By Veronica Travez, ChildFund Ecuador
Daniela is 15 years old, and she and her two brothers are albino. Albinism is a rare genetic condition characterized by the absence or reduction of melanin in the skin, eyes and/or hair.
Daniela’s family lives in the northwestern area of the province of Pichincha in Ecuador, a region that’s subtropical and humid. Her home is made of wood, which helps protect the family from high temperatures, humidity and insects.
Vicente, her father, is a farmer, and Jessica, her mother, is a seamstress. With the help of Daniela’s sponsor, Susan, the family was able to obtain a loan to buy sewing machines and have installed a textile workshop in their home. This business allows them to share quality time with their children while supporting them financially.
Albinism causes difficulties for Daniela and her brothers. Because melanin is necessary for the development of the eyes, the siblings have experienced problems with their vision. However, Daniela’s sponsor has sent money that covers vision treatment, so the siblings’ sight has improved.
“Thanks to the support of my sponsor, I have excelled economically, in my health and in my studies,” Daniela says, “and I was able to be trained as a young leader.”
Daniela also participates in a ChildFund-supported community program for school-aged girls and boys, where they receive social and financial education, as well as learning about their rights, responsibilities, self-esteem, saving money and frugal spending.
Jessica is a trainer in the program, and she notes that she too has learned a lot throughout the process. “I have met new friends; I learned to respect and care for my peers with disabilities. At school we performed a skit about people with disabilities, teaching children not to discriminate against them.“
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
When colleagues visit me in Northern California from overseas, we often have lunch at Arizmendi Bakery. Sitting at a small, round table, my friends eat the bakery’s signature sourdough pizza topped with the day’s combination — perhaps fresh corn, poblano chiles, sundried tomatoes, homemade mozzarella cheese, lime juice, olive oil and cilantro parmesan. It’s sweet, spicy, salty, tart, creamy, chewy and crisp.
Arizmendi is more than just a good place for lunch; it is actually a collective of six cooperative bakeries in the San Francisco Bay area. The workers are part owners, and this is a good place to bring my international colleagues, who are interested in how cooperatives play an important role in developing countries.
Today is the International Day of Cooperatives, and this year’s theme is achieving sustainable development through cooperative enterprises.
Zambia’s first president, Kenneth Kaunda, understood their value. From the start, he encouraged groups of 10 people to register as cooperatives, moving them from unemployment to employment, often in agriculture. Today, the Ministry of Agriculture still oversees Zambia’s cooperatives. Lusaka’s Cooperative College is one of the nation’s 11 agricultural training institutions, and more than half of the country’s population is engaged in agriculture.
In 2002, ChildFund Zambia began developing coops in rural communities; we now support 13 in the Chibombo, Chongwe, Mumbwa and Kafue districts. We link these producer-owners to government agencies for seeds, training and motivational events, as well as to the Zambia National Farmers Union for mobile phone-based market information. More than 100 of ChildFund’s parents benefit directly as cooperative members, while other families participate in seed distribution, crop marketing and field demonstrations.
Training in value chain analysis helps the coop members increase profits by selling grain to Zambia’s Food Reserve Agency. Members also reduce soil degradation by replacing chemical fertilizers with organic manure, as well as compost from food scraps or fertilizer prepared from goat droppings, known as manure tea. Coops professionalize small family farms, beginning with the establishment of cooperative governing boards. Members gain financial security through bank accounts with NATSAVE, Zambia’s National Savings and Credit Bank.
Juliet Mundia is secretary of a coop in Nachibila Village, Mumbwa District. In just five years, its 20 men and 15 women have constructed a grain shed to store their rain-fed maize (corn) and groundnut (peanut) harvests. They re-invest their profits each season into farming tools — shovels, pitchforks, watering cans, vegetable drying racks and knapsack sprayers. Trained in small livestock rearing and vegetable production, they now have a herd of goats and chickens. Their gardens, newly planted with greens, tomatoes, green pepper and cabbage, produce vegetables for sale locally and in Lusaka. With the proceeds, these families educate their children and provide them with proper nutrition and health care.
Each month Juliet and her husband sell 20 chickens, five goats and about $25 worth of vegetables. This season they expect to produce 35,000 kilograms of maize and 1,500 kilos of groundnuts. A vibrant woman, Juliet tells of how she quadrupled her income, bringing her family hope for the future. You can help too by purchasing garden tools through our gift catalog.
