Are you watching the Tour de France this month? Some of us at ChildFund are, and although we love the competition among professional cyclists, the Tour also makes us think about what other purposes bicycles serve. They provide a way to get to and from school safely, as well as a tool for fun, exercise and fresh air. What do bikes mean to you?
By Emmanuel Ford, ChildFund Liberia
In 2012, ChildFund launched a program called Shine a Light in four countries — Dominica, Indonesia, Liberia and Senegal — thanks in large part to a major gift from a concerned donor. The project’s goal is to raise awareness of gender-based violence, assist child survivors of sexual abuse and help communities develop child-protective systems and responses. In four blog posts, we’ll learn about the progress made in these countries; today, we focus on Liberia.
In Liberia, Shine a Light was launched in Klay Town, Klay District, Bomi County. The project targets 200 children in two schools — 100 boys and 100 girls aged 10 to 17.
Schools in Liberia are rife with sexual exploitation and abuse. Sexual exploitation and abuse, a form of gender-based violence, is an abuse of a position of authority for sexual purposes. In 2012, research among 800 girls in four of Liberia’s counties found that 88.7 percent had experienced a sexual violation, 40.2 percent had engaged in transactional sex, and 47 percent had endured sexual coercion — citing classmates, teachers, and school personnel as the main perpetrators.
To respond to this enormous challenge with the aim of preventing sexual exploitation and abuse before it happens, the project has formed two clubs for girls. These clubs provide a safe space in the school setting where girls may interact with each other and community mentors. Community mentors are individuals who live and work in the same communities as the girls and who demonstrate interest in empowering both girls and boys to stop sexual exploitation and abuse at school.
Utilizing a dynamic and interactive curriculum, club members and community mentors together address important issues such as sexual harassment, HIV and AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, prevention of unintended pregnancy, and reproductive myths. Girls also receive financial education where they spend time learning about options for income generation, how to control spending, learning the differences between needs and wants, and how to save. Girls will be exploring options to open savings accounts and form savings groups.
However, because boys and teachers are also important partners to end sexual exploitation and abuse, the project engages these critical groups. For example, boys are learning about the causes and consequences of sexual exploitation and abuse and are receiving financial education. The project works with teachers and school administrators to reinvigorate and apply a school code of conduct for all personnel.
Gender-based violence has long been an issue of critical importance in Liberia. The national government started a national effort to fight gender-based violence in 2012, focusing on a community-based observation network to identify problems and address them quickly. In 2007, the World Health Organization worked with Liberia’s Ministry of Gender and Development to interview 2,828 women about violence in their relationships.
According to the study, 93 percent had been subjected to at least one abusive act. Of those who survived violence, 48.5 percent said they were forced to work as sex workers; 13.6 percent of survivors were younger than 15. Rape cases are the most frequently reported serious crime in Liberia, and in 2007, 46 percent of reported rapes involved children under age 18; sexual assaults frequently occurred during Liberia’s political strife as a tool to control civilians, according to a 2012 Liberian government report.
Despite the response by Liberia’s government, sexual violence remains a serious problem, with a total of 2,493 sexual and gender-based violent crimes being reported across the country in 2012 and 2013, according to the Ministry of Gender and Development.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who has taken on gender equality and gender-based violence as key causes in her administration, said in a November speech: “In Liberia, through the pain and anguish experienced by each of these victims, we have found the strength and the courage to start to build a new, transformed society — where women enjoy equal rights and fair treatment, and where their productive role in society and the economy is acknowledged. In my country, women occupy high-ranking government positions; rape, though continuing, has been criminalized; and women have greater property and custodial rights.”
By Martin Nanawa, ChildFund Philippines
In the weeks after Super Typhoon Haiyan devastated the central Philippines last Nov. 8, Martin Nañawa, a communications staff member in our Philippines office, reported on the children, youth and adults struggling in its aftermath. Six months after the storm, he reports on their recovery. Here is his first dispatch.
