Voices of Children

Children Urge African Leaders to Take Action

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.

group of African children

Children from several countries gathered at the African Union headquarters for the Day of the African Child.

Children from Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, The Gambia, Kenya, Mozambique and Zambia attended the event. Below is the platform the children adopted and presented:

AU member states:

a)     To ratify and domesticate all international and regional treaties relevant to the protection of children from harmful social and cultural practices.

b)     To harmonize national laws with other international and regional standards on the prevention and protection of children from harmful social and cultural practices, in particular Article 21 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.

c)     To openly condemn practices that harm the physical and mental integrity of children.

d)     To provide free and high-quality health services for children affected by harmful social and cultural practices, and expand social-protection and child-rights systems to increase access to integrated quality services to children.

e)     To establish data systems reflecting age and gender disaggregated data on the nature and magnitude of these practices.

f)       To put in place mechanisms and institutions, including a national strategy, policy and plan of action, for the implementation, enforcement, monitoring and reporting, along with financial and human resources.

g)     To submit a report within three months to the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) on the implementation of activities organized during the 2013 Day of the African Child.

Zambian girl

Seveliya, 13, of Zambia, spoke during the conference.

AU member states in collaboration with partners (regional economic communities, parliaments, UN agencies, international and regional organizations, the media):

a)     To advocate and promote the total elimination and abandonment of harmful social and cultural practices in Africa through awareness and social mobilization to change attitudes and influence behavior.

b)     To support the strengthening of the social workforce and social protection mechanisms so as to deliver effective quality social services for affected children, especially young girls, as well as provide love and care to affected children.

c)     To support meaningful participation and representation of children, families and communities, including children with disabilities and other vulnerable groups, in efforts to combat harmful social and cultural practices.

d)     To ensure African governments take children’s issues seriously, provide them with a voice to speak on their own, as well as respect their views and ideas of children.

e)     To strengthen collaboration with various stakeholders, such as the parliaments, media, schools, institutions of higher learning, traditional and religious leaders, civil society organizations, children and youth, as agents of positive change.

f)       To strengthen cross-border and cross-regional cooperation so as to protect children from the impact of harmful practices.

g)     To facilitate quality education to all children and provide integrated life skills to affected children, especially young adolescent boys and girls.

h)     To conduct research to inform national policy and action on the elimination of harmful practices.

Partners:

a)     To monitor progress and the accountability of governments in the implementation of standards for the protection of children.

b)     To organize advocacy campaigns and youth-led actions to eliminate harmful social and cultural practices.

c)     To provide financial resources and technical assistance targeting comprehensive and inter-agency programs and strategies that address the needs and priorities of children subjected to harmful social and cultural practices.

Adopted on Friday, 14th June 2013, at the African Union Commission Headquarters, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Children’s Rights in the Spotlight on Day of the African Child

By Tenagne Mekonnen, ChildFund Africa Regional Communications Manager

Here in Africa, it is a crucial time for focusing on the rights of children in Africa, as we prepare for the Day of the African Child on June 16. 

This annual event, supported by member countries of the African Union, commemorates the day in 1976 when hundreds of schoolchildren were killed in Soweto, South Africa, while participating in a nonviolent protest against an inferior and discriminatory educational system and for the right to be taught in their own language.

The day also draws attention to the need to improve the condition and well-being of children across the African continent. This year’s theme is “Eliminating Harmful and Social Practices Against Children: Our Responsibility.”

“The event should remind us all of our duty, as citizens of Africa and as friends, to promote the rights of the child on the continent,” said Jumbe Sebunya, ChildFund regional director for East and Southern Africa. “In Africa today there is some progress achieved for children in the areas of education, gender equity, HIV, AIDS and others.” Yet, with children making up a significant portion of the world population (in some countries more than  50 percent),  Sebunya said that governments, civil society organizations  and other key development partners must keep children’s well-being and rights central to any and all sustainable development efforts in Africa.

African children arriving

Children supported by ChildFund arrive in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for the Day of the African Child celebration.

ChildFund marks the Day of the African Child at all levels, using the occasion as an opportunity for children to speak out about the importance of children’s rights.

ChildFund’s Africa regional office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, is excited to welcome children’s delegations from our programs in Mozambique, Zambia, Kenya, The Gambia and Ethiopia this week. Children and youth events celebrating the Day of the African Child took place June 14 in the African Union’s headquarters, the same place where national leaders make decisions for the continent.

