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.
“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.
“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.
“I like to get dressed as Virgin Mary and help with decorating of our streets with lights,” says Carmen, 12, of Honduras.
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.
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.
“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.”
By Martin Nanawa, ChildFund Philippines
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.”
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.
Reporting by Dhina Mutiara, ChildFund Indonesia
My name is Dwi. Do you want to know more about me? I am 10 years old. I live in a village in Banyumas, Central Java, Indonesia.
Every morning I go to school at 7 a.m. My mother walks me to school every day without fail. The school is not too far from my house. Usually it will take 15 to 20 minutes to walk. There are around 400 students in my public school. I am in fifth grade.
This is my classroom and my friends. Science is my favorite subject. If you notice, there are a lot of materials hanging on the wall. Those are our creations. Our teachers always inspire us to be creative in class.
I go home around 1 p.m. As soon as I get home, I feed my pets. My pet is neither a dog nor a cat; they are uncommon here. I have five chicks. My family can sell them at the traditional market once they are big enough. Once I am done with that, I will help my mother to do home chores or play soccer with my friends.
I also love music. That is why I joined Karawitan extracurricular activity on Sundays. It is a traditional Indonesian music ensemble from Java. I play a traditional drum called kendang. My father is a Karawitan musician. He inspired me a lot in music. ChildFund helps my school, providing the extracurricular activity so that we can keep the traditional music legacy.
By Abu Bakarr Conteh, ChildFund Sierra Leone
As part of ongoing efforts to tackle unemployment in Sierra Leone, some 3,000 youth have started an intensive 12-month training program supported by ChildFund.
Years of civil war in Sierra Leone have robbed thousands of children and youth of a complete education. With few opportunities for employment, this generation of youth has been languishing in their villages with very little to offer and dim prospects for the future.
ChildFund, with funding from the World Bank, is rolling out the Youth Employment and Support Project (YESP) in five districts including the capital city of Freetown. And young people are eagerly enrolling in carpentry, masonry, auto mechanics and welding, among other vocational programs.
After completing the YESP training, the youth expect to improve their prospects of getting jobs.
“My dream is to become one of the best female auto mechanics in the country, so I can work for the big companies,” says 18-year-old Mamadi, who has been on the street and suffered exploitation.
Musa, who was struck with polio, is seeking to add value to his life. “I will become self-employed and be able to provide for my family once I complete the training,” he says.
In a country where unemployment remains a huge challenge across the population, these youth are highly spirited and determined to carve their own destinies.
Courtesy of ChildFund Australia, a member of the Global ChildFund Alliance
A global education program called ChildFund Connect is promoting a sense of community and friendship among primary school children in Australia and their peers in developing countries.
Through a variety of multimedia tools, with a central website serving as a hub for communications and child-created content, the program facilitates cross-country exchanges and collaborative education projects to increase children’s understanding of the world.
One of those projects is Our Day, a film that documents a day in the life of children around the world. Using pocket video cameras, hundreds of children in Australia, Laos, Vietnam and Timor-Leste captured the detail and color of their day, providing incredible insights into their childhood experiences.
Filmmaker Clinton J. Isle took on the creative task of combining this footage to create Our Day. The film shows how daily life is very different, but, also, in many ways the same, in different parts of the world.
This project was supported by the Australian Council for the Arts, the Australian Government’s arts funding and advisory body and by the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland. ChildFund Connect is also partly funded by Australian Aid, managed by ChildFund Australia on behalf of AusAID.
Take a few minutes to enjoy this absorbing film.
Guest post by Erika, a youth in ChildFund Ecuador’s programs
My experiences of having a sponsor are many. My sponsor’s name is Pascale, and he has been my sponsor since I was very little.
One of the nicest experiences is to write and send him letters because I can tell him everything, such as what kind of music I like, my favorite sport, what I like to eat and also about my family and what I do with them.
In each letter I send, I thank him for his support of ChildFund since with the money he contributes, that helps [our youth programs] do all the planned activities in all areas of Ecuador. I especially thank him because with his support we can do activities that benefit boys and girls.
What I like the most about writing letters is the happiness I feel to know my sponsor is going to read them though he lives very far away. I also like because I know I have an unconditional friend from another country, who will also tell me many things of his life, his favorite activities and how his country is.
Anyway, having a sponsor is simply unexplainable because as I said before, it is a friend from far away that at the same time is very close.
In the Quito area, we have the youth association called “Association Quito Youth,” and I am part of the board this year. This association is formed by youth groups of all communities affiliated with ChildFund. Among the activities we do are working with children’s clubs, which are formed by children affiliated with ChildFund. This work consists of teaching them about their rights and duties through entertainment techniques, which we also learn from the youth technician for the area. I love these activities because I like to help children in my community and be a good model for them. This has also helped me become more sociable and perform better in front of the public.
Other activity I carry out in the youth group is to organize the sport and cultural events for children once a year as well as to organize the sport and cultural event for youth. The main objective is to consolidate ourselves as an association and promote participation in our project by other youth. During school vacations, we—with the community’s support—organize summer camps. Last year we had the support of Quito Municipality technicians, who trained us on the activities we carried out with children during the camp.
I have many dreams and aspirations: the first one is to finish my education and continue it by going to college. I want to study social communications to become a great TV presenter or a reporter.
I would love to travel to other countries to fulfill another dream of mine, which is to become a great actress and show that in my country there is much talent that needs to be discovered. I would like to go to Mexico too and fulfill a promise, which is to take my parents to the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
Currently, my nearest aspiration is to pass the tests for entering into college, so I am studying very hard. I know I will achieve all of this working hard, and with dedication in all activities and dreams I have.
Editor’s note: Today we launch an occasional blog series by children and youth enrolled in ChildFund programs around the world. When we listen to children, we find they have so much to tell us. Their voices shape our work.
by Yabetse, age 11, Ethiopia
My drawing explains how a girl is being forced to get married early by her father. Not only is she getting married early, but she is also getting married to someone she doesn’t even know. Most of the time there is a big age gap.
The girl is crying because she wants to continue her school and she is too young to be married. But her father is forcing her to be happy because he supports the marriage. The girl’s mother is not happy for her daughter’s early marriage, but she can’t say much as the head of the house is the father and he decides.
In the boy’s family, the father is not happy that his son is getting married, forcing someone into his life without her will. But the son is not paying attention to the father’s advice and guidance. His mom is happy that her son is getting married.
My drawing shows how our parents [don’t see] the danger in early marriage. They are not paying attention to the problem which will come with it — their children will be forced to stop school and be forced to take big responsibility which they can’t handle.
I want to educate the community and society through my drawing that children shouldn’t be forced into early marriage before they are mentally and physically ready, and finishing education. Our dreams and hope will be shattered because of early marriage.