To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the African Union, ChildFund, Save the Children, Plan International and the African Child Policy Forum (ACPF) gathered last week to focus on the future of children across Africa. The meeting culminated with the drafting of an open letter to the chairperson of the African Union Commission, urging renewed support for the rights of children, who will become tomorrow’s leaders. We wanted to also share that letter with you.
23 May 2013
Her Excellency, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma
Chairperson of the African Union Commission
As civil society organisations working to secure a better future for children in Africa, we would like to congratulate the OAU/AU on its 50th anniversary. We would particularly like to commend the great strides that have been made for children in Africa over the last 50 years, including improved primary school enrolment, impressive reductions in child mortality and increased access to essential maternal and child health services, and the establishment of mechanisms to protect and promote children’s rights set forth in the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
However, despite this progress, much remains to be done to ensure every child grows up healthy, well-educated and able to enjoy the full rights to which they are entitled. Ensuring we maintain and increase the gains we have made for children will require political leadership, strengthening of institutions and targeted investment. It will take concerted effort from us all – governments, regional bodies, business, international partners and the civil society.
We believe the 50th anniversary of the AU and the 21st Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union represent important opportunities to place children at the centre of Africa’s vision for the next 50 years, through reflecting their needs and interests in the African Common Position on Post-2015 Development Agenda.
We urge Your Excellency to use your Chairmanship to encourage and influence African Governments to:
1. Meet the commitments they have made to children under the regional and international child rights instruments and relevant declarations such as the Dakar Declaration and the Abuja target to allocate 9% of their GDP to education and 15% of their national budgets to health, respectively.
2. Address with the same commitment and vigour the issues of violence and exploitation against children, with clear and measurable targets for protection.
3. Honour their reporting obligations as Member States to the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child
Investing in children and putting their rights and best interests at the centre of Africa’s development will not only help ensure that every child grows up to meet their full potential, but it is also a viable economic strategy to drive and accelerate Africa’s economic growth.
Today, Africa’s prospects are bright with booming economies, a burgeoning middle class and a youthful population. It is now feasible to imagine that in the coming decades no child in Africa will die from preventable causes, every child will go to school and learn, every child will have adequate protection from violence and exploitation and we will break the intergenerational poverty from the continent.
The African Union has demonstrated its commitment to children on many occasions. Under your leadership, we remain committed to working with you and the African Union Commission to ensure that children are at the heart of Africa’s renaissance.
Save the Children
African Child Policy Forum (APCF)
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
From ChildFund Japan, one of our ChildFund Alliance partners, comes a touching video about how the seaside city of Ofunato is recovering from the deadly earthquake and tsunami that occurred on March 11, 2011. “The Garland of Smiles,” which focuses on ChildFund’s people-centered approaches to healing and rebuilding, is nearly 22 minutes long, yet if you are interested in seeing what has happened in the aftermath of the tsunami, it’s well worth viewing.
More than 15,000 people in Japan died as a result of the disaster, and as we see in the video, numerous homes and buildings were destroyed, forcing as many as 8,000 people in Ofunato to live in temporary housing. It’s in this makeshift community where we meet ChildFund Japan project manager Yoshikazu Funato, who oversaw many initiatives to bring back some normalcy to children and adults.
ChildFund Japan, which normally assists children and families in the Philippines and Nepal, had to focus its energy inward after the disaster. With financial support from other ChildFund Alliance members, including ChildFund International, ChildFund Japan concentrated its activities in Ofunato because outside support was less available there than in other stricken areas. Beginning its work in the weeks after the earthquake and tsunami with a variety of volunteers and staff, ChildFund completed its projects in March 2013.
In preparation for the rebuilding, Funato and others conducted a door-to-door survey to see what Ofunato’s residents wanted and needed most. Some projects were small — building wooden benches in the temporary communities to promote socializing — while others were more ambitious, like providing grief counseling to preschoolers and creating a collective farm that keeps residents supplied with healthy food.
As a result of ChildFund Japan’s work throughout the past two years, some residents in temporary housing became invested in the improvements, from working at the farm to taking part in a residents’ association.