The young delegates led the conference, engaging in intergenerational dialogue and weaving in arts, poems and music. It was their day, and they wanted to make sure that everyone heard their message.

In addition, I am working with ChildFund’s national office in Mozambique on its own Day of the African Child celebration. Mozambique’s government is one of many African countries that have not yet submitted a report about children’s rights to the African Union.

ChildFund (in cooperation with Plan International, another child-focused organization) is sending a group of experts to Mozambique this week to make a special request of the government that the report be submitted. We are working to keep children’s rights in the spotlight.

Below is a video of Seveliya, a 13-year-old girl from Zambia, speaking at the African Union as part of the Day of the African Child celebration:

Child Labor Still Accepted in India’s Firozabad

By Saroj Pattnaik, ChildFund India, and Sagita Adesywi, ChildFund Indonesia

Our focus on child labor practices continues today in support of International Labour Organization’s World Day Against Child Labour.

Vipin

Although Vipin wishes to become a doctor, his daily work leaves little time for studying.

Vipin, 18, aspires to become a doctor and is working hard to achieve his goal. Yet, there is unhappiness in his eyes. He worries about having time for his studies, as half of his day goes into bangle making. It’s the only livelihood option for his nine-member family, living in a half-constructed house on a narrow lane in Firozabad in India’s populous state of Uttar Pradesh.

youth melding bangles over an open fire

Vipin making bangles at his home in Firozabad.

Vipin wakes up for work at 4 a.m. each day. He sits before a hot stove and joins two ends of a glass bangle together, bangle after bangle, while his siblings sort the bracelets and decorate with glitter. Each family member spends at least five to six hours a day on this repetitive work, hoping that their collective efforts will bring sufficient income for their basic daily needs.

“I spend three hours in the morning and three hours in the evenings. Some days, I get my fingers burned and blistered. But I have to work; otherwise, we will not complete the day’s quota and incur loss,” says Vipin who recently sat for his 12th-grade exams.

“I have done well in my exams and I am preparing for the medical entrance exam,” he notes. “But I am not getting much time to read as I cannot just stop contributing to my family income. I don’t like the work, at least at this point of my life. But I have no choice,” he says, his voice breaking.

sister and brother

Kamlesh comforts her brother.

“See, we are a big family and we don’t know any other earning means other than bangle work, explains Vipin’s elder sister Kamlesh, as she comforts her brother. “Both our parents are aged and are not keeping well. So, we siblings have the responsibility to keep our kitchen running.”

young woman in India sitting

Kamlesh reflects on her family’s situation.

Although she too was a good student, Kamlesh had to quit school and work full-time. “I took the decision because I wanted my siblings not to stop going to school. I am happy that all my younger siblings (two sisters and two brothers) are now studying and nursing big dreams,” she says.

For all the hard work her family does daily, Kamlesh says they earn a paltry 5,000 rupees (US$100) a month, which is much less than the family requires.

“We have seen lot of hardships since childhood,” she acknowledges. “But I am grateful to ChildFund India for choosing Vipin as a sponsored child. His sponsorship actually helped the others continue their studies.”

Vipin nods in agreement. “After being associated with ChildFund, I actually came to know what child labor is. I am now an active member of the ChildFund-initiated Youth Federation, which is campaigning against child labor in this town.”

Bangle making.

Bangle ends must be melded over a hot fire.

Though Vipin and his siblings have additional support because of their enrollment with ChildFund, hundreds of other children work all day in home-based factories in Firozabad, a town famous throughout the country for its glass bangles.

“Firozabad is one of the worst examples of child labor. It’s because engaging children in the bangle process is a common and accepted norm in this area,” says Dola Mohapatra, national director of ChildFund India. “And getting a real estimate of the number of children working is quite a challenge. The problem is not just in numbers but also in the high level of acceptance among family members about engaging children [in the work]. It’s not seen as a ‘problem’ even by children themselves.”

Despite the ban on child labor in India, it’s estimated that more than 12.6 million children are still enduring hazardous conditions while working in various factories across India, while more than 200,000 children are working as domestic help.

The good news is that an anti-labor campaign launched by ChildFund in Firozabad is making inroads. Community factories are no longer employing children. However, it is estimated that more than 20,000 children are engaged in home-based bangle work, where most of the finishing work is being done.

