Reporting by Tenagne Mekonnen, Africa Regional Communications Manager
In 1976, thousands of black school children took to the streets of Soweto, South Africa. In a march stretching more than half a mile, they protested the inferior quality of their education and demanded their right to be taught in their own language. Hundreds of young boys and girls were shot down by security forces. In the two weeks of protest that followed, more than 100 people were killed and more than 1,000 were injured.
To honor the memory of those killed and the courage of all those who marched, the Day of the African Child has been celebrated on June 16 since 1991, when it was first initiated by the Organization of African Unity (now known as the African Union). ChildFund takes part in the day, which draws attention to the lives of African children today. This year’s theme was A Child-Friendly, Quality, Free and Compulsory Education for All Children in Africa.
Below, we offer excerpts of speeches given by four young women enrolled in ChildFund Ethiopia’s programs, who spoke to the African Union in Addis Ababa on June 16.
Eden, age 16.
“Governments have the ability to give quality, free and compulsory education for all children in Africa by having a meeting with all African leaders and discuss the issues about what things can be done to create a better education system and prepare training for all African teachers.”
Helen, age 14.
“Even though formal schooling is important, this is not enough. Our families are the people that we see when we first open our eyes. And we learn a lot of things from them and most importantly from the society. If a child is to be educated, then the contribution of families, society and friends is very important. This is because they build us in a very faithful, good manner. This is what we are looking forward to, and I believe we are on our way.”
Aziza, age 15.
“Once upon a time, there were two young ladies. They were best friends, and they grew up in the same place. One of the girls has an interest to learn and study. Even when she was a child, she always asked questions. She loves asking and knowing different things. Even though the girl always wants to learn, her mother doesn’t have enough money to send her to school. So, because of their economic status, she spent her time helping her mom.
“The other girl never wants to go to school. She hates to study, but her family was rich. Even though she went to school, when she visits her smart friend, she brings her homework for her to do.
“When they grew up, both didn’t have happy endings. The rich girl has an unhappy ending because she didn’t study, and she was not strong. What about the smart girl? She was a smart, intelligent and hard-working girl, but she had an unhappy life because she didn’t have opportunities to learn. How did I know about the girl? Because she was my mother!
“She supports me, although she doesn’t have much money; she makes sure to buy me school materials and other essential things. By her strong heart, I haven’t any inferiority. Rather, I always worked hard to be an intelligent and smart girl, but the secret behind me is my dearest mother.”
Bemnet, age 14.
“Disabled children are not being educated; they might not be in a position to fight for their right to be educated. We need to fight for their right and give them educational materials. To give disabled children an education, government and family have a main role. If we provide a free and quality education for children, they can easily get self-confidence and a good education, which enables them to be successful and responsible citizens.”
By Nicole Duciaume, Americas Region Sponsorship Manager
Driving along a packed-down dirt road in Ecuador, we crossed a wood-plank bridge and saw some elderly grandmothers washing clothes by hand in the stream. An enrolled child lived nearby, and we could go speak with the family if we wanted. I jumped out of the car in record time and made my way over to the grandmothers, who greeted us with hearty smiles and soapy waves.
We talked with the mother about her children’s health and development, as well about ChildFund’s programs and what has changed in their lives in the year and a half since we started working in this community. The mother talked about the hopes and dreams she has for her children, and we talked about their ongoing needs and struggles as a family. During the conversation, she not only allowed us into her home but also invited us to take photos.
The two-room house has walls made of plywood and split reeds, leaving gaps where rain and insects come in, plus a tin roof and a bare concrete floor. The kitchen has a simple stove and water from a well. The other room has two beds, one for the parents and the other shared by three children.
Outside, there’s a wooden chicken coop next to a latrine constructed with leftover slats of wood, metal sheets and a plastic banner. Next to the home is the stream where families wash their clothes and often bathe. Here is a collage of some of our pictures:
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
When I grew up near Lake Erie in Ohio, I lived on the north coast; or, taking a Canadian perspective, the south shore. As an adult, I moved to England’s south coast, then the west coast of Africa, and finally, the east and west coasts of North America.
