Youth in Action

Listening to Girls’ Voices

Maria Antonia of Brazil

Maria Antônia in New York City.

By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

Oct. 11 is the International Day of the Girl Child, a day set aside by the United Nations to recognize girls’ rights and the special challenges they face. This year’s theme for the day is The Power of the Adolescent Girl: Vision for 2030, so ChildFund’s blog will focus this week on girls who are working to achieve great things now and in the future.   

Thinking about girls — especially those who are entering adolescence — reminded me of some favorite stories from past blog posts, featuring girls raising their voices to advocate for themselves and other young people. In March, Maria Antônia, a 14-year-old girl from Brazil, spoke about violence against children at the United Nations’ headquarters in New York. “It is very important to improve child-friendly services within the child protection network, so that children feel confident and safe,” she said. It was her first time in the United States, as well as the first time she’d seen snow.

In a post from 2014, this one from Indonesia, we met Stefanie and Irma, teenagers who were youth facilitators in a large, multi-age forum about dating violence, which has grown more prevalent there in recent years. It’s impressive how open children and youth can be about such sensitive issues, and it’s thanks to young people like Irma and Stefanie that Indonesian communities are making progress in stopping domestic violence.

Finally, in Ethiopia, four young women spoke out about children’s right to a complete education, during 2014’s Day of the African Child, an annual, Africa-wide event that marks the deaths of young protesters who marched for better educational access in Soweto, South Africa, in 1976. Eden, Helen, Aziza and Bemnet, all in their teens, addressed the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. You can read their words, which reflect the struggles they and other young people in their communities face.

At the U.N.’s Day of the Girl website, read about the special challenges girls face, including early marriage, gender-based violence and poor access to education and job opportunities. Also, if you’re on social media, use the hashtag #dayofthegirl to learn more and discuss these issues.

Training Zambian Youth to Be Nurses

The MasterCard FoundationThe MasterCard Foundation-200dpi recently produced a video about our e-learning program to train nurses in Zambia. The $7.6 million program, launched last June as a collaboration between ChildFund, The MasterCard Foundation and the African Medical and Research Foundation, is helping young men and women find employment in a country where there are few job opportunities, while also addressing a critical shortage of health care workers. Zambia has only one nurse for every 1,500 people, far below the World Health Organization’s recommended nurse-population ratio of 1 to 700. The Zambia Nurse and Life Skills Training program is expected to train 6,000 students to be nurses and midwives. Please enjoy the video.

Representing Her Peers on the World Stage

Maria Antonia in New York

Maria Antônia at Rockefeller Center in New York City.

Reporting and photos: Felipe Cala, ChildFund Alliance; Roberta Cecchetti, Save the Children; Agueda Barreto and Thiago Machado, ChildFund Brasil

Fourteen-year-old Maria Antônia has made a name for herself in her home of Crato, a city in northeastern Brazil, because of her determination and community participation. This week, she had the opportunity to be heard on a world stage: a panel on the prevention of violence against children, at the United Nations’ headquarters in New York.

“I see this opportunity as a process of inclusion,” she said before the event, “because young people from 10 different countries will contribute with relevant themes on our point of view, to achieve a better world.”

The March 23 side-event took place during the third gathering of U.N. members to negotiate the post-2015 development agenda, a global set of priorities to tackle such issues as poverty, hunger, inequality and disease in the next 15 years. The goals are expected to be finalized in September. The purpose of the side-event — hosted by the governments of Canada, Guatemala, Japan and Palau — was to highlight the importance of allowing children to grow up in violence-free communities, schools and homes, and to bring their voices to decision-makers in New York.

ChildFund Alliance, Plan International, Save the Children, SOS Children’s Villages International, UNICEF and World Vision International, as well as the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence Against Children and the Latin America and Caribbean Movement for Children, collaborated to organize the discussion.

Maria Antônia spoke about physical, psychological and sexual violence and children’s own recommendations to prevent and respond to violence, including ways to report incidents safely and increasing social services at schools and health clinics.

“It is very important to improve child-friendly services within the child protection network, so that children feel confident and safe,” she said.

The visit was exciting and somewhat overwhelming for Maria Antônia, who is sponsored through ChildFund and also takes part in community projects with one of our local partners in Brazil. This was her first visit to New York City, and on the first day, she went to Central Park and saw snow for the first time (“It was beautiful,” she said). The next day, Maria Antônia prepared to speak at the U.N. headquarters, a daunting prospect.