“As a large number of families depend on bangle-making for their main livelihood, it’s not totally possible to move the families to some other occupation,” Mohapatra says. “We have been persuading families to adapt new occupations and at least keep their children out of this occupation.

“When we started our work, in 1995-96, we had to offer stipends for children as an incentive for parents to let their children come to ChildFund’s non-formal education centers. Over the years, we have seen changes in the mind-sets of parents,” he says.

“We are now seeing the emergence of children and youth leadership in spreading the message of education. These children were earlier working as child laborers – they were gradually weaned away and helped with completing their education. Their success stories have inspired parents. These children are now acting as a pressure group,” he notes.

“We have been successful in our endeavors,” Mohapatra adds, “but still a lot has to be done.”

Learn more about ChildFund’s work in India and consider sponsoring a child.

Writing to Sponsored Children Age 12 or Older

By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist

This is the final in a series of blog posts with suggestions for writing to the child you’re sponsoring through ChildFund.

Older children offer us a rare opportunity to learn not only about another culture, but also of the difficulties these youth face as excluded or vulnerable members of society. Teenagers are developing critical thinking skills and opinions of their own. Your encouragement of their hopes and dreams is particularly valuable at this stage of their lives.

girls writing

A Sri Lankan teen assists a younger girl with a letter to her sponsor.

If you have teenage children or grandchildren of your own, consider asking them to correspond with your sponsored child. Youth share similar problems and concerns regardless of their backgrounds and can easily forge common bonds across cultures. And what better way to demonstrate the importance of giving back?

Sample letter:

Dear Nigist,

We are very excited to meet you! We are twins named Sarah and Courtney, and we live in Boston, Massachusetts. We are sophomores in high school, and this year we have an exchange teacher from Ethiopia for art class. His name is Tesfa. He has been telling us all about his life in Addis Ababa and showing us the pictures he painted of your country. It is so beautiful! We convinced our father to sponsor a girl in Ethiopia and he agreed, provided we would be the ones to write to you. No problem!

Zambia girl

A Zambian girl writes to her sponsor.

About our family, our father teaches math at the high school. He gave us a Sudoku chart to send to you. Do you have number puzzles at your school? Our mother is a works at a hair salon – she’s great at cutting and styling hair. We also have a little brother, but he’s only interested in video games.

We’re planning to go to university in Boston in a few years, but we won’t be studying math. Right now we’re busy spending our free time listening to music, dancing and texting with our friends. We love to cook, so we might open a restaurant when we graduate. Our favorite foods are pizza, fish tacos and cupcakes. Here’s a photo of us at our birthday party, eating pizza.

We hope you’ll write to us and tell us something about your family and your school. What are your favorite subjects? What do you like to eat and how do you spend your time with friends?

Sarah & Courtney Anderson

In subsequent letters, consider enclosing flat items like embroidery thread or hair ribbons (for girls), stationery sheets, poems or stories, a map of the United States and a map of the youth’s country, photographs or postcards. Other possibilities include traditional folk tales, Sudoku charts, flash cards with English vocabulary words (if the child is not an English speaker), photographs or postcards.

We hope you enjoy a fruitful and long correspondence with your sponsored child!

Writing to Sponsored Children Ages 6 to 11

 By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist

This is the third in a series of posts with suggestions for writing to the child you’re sponsoring through ChildFund.

For children ages 6 to 11, include an All About Me sheet for the child to complete and return.  Bilingual versions are available in French, Portuguese and Spanish.

boy writing letter

Children of school age may be interested in hearing about your job and home life.

Enclose stickers, paper dolls or hair ribbons (for girls), origami paper, coloring book pages, photographs or postcards.

A sample letter for a child age 6 to 8:

Dear Meakara,

My name is Colleen, and I live in a suburb of the city of Cleveland, in the state of Ohio, in the USA. My husband Mark and I have two young children, William and Anna. Mark works in Cleveland at the Goodyear factory, which makes tires for cars and trucks, and I am a pastry chef at a nearby restaurant. I prepare all of the sweets and desserts.

My youngest sister, Amanda, is a Peace Corps volunteer, working in public health in Siem Reap. Since she arrived in Cambodia, Amanda has been sending us photos of the area near her home – the temples of Angkor and the villages in Tonle Sap Lake. One of my favorite pictures is of two small girls sitting inside an open window at Angkor Thom, playing a game with stones.