As you’ll see in the video, Ofunato has undergone a transformation in the past 24 months — not just physically but in attitude as well.
Reporting by ChildFund Sierra Leone
For 50 days, ChildFund is joining with numerous organizations to demonstrate support for government policies and programs that will allow women and girls to be healthy, empowered and safe — no matter where they live. Ending early and forced marriage is this week’s theme.
In 2005, at the age of 10, Kadiatu was enrolled in ChildFund’s programs serving the Daindemben Federation in her Sierra Leonean community. With support from her sponsor to pay for school fees and learning materials, Kadiatu eagerly embraced the educational opportunities available to her.
But when she reached junior secondary school, Kadiatu’s father decided to remove her from school and give her in marriage to a middle-aged man in the village. ChildFund and its local partner intervened on Kadiatu’s behalf, standing firm to ensure that her father’s decision was overturned. The marriage was cancelled, and Kadiatu continued her schooling. But her father withdrew all support. Her mother has died long ago and her stepmother showed no love to her.
Without ChildFund sponsorship and the support of Daindemben Federation, Kadiatu would have had nowhere to turn.
Today, Kadiatu, 18, is in senior secondary school preparing for the West African Senior School Certificate Examination. She credits ChildFund and Daindemben Federation for restoring her hope and believes she would have been the mother of two or three children by now had it not been for the intervention of the federation. “Daindemben has made me realize my importance and value in society,” she says.
Now she is determined to go all the way to university to study accounting. “I want Daindemben Federation and my sponsor to be proud of me. They have done so much to get me to where I am today. I don’t want to let them down,” she says. “Even my father is proud of me now,” she acknowledges. “He has regretted the action he had wanted to take then.
“I would like Daindemben Federation and my ChildFund sponsor to continue being my pillar, so that I will achieve my dream of becoming an accountant.”
Read more about ChildFund’s work to prevent early marriage.
By Gelina Fontaine, ChildFund Caribbean
For 50 days, ChildFund is joining with numerous organizations to demonstrate support for government policies and programs that will allow women and girls to be healthy, empowered, and safe – no matter where they live. This week’s theme focuses on preventing gender-based violence, which often starts with the most vulnerable – children.
Two years ago, I walked into Rapid City, S.D., airport and I saw my maternal grandma’s face that I love so much seemingly peering at me from these huge black-and-white photos of former Native American chiefs – it was the same bone structure, the same wide forehead and the same intensity of resilient stare. I remember smiling at the portraits with a nostalgic sense of love and recognition before hurrying to catch up with my ChildFund colleagues.
This year, I walk into the airport in Dakar, Senegal, and I see these sculpted, lean bronzed, dignified warrior-like bodies of my step-grandfather – my grandma’s husband – and I smile and ache with that same sense of instant love and recognition. I think to myself: our people of the Caribbean truly are the “melting pot,” influenced and built by so many races – Native Americans, African slaves, Indian and Syrian indentured laborers, Hispanics, French, English and Portuguese – all blending to make up my world, my genealogy and my heritage.
In South Dakota, we heard from our U.S ChildFund colleagues how teenagers in Native American communities were committing suicide at such a frequent rate that their parents were more consumed by mourning than cherishing their children who are still alive. Their recounting of these ongoing tragedies became unbearable to me when I learned that children as young as 5 years old were killing themselves for various reasons, including hopelessness and abuse and after witnessing it happening all around them to their siblings, extended relatives, schoolmates and community friends.
I left the U.S. not being able to internalize or envision the inner thoughts and external situations that would lead a young child to decide not to remain here with the rest of us.
I had shelved that discomfort until I walked into one of the first transatlantic slave houses in West Africa on Senegal’s Goree Island. Our guide took us to the statue honoring the first slave liberation in 1802 by the French island of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean, and I was proud to know that we islanders had shown the first demonstration of humanity and common sense by abolishing slavery.
The guide then took us to the slave holding compound – a preserved structure from centuries before and empty of the spirits of those once held in captivity. We went through the various rooms where men were weighed and measured for strength, where young virgins were holed in, where slaves were shoved into claustrophobic “time-out” 3-foot cells when being punished.
