By Rukhsana Ayyub, ChildFund U.S. Program National Director
I remember the cool morning breeze as I stepped outside on that late August day. It reminded me that fall was around the corner. After the 100-degree days we’d had in Memphis during the summer, it was a welcome relief. I was looking forward to the change of season.
Leaves on the trees were showing early signs of changing colors. Stores were advertising back-to-school sales; those who could afford it were packing the local Wal-Mart, getting ready for the start of another school year. I was pleased that many of our U.S. program’s local partner organizations across Oklahoma, Mississippi and South Dakota were holding back-to-school events and providing backpacks and school supplies for enrolled children whose families could not afford to purchase these necessities.
On that beautiful day, I called my area office in South Dakota, just a routine Monday morning check-in. Billie’s voice was quiet, not her usual excited tone. “What is it?” I asked. A 10-year-old tried to commit suicide in the Pine Ridge reservation over the weekend, she said. Although this child was not enrolled in a ChildFund program, it was a grim reminder that suicide season was approaching, Billie added.
Suicide season. Whoever came up with such a horrific, unnatural name, I wonder. But then I recalled the even more unnatural fact that it’s the large number of teens and children taking their lives that give Native American communities the highest suicide rates in the country. America is known the world over as the land of hope and opportunity. However, on the reservations, we have children who are not excited for the start of a new school year, Christmas or another birthday. They are choosing instead to end their lives.
Community consultations conducted by ChildFund on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation revealed high incidences of alcohol and other substance abuse, depression and feelings of hopelessness in households, along with a disconnection from cultural values and beliefs.
To counter these negative factors, ChildFund supports programs that promote children’s social skills and emotional health. We also encourage families and other community members to protect and nurture their children by preserving traditional Lakota values. After all, this is a culture that considers children sacred and gives them beautiful names like Little Big Thunder, Little Arrow and Blue Robin, connecting them to nature.
Our programs in Lakota communities include information on suicide prevention and support resources for both parents and children. However, each new suicide or attempt is a reminder of the enormity of the problem and the work that still lies ahead.
ChildFund seeks to empower children and bring families closer together. On that August day – and every day – I voice my wish for every Lakota mother: Hold on tight to your child. To the children and youth, I say: Give life a chance; embrace the new school year waiting for you, Thanksgiving, the first snow of the winter.
And to my colleagues hurt by witnessing this trauma, and the responsibility it carries: Don’t give up hope. Seasons change, and even this dreaded season will pass. Our work for these children continues.
By Nicole Duciaume, Regional Sponsorship Manager, ChildFund Americas
Nicole recently visited our Mexico office, where she met with children in ChildFund programs. This week, she is sharing highlights from her visit.
Much of ChildFund’s work in the field depends on volunteers, who are typically community members trained to encourage healthy development in children in a variety of ways. Here’s one mother who’s doing her part in Mexico.
Eli, the mother of two girls and a third baby on the way, is a volunteer with one of our local partner organizations in the state of Oaxaca. We met her two daughters, who are among 30 wildly energetic children, ages 6 to 12, participating in the Activate (Get Active) after-school program. Eli has her hands full trying to maintain order.
The session begins with a game called “the mailman.” The children circle up outside on a basketball court, and the leader calls out, “The mailman brought a letter for a child with … a ponytail! Blue jeans! Red shirt!” The children scurry to the correct position in the circle, depending on their hairstyle or clothing. Younger children learn to identify categories through the game, and everyone burns some energy.
We then venture inside to a large room that the municipal government lends to the local partner. It’s centrally located and safe, so the children have an easily accessible space for learning, and the partner doesn’t have to put funding and effort toward construction or maintenance of a building. Inside these walls, creativity flows.
Now the children work together to create a new fairy tale, which winds up being called “Little Red Riding Hood and the Boy in the Blue Cape.”
