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.
We wish you a peaceful, happy and healthy holiday season!
By Karifa Kamara, ChildFund Sierra Leone
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.
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.
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.
Video by Jake Lyell
Each year, goats are one of our top gifts among donors, because they are easy to give and bring such joy to children and their family members. Watch what a difference a (very cute) baby goat and its brothers and sisters have made in the lives of Perina and her grandmother Alidessa, who live in Zambia. Then, you can make a difference for a family in Ethiopia, The Gambia, Guinea, Indonesia, Kenya, Liberia, Mozambique, the Philippines, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Uganda or Zambia by giving the gift of goats.
Reporting by Mark Can, Punena Parish HIV/AIDS Project Officer
A young mother, 32-year-old Lakot, describes her life after being diagnosed with HIV. Two years ago, she joined a ChildFund-supported group in her village in northern Uganda, which has allowed her to receive support from people going through similar challenges. Dec. 1 is World AIDS Day. In Uganda, approximately 1.5 million people are living with HIV, according to 2014 statistics from UNAIDS, and most people in sub-Saharan Africa are either directly or indirectly affected by the disease.
I joined the family support group 2 years ago. Before I joined, life was hard. I was living in fear and isolation because I was HIV positive.
After joining the group, life became easier. From the other members, I learned a lot about how to take care of myself and my family. I sometimes used to forget to take my medication, but the group members remind me, and if I need it, they escort me to pick up my drugs. Now I have no fear of living with the disease.
I also realized that I was not alone and that I could freely live and talk about it. That’s why I am even free to talk to you right now.
In the process of our meetings, we decided that we needed to save some money to support ourselves in times of need. So, we started the bol chup (village savings and loan) group. We meet every Monday and collect money after our support meetings. This group helps us when we are in need of money; we borrow funds and pay them back with little interest.
Because of the family support group meetings, I realized the need to disclose my status to my children.
I am appealing to the government and to nongovernmental organizations asking they support our groups more, in terms of finances and sponsorship for our children, so they can continue to study in school.
From Ya Sainey Gaye, ChildFund The Gambia:
James Pimundu, national director of ChildFund The Gambia, shared his thoughts about the United Nations’ goal to end the spread of HIV by 2030. He also highlighted the need to reflect on the challenges faced during the past in the fight against HIV and AIDS. Pimundu called for strong partnership with other international nongovernmental organizations, the private sector and civil groups to complement government initiatives.
He also touched on the impact that HIV and AIDS have on people’s lives, especially in the area of child mortality: “It creates marginalization of those infected due to the stigma attached to its name. This can hinder the fight for control and, by extension, eradication of the disease. ChildFund believes that through engagement with marginalized people — and using the power of advocacy, community mobilization and a host of other strategies to reach those affected directly and indirectly — will help us succeed in the total eradication of HIV and AIDS by the year 2030.”
Finally, Pimundu called for changes in attitude, bringing about greater support and understanding of people diagnosed with HIV and AIDS. Together, our collaborative actions will certainly bring a halt to the spread of the disease, he added.
Reporting by ChildFund International staff members
Today is Universal Children’s Day, when ChildFund Alliance releases its annual Small Voices, Big Dreams survey. Almost 6,000 children in 44 countries (in the Americas, Africa, Asia, Europe and Australia) answered questions about what their fears are, what they’d do if they were their country’s leader and what they consider their rights. Here are some memorable responses from children in countries where ChildFund works.
Hoan, 12, of Vietnam:
Teresa, 12, of Mexico:
Jeferino, 12, of Timor-Leste:
Agnes, 12, of Zambia:
Jonathan, 11, of Mexico:
Video by Christina Becherer, ChildFund Senior Manager, Corporate Strategic Alliances
Yesterday, Christina and her ChildFund colleague, content manager Christine Ennulat, met the Laroo Mothers’ Group, in the Gulu district of Uganda. In this video, they sing a song of welcome to their visitors. The mothers are proud of contributing to their new village savings and loan association, which allows them to take out small loans to start new businesses, pay school fees, cope with illnesses, or even come together to help another group member in need. We’ll be hearing more from them later, but for now, hear this!
Photography by Ron Wolfe, ChildFund Senior Project Manager
Ron Wolfe, who has worked in ChildFund’s Information Technology department since 2010, got to visit his 11-year-old sponsored child, Aminata, when he was in The Gambia earlier this year for work. As anyone who has met their sponsored child can tell you, it’s a magical event that helps families from different continents create close bonds. Read here about Ron’s trip and how he and his family are staying in touch with Aminata.
Reporting by Arthur Tokpah, ChildFund Guinea
We asked three girls from Guinea to share how being sponsored has changed their lives. The answers may surprise you. Learn more about corresponding with your sponsored child and what they think about your letters.
I am Aminata, and I am in grade 4 in elementary school. I live with my parents, my elder sister, elder brother and my two little brothers. In the photo, I am holding the books that my sponsor sent me that I love so much. They contain drawings and pictures of people and fish and a rainbow. At home, I take my time to color these drawings in my books. I am very happy to have a sponsor, because since I started attending school, she has always sent me gifts. Thanks to her, I am among the best students in my school.
Also, my sponsor has contributed funds for my village to get clean water. Before, the people of my village had to walk a long distance to fetch drinking water from the creek. But thanks to her, today my village has a well.
I consider my sponsor as a father who loves and watches over his family. My sponsor is very straightforward and rigorous; he often asks for details of all he sent me. I appreciate it this way. Thanks to him, I have cows, a family latrine and a rice farm.
For me, sponsorship is a way to help the poor families have better futures.
In the photo he sent me, my sponsor looks handsome with his family and his dog. One thing he often does in his letters is to encourage me to study well at school. But on the other hand, he surprised me by saying he was very attached to his dog, Emma, and that his dog had turned 7. That’s something we are not used to in my family.
My sponsor taught me to love, and to be generous and loyal to others. Through him, I learned about the celebration of Thanksgiving in his country, which resembles the way we celebrate the New Year of the lunar month in my country.
Sponsorship means a lot to me because it helps children have a better future through education.