After hearing Amanda’s stories about Cambodia, I decided to sponsor a child there.  I chose you because your picture is just like one of those little girls in the window at Angkor Thom.

 Meakara, I hope you will write to tell me about your life, so I included an information sheet to help you. I am very interested in the street games you play to celebrate Chaul Chhnam Thmey. Could you please tell me what you like best about Khmer New Year?

 Sincerely,

 Colleen

Sample letter for ages 9 to 11:

Hello, Minh,

I would like to introduce myself to you. My name is Bob and I live in the city of Charlotte, in the state of North Carolina, in the USA. I am a pediatrician, with three grown sons. Andrew is a computer programmer. Nathan is a banker and he and his wife Mary have children of their own. My grandsons are named Robbie and Timmy. My youngest son, Ian, is a dental hygienist.

Sri Lanka boy writing

Postcards and pictures are great items to send to your sponsored child.

I have never visited Vietnam, but several of the doctors in the hospital where I work are Vietnamese. They share their customs and holidays with me, and they even taught me to prepare pho.  I decided to sponsor a child in Vietnam because of their friendship. When I read that your parents were divorced, I chose you. I am also divorced, and I know how difficult it is for a parent to raise a child alone.

Minh, I hope you will tell me about yourself and what you enjoy most. I am also interested in how your family will celebrate Tet, the New Year, in February.  I was born in the year of the snake. Which year were you born in?

I enclosed a map of the United States, so that you can find the city and state where I live, and a map of Vietnam, so that you can find your own town.

Sincerely,

Bob C.

In subsequent letters, enclose embroidery thread or hair ribbons (for girls), string games, origami paper, a poem from their culture, Sudoku charts, word puzzles, a map of the United States and a map of their country, flash cards with English vocabulary, photographs or postcards.

Next post: Writing to youths ages 12 to 18

Writing to Sponsored Children Ages 5 and Younger

 By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist

This is the second in a series of posts with suggestions for writing to the child you’re sponsoring through ChildFund.

If your sponsored child is younger than 3, you’re really writing to the child’s parents or guardian. Think of this as an opportunity to learn about the family’s situation as well as the child.

mother and child with letter

Four-year-old Siquera and his mother peruse a sponsor’s letter.

A child of 2 years or older is often able to draw simple pictures of his or her family or home. Photographs and postcards are good enclosures in your letters for this age group.

A sample letter:

Dear Ricardo,

My name is Miriam. I live in the city of Santa Fe, in the state of New Mexico, in the USA. I have a 19-year-old daughter named Andrea. We are both musicians. I play the piano and Andrea plays the violin.

I have done some traveling, but I have not visited Mexico. And I never had a son of my own. So I decided to sponsor a boy in Mexico, a country that is a neighbor to America but also very unfamiliar to me. I want to learn more about Mexico and what it is like to live there. I chose you, Ricardo, because you like music.

I hope you will tell me about yourself and your family, so I enclosed an All About Me sheet for you to complete.  I am very interested in how you celebrate Día de los Muertos. In Santa Fe on the Day of the Dead we eat sweet bread, called pan de muerto, and calaveras, sugar skulls in English. But we do not visit our dead relatives in the cemetery. Could you please draw me a picture of your family’s Day of the Dead celebration?

Sincerely,

Miriam Marshall

Another sample letter:

Chère Aïssatou,

I am writing to introduce myself. My name is Marie and I live in the city of Oakland, in the state of California, in the USA. I am 50 years old and I have a 25-year-old daughter, named Michèle. I am a teacher and I once lived in Senegal, in Saint-Louis, along the Corniche. I taught English to the students at Lycée Faidherbe.  I love Senegal so much that I prepare yassa and mafé tiga for my daughter whenever I have the chance.

Recently I made a decision to sponsor a child because I wanted to help another mother and her daughter. When I lived in Senegal, I was called Aïssatou Diallo. I chose to sponsor you because we share the same name.

girl drawing picture

Pesa, a 5-year-old from Indonesia, draws a picture.

Aïssatou, I hope you will write to me and tell me about your family. I am especially interested in how you celebrated Tabaski. My first memory of Saint-Louis is celebrating Tabaski with my new family there. Perhaps you can draw me a picture of your Tabaski.

A jaraama, nani. A la prochaine.

Marie Anderson

For children ages 3 to 5, include an All About Me sheet for the child or parents to complete.  Bilingual versions are available in French, Portuguese and Spanish.

