By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
It’s a rare and special treat to meet a former sponsored child in person. Many ChildFund alumni live in their home countries, often a long way from the United States.
Momodou Bah, a 30-year-old man who grew up in our programs in The Gambia, showed up one day this summer at our headquarters in Richmond, Virginia. Word quickly spread, and we were all excited to meet him — especially when we learned that he had won a Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, a prestigious honor the White House bestows on a few hundred African men and women each year.
Momodou is The Gambia’s youngest elected ward councilor, a position similar to a county supervisor, which he’s held since age 22, soon after he aged out of ChildFund’s sponsorship. On the council, Momodou represents eight villages, including the one where he grew up as one of seven children in a poor household.
As a Mandela Washington Fellow chosen from a field of 50,000 applicants, Momodou is among 25 women and men between the ages of 25 and 35 who are taking immersive courses in political and civic leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. The six weeks of classes (as well as meetings with Virginia’s governor and other government officials) culminate in a three-day summit in August in Washington, D.C., with the rest of the fellows, who are spread across the country at different universities. They’ll get to meet President Obama, too.
“We learn how things really operate in the government, in the courts, in the police departments — and how to build better institutions,” Momodou explains.
We plan to check back in with him after he meets the president, but we wanted to share his remarkable story — and the fact that he has reconnected with his sponsor.
“It was my life’s dream to get an education,” he says. “My parents are subsistence farmers of groundnuts, rice and millet for family consumption.” Momodou has two elder sisters, one of whom lives and attends college in Washington, and four younger brothers. He also has two sons, who are living in his family’s home while he attends the fellowship classes here.
When Momodou was in second grade, he was sponsored by Debbie Gautreau, who lives in Massachusetts.
As his sponsorship began bringing him letters and photos, as well as support to help his family pay school fees, he says, “I thought first, the world is full of good people.” He attended a primary school built by Catholic missionaries in 1949 and was one of the youngest students there — and considered one of the smartest, he says with a laugh. Momodou’s educational background has helped him in his current position as a ward councilor, representing people who speak four different dialects: Fula, Mandinka, Jola and Wolof.
“I went to school with children from these communities,” he says, explaining how he came to understand and speak all four dialects.
ChildFund still impacts his life in many ways. Momodou served for three years as board chairman for a group of local partner organizations that work with ChildFund in his community, and both ChildFund International and ChildFund Deutschland (our Alliance partner in Germany) have contributed assistance. In Momodou’s ward, there is a water and sanitation project that has delivered clean water to the population of 600. His boys, ages 5 and 6, have attended our Early Childhood Development programs too.
“They’ve learned to say the alphabet and name animals and objects,” he says proudly.
Debbie, who spoke with Momodou over the phone, said that she is thrilled to reconnect with him after 12 years. When they last were in touch, he was entering an information technology program post-high school, with plans for a career in the field.
“I feel like he’s my third son,” Debbie says. “Some of my friends and family remember when I sponsored him. He was very ambitious. School was very important. He seemed like he was going places.”
She was 28 when she first sponsored Momodou, near his current age, and Debbie says she has saved all of his letters and his first picture. They hope to meet while he’s in the U.S. this summer.
“He made me cry,” Debbie says, recalling their first phone conversation. “He’s just so kind and appreciative of my help.”
And true to form, Momodou continues to have great ambitions for himself and his country.
“I wish to continue on my political career to the highest level possible,” he says, perhaps as a national legislator or even The Gambia’s president. “My sons are expecting their father to come back a different person.”
Stay tuned for a second story in August, after Momodou takes part in the Mandela Washington Fellows’ summit and meets President Obama — and hopefully, and possibly even better, his former sponsor, Debbie.
Larry, 22, is a teacher at a private high school in the Philippines and the president of a youth association in his community. He was sponsored through ChildFund and attended programs at a local partner organization, Community’s Hope and Initiative for Lasting Development Inc. (CHILD Inc.), in the Western Visayas. Children from this region face many challenges, including a high rate of malnutrition and many teens dropping out of school to work. Here is Larry’s story, in his own words.
My unforgettable journey with ChildFund, its local partner and my sponsor, Catherine, began 15 years ago.
In all of those years, Catherine never failed to support me every step of the way. Even though I haven’t met her, nor was she in the habit of writing, I always knew she had my back, because of her ceaseless support. I hope she’s proud of what I’ve made of myself so far.
