ChildFund International Blog

Learn More About Your Child’s Country

family in Sri Lanka

“I like to help my mother to fetch water,” says Kimuna, 8, of Sri Lanka. Photo by Himangi Jayasundere, ChildFund Sri Lanka.

By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

Maybe you’re a new sponsor or a supporter of ChildFund’s programs. Or maybe you’ve been with us a while but want to know more about the country where your sponsored child lives.

You have options! ChildFund’s digital team recently redesigned the Stories & News section of our website, where you can find interviews and pictures of sponsored children, their family members, ChildFund alumni and more. We also have current articles about issues affecting people in the communities where we work, including Ethiopia’s food shortage, early marriage and preparing for natural disasters. Once you’ve looked through the story files, you may want to know even more, which is where our Knowledge Center comes in handy. Publications, research and financial reports are all housed there, going back several years. Thanks for being part of ChildFund’s family, and let’s all have a happy new year!

 

A New Outlook for Alhassane

By Arthur Tokpah, ChildFund Guinea

Alhassane says he never had any friends until this year.

“I was born as an albino person and the only one like this in the village,” he says. “Other children rejected me. When they saw me coming, they would move away from me. What hurt me most was when they said that I would infect them if I came close to them. I was so unhappy because none of the children in the village wanted me as a friend. I was often ready to fight anyone who teased me.”

But at a Child-Centered Space for children in Guinea, 12-year-old Alhassane made new friends — many of whom had been shunned after their loved ones were infected with the deadly Ebola virus. Now these children knew the kind of loneliness Alhassane had experienced his whole life, and it taught them greater understanding and empathy. You can see pictures from the center in the slideshow below and read more of Alhassane’s story here.

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Memorable Images of 2015

These are some of 2015’s most memorable photos taken by ChildFund staff members, local partner organizations’ employees and others — most notably Jake Lyell, a Richmond, Virginia-based photographer and videographer who lived for several years in Uganda and has traveled to numerous countries, including disaster zones, to provide ChildFund with video and photo documentation of our work. We appreciate everyone’s efforts. Read about some of the year’s most memorable people and stories here.

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2015 Highlights: Fighting Ebola, Speaking Out Against Violence

Timor-Leste Children against Violence

Student participants in Timor-Leste’s Children Against Violence program take flight! 

By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

As editor of ChildFund’s blog, I’m taking a look back at a few of the past year’s highlights that reflect the triumphs and struggles in communities where we work. See some of the year’s most memorable photos here.

As 2015 began, ChildFund staff members and local partner organizations were fully engaged in starting and running Interim Care Centers (ICCs) in Liberia and Sierra Leone, where the worst recorded outbreak of Ebola was killing thousands and leaving children orphaned and vulnerable to neglect, sickness and abuse.

ChildFund’s ICCs — staffed by survivors of Ebola, in many cases — helped children who had lost parents and other caregivers by giving them safe spaces to stay during the required 21-day quarantine period while they were observed for symptoms. The governments of Liberia and Sierra Leone recently recognized ChildFund’s work to educate children and family members and protect them from the further spread of Ebola.

Facinet Bangoura

Facinet Bangoura

This year, we’ve heard many personal stories of survivors and children touched by the deadly virus. You can read many of them here, but Arthur Tokpah’s interview with Ebola survivor Facinet Bangoura was particularly memorable for me. A young man from Guinea, Facinet contracted Ebola after performing traditional burial rituals for a relative who had died from the virus. He survived, but he explained to us how misinformation led many friends to shun him after he returned to his community. Today, Facinet is on a mission to prevent a further outbreak of Ebola.

Another of ChildFund’s heroes is Flavia Lanuedoc, a longtime staff member of our local partner organization in Dominica, which was hit with massive floods in August. A couple of months later, she shared with us her personal struggle after her house had been cut off from the mainland. Read how Flavia managed to do her job amid great adversity.

Debbie Gautreau and Momodou Bah.

Debbie Gautreau and Momodou Bah.

We also can’t forget Momodou Bah, the ChildFund alumnus from The Gambia who is now his nation’s youngest elected official and a 2015 Mandela Washington Fellow, an honor bestowed on young African leaders annually by the White House. Momodou is a remarkable person who is doing a lot of good in his country, despite impoverished beginnings, and now he is back in contact with his former sponsor, Debbie Gautreau.

