Programs

Zoila: A Peer Influencer for Good in Guatemala

 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.

Zoila at home

Zoila does her chores at home 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 doing homework

Zoila does her homework.

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.

Boys Under a Tree

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.

shade treeI 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.

A Mexican Youth: ‘ChildFund Is My Family’

By Gabriela Ramirez Hernandez, ChildFund Mexico

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.

Chucho started life with many challenges, growing up in an impoverished community in Michoacan, Mexico. His father died when he was only 2, and his mother passed away from cancer when he was 11. Fortunately, his aunt took him in and he also became more engaged with ChildFund programs. 

Today, Chucho, whose given name is Jesús, is 21 years old. He is a dance instructor, gives workshops on environmental education, studies marketing at college and volunteers for environmental causes.

Chucho began his affiliation with ChildFund México at the age of 6. He started by being involved in skills development programs, and as he grew older, he participated in sporting events, celebrations, reading programs and after-school tutoring.

As time passed, Chucho realized that he was changing on the inside. He was less introverted, he was able to speak in public without embarrassment, and he felt more confident.

Mexican youth

Chucho is a leader in his community, teaching dance lessons and working to improve the environment.

After completing elementary school, he began practicing oratory, participating in competitions and winning first place several times. “What I wanted the most was to show my family that every effort has good results,” he says. Chucho also discovered his passion: dancing.  

But life was still complicated, because he had no money to continue studying. At the age of 14 he decided to enter the National Council for Educational Development (CONAFE) and started working as a teacher’s aide in his community.

“I worked very hard in order to convince the children to participate in various competitions, to organize contests with other schools, and they always won something,” Chucho says. “I wanted to share with them one of the most important things I had learned in ChildFund Mexico: that everything is possible if you work hard for it.”

At the age of 15, Chucho received recognition from the council as the top teachers’ aide. His ChildFund sponsor, who still supports him today, expressed her pride in him too.

Then one day, Chucho received a proposal to become the youth leader of the local partner organization, Valle Verde, which works with ChildFund México. He accepted without hesitation and began to organize all kinds of events, recognizing that young people need support and motivation.  

As he entered high school, Chucho chose to do community service for an organization called Biocinosis, which focuses on environmental education. Another organization, Reforestemos Mexico, invited Chucho to join in reforestation and recycling programs, further building his knowledge.

In 2012, Chucho received the Youth Merit Award of Michoacán. This is an award given to young people who are great leaders in different fields. He received the award from the governor of Michoacán, and Chucho was on the radio and television news. 

Clearly, Chucho has the potential to achieve many more goals as an adult.

“All the things I have done and what I am today is thanks to ChildFund Mexico,” he says. “They taught me so many things, and they took care of me when my parents died. They are my family. Now I want to continue working with young people so we can improve our community together.”

In Ecuador, ‘Hummingbirds’ Take Flight

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.

Ecuador’s youth face many challenges, including early parenthood, violence and substance abuse. ChildFund is working closely with teens in the Quito area to provide a supportive environment for candid discussions and to help youth set goals and develop leadership skills. In turn, these young people are taking action in their communities by interacting with their peers and dispensing good advice. Learn more about the youth-led Hummingbird Squads in this video produced by ChildFund Ecuador.

Seveliya’s Hero Book

Reporting by Tenagne Mekonnen, ChildFund Africa Communications Manager, with Priscilla Chama, ChildFund Zambia

Zambian girl

Seveliya at the Day of the African Child conference.

Seveliya, 13, represented Zambia at the Day of the African Child conference this past spring in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (scroll down at the link above to watch her speech). She recently talked to us about her hero book, an autobiographical work that she created at the ChildFund-supported resource center in Kafue, a town in Zambia’s Lusaka province. Hero books let children describe the challenges they face and set goals for the future — in a sense, making themselves the heroes of their own lives.

To boost this feeling of self-confidence, other children write supportive comments in the books for their friends. Here is Seveliya’s experience, in her own words:

My hero book: That is me, my guide, my dream and my future! It is my discipline. My hero book is all about me, my family, friends, the future.

Zambia hero book

Seveliya talks about what it has meant to her to create her hero book.

The resource center at the Kafue Child District Agency shaped my life. It is a place where I share with my peers and do different activities to tackle life’s struggles! It is where we come together to know ourselves, fight for our rights and educate our community about children’s rights.

