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.
Children in Afghanistan face some of the greatest challenges in the world: political instability, lack of infrastructure, few educational opportunities and poor access to water, health care and other essentials. ChildFund started working in Afghanistan in 2002, and we’ve made some progress, particularly in providing education and fresh water to communities, but there is still a long way to go.
View the video:
By Saroj Pattnaik, ChildFund India, and Sagita Adesywi, ChildFund Indonesia
Our focus on child labor practices continues today in support of International Labour Organization’s World Day Against Child Labour.
Vipin, 18, aspires to become a doctor and is working hard to achieve his goal. Yet, there is unhappiness in his eyes. He worries about having time for his studies, as half of his day goes into bangle making. It’s the only livelihood option for his nine-member family, living in a half-constructed house on a narrow lane in Firozabad in India’s populous state of Uttar Pradesh.
Vipin wakes up for work at 4 a.m. each day. He sits before a hot stove and joins two ends of a glass bangle together, bangle after bangle, while his siblings sort the bracelets and decorate with glitter. Each family member spends at least five to six hours a day on this repetitive work, hoping that their collective efforts will bring sufficient income for their basic daily needs.
“I spend three hours in the morning and three hours in the evenings. Some days, I get my fingers burned and blistered. But I have to work; otherwise, we will not complete the day’s quota and incur loss,” says Vipin who recently sat for his 12th-grade exams.
“I have done well in my exams and I am preparing for the medical entrance exam,” he notes. “But I am not getting much time to read as I cannot just stop contributing to my family income. I don’t like the work, at least at this point of my life. But I have no choice,” he says, his voice breaking.
“See, we are a big family and we don’t know any other earning means other than bangle work, explains Vipin’s elder sister Kamlesh, as she comforts her brother. “Both our parents are aged and are not keeping well. So, we siblings have the responsibility to keep our kitchen running.”
Although she too was a good student, Kamlesh had to quit school and work full-time. “I took the decision because I wanted my siblings not to stop going to school. I am happy that all my younger siblings (two sisters and two brothers) are now studying and nursing big dreams,” she says.
For all the hard work her family does daily, Kamlesh says they earn a paltry 5,000 rupees (US$100) a month, which is much less than the family requires.
“We have seen lot of hardships since childhood,” she acknowledges. “But I am grateful to ChildFund India for choosing Vipin as a sponsored child. His sponsorship actually helped the others continue their studies.”
Vipin nods in agreement. “After being associated with ChildFund, I actually came to know what child labor is. I am now an active member of the ChildFund-initiated Youth Federation, which is campaigning against child labor in this town.”
Though Vipin and his siblings have additional support because of their enrollment with ChildFund, hundreds of other children work all day in home-based factories in Firozabad, a town famous throughout the country for its glass bangles.
“Firozabad is one of the worst examples of child labor. It’s because engaging children in the bangle process is a common and accepted norm in this area,” says Dola Mohapatra, national director of ChildFund India. “And getting a real estimate of the number of children working is quite a challenge. The problem is not just in numbers but also in the high level of acceptance among family members about engaging children [in the work]. It’s not seen as a ‘problem’ even by children themselves.”
Despite the ban on child labor in India, it’s estimated that more than 12.6 million children are still enduring hazardous conditions while working in various factories across India, while more than 200,000 children are working as domestic help.
The good news is that an anti-labor campaign launched by ChildFund in Firozabad is making inroads. Community factories are no longer employing children. However, it is estimated that more than 20,000 children are engaged in home-based bangle work, where most of the finishing work is being done.
“As a large number of families depend on bangle-making for their main livelihood, it’s not totally possible to move the families to some other occupation,” Mohapatra says. “We have been persuading families to adapt new occupations and at least keep their children out of this occupation.
“When we started our work, in 1995-96, we had to offer stipends for children as an incentive for parents to let their children come to ChildFund’s non-formal education centers. Over the years, we have seen changes in the mind-sets of parents,” he says.
“We are now seeing the emergence of children and youth leadership in spreading the message of education. These children were earlier working as child laborers – they were gradually weaned away and helped with completing their education. Their success stories have inspired parents. These children are now acting as a pressure group,” he notes.
“We have been successful in our endeavors,” Mohapatra adds, “but still a lot has to be done.”
By Ron Wolfe, ChildFund IT Project Portfolio Manager
In December 2004, as the Indian Ocean tsunami raced outward from the Great Sumatra-Andaman earthquake’s epicenter, the sea devastated the Sri Lankan coastline from the eastern city of Trincomalee to the western capital of Colombo. In the middle of this target stood Hambantota, a picturesque town on the island’s southern coast, which sustained devastation of a scale that is hard to comprehend.
Today, the visible scars of the disaster are primarily gone. The city has rebuilt, while much of the development has been relocated further inland. The children play, and civic life continues as it has for centuries. The tsunami, though, remains a part of the people’s identity.