I also want to pay tribute to all of the people — especially the youngest ones — who spoke up about violence and the importance of giving children safe schools, homes and neighborhoods so they can grow up and achieve their potential. Their numbers are great, and some spoke out in spite of personal risk. Children performing short dramas about corporal abuse in Timor-Leste, a Brazilian girl traveling thousands of miles to speak about violence at a U.N. panel, Bolivian teens drawing maps where gang activity occurs in their community, children across Africa marching against forced marriage — all are examples of amazing commitment that demand respect and attention.

Maria Antonia at the U.N.

Maria Antonia at the U.N.

On a global level, ChildFund Alliance’s Free From Violence campaign joined the voices of many people and organizations worldwide to advocate for the United Nations’ inclusion of a measure to end violence against children in its post-2015 agenda, the Sustainable Development Goals. This effort was successful, as child protection was prominently included in several goals adopted in September. We all hope to see a great deal of progress over the next 15 years and are ready to pitch in wherever we can.

Thank you for your support during 2015, and we wish you a wonderful new year.

In Ethiopia, Once-Fertile Lands Turned Dry

Ethiopia drought

A woman walks alongside donkeys carrying containers for water in Boset, Ethiopia.

By Tenagne Mekonnen, ChildFund Regional Communication and Administration Manager, Africa

A few years ago I traveled to the Boset Borchota woreda, or district, a place where it was very green and fertile. As we visited homes throughout the community, I took great pleasure in seeing the bountiful harvest of grains, vegetables and fruits. The livestock appeared plump and healthy. Proud farmers invited us to taste their fruits and grains.

What a different sight met me on my recent visit from our office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital. There had been no harvest, and the livestock were cruelly thin. Once-fertile lands were now dry and filled with dust. The dust was everywhere — I couldn’t even see the vehicle in front of us.

I could barely take it in; the difference was so profound.

With great heaviness in my heart, I visited some homes and talked with families and children. One mother of seven, Sequare, spoke to me at length. (See pictures of Sequare and her children in the slideshow below.)

“How can we cope without rain?” she asked. “We are farmers and depend on agriculture, but life seems to have turned its face against us these years.”

I didn’t know what to say.

“Now I don’t even know what we are,” she said. “I can’t call us farmers anymore, because we are not farming. Our days are spent walking in search of water. The river is drying, and if this river dries we won’t know what we can do, as the next one is 30 kilometers [roughly 19 miles] away.  There is no way we can walk 30 kilometers and come back here.”

Of her seven children, four attend school. Because she no longer can feed her children from what her farm produces, she prepares their meals from government distributions of corn and oil, and supplementary food provided by ChildFund.

“They eat less,” Sequare said. And what they do eat is not as nutritious as the varied diet of dairy, meat, vegetables and lentils they once enjoyed. One of her children tends toward sickliness and misses school at times. She worries this child’s health will worsen.

“I am tired,” Sequare said. “Every morning we wake up and look for the rain to come, but it is dry here in Borchota.” She said if the drought continued like this, they would migrate to the city in search of food.

“We can’t sit here and wait for our children to die.”

The drought and resulting food shortage in Ethiopia are expected to continue for up to a year. A strong El Niño weather phenomenon caused greatly diminished rainfall in the brief rainy season of spring, known as belg. Farmers in the Oromia region, where Sequare’s home is located, depend on the belg rains for their crops and livestock fodder. But the drought’s effects are more widespread than this region. The government of Ethiopia recently expanded its estimate of the number of people needing food assistance to 10.1 million people.

ChildFund International, which has worked here for more than 40 years and is deeply committed to the progress made for children’s rights and well-being in Ethiopia, is responding with emergency relief in the form of supplementary food — sacks of Famix, a high-protein, ready-to-eat mix of whole roasted corn and soy flour. In recent years, the Ethiopian government has worked hard to build the nation’s economy and infrastructure. We are committed to providing help now, so that Ethiopia can continue this progress in the future.