The resource center helped me to express myself through the hero book, which helped me to reflect. It shaped my character; before my hero book, I always felt that I am always right, and everyone else is wrong. I fought with family, siblings, friends, just because I thought I am the only one who is right!  

But the hero book helped me to accommodate family, friends, siblings and the community.  Now I have confidence to say that my dreams will come true. Now I have a plan to be an architect 10 years from now, and 20 years from now I will be having my own business, which will help me open an orphanage and provide support. I will be there for my future!

I know I am tomorrow’s leader! It is clear, no more fear.

 

‘Only Love Can Exceed the Benefits of Breastfeeding’

 By Patricia Toquica, Americas Region Communications Manager

It’s World Breastfeeding Week, and ChildFund joins the World Health Organization and other groups in avidly supporting breastfeeding as a key component of early childhood development programs.

Ecuadorean mother and child

Mothers in Ecuador participate in peer-counseling sessions about healthy practices, including breastfeeding for the first six months of their children’s lives.

It’s a cold morning in Ecuador’s mountainous Tungurahua region, where a group of indigenous mothers and, often, fathers meets weekly in the Santa Rosa village community center. This time they’ve come to talk about an important topic for the healthy development of their infants: breastfeeding.

The ChildFund-trained guide mother shares with the group, which includes about 15 mothers, proven best practices and other information on how breastfeeding can make a world of difference for their babies.

breastfeeding information

This card reads, “Only love exceeds the benefits of breast milk.”

Mothers then break into groups to discuss and reflect on key messages the guide mother shared, including “breast milk is natural and is the best for your baby; there’s no other substitute,” and “only love can exceed the benefits of breast milk.” Mothers also discuss commonly held beliefs and traditions in their village that can become obstacles to exclusive breastfeeding in the child’s first six months, as recommended. They talk about the difficulties they face when feeding their babies (the demands of work and managing household chores as well as the needs of other family members) and share ideas for overcoming those challenges.

“During the workshops and sessions we have around breastfeeding, the feedback that we get from mothers is that children are improving, and that is what we want to hear,” says Rosario, the guide mother and facilitator. Sometimes the local nurse also comes to these meetings to provide additional support and information for the parents.

Just as it is a focus in this small Ecuadorean community, breastfeeding is a key component of ChildFund’s Early Childhood Development programs targeting children from birth to 5 years old in the 30 countries where we work around the world.

Ecuadorean mothers

Mothers in Ecuador work in support groups to encourage and educate others on the importance of breastfeeding.

“A community support network for mothers is essential,” says Magda Palacio, ChildFund’s Early Childhood Development adviser in the Americas. “The peer counseling in ChildFund is provided by guide mothers and is a cost-effective and highly productive way to reach a larger number of mothers more frequently, which directly reflects in the survival and health of children,” she says.

Peer counseling is the focus of this year’s World Breastfeeding Week, promoted by the World Health Organization under the theme: “Breastfeeding Support: Close to Mothers.” For ChildFund and other groups, this week marks another important occasion to highlight the importance of supporting mothers in their efforts to provide their infants with a healthy start in life.

During their peer-counseling sessions, the mothers in Santa Rosa, Ecuador, came up with their own list of breastfeeding benefits:

  • Protects babies from diseases.
  • Helps in their mental development.
  • It’s natural and is free.
  • It is always available.

These benefits are universal for all mothers and their infants. Please help us share this vital information during World Breastfeeding Week.

Giving Children Affected by AIDS the Opportunity to Dream

By Kate Andrews, with reporting by Joan Ng’ang’a, ChildFund Kenya

Titus loves to play soccer, cook with his brother and do math. One day the 12-year-old hopes to be an engineer. Yet, Titus faces some serious challenges. He lives in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya, a tough place to grow up. Most families live in one-room shanties constructed of makeshift materials, and children typically sleep on the floor. Adding to these disadvantages, Titus and his mother are both HIV-positive.

But with support from ChildFund, Titus has found a bit of good fortune in the midst of harsh challenges. He and his mom receive the medications they need to stay healthy, and they also attend a support group for those affected by HIV and AIDS.

Kenyan family

Titus (middle) with his mother and brother.