Eli walks around the room asking children to provide the next line in the story, building on what the last child said. The story, intricate with details, twists and plot turns, grows and grows, and another adult volunteer writes the story on a blackboard — but with intentional spelling and grammar mistakes. After the story is finished, the children tell her how to correct the story: where an accent was missing, where a comma needed to be added, where an S needed to be changed to a Z.
As a facilitator, Eli supervises four sessions a week: two for children ages 6 to 12 like the one we saw, and two sessions for youth, age 13 and older.
These sessions are meant to be different from school, Eli says, because in class, the children have to be formal and quiet. But in these programs, they get to let their energy and creativity soar. As a facilitator, she receives a small stipend of approximately US$50 a month to help her family. But the payback is more than monetary; Eli describes the children as her friends, and she loves when they run up to her and give her big hugs when she walks through the community.
After the fairy tale session, the children have another recess outside. This time, the basketball court is turned into an obstacle course with a fabric tunnel, foam rollers, large boxes and rings. They jump, hopscotch and crawl through the course, ultimately sitting in a throne made from cushions. Then it’s time to go home.
Eli says she has a new purpose and higher confidence with the skills she has learned as a facilitator, and she feels empowered to be a leader in her community. More important, Eli says the training has helped her to be a better mother to her own children.
By ChildFund Brasil Staff
What does a perfect school look like? Lots of windows in the classroom, new desks, plenty of good books, bright colors, happy students and excellent teachers are some of the elements of a great school. Children in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, were asked to draw pictures of their dream school, which now illustrate a new book, Out of School No!, produced this summer by UNICEF with the support of ChildFund Brasil.
Brazil’s high rate of school dropouts is a serious problem, with only 48.7 percent of 19-year-olds having finished high school, according to a 2011 national survey. Fewer than two-thirds of 16-year-olds completed fundamental (or junior high) school, and almost a quarter of 12-year-olds had already dropped out, the report concluded.
Out of School No! tackles this issue focusing on social exclusion and how it factors into the number of students who drop out of school. Living in poverty, having a disability, being part of a racial minority group and residing in a rural region are all risk factors for students, who sometimes are also in danger of being exploited or hurt.
“What can each one of us do to ban the exclusion from education?” asked Maria Salete Silva, UNICEF Brasil’s education chief. “Every child can and must learn; there’s no child who can’t learn. This is a right that every child has. Because of this, the strategic agenda for Brazilian adolescents must be geared toward education and not reduction of the legal age for criminal responsibility. We have to discuss the construction of schools and not prisons. Without guaranteeing education, we won’t guarantee anything else.”
Children and teens enrolled in ChildFund programs read poetry, showed paintings and performed music at a launch party for the book, which was held at ChildFund Brasil’s office in Belo Horizonte.
“I participate in Oficina do Saber [an art workshop], where I learn to draw and do graffiti art,” said Luiz, a 12-year-old sponsored child, who attends programs held by ChildFund Brasil’s local partner organization, Gedam.
“I found it very important to participate in the book. Seeing my drawing in the book means a lot to me,” he added. “When I was younger, I never thought I could do such a thing like that, which can change the world. The world is too violent, and with the picture I drew, I’m sure the world can change school for better. That’s why I drew it, to change the world and schools for better. Drawing is the thing I like the most.”
Lloyd McCormick, director of youth programs at ChildFund, will speak at the 2013 Women, War & Peace conference at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va. The conference will take place this weekend.
The title of his talk, scheduled on Saturday afternoon, is “Livelihoods and Economic Recovery in War-Affected Environments – Lessons Learned from Sierra Leone, Northern Uganda and Liberia.”
The two-day conference will focus on women’s roles in war and peace building in West and North Africa and how these issues can be transformed into opportunities for social and economic well-being.
The conference grew out of a partnership among VCU, the Richmond Peace Education Center, Virginia Friends of Mali and the Richmond Sister Cities Commission, all of which work to highlight Virginia’s links with West Africa and to promote collaboration among the schools, universities, organizations and community groups working in the field of human development.
