Reporting by ChildFund staff in Kenya, Sierra Leone and Uganda
As we celebrate the Day of the Girl, ChildFund recognizes three young women who were empowered through programs that emphasized the importance of girls. In their youth, they were given opportunities to learn, grow and prosper. Today, we celebrate their accomplishments.
Wotay, 25, grew up in northern Sierra Leone. Despite the poor conditions of her community, she managed to finish both primary and secondary school. Wotay is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in accounting at Njala University.
In her youth, Wotay was always one of few girls to speak out on the problem of teenage pregnancy (often due to rape and incest) and other child abuse issues in her region.
Now, during her visits home, she continues to advocate and help children in her community, offering them advice and assisting them with writing letters to their sponsors. She also volunteers with ChildFund community partners and is an active public speaker. Although she has an interest in finance, Wotay is currently devoting much of her attention to youth development.
In Caroline’s family, school is viewed as being only for boys. As a result, it was difficult for her to access education as a young girl. It was also a common practice for girls to be circumcised. But a local school administrator was instrumental in preventing Caroline’s circumcision and also guided her to ChildFund’s Psychological Support and Care (PSS) trainings where Caroline gained key insights into the rights of women and children. That knowledge has given her drive and courage to pursue her academic goals.
Although now 20, Caroline is a thriving high school student in Kimalel Day Secondary School in Kenya’s Marigat District. She shares her experiences with other youth who are struggling to get an education. She has been instrumental in encouraging other girls to go to school and helping them understand their rights. Recently, her ideas around inclusion of girls were used to help ChildFund and its local partners map strategy for future community programs. Caroline’s efforts have also contributed to a noticeable reduction in regressive cultural practices in her community where education for girls is not highly valued.
When she finishes her education, she hopes to be a teacher and a community facilitator.
The Police Detective
Growing up in poverty, Christine, 24, was a shy and unhappy little girl who didn’t believe she was good enough to succeed. She often kept quiet and listened to other children speak – she thought they knew better and therefore had more right to be heard. That was before she was sponsored through ChildFund Uganda.
Fast forward a few years, and Christine is a confident, assertive, determined and independent police detective in the crime intelligence division. Christine describes ChildFund as the “miracle that changed her life.” She recalls the letters, greeting cards and gifts from her sponsor Hansen that helped motivate and encourage her to do her best.
When she became of age, Christine assumed responsibility for helping other children like her. She assisted with letter writing and contributed to programs for children in her impoverished community. Those experiences helped shape the leadership skills she uses in her current job.
Christine attributes her communications skills and the ability to love and give to her time with ChildFund Uganda. ”I am able to stand all challenges at work because of the trainings I was involved in,” she says. “I stand for what I believe in. I am not afraid; I am assertive and I know my rights!”
Christine hopes to continue giving back to her community by empowering children and wants to sponsor a child in the future.
By Danielle Roth, ChildFund Program Officer-Youth Programs
There is one issue on the minds of many Americans these days (myself included). In one word, it’s the economy. Many of us are trying to make it work in this difficult financial climate. Some of us are looking for jobs, others are working two and everyone is hoping for some forthcoming solutions to our financial woes.
During my recent trip to Sri Lanka, I learned that those same worries are weighing on youth in the beautiful island nation. Youth account for approximately 26 percent of Sri Lanka’s populace, and those who are old enough, and out of school, are looking for work. The unemployment rate among youth in Sri Lanka is 17 percent. If you’re a woman there, that number goes up 11 points to 28 percent. Youth employment has become a focus area for the government of Sri Lanka, and ChildFund is providing support programs in this area.
There is significant breadth and depth to ChildFund Sri Lanka’s work around youth employment. Career guidance centers are serving as focal points for youth to learn about job opportunities. We’re also facilitating visits to places of employment so that young men and women gain exposure to different work environments.