By Sagita Adesywi, ChildFund Indonesia
In 2012, ChildFund launched a program called Shine a Light in four countries — Dominica, Indonesia, Liberia and Senegal — thanks in large part to a major gift from a concerned donor. The project’s goal is to raise awareness of gender-based violence, assist child survivors of sexual abuse and help communities develop child-protective systems and responses. In four blog posts, we’ll learn about the progress made in these countries; today we focus on Indonesia.
“I was a dropout by my second year of junior high school. I didn’t like the school, the other students and the teachers. They said I was naughty, and I was bullied too,” says Chandra, a 16-year-old boy from Semarang, Central Java, Indonesia. “Paulus, the director of KOMPASS, ChildFund’s local partner organization in Semarang, invited me to join the Child Forum and to get back into school. Now I am catching up my education through the informal school and actively involved at the Child Forum. If I hadn’t joined the Child Forum, I would only be a dropout and a motorcycle club hotshot.”
As a member of the Child Forum, Chandra participated in a recent workshop on gender-based violence, part of the Shine a Light project. In an effort to prevent and respond to gender-based violence against children, ChildFund has worked through local partners to educate youth on the issue of violence between intimate partners — a growing problem in Indonesia. The participants in turn serve as peer educators in their communities.
“At the gender-based violence training, we learned about gender and violence, focusing on children and young girls,” says Irma, 18, one of the youth facilitators. “After the training, we held group discussions to get to know what the issues are among us.”
More and more, young people are experiencing violence in dating relationships, not just marriages. These programs are showing Indonesian youth how to manage these relationships in safe and healthy ways, preventing violence before it starts.
The youth facilitators led group discussions with 80 children and youth from several schools. The groups were divided by age: 10-12, 13-17 and 18-24.
Not everyone is comfortable talking these sensitive issues, Chandra explains. “We played some games to lighten the atmosphere, so they could feel more relaxed.”
“I was the facilitator for the 18-to-24 group,” says Irma. “The physical and emotional abuses are also considered as normal for them. They didn’t realize that when they tease or make fun of someone, it could hurt the other person. In the training, I learned that we may also be the person who did the violence toward others without even realizing it.”
Helping children and youth learn about safe and healthy dating practices involves establishing good communication between partners, understanding gender equality and stereotypes, creating boundaries, expressing feelings and perceiving signs of possible dating violence, among other lessons.
Stefanie facilitated the 13-to-17 group. “I found some of them have experienced violence in dating because they were afraid to say no,” she says. “They are afraid of losing their boyfriends. They don’t know to whom to share. They need someone they can trust.”
The physical and emotional abuses are also considered as normal for them. They didn’t realize that when they tease or make fun of someone, it could hurt the other person.
She remembers a girl who was raped and became pregnant, which caused her to drop out of school. “The Community Development Agency of Semarang contacted the Child Forum to ask our opinions on that case. Through the discussion, we found out that students were sharing sexual content on mobile phones at school. We then held a sharing session with the students at the school on violence against children and on reproductive health.”
The facilitators have learned that peer involvement makes students listen more closely than to adults dictating rules.
“When the information is delivered by their own friends, it is more easily accepted and understood,” Irma says. “When it is delivered by older people, the kids tend to be quiet.”
Through the Child Forum, ChildFund also provides leadership training for youth to encourage and support them to be the leaders and role models among their peers. With youth facilitators in the students’ communities, more young people will hopefully feel more comfortable seeking the help they need.
“If I hadn’t joined the Child Forum, I would still be the quiet and shy girl, only focus on academic lessons,” Irma says. “I wouldn’t have any broad ideas about the issues that affect children. Now, since I have joined many activities at the Child Forum, I know more! I was really idolizing Stefanie. I think she is really cool. She knows and shares many things to other children, like the issues of gender-based violence.”
In 2012, ChildFund launched a program called Shine a Light in four countries — Dominica, Indonesia, Liberia and Senegal — thanks in large part to a major gift from a concerned donor. The project’s goal is to raise awareness of gender-based violence, assist child survivors of sexual abuse and help communities develop child-protective systems and responses. In four blog posts, we’ll learn about the progress made in these countries; today we examine Dominica.
