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.
by Mark Robinson, Communications Intern
I came to ChildFund unsure of what to expect from my first internship. We’ve all heard horror stories of interns who spent their summer filing papers and picking up packages. I didn’t want the best professional relationship I forged to be with the baristas at the nearest Starbucks. I wanted to get outside of my comfort zone. I wanted a chance to grow.
I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to come to work for 10 weeks as a respected member of the ChildFund communications team. Every project I’ve worked on has been purposeful. And aside from a now infamous assignment my mentor Cynthia Price gave me, I have been spared from doing too many “interny” tasks.
From day one, my mentors, Community Manager Virginia Sowers and Director of Communications Cynthia Price, took my goals into consideration and tailored my assignments to help me accomplish them. Because of their flexibility, I was able to focus on improving my multimedia skills. I researched podcasts and edited raw footage from Uganda into a video that was featured on ChildFund’s blog, Facebook and Twitter pages. My work has been showcased, not hidden away. But with all that said, I doubt when I look back at ChildFund that I’ll remember the work.
I’ll remember poking my head over ChildFund writer Christine Ennulat’s cubicle to chat about my most recent journalistic pursuits.
I’ll remember the shock I felt when I learned KISS front man Gene Simmons sponsors more than 140 children through ChildFund and the subsequent buzz around the communications pod after the episode of his reality show filmed in Zambia debuted.
I’ll remember the disbelief I felt when I found out my colleague and longtime ChildFund employee Alison Abbitt passed away following reconstructive knee surgery. We had spoken only days before.
While the extremes stand out, the small lessons I’ve learned here will not be forgotten and this, my first formal foray into the professional world, has prepared me in some ways for my next adventure: Botswana.
My next four and a half months will be spent studying journalism at the University of Botswana in Gaborone. It’ll be my first trip abroad, so my feelings about it fluctuate between giddy excitement and crippling nervousness on a day-to-day basis. I do now, however, have the comfort of knowing that a network of sympathetic world travelers is only an email away.
While I’m in Africa, I plan to freelance in pursuit of my career as a foreign correspondent. Who knows? Maybe one of my stories will find its way into ChildWorld.
Reporting by ChildFund Bolivia
Snapshot of a struggling family in Bolivia: The father works on faraway farms and returns home only occasionally. The mother sells vegetables in the local market during the morning and part of the afternoon, leaving her children in the care of the eldest, who is 10. The youngest, Irene, is 5 months.
In 2006, the government of Bolivia instituted a new program, called Zero Malnutrition, with the goal of eradicating malnutrition in children under age 5. Knowing of ChildFund’s vast experience in child development, the Bolivian Ministry of Health and Sports invited ChildFund to implement a child development component through Zero Malnutrition in rural Oruro, the region where Irene’s family lives.
ChildFund’s contribution was to train “guide mothers,” volunteers who monitor and support the development of the children in their communities. ChildFund taught the guide mothers how to use our child development scale to screen children and identify specific developmental needs. They also received training in ways to work with parents to help them support their children’s development.
Maria was one of those guide mothers. She visited Irene.
“When I met Irene, I understood my mission,” she says.
On that first evaluation, Maria found that Irene had diarrhea, an acute respiratory infection, acute malnutrition, anemia and visible signs of emaciation, and that she was under both height and weight for her age.
Trained to recognize danger signs, Maria reported the case to the local health center, and staff from there soon performed a field visit. They provided Irene’s mother with medicine as well as an orientation on how to treat Irene.
Maria also evaluated Irene’s development and found she was not progressing in all areas as she should.
Within a year, after continued visits from Maria and with appropriate care, Irene was a healthy 18-month-old. She was still small for her age, but her weight was appropriate for her size. She also had caught up with her peers in three of five developmental areas.
Maria says the work is hard, but when she sees families in her community who have so little, she’s inspired to give her best efforts to teaching them what she’s learned about how to keep children on track and healthy.
By David Hylton
Public Relations Specialist
A 16-year-old Dominican boy who overcame a violent and hopeless past through a program sponsored by ChildFund International will share his transformational story at the United Nations next week. The event is part of the commemoration of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty and the world body’s continuing observation of the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Denzel Matthew is one of five children from an impoverished family in the Caribbean nation of Dominica. His troubled life centered on his involvement with a spate of violent activities until a photography course brought him purpose and direction. He will take part in two U.N. events on Monday, Oct. 19.