Vision camps are helping youth develop a plan for their future that integrates their work and personal preferences. Youth are also learning entrepreneurial skills, participating in job placement programs and gaining practical life skills training that will serve them well as productive members of the workforce. Youth clubs are providing young people with hands-on leadership skills as they develop and administer projects that benefit their communities.
ChildFund is working to educate and empower youth in Sri Lanka to make decisions that ultimately will improve their futures, enabling them to contribute positively and productively to their country.
As humans sharing the globe, we are all connected in some way. Sri Lankans and Americans are both experiencing feelings of frustration in the job market and tentative excitement about new opportunities. We’re all looking to make a difference for ourselves, our families and society.
By Saroj Kumar Pattnaik, ChildFund India
Being born into an extremely poor family tends to reduce a child’s chances for a promising future. Years aoo, that seemed to be the case for Kesavaiah, a 6-year-old boy living in a remote tribal village in the Annanthpur district of southern India’s state of Andhra Pradesh.
Kesavaiah’s father, an agricultural laborer, was the only breadwinner for his five-member family. Insufficient income and paucity of alternative livelihood options often forced the family to struggle to prepare a full meal for all. Going to school and truly enjoying childhood was just a distant dream for Kesavaiah and his two sisters.
But things changed gradually for Kesavaiah after he was enrolled in ChildFund India’s Early Childhood Development program in 1996. Praja Seva Samaj (PSS), ChildFund’s local partner, matched young Kesavaiah with a sponsor, who provided additional funds so Kesavaiah and his sisters could attend the village school.
“I still remember the days when my father was struggling to arrange a square meal for each of our family. My mother was also working as a daily laborer just to satisfy our hunger. Many a time we went to sleep at night after just drinking water,” recalls Kesavaiah, who has now completed his technical degree and aspires to become a top mechanical engineer.
He notes that it was the timely support from ChildFund and its local partner PSS that helped transform him from a pessimist to a dreamer.
“I never thought that I would able to complete my primary education as the conditions were not allowing that to happen. It was the moral and material support by ChildFund India and PSS that helped me to come so far in life,” he says.
“Their assistance and advice have not only allowed me to become the first person in our community to see a college, but they also have proved to be a solid platform for my sisters to continue their studies,” he adds.
Kesavaiah, who has understood the value of money since childhood, took full advantage of the sponsorship assistance, never neglecting his studies. He was the top student throughout his primary and intermediate education, earning a full scholarship to technical college.
In addition to his academic achievements, Kesavaiah, now 23, has been an active member of the local Children’s Club supported by ChildFund. His perseverance and tenacity to achieve have become an inspiration for others in his village.
Kesavaiah’s mother, Venkataramamma wants her son to fulfill his dream of becoming an engineer. “I am so proud for my son. He has been a reason for hope for all of us, and I am very much thankful to ChildFund for making this happen.”
Village leader Pakker Naik concurs. “[ChildFund] has been focusing on many issues with interventions at the school level and village level. We are now seeing this positive impact among children today. I would say proudly that Kesavaiah is the first engineer in our village.”
By Patricia Toquica, Americas Region Communications Manager
“Welcome. I’m Karla and this is my house,” says a 19-year-old girl from La Paz, Bolivia, as she ushers us into her home, a one-room rental house shared by seven family members. Karla’s house, located on a small lot, is surrounded by upscale homes, something quite common in Bolivia’s urban areas.
“When I was little, we had nothing,” says Karla, adding that she’s proud of what her family has been able to achieve in recent years. “My mother used to take me and my brothers and sisters to the ChildFund center, where they would feed us and play with us.” That’s how Karla and her siblings started participating in Early Childhood Development, after-school activities and youth leadership programs that ChildFund Bolivia offers in La Paz through its local partner Avance Comunitario.
“We would go there to study after school, and we would learn a lot that helped us improve our grades. We’d then write to our sponsors about this support, so that they could learn about our life and how their money was helping us,” explains Karla who is now a civil engineering student at a public university in La Paz.
