By Emmanuel Ford, ChildFund Liberia
In 2012, ChildFund launched a program called Shine a Light in four countries — Dominica, Indonesia, Liberia and Senegal — thanks in large part to a major gift from a concerned donor. The project’s goal is to raise awareness of gender-based violence, assist child survivors of sexual abuse and help communities develop child-protective systems and responses. In four blog posts, we’ll learn about the progress made in these countries; today, we focus on Liberia.
In Liberia, Shine a Light was launched in Klay Town, Klay District, Bomi County. The project targets 200 children in two schools — 100 boys and 100 girls aged 10 to 17.
Schools in Liberia are rife with sexual exploitation and abuse. Sexual exploitation and abuse, a form of gender-based violence, is an abuse of a position of authority for sexual purposes. In 2012, research among 800 girls in four of Liberia’s counties found that 88.7 percent had experienced a sexual violation, 40.2 percent had engaged in transactional sex, and 47 percent had endured sexual coercion — citing classmates, teachers, and school personnel as the main perpetrators.
To respond to this enormous challenge with the aim of preventing sexual exploitation and abuse before it happens, the project has formed two clubs for girls. These clubs provide a safe space in the school setting where girls may interact with each other and community mentors. Community mentors are individuals who live and work in the same communities as the girls and who demonstrate interest in empowering both girls and boys to stop sexual exploitation and abuse at school.
Utilizing a dynamic and interactive curriculum, club members and community mentors together address important issues such as sexual harassment, HIV and AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, prevention of unintended pregnancy, and reproductive myths. Girls also receive financial education where they spend time learning about options for income generation, how to control spending, learning the differences between needs and wants, and how to save. Girls will be exploring options to open savings accounts and form savings groups.
However, because boys and teachers are also important partners to end sexual exploitation and abuse, the project engages these critical groups. For example, boys are learning about the causes and consequences of sexual exploitation and abuse and are receiving financial education. The project works with teachers and school administrators to reinvigorate and apply a school code of conduct for all personnel.
Gender-based violence has long been an issue of critical importance in Liberia. The national government started a national effort to fight gender-based violence in 2012, focusing on a community-based observation network to identify problems and address them quickly. In 2007, the World Health Organization worked with Liberia’s Ministry of Gender and Development to interview 2,828 women about violence in their relationships.
According to the study, 93 percent had been subjected to at least one abusive act. Of those who survived violence, 48.5 percent said they were forced to work as sex workers; 13.6 percent of survivors were younger than 15. Rape cases are the most frequently reported serious crime in Liberia, and in 2007, 46 percent of reported rapes involved children under age 18; sexual assaults frequently occurred during Liberia’s political strife as a tool to control civilians, according to a 2012 Liberian government report.
Despite the response by Liberia’s government, sexual violence remains a serious problem, with a total of 2,493 sexual and gender-based violent crimes being reported across the country in 2012 and 2013, according to the Ministry of Gender and Development.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who has taken on gender equality and gender-based violence as key causes in her administration, said in a November speech: “In Liberia, through the pain and anguish experienced by each of these victims, we have found the strength and the courage to start to build a new, transformed society — where women enjoy equal rights and fair treatment, and where their productive role in society and the economy is acknowledged. In my country, women occupy high-ranking government positions; rape, though continuing, has been criminalized; and women have greater property and custodial rights.”
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 Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
Are you a smoker? Maybe you’ve quit, or have you never taken a puff? Perhaps, like many of us, you fall somewhere in between.
I have a lifetime count of less than 100 cigarettes, but I’m not protected: One in ten tobacco-related deaths involves a never-smoker. And of those deaths, one in four is a child — because there is no safe level of second-hand smoke.
Tomorrow, May 31, is World No Tobacco Day, a time to contemplate these grim facts and consider what we can do to make a difference.
In my early 20s, working in Saint-Louis, Senegal, I occasionally smoked, even though I hated cigarettes. Smoke filled that sleepy town’s only nightclub, and on Saturday nights, my Gauloises burnt down to my fingertips. Smoking was my cover charge for entertainment.
Several years ago, when I lived in Guinea, I watched children buy single cigarettes at the same shacks where they purchased food: hard-boiled eggs, bread cut to order, powdered milk packets, tea leaves by the gram, hard candy by the piece, tomato paste by the tablespoonful and Maggi stock cubes. Errand boys ran groceries for Mom and cigarettes for Dad, making shopping a gateway activity.
