By Christine Ennulat, Content Manager
One of my favorite things about becoming a mother was the whole new world of children’s books I staggered into — with my kids tumbling into it with me when they were little and then, before long, actually leading me through it. It brought back, again and again, waves of nostalgia for all that books had meant to me in my own childhood. My children are older now, but those days are on my mind again as I learn about how ChildFund’s Just Read! program is helping hundreds of children in some of the United States’ poorest communities find the magic of reading for pleasure.
One thing I’ve learned that I didn’t know: Reading for pleasure trumps socioeconomic status as a determinant of how well kids do in school. (The magic of reading for pleasure, indeed!)
I don’t remember much of my own early childhood experience with books. My parents came to the U.S. from Germany just a couple of years before I was born, and my main memory of any book from that time was Heinrich Hoffmann’s Der Struvvelpeter, a German collection of alarming cautionary tales that included one about a boy who refuses to cut his hair and fingernails (yikes!) and another about a boy who won’t stop sucking his thumb until one day a man wielding giant shears appears and … well.
Honestly, I couldn’t get enough of those gruesome tales. “Pleasure” probably isn’t an accurate description of what they gave me … but I’m not sure pleasure is necessarily that simple. What I can say is that I took to reading in search of similar wild thrills and imaginative flights. But even more, I was searching for myself.
As a weird, lonely kid, I recognized myself in moody Meg Murry, of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, and in Milo, the initially reluctant protagonist of Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth (after whom I named Kid #3). And always, always there was Beverly Cleary’s Ramona, and her blue-haired doll with the most beautiful name in the world, Chevrolet, and the Dawnzer, and “BOINNNG!” Oh, the courage of Ramona. I wanted to be Ramona.
Later, I would — and still do — recognize my own heart in Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s exhortation, in his Letters to a Young Poet: “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
As my own children grew, I delighted alongside them as they found their own ways down their own rabbit holes toward who they might become. My oldest fell in love with Tamora Pierce’s Alanna books, in which a girl becomes a knight in her kingdom, and her Dane books, with a heroine who converses with animals. Kid #3 couldn’t get enough of Al Perkins’ Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb, which my whole family can still shout-chant from memory to this day, and through which music grabbed hold of him for the first time. (Kid #4 now says he hated that book because, as he learned to read from it, he had to face silent Bs—“thum-BUH,” he says. He became a Calvin and Hobbes guy.)
It was magical for me to be along for this ride, vicariously experiencing their journeys through silliness, love, terror, beauty and more.
Children need these flights of the imagination, these adventures beyond their everyday circumstances. When they use their imaginations, they flex their abilities to think creatively, and that’s key to not only learning but also taking aim at what they want to accomplish in their lives.
Reading is a way toward experiencing difficult feelings in manageable ways, which prepares a child for facing difficult situations in real life. Reading is also a way toward relief of stress — which is rampant and nearly constant for families living in poverty — and a way toward a loved one’s lap.
And reading is a way toward laughter. (I am convinced that laughter has an important role in the fight against poverty.)
Years ago, my neighbor said to me, after having accomplished some crazy plumbing repair without help, “If you know how to read, you can do anything.”
I second that sentiment … and offer a tweak: If you know how to read, you can be anything.
When children read, even amid the most challenging circumstances, they really can.
You can help change a child’s life by donating to ChildFund’s Just Read! program.
By Himangi Jayasundere, ChildFund Sri Lanka
Today, which is known as Black Friday in the United States, is a great opportunity to think about sharing our good fortune with children in need. Dream Bikes allow children — especially girls — to get to school safely and quickly.
An impatient Piyumi, waiting for her father to take her to school, used to be a regular sight. Her teacher scolded her many times for being late, which she often was: Her long trek from home to school was more than two miles each way, on foot unless she could catch a ride on her father’s bicycle. Some days she stayed home because it was too difficult to get to school.
But today, she no longer has to catch a bicycle ride with her father or walk down village paths in Mahakalugolle, Sri Lanka. Piyumi, an 11-year-old sixth-grade student, has her own bike, thanks to a ChildFund donor.
Piyumi has been in ChildFund’s sponsorship program for more than five years. Last year, she sat for Sri Lanka’s Year 5 scholarship exam and passed with high marks, which made her school proud.
So, along with the bicycle, Piyumi also received school materials, a school bag and shoes from ChildFund donors, to recognize her hard work and achievements.