Tacloban looked really shiny from my airplane window. It was the glint of freshly installed corrugated metal sheet roofing — many homes and businesses whose walls still stood had recently repaired their roofs.
When ChildFund’s emergency response team first landed in Tacloban, the city was the dire place the world was hearing about in the news. After what I had seen then, progress – any kind of visible progress – was welcome news. I’d see more signs of it as I made my way through town.
Utilities have been restored throughout the city. I’ve heard there are occasional power outages, but supply is largely stable. This is a far cry from the city that was swallowed in darkness each night. Water supply and mobile phone coverage have also been restored.
The public transportation grid is working again. Passenger jeepneys (local, privately owned minibuses) and commuter tricycles are plying the road once more. Some are even back to reckless driving, which is another indicator of normalcy, for better or worse.
Public transportation also indicates fuel supply has also been restored. I spotted many gas stations newly repaired or nearly so. Right after Haiyan, gas stations lay partially or completely in ruins and were subsequently ransacked for their fuel supply.
Tacloban’s streets have been cleared of rubble and rubbish. In the first days after the super typhoon, cars were strewn about the roads like some toddler’s toys. Now, nearly all the wrecked vehicles are gone from the streets, and the remaining automobile husks are parked neatly in front of their owners’ lots.
Commerce in Tacloban is also struggling to recover. Many businesses have repaired and reopened. Markets, restaurants, boutiques, electronics and assorted services often sport large painted canvass streamers announcing their reopenings — no need to live off packed rations or relief goods anymore. I walked into a little corner fast-food eatery for lunch and enjoyed a good, cheap meal while watching a noontime vaudeville on TV, seated next to a few school-aged girls giggling over Facebook on their phones and tablets. It felt like Haiyan had never happened there.
The volume of lechon (roast pig) stalls open throughout the city also surprised me. Lechon isn’t cheap, and it’s usually served only at fiestas or large banquets.
School is out for the Philippines’ summer break, from late March to the first week of June. Teachers say ChildFund’s Child-Centered Space training was critical in the months of January to March, when school had to resume but children were not physically and emotionally prepared. These same teachers feel more confident that they’re in better shape to start school in June.
Still, in contrast to local businesses, school buildings have largely not been repaired, and teachers expect to run up to three shifts of students using each surviving classroom. Quonset hut-like structures built by responding agencies will help ease congestion in classrooms.
Though signs of progress and recovery were apparent everywhere, so are Haiyan’s horrible scars. Though large structures-turned-evacuation centers, like the astrodome by the bay, were now empty or under repair, numerous tent cities can still be found in the city. Homes and businesses that suffered greater damage remain neglected. Many residents or shop owners just aren’t prepared to rebuild, or they’ve abandoned Tacloban for Cebu, Manila or elsewhere.
The large ships that Haiyan’s storm surge carried and deposited on dry land, right on top of a seaside community, remain in place – solemn steel monoliths to remind the city of Haiyan’s toll. The ships’ hulls are now covered in graffiti – some are messages of encouragement, but there are many expressions of grief and rage.
Tacloban is rebuilding, but it’s rebuilding over not only terrible physical and emotional scars but also pre-existing conditions. Businesses may be restarting, but lower-income households, whose earnings derive from agriculture such as copra production, have it harder. The threat of malnutrition, already observed in Leyte before Haiyan, has only further been compounded by the scarcity endured until only recently.
Having personally seen Tacloban on its knees, I’m thankful to see it struggle to its feet now. I’m thankful to be a part of this effort. I’m thankful to colleagues at ChildFund who’ve labored, wept and struggled alongside Taclobanons for six months now. Of course, I’m also thankful to donors who’ve helped us do what we do. ChildFund will continue to play a significant role in Tacloban’s recovery.
ChildFund is invested in an early recovery strategy that tackles livelihood restoration, nutrition and child protection challenges faced by post-Haiyan Tacloban and other affected areas in the central Philippines. Funding for ChildFund’s nutrition and child protection projects was made possible through grants from UNICEF.