Enclose stickers, photographs or postcards.

Next post: Writing to sponsored children, ages 6 to 11

 

Keeping Children’s Rights Close to the Heart of the African Union

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the African Union, ChildFund, Save the Children, Plan International and the African Child Policy Forum (ACPF) gathered last week to focus on the future of children across Africa. The meeting culminated with the drafting of an open letter to the chairperson of the African Union Commission, urging renewed support for the rights of children, who will become tomorrow’s leaders. We wanted to also share that letter with you.

child-focused organization representatives meeting

Meeting on Children’s Rights in Africa 50 Years of the African Union.

man at projection screen

Timothy, from Uganda, presents on behalf of ChildFund.

23 May 2013

Her Excellency, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma
Chairperson of the African Union Commission

As civil society organisations working to secure a better future for children in Africa, we would like to congratulate the OAU/AU on its 50th anniversary. We would particularly like to commend the great strides that have been made for children in Africa over the last 50 years, including improved primary school enrolment, impressive reductions in child mortality and increased access to essential maternal and child health services, and the establishment of mechanisms to protect and promote children’s rights set forth in the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

However, despite this progress, much remains to be done to ensure every child grows up healthy, well-educated and able to enjoy the full rights to which they are entitled. Ensuring we maintain and increase the gains we have made for children will require political leadership, strengthening of institutions and targeted investment. It will take concerted effort from us all – governments, regional bodies, business, international partners and the civil society.

We believe the 50th anniversary of the AU and the 21st Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union represent important opportunities to place children at the centre of Africa’s vision for the next 50 years, through reflecting their needs and interests in the African Common Position on Post-2015 Development Agenda.

We urge Your Excellency to use your Chairmanship to encourage and influence African Governments to:
1. Meet the commitments they have made to children under the regional and international child rights instruments and relevant declarations such as the Dakar Declaration and the Abuja target to allocate 9% of their GDP to education and 15% of their national budgets to health, respectively.
2. Address with the same commitment and vigour the issues of violence and exploitation against children, with clear and measurable targets for protection.
3. Honour their reporting obligations as Member States to the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child

Investing in children and putting their rights and best interests at the centre of Africa’s development will not only help ensure that every child grows up to meet their full potential, but it is also a viable economic strategy to drive and accelerate Africa’s economic growth.

Today, Africa’s prospects are bright with booming economies, a burgeoning middle class and a youthful population. It is now feasible to imagine that in the coming decades no child in Africa will die from preventable causes, every child will go to school and learn, every child will have adequate protection from violence and exploitation and we will break the intergenerational poverty from the continent.

The African Union has demonstrated its commitment to children on many occasions. Under your leadership, we remain committed to working with you and the African Union Commission to ensure that children are at the heart of Africa’s renaissance.

ChildFund International
Save the Children
Plan International
African Child Policy Forum (APCF)

Voices of Children: What Gifts and Sponsorship Mean to Them

Reporting by ChildFund Liberia and ChildFund Zambia

Ever wonder how much gifts and sponsorships matter to children who live in extreme poverty? Staff members of ChildFund Liberia and ChildFund Zambia recently gathered some first-person reactions from children who have benefited from the generosity of sponsors and companies who donate goods through ChildFund’s gifts-in-kind program.

Liberian girl sitting beside tree

Jessica with her tote bag.

Jessica, age 12, of Liberia received a Life Is Good tote bag through ChildFund’s relationship with Good360, the nonprofit leader in product philanthropy.
“I attend the Christian Revival School in Konia, Zorzor District, Lofa County. I am in the fourth grade, and I am happy going to school. I carry my bag every morning to school. Other students who don’t have it call me ‘Life’s Good Girl.’ I like the bag … the drawing is funny. It is like a friend who helps to carry my books but never complains.

This is my first bag. Before I was given the bag, I used to carry my books and pencils in my hands. Because my hands were wet when my palms sweat, my books got spoiled. When the rain came, my books got very wet. When the road got dirty, my books got dirty.

Now I carry my school things and other things I don’t want people to see, like my lunch and any nice things. Before, if I was given new books, some bad boys would take them from me and run away. Now, nobody sees what I’ve got in my bag, and I don’t worry. Thank you for my bag!”

Liberian boys in T-shirts

Andrew and Jimmy now have more clothes.