“Some days, I had to wait till my father finished his work to come to school,” Piyumi says. “But now soon as I get ready, I can come to school on my own. My brother also likes my new bicycle.” Sometimes he rides with her.
“I feel better knowing that Piyumi is on a bike on the journey back home,” her mother says. “I feel that she is safer.”
By Janat Totakhail, ChildFund Afghanistan
Janana is 15 and the oldest of four sisters. They live in a village in northern Afghanistan near the border of Tajikistan, where few children — especially girls — have the opportunity to get an education. Janana, too, had never been allowed by her mother and father to attend school.
Her father works as a shopkeeper and sometimes as a hired farmer, while her mother takes care of the household. As the oldest sister, Janana also has many responsibilities at home. But she always hoped to go to school. Today, that goal has become a strong possibility.
In Afghanistan, ChildFund supports Child-Friendly Spaces (CFS) where children and teens can study and play. In Janana’s village and four more, we started 10 CFSs in 2013: one for boys and one for girls in each community, and 1,001 children have taken part in the program. Many have experienced war-related trauma and are still at risk of violence, abuse and neglect, so the spaces don’t just serve educational needs. They help keep children safe and also let community members plan for emergencies, particularly how to protect their children. Once ChildFund’s direct supervision ended in January, community members have stepped in to run the programs.
The CFSs for girls have eased some of the stigma attached to education for young women. Janana persuaded her parents to let her attend.
Now, it is her second home, giving her a place to learn and spend time with girls from her neighborhood. Janana is able to read and write names and short sentences, and she’s about a year away from mastering primary school-level literacy and numeracy. One of her sisters has joined her at the CFS.
“I like learning the Pashto language,” Janana says, “and I feel proud and empowered while reading a letter for my parents and helping my little sister to read and write.”
If she had not attended the CFS, she adds, “my life would be different. I would be busy all day with housework, with no opportunity to interact with peers, make friends, play, and learn to read and write.”
Janana’s parents also are happy to see their daughter progressing in her studies.
“An illiterate person is like a blind person,” her father says. “My daughter helps me to learn Islamic principles; she reads for me the letters, invitations and wedding cards; takes note of money that I lend to people, and she helps me understand the details of the electricity bill. She helps her mother and sisters in understanding personal hygiene and health issues. I am proud having Janana as a helping hand.”
Kochai, who facilitates the CFS, also has noticed her progress: “Janana has been very active participating in learning activities. She learned to respect parents and elders, gained awareness in health and hygiene, and, more importantly, is progressing well in literacy and numeracy. I am hopeful that one day she will join school with children of her age.”
Her family, too, is encouraging Janana to continue her education at a school close to her village. She has a big dream for the future: “I want to be a teacher, to help all school-age girls in my village to go to school and learn to make their future and help others.”
By Nicole Duciaume, Americas Region Sponsorship Manager
After a long day of training at ChildFund’s national office in Brazil and a few more hours in my hotel answering emails, I closed my laptop and walked a few blocks to the closest mall. I was on a dual mission: to eat dinner and to buy a Brazilian soccer jersey for my nephew’s upcoming 12th birthday.
Later, with my belly full and my purchase in hand, I stumbled upon something so much more exciting — something I wasn’t expecting.
In the middle of the shopping center was a photography exhibit with the ChildFund logo. I became enveloped in the amazing photos, which were described as #NoFilter (a social media term indicating that the photo has not been retouched or run through a filter on Instagram). The photos were all taken by children and youth enrolled in ChildFund’s urban programs around the city of Belo Horizonte.
As the #NoFilter tag indicates, they are unfiltered, unedited and untouched… not just in the sense of using technology to alter the photos, but also in the sense of giving real perspective and insight into the daily lives of these children and youth: their identity, their roots and their realities.
These photos are a part of an outreach program, Photovoice, that uses photography to stimulate reflection among children and youth. It opens a space for them to talk about their communities and their cultural strengths. As such, these images become an important instrument to discuss citizenship, identity and collective work for the well-being of society. These photos are a launching pad for not only creative expression, but also building leaders for tomorrow.
I experienced the exhibit not only as someone who loves good photography but also as a proud ChildFund employee. I didn’t expect to stumble upon the photos, but I am so glad I did. It helped me to reconnect, yet again, with the invaluable work my colleagues do around the world helping children and youth realize their beauty, power and value just as they are: without filters.
