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.
Reporting by Tenagne Mekonnen, ChildFund Africa Communications Manager, with Priscilla Chama, ChildFund Zambia
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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:
These benefits are universal for all mothers and their infants. Please help us share this vital information during World Breastfeeding Week.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
By Abraham Marca, ChildFund Bolivia
“My dear baby, I’m awaiting you with hope,” is how Rilma, 32, starts a letter to her son. However, he is not traveling around the world or even far from her. He is pretty close by, in fact, residing in Rilma’s womb.
“I’m a little afraid for the moment when you will be born, but don’t you worry, I’ll give the best of me, so things can go well, and I will welcome you with the same joy and emotion as I did with your older brothers,” Rilma continues in a letter to her unborn child. This is one of many activities Rilma and other expectant mothers perform at Un Nuevo Caminar, ChildFund’s local partner organization in Cochabamba, Bolivia.
There, women receive free prenatal examinations, pregnancy exercises and infant-care training, including how to identify danger signs and more.
Dr. Pamela Lopez, who works at Un Nuevo Caminar, tells us, “Every day I can see and understand how big a mother’s love is. Working with them is touching; when they smile at the moment they feel their baby or listen to their baby’s heartbeat, it’s a very special moment for them.”
The mothers also practice with a doll, to whom they show their feelings, Lopez says. “I usually tell them, ‘Madam, this is your baby. What’s the first thing you would tell him?’ And they answer, ‘I’d give him a little kiss, I’d hold him, I’d tell him how much I love him.’ ”
Babies are born with the potential to succeed, which parents and other caretakers must nurture. “Our work is to strengthen that link, so it could be stronger and unbreakable,” Lopez says. “It’s a great experience, sharing that unique and particular moment in their lives.”
Ten expectant mothers and 112 children under the age of 5 (along with their mothers) are now enrolled in Un Nuevo Caminar. They participate in stimulation exercises, so the children can gain skills naturally and can also understand and discover the world around them.
By Joanne Hashim, ChildFund Indonesia
Many parents and teachers use things they have handy to teach lessons to children. Maybe you’ve glued macaroni onto paper or made figurines out of bread dough. Perhaps you’ve pressed flowers in a book. In eastern Indonesia, the same kind of thing happens every day.
At an early childhood development (ECD) center in Sumba, Indonesia, which is supported by ChildFund, tutor Kristina made model fruit out of old newspapers and paint, resources she had nearby, so she could show her pupils, children ages 5 and under, what fruits look like.
“None of these things are difficult to make,” she says. “They just take time, but you see around here, we have no choice. We cannot just talk all the time in class. Children need to be stimulated in their learning, and we need teaching aids that children are interested in and can relate to, so that they have a better understanding of the topic.”
The ECD center in Sumba focuses plenty of attention on creating educational tools with locally available resources.
“A popular game is snakes and ladders made from cardboard and old books,” says Gadriana, head of the center. “We also use big dice to teach numbers. This one is made from cardboard. The only cost is in the paint and plastic to protect them.” Every day, children are allowed to choose the game they want to play and with whom they wish to play. As many as 10 children will line up to play “throw,” which has game pieces made out of used newspaper and spare wood.
“Children love this game,” says Gadriana. “It helps them judge distance and count. Children also love to play congkak, which is a traditional game of counting with the aim of filling the opponent’s pots. The one that we use is made from egg cartons and seeds.”
As children develop and get older, they need different educational resources.
“Each morning, before some of older children are allowed to play outside, they have to do two things,” says Margaretha, a tutor. “The first is to place pictures of themselves on sticks on the class attendance poster to indicate their attendance at school. The second is to pick up a folded paper from inside a small rattan holder. On each sheet is written a number, or a simple calculation. Each child has to either work out the calculation or sound out the answer before they go and play outside. For this activity, different colored seeds and sticks are used. Children learn to count by touching the objects as they count.
“Having this activity before school enables the teacher to engage and develop a bond with each child while providing direct one-on-one support to the child,” Margaretha notes. “It also provides the opportunity for children to work alone, with the teacher or in a group, as learning is seen as a communal activity. The other thing this activity does is provide structure and sense of routine to the day. With more than 30 children in each class, we have to manage children from the time they arrive.”
Children also are surrounded by numbers and shapes in the form of pictures. “These learning resources are cheap and easy to make, so teachers and children feel more comfortable about using these resources,” Kristina says, and they are kept where everyone has access to them. The children have to ask permission, but it is usually given. “With these resources, they get to play with a range of different educational toys, and we know that they are learning while enjoying being a child. I wish I had these when I was a child,” she notes.
To keep everyone engaged in the learning process, we are always “developing new toys and learning resources. We sometimes have help from parents, but mostly it is the tutors who are working together,” Gadriana says. “Currently, we are looking at developing math resources for older children that encourage them to work more by themselves over a period of time. We want them to extend their concentration more and develop their self-esteem. We want children to see that math can be fun.”
Some of you may have camped in the woods without a nearby water spigot. Perhaps you had to walk to a lake or river and then boil the water to sterilize it. For a day or two, that’s an adventure. But imagine having to do the same thing every day of your life.
That is the situation for many people in Timor-Leste, which became independent from Indonesia in 2002. Some villages have little infrastructure, and families are forced to walk in extreme heat or heavy rain to get water for cooking, drinking and washing. Sometimes the supply is contaminated, which leads to disease.
ChildFund has provided wells and water towers to several communities, helping thousands of families. John Chuidian, a graduate student who interned in Asia this summer, traveled to several countries and made videos for ChildFund. This one shows the challenges a Timor-Leste village faced, as well as the relief a nearby source of fresh water brings.