A team from ChildFund headquarters was recently in Sri Lanka to deploy a new online tool called the Letter Translation Exchange (LTE). Its purpose is to facilitate the digitization of child and sponsor correspondence and reduce the time it takes to translate the letters. As part of the deployment process, we travelled from Colombo, the location of the ChildFund Sri Lanka National Office, to Hambantota to meet the staff in this district and the children we all serve.
After visiting the Hambantota Area Office, the team arrived at one of 12 zonal offices of the Ruhulu Wellassa Area Federation, ChildFund’s local partner organization in this area, tucked beneath a thick grove of cashew trees. Each Zonal Office in this district is led by a community mobilizer who manages 200 to 400 children participating in our programs.
On the day of our visit, a number of children were there playing with friends and family and writing letters to their sponsors, some of them writing in English instead of their native Sinhala. ChildFund is offering language skills programs through the local partner. “English is an important skill that the children are eager to gain,” said Dilrukshi Ruwanpura, ChildFund Sri Lanka’s sponsor relations manager. It was impressive to see the children combining some of the benefits they receive from sponsorship and one of the essential components of sponsorship itself: one-to-one communication.
The LTE is ChildFund’s first step in modernizing that communication between sponsor and child. National Office staff will scan letters to create PDFs, which will be uploaded into an online document system. Translators can then access the system at any time and from anywhere via the Internet to translate the letters. Once translated, each letter will be printed out and mailed to the addressee. ChildFund currently manages approximately 1.5 million pieces of correspondence annually.
The technology is meant to enable the staff to do their jobs more efficiently while reducing the time it takes for correspondence to travel back and forth. “As we become more familiar with the LTE, our workload and the workload of the local partner will decrease,” said Dilrukshi. This in turn should allow even more time for the staff within each ChildFund area to focus on programs for the children.
Future ChildFund technology projects will eventually carry this further by facilitating sponsor access to the digital correspondence and providing a way to respond electronically. First, though, the LTE will continue to be deployed to additional countries. The team went next to Honduras and will soon be in Ecuador to scale up the LTE even further.
As we spent the afternoon with the children in Hambantota, they continued to impress us. One group of youth worked together to create a regularly published newsletter called Dawn, writing articles, taking photographs and editing and laying out the content. Others are involved in job skills training, such as hotel management, construction or information technology. One young woman proudly displayed images of the art she had created for a solo exhibition in her community, with art supplies provided by ChildFund. All showed the promise of becoming fully engaged in the continuing effort to lift up their country and make a difference.
By Erin Olsen, ChildFund Staff Writer
Last week, the United Nations released the Post-2015 Development Agenda, outlining the strategy for eliminating extreme poverty by 2030. The agenda is a continuation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), set to expire in 2015, and includes recommendations from thousands of civil society organizations, businesses, governments and everyday people from more than 120 countries. The result is what the report calls a “bold yet practical vision” for the future of development.
It was exciting to see children at the core of the Post-2015 Agenda. Among the 12 goals outlined, eight specifically target children’s issues. At the forefront: violence against children, gender discrimination, job training and education for youths and prevention of deaths among children under 5 and mothers during childbirth.
Since the declaration of the MDGs in 2000, there have been many successes, particularly for children. According to UNICEF, more children – especially girls – are now attending primary school, maternal and child deaths have declined steadily. Malnutrition in children under age 5 is lower than ever. Globally, extreme poverty has been reduced by half.
Despite the successes, there have been some shortcomings, in part because the eight defined goals were not well integrated. Effective sustainable development requires a holistic approach. For example, combating malaria doesn’t just require supplying those at risk with pesticide-treated nets and medicines; it also requires tackling the root causes of poverty, like poor infrastructure in communities and inequality.
Addressing that lack of integration is a main focus of the Post-2015 Agenda. The agenda is driven by five “transformative shifts” that will help to meet the 12 goals to end poverty. Economic growth, universality, peace, global partnering and sustainability are all essential to meeting the goals by 2030. Each goal focuses on a particular sector such as gender, water and sanitation, health, food security, education and economics. These goals integrate and overlap, and ideally the success of one goal will lead to the success of another. It will require a pretty drastic global paradigm shift, but the payoff could be huge.
ChildFund’s programs are already ahead of the curve on many of these issues, and sustainability is at the heart of ChildFund’s mission. Our integrated, sustainable approach tackles root causes of poverty and focuses on holistic programs. For example, our Early Childhood Development programs incorporate maternal and child health, early education and nutrition, as well as addressing parenting techniques and preventing violence in the home.
You can play a part in eradicating poverty and helping children in need by Sponsoring a Child, and supporting ChildFund’s efforts to provide innovated, integrated programs to help children throughout the world.