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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
By Cynthia Price, Director of Communications
I’ve never been a fan of carnations. I’m more of a roses and Gerber daisy girl. But then I went to Ecuador and developed new appreciation for this simple flower.
Carnations have helped transform the community of Santa Rosa de Patután, located in the province of Cotopaxi, two hours from Ecuador’s capital city, Quito.
During my visit I heard from community leaders about how their village had changed in the past decade and a half. You could say it had grown up. Fifteen years ago, Santa Rosa de Patután was a struggling community with no access to clean water or sanitation services. Adults in this isolated village had little income and few job opportunities. Alcoholism was rampant. Children were sick due to the lack of clean water and poor sanitation.
Today, though, there is much to celebrate. One of the first things ChildFund did when it began working with the community was open up access to clean water. We also helped educate children and family members about proper hygiene. Children’s health improved.
Access to water also meant that irrigation systems could be put in place to help grow crops and flowers, in particular carnations.
With the installation of irrigation systems, farmers realized that their lands could be productive. They would no longer have to travel to the cities looking for work in construction or domestic services. Seeing an opportunity for a locally based enterprise, they built greenhouses to grow carnations. A sea of red and white and pink carnations springing from the earth looks like a sunrise – absolutely breathtaking. When the carnations are harvested they are brought to buildings for processing and shipment to the United States, Europe, Russia and other countries in Latin America. Breathing in the scent is intoxicating.
At the same time that the carnations began to flourish, community members created their own credit union, with initial training and support from ChildFund. Profits generated from the sale of carnations are reinvested in projects for the community such as building better roads and creating a technology center for the children.
“It hasn’t been easy, we had to struggle a lot, and this is the result of many hours of meetings with the community to organize ourselves and make our business work,” says Nestor Moya, a community leader. “Fifteen years ago, we didn’t have water or electricity, but ChildFund gave us the foundations… and now we are entrepreneurs and administrators. We don´t have to work for anybody else.”
Hearing that success story has changed my views on carnations. I’d be delighted with a bouquet of carnations this Valentine’s Day. Beyond making my day special, those carnations would be changing the lives of the children and families who grow them with love.
That’s the sweet smell of success.
By Aydelfe M. Salvadora and Dirce Sarmento, ChildFund Timor-Leste
Highly nutritious food is often unavailable in Timor-Leste. Many children are malnourished because they don’t have a proper mix of vegetables and protein, but a ChildFund home-gardening program, begun in 2012, is helping improve nutrition and provide needed income for families.
Irene, the eldest daughter of Rosalia and Felipe, started a garden in the backyard of her parents’ small farming compound located in the sub-district of Tilomar. Like others in this community, Irene’s family depends on farming for their livelihood, yet their earnings are meager and uneven.
Irene, who is married with a child of her own, recognized the opportunity for growing nutritious food and helping her parents achieve more steady income. She invited her friends, Felicidade and Guillermhina, to join in the backyard garden project and also share in the benefits.
Before they started the garden, Irene and her two friends received training in farming techniques through Graca, ChildFund’s local partner, with funding from ChildFund Australia and AusAID’s Maternal and Child Health project. The women received tools and seeds for bok choy, kangkung (a type of spinach), eggplant and tomatoes.
Irene and her husband shuttle between her parents’ home and his home in another district, which makes it difficult for Irene to tend the approximately 300-square-foot garden all the time, so her mother, Rosalia, also helps the other two women.
Last year, the women harvested twice, generating income of US$110 that was shared among them. Irene and her friends now have money for family essentials and a bit left over to buy seeds for the next growing season.
With Irene’s help, her parents now earn $20 monthly from the combined harvests of the home garden and the farm. Sometimes, Rosalia and Felipe also sell chickens raised in their backyard. This income is augmented when bananas are available; the family cooks pisang goreng (banana fritters) and offers them for sale to neighbors.
Without the garden, notes Felipe, the family would not be able to afford extra household items. He and his wife can buy food items like rice, as well as shoes and clothes for their 3-year-old grandchild.
Reflecting on their first year of gardening, the friends noted that their main challenge was access to water. During the dry season, the women had to take a brief break from gardening, and even during the rainy season, they have to fetch additional water for their plants from the neighboring aldeia (village), which is approximately 2 kilometers away.
And, yet, the garden thrived. The division of labor is fair, Rosalia says, and the gardeners look forward to this year’s first growing cycle, which began this month and runs through March.