Nearly half of the world’s children regularly breathe second-hand smoke in public places, and two in five have at least one smoking parent. Among Cambodian, Thai, Senegalese, Filipino and Vietnamese, three in five children live in smoking homes, while in Belarus, Indonesia and Timor-Leste, it’s four in five. Southeast Asians suffer disproportionately from second-hand smoke.
By age 15, many boys in developing countries have become smokers, but years can pass before their health deteriorates. Tobacco smoke contains 4,000 chemicals, including 50 carcinogens and another 200 lesser toxins. In Timor-Leste, fully half of all boys between ages 13 and 15 smoke. Among Belarusians, it’s one in three. But boys aren’t the only ones at risk; substantially more Brazilian girls than boys smoke.
Mothers who smoke often deliver babies prematurely or with lower birth weights, and exposure to second-hand smoke causes one in four sudden infant deaths.
Globally, tobacco consumption is on the rise, and so are its opportunity costs. Tobacco’s direct costs to Thailand could fund the country’s energy services. In Mexico, treatment of tobacco-related illness accounts for one in 10 health care dollars.
According to the World Health Organization, tobacco kills up to half its users. Every six seconds, tobacco takes a life. Every minute of every day, two die in high-income nations, and eight more die in developing countries.
ChildFund works in the world’s second, third and fourth largest tobacco-producing countries: Brazil, India and the United States. Indonesia also ranks in the top ten and, during the past decade, Mozambique, Zambia and Cambodia have experienced the greatest increases in tobacco production. In low-income countries, tobacco contributes to deforestation and supplants food crops. And it’s inefficient; agricultural land yields up to 15 times tobacco’s weight in edibles, which contributes to high rates of malnutrition.
Tobacco plants, like coca and opium, also are biohazards. Children often work in the fields, topping and harvesting green tobacco leaves covered with dew and raindrops. In the heat, that coating of water dissolves nicotine from the leaves. The nicotine solution can cross the skin barrier and pass into the bloodstream, causing acute poisoning. A day’s worth of absorbed nicotine is equivalent to smoking anywhere from 12 to 50 cigarettes.
You can make a difference with a gift of seeds from our catalog.
Reporting by Arthur Tokpah, ChildFund Guinea
ChildFund Guinea’s staff met with Mamadou Aly Diallo, coordinator of the Denkadi Federation of Dabola, a local partner organization that has provided support with distribution of goats, sheep and other items to 135 families living in need in Guinea. The goats were purchased by ChildFund supporters in the Gifts of Love & Hope catalog. Here is an interview with Diallo (pictured at left):
Please tell us about this project.
Diallo: We participated in a project that allowed us to support 700 children with school supplies and 135 families with goats and sheep for breeding; fertilizers, seeds and insecticides for gardening, and we also provide household latrines.
What benefit will the goats and sheep give these families?
Diallo: Families that receive goats have the potential to improve their lives. We thought it was beneficial to focus on this potential by providing them with the necessary skills, knowledge and animals that will permit them to take charge of their future.
In our communities, the populations are basically local farmers. Those who have the means purchase cattle that they use to cultivate land on a large scale, yield more products and generate more income. But poorer families cannot afford to rent or buy cattle.
However, there is a barter system that exists in these communities, giving people the opportunity to exchange goats or sheep for cattle; at least four sheep or goats equal one cow. Nevertheless, the idea behind providing goats and sheep to families is not limited to obtaining cattle. In a short time period, they can cultivate a herd of goats or sheep, which are easier to sell in local markets for quick income, allowing them to gain confidence and recognition in their villages. That’s why we thought that goats and sheep could be a solution for the short or long term.
How did the project work?
In 2013, we identified 135 extremely poor families who use traditional tools and bare hands to do their farming work, have only two small meals a day and whose children are not enrolled in school but rather work on their farms. Initially we provided a total of 200 animals (140 sheep and 60 goats) to 100 families (one pair per family). Later in September, the remaining 35 families received 140 sheep for breeding (two pairs per family).
Before delivering the animals to the families, the Federation signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Animal Husbandry. They immunized these animals and administered de-wormers.
What is the current state of the first 200 animals given to families?
Diallo: According to the Department of Animal Husbandry, 75 percent of the animals have reproduced. We are told that the children of these families play happily with the young animals, cherish them and also learn to care for them. We are hopeful that in a few years’ time, these families will be financially independent enough to plow their land, pay school tuition for their children and meet their basic needs.
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
Ebola, a deadly and extremely painful virus, has broken out in western Africa. We asked Meg, who worked in Uganda during a previous outbreak, to share her impressions of Ebola and how it’s spread.