Water attracts people. It’s no coincidence that oceans, blood and amniotic fluid all share the same concentration of salt.
Worldwide, three out of five people live in coastal areas, and 50 million call tiny islands home. Although Small Island Developing States (known as SIDS) produce less than 1 percent of global greenhouse gas, their inhabitants suffer most from climate change. Of the 51 countries classified as SIDS, 12 are also among the least developed — including Timor-Leste, where ChildFund works. It gained its independence from Indonesia in 2002.
More than half of Timor-Leste’s population lives in poverty. The United Nations predicts its population will triple to 3 million by 2050, and the country faces a temperature increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius (3.4 degrees Fahrenheit) over that time, according to a 2012 report from the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
We must account for climate change as we address poverty, simply because of its impact on the availability of water and food.
About two in three Timorese people already suffer from food insecurity; half of Timor-Leste’s population is under age 15, and malnutrition affects half of the children under age 5. In Timor-Leste, the hungry season lasts from October through February — until maize, the primary crop, is ready for harvest.
Although 85 percent of Timorese practice subsistence agriculture, the country cannot meet its nutritional needs, partly because insects, fungi and rodents ruin a third of the harvest during storage. Crops suited to the Timorese climate — such as rice, maize, wheat, barley, arrowroot, cassava, sweet potato, potato, cowpeas, red beans, peanuts and coconuts — provide acceptable caloric intake but insufficient protein. For its population to survive, Timor-Leste imports food and exports coffee.
So, what happens if Timor-Leste gets hotter and more crowded? Interactions between carbon dioxide (CO2), temperature and water are complex. The so-called “CO2 fertilization effect” benefits certain crops, such as rice, sweet potatoes and peanuts. Others, however, experience harm, especially maize and cassava. Too much carbon dioxide causes cassava leaves, an excellent source of protein, to become toxic.
Warmer temperatures cause crops to mature faster but at reduced yields. Peanut harvests, for example, could shrink by one-fifth. Warmth also favors pests, so incidence of insect damage and fungal diseases will increase. And farming requires rainfall at crucial stages. If Timor-Leste doesn’t receive enough — or gets too much — rain, the crops currently cultivated there may no longer thrive.
Coffee beans are especially vulnerable to heat, and if they don’t adjust to higher temperatures, farmers will move their plants up the central mountain, increasing deforestation and soil erosion.
Climate change also puts Timor-Leste at greater risk of floods, landslides, cyclones and drought — disasters that already affect the country. Grain yields decreased by 30 percent in 2007, due to a drought caused by El Niño, a disruption in the Pacific Ocean related to unusually warm temperatures. Climate models indicate a high likelihood of another El Niño event in 2014.
Climate change is a serious concern around the world, and it often seems like too great a problem for one person. But if each one of us does our part, we can make a difference; you can help improve the diets and incomes of families in Timor-Leste by making a gift of goats, cows or chickens.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
Here at ChildFund, we think a lot about children who are five and younger. A child’s fifth birthday is an important milestone because the most significant development — physical, social and cognitive — occurs in the first five years of life. This is when language, motor coordination, problem solving and self-control become more defined. But approximately 200 million children under the age of five are not receiving the proper nutrition, stimulation, and education that they need to reach their full potential.
That’s why ChildFund is taking part in 5th Birthday and Beyond, a campaign culminating with an event on Capitol Hill on June 25 that focuses on the health of children around the world. More than 100 nongovernmental organizations (including ChildFund), businesses, philanthropic groups and others have formed a coalition to create awareness of worldwide improvements in children’s health around the world and what remains to be done.