By ChildFund Belarus staff
Eighteen-year-old Vlad was born with cerebral palsy. His speech is unclear, and he cannot handle a pen or use a computer keyboard. And, yet, Vlad is a brilliant student.
Teachers educated Vlad at his Belarus home. Though the boy couldn’t write, he easily solved math problems in his head. By the age of 15, he had read many literature classics and could easily cite quotes by Dumas or analyze Dostoyevsky’s and Tolstoy’s works.
Vlad dreamed about becoming a lawyer who advocates for the rights of people with disabilities. But he faced a serious roadblock: Belarus’ system of entrance exams to its universities does not consider the special needs of a person with disabilities. The examination must be written, and parents are not allowed to be in a classroom during the exam. Personal assistants to help with writing or reading are typically unavailable.
In a quest to get their son admitted to college, Vlad’s parents petitioned several universities to allow him special assistance to take entrance exams, but they were turned down by most. In 2012, Vera, a vice rector at Baranovichi University, received training in inclusive education, a program conducted by ChildFund through the USAID-funded project Community Services to Vulnerable Groups.
Before the training program, Vera, like many other Belorussian educators, believed that children with communication problems also suffered from cognitive disability, often a misconception. But at the training, Vera was deeply impressed by the examples of academic achievements and talents that American children with disabilities have developed through proper support and teaching.
As a result, Vera decided to change the rigid entrance procedure at her university. She shared her new knowledge with her colleagues and obtained their full support. A special team was arranged to provide Vlad with adequate assistance during the testing process.
At the exams, Vlad gave his answers verbally, and a faculty member wrote it down. This minor adjustment allowed Vlad to pass the tests.
“The results inspired all of my colleagues,” Vera says. “The rector of our university and the members of the state educational board that inspected the exams applauded. Vlad showed brilliant results! He got the highest scores among all the applicants. We are very proud that the boy will become our student. Vlad is very persistent, and there is no doubt he will became a successful advocate for the rights of people with disabilities.”
Because of widespread media coverage, Vlad’s story became known all over Belarus and was praised by the minister of education, who said that 2013 will bring reforms to the entrance examination process at all Belarussian universities.
At Vera’s university, she has continued advocacy efforts by designing a course on inclusive education for students in preschool education. The course was recently approved by the Ministry of Education for university curriculums all over the country.
Read yesterday’s post about a Belorussian girl reunited with her father.
By ChildFund Belarus staff
For 9-year-old Anya, who lives in the small Belarus town of Logoisk, the word “family” has varied definitions. She first lived with her biological mother and then in a foster home, and now she has begun a relationship with her biological father.
Anya’s biological mother could hardly meet her daughter’s basic needs; often, she was left alone and hungry while her mother was out. The girl never knew her biological father, as her mother prohibited him from visiting Anya. She moved to a children’s home after her mother lost custody.
In the children’s home, Anya was very shy. She was lonely, missed her mom and dreamed that one day she would have a real family.
In 2012, ChildFund, which has been operating in Belarus since 1993, began a media campaign with the Logoisk Socio-pedagogic Center to increase the number of foster and adoptive parents. The “Warm the Heart of a Child” campaign was made possible by the USAID-funded Community Services to Vulnerable Groups program. Local media, state agencies and businesses provided support.
The campaign featured pictures and details about real children from Logoisk. Anya’s biological father saw the calendar with Anya’s photo at a local doctor’s office. Eventually, he located Anya and began visiting her in the children’s home. The visits were a big step forward, as it’s a commonly held opinion in Belarus that contact with birth parents can emotionally harm a child in foster care.
However, Anya’s foster mother is an alumna of Parent Resources for Information, Development, and Education (PRIDE) training held by ChildFund. Through PRIDE, she understood the crucial role of the biological family in the life of a child and encouraged Anya’s father’s visits. The PRIDE model is revolutionary for Belarus as it is helping break down long-held stereotypes.
“I supposed that it’s important for a child to have contacts with biological family, but I used to hear from other foster parents that it would be traumatizing for a foster child,” Anya’s foster mother said. “PRIDE trainings assured me that family connections are essential to the child, and I was provided with instruments on mediating contacts with the birth family.”
Anya’s father, with the support of her foster mother, applied for family reunification and succeeded. Anya recently rejoined her father at home.
Other foster children from Logoisk have seen positive action by their biological parents, who have undertaken treatment for alcohol abuse and comprehensive rehabilitation to regain their parental rights after learning that their children might be adopted by others.
Similar stories have occurred in Lida, a neighboring community where stories about the campaign have aired on local television stations.