In Guinea’s Forest Region, where the world’s latest Ebola outbreak began, a bat is considered a delicacy — unless it’s your totem animal. If your family name is Guemou, Gbilimou, Gamamou, Balamou or Kolamou, you won’t eat bats, dogs or snakes.
You’ll also be at slightly less risk of contracting Ebola. Researchers believe that one in three West African bats carries Ebola antibodies. Even animals with no sign of illness can infect humans through blood or body fluids.
Every Ebola outbreak begins with a single animal-to-human transmission, then spreads from human to human through direct contact with blood, saliva, perspiration, urine, feces, organs, even semen. After an incubation period of two to 21 days, those infected pass Ebola on — often to family members and health care workers.
In Guinea, doctors initially mistook Ebola for Lassa, another viral hemorrhagic fever that accounts for about one in seven hospital admissions across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Hospitals there often lack laboratories equipped to distinguish one virus from another.
Rats excrete the Lassa virus in their urine. It disperses during the daily sweeping of dirt floors, and then humans inhale it. Lassa, like malaria, requires vector control. Ebola’s transmission, on the other hand, plays into religion and culture; greetings, hospitality, caring for the sick, personal hygiene and funeral preparations all can cause its transmission.
I lived in Uganda in 2007 when a new strain of Ebola surfaced on its border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Guinea’s virus is also a new strain, very closely related to the type from the DRC. Back in 2007, an infected doctor seeking treatment in Uganda’s capital brought Ebola to Kampala. This March, an infected doctor brought Ebola to Guinea’s capital, Conakry.
In 2007, Uganda threatened to close Entebbe International Airport. Now, Senegal has closed its land border with Guinea, The Gambia cancelled flights into Conakry, and other passengers must undergo health screening at arrival and departure. Saudi Arabia has even suspended visas for the haj, meaning that Guineans and Liberians won’t be among the pilgrims to Mecca this October. Muslims save money for decades to make pilgrimages on behalf of their families. Upon return, they bless all who shake their hands.
Ebola twists, knots and adorns itself in filaments. It is one of the most lethal pathogens on earth, and the U.S. has classified it under bioterrorism. There’s no vaccine, cure or treatment. If your immune system can’t fight it off, the virus bores holes in your blood vessels. Ebola kills most of its human hosts. Since it’s rare for Guineans and Liberians to ever touch a microscope or see germs, many still attribute sudden death caused by Ebola to sorcery.
No child should have to watch her mother die alone, touched only by doctors encased in protective armor. No father should suffer the agony of having infected his child. And those who recover don’t deserve stigma. Please help us counter fear with education and hygiene interventions.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
Today is World Malaria Day, which recognizes one of the deadliest diseases in the world, particularly for children under the age of 5. According to the World Health Organization’s 2013 malaria report, approximately 627,000 people died from the vector-borne disease; 90 percent of those who died were in sub-Saharan Africa, and 77 percent were children younger than 5.
There are several things you can do to help ease the problem of malaria, which affects countries in Asia, as well as in Africa.
The greater availability of medicated bed nets and medication, along with education about preventive measures, has helped many families. Malaria mortality rates fell by 42 percent between 2000 and 2012 in all age groups and by 48 percent in children under 5. Nonetheless, many still need assistance.
Donating bed nets, whether it’s one or a dozen, makes a big difference for children in Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mozambique, Sri Lanka, The Gambia, Uganda, Zambia and other countries. It can be the difference between life and death.
Also, you can share this infographic on social media. It clearly states the toll malaria takes on the most vulnerable. Even when children survive malaria, they often suffer recurring bouts that interrupt school or disrupt their families’ livelihoods when their parents have to take them to a far-off clinic for treatment.
Please spread the word about malaria today!
Reporting by ChildFund The Gambia
I want to take this opportunity to share my personal experience with this killer disease called malaria. It was on July 10, 2010. My day started off really well, but later on during my lessons, I got a very menacing illness and could no longer continue with my lessons. I reported the matter to my teacher, who sent me home. On my way, I felt like l took the longest route because I felt so exhausted.
One of my friends had to help me reach home safely; upon my arrival at home, both my parents could not attend to me because they were working. The only option I was left was to lie down on my bed until my parents’ return from the farm.
After explaining my symptoms to my parents, they gave me traditional herbs for a few days, to no avail. My condition was deteriorating, I became weaker by each passing minute, and I had constant joint pains, loss of appetite and severe weight loss. Thanks to my neighbor’s intervention, I was taken to the village community health post, which was supported by ChildFund The Gambia.