Jimmy, 12, and Andrew, 8, of Liberia live in an orphanage and received clothes from Life Is Good.
“I feel very happy to receive the clothes, because they bring me here without enough clothes, and I pray that ChildFund will continue to help us every year. ‘Life Is Good’ is good for us,” Jimmy said. He was brought to this orphanage from another home for orphans that was closed due to lack of funding.

“I was brought with a pair of trousers and a shirt to this orphanage,” Jimmy continued. “I am very happy with my clothes. They make me look good.’’

“I am very happy,” Andrew said. “This is not my first time getting things from ChildFund. I got TOMS shoes. I was carrying slippers to school, and then ChildFund gave shoes to us.”

Asked what they would like to do in the future, the boys had ready answers: “I want to study so that I can work for ChildFund,” replied Jimmy. “I want to become president,” Andrew said.

Timothy, 11, of Zambia, loves writing to his sponsor.
“I live in Kalundu Compound, Kafue district. I am doing grade 6 at Kalundu Basic School. My favorite subject is mathematics. I like writing.

I have a sponsor and friend at ChildFund. Her name is Jeanette. This sponsor has helped me very much for four years. She sends me money every year for my birthday and for Christmas. I use this money to buy shoes and clothes.

Because of this sponsor, I have learned to write letters. I joined the writing club in my community, and I am happy and enjoy writing. Sometimes I write to myself because I like to improve my writing. I would like to see more sponsors come and start supporting other children like me here.”

Gift, 10, of Zambia, values education.
“I’m Gift, and I’m doing my fourth grade at school. My community is made up of about 300 families; most of these people are not employed. They depend on selling vegetables at the market, and others [sell] fish. Other families are farmers.

We have a school in our community where I go and a clinic where we go when we’re sick. A few other children and I are sponsored by ChildFund.

I have a vision that one day my community will become a big city with electricity and more schools. People will also go to school and start working instead of selling vegetables to earn money.”

Celebrating Christmas in the Americas

Reporting by Patricia Toquica, Americas Region Communications Manager and the ChildFund Americas communications team

The holidays often bring back sweet memories from our childhood. The smell of cookies coming right out of the oven, the sound of bells from the Christmas songs, figuring out what Santa left for us under the tree and the moment we all waited for in my family: Aunt Paula bringing a huge, sizzling turkey to the beautifully decorated Christmas table.

By working abroad, one gets to enjoy and learn about the holiday traditions in many places. The dishes, the weather and the customs may vary, but one thing remains the same: This is the time of the year when adults get to feel like children again, and when many of us renew our hearts with joy and the feeling that everything will be better in the year to come.

In the Americas, sponsored children in ChildFund programs are celebrating with their families in many different ways.

girl smiling

Beatriz of Brasil.

“Christmas for me is to forgive and find joy without much,” says Beatriz, 10, who is from Brazil. This year she worked with her aunt to decorate a tree in her backyard. “We used disposable bottles to decorate it, added twinkling lights, sparkles, dolls and ornaments. We used everything we had at home, because we couldn’t afford to buy new ones. The tree looks very beautiful,” Beatriz says.

little girl wearing jeans

Yennifer of Guatemala

“For me, Christmas is all the lights of different colors and the music. I share with my family, we go to sleep after midnight and we eat tamales and tortillas,” says Yennifer, 6, of Guatemala.

In most Latin American countries, traditions are centered on Christian beliefs; from Dec. 16 to 24, families in Mexico, Ecuador, Guatemala and Honduras celebrate the posadas by gathering to pray and wait for the arrival of baby Jesus. Children participate by re-enacting the nativity scene and remembering what Mary and Joseph had to endure until the day Jesus was born. Then families gather and eat traditional foods like tamales, buñuelos, pristiños and tortillas.

Girl in front of Christmas decorations

Carmen of Honduras

“I like to get dressed as Virgin Mary and help with decorating of our streets with lights,” says Carmen, 12, of Honduras.

Children gathered in circle

Ecuadorian children at celebrations.

In Ecuador, communities celebrate the birth of Jesus with little parades known as “El Paso del Niño,” in which children wear costumes, dance, sing and pray. In Bolivia, families create small altars in their homes, and children dress as shepherds, dance and sing villancicos, or carols, to baby Jesus.

“What I like the most about this season are the stories and typical foods such as turkey and Christmas cake with fruits and also to see my family together, with love and affection,” says Taynara, 11, of Brazil.