I treated the excursion as a historical exercise until we entered this dusky, elongated room where 30 or more children at a time were crunched together. In that instant, I had a flash vision of those children huddled in fear and cold, innocent and traumatized, trying their best not to cry aloud and barely able to breathe, with only two or three open slits in the wall facing the ocean for ventilation.
That was when my defenses went down, and I turned to the slit in the wall and remained silent and choked, hiding the tears from my colleagues. Every cowering, every tear, every thought of hopelessness I envisioned as experienced by these 30 children at a time had the face of my 6-year-old son stamped on their bodies. And I thought, no children of any ethnicity – be they Native American, African, Asian; the former slaves of Egypt to the the Oliver Twists of industrialized Europe; or those children today ensnared in the modern, underground slavery network of child abuse and trafficking should ever again die or have to live through that kind of inhumane experience.
Later that week as our ChildFund “Shine a Light” project team gathered to discuss gender-based violence and how to better integrate gender-based elements in our programming for children, I began musing that the “child” could be considered a third gender, like a third universal ethnic group.
When there is a rising situation of violence or a culture of violation and death, sadly, children are never exempt. Their misfortune and, often, their fatalities are unacceptable. The young child, still vulnerable and unable to take care of his or her basic needs or protect the self, the child still too innocent to distinguish cultural gender norms, the child who simply and for certain knows that she or he just wants to be safe and loved is the “third gender,” highly vulnerable to exploitation and requiring particular support and attention.
Children are gifts. They are assets, and that’s the cornerstone of ChildFund’s work. Their positive foundation as future ancestors of other generations is our daily fight.
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
Why? Because every minute, malaria takes the life of an African child. That’s an important fact to remember as we mark World Malaria Day.
How Malaria Spreads
A parasitic illness spread by female Anopheles mosquitos, malaria is the leading cause of death in children under the age of 5 in Africa. Every year, malaria kills 10,000 women and 200,000 infants worldwide. It’s especially dangerous during a woman’s first and second pregnancies. Infants become vulnerable again at 3 months, when the natural immunity they shared with their mother begins to wane.
Mosquitos bite mainly between dusk and dawn, and they carry four different parasites. The most lethal — and most common — malarial parasite is Plasmodium falciparum. Anopheles mosquitos in Africa have long lifespans and prefer to bite humans rather than animals. As a result, 90 percent of all malaria deaths occur in Africa, although India also has a significant problem. The Gambia, Guinea, Liberia, Senegal and Sierra Leone, all countries served by ChildFund, have the highest occurrence rates in the world.
Rainfall patterns, temperature and humidity affect mosquitos, so malaria infections peak during and immediately after rainy seasons. Epidemics occur when climate conditions change or when seasonal workers, immigrants or refugees lacking immunity move into malarial areas.
Approximately half of the world’s population is at risk of catching malaria. In endemic areas, adults develop partial immunity through many years of exposure and illness, so most deaths occur in young children. In regions with lower infection rates, a sudden epidemic can decimate the population.
Links to HIV and Poverty
Mozambique and Zambia have high rates of cerebral malaria — which virtually guarantees death — as well as co-infection with HIV. More than 90 percent of their populations are at ongoing risk for malaria, and more than 10 percent have AIDS.
Existing HIV infection increases the risk of malaria and also the severity and complexity of the illness; HIV infection also interferes with the medications used to treat malaria, making death more likely. Malaria also increases the risk of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
Malaria is closely linked to poverty: The lower a country’s gross national income, the higher its malaria mortality rate. For children under 5, parasite prevalence is worst in poverty-stricken, rural communities, where lack of access to health facilities, effective diagnostics and treatment options is commonplace. Poor-quality housing offers little protection against mosquitoes, and the cost of insecticide-treated bed nets and indoor spraying with insecticides is challenging for those living on less than $1.25 a day.
To avoid malaria, families need to sleep under insecticide-treated nets nightly, and houses must be sprayed every three to six months. ChildFund is working to combat the spread of malaria in Guinea, India, Kenya, Liberia, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, The Gambia, Uganda and Zambia, and you can help by purchasing bed nets for children and families.