Learn about a teen with disabilities who attends a university in Belarus with the assistance of ChildFund and Community Services to Vulnerable Groups.
By Lylli Moya, ChildFund Honduras
In the Ecuadoran province of Cotopaxi, residents of Santa Rosa de Patutan are excited to be graduating from ChildFund in 2013. “If ChildFund leaves tomorrow, nothing bad will happen because the community is empowered. The organizational structure is strengthened and is working along with the government,” says Nestor Moya, a representative of the community’s water and sanitation board.
ChildFund has been in this area of Ecuador since 1984. Nestor remembers that “before ChildFund, the houses were made of straw; there was only one school, no water and no electricity in the community.” Now the village has these services, and there are schools and parks for the children. “ChildFund is the only NGO that has provided unconditional support to the community without asking for anything in return. Everything is for the well-being of the children,” Nestor says.
“This is truly a moment to celebrate,” says Nicole Duciaume, regional sponsorship coordinator for ChildFund Americas. “This community is self-reliant, self-sufficient and able to care for the well-being of its children for this and future generations. Our work here is done; sponsorship transformed this community.”
Currently, parents are organized into six associations, which form the Federation of Community Development of Cotopaxi (FEDECOX). The federation has been officially organized since October 2005 and is ChildFund’s main strategic partner in this region of Ecuador. Through FEDECOX, ChildFund has installed a water and sanitation system, and the citizens’ usage fees are returned to the community.
ChildFund’s approach is to empower communities, so they can be independent and self-sustaining while creating the environments children need to thrive.
Nestor is optimistic that the community will continue to grow with everything it has learned. He says, “ChildFund has set a good example and taught us to administer the money transparently.”
Guest Post by Pete Olson
Pete Olson is an American Formula car racer in the Asia Formula Renault Series. Olson’s Race for Children campaign is to raise awareness around the issue of child poverty while encouraging fans to become child sponsors. Olson shares his recent trip to meet sponsored child Trang.
After a decade of sponsoring various children through ChildFund, I finally made the decision to meet my sponsored child, Trang, and it was so worth it. Beyond the pictures and the letters from half a world away, my trip to Vietnam made my sponsorship experience that much more tangible. For the first time, I saw, in person, what my sponsorship had done for the little girl I’ve been communicating with over these past years.
To put it simply, meeting Trang is one of the most incredible things I’ve ever done.
My visit made me realize, more than ever, just how privileged I’ve been in my life. I have been very lucky to have so many opportunities, many of which I’ve taken for granted. The benefits my sponsorship are helping provide to Trang are things I’ve always been accustomed to having.
For instance, I saw how ChildFund has helped build a medical center in the village to provide basic health care; they’ve built a fresh water system so the community doesn’t have to walk to a stream to collect drinking and cooking water; and they’ve installed toilet facilities in the village to provide access to basic sanitation. It was eye-opening to realize these standard amenities were previously nonexistent in this community. But I was more shocked to learn from a ChildFund representative that some children have to walk over the surrounding hills to get to and from school each day. That’s probably an hour hike over – and we complain about the Stairmaster!
We gripe so much about trivial things when so many of our basic needs are met. We only have to do a little comparison with those who lack those conveniences to realize how thankful we should all be for what we have and often take for granted.
It is a shame that there are so many inequalities in the world, but I know that I can do my part, no matter how small, to help children like Trang to improve their lives. I sincerely hope that through the Racing for Children program and my own personal efforts, we can find many more sponsors for children like Trang. If more people were moved in the way that I was last month in Vietnam, I have no doubt they would contribute.
I’m already looking forward to going back to visit Trang and her community. I am so glad I made the effort. To think that I have been able to help so much with what we Americans think of as so little – it is really something.
Formula One World Champion race driver, Aytron Senna said it best, “Wealthy men can’t live in an island that is encircled by poverty. We all breathe the same air. We must give a chance to everyone, at least a basic chance.”
Indeed it is our duty, and yet our privilege – we should all do our part. Help a child in need by becoming a sponsor through ChildFund International.
Reporting by ChildFund staff in Kenya, Sierra Leone and Uganda
As we celebrate the Day of the Girl, ChildFund recognizes three young women who were empowered through programs that emphasized the importance of girls. In their youth, they were given opportunities to learn, grow and prosper. Today, we celebrate their accomplishments.
Wotay, 25, grew up in northern Sierra Leone. Despite the poor conditions of her community, she managed to finish both primary and secondary school. Wotay is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in accounting at Njala University.