Beyond my need to stay in school, ChildFund helped me discover what I wanted the most: I wanted to share my blessings with others. I didn’t have much in the way of material goods, but from what I learned from participating in ChildFund’s activities, I learned I could still share with others.
I remained involved in ChildFund’s programs until graduating from high school, and one of the later things they introduced to us was psychosocial support for children. The local partner, CHILD Inc., trains trainers who can look after the immediate emotional needs of children after an emergency.
I was chosen to join the first batch of trainers and soon found the opportunity to test what I learned when flash floods from Typhoon Washi (locally known as Sendong) claimed more than 1,000 lives and demolished entire communities in my province in 2011.
There was no shortage of children in the dozens of evacuation centers that sprouted after the typhoon, and ChildFund called on us to assist them. My own home was not very badly affected by the typhoon, thankfully, so I was free to devote my efforts to helping other young people. The experience was tiring, but seeing the first smiles on children’s faces since the typhoon was rewarding. We produced artwork and helped the children express themselves about their experiences, along with their ambitions in life. It also saddened me to discover and share their pain, as they opened up their feelings to us.
ChildFund invited me to a lot of training seminars, which made me more aware of their plans for the community. These activities honed my skills and developed me into the person I am today. I joined an advocacy newsletter project and became editor-in-chief. This directly influenced my desire to pursue a teaching career.
ChildFund also sent me to national conferences, where I was able to meet fellow youth leaders from all over the Philippines. I discovered their cultures and traditions as I interacted with them. I was amazed how children and youth were able to articulate local issues and concerns, as well as assemble response plans.
Now that I’m employed and contributing to my family’s livelihood, I remain involved in ChildFund’s activities. I participate in the local partner’s Special Children Outreach for Rehabilitation (SCORe) program, and I volunteer with the sponsorship program.
My heart’s filled with gratitude for my kind and generous sponsor, Catherine, for her unceasing support, and for ChildFund, for molding me into what I am now.
By Esperanza Soto Aburto, ChildFund Mexico
At the age of 12, Jesus — or Chucho, as he’s known to friends — was part of the Organization Hñañhu Batsi, a community group in Mexico. He played soccer and was part of a team that won a regional tournament.
Today, as an adult, he has worked with teens who belong to the same organization, a local partner with ChildFund Mexico.
“I was looking for the kids to bring out their character, and teaching them teamwork,” Chucho says. But it was also important for him to open a business, making good on what he calls his “Mexican Dream,” which has special significance since he immigrated to the United States when he was 15, returning later.
With other young people in his community, Chucho began to figure out what the needs of the community were, and there were no bakeries.
That’s how the Nheki Bakery was born; nheki means “me too” in Chucho’s native language, Hñañhu.
“At first I wanted to name the bakery ‘I undertake,’ ” Chucho says, “but there is no translation of this word to Hñañhu, so I named it Nheki: ‘I want, I can, me too!’ ”
They started making doughnuts, biscuits, bread, buns and other pastries, sweetening them with agave honey produced in the community. The yeast and jams also are made locally.
The bakery has been open for almost a year, and Chucho and his colleagues are considering opening more bakeries in the region. ChildFund Mexico is now a trading partner, buying bread from the Nheki Bakery for children enrolled in the Early Childhood Development programs. Chucho realized that there is work to do in his community, and with a lot of effort and sweat, there’s always a chance to create opportunities.
Members of ChildFund-supported communities in Ecuador have been working nonstop during the last two weeks to complete orders for St. Valentine’s Day. It’s the peak season for flower production and exports, and we were lucky enough to be visiting Ecuador last week to see the business in action. This country, along with Colombia, is among the main flower exporters, and during these days the local industry in Ecuador estimates exports for about 4,000 metric tons to the United States and about 2,600 metric tons to Europe, approximately 30 percent of its yearly production.
Twelve years ago, the community of Santa Rosa de Patután had no running water, sewage treatment, schools or health center. However, today, after many years of projects and trial-and-error experiences, this village has transformed into a community of dynamic farmers who produce mainly roses and carnations for export to the United States, Europe and Russia.
Jose Manuel Yaule is one of the leaders behind this change. With no education other than what he calls “the university of life,” he began working for his community by building a water system with the help of ChildFund. Today, that is the local water company, a service and business totally run by the community. That was the first step toward his venture into the flower business.