The first, “Children and Families Speak Out Against Poverty,” takes place 1:15-2:30 p.m., in Conference Room 2, U.N. Secretariat Building. This commemoration is organized by the International Movement ATD Fourth World, the NGO Subcommittee for the Eradication of Poverty and the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and co-sponsored by the Missions of France and Burkina Faso to the United Nations.
The presentation will be followed by an interactive panel: “Children: The Future and the Present — Participation in Poverty Reduction and Accountability for Rights.” This event takes place at UNICEF’s Labouisse Hall, 3-5:30 p.m. The panel is organized in partnership with UNICEF by the NGO Subcommittee for the Eradication of Poverty and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, with the support of the NGO Committee on UNICEF.
Like so many youth in Dominica, Denzel faced a bleak future, having been involved in violent activities since a young age.
“Every day was a struggle for me to survive, as I come from a poor family and community,” he says. “I could not see my future. I had nowhere to go.”
But last year, a photography course made possible by ChildFund International donors opened an unexpected doorway for Denzel. After years of despair, he discovered how to channel his energy in artistic rather than violent ways. In addition to providing him with new skills, the photography class introduced the teenager to others with similar interests. When the program ended, Denzel wrote in his evaluation that he no longer felt like dropping out of school or hanging out with the local gang.
“For the first time in my life, I had a way to let out my emotions without being violent,” he says.
As he shapes his own future, Denzel also wants to change the lives of those following in his footsteps. He has joined a youth group of about 20 peers who are committed to making a difference in their community. Denzel’s latest effort is to create a mentoring program to assist children in his community with reading and writing skills.
The youth group also is developing a conservation program to help protect an area known as Nature Island, a popular tourist destination on Dominica.
“Today, I am a happier person and am happy to tell my story,” Denzel says. “I hope I can change the future of others who may be in situations like me.”
Shauntay Hinton, who was crowned Miss USA in 2002 and has appeared on TV shows such as “Heroes” and “Criminal Minds,” is a formerly sponsored child through ChildFund International. She was enrolled in the Brickfire Project in Mississippi and attended Brickfire’s after-school program until she completed high school.
Today Shauntay shares her childhood memories with us:
This week I attended a Labor Day barbecue hosted by my management company at a really elegant residence in Pacific Palisades, Calif., a community on the west side of Los Angeles. I looked around at the setting and the other “celebrities” there and felt like I was a really long way from Starkville, Miss.
In fact, when one of the other guests happened to ask me where I grew up, and I told her Mississippi, she responded “Wow! Really? How awful was that?” To which I replied “Not at all. I must have gotten lucky!”
I explained that growing up in Starkville, we had a strong sense of community. For example, when I was very little, I attended a day care center called Project Brickfire. Project Brickfire was a conduit organization for ChildFund International and operated as part day care center/part community center with programs to promote the educational and social development of children.
I went on to give her an earful about how before I even knew who Oprah Winfrey was, when I was about 5 years old, I was cast in a play at Project Brickfire as the host of a talk show who interviewed historical figures including Dr. Martin Luther King and Dr. George Washington Carver regarding their contributions to American History. And boy oh boy, did they create a monster!
I made my mind up to never know a life without being on stage in some capacity. So to make a long story short, I think I got my point across to that other guest – if I hadn’t grown up in small-town Mississippi as a ChildFund sponsored child, I might not have been standing there talking to her at some fancy shindig in lovely Pacific Palisades that afternoon.
With programs emphasizing the arts and creative expression like plays, field trips and guest speakers, even providing a pen pal from across the world, ChildFund International helped me develop self confidence in front of an audience early on. Without question, my start as a sponsored child was essential to shaping my path toward a career in broadcasting because of the encouragement, instruction and support I received from the staff of Project Brickfire.
To read more about Shauntay’s experience with ChildFund International, click here. For more on “The Power to Play,” visit www.ChildFund.org/toys. Are you a formerly sponsored children through ChildFund? If so, and you would like to tell your story, please send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org with your information.