In her youth, Wotay was always one of few girls to speak out on the problem of teenage pregnancy (often due to rape and incest) and other child abuse issues in her region.
Now, during her visits home, she continues to advocate and help children in her community, offering them advice and assisting them with writing letters to their sponsors. She also volunteers with ChildFund community partners and is an active public speaker. Although she has an interest in finance, Wotay is currently devoting much of her attention to youth development.
In Caroline’s family, school is viewed as being only for boys. As a result, it was difficult for her to access education as a young girl. It was also a common practice for girls to be circumcised. But a local school administrator was instrumental in preventing Caroline’s circumcision and also guided her to ChildFund’s Psychological Support and Care (PSS) trainings where Caroline gained key insights into the rights of women and children. That knowledge has given her drive and courage to pursue her academic goals.
Although now 20, Caroline is a thriving high school student in Kimalel Day Secondary School in Kenya’s Marigat District. She shares her experiences with other youth who are struggling to get an education. She has been instrumental in encouraging other girls to go to school and helping them understand their rights. Recently, her ideas around inclusion of girls were used to help ChildFund and its local partners map strategy for future community programs. Caroline’s efforts have also contributed to a noticeable reduction in regressive cultural practices in her community where education for girls is not highly valued.
When she finishes her education, she hopes to be a teacher and a community facilitator.
The Police Detective
Growing up in poverty, Christine, 24, was a shy and unhappy little girl who didn’t believe she was good enough to succeed. She often kept quiet and listened to other children speak – she thought they knew better and therefore had more right to be heard. That was before she was sponsored through ChildFund Uganda.
Fast forward a few years, and Christine is a confident, assertive, determined and independent police detective in the crime intelligence division. Christine describes ChildFund as the “miracle that changed her life.” She recalls the letters, greeting cards and gifts from her sponsor Hansen that helped motivate and encourage her to do her best.
When she became of age, Christine assumed responsibility for helping other children like her. She assisted with letter writing and contributed to programs for children in her impoverished community. Those experiences helped shape the leadership skills she uses in her current job.
Christine attributes her communications skills and the ability to love and give to her time with ChildFund Uganda. ”I am able to stand all challenges at work because of the trainings I was involved in,” she says. “I stand for what I believe in. I am not afraid; I am assertive and I know my rights!”
Christine hopes to continue giving back to her community by empowering children and wants to sponsor a child in the future.
By Aydelfe M. Salvadora, ChildFund Timor-Leste
For nine years, the Parent Teacher Association for Eskola Basiko Liaro sought assistance for its deteriorating school. But those requests went unanswered, says Raimundo de Carvalho, PTA president at the school, which is located in Suco Builale, Ossu, in the Timor-Leste district of Viqueque.
The school is surrounded by hills, making the temperature cold even during the day, and it easily penetrates inside the bamboo-walled classrooms.
When ChildFund first visited Liaro School, we knew that urgent assistance was needed. The school had a poor infrastructure, lacked water and sanitation facilities and didn’t have the most basic classroom and learning materials.
Given the poor condition of the school and the long list of areas for improvement, ChildFund worked with the school community to identify its main priorities for improvement. Classroom rehabilitation was on the top of the list, as it would deliver significant benefits within a short timeframe.
With the participation of community members, schoolchildren, PTA members and the Suco and Aldeia local councils, ChildFund Timor-Leste worked with Liaro School to quickly develop a proposal to be considered for UNICEF’s Participatory School Rehabilitation project.
The proposal was accepted, with Liaro School becoming part of the Child Friendly Schools (CFS) approach promoted by UNICEF, in partnership with the Ministry of Education. It is a distinct initiative that promotes and nurtures the inclusive involvement of parents, community members and children in education.
With approval, funding and technical assistance from UNICEF and ChildFund, construction commenced in the first week of November 2011. In less than two months, four new classrooms were constructed and ready for the beginning of school year in January.
Built with concrete walls and tin roofs, the classrooms are comfortable and secure from the elements. When asked how their new learning environment makes them feel, the school’s 150 students give an enthusiastic chorus of “kontente [happy].”They no longer fear water leaking from the roof and persistent cold through the bamboo walls. More importantly, they now have an environment conducive to learning that motivates them to study harder.
The PTA members and council chiefs say they’ve learned a lot about the importance of community participation and cooperation to benefit children. They also point to another benefit with lasting impact – not only do they have four new classrooms, but they now also have the skills to write more project proposals to gain additional funding for their community.