“Early in the morning, I could only think that I would not be able to represent children and adolescents,” she recalled. “I felt fear and insecurity. But after my speech, I was congratulated. And that made me very happy. I had the feeling that I did what I had come to do.

“I realize how important it is to improve the entire environment where I live — my home, my community and my school,” she added.

And Maria Antônia is returning home with tales to tell. “My friends will ask me about the city, my experience in a new and different place, but what I really want to talk about is the opportunity to be heard. It’s a dream I could never dream.”

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A Report from the World Congress on Children’s Rights

ChildFund Mexico teens

Five teens enrolled in ChildFund Mexico’s programs in Puebla attended the world congress last month.

Reporting from ChildFund Mexico

Last month, the city of Puebla, Mexico, hosted the Sixth World Congress on the Rights of Children and Adolescents, a complex event focusing on child protection, freedom from violence, environmental problems and educational opportunities. Three young men from the Huehuetla area and two young women from Caxhuacan who are enrolled in ChildFund’s programs in Puebla attended the conference, along with ChildFund Mexico representatives.

The three-day program focused on these issues: the right to live free from violence, the Internet as a human right, child migration and the right to family life. The conference, which met for the first time outside of Geneva, Switzerland, coincided with the 25th anniversary of the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child.

mural at world congress

Participants created artwork during the congress during a visit to a local museum.

Mexican officials, including the national director of the Family Development Agency, Laura Vargas Carrillo, and Puebla’s governor, joined Kirsten Sandberg, president of the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child.

“We have a date with history, but above all with future generations, thinking tall, looking far and acting soon,” said Puebla Gov. Rafael Moreno Valle at the opening of the conference.

Teens attended workshops and discussions, and they shared some of their thoughts with ChildFund in writing.

An excerpt from 16-year-old Guadalupe’s journal:

“One of the activities in which I participated was about violence, which we debated and discussed, bringing up things we have done and experienced.

“Then a rapper told us how rap shouldn’t be associated with crime but used as a means of expression. We visited the Atoyac River outside Puebla, and we heard the story about Atoyac and its creation and pollution. We learned about the percentage of salt water and fresh water and how much water they use to make clothing. It made us think about how we waste water in unnecessary ways.”

protest at world congress

Teens hold signs during a protest rally.

All the participants were affected by an unexpected event, when a woman was ejected from the congress. She was the mother of a 13-year-old boy who was killed in July when a rubber bullet fired by a Puebla police officer hit him in the head during a protest gathering. The case has been heavily covered in the Mexican news, and when the woman was removed from the meeting, some delegations walked out in protest.

“When I arrived at the meeting, some adolescents had started a rally with banners on stage, due to the case,” wrote Ricardo Calleja Calderon, who served as a chaperone for the ChildFund youths. He added that the teens involved in the rally were respectful but also pressed authorities for answers and for mutual respect.

“This conference was very useful for the young people,” Ricardo wrote, “primarily to strengthen their spirit of cooperation.” It is still challenging for teens to express their feelings, and more work is needed to encourage dialogue and good decisions based on their knowledge of their rights, he added.

“We want to do more for children and teens,” Guadalupe concluded, “because if we know our rights, the injustices in Mexico will stop.”

Brazilian Teen Wins International Photo Contest

Caio photo

In this award-winning photo taken by Brazilian teen Caio at a crowded local clinic, an elderly man in a wheelchair is examined in the hallway.

By Priscila Oliveira, ChildFund Brasil

A long wait at a community clinic led to an international photography award for a Brazilian boy who is sponsored through ChildFund. 

Caio, who is 15, participates in ChildFund Brasil’s project Photovoice, which provides cameras and photography training to youth. He submitted photos to a contest held by the World Health Organization last year that was open to teens from ages 14 to 19.

Caio portrait

Caio, 15, has learned about photography through the ChildFund-supported program Photovoice.

“Teacher Daniel spoke to our class about the contest and nobody took it very seriously. I had an appointment that same week at the community clinic,” Caio says. “I took the camera and tried to entertain myself. While waiting, I photographed a few things I felt good about and things that made me very upset, such as a woman in a wheelchair who was in pain and waited for a long time.”