She is the second of five children: the eldest sister is currently working on her thesis in computer science and soon will be graduating from the university. Karla’s younger brother also finished high school and is studying to become a sound technician; her younger sister, will graduate next year, and the youngest siblings are in junior high.
“We were able to go to university because through the center we built our self-esteem and leadership skills,” Karla explains. “I used to be very shy [when I was young], but when I saw the professionals and other youth leaders working at the project, I wanted to become a professional like them.”
Her father is an electrician and her mother, Albertina, works at home and on spare jobs cleaning houses or washing clothes. She volunteers at the Avance Comunitario Center, where she also has taken skills training classes.
“Their interest is to study and become professionals,” says Albertina, nodding at her children. “I could only make it until eighth grade, so we support them in every way we can. They are all good kids and know how it is to live in poverty. When they grow up, they will be professionals and entrepreneurs, and they’ll help others and give jobs for the ones in need.”
Reporting by ChildFund Ethiopia
As the eldest child in a family of four, Dagnachew, 28, has shouldered bread-winning responsibilities for years, first helping his mother provide for his younger siblings and then assuming those duties entirely after his mother passed away.
Having a sponsor and support from ChildFund has helped him through troubled times.
“My early childhood was amazing, though; there are lots of good things,” he recalls. “I loved writing letters to my sponsor, and I also loved to read her letters. It gave me great satisfaction and encouragement. We used to talk about our two countries and so many things. I still keep the letters with me. My relationship was not limited to my sponsor; it also extended to her family including her husband. “They shaped my life appreciably.”
After completing grade 12, Dagnachew couldn’t continue his education, due to all of the family responsibilities before him. “I joined ChildFund while my mother was alive; after she passed away I remember the good deeds of ChildFund.”
So Dagnachew went to work full-time to keep his younger brother and two sisters in school. He took on odd jobs and also began painting signs and buildings, often doing signage work for ChildFund Ethiopia.
When ChildFund Ethiopia’s Semen Ber project offered Dagnachew professional training in photography and videography, he jumped at the opportunity. The program provides disadvantaged youth with vocational skills. ChildFund also helps graduates with capital and materials to start their own businesses.
Four years ago, Dagnachew opened his own photography shop. Today, he has two locations in Addis Ababa, employing four full-time employees and 10 part-time assistants on the weekends when weddings keep the photographers busy.
And Dagnachew is now finally able to return to school. He is pursuing a degree in cinematography and aspires to write, direct and produce his own films. “My big dream is to lead an independent life and become successful in the film-making industry,” he says. He already has several documentary film credits.
Although happy in his work and studies, Dagnachew has another measure of success that is equally rewarding. His siblings are on the right track in life. His brother graduated from Hawassa University and works with Dagnachew in the business. One of his sisters is pursuing a degree at Addis Ababa University and the younger other is a junior high school student.
This makes him feel proud – being the eldest and supporting the youngest.
By Belchior Goncalves and Zoe Hogan, ChildFund Timor-Leste
In many ways, Timor-Leste is a young country – just 10 years since the restoration of its independence, more than 60 percent of the population is under age 25 (2010 Census). As more young people leave school and look for work each year, the majority find that employment opportunities are few and far between. In the rural district of Bobonaro, about 56 percent of the people do not have formal employment (2010 Census). Many young people work on their family’s subsistence farms or admit that they “do nothing.”
With the support of ChildFund Timor-Leste, one man is taking action on what he sees as an opportunity, rather than a problem. “There are many youth I see who could grow, develop and support themselves,” says Yohanes, a 59-year-old carpenter. An experienced trainer, Yohanes has partnered with ChildFund Timor-Leste’s community-based organization in Bobonaro to provide young people with the opportunity of a lifetime – a chance to learn a trade and start their own business.
ChildFund Timor-Leste identified five unemployed young people in Bobonaro district who had limited education but displayed the determination to work for a brighter future. Yohanes is working alongside these five apprentices, showing them how to make quality chairs, desks, doors and windows. For five days a week, the center is a hive of activity as Yohanes and his apprentices try to keep up with local demand for their well-made products. After the apprentices complete the 12-month program, ChildFund Timor-Leste provides each one with carpentry tools so they can use their newfound skills to start a small business.
