Programs

A Sister Among Mothers

By Martin Nanawa, ChildFund Philippines

On International Women’s Day, we’re spotlighting some of the amazing girls and women we’ve encountered in ChildFund-supported communities. We honor their struggles and cheer their successes.

“Not today, Sister,” the woman whispered to Jo-anne. They had the street to themselves, but the woman spoke in hushed tones. “You shouldn’t go today,” she repeated.

A nun in front of art painting in the Philippines

Sister Jo-anne’s love for children has won the respect of local mothers, who now welcome and watch over her.

Jo-anne understood the advice. Danger was afoot, according to the woman, who is a member of the Tausug indigenous communities in the southern Philippines. Jo-anne is a nun who works for a local organization that partners with ChildFund.

Jolo is the largest island in the Sulu archipelago, which comprises the southernmost tip of the Philippine Islands. There, rolling hills give way to pristine coastlines of crystal clear water and fine white sand. In the provincial capital, also named Jolo, the exotic durian fruit is found in such abundance that a mere breath of air yields a trace of the fruit’s distinct yet controversial smell (imagine garlic plus old garbage).

Despite Jolo’s beauty, the island is not a tourist destination because of abductions and frequent clashes between government and armed groups. Private investors and even development agencies have withdrawn to the safety and convenience of cities like Davao and Cagayan de Oro in nearby Mindanao.

Jo-anne was born in the Mindanao mainland. Her father was a farmer, and her mother was a public school teacher. Growing up in a community of Christians and Muslims, she developed an appreciation for different beliefs and cultures. Jo-anne worked as a government agricultural technologist for five years until 1999, when she decided to join a religious order.

As a nun, Jo-anne served in different provinces in Mindanao. Her assignment to Jolo in 2011 as a project manager posed unique challenges.

Jo-anne had to learn the Tausug language and its culture, which is different from the mainland’s. “Children were my first tutors in the local language,” she says.

Another concern was safety. On her commute to work, Jo-anne often saw curious crowds flocking to fresh crime scenes. Other times, the motorcycle taxi driver would share news of an armed clash between government and militia the night before. “That kind of thing always used to scare me,” she says. “It came to a point where I confronted myself, asking if I would let fear keep me from my work.”

Working in partnership with ChildFund did much to help Jo-anne allay her fears. “ChildFund’s reputation for working in some of the most difficult circumstances in the Philippines lends me much credibility,” she says.

Also, Jo-anne’s work with Tausug children endeared her to their families, particularly mothers, who grew protective of her. When possible, one or two mothers accompany Jo-anne when she travels to rural villages to visit ChildFund project sites or the homes of sponsored children.

Sometimes, Jo-anne hears, “Not today, Sister. You shouldn’t go. You should stay in town today.” This is the warning mothers share whenever news of troop movements, incursions or other dangers reaches their ears. When Jo-anne is already in the field, the women make sure she is properly accompanied and escorted home or to town. Jo-anne’s thankful to be included in the local “warning chain,” despite being an outsider.

“I’ve learned being a woman in these circumstances is an advantage,” Jo-anne says. “The Tausug regard women highly, mothers particularly.” Though Jo-anne has chosen a religious life, the Tausug mothers identify with her because she has devoted herself to the wellbeing of their children.

Today Jo-anne continues to travel all over Jolo. She remains cautious, but because of this web of protection, she is no longer as scared.

“When I arrive home at the end of the day, I exclaim my thanks, not for making it back safely, but for the mothers who’ve adopted me as one of their own.”

Beyond Price: An Afghan Girlhood

Reporting by Ahmadullah Zahid, ChildFund Afghanistan

On International Women’s Day, we’re spotlighting some of the amazing girls and women we’ve encountered in ChildFund-supported communities. We honor their struggles and cheer their successes.

A young girl stood before a panel of adults in a government office in northern Afghanistan. It was not her first visit.

What is your name, and how old are you?
My name is Nazifa, and I am 12 years old.

Are you happy with your family?
Yes, I am. My mother is a kind woman, and my father is often away from us, working.