On the Caribbean island of St. Vincent, the main tradition is the Nine Mornings, a festival that occurs the nine mornings before Christmas and includes parades, dancing, sea bathing, singing, joking and all kinds of contests. Although some believe that this tradition started earlier, most likely the Nine Mornings started in the 1920s and ’30s as part of early-morning window shopping when people would try to be first in line to buy hot bread and butter.

Drawings of Christmas tree

Drawings by U.S. children

In the United States, Santa visits parties and hands out gifts from sponsors to children, and in Texas, many sponsored children celebrate the posadas tradition from Mexico.

Christmas trees and Santa Claus are also popular in Latin America, although most children are told by their families that Jesus brings gifts, not Santa. In Bolivia, for example, instead of leaving cookies and milk for Santa, children leave their shoes by their beds so that Jesus can put gifts inside.

girl in front of Christmas decorations

Alicia of Brazil

“We celebrate the holidays with my family gathered at home and at church,” says Alicia, 8, of Brazil. “New Year´s is a very joyful day because we hope for a new year filled with peace, health and a new life for all.”

Young Filipino Commits to School No Matter the Cost

By Martin Nanawa, ChildFund Philippines

Filipino teen

Marvin was in danger of dropping out of school.

Marvin hails from a small coastal town in Northern Mindanao, the southernmost group of islands in the Philippines. In his hometown, people farm if they live inland or fish if they live near the shore. His father’s occupation is the latter, and 13-year-old Marvin’s family has tried to live within what the sea grants or denies. On a good day, the proceeds from the day’s catch are typically not enough to cover the family’s basic needs, including school fees for the children. On bad days, when Marvin’s father cannot sell much at the market to earn cash, the family can at least share the fish among themselves.

There are even worse days, however, when storms are at sea, and a rough tide keeps fishermen at shore. On days like these, Marvin’s father drives a commuter tricycle—a three-wheeled taxi. Earnings are not much because storms keep people off the road as much as they keep fishermen on land. His father also has to pay rent to the tricycle’s owner for each day of use.

Although public school education in the Philippines is officially free, each semester students like Marvin have come to expect an assortment of extraneous fees that make attending school expensive.

Small school budgets often mean that administrators shift many costs to students in the form of miscellaneous fees for registration, student ID, computer and library usage and special projects. Families also must pay for their children’s school uniforms, notebooks, pens and crayons, bus fare, recess snacks and lunch.

When his family couldn’t make ends meet, Marvin would forego the bus and his school lunch, walking to school and packing what food he could from home.

The cost of Marvin’s schooling weighs on his family, especially when his father’s earnings are down. “My parents sometimes fight over expenses, including the cost of keeping me in school,” Marvin shares. “Sometimes my father says it would be better if I’d stop schooling,” he says, noting the he recognizes that he could be helping his father earn money, instead of costing him money.

Marvin doesn’t know how to approach his father when he encounters a new expense at school. “I made it into a science class [in the honor’s program], but that required me to come to school in full uniform [other students wear only certain basic pieces], and I didn’t know where to get the 500 Pesos (US$12) to complete mine.”

teen on bicycle

Marvin also recently received a new bicycle through a ChildFund Korea program that will help him more easily commute to school.

Thankfully, Marvin has received help he didn’t expect. He’s been sponsored by his “Aunt” Janie through ChildFund since fourth grade. Recently, Aunt Janie sent Marvin a helpful boost just when he needed it most—extra funds for a full school uniform—a great gift he means to thank her for in his next letter. Now, he can attend the honors science class.

Marvin says ChildFund played a role in his admission into the science class. “I used to be real shy and timid,” he says, noting that he gained self-assurance by going to ChildFund’s summer camp and participating in leadership training activities. That confidence has led him a second term as president of his community’s youth organization. He’s also a youth representative on the National Anti-Poverty Commission. “I’m able to raise my community’s problems to the authorities,” Marvin says.

Newfound confidence and his gratitude for his sponsor’s support have moved him to excel at school. He tries to avoid ever being late for school, lest it seem he’s squandering the opportunities he’s fortunate to have. Even though his perseverance in school has led to greater expenses, Marvin remains grateful for his sponsor’s support that sees him through still.

If you’d like to sponsor a child like Marvin, visit ChildFund’s website. Your small contribution makes a big difference.

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