By David Hylton,
Public Relations Specialist
International Youth Day is a day to celebrate what the next leaders of our world have accomplished. At ChildFund International we work with children throughout all stages of life – infants, children and youth – to help them bring lasting and positive change to their communities.
On this International Youth Day, we venture to Ethiopia where a group of young people have established their own studio:
Realizing a Vision
The future of the world’s news is here. Two years ago, youth in ChildFund International’s programs in Ethiopia were sent to a video and photography training institution to learn about film production.
Shortly thereafter, these youth came up with the idea of establishing their own studio.
“A month before our graduation, we started discussing our future employment opportunity and the way we find it,” says 21-year-old Abraham Salasebew. “While analyzing this, we came up with the idea of establishing our own studio.”
The group of 11 youth with the same interest went to ChildFund Ethiopia staff and shared their vision for the studio. In response ChildFund showed its willingness to support the effort both technically and financially.
In April 2008, they received a legal license to establish the studio – Abogida Digital Studio – which began with one digital photo camera, one video camera and a computer. The group, though, still faced financial troubles with high rent for the studio and a loan that needed to be repaid. Working with ChildFund Alliance partner CCF Kinderhilfswerk (Germany), the group obtained a photocopy machine, a sound mixer and a tripod, among other items.
With these additions, the youth turned things around and are now making a profit. The Abogida Digital Studio offers photo and video recording and editing, film production and more.
“We would like to thank ChildFund for its commitment to support unemployed youth like us to realize our vision and change our hopelessness position,” Abraham says.
For more information about ChildFund International’s worth with youth, click here.
By David Hylton,
Public Relations specialist
Thanks to donors stepping up and going the extra mile, our Twitter campaign has generated five gifts for deprived, excluded and vulnerable children in Africa. For every 200 followers we receive through July 27, a gift from our Gifts of Love and Hope catalog will be sent to fulfill needs in The Gambia, Zambia, Kenya and Ethiopia.
Gifts such as chickens, goats and seeds provide a children and families food and, very possibly, a way to make money. One such example is in Uganda where ChildFund helped Milly, a single mother, start a piggery business.
When her husband died in 2003, she was unemployed and left with eight children to raise. A year after her husband’s death, a meeting was held in her Ugandan village to tell residents that ChildFund International was looking for people to train in farming. ChildFund Uganda staff visited the village soon after the meeting to register people in the program.
“We were immediately enrolled for a one-week course on gardening and farming,” Milly said. “Before the training, I used to rear a few pigs at home. I would tied them on a rope and take them to the garden to feed. Now I have given them shelter because I am equipped with knowledge on how to look after them in the right way.”
At the end of the training, ChildFund gave Milly a pair of piglets – male and female – to help her start a piggery business. Today she is an accomplished community piggery farmer, and she has started other income-generating activities such as poultry and banana farming. And because of this business, she is able to afford to send her children to school, providing them an education they otherwise would not have had. Her children also participate in the family business.
What seems likes a small gift can transform a life. As our Twitter followers grow, so will these stories. And we will share them with you as they come in. So to the already 1,000-plus followers, we thank you.
By David Hylton,
Public Relations Specialist
Our new Web site, ChildFund.org, has many new features, including stories from formerly sponsored children, who we call alumni. Here is one of those stories:
Nearly half of Mexico’s population lives in poverty. But for almost 125,000 children and their family members, there is hope for improved living conditions. Jorge is one example of ChildFund International’s sponsorship success in Mexico.
Jorge’s family had a difficult financial situation. His father worked as a mason. To supplement the family income, his mother washed and ironed clothes for others. She learned about one of ChildFund’s local community organizations while looking for work and she quickly enrolled Jorge to become a sponsored child.
“I was 6 years old and I received support from very generous people living very far away,” Jorge remembers. “I only knew them from letters and photos but I could tell that they were concerned about my well-being. These people provided the support I needed for my education and health, as well as hope for a decent life, which is priceless.”
He was active in a variety of ChildFund programs and helped implement community activities, which developed his life skills. Today, he holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and he is supporting his community and his own family.
“I would like to thank the person who – with no other interest than to help – reached out and supported me while I was going through a rough time in my childhood,” Jorge says.