Natalino, a promising apprentice, was forced to leave primary school after just one year because his parents could no longer support him. “There are lots of youth in the village, but they don’t go to school. They will end up the same as I was before, just farming,” Natalino says.
Natalino is in no doubt of how important the support of ChildFund Timor-Leste and Yohanes is to his future: “If I stay here for one year, I will leave as a carpenter. It will change my life.”
Watch a video of the apprentices at work.
Reporting by ChildFund Bolivia and ChildFund Honduras
On International Youth Day, ChildFund salutes the young people in our programs worldwide who are embracing education, developing their skills and working every day to make their communities better places to live.
In Asia, Africa and the Americas, youth are taking on leadership roles, constantly inspiring us with their insights and enthusiasm.
Today we introduce you to a few of those youth in Honduras and Bolivia. Teenagers like Kevin, Wendy and Jordi who are helping ChildFund Honduras’s local partner, ADACOL, develop a strategic plan to improve conditions in their area. They are developing their public speaking skills and contributing to important community decisions.
In Bolivia, the Obispo Anaya Youth Club recently greeted ChildFund CEO Anne Lynam Goddard, eagerly sharing their achievements in ChildFund’s youth leader program. Through this program, the youth are engaged in news reporting, growing community gardens and protecting the environment in and around the city of Cochabamba.
With children and youth as our partners, we know the world will become a better place.
By Joan Ng’ang’a, ChildFund Kenya
In the spirit of this year’s International Youth Day theme, Building a Better World: Partnering with Youth, ChildFund Kenya invited its team of interns to share their thoughts on working with ChildFund this summer. The Kenya office provided various hands-on learning opportunities to help prepare these young people for future employment. Here’s what they had to say about their experiences.
Magdalene works with the APHIA Plus Program (AIDS Population and Health Integrated Assistance Plus) and has gained a new sense of professional confidence. “I have enjoyed the opportunity. The team has much trust and confidence in me. My supervisor has guided me well, and I am able to take up new challenges. It makes me feel so proud to be associated with ChildFund.”
Sammy felt like a part of the ChildFund team from the very start. “The welcome was awesome! There’s awesome teamwork and the facilities are great. Being in ChildFund makes you grow in all aspects and my experience has been nothing but splendid.”
Elton enjoys the learning opportunities offered by colleagues in the SR department. “The first time I came here, there was a lot of work; being new at it, I wondered if I could perform. I was immediately trained, supported and encouraged. I enjoy the different lunch treats and our many health talks.”
Eric, from the IT department, sees beyond the technical side of his job and realizes the importance of philanthropic work. “ChildFund is an organization that touches lots of lives out there in a very positive way. I have always had a heart to help the needy in whatever way possible, even as a student. I think with the great support from local and international well-wishers, ChildFund can continue to greatly increase the realization of Kenya’s vision.”
Daphine was able to get a behind-the-scenes look while working in the finance department. “When we had a finance meeting, chaired by our finance director, it was so engaging and interactive. I had never attended such a meeting. It felt really good to be included, and I learned a lot regarding my job and building relationships with colleagues.”
When asked her thoughts on organizations partnering with young people, she said, “Youths should be given the opportunity in organizations that nurture their skills and talents. They should be involved in social activities that allow free interaction with their peers to help improve their self-esteem and desire to change their lives.”
And we agree.
As we get ready to celebrate International Youth Day, ChildFund Kenya will continue to motivate our young people in our office and in our programs to join conversations relevant to their daily lives, contribute to ideas that will solve global youth issues and celebrate the power of global collaboration.