Titus and his mother, who is a community health worker and sells vegetables near their home, tested HIV-positive in 2006. His mother was in shock for the first year and didn’t take medications she needed to be healthy. Today, though, thanks to the support group, both mother and son take their medicine regularly and have learned about nutrition therapy, as well as receiving water treatment kits and school materials. Titus went to a special camp for children affected by HIV and AIDS last year.

Titus is happy and confident about the future, and he and his parents and brothers talk about HIV openly. “The one thing I love about my family is that we love each other,” he says. 

Kenya has a serious AIDS epidemic that touches virtually everyone in the country. Although the prevalence of the disease has declined in the past 15 years, in 2011, 1.6 million people — 6.2 percent of the country — were recorded as HIV-positive, according to UNICEF, and 1.1 million children were AIDS orphans.

Children like Titus, including some who don’t have the same level of family support, need our help to stay healthy and receive the education and other resources they require for a fulfilling future. For the past two years, ChildFund has implemented a long-term support program for children in Kenya who have been affected by HIV and AIDS.

How You Can Help

We provide health services, educational support and community assistance with a $3.5 million matching grant. To meet its terms, ChildFund must raise $725,491 by Aug. 31. Because of this arrangement, your dollars will go a long way; each one will be matched by $4.35. Numerous children and families in Kenya will benefit from your gift.

So far, 350 children and 200 parents have been tested for HIV and received counseling, and more than 1,000 families have started income-generating work that allows them to afford nutritious food and school materials. More than 70,000 children have received insecticide-treated mosquito nets that help prevent malaria, a disease that is particularly debilitating for those already weak with HIV or AIDS.

We can do so much more with your generous donations. More children like Titus can dream of one day becoming engineers — or teachers or doctors or anything else they want to be.

A Young Gambian Woman Stands up for Her Beliefs

Reporting by Janella Nelson, ChildFund Education Specialist 

Ramatoulie is a 15-year-old girl from The Gambia who was able to use her voice to stand up against early marriage — including the prospect of her own — and blossom into a confident teenager with support from ChildFund. Here is her story in her own words.

Until I was 12 years old, I stayed home all day and took care of my eldest sister’s baby. I wasn’t comfortable, since all the kids around me were going to school. I wanted to go to school because I could not speak English, so my mother put me in school. She advised me to do well in school. Sometimes she would cry in telling me this.

My father and mother are rice and groundnut (peanut) farmers. Neither one of them went to school. My mother got married around 18 years old and had six children — five girls and one boy, but one girl passed away. I am the youngest. The first two girls got married at 16 years old, and my brother was sent to live with a relative in Senegal to become a baker. My other sister was in school but dropped out when she got pregnant in grade nine because the school wouldn’t accept her anymore.I was focused on education because I kept hearing that education was the key to success. Our school was lucky because ChildFund brought the Aflatoun program, which is a club where I learned about my rights. I liked the club, and I worked really hard and eventually was chosen as vice president by the teachers and students. In grade six, I was voted to become president, and there were 120 students in the group.

Gambian girl

Ramatoulie faced a serious problem: marriage against her will. But today she attends school and remains unwed.

One day, when I was 14, my father told me there was a man who wanted to marry me. He was much older, about 30 or more years older and already had a wife and a child. He was from another country and wasn’t educated. I did not want this. My father said the man would take care of me and pay for my school, and if I said no, I would no longer be his daughter, and he would take everything away. He gave me three days to change my mind. The man tried to give me money to convince me, but I gave the money directly to my father and said I don’t want it. I refused to take anything from the man. My mother couldn’t do anything to help me.

I continued going to school, and I was very sad. My teacher saw something was wrong with me, and eventually three teachers came to my house to see what had happened. They spoke to my father and learned that he was going to make me marry. They tried to convince him not to marry me off because I was doing so well in school. My father said he didn’t have any money to pay for school. The teachers and the local community organization said they would support me. My father said that from now onward the teachers and God will be responsible for me.

With the support of my teachers, I stayed home and finished sixth grade. ChildFund sponsored me to go into upper primary school by paying my school fees, and I went to live with another family. I am in a good school, and I will be in eighth grade this coming year. My father is happy because he couldn’t pay school fees for me. He is a poor man, not a bad man, and he thought marrying me off was the only way that I could be taken care of.