On World Malaria Day, let’s strike back against this threat to children.
View a video to hear a mother in Guinea describe how her children’s health has improved with treated bed nets.
By Sagita Adesywi, ChildFund Indonesia
Dina, a sixth-grader in Lampung, Indonesia, loves her school now. “It looks clean and nice,” she explains. “It used to be dirty and was full of trash. The walls were cracking everywhere, and we didn’t have many trees either. I feel the teachers care more about the school and us too now. When they see us littering, they remind us not to do so. I even helped clean the school by picking up trash.”
After undergoing renovations and program changes with the help of ChildFund and its local partner, LPMAS, Karangsari 2 Elementary School earned the child-friendly school designation. The project, which started last September, benefits 216 students and 16 teachers.
The child-friendly school model aims to help schools become safe, healthy and protective environments for children; eliminates gender stereotypes; and encourages child participation in all aspects of school life. Teachers attended a workshop to learn more about the model and how to integrate it into their instructional approach.
“I love children and want to dedicate my life to them,” says Lukiati, the school’s principal. “When children feel happy and secure in school, I feel really happy. I know now that a school must further the interest and strengths of the child, not just teach.
“When we used to call children to come to us, they used to run away. That is because we were just delivering lessons,” she adds. Now, children come to us, even when we don’t call them and happily greet us with Assalamualaikum (Peace be upon you). I learned that when we teach children, we need to do it from our heart.”
As a result of the workshops, Lukiati and the teachers are now more aware of the importance of a creating a conducive learning environment for children. They now understand that children are influenced by what happens inside as well as outside the classroom.
“A child-friendly school benefits both children and teachers alike. This is the first time I have felt that I am really a teacher,” says Kartiyah, a sixth-grade teacher. “I used to just teach the children in class and then go home. Now, I feel the school is really ours — the children and the teachers.”
With the support of ChildFund, Lukiati submitted a proposal to Indonesia’s Ministry of Education and received a grant to renovate the school. The walls had cracks, and the space near the school had been used as a garbage dump for years. Dramatic changes were needed.
With the help of the community, a transformation began. Twelve truckloads of garbage were removed from the backyard, and 6,000 baby catfish from the Indonesian Food Security Agency were released into the pond. The community agreed to feed the fish and use the funds from their sale to fund further improvements in the school. The school received 1,500 bamboo seeds from the Pringsewu Environmental Agency and also created a vegetable garden. Proceeds from selling vegetables enable the school to purchase educational materials and organize excursions for the children.
“The school looks so clean, and I like how we display our writings or drawings on the wall now,” says Zainal, a fifth-grader.
Through the child-friendly school model, ChildFund and its partners have built strong partnerships with the government and community. More improvements to Karangsari 2 are still needed to ensure a quality education for students. However, the local government has stated its commitment to continue supporting the school.
“We will continue to support this initiative, since education is essential to child development,” says Sujadi Saddat, the district’s head. “With a solid partnership among ChildFund, the community and local government, we can promote a safe, healthy and protective environment that enables children to achieve their full potential.”
By Virginia Sowers, ChildFund Content Manager
Across the United States, organizations and citizens are coming together over the next 50 days to ask foreign policy leaders in Washington, D.C., to take concrete actions that will improve the lives of girls and women worldwide.
ChildFund is joining with a coalition, which includes the International Women’s Health Coalition, Half the Sky, Girls Not Brides and many others, to champion the rights of women and girls – a key focus area of former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton during the past four years.
The 50 days coalition is voicing its support for continued leadership by newly appointed Secretary of State John Kerry and other U.S. agencies to advance progress in U.S. foreign policy efforts on the following issues:
In ChildFund’s program areas across Africa, Asia and the Americas, we are making progress on many of these issues and improving the lives of women and children. In Kenya and Guinea, for example, we are working to make parents aware of the importance of education for girls, and we are succeeding in placing more young women in the classroom. In Mozambique, we are helping mothers obtain birth certificates for children who lack them – a key document for attending school, gaining employment and participating in elections. We are also launching efforts in Senegal, Dominica, Liberia and Indonesia to combat gender violence by assessing its prevalence and trends, researching root causes and supporting community mechanisms to both prevent violence and protect victims from further harm.