Reporting by Joan Ng’ang’a, ChildFund Kenya
Each year, the U.N. recognizes Aug. 12 as International Youth Day (IYD). Focusing on global initiatives to create and strengthen partnerships with youth, this day is a celebration of the innovation and capabilities of young people to change the world. Activists, philanthropists, politicians and academics will collaborate with young women and men from around the world to address issues such as political inclusion, employment, entrepreneurship, protection of rights and education.
Partnering with youth is a key part of ChildFund’s mission. The work we do around the world encourages young people to use their voices and advocate for their rights to help solve issues in their own communities. Oftentimes, higher education is a youth’s best means to break the cycle of poverty and also give back to the next generation. With the help of dedicated sponsors, youth in ChildFund programs have increased opportunity to not only finish high school but also obtain post-secondary degrees. This has been Kaltuma’s experience.
Born into a family of five children, Kaltuma, 22, is the only member to excel beyond high school. With the help of her sponsor, Susan, Kaltuma is now beginning her second year at Kenya Methodist University. She is studying to receive a degree in clinical medicine; a goal that her sponsor has encouraged her to pursue since high school.
“I am very proud of the support I have received. Someone very far believed in me,” Kaltuma says. “[Susan] made sure there were not obstacles regarding my education.”
Kaltuma’s mother also encourages her to study hard because she knows the benefits of education. “My mother keeps encouraging me to finish my studies,” Kaltuma says. “She tells me with education, my life will be better than hers.”
Kaltuma is one of very few girls in her clinical medicine class and the only student from her community. She is proud of her accomplishments and looks forward to a better future. Upon obtaining her degree, she hopes to land a job in the medical field, have a family of her own, and above all, help young people like herself.
When asked her thoughts on the International Youth Day, she said, “Support a young person today, so that they can be better people and better parents tomorrow.”
Recognizing the woman who has supported her education for many years, Kaltuma insisted on writing a letter to her sponsor before we left. In the letter, she tells Susan how well she did on her latest exam and thanks her for her help.
by Mark Robinson, Communications Intern
I came to ChildFund unsure of what to expect from my first internship. We’ve all heard horror stories of interns who spent their summer filing papers and picking up packages. I didn’t want the best professional relationship I forged to be with the baristas at the nearest Starbucks. I wanted to get outside of my comfort zone. I wanted a chance to grow.
I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to come to work for 10 weeks as a respected member of the ChildFund communications team. Every project I’ve worked on has been purposeful. And aside from a now infamous assignment my mentor Cynthia Price gave me, I have been spared from doing too many “interny” tasks.
From day one, my mentors, Community Manager Virginia Sowers and Director of Communications Cynthia Price, took my goals into consideration and tailored my assignments to help me accomplish them. Because of their flexibility, I was able to focus on improving my multimedia skills. I researched podcasts and edited raw footage from Uganda into a video that was featured on ChildFund’s blog, Facebook and Twitter pages. My work has been showcased, not hidden away. But with all that said, I doubt when I look back at ChildFund that I’ll remember the work.
I’ll remember poking my head over ChildFund writer Christine Ennulat’s cubicle to chat about my most recent journalistic pursuits.
I’ll remember the shock I felt when I learned KISS front man Gene Simmons sponsors more than 140 children through ChildFund and the subsequent buzz around the communications pod after the episode of his reality show filmed in Zambia debuted.
I’ll remember the disbelief I felt when I found out my colleague and longtime ChildFund employee Alison Abbitt passed away following reconstructive knee surgery. We had spoken only days before.
While the extremes stand out, the small lessons I’ve learned here will not be forgotten and this, my first formal foray into the professional world, has prepared me in some ways for my next adventure: Botswana.
My next four and a half months will be spent studying journalism at the University of Botswana in Gaborone. It’ll be my first trip abroad, so my feelings about it fluctuate between giddy excitement and crippling nervousness on a day-to-day basis. I do now, however, have the comfort of knowing that a network of sympathetic world travelers is only an email away.
While I’m in Africa, I plan to freelance in pursuit of my career as a foreign correspondent. Who knows? Maybe one of my stories will find its way into ChildWorld.