The conference will present films on women, war and peace; research on Africa with a focus on Mali; and opportunities for academic, professional and community development. If you are in the Richmond area, consider volunteering with ChildFund. We’ll be on-site both days of the conference, Sept. 20 and 21. For more information, email Kate Nare.
By Federico Diaz-Albertini, ChildFund Americas Regional Program Manager
Editor’s note: As part of a training workshop, ChildFund staff members recalled a time in the lives when they made a deep connection with international development work, whether with ChildFund or another organization. Freddy kindly agreed to share his story.
It was another day in the life of an NGO worker, but this one started a little earlier than usual. The plan on this particular day was to visit rural Peruvian communities where we were in the earliest stages of starting work.
I did not expect anything really surprising to happen during the course of the visit, since I was relatively familiar with the area and its population. We had a good preliminary assessment focused on supporting the community’s development efforts with the children. The car ride took us quickly from the paved streets of the city to the bumpy, unmaintained dirt roads of the countryside. As we climbed higher, I was once again impressed by the natural beauty of this rural area and dreamed about the potential of the region’s agricultural lands.
Of course, every one of the hundreds of bumps along the road tried to convince me that it was really more rational to be back in the city conducting a workshop that brought participants to a central location. Regardless, on we went, and the conversation with my colleagues was lively and motivational as we discussed the prospects of working in a new area that had experienced extreme levels of marginalization for as long as anyone could remember. It certainly coincided with our ideas of populations entrenched in an unending generational cycle of poverty.
Cesar, an experienced field manager, was quick to emphasize, however, that in spite of the scant support these populations had received through the years, “their sense of caring for the future had brought them progress in education and health.” That certainly made me think that a sense of independence and empowerment are always good for spurring determination and achievements.
The excitement level was quite high as we reached our destination and looked for the community leaders, who usually only believed outsiders were serious about a visit when you actually arrived. As usual, we sat patiently and waited for the community members to work their way to the small community center that they had built many years ago with their own labor and financial resources.
While waiting, a couple of us decided to walk around a little and greet the villagers. Outside one small house made of quincha, a mixture of mud and wood, there was a mother and daughter. The girl must have been about 4 or 5 years old and reminded me very much of my daughter, who was about the same age. She was rosy-cheeked, as is common in those windswept areas of the Andean region, and her hair was light colored. Whether the color of her hair was the product of malnutrition or just her natural color, we could not tell. In any case, she definitely caught our eye and took center stage during our visit.
As we stopped to talk to the mother, the little girl turned our attention her way with a song and by telling us her name, favorite games and family. She whispered to us about her older sister “who was always helping her mother around the home, while keeping her away from doing mischief.” She then spontaneously broke into a lively chorus of El pollito dice pio pio pio… .
The vibrancy of her movements and the spirit of her voice told us that we were in the presence of an extremely resilient human being whose potential was boundless. She captivated us in all sense of the word. It was a brief moment in physical time, but it left a lingering memory to contemplate for the rest of my life.
That little girl, whose name I don’t remember and to whose place I have not returned, awakened a dilemma in me with regard to life’s journey and the circumstances we experience along the way. Was she going to be able to build on her great joy for life, strength of character and intelligence, or would life in a rural, impoverished community slowly dampen the brilliance that we witnessed in her?
Since then my constant companion has been a vision in which all children are provided with equal opportunities on their walk through life, thus giving them the chance to help remake a world into one in which all girls and boys can thrive.
By Martin Nanawa, ChildFund Philippines
Rosemary was sure she knew how to raise her children in a healthy way. She knew to feed them good food, and she knew to work hard so she could feed her five children well. When she could afford it, she would put meat on the table. “Rich children have meat all the time, and none of them are malnourished,” she believed.
Like many mothers in the Philippines, Rosemary thought expensive food was nutritious for her children. That’s why, as a washerwoman, she would accept as many wash loads as she could. But hand-washing laundry from neighbors in a largely low-income community doesn’t yield Rosemary much profit, and often, she found herself barely able to put food on the table, much less the variety that she believed was good for her children.