As ChildFund President and CEO Anne Lynam Goddard notes, “My great hope for the 5th Birthday and Beyond campaign is that it will inspire many more of us to invest in providing children living in poverty with the support they need — not just to survive, but also to dream, achieve and contribute.”
Some of the news is excellent: In 2014, 6 million fewer children will die before their fifth birthday than 25 years ago. Polio is largely eradicated, and in the past 12 years, fewer children have died from pneumonia, diarrhea, measles, malaria, and AIDS. Credit goes to many groups in the U.S. and around the globe, including U.S. foreign assistance programs, UNICEF, the World Health Organization and numerous NGOs like ChildFund.
Nonetheless, there are still many battles to fight, as 6.6 million children under five are expected to die this year, primarily from preventable diseases. Public awareness is the first step in overcoming these serious obstacles to better health among the youngest people in developing countries.
We’ll have more information as 5th Birthday and Beyond approaches, but for now, we ask you to go into your photo albums and find a picture of yourself when you were around five years old. Then, when June 23 (the launch of the social media campaign) comes, post your photo as your avatar on social media and send out a message about the importance of child survival and health to share with your community.
Here are some numbers that may help you, and don’t forget to tag your message with #5thbday. Thank you for your help!
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
You can learn a lot about the children you sponsor through the exchange of letters. For Bernadeta Milewski’s family, their sponsored child Hermie is like a second daughter, despite more than 8,000 miles between them.
After four years of sponsorship, Bernadeta, her husband, Evan, and 6-year-old daughter Nadia traveled in May from Connecticut to see Hermie and her family in San Joaquin, Philippines. It was a dream come true for everyone, Bernadeta says. “When we saw each other for the first time, there were no words, just long hugs. Tight hugs,” she says. “So much affection. In my wildest dreams, I didn’t know it could be so amazing.”
The Milewskis were there for a couple of reasons — mainly to see 12-year-old Hermie, but also to assist her family, whose home is vulnerable to flooding. Fortunately, San Joaquin did not experience much damage from Super Typhoon Haiyan last November, but Hermie’s home is near water and has suffered harm in other storms. Sponsors typically don’t see their sponsored children’s homes, but the Milewskis were permitted to do so to assess the best way of helping, whether it was renovating the existing home or purchasing property elsewhere.
Ultimately, after thorough discussion with Hermie’s family and local staff, they decided to build a new home; they also purchased a fishing boat for Hermie’s father. Hermie, her mother and siblings depend on his income — often $2 to $4 a day — for their day-to-day needs. The new boat will improve their situation tremendously as it will increase their earnings significantly. “Our plan was to assist Hermie’s family with their living arrangements so that they could have a safe place during typhoons,” says Bernadeta, “but when we learned that Hermie’s father had been working for someone else for over 20 years and therefore making very little money, we quickly decided to help with the purchase of the fishing boat as well.”
The Milewskis sponsor three children through ChildFund; although they have relationships with all of their sponsored children, Hermie was always very special to them, Bernadeta says. Early on, “she was calling us Mommy and Daddy and telling us that she was dreaming of meeting us. We knew we would do everything to make her dream come true. We really love the whole family there. During our two-day visit, there was no awkward moment. We were really kind of reunited.”
Writing letters is very important to the sponsor-child relationship, Bernadeta emphasizes. During the trip, she met other children enrolled in ChildFund-supported programs who hunger for communication and encouragement from their sponsors due to a lack of correspondence. She promised that she would let other sponsors know how much the sponsored children look forward to receiving letters and establishing a relationship with their sponsors.
“They would love to get letters from sponsors,” Bernadeta says. “It’s very important to remind people that it’s not just about the monetary donations. Letters are extremely important. As sponsors, we can tell the children about things they do not know even exist. We can motivate them, encourage them and offer praise. Through letters, they learn about other kinds of opportunities — opportunities their own parents for the most part are not aware of.”