Why are you in the district governor’s office?
I presented a written complaint to get out of being married to an old man.

~~~

Afghan girl in purple dress

Nazifa, 12, spent nearly a year trying to get out of her arranged marriage.

How much is a 12-year-old girl worth?

To Nazifa’s grandfather, $2,000 sounded about right. This was the offer from the pair of community elders who approached him a year ago about arranging a marriage between his eldest granddaughter and a young boy from their rural village.

The three men, says Nazifa, showed her a picture of the boy and made her agree to the marriage despite her objections, which included her desire to continue school.

On the wedding night, she was taken to a room where an old man sat. She kissed his hands, the traditional demonstration of respect for elders by Afghanistan’s young people. And then she was made to sit next to him. She began to cry, harder and harder as she came to understand that this elderly man was her new husband ― that she had been deceived, and that there was nothing she could do. Finally, she fell quiet, and the man did as he wanted. He was 72 years old.

Nazifa’s grandfather left immediately after the wedding on a pilgrimage funded by Nazifa’s bride price.

Within two weeks, Nazifa’s husband began to abuse her.

The moment she saw an opening, Nazifa ran home to her mother and told her everything, and they submitted a complaint to district authorities. Eight months later, there was still no resolution.

ChildFund learned of Nazifa’s case through its Social Work Coaching project in Takhar province, which aims to improve child protection systems to address the needs of children at risk. In addition to working with local and national government authorities, the project trains social workers and community outreach workers on child rights, child development and protection, referrals and other social work services. ChildFund is one of several partner organizations in the project, which is supported by UNICEF.

After Nazifa told her story, the room fell quiet, her listeners struck by her tender age, her sweet face, her directness, her passion for education. Her questioner changed the subject.

~~~

Do you go to school?
Yes, when I am not coming to court.

When you go to school, does anyone bother you?
Yes, on the way to school and in class, they all laugh at me and say unpleasant words.

Do you want to continue going to school?
Yes. I will never stop going, even though it’s hard.

