — to participate, not only in preparing for disasters but in the recovery process.”

To make his point, McPeak presented information about youth who took part in disaster risk reduction efforts in 2011 in Iloilo and Zamboanga del Norte provinces in the Philippines, spreading awareness in eight communities. A year and a half later, this work paid off when Typhoon Haiyan struck just north of the area, and local governments were more prepared than in previous storms. More people in vulnerable areas were evacuated, and Child-Centered Spaces were up and ready to help children soon after the storm passed.

You can read more about ChildFund’s disaster risk reduction programs, including our work in Indonesia, Zambia and the Philippines

Mamta’s Path to Becoming a Teacher

In this video, Mamta talks about how the Udaan scholarship available through ChildFund India has helped her overcome financial challenges to attend university to become a teacher. Her parents are illiterate, and many of her friends in her village dropped out to get married, so what she is doing is remarkable.

“I want to teach other girls to continue their educations so they’ll be independent, like me, and have a good life,” Mamta says. Video by Jake Lyell.


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