ChildFund established a “Supervised Neighborhood Play” (SNP) site in her community in 2011, which taught community members about early childhood development — emphasizing nutrition, activities and parenting methods that help infants and toddlers develop healthy cognitive, emotional, social and physical skills. In Rosemary’s village, her sister’s front porch was the SNP center. She did not need much convincing to enroll her youngest three children.
But her excitement about this opportunity soon turned to shock when she learned that her children were malnourished. All three were underweight, Rosemary discovered at a weight and growth monitoring session.
But Rosemary’s anxious questions were answered by the SNP volunteers, who were trained by ChildFund. She learned that she didn’t need to attempt to feed her children food that she couldn’t afford. In fact, the most nutritious food she could give her children was relatively inexpensive and widely available: moringa leaves, okra, squash, water spinach and string beans. These vegetables easily grow in the Philippines and are the prime ingredients or additives in many simple dishes.
Rosemary was thrilled to have this information.
“I was excited to try the nutritious dishes I learned to prepare at SNP parenting sessions,” she says. And instead of buying vegetables at the market, the SNP program helped her start her own backyard vegetable plot by providing her with the seedlings she needed. Meanwhile, her children were also given vitamin supplements to hasten their recovery. Growing her own vegetables helps Rosemary defray food expenses, allowing her to better support her elder two sons in school.
Enrolling her children in home-based ECD services has proved pivotal to Rosemary’s family.
“My children are learning, and staying healthy,” she says. “I’m excited to see them growing taller.”
By Abraham Marca, ChildFund Bolivia
Youth from five regions of Bolivia met recently for a national conference in La Paz organized by ChildFund, where they tackled some serious topics over three days. For most of the teens, this was their first time in La Paz, a big city with many cultural opportunities.
The main objective of this meeting was for the youth to share experiences about what they had been doing in their civic-minded local clubs, both what worked well and what needed improvement.
During the three days, the teens participated in a variety of activities ranging from discussing the impact of violence, how to instill peace and talking about ways their voices could be heard in their communities, especially in decision-making processes.
For Evert, 15, from the rural region of Cochabamba, a highlight was a discussion of violence and discrimination. “This was so interesting that we continued talking about it even during lunch!”
Duveiza, 15, of Santa Cruz, told us, “I enjoyed sharing with youth from different places, sharing opinions. One thing I like is that all of them love sports and not drugs. I realized that violent behavior doesn’t work, and dialogue is the best way.”
Together the participants created a logo that represents all ChildFund-supported youth clubs in Bolivia. It will be used in official documents and other promotional materials at a national level.
Of course, the three days were not all about work. Everyone got to explore the city, see a 3D movie, watch a contemporary dance performance in the national theater and participate in dance classes.
For many of the teens, this was their first time doing all of these things.
Best of all, the conference resulted in strong friendships, and of course, they have made plans to meet again.
By Jose Felix and Natasha Cleary, ChildFund Timor-Leste
“I like to come to the center because I want to play and learn. Mostly I like to play,” 5-year-old Roni says of the early childhood development (ECD) center he’s attended for two years in rural Timor-Leste.
At Roni’s age, access to appropriate play, stimulation and social interaction is crucial to his lifelong development and success. At home, his favorite activity is playing with his neighbor. He also helps his mother and father with some simple chores. However, the government of Timor-Leste reports that only one in 10 children have access to pre-primary educational services that help ensure they develop socially, mentally and physically.
To address that challenge, ChildFund helped establish the Chauluturo ECD Center in the rural Lautem District, which Roni attends. For seven years, the center has provided a safe and supportive environment,as well as trained teachers and high-quality learning resources. “In the school, I feel good because I have a lot of friends,” says Roni, who wants to be a soldier when he is older.
Chauluturo is a community of about 1,200 people who survive mainly by subsistence farming. It sits about 143 miles from Timor-Leste’s capital, Dili, but the village is a five-hour journey by car from Dili because of poor roads and rugged terrain. Due to its isolation, Chauluturo hasn’t always had the resources to support an ECD center.