If you don’t succeed in getting out of this marriage, what will you do?
I am sure the government will decide in my favor. Otherwise, I can’t accept life with an old, disturbing man, and I will end my life somehow.

~~~

Nazifa was finally able to leave the marriage, and school is easier now, thanks to some support from social workers trained by ChildFund.

Authorities had no good answer as to why this case had taken so long, and there are many more such cases throughout Afghanistan due to the cultural breakdown following the country’s two decades of conflict. Social work is not really a formal profession in Afghanistan, but this is beginning to change as authorities recognize the need for it, thanks largely to awareness raised by ChildFund and others working to strengthen child protection systems in Afghanistan.

We work to expand people’s knowledge about the rights and worth of children, and we help protect as many children as we can from becoming victims.

Because a 12-year-old girl is priceless.

Building an India Where Women Count

By Saroj Kumar Pattnaik, ChildFund India

On International Women’s Day, we’re spotlighting some of the amazing girls and women we’ve encountered in ChildFund-supported communities. We honor their struggles and cheer their successes.

Dusk was settling over a suburban neighborhood in southern India, but Stella Leethiyal wasn’t ready to go home. The 47-year-old teacher was busy visiting shanties to meet women and educate them about good parenting — the key to a child’s successful development.

Indian woman talks to a parent about her child

Stella, 47, works as an ECD teacher in a suburban area near Chennai.

Aside from teaching women about parenting, Stella also focuses on educating them about their individual rights and convincing their male partners to understand and respect the value of the women in their households. Stella, who works as a teacher at a ChildFund-supported early childhood development (ECD) center in Chennai, India, does this out of a desire to see her fellow women become aware and empowered.

“Personally, I have seen many setbacks faced by women in my locality since my childhood,” Stella says. “I have always dreamt of a society where women and men are treated equally in all aspects of life. My association with ChildFund India has given my dream a direction, and I have tried my best to achieve this goal.”

Currently, Stella works with children whose families often migrate to find work, a population that faces serious obstacles to a full education.

Before becoming an ECD teacher in 1997, Stella was a community mobilizer for ChildFund; her prime focus was educating and empowering women. Her efforts helped convince nomadic families to send their children to school for the first time.

Stella is very happy about her work, but she is dissatisfied with the general condition of women across the country. “People say India is now a powerful country,” she says, “But how can you be powerful when one section of your population is so weak?”

According to latest U.N. Human Development report, India is ranked 129 out of 146 countries on the Gender Inequality Index. However, many people in India like Stella are working to improve the state of women and girls through education, health care, sanitation and political participation. The government also runs several programs aimed at empowering women.

In the past year, ChildFund India has reached out to more than 142,000 women and engaged them in various issues ranging from their health and sanitation to economic empowerment.

To assist women who wish to earn income, ChildFund India promotes women’s Self-Help Groups (SHGs) that manage microloans at a village level, which helps women become more self-sufficient. India has more than 5,600 such groups across the country, with 18,000 members.

ChildFund is also committed to helping youths become involved community members, and toward this goal, we support more than 700 clubs for boys and girls.

Teenage girl from India

Durgesh has led a campaign to stop child marriage.

Female youth clubs, also known as Kishori Samuha, have proven to be a major success in creating an informed and confident new generation.
Durgesh, 15, is a testimony to this success. A sponsored child from Uttar Pradesh’s Firozabad district, Durgesh led a campaign against child marriage and managed to bring the number of early marriages to almost zero in her community.

As a leader of her youth club, she generated great awareness about the ill effects of child marriage and managed to gain broad community support .

“Initially, it was very difficult for us to convince parents to say no to child marriage, which has been going on in our community since ages,” says Durgesh, who is in 10th grade. “But with the support and guidance from ChildFund India program staff, we continued our campaign for months. And we finally succeeded. Parents are now not in favor of getting their young daughters married. Rather, they are sending them to schools.”

Stella and Durgesh are two of hundreds of committed individuals in India who are giving hope to women across the country. They aspire to build a new India where women are respected and allowed to lead.

Women Pick Up the Pieces of War-Shattered Lives

By Sumudu Perera, ChildFund Sri Lanka

As we prepare to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, we’re spotlighting some of the amazing girls and women we’ve encountered in ChildFund-supported communities. We honor their struggles and cheer their successes.

Woven baskets, vases and hats made with multi-colored palm leaves are piled on a hall table as women go about their work in the Sri Lankan district of Jaffna.

Some women weave hats, while others work on baskets or bags. Some sit in chairs, but many prefer to sit on the floor. Now and then everyone has a break to chat with others nearby.

Jaffna, in the northernmost region of Sri Lanka, is highly populated and busy, but this production center is tranquil. Five women who work here are war widows, following the 26-year civil war that ripped apart the country.

Sri Lankan woman makes basket

Sopa, a war widow in Sri Lanka, weaves a basket at a production center in the Jaffna District. She was trained through ChildFund and a partner organization.

Sopa is a widow and has a 4-year-old son, Methayan, to support. After losing her husband, Sopa suffered psychologically and had to depend on her elderly parents for months, which made all of their lives more difficult. Coming to accept that her husband was gone, she started to think about how to feed Methayan and educate him.

This production center, which uses materials from local palmyrah trees, was started in 2011 through a partnership between ChildFund and a government board to help provide employment opportunities after the war ended in 2009. During the resettlement phase, 35 women were initially trained. Now the center employs 45 women between the ages of 18 and 40.

The woven products have a high demand in other countries. Every two weeks, a large truck comes to the center and picks up the craft items. The center has attracted the attention of many unemployed women in the region, mainly because they would not have to travel long distances or move away from home to find work. Since its start, the center has trained an additional 80 women.

The women working here have bigger dreams now. They hope to expand the business and provide employment opportunities to more women in the area.

After attending training, Sopa found a job she liked, and she is still available to Methayan, who stays with other family members at home a 10-minute walk away. She attends to his needs in the morning, goes home at lunch time to feed him and then returns home before dark. Sopa makes US$110 a month, and she can earn more if she weaves more pieces. With her income, she’s able to support herself and her son.

“It was devastating to lose my husband,” she says. “I lost all my hopes. I was suffering for months without doing anything. This job brought me some hope. Also, spending time with other women in the community here has helped me to forget about my problems. Now I want to educate my child and ensure a good future for him.”

Weaving a New Life in Uganda

By Sharon Ishimwe, ChildFund Uganda

As we prepare to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, our posts for the remainder of the week are dedicated to the amazing girls and women we’ve encountered in ChildFund-supported communities. We honor their struggles and cheer their successes.