On our way back from visiting with families, we saw ChildFund staff distributing supplementary food for the children. The parents seemed happy to receive it. Yet when I’d left the homes of those I’d visited earlier in the day, their faces had been sad. They hadn’t been able to share their harvest with me as they had in times past.

May the help we provide today enable our friends to weather this crisis and enjoy many fruitful harvests in the years ahead.

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Sierra Leone’s President Honors ChildFund’s Ebola Work

By Karifa Kamara, ChildFund Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone presidential medal

ChildFund’s Billy Abimbilla (in white jacket) accepts a medal from Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma.

At an awards ceremony Dec. 18 in Sierra Leone’s capital of Freetown, President Ernest Bai Koroma recognized ChildFund Sierra Leone’s work in the fight against the deadly Ebola epidemic.

Billy Abimbilla, national director of ChildFund’s offices in Sierra Leone and Liberia, was on hand to accept the bronze medal and certificate “in recognition of its support to the government and people of Sierra Leone during the outbreak of Ebola disease, especially in the operation of Observation Interim Care Centers and donation of food and non-food items to communities.”

ChildFund was among 199 organizations and individuals honored at the State House in Freetown for their work against Ebola, which claimed 3,955 lives in Sierra Leone during 2014 and 2015. Abimbilla and Davidson Jonah, ChildFund’s field operations support director, were instrumental in opening Interim Care Centers in Liberia and Sierra Leone last year during the height of the epidemic.

Children who were exposed to the deadly virus stayed in ICCs during their 21-day quarantine period and were cared for and observed for signs of Ebola by trained health workers, many of whom had survived the virus and were immune to it. For many children who had lost loved ones to the disease, ICCs were safe havens where they could play, receive nourishing meals and sleep comfortably.

Ethiopian Mother: “I Don’t Know What Is Waiting for Me Tomorrow”

Ethiopia food shortage

Kefyalech with two of her six children outside their home in Ethiopia. The family is among the millions suffering from a widespread food shortage.

Reporting by ChildFund Ethiopia’s local partner staff in Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region

Kefyalech, a 30-year-old mother who lives in Ethiopia, stays home to care for her six children while her husband, Derara, seeks work. But Derara often comes home without having found a job, because the coffee crop is suffering just like all the others in the two-year rainfall shortage that has gripped Ethiopia for months now, so the family remains hungry.

Three years ago, Kefyalech worked as a daily laborer and earned 10 birr ($0.47) a day, which covered some of the family’s expenses. But these days, Kefyalech and her children wait each night to see if Derara has earned enough money to buy maize flour, the only food they can afford.

Ethiopia food shortage

A man loads boxes of Ready to Use Therapeutic Food onto trucks for distribution in Ethiopia.

Kefyalech’s family is not alone. Poor rainfall over two growing seasons has limited the number of crops, and El Niño is delaying rainfall now. Experts predict the situation will worsen over the next eight months, and it could take more than a year for Ethiopia to recover.

The drought has damaged Ethiopia’s agriculture-based economy and limited its food supply, and it’s expected to continue well into next year; the Ethiopian government estimates that 10.1 million people will need food assistance in 2016, including 5.75 million children. Save the Children, another non-governmental organization working in Ethiopia, estimates that 400,000 children will be at risk of suffering acute malnutrition next year.

Working with the Ethiopian government, ChildFund and its local partner organizations in seven districts are providing supplementary food and cooking oil for nearly 74,000 children under age 5, pregnant and lactating mothers, and elderly people.

ChildFund and its partners are also working to support the government health office, including the health center in Kefyalech’s community. At a nutrition screening recently held there, her youngest child, 3-year-old daughter Debritu, was diagnosed as moderately malnourished in a nutrition screening held there, so the supplementary food Kefyalech was able to take home — Famix, a maize-and-soybean mixture fortified with vitamins and minerals — was especially welcome.

But Kefyalech says she felt she could not give the extra food to just Debritu and deprive her other children.

“As a mother, I had no choice but to feed the whole family, because there has not been enough food in the house,” she says. “I could not feed the supplementary food to only one of my children while seeing the rest going to sleep on an empty stomach.” As a result, the supplement was gone early, and Debritu remains malnourished.

The little girl also came down with pneumonia recently — no surprise, as malnutrition undermines children’s immunities. She is improving, with the help of prescription medication she received from the health center.