For instance, Hermie’s parents had never been to the main city in their province, Iloilo, until the Milewskis’ visit. “For Hermie, we hope life has more in store, and we want to make sure that she has big dreams,” Bernadeta says. Sponsors don’t take the place of parents, but they often provide a new perspective for children, giving them hope for the future.
“When you become a sponsor, you sign up for some sort of relationship,” Bernadeta says. “If they can feel that someone cares about them, that gives them confidence that they’re really lacking.”
Bernadeta acknowledges that writing to your sponsored child may seem difficult at first and gave some tips to other sponsors:
“I always introduce myself, tell the child who we are and why we sponsor. I am always very positive and ask lots of questions as this opens up a dialogue. I ask what the child likes doing, what holidays he or she celebrates, what their favorite subject is. I always stress how important it is for them to study and encourage them to do their best. We include stickers, postcards, bookmarks, balloons, coloring pages and photos we take during our vacations and on special occasions. As sponsors, we have a very important role in their life. We can provide something different than their immediate families do.”
After the Milewskis’ return home, they received a letter from Hermie. She wrote, “I will give my best to attain my dreams in life to help my family to combat poverty. I will follow you to help the poor so I will not disappoint you, and I will not waste your dreams on me.”
For more tips about writing letters and developing a friendship with your sponsored child, visit ChildFund’s website.
By Erin Nicholson, ChildFund Staff Writer
Last year in Belarus, a young man named Vlad passed the Baranovichi University entrance exams. A significant but fairly routine achievement, perhaps, except that Vlad was born with cerebral palsy. And in Belarus, his acceptance into college was nothing short of groundbreaking.
Although cognitively Vlad is very capable — he can quote Dumas with ease and loves classical literature by Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky — the palsy makes his speech unclear, and he has trouble writing or using a keyboard. He almost missed out on going to college altogether; over and over he was prevented from taking entrance exams because students weren’t allowed any kind of assistance during the tests.
His break finally came after the vice rector of Baranovichi University attended a ChildFund-supported training on inclusive education, the USAID-funded project Community Services to Vulnerable Groups. She shared her new knowledge with colleagues, and Vlad was able to take the exam by answering questions verbally. He passed and even had the highest scores among all applicants that year.
In Belarus, more than 26,000 children are considered to have a disability and as many as 120,000 have special educational needs, according to UNICEF. These are alarmingly high numbers, especially for a country with just under 9.5 million people, and have nearly tripled since 1990. A complex mix of problems may be to blame, including the lingering effects of post-Soviet Union economic depression and the trauma of the Chernobyl nuclear plant explosion nearly 30 years ago.
There is not any direct evidence proving that long-term radiation exposure caused an increase in health problems in Belarus, but the economic devastation following the disaster resulted in widespread post-traumatic stress, depression and anxiety throughout the population. Along with chronically high unemployment, the prevalence of smoking, alcoholism and overall poor nutrition contribute to an increase in disease and disabilities.
And in a country with limited economic resources, the infrastructure to support children who need assistance just isn’t there. So what happens to them? Institutionalization and exclusion from family and society is common, and children with disabilities, who are often seen as a burden or even an embarrassment, overwhelm orphanages. Rarely do they receive the physical, cognitive and emotional support they need — much less an education. The communities in Belarus where we work have seen some improvement, with the number of institutionalized children dropping to an average of 6 percent in 2009, down from the national average of 25 percent.
With the right support, life for these children can be better. As of 2012, 4,000 children and family members benefited from the USAID-funded inclusive education project. Vlad is gaining an education, as well as future opportunities and more independence. After college, he hopes to become a lawyer and fight for the rights of people with disabilities.
Recently, Belarus leaders have begun to prioritize inclusive education for children with disabilities, thanks in part to groundbreaking cases like Vlad’s and the work by ChildFund and other groups. More children are in a position to become leaders and have greater hope for the future, just like Vlad hopes to be.