He then began researching with technicians in businesses from surrounding areas and first tried with his own greenhouse as a pilot. Realizing they could actually produce high-quality carnations and roses for exporting, he replicated this model by teaching the business to the whole community.
“I remember back in 1994, seeing children here was very sad: very poor, hungry, no shoes, no school. I was thinking all the time about work opportunities for parents, who were mainly peasants without any hope and lots of alcohol problems,” Jose Manuel says. “Now I see children and I can’t even recognize them… sometimes I think they are from another town: so educated, so well-dressed, so happy and healthy!”
The flower business has indeed brought color, joy and progress to this community. Jose Manuel didn’t have an education, but his five children went to university; two of them graduated, two study music at the conservatory, and one is pursuing a degree in economics.
His dream is for everyone in this community of about 400 families to be a small business owner. Continued water supply, agricultural technical support and financing are keys to making this a reality.
To support the farmers with credit, the community also created in 2008 their own credit union, which has 780 members and assets of about US$1 million, provides loans for land, supply and machinery. The credit union works well under the management and supervision of Monica, a former sponsored girl in the community, who, after finishing university, decided to come back and work for the development of her own village.
This community keeps dreaming and growing, just as the flowers do. Farmers continue to get training and are currently working on producing new varieties of flowers and diversifying their production. Thanks to this work and the support of buyers in the United States every Valentine’s Day, more children keep playing and learning in better schools, while their mothers and fathers continue cultivating the seeds of change and progress in their community.
Reporting by ChildFund Mexico
ChildFund Mexico is teaming up with ArcelorMittal Mexico, a multinational steel manufacturer, to improve conditions for children in six communities in Michoacán, Mexico.
The new community-development project, launched in late June, will directly benefit 1,300 Mexican children and reach more than 7,000 people in the town of Lázaro Cárdenas over the next nine years. The project’s main purpose is to develop sustainable improvements in education, health, nutrition and livelihoods.
With funding from ArcelorMittal, a new community center has been established, as well as four smaller meeting points in other areas, giving children and adults places to discuss their communities’ needs. The goal is for residents to take the lead in evolving their groups into independent community organizations over the next several years.
“Through the Integral Community Development Project of Lázaro Cárdenas, we look to promote the well-being and socio-economic growth of the communities where one of our main operations is located,” said Felicidad Cristóbal, global director of the ArcelorMittal Foundation, the company’s social investment arm. “ArcelorMittal is one of the main companies in Mexico with a long-term strategy for corporate social responsibility supporting self-sustainable development processes. That’s why we value the partnership we have established,” says Virginia Vargas, ChildFund’s national director in Mexico.
By Ya Sainey Gaye, ChildFund The Gambia
A group of 37 formerly sponsored children — now young adults — have formed an alumni association in The Gambia. They hope to increase awareness of ChildFund’s sponsorship program at a community level, as well as ChildFund-supported projects that improve education, early childhood development, health care and other needs.
“To ChildFund The Gambia, I have to say that you have indeed restored and nurtured the hopes and aspirations of over 20,000 people in this country through your sponsorship program, which all of us here today benefited from,” said Alieu Jawo, who was elected chairperson of the alumni group. “This is indeed a divine investment.”
Alieu, who is now 35, runs a graphic design and printing company, owns a general merchandise brokerage and serves as a shareholder and director of an insurance firm.
“My inclusion into the sponsorship program brought hope and joy to me and my entire family,” Alieu said, “as it was a serious nightmare for an ordinary farmer like my dad and any other average farmer to be able to send his or her kid to high school. There were no good ones around my village or region.”
But with the help of his ChildFund sponsor, who paid his school fees above and beyond the monthly sponsorship, Alieu was able to excel at primary school and continue his education. Other alumni echoed Alieu’s story.
“I was privileged because it gave me the opportunity to continue my education,” said 30-year-old Fatou Bojang, who received shoes and medical supplies too. “That meant less worry and burden on my parents.”
ChildFund The Gambia hosted the forum to formally launch the alumni association in Bwiam. Participants received a briefing on ChildFund’s organizational structure, a refresher on its mission and overviews of ChildFund’s five-year strategic plan and The Gambia’s strategic plan.
Equipped with a better understanding of ChildFund’s operations in The Gambia, the group drafted a constitution and nominated candidates for an executive board. Then the members cast votes.