By Martha Joseph, ChildFund Caribbean Area Manager, and Isaac Trice, Social Work Intern
Young men and boys from one of Dominica’s most deprived communities are seeing their lives transformed through the Man-Up program, designed to empower them to make responsible choices while respecting the rights of girls and women. This opportunity is made possible through the Shine a Light project.
In Dominica, sexual abuse is the most prevalent form of gender-based violence afflicting children. The goal of Shine a Light is to reduce the incidence of gender-based violence against children, by empowering young people and creating safe environments.
Gender socialization research has produced some understanding of the connections between gender identity and violence affecting children. Boys often learn early to identify maleness with strength and aggressive behavior, according to a 2009 study. Man-Up, geared toward boys and youths ages 6 to 24, addresses such aggression and the frustration of males living in Dominica’s at-risk communities.
Thirteen-year-old Greg attends the events, and he has developed a strong passion to make his community a better place. Greg has lived all of his life in this community with high unemployment, juvenile delinquency and student dropout rates, as well as frequent drug use and sexual abuse. Most people who become successful move out of the area, and only two boys out of 17 attending the first session said they planned to stay in the community.
A strong student and soccer player for his school team, Greg recognizes that there are many who will not be able to leave, so he is taking a leading role in contributing to his community by coordinating activities and recruiting friends to participate. His first major project was a cleanup of the local community center and its surroundings to make it safe for all of the young men who play there.
“The community center is the place I feel safest,” Greg says. “We want to make it just a little bit better.”
Man-Up aims to help young men to express themselves in a positive manner instead of violently and destructively. Sessions focus on issues of respect for self and others; gender identity norms and their implications; community responsibility; brotherhood; goal setting; and sexual and reproductive health.
Soccer has become an important way to teach lessons. Shane, another young man in the program, explains, “By playing soccer, we learn how to work as a team to achieve the positive goal of winning. We learn the importance of rules and that violence does not solve problems, it only makes things worse.”
The national government of Dominica is making major strides in combating sexual violence. Stay tuned for a blog post soon about how ChildFund Caribbean is assisting this important effort through Shine a Light.
By Emmanuel Ford, ChildFund Liberia
In 2012, ChildFund launched a program called Shine a Light in four countries — Dominica, Indonesia, Liberia and Senegal — thanks in large part to a major gift from a concerned donor. The project’s goal is to raise awareness of gender-based violence, assist child survivors of sexual abuse and help communities develop child-protective systems and responses. In four blog posts, we’ll learn about the progress made in these countries; today, we focus on Liberia.
In Liberia, Shine a Light was launched in Klay Town, Klay District, Bomi County. The project targets 200 children in two schools — 100 boys and 100 girls aged 10 to 17.
Schools in Liberia are rife with sexual exploitation and abuse. Sexual exploitation and abuse, a form of gender-based violence, is an abuse of a position of authority for sexual purposes. In 2012, research among 800 girls in four of Liberia’s counties found that 88.7 percent had experienced a sexual violation, 40.2 percent had engaged in transactional sex, and 47 percent had endured sexual coercion — citing classmates, teachers, and school personnel as the main perpetrators.
To respond to this enormous challenge with the aim of preventing sexual exploitation and abuse before it happens, the project has formed two clubs for girls. These clubs provide a safe space in the school setting where girls may interact with each other and community mentors. Community mentors are individuals who live and work in the same communities as the girls and who demonstrate interest in empowering both girls and boys to stop sexual exploitation and abuse at school.
Utilizing a dynamic and interactive curriculum, club members and community mentors together address important issues such as sexual harassment, HIV and AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, prevention of unintended pregnancy, and reproductive myths. Girls also receive financial education where they spend time learning about options for income generation, how to control spending, learning the differences between needs and wants, and how to save. Girls will be exploring options to open savings accounts and form savings groups.
However, because boys and teachers are also important partners to end sexual exploitation and abuse, the project engages these critical groups. For example, boys are learning about the causes and consequences of sexual exploitation and abuse and are receiving financial education. The project works with teachers and school administrators to reinvigorate and apply a school code of conduct for all personnel.
Gender-based violence has long been an issue of critical importance in Liberia. The national government started a national effort to fight gender-based violence in 2012, focusing on a community-based observation network to identify problems and address them quickly. In 2007, the World Health Organization worked with Liberia’s Ministry of Gender and Development to interview 2,828 women about violence in their relationships.