It isn’t every day that you get to meet a United States president, but our president and CEO, Anne Lynam Goddard, attended the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting last week in New York City, convened by former President Bill Clinton.
On her Tumblr blog, she expresses hope and optimism about the future, despite such daunting problems as the spread of Ebola. The event, which draws business and nonprofit leaders from around the world, “reinforces my belief that if you get the right people working on a problem, anything is possible,” she writes. Read more of Anne’s reflections on the conference.
By Beth Meszaros, ChildFund Volunteer
Getting people to make donations to your charity of choice is never an easy task. You will send unanswered emails and hear polite noes in reply when you reach out to family, friends, colleagues. But don’t despair.
The best advice I can give you is to not only be a volunteer for ChildFund but, more importantly, become an advocate for ChildFund.
According to Merriam-Webster, an advocate is defined as “someone who publicly supports a cause or policy.” We should all be advocates or champions for children in need. I’ve made being an advocate for children and ChildFund part of who I am. I talk about my sponsored children and share my experiences every chance I get. I won’t say it’s easy, but through advocacy you can raise awareness about children in need and the incredible job ChildFund is doing to help them, and you can ultimately reach people who are willing to help. When I’m frustrated and feel like no one is listening, I just recall some of the words from my children’s letters. Things like “I love you” and “you’re part of our family.” These simple words remind me that they truly need and appreciate my help, and I go on to tell others about sponsorship.
Through advocacy, I have been able to find sponsors for several children in need, as well as one-time donations to ChildFund. I will keep on advocating for ChildFund and children all over the world because I have seen what ChildFund can do for children, and I have experienced what it feels like to help children and become a positive part of their lives.
School is starting this week for many children in the United States. Children and youth in many of the 30 countries where ChildFund works have limited access to school, whether it’s because their families can’t afford to pay fees for uniforms, or the children are relied upon to fetch water or work to contribute to a family’s livelihood. Sponsorship helps many children attend school longer and have a better chance to break the generational cycle of poverty. Here are some pictures of students from communities where we work:
By Sagita Adesywi, ChildFund Indonesia
“People here littered everywhere, without thought,” says Sulastri, a preschool teacher in Indonesia. “Our neighborhood looked dirty and unhealthy.”
As in many developing countries, garbage is a highly visible part of Indonesia’s landscape. With one of the world’s largest populations, waste management there is an ongoing challenge, even in affluent areas. In neighborhoods where poverty has a stronghold, public services like garbage removal are at best inconsistent and often absent. So, families dispose of garbage wherever they can or even burn it by the roadside. The environment becomes not only unpleasant but downright dangerous.
This was how things were in Tandang village, Semarang, Central Java, until community members set out to make changes.
Responding to residents’ concern about their neighborhood, ChildFund worked through its local partner organization in Semarang, KOMPASS, to adapt an initiative that Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment had pioneered in other cities: garbage banks, which encourage communities to make the most of household garbage.
Garbage banks decrease environmental pollution, especially inorganic waste, by providing community members with incentives to sort garbage by type and value, and to ensure that each type arrives at the appropriate destination for recycling. (Organic garbage is collected by the environmental city services and processed into compost.) Garbage banks usually run in public buildings as neighborhood centers for waste management.
To launch the program in Tandang, staff from KOMPASS met with village heads and community members to introduce the concept and then to form volunteer garbage bank committees. Through KOMPASS, ChildFund provided the volunteers with training on how to handle and process inorganic waste, especially plastics, which are sold to plastics manufacturers.
Participants have garbage bank accounts. KOMPASS provided seed money on behalf of the 351 sponsored children in the area, so each child has USD $1 as his or her first deposit on an account at one of Tandang’s two garbage banks.
So, how do garbage banks work?
Using collection bags provided by the program, people bring plastic bottles, used newspapers and many other things they don’t use any more. Each type of waste is assigned monetary value. This money is then deposited into the individuals’ accounts at the garbage bank, later available to be withdrawn as cash.
“When we did our first training for the mothers’ groups, some of them were quite stressed,” says Agus, the head of one of the banks. “They thought they would need to sort the garbage in a dirty place. When they saw that the garbage bank is actually run in a clean house with windows for air circulation, they felt relieved.”
“I knew about the garbage bank from my wife,” says Wadi, a community member. “We used to just throw away anything. Now, we learn to sort it all. People also took initiative by making their own bags to deposit the waste to the bank.”