ChildFund currently supports 76 ECD centers throughout the country, putting more than 3,300 children under the age of 5 on the pathway to reaching their full potential. The ECD program, which began in Timor-Leste in 2006, focuses on building awareness of children’s developmental needs among parents and center coordinators. Many parents from Chauluturo have received training to help them better understand their roles and responsibilities and how they can contribute to a child-friendly learning environment.
“I know this project will help the community, because before, the children didn’t have a center, and they just stayed home,” says the volunteer ECD coordinator, Sonya da Silva Ximenes, who receives ongoing training through ChildFund. “I am happy and hopeful about the current project. I learn a lot from the trainer, and I feel that the project is very good quality.”
By Diana Benitez, ChildFund Guatemala
The United Nations declared Aug. 12 as International Youth Day in 1999, so ChildFund is taking this week to focus on challenges that especially affect teens and young adults, as well as celebrate young people who are showing strong leadership in the countries we serve. Today we meet Zoila, a youth who shared her story with Diana on our Communications team in Guatemala.
“Hi, my name is Zoila. I am in the first grade of secondary school, and I’m 15. I am participating in the ChildFund Guatemala project ‘I Love Myself, I Take Care of Myself.’
“It is very important for me to learn about the risks we face as adolescents when we start having relationships, as sometimes we don’t really realize the consequences of what we do.
“Since I started participating in the project, I see a big difference. I like to help young people, especially other girls like me. At the beginning, they didn’t listen to me, but now they are more interested in these topics.
“I advise my sisters and brothers that we have to think to our future. We can do many good things, but sometimes we think of marriage as a first option, but it is not the most important because we are still very young. I am not saying that I will never get married, but it will come at the right time.”
Zoila is a young girl with a positive attitude, and she’s confident that she will have a bright future. In her community, she plays a very important role, by sharing her knowledge with her peers and also with her family. Community members say that Zoila is a good example.
The “I Love Myself, I Take Care of Myself” project, supported by ChildFund Guatemala, teaches adolescents to be empowered and able to make good decisions about relationships, marriage and parenthood.
By Rukhsana Ayyub, ChildFund U.S. Programs National Director
The United Nations declared Aug. 12 as International Youth Day in 1999, so ChildFund is taking this week to focus on challenges that especially affect teens and young adults, as well as celebrate young people who are showing strong leadership in the countries we serve.
I am driving through some of the most rural and dilapidated towns in Mississippi. There are hardly any cars on the road; the few towns we pass by seem deserted, almost like ghost towns. This is the delta region, with child poverty rates above 50 percent among the African-American population. I spot a group of young men standing under a tree. My guide waves his hand and declares they’re “up to no good.” These young men are seen as troublemakers, getting high on drugs, getting young girls pregnant and getting into fights.
My mind flashes back to my own childhood in Pakistan. During long and hot summer afternoons, the only way we could stay outside was to go hang out under a tree. The tree provided shade, some breeze and a trunk to lean against. We would hang on the tree branches or simply sit and talk, moving slowly as the shade of the tree shifted directions with the setting sun.
“Rukhsana!” I can almost hear my mom calling me now. “Come inside, it’s time to eat.” That is how my playtime under the tree would usually end. I would kick a few rocks to show my annoyance at my mother’s call, but I would walk back home.
I wonder who is going to call these boys inside. Is there a mother waiting, a sister, a grandma, a father or someone else keeping the light on for them? Is there a plate of hot food and a warm embrace waiting, or is it a policeman waiting around the corner to arrest them? That’s what my guide tells me, that these boys are more likely to go to prison than to college. He goes on to describe for me this “pipeline to prison,” an unfortunately popular phrase used to describe this flow of youth into the Mississippi prison system.
My heart fills with sadness. When and how did the shade of the tree lose the safety, fun and comfort attached to it? Boys and young men are cherished in so many cultures around the world, considered the pride of their families, the name carriers for their tribes and the masters of their homes. Why have we given up on them here in Mississippi?
I want to call out to them to come in. I want to open a door for them.