During the next 10 weeks, ChildFund will be participating in social media campaigns around each of the eight focal areas. During this time, Twitter and Facebook users are encouraged to post and share messages to help raise awareness (official hashtags are #usa4women and #usa4girls) and advocate for specific policy actions by the U.S. government that will help women and girls to be healthy, empowered, educated, and safe—no matter where they live.
By Ya Sainey Gaye, ChildFund The Gambia
World Water Day is held annually on March 22 to focus attention on the importance of freshwater and to advocate for the sustainable management of freshwater resources.
The Sintet Early Childhood Development Center in The Gambia recently received a water filter from ChildFund Germany, a device that provides clean, drinkable water. Before the delivery of the filter on March 18, the center’s staff had to manually filter water from an open well. The center serves 153 children in the western part of The Gambia, near the Senegal border.
The manager of the Eastern Foni Federation, ChildFund’s local partner, and the head of the ECD center expressed delight in the donation, which will make water filtration easier, faster and more reliable. The Gambia has a severe shortage of clean water, and ChildFund has provided filtration systems to several regions in this small country.
Since 1984, ChildFund has supplied safe drinking water to more than 79 percent of the families served in our program areas in The Gambia, as well as helped many build basic sanitary facilities.
Were you inspired by today’s blog? Share your thoughts on the subject with your Twittter followers! This week, ChildFund is encouraging its supporters to “tweet-out” for World Water Day using the hashtag #Water4Children. Top tweeters will receive water gifts sent to a family in their honor. More details here.
By Patricia Toquica, Americas Region Communications Manager
School sponsorship is a new initiative of ChildFund Brasil to reach children in the most remote areas of the Amazon forest and improve their educational opportunities.
Raimundo and Tomé are the local teachers in Tres Unidas, a small community located along the banks of the Amazon River, three hours by boat from the Brazilian city of Manaos. This community is part of the Kambeba indigenous group, one of hundreds of ethnic groups that live in the Amazon forest, a vast green territory more than twice the size of Texas.
Elementary schools in remote areas of the Amazon lack basic infrastructure, such as proper roofs, desks and even bathrooms. “Sometimes children take their lessons outside, under the shade of a tree, because it gets very hot during the day in the classroom, not to mention during the rainy season,” explains Tomé.
Most of the classes are multi-grade with an average of 30 students, ages 4 to 12 years. The children’s age differences make it difficult for teachers to follow up on programs and individual progress. “We divide the board into four parts and the children into four groups according to their ages; we work with them in separate activities, depending on the topic,” says Raimundo.
Still, every single child in this little village of palm-thatched huts housing about 20 families goes to school every day and looks forward to learning.
The ChildFund school sponsorship program in Brazil is a new initiative developed in partnership with the Sustainable Amazon Foundation (Fundação Amazonas Sustentável – FAS). ChildFund seeks to improve school infrastructure and access to quality education for school-age children in isolated communities deep in the Amazon forest. Launched in September 2012, the program also aims to raise children’s awareness of the importance of sustainable use of their resources, so that they can become “true guardians of the forest.”
For Raimundo, who is also the Tres Unidas school director, educating children in his community is about delivering formal curriculum and also focusing on indigenous culture. It’s important that the children learn about traditional history, rituals, language and medicine.
He notes that indigenous schools in Brazil typically have inferior infrastructure and learning materials. As part of their partnership strategy for the school sponsorship program, ChildFund Brasil and FAS are working to reduce the cost of delivering educational services to remote areas. “We don’t want to replace government but facilitate development,” says Virgilio Viana, director of FAS.
Thus, ChildFund and FAS are partnering with municipalities. For example, the municipality is covering the cost of providing teachers, and ChildFund and FAS, with the help of the community, are building or improving schools and also supporting teachers with additional training and teaching tools.