Caio’s photos were among 450 pictures produced by 77 teens in 33 countries. Five professional photographers, as well as a young doctor, chose the top 10 photos, and Caio was the only Brazilian selected. The other winners are from Argentina, India, Malawi, Pakistan, Philippines, Slovenia, Ukraine and the United States.

The teens, including Caio, won the opportunity to be contributing photographers for the WHO’s Health for the World Adolescents report, set to be published in May. The new photos, dealing with health care and teens, will also become part of the WHO’s digital library and in future publications, and each teen will receive a $1,000 stipend for their work. 

“I really like the Photovoice project and learned many things about photographs,” Caio says. “I began to see that a picture can speak. We can shoot and show everyone what we like and don’t like through the image produced. I made many friends, too.”

waiting room

In another photo submitted to the WHO contest, Caio captures the frustration on the faces of people waiting to see a doctor at a clinic.

Caio’s been sponsored for 12 years, and besides the Photovoice project, he participates in a computer course and sports activities held by ChildFund Brasil’s local partner organization, Child’s Search for New Life – Gcriva.

When Caio started going to ChildFund-supported programs, he was a shy boy who had difficulty communicating and writing. But today he is becoming more confident and feeling more support. With the opportunity to speak out, he has developed better communication skills and interacts more with his peers.

“When I was younger, I wrote a letter to my sponsor couple, and I thought that sponsorship was only that: writing letters,” Caio says. “As I grew older, I began to participate in the sports activities, computer classes and now the photography course. Sponsorship is good, because if it were not for our sponsors we would not have that.”

clinic waiting room

In this winning photo, some people waiting at the clinic begin talking loudly and making critical comments, according to Caio.

Youth Employment, Bananas and Hope in Zambia

 bananas in Zambia

Who would ever think that something as simple as bananas could provide opportunities to break the cycle of poverty? In the village of Chongwe in Zambia, a banana plantation has become a symbol of hope.

The teens and young adults in Chongwe are among a booming sector of the population known as the “youth bulge,” which is concentrated especially in the developing world. Outnumbering adults disproportionately, these youth (ages 15 to 25) face an extraordinarily tight job market.

young man in Zambia

A young Zambian man who tends banana plants.

With support from ChildFund, the village of Chongwe is defying the odds. By bringing the community together and offering resources and education, ChildFund has helped the youth of Chongwe transform a growing problem into lasting change. Through its Youth Empowerment Program, ChildFund challenged these young people to envision a collaborative effort that would mobilize their skills and create a long-term opportunity for employment.

The program applied ChildFund’s Youth Employment Model, which is designed specifically to prepare young people to enter the workforce. The model takes participants through a five-part process: a market survey (to ensure job training is demand-driven), technical skills training and production support, basic business skills training, life skills training and ongoing mentoring.

Through these activities, the youth in Chongwe realized that their community offered a perfect environment for agriculture, and they suggested trying to establish a banana plantation. Soon, the idea moved toward becoming a reality.

A ChildFund grant paid for seeds and a state-of-the-art, solar-powered irrigation system. A local chief donated land, and the Ministry of Agriculture taught the young participants how to grow bananas and maintain their equipment. A fertilizer company provided the training to farm the plantation.

clearing fields for bananas

Youth clear a field for banana plants.

The result is a flourishing farm of more than 1,500 banana trees and residual employment opportunities for the youth.

Since the program began in 2010, many youth in Chongwe have become prospering entrepreneurs. They have learned to run a business and follow how bananas fit into the larger world economy, daily checking commodity prices. Some of the boys and girls who care for the banana plantation are laying foundations for other businesses, like one young man who started a vegetable garden and parlayed it into a grocery business.

What began as a challenge has become an opportunity. The Chongwe youth are a testament to the kind of change that can happen when potential is tapped and resources allow it to flourish.

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.


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:

Marialyn Works Her Way Back to School

By Martin Nanawa, ChildFund Philippines

Each morning, Marialyn wakes to the voices of fishermen returning from a night at sea. A cool ocean breeze carries the scent of salt and brine through the slatted bamboo floor of her home, which is built on stilts in a Philippines seaside community, keeping her family safe from all but the largest of ocean swells.