Staff from ChildFund’s national office challenged the participants to continue to make time for the alumni association, to work in their communities and to assist ChildFund as partners to promote child development and protection. The alumni, who well recall what sponsorship means to them, expressed optimism for the future.
“My enrollment in ChildFund sponsorship program really did contribute to what I am today,” noted Demba Sowe, 37. “I am now a father of five and an interpreter at the judiciary of The Gambia.”
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.
Reporting by ChildFund Ethiopia staff
Tariku, now 33, grew up in a family of nine in the Amhara region of Ethiopia. Without the support of ChildFund, he says he would not have been able to afford school materials or continue his education. Today, as a university graduate and a master’s degree student, Tariku has found success. The following is his story in his own words:
Today I am going to tell you about myself, about how ChildFund changed my life, as it did for many children, by providing various kinds of support. ChildFund played a great role in my life and helped me become who I am now. I enrolled in the project when ChildFund opened its office at Semen Shoa, in the Amhara region, in 1992 during the downfall of the Derg political regime. At that time, I was a grade-six student, while my father was a soldier and my mom was a housewife. We were nine in the family.
I am the youngest in my family, except one younger sibling. However, no one in my family has gone far from home or been successful in education. Since I joined the project, ChildFund supported me with educational materials, health care and fulfilling our family’s needs. Before, I had no means to buy books or other educational materials. The project provided me with everything I required for my education; that, in turn, increased my interest in learning.
After I finished my diploma in agriculture at Jimma University (a top Ethiopian teaching university) in 2000, I had the chance to join ChildFund’s local partner organization staff as a community development worker. After some time there, I moved to a project in Addis Ababa.
I received my first degree in business management in 2009, and now I am a graduate student at Addis Ababa University in psychology. I am now a sponsorship relations head at work.
“Supporting one child means supporting the family.”
One thing that I want to highlight is how ChildFund’s work is fruitful. There are many successful alumni who are working in many areas in different organizations. Supporting one child means supporting the family. For instance, my family has benefited a lot. I have created work opportunities for my elder siblings by supporting them financially, and I was able to teach my younger sibling.
The support I received in the Semen Shoa project is the basis of all my success. I can say that ChildFund was just as important as my blood circulation.
I am sure that I will keep on improving my life even after this, but I will give credit to ChildFund often. Now I am successful in my work. I want to be a role model and pass this message on to other children who are receiving support from ChildFund to give credit for what ChildFund did for them. I hope that many children will attain similar success to what I have achieved now.
By Priscilla Chama, ChildFund Zambia
A Zambian youth group supported by ChildFund recently won a national award for its entrepreneurial spirit. The Mukubulo youth group’s work — growing vegetables and selling them at a local market — earned them a laptop computer and a cash prize of US$654.
The Zambian government awarded the prizes on March 12, National Youth Day, as part of its first young entrepreneurs’ exhibition, “Opportunity for Youth Through Enterprise.” The Mukubulo group reached the national level after beating 15 other teams in the provincial level, winning a trophy and US$935 in cash.
The national event attracted 61 teams, including 24 international competitors from Namibia and Zimbabwe. The exhibition was aimed at encouraging young people to create their own wealth through innovation, creativity and hard work.
The Mukubulo youth group is supported by ChildFund Zambia through the Youth and Caregiver Entrepreneurship Development Project. They initially came together in 2007 as a group of 10 that grew vegetables and sold them at a local market.
Group leader Davey explained that they struggled to share the money raised from the sale of their vegetables, because their profit margins were too small.
“When we started, we did not have modern agricultural equipment, and we used to water our gardens with buckets. Thus, we did not make enough profits for us to share,” he explained.
The big breakthrough for the group came when they began receiving support from ChildFund. They were trained in organic farming and entrepreneurship skills and then were given start-up seeds.
With further support from ChildFund, the group managed to procure modern agriculture equipment and is now involved in gardening on a large scale. The size of their market presence has also grown, and they are now selling their products not only in Chongwe but also in Lusaka.
“We are grateful for the support from ChildFund, and winning the first prize both at provincial and national level is a big motivation for us to work even harder and explore further business ventures,” Davey said after receiving the award.
During the presentation of the prizes to the group, Zambia’s Minister of Youth and Sport, Chishimba Kambwili, urged the group to recruit more young people.
“As a ministry in charge of the youth in this country, we would like to see the group grow from its current membership so that other young people that are not in formal employment can benefit,” he said.