According to the study, 93 percent had been subjected to at least one abusive act. Of those who survived violence, 48.5 percent said they were forced to work as sex workers; 13.6 percent of survivors were younger than 15. Rape cases are the most frequently reported serious crime in Liberia, and in 2007, 46 percent of reported rapes involved children under age 18; sexual assaults frequently occurred during Liberia’s political strife as a tool to control civilians, according to a 2012 Liberian government report.
Despite the response by Liberia’s government, sexual violence remains a serious problem, with a total of 2,493 sexual and gender-based violent crimes being reported across the country in 2012 and 2013, according to the Ministry of Gender and Development.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who has taken on gender equality and gender-based violence as key causes in her administration, said in a November speech: “In Liberia, through the pain and anguish experienced by each of these victims, we have found the strength and the courage to start to build a new, transformed society — where women enjoy equal rights and fair treatment, and where their productive role in society and the economy is acknowledged. In my country, women occupy high-ranking government positions; rape, though continuing, has been criminalized; and women have greater property and custodial rights.”
By Corinne Mazzeo, ChildFund Health and Nutrition Advisor
The 5th Birthday and Beyond campaign recognizes the importance of investing in the first five years of life to ensure that children survive and thrive well beyond their fifth birthday. ChildFund is one of more than 100 nonprofit organizations, businesses and philanthropic groups participating in this effort.
The period from conception to 5 years is a critical time in human development. Starting even before a child is born, the brain is developing. In fact, the brain is developing most rapidly — and is most vulnerable — during these first few years of life.
Before a child turns 3, his or her brain is 2.5 times as active as the average adult brain, making more than 700 new synapses (connections between nerve cells that transmit information) each second. This defines a child’s health and developmental trajectory and determines a great deal of his or her future.
This is why investing in programs that target infants and young children — the age group from conception to 5 years — is so important. Children aren’t the only ones who benefit; so do their families and society as a whole. For every dollar invested in early childhood development, there is a return of between $4 and $17, which contributes to a healthier and more peaceful society. Also, according to the World Bank, high-quality services for infants and young children promote gender and socioeconomic equality.
When considering how to design high-quality services for this age group, it is important to recognize that all aspects of a young child’s life are interconnected. Their physical health depends on good nutrition, and their home lives strongly influence their emotional well-being.
Let’s look at nutrition and brain development. If a baby is undernourished, she can’t learn as well as she should, she can’t fully interact with her peers, and she can’t explore. The link between nutrition and physical growth may seem obvious — how often do we tell our kids, “Eat your vegetables so you will be strong” — but nutrition is also essential for brain development. Just as the body needs nourishment to grow and develop, so does the brain.
In recent years, we have learned more about brain development, and it is clear that children need more than just good nutrition to reach their full physical and cognitive potential.
Another critical piece is stimulation, which is necessary to build and strengthen the brain’s architecture. Children’s early experiences with caregivers and their environment have a direct impact on their physical and mental health throughout their lives. Love, affection, interaction and play — along with fulfilled health and nutritional needs — create the attachment that stimulates healthy growth and development.
As a result, leaders around the world — including ChildFund — are increasingly focused on the integration of nutrition and stimulation. A growing body of research suggests that when these two areas of intervention are combined, the whole is greater than the two parts. An infant benefits more than if the interventions are delivered separately. So, what does this look like in real life for a mother and her baby?
One example is that well-baby visits address the interconnected needs of parent and child. Usually, when a mother brings her baby to a clinic for growth monitoring, she receives education and counseling on infant feeding practices (and, ideally, about her own nutrition as well). But this meeting can also be an opportunity to discuss the importance of stimulation to facilitate the baby’s brain development.
For example, a health worker can encourage the mother to actively engage with her baby and talk to him during mealtimes. This simple message builds upon the existing counseling about nutrition and can help reinforce the importance of responsive caregiving. When the mother is empowered to interact with her child this way, the baby’s cognitive development improves — and so do his chances for a brighter future.
By Erin Nicholson, ChildFund Staff Writer
Last year in Belarus, a young man named Vlad passed the Baranovichi University entrance exams. A significant but fairly routine achievement, perhaps, except that Vlad was born with cerebral palsy. And in Belarus, his acceptance into college was nothing short of groundbreaking.