The School Sponsorship program is already piloting in the Sustainable Development Reserves of Juma and Uatumã, supporting 20 schools and nearly 300 students. In the long term, ChildFund Brasil’s goal, with the support of sponsors and donors, is to have a presence in eight natural reserves and reach children in more than 500 communities in the Amazon.
By Kate Nare, ChildFund Marketing Specialist
“Please, don’t forget about us. Please, go back and tell the world about us here in Carchi.”
As I reflect on my recent trip to Ecuador with ChildFund, these words cycle in my mind. Spoken through tears with conviction and emotion, each mother we met pleaded with us to share their stories with the rest of the world. So, here goes.
The sun was barely rising on a Tuesday morning when our group set out in a bus from Ecuador’s capital, Quito, to visit communities in Carchi. This region of Ecuador borders Columbia, and ChildFund has been helping communities here since 1984.
We had been preparing for this trip for months, knowing that we would meet the mothers and children whose lives are being transformed through ChildFund’s Early Childhood Development program (ECD), which strives to holistically help children ages 0-5 to ensure they reach their full potential.
Surrounding us throughout our drive were crisp blue skies and undulating bright green mountains, speckled with colorful houses. When we think of poverty it’s easy to envision urban slums fraught with trash heaps and filthy alleyways. The view here was much different. It’s easy to think, “It’s beautiful! I could live here!” But I quickly learned that the beauty of the land masks the underlying poverty, discrimination, lack of opportunities and exclusion that the people who have lived here for centuries continue to face.
This fact became apparent as soon as we met Monica.
After four hours of jostling along bumpy dirt roads, steadily climbing up steep mountain sides, we came to a sudden halt. We were instructed by Mauricio, our guide and a ChildFund Ecuador staff member, that we would be visiting a home in the community.
We walked down a dirt path and were greeted by Monica and her 4-year-old son, Daniel. Fields of corn and wild flowers skirted her property. A scruffy stray dog rubbed against my leg, eager for a pet. Monica led us to her home, which had a corrugated tin roof, cinderblock walls and three rooms. We followed her into the living room and took seats in a semi-circle, eager to hear her story.
Monica is 41 and has four children, ages 18, 11, 6 and 4. She told us how her husband abandoned her and left her to care for the children on her own. Every day she works in the fields to make a living for her family and her father, whom she takes care of as well. As Monica shared these details, her voice broke and she began to cry. She said there were times in the past when she would come home from a long day, stressed and tired, and she would take this out on her children by beating them. The youngest, Daniel, whom she holds affectionately in her lap as she talks, became fearful and withdrawn at that time.
Recognizing that she needed support, Monica signed up when she heard that ChildFund, in partnership with a local partner, was training mothers in the ECD program. Soon Monica was attending meetings and learning the full benefits of ECD: a caring and loving household, proper nutrition and health care and stimulation and learning opportunities for young children. She came to realize how the abuse she inflicted on her children was harmful to their healthy development. After going through a 10-month training program, Monica became a certified trainer, known as a “Mamita.”
Hugging Daniel even tighter, Monica said she wants to use her experience to teach and support other mothers in the community so their children will be able to grow up healthy and empowered. In these excluded communities where ChildFund works, 18 percent of women are married by the age of 15. Forty-percent of women are married by 18 years old.
She shared how she wants to pursue her dream of finishing high school and becoming a teacher. And she smiled as she shared that Daniel is now playful, cheerful and likes to go to school. “All is worthwhile for the happiness and welfare of my children,” she said.
We met many other Mamitas during our trip. Strong, empowered and dignified, they are each creating a ripple effect in their communities as they train other mothers to love and care for their children. Yes, they still face daily struggles. But their efforts on behalf of their children will bring more opportunities for
the community as a whole as their children grow up healthy, educated, and full of ideas to improve their lives. Monica and the 1,200 other Mamitas in Carchi are living proof of this transformation.
I now have a picture of Monica on my desk to remind me of her story, and why we do what we do here at ChildFund. I will never forget the Mamitas I met in Ecuador who are committed to a better future for their children.