By Martin Nañawa, ChildFund Philippines
In September, rebels attacked the coastal communities of Zamboanga City in the Philippines, taking civilians hostage and using them as human shields. After several weeks of fighting, the government has quelled the attack and security is returning to the area.
ChildFund works in six communities in and around Zamboanga City. Although children enrolled in ChildFund programs were not directly affected by the fighting, ChildFund’s local partner organization, the Holy Rosary Family Center, under the leadership of Sister Nini, set up Child-Centered Spaces to ensure children have a safe place to gather, play and express any fears. ChildFund’s Emergency Action Fund allows us to provide these spaces to children affected by strife or natural disasters. Sister Nini agreed to share her experiences at the height of the fighting.
Sister Nini is used to getting up at dawn. Like other Dominican sisters in her order, she takes her morning prayers silently before dawn and lately by herself. It’s been more than a week since fighting erupted in the Philippines’ Zamboanga City, and there’s much work to be done.
Within an hour of waking, Sister Nini has already picked up seven volunteer mothers and youth. Though it’s a tight squeeze, everyone fits in the cabin of her order’s pickup truck. Laughter fills whatever space is left, as her company tries to keep their spirits up and their legs from falling asleep. Thankfully, their destination, Boalan, an elementary school that has doubled as an evacuation center, is not far. Though they are far enough from where the fighting continues in Zamboanga, Sister Nini is always wary of the possibility of danger on the road.
Arriving at the school grounds, Sister Nini and her volunteers unload the contents off the flatbed. There’s rice, canned sardines, instant noodle packs and biscuit tins donated by former students of Nini’s from her days at Ateneo de Zamboanga and St. Joseph School. She and her volunteers also unload bundles of lush malunggay (moringa) leaves, mustard greens, bright orange carrots, lettuce stalks and lengths of string beans, all harvested from the sisters’ organic vegetable plot at the convent. The women carry the vegetables to a makeshift kitchen on the school grounds.
Dawn’s first light brings warmth to 56 families who’ve spent the evening with little more than woven mats or flattened cardboard boxes between them and the cold pavement of classroom floors. Dawn also brings the aroma of a hot breakfast, wafting through the wooden shutters and rousing weary evacuees from their sleep. The Department of Social Welfare and Development has been providing and coordinating aid to this evacuation center and others as fighting displaces families. Sister Nini’s crew complements the DSWD’s support, taking care of breakfast at this site. Today, breakfast is steamed rice porridge — arroz caldo, fortified with fresh vegetables.
Sister Nini does not always stay through breakfast at this site. She makes the rounds of three more evacuation centers, setting up Child-Centered Spaces at these four sites. These spaces host activities addressing displaced children’s psychosocial needs, playing, and creative and productive expression of their emotions. Nini alternates her schedule for her own security.
By the time Sister Nini returns to the first evacuation site, many parent volunteers are ready to return home to their families. The youth volunteers stay to assist local teachers who conduct stress-debriefing activities for children living at the school. The volunteers play with the children or tell them stories. “These young people know the importance of helping others,” Sister Nini says. “They themselves are sponsored children with ChildFund and know just how big a difference a stranger’s kindness can make.”
Sister Nini also checks on the elderly at the evacuation centers, monitoring their blood pressure and asking if anyone needs to go to the hospital. There’s been no need so far, but she offers the service anyway. She also arranges safe drop-offs for volunteers who live along her route from the evacuation center. “My vehicle is a public vehicle,” Nini jokes, before expressing gratitude for the family and friends who donate what they can to keep the truck’s tank full.
Returning to the convent at the end of the day, Sister Nini thanks God for all the support behind her work with children and the safety they’re afforded. She admits, “In truth, I’m always afraid, but I know God is greater than my fear.”
We could not be prouder of the children from ChildFund programs who participated in last week’s Day of the African Child events held at the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Facing many challenges, including harmful social and cultural practices across the continent, these children urged the African Union, its member states and partners to take a stand to protect children and allow them to become educated, healthy and fulfilled adults.