That’s not all they have made. The ChildFund-supported garbage banks have taken the program a step further: Community members turn garbage into creative, sellable products — for example, bags made from plastic detergent sachets. With training from KOMPASS (and with a sewing machine KOMPASS also provided), people are transforming garbage into economic gain. As community members have learned to be more creative in processing waste, they have come to see waste as a resource.
“The neighborhood automatically becomes cleaner too,” Agus adds. “If we have the garbage bank but the surroundings are still dirty, it’s very contradictory. The neighborhood is also becoming greener now, because people are also encouraged to plant trees in pots made from vegetable oil plastic bags. ChildFund provided us with the seeds.”
“People are more aware that the environment is very connected to their own health,” says preschool teacher Sulastri, who is also a member of the garbage bank committee. “They used to just litter everywhere and did not understand the impact of waste, so they would just throw away everything. Now they know that we can sort inorganic waste and make it into creative products.”
The garbage bank initiative not only brings extra cash, but it also helps communities become cleaner, nicer and healthier places to live, which is exactly what children need. “There were many flies and mosquitoes in the gutters as people just threw garbage into them,” says Sulastri. “When we litter, we create a breeding space for mosquitoes. The garbage bank promotes a healthy lifestyle, and it reduces the risk of dengue and diarrhea too.”
By Sagita Adeswyi, ChildFund Indonesia
In Banten, Indonesia, teachers sang about how much they would miss ChildFund and its corporate partner, Krakatau Posco, as a six-month pilot project to improve their schools was coming to an end.
“Please don’t go, ChildFund,” sang the teachers. “Please don’t go, Krakatau Posco.”
March marked the end of Sekolahku Asik, Indonesian for “My School is Really Cool.” The project was a joint initiative between ChildFund Indonesia, Krakatau Posco, an Indonesian company, and the Community Chest of Korea to support Indonesia’s government in improving the quality of basic education.
“The Sekolahku Asik program has improved the schools’ infrastructures, teaching skills of the teachers, students’ engagement and employees’ participation in education,” says Min Kyung Zoon, president of Krakatau Posco.
The program was implemented in three elementary schools as a pilot in Cilegon, Banten, and 35 teachers from 13 schools in the region received training in interactive learning. Children attended consultation events to express what they wanted their schools to be like, voicing their views through drawing, writing and storytelling.
The schools received minor repairs, and employees of Krakatau Posco had the opportunity to volunteer at the schools, teaching children how to plant trees, wash their hands properly and how to dispose of organic and inorganic waste. More than 500 children benefited from the experience.
The schools now have better and cleaner restrooms, organized libraries with more books and fresh coats of paint on the walls.
“My school was quite dull,” says 12-year-old Novalina. “The restroom was dark and dirty. Sometimes I felt scared when I went there. I joined the competition with other students to tell what we want to be improved in our school. Now, my school looks really nice and much cleaner. We chose the color for the walls, too.”
Teachers, too, were pleased with the program: “We really like the training, as it has enhanced our knowledge and skill in an interactive teaching method,” says Tati Fatayati. “This brings changes to the students; where they might have been feeling bored with the teaching process in the class, now they feel it is more fun and interactive.”
Now that the pilot stage has ended, ChildFund and Krakatau Posco are working together to continue the program at the three schools, as well as other schools, this year.
By Luza Marinho, ChildFund Brasil
Helping children grow up healthy and strong is a full-time job, and in Brazil, it means sowing the seeds for community gardens. ChildFund Brasil and its partner organizations are working with families in several communities to plant gardens and grow vegetables for everyone’s nourishment, especially children.
PROCAJ, one of ChildFund Brasil’s local partner organizations in the Jequitinhonha Valley, has 57 families participating in the project Planting, Harvesting, Eating. They grow vegetables for their households at the children’s community center, and the rest of the crops are sold, generating income for the families.
“Today we ate freshly baked vegetables and helped in feeding the kids at school. They have vegetables on the table every day,” says Maria, 68.
For many mothers involved, the project goes beyond physical nourishment; Uca says she has seen her self-esteem grow stronger as well. “Before the garden, I took anti-depression medication,” she says. “Today I don’t need it.”
Maria adds that the community gardens have also changed to how the community sees the families: “We were discredited; they used to say that we didn’t like working, that we just liked to plead. PROCAJ gave us confidence, believed in our efforts and our willingness to grow and succeed in life.”