Filipino teen

Marialyn lives in a coastal village in the Philippines.

The eldest of three siblings, 17-year-old Marialyn helps her younger brothers get ready for school. But Marialyn herself won’t be going. She’s heading to work, a necessity because her family has a hard time supporting itself without her income.

Jerwin, Marialyn’s 14-year-old brother, is sponsored through ChildFund, which has helped him stay in school. But Marialyn, who was in college studying for an education degree, has taken a break from school to work. She started out at a cannery, tedious and sometimes dangerous work that doesn’t pay well.

In the Philippines, 5.5 million children and youth between ages 5 and 17 participate in some form of work. More than half — 3 million — are engaged in hazardous labor. In 2002, the International Labour Organization launched the World Day Against Child Labour, set annually on June 12, to call attention to the millions of children and teens who work.

ChildFund has been engaged in direct interventions against the worst forms of child labor for years now. In many cases, ChildFund has prevented children and youth from remaining or falling into hazardous forms of child labor and human trafficking, helping them return to school. We’ve also worked with communities to develop safer and more stable ways to help families earn money.

teens screenprinting shirts

The youth in the ChildFund-supported Pintado cooperative have learned to screenprint T-shirts.

Marialyn no longer works at the cannery because of one of the programs ChildFund supports: the Pintado cooperative.

“ChildFund had initiated training for T-shirt printing in my community, and I thought I’d make myself useful and try,” Marialyn says. The thought of learning a trade that employed her creativity, as opposed to labor at the cannery, was appealing. She found herself easily taking to the craft, and she also learned other skills necessary for entrepreneurs, such as bookkeeping. Before long, Marialyn and other young people in similar circumstances had assembled the cooperative.

teens show T-shirt

Teens show the result of their work: a screenprinted T-shirt.

Pintado’s first client was ChildFund and its local partner, printing T-shirts for staff to wear. This venture turned out well, and soon more orders for shirts were coming in. Pintado’s members learned to apply their screen-printing techniques on more kinds of fabrics, and they began to print canvas tote bags. As bookkeeper, Marialyn keeps track of orders, materials and operating expenses. She has to be certain the numbers add up.

Pintado began earning a profit, and Marialyn and her peers made their first paychecks. Marialyn bought groceries for her family, and business has remained brisk. She also found herself saving a little money for her return to school.

Marialyn is determined to return to college the next school year. She’s applied for a scholarship, and the money she saves from Pintado will fund her upkeep at school. “I want to finish my education so I can be a teacher and help others learn,” she says.

Caribbean Youth: All We Need Is Love

By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

For 50 days, ChildFund is joining with numerous organizations to demonstrate support for government policies and programs that will allow women and girls to be healthy, empowered and safe — no matter where they live. This week’s theme is protecting human rights and promotion of leadership participation.

Dominican youth

Dominican youth gathered for a four-day workshop that promotes self-confidence and civic engagement.

Violence, drug addiction and abusive households cause great suffering in Caribbean societies. In Dominica and St. Vincent, ChildFund’s work aims to give children and teens, as well as their parents, a firm foundation to live empowered, happier lives. 

In April, 40 Dominican teens and young adults participated in a four-day workshop as part of the “All We Need Is Love” project, which is set to last three years. The participants, age 13 to 27, were nominated by their peers as potential leaders and role models.

Dominican youth

Participants created journals, were interviewed by local media and were trained in working with peers and younger children.

“All We Need Is Love” offers activities that encourage teens and young adults to become leaders and set goals, as well as share these lessons with younger children. Because they lack employment opportunities, teens sometimes get discouraged, drop out of school, join gangs or become pregnant. Youth groups that offer training and encouragement can do a lot to provide hope to younger generations.  

The program has four goals. Show young people how to:

  1. Love themselves.
  2. Make healthy choices.
  3. Promote positive changes in their communities.
  4. Start their own civic projects.

    youth group

    The 40 youth ambassadors will have the opportunity to start centers that give teens a safe place to meet.

The 40 youth ambassadors received training on how to work with their peers, and they’ll receive ongoing support from adults as they seek to create community centers and other spaces where youth can meet. College and graduate students from the United States — Virginia’s James Madison University and Boston College in Massachusetts — served as interns and volunteers to assist the program, along with Australian Volunteers for International Development.

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