Although cognitively Vlad is very capable — he can quote Dumas with ease and loves classical literature by Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky — the palsy makes his speech unclear, and he has trouble writing or using a keyboard. He almost missed out on going to college altogether; over and over he was prevented from taking entrance exams because students weren’t allowed any kind of assistance during the tests.
His break finally came after the vice rector of Baranovichi University attended a ChildFund-supported training on inclusive education, the USAID-funded project Community Services to Vulnerable Groups. She shared her new knowledge with colleagues, and Vlad was able to take the exam by answering questions verbally. He passed and even had the highest scores among all applicants that year.
In Belarus, more than 26,000 children are considered to have a disability and as many as 120,000 have special educational needs, according to UNICEF. These are alarmingly high numbers, especially for a country with just under 9.5 million people, and have nearly tripled since 1990. A complex mix of problems may be to blame, including the lingering effects of post-Soviet Union economic depression and the trauma of the Chernobyl nuclear plant explosion nearly 30 years ago.
There is not any direct evidence proving that long-term radiation exposure caused an increase in health problems in Belarus, but the economic devastation following the disaster resulted in widespread post-traumatic stress, depression and anxiety throughout the population. Along with chronically high unemployment, the prevalence of smoking, alcoholism and overall poor nutrition contribute to an increase in disease and disabilities.
And in a country with limited economic resources, the infrastructure to support children who need assistance just isn’t there. So what happens to them? Institutionalization and exclusion from family and society is common, and children with disabilities, who are often seen as a burden or even an embarrassment, overwhelm orphanages. Rarely do they receive the physical, cognitive and emotional support they need — much less an education. The communities in Belarus where we work have seen some improvement, with the number of institutionalized children dropping to an average of 6 percent in 2009, down from the national average of 25 percent.
With the right support, life for these children can be better. As of 2012, 4,000 children and family members benefited from the USAID-funded inclusive education project. Vlad is gaining an education, as well as future opportunities and more independence. After college, he hopes to become a lawyer and fight for the rights of people with disabilities.
Recently, Belarus leaders have begun to prioritize inclusive education for children with disabilities, thanks in part to groundbreaking cases like Vlad’s and the work by ChildFund and other groups. More children are in a position to become leaders and have greater hope for the future, just like Vlad hopes to be.
Consider contributing to ChildFund’s Fund a Project for children living with disabilities in Belarus, giving them access to necessary classroom equipment. You can keep the momentum going for Vlad and other young people.
A few months ago, we wrote about Caio, a young man from Brazil who was one of 10 teens chosen to take photos for the World Health Organization’s adolescent health report. He’s a sponsored child and participates in the ChildFund-supported Photovoice program in Brazil. Now the WHO’s report has been released, and you can see Caio’s images (here and here). We encourage you to read the whole report, which quotes teens from around the world about health concerns affecting their communities.
Our CEO and president, Anne Lynam Goddard, spoke about violence against children at the TEDxRVA conference in March, and today the speech is available on video. Anne’s speech, “Freedom From Violence,” focuses on “re-action”: More than just a single reaction to events, but acting again and again to achieve our goals — specifically ending violence against children. She was part of a daylong lineup of speakers in Richmond, Va., all addressing ways that we can individually and as a community make positive changes in the world.
By Verónica Travez, ChildFund Ecuador
Families are crucial to ChildFund’s early childhood development programs, a fact that ChildFund Ecuador recently celebrated in three cities where children and youth are served.
ChildFund invited children, families, community members and local government and school officials in Latacunga, Imbabura and San Miguel de los Bancos to hear how participants in ECD programs have improved and changed their lives.
“I learned many new things,” said Fatima, a mother and a workshop leader. “I learned how to care for my 2-year-old daughter, how to grow healthy food and how to treat her with love and stimulate her appropriately. I learned that to guide our children, we must not mistreat them. Participating in workshops has helped me as a mother, as a wife and as a leader. The knowledge that ChildFund leaves in us is an excellent experience.”
The event was part of ChildFund’s ongoing 75th anniversary celebration worldwide, an opportunity not only to have fun but also to educate community members about the differences children and their families have seen in their lives.
Anthony, a 12-year-old boy from the city of Latacunga, congratulated and thanked ChildFund for its “unconditional support” to his family and especially to his community. Ecuador’s central and local governments have launched a national project to improve child care and child development, and ChildFund is committed to these goals as well, benefiting children and families across the country.