Ugandan woman at shop

Justine once struggled to feed her family.

Without an education, Ugandan mother Justine could only dream of being employed. Her family of five depended entirely on her husband’s income from driving people on his motorcycle. And yet, his income was too low to cover all their needs: food, medical care, clothing, housing and the children’s education.

When Justine heard about ChildFund in 2007, she enrolled her daughter, who soon received a sponsor. For Justine’s family, this was the beginning of a new life.

woman at sewing machine

Learning to sew has brought income and opportunity.

An opportunity arose through ChildFund and a local partner organization for Justine to learn how to make clothes. “I knew it was my opportunity to acquire a skill that would get me out of my helplessness,” she says. After the training, Justine received sewing machines, which have helped her family’s income.

The mother of three now makes a living by sewing sweaters and school uniforms that she sells in her shop, as well as training other women to sew.

womand displays clothing at shop

Justine makes and sells children’s school uniforms at her roadside shop.

“In the beginning, I made the sweaters and sold them from my house, but I had very few buyers,” she recalls. “So I was determined to save and get a shop by the roadside, which has enabled me to sell more.”

The income from her shop has helped Justine’s family pay school fees and also have enough money left over for a plot of land and construction materials to build their own house. Justine has also helped her husband buy two more motorbikes, which he rents to other drivers and has increased the family’s income. She is the chairperson of the local home visitors committee, a program that sends volunteers to the homes of ChildFund-enrolled children to make sure they are healthy, studying and happy. As chairperson, Justine mobilizes and leads the team.

“ChildFund’s impact on my life is more than just my financial independence,” Justine says. “ChildFund has given me a confidence I would never have known. I can now comfortably speak before many people. I’m also able to relate to people better and with ease, which wasn’t the case before. Most of all, I now share ideas with my husband, which has enabled my family’s progress.”

We Commit to Protecting Children on World Day of Social Justice

By Meg Carter, Sponsorship Communications Specialist

In 2007, the United Nations declared Feb. 20 World Day of Social Justice, formally recognizing centuries of civic- and faith-based movements aimed at improving the lives of the oppressed.

In the 1840s, the Jesuit theologian Luigi Taparelli, influenced by the 13th-century writings of Thomas Aquinas (who himself studied the philosophy of an ancient Greek named Aristotle) coined the phrase social justice.

Children studying-lprAlthough the concept of social justice is not new, its impact on U.S. foreign policy and foreign aid became more prominent in the second half of the 20th century. ChildFund didn’t wait for formal theories of development assistance. This fall we will celebrate 75 years of social justice in action, beginning with the aiding of war orphans in China and extending our circle of care to vulnerable children in 31 countries throughout the world.

According to the U.N., the pursuit of social justice is at the core of human development. Social justice promotes gender equality and the rights of indigenous peoples and migrants. It removes barriers of gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion, culture and disability. It eradicates poverty, promotes full employment and supports opportunity for all people, particularly when accomplished with an eye to sustainability.

ChildFund’s dual focus addresses exactly those social justice concerns that have troubled philosophers for millennia. Through the one-to-one relationships between sponsors and children living in poverty, we discover our own – and each other’s – human dignity. Internal motivations – the dreams that urge a child to achieve more than anyone thought possible – form one side of the success equation. External changes in the child’s environment shape the other.

Sponsorship contributions provide for the fundamental health and education needs of sponsored children. And because no child succeeds alone, sponsor support also improves the conditions of entire communities. Sponsors make it possible for all children to thrive in their own cultures and contexts by identifying and removing the barriers that threaten their security – be it access to safe water, proper nutrition, sanitation, medical care or education.

Additionally, ChildFund’s programs build life skills among youth and behavior change among adults. We educate children to prepare for a future as responsible adult leaders, rather than handing out short-term fixes that offer them little hope of transcending institutionalized poverty.

How will you celebrate Social Justice Day? We’d love to hear from you.

Helping Young Students Catch Up in Class

By Saroj Pattnaik, ChildFund India

Pavithra is just 9 years old. She is considered old enough to take care of her 3-year-old sister and 5-year-old brother. But her responsibilities at home in Chennai, India, kept her from attending school regularly for the past two years.

As a result, she was behind a grade level. Pavithra even had trouble with the Tamil alphabet. Writing sentences and doing basic math — tasks that were hard for her — fueled her dislike of school.

Things started to turn around for Pavithra after a new teacher who received training from ChildFund started working with her and other delayed learners more than two hours a day.

Pavithra in classroom

Pavithra, 9.

“I first approached Pavithra’s parents not to force her to take care of her siblings,” says Krishnaveni, her teacher. “Finally we managed to convince her parents, who agreed to send the younger daughter to an Early Childhood Development center and the other children to school regularly.”

“As part of our special quality improvement program, we used activity-based methods to develop Pavithra’s interest in studies. Slowly she started catching up, and now she is at par with other children,” adds Sham Begum, junior headmistress of the school.

“Earlier, I was afraid of coming to school, as I was not able to say anything when teachers were asking questions,” Pavithra says. “Now, I can answer everything. I have now many friends here, and I don’t want to miss school one single day.”

Started in 2011, ChildFund India’s Enhanced Education Quality Improvement Program (EQuIP) reaches more than 10,000 children in 100 primary and middle schools in parts of Chennai, the capital of the southwestern state of Tamil Nadu.

Besides providing infrastructure and other essential learning equipment, this program specially focuses on helping children who are delayed learners.

The project has four goals:
• improving the physical environment to make it more conducive to learning
• promoting a participatory learning environment
• increasing community involvement
• creating awareness of education’s importance among all stakeholders.

Nine-year-old Vinodini had many of the same challenges as Pavithra. Although her parents never forced her to work at home, the family often migrated to other places in search of work, so she fell behind in her education.

She has some knowledge of the Tamil alphabet but was very poor in mathematics. But within months of Krishnaveni’s arrival at the school, Vinodini was able to read, write and comprehend concepts effectively. Now she is one of the top students in her class.

“I was in class four, but my teachers were saying I was no better than a class-one student. But now I can read, write and even remember rhymes easily. My father is very happy for me now,” Vinodini says.

Viondini at blackboard

Viondini, 9, is now a top-performing student.

“We had no hope that our daughter would be able to study as her level of understanding was very poor,” says her father, Ravi, a construction worker. “Now I am very happy that she has improved a lot, and all credits go to the new teacher.”

According to Krishnaveni, there were 19 children who were behind pace in their learning when she came to the school in June 2012. Within six months, 10 of them had caught up with their peers. “We are now working hard on the rest, and we believe they will also be up to speed very soon,” she adds.

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