Consider contributing to ChildFund’s Fund a Project for children living with disabilities in Belarus, giving them access to necessary classroom equipment. You can keep the momentum going for Vlad and other young people.
A few months ago, we wrote about Caio, a young man from Brazil who was one of 10 teens chosen to take photos for the World Health Organization’s adolescent health report. He’s a sponsored child and participates in the ChildFund-supported Photovoice program in Brazil. Now the WHO’s report has been released, and you can see Caio’s images (here and here). We encourage you to read the whole report, which quotes teens from around the world about health concerns affecting their communities.
By Sagita Adesywi, ChildFund Indonesia
In this blog post, we meet Nuren, a woman who worked for REACH, a project in Indonesia run by ChildFund and UNICEF that promoted health care of pregnant women and young children to help lower the infant mortality rate. REACH ended in December 2013, but the health-care training continues to make a big difference in these communities.
Nuren works in East Nusa Tenggara, training community health volunteers (known as cadres) and families about keeping infants and young children healthy and safe. Beginning in 2011, she traveled to homes and clinics in remote villages, where women traditionally have given birth without access to prenatal care or emergency assistance when it’s needed.
Most health cadres come from non-medical backgrounds, so they received regular support and monitoring during the project’s duration. Nuren’s routine visits helped to remind the volunteers how to provide basic health services, and she checked the amount of medical supplies to make sure health posts were fully stocked. Some visits took hours to accomplish.
“When we had two new cadres in Sotual, we went there for a monitoring visit,” Nuren recalls. “We left the city at dawn to reach Nuapin village. We then walked for three hours through the forest from Nuapin village to finally reach Sotual. The return trip was more difficult, because it was uphill. We took a shortcut, and I almost fell off a cliff on the way back.
“The wife of the health cadre gave us pineapples, but unfortunately, none of us carried a knife. We walked all the way up the hill to our car before we saw an old man with a big dagger to help us cut and eat the pineapples. We weren’t even wondering if the dagger was clean or not, we were just so thirsty from the long walk!”
Upon reaching Nuapin, the group stopped by a health center. “The health worker asked where we came from. He was surprised when we told him that we had just visited our health cadres in Sotual, since they had never gone there before,” Nuren says. “With basic medical supplies in such a remote area and limited access, the health cadres are able to provide basic health care for young children. Seeing this is really rewarding for me.”
In 2011, the REACH project covered 40 villages and 14 health centers. By January 2013, it had expanded to 49 villages and 15 health centers, with more than 200 trained health cadres. Since the project ended, Nuren has continued her work with ChildFund in the eastern program areas.
One of the biggest challenges in the project area is the traditional activity called Sei, in which firewood is burned underneath a platform and mattress that a mother and her newborn lie on in a room with very limited ventilation, sometimes as long as a month. It is believed that this practice will make them strong and healthy, but in fact, it contributes to many respiratory problems. Another challenge is that the community’s water source is far away.
Nuren says that although the region continues to face some hardships, “I see the changes happening in the community. People now have a reasonable access to health services. This really helps in obtaining basic health care in critical situations, especially for young children who suffer fevers or stomach aches, as malaria and diarrhea are common in the area.
“I have seen the community is really enthusiastic about the health services they have in their neighborhood. Even though they know the health cadres are trained specifically to help young children, people now choose to go to the health cadres instead of the traditional healer when they are sick,” she adds. “People are also more aware of health issues. They learned not only to be aware of the common symptoms of diseases, but also how to prevent contracting them with healthy living habits.”
Our CEO and president, Anne Lynam Goddard, spoke about violence against children at the TEDxRVA conference in March, and today the speech is available on video. Anne’s speech, “Freedom From Violence,” focuses on “re-action”: More than just a single reaction to events, but acting again and again to achieve our goals — specifically ending violence against children. She was part of a daylong lineup of speakers in Richmond, Va., all addressing ways that we can individually and as a community make positive changes in the world.