Day of the African Child

Ramatoulie was one of many representatives at 2013′s Day of the African Child conference.

In my new school, I joined another club called Speak Out! that empowers girls and boys with skills to deal with problems that are hindering their access to academic development. My advice for other girls is that education is the key to success in life, and they should focus on education. Girls should be aware that many problems are caused by boys and sometimes even teachers, like sexual harassment. Girls should speak out to people and tell a teacher they can really trust.

I was chosen to represent The Gambia at the Day of the African Child conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, earlier this summer. The sky is the limit!

At the conference, Ramatoulie read a poem she wrote:

A dark world, an odd emotion

Crossing my dreams, taking my emotions, my laughter and joy.

My smile seems so meaningless

The dark corners where I hid

Began to feel like home

As my childhood days are numbered

I drown in an ocean of my tears

With no one to help or pull me out

Tying the knot with a stranger

No friends, no allies

No love, no sympathy

Just a hall of darkness

Where my future dies

My doom is certain

My end is near

I dream of death, as I dream of heaven

Hopeless and helpless I saw myself

I think there was no one to help

But then I was wrong. In my surprise, as I drown deeper in the oceans of my tears. An organization came to rescue me called ChildFund.

They give me a new life.

They brought back my laughter and joy

They make my smile so meaningful

The dark world I was living before became a brighter one

They made me what I am today. ChildFund is everything to me.

They pay my school fees and even offer me a place…

A very responsible and kind person took me to her place, sheltered me and treated me like her own child. The beginning of my end I saw was the end of my misery. And the beginning of my bright future.

Working in the Service of Others

By Sierra Winston, ChildFund Communications Intern

Villa Joseph Marie High School, an all-girls parochial school in Holland, Pa., near Philadelphia, concentrates on creating a graduate who is “committed to a life of faith and service, a lifelong learner and an empowered global citizen.” The school’s National Honor Society recently helped uphold the school’s mission by raising money for ChildFund.

Established to recognize outstanding high school students in schools around the country, the National Honor Society focuses on four principles: character, charity, leadership and scholarship.

NHS members

Members of Villa Joseph Marie’s National Honor Society chapter, who made a donation to ChildFund.

Villa Joseph Marie’s NHS chapter leader, Danielle Barlow, says that the students in her chapter represent so much more to her than those four characteristics. According to Barlow, these young women are “dedicated and hardworking” and “exemplify the meaning of a community.”

Each year Villa Joseph Marie’s NHS chapter chooses a nonprofit to benefit from its fundraising. Barlow and her executive board members each nominated one charity. Members then voted for their choice. ChildFund, nominated by NHS Secretary Erin McKevitt, was selected.

Fundraising was not easy for the chapter, with the school and community facing many obstacles during the school year, including recovering from the powerful Hurricane Sandy that tore through the Northeast last fall.

Nevertheless, the students overcame their challenges and raised $2,200 for ChildFund’s Children’s Greatest Needs fund. It was truly a gift from the heart.

Village Savings and Loan Makes a Difference for a Ugandan Family

Reporting by ChildFund Uganda staff

Agnes Akello used to sell tomatoes and fish at a roadside market in Uganda. But when a Village Savings and Loan Association started in her community in 2012, she joined and later borrowed 400,000 shillings (about US$155).

“I would never have been able to access this amount of money in this village,” says the mother of four.

Agnes in Uganda

Agnes assists a customer at her stall.

Agnes used the loan to start a sorghum-selling business. She buys sorghum, a grain used for food and livestock fodder, during the harvesting season when it is plentiful and sells it at a higher price during the dry season. She also expanded her petty trade business, which she says earns her more money now than before.

The VSLA group, which started with the assistance of ChildFund Ireland’s Communities Caring for Children Programme in Agnes’ village, meets every Friday to make loans and take in money. The group’s current loan portfolio is US$1,100, and members plan to save even more.

Agnes, who has been chairperson of her 30-member VSLA group since its inception in 2012, says she is proud of the fact that she now makes a meaningful contribution to her family’s well-being. “My greatest joy is in seeing my children go to school, get good medical services, proper food and clothing, which was very difficult before, considering that my husband is only a farmer. My whole life has changed,” she says with a smile.

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