Kefyalech is understandably concerned about her family’s fragile future.

“I’m afraid of tomorrow because I have nothing,” she says. “I’m worried for my daughter. I’m scared. What if I don’t get support from ChildFund? I don’t know what is waiting for me tomorrow.” Kefyalech adds that her older children are not going to school anymore because they can’t spare the expense.

ChildFund’s local partners are also working with the Ethiopian government to provide blankets, sheets and mattresses to help the health centers handle the growing demand as more and more children need treatment. These organizations also are supporting the distribution of Plumpy’Nut, a therapeutic food provided by UNICEF for treating severe acute malnutrition, to government health centers in the areas affected by the food shortage.

You can help families like Kefyalech’s by making a donation to our emergency fund for Ethiopia. Learn more on our Emergency Updates page about what is happening in Ethiopia.

Rita of Guatemala: A Student and a Teacher

Guatemala guide mother

Rita is a guide mother in Guatemala’s highlands, and she is learning to lead early childhood education programs in her community.

By Nicole Duciaume, Americas Region Sponsorship Manager

Rita’s first day as a volunteer is filled with bursting nerves, excitement, confidence and fear. At one point, she candidly admits that she wants to do a good job so that those who trained her would be proud of what she learned and how she is applying it.

Guide mother Rita with her children, 4-year-old Sebastian and 1-year-old Jocelyn.

Guide mother Rita with her children, 4-year-old Sebastian and 1-year-old Jocelyn.

She joined ChildFund recently as a guide mother in the highlands of Guatemala. Over the next several years, she will take weekly classes on diverse topics such as parenting skills, children’s learning styles, nutrition, child rights, the importance of play and many more. She will then lead weekly community-based early childhood education sessions and will be a go-to resource for other mothers in her community.

Now 21 years old, Rita got married at age 17. She explains that her father died when she was in the fourth grade, forcing her to drop out of school to work on a small farm along with her mother and six siblings. This was the only way for the family to survive. She talks about the hardships of being a mother in a part of the world where women have little opportunity for education or work.

When asked why she wanted to be a guide mother, she lights up. Her answer is simple: “A better future for my children, so that they have chances that I never had. I want them to get an education and get whatever job they want.” She goes on to explain how important it is for her to learn and be a good model for her children, saying, “I didn’t get a chance to study, so this is also my turn to learn.”

With her 1-year-old daughter, Jocelyn, wrapped to her back with a perraje, a woven shawl, Rita stands in front of 15 eager children ready to play and learn. One of them is her 4-year-old son, Sebastian. Rita leads the class of 3- to 5-year-olds through various singing and coloring exercises, which translates into language acquisition and fine motor skills development. A smile of relief spreads across Rita’s face as the class ends and she knows that this session, the first of many more to come, has been a huge success.

Through ChildFund’s guide mother program, Rita is both the student and the teacher.

Waiting and Watching: A Volcano Threatens Eruption in Ecuador

Reporting and video by ChildFund Ecuador staff

With its snow-capped peak jutting into the Ecuadorean sky, the Cotopaxi volcano is one of the highest and most famous active volcanoes in South America. Since its most recent eruption in August 2015, it has become a source of growing concern for people living in the Cotopaxi province, where ChildFund works through its local partner FEDECOX.

Currently, the volcanic activity is moderate as Cotopaxi continues to emit steam and ash, and the Ecuadorean government has placed the area on yellow alert – the lowest of three possible safety warnings. FEDECOX has distributed masks and caps to help children and families block out the ash and prevent respiratory and skin diseases. The affected communities are also conducting large drills to prepare for a possible eruption.

The volcano, known to be one of the most dangerous in the world, remains carefully watched. Cotopaxi’s glacier cover multiplies the potential for lahars, which are enormous and devastating mud- and rockslides that can race down a mountain much too fast for people to escape.

ChildFund and its local partner organizations in the area are working to ensure that children and their families are as prepared as they can be, and we remain poised to provide the special help they’ll need in case of emergency.

We will provide further updates as they become available. In the meantime, take a look at this video featuring 7-year-old Leidy, who shows us how she puts on her protective gear – with a smile and plenty of style.

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