Going to the clinic also proved to be a difficulty, as I was in no condition to walk. But our neighbor provided us with a vehicle to drive to the clinic. I was admitted and had a blood test. I can vividly remember receiving IV drips of water and medication to control my temperature.
An hour later, the nurse came with my results, saying that I was suffering from chronic malaria and that the delay in taking me to the clinic did not help. I was given drugs and more injections during my four-day stay in the clinic to help flush out the malaria parasites in my immune system.
Upon recovery, I took it upon myself to tell my fellow students about the dangers of this preventable disease and how to protect themselves from this killer disease and what a difference sleeping under a treated bed net makes.
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
One in a series this week for World Health Day (April 7)
One bright morning, I was administering the English language section of a four-hour exam in a high school in Saint-Louis, Senegal. About halfway through the test, which divides high school graduates who go on to university from those who return to their villages to farm, I felt dizzy and feverish.
By noon, I was walking slowly across a quarter-mile-long cantilever bridge, clinging to the handrail. The bridge connects the island portion of the town to the mainland, where I lived. It felt as if a vise was crushing my head; I could barely see.
Reaching the mainland, I sat down on a pile of rocks on the bank of the Senegal River, shaking uncontrollably in the intense sunlight. Eventually, a cool hand grazed my forehead. I heard a sharp intake of breath, then a familiar voice saying, in French, “malaria.”
I stared at the child in front of me, unable to move or speak.
“Miss Meg, it’s me, Amadou N’Diaye. I’m taking you home now.”
He ran back to the street and flagged down a taxi. Together, Amadou and the driver lifted me inside. When we arrived at our apartment block, Amadou ran first to my Peace Corps colleagues, who carried me up the stairs and into bed. Then he found my French friend. “Bring your medicines, quick,” he told Christian.
Christian’s cocktails of anti-malarial and tetracycline drugs worked. Three days later, I came out from under my mosquito net, no longer wanting to die.
I’d slept under that net for nearly two years. And I’d taken tonic water daily for its quinine benefit, lit a mosquito coil in my bedroom each evening at sunset, and swallowed my weekly pills. But despite these precautions, on restless nights when I bumped up against my net, mosquitos feasted on my arms and legs. Anti-malarial drugs don’t entirely destroy plasmodium parasites, which carry malaria; they merely keep them under control. In those days, the West African breeds were increasingly drug-resistant.
Now imagine what it’s like for children without bed nets or medication who are bitten every night of every rainy season by hundreds of mosquitos.
This year, World Health Day is turning its focus toward vector-borne infections; its motto is “small bite, big threat.” Epidemiologists refer to insects and snails as the vectors for parasites and viruses they transmit to our bloodstreams.
Malaria is the world’s most prevalent vector-borne infection, but dengue fever, a mosquito-borne virus, is the fastest growing. In the countries where ChildFund serves, other parasitic diseases such as Chagas, from kissing bugs, and trypanosomiasis, from tsetse flies, threaten children’s health. Viral illnesses, including chikungunya (mosquitos), schistosomiasis (freshwater snails), and the hemorrhagic fevers — Yellow Fever (mosquitos), Rift Valley Fever (mosquitos) and Crimean-Congo Fever (ticks) — are less widespread but still deadly.
Urbanization, deforestation and damaging agricultural practices all contribute to the spread of malaria. Deforestation and urbanization also led to resurgences of Yellow Fever and the sudden emergence of dengue and chikungunya.
Mosquitos breed in stagnant water, hiding in tall grass during the day and tracking their human targets nightly by the carbon dioxide we exhale. Although we can’t yet eradicate malaria, giving families access to medicated bed nets is a step in the right direction.
By ChildFund Mozambique Staff
One in a series this week for World Health Day (April 7)
Olga Jeje has worked in Gondola as a doctor since 2009, and she’s experienced firsthand the partnership between ChildFund and Mozambique’s health department, a collaboration that helps provide basic health services for children and families.
“At the health services department, we work in close coordination with ChildFund, which supports vaccination campaigns against polio and measles, and also in reaching children with supplements of vitamin A,” Olga notes.
ChildFund has supported doctors and other medical personnel with transportation and by facilitating their moves from one clinic to another. As a result, about 8,000 children have benefited in Gondola.
Another result of the partnership between ChildFund and the District Office of Health Gondola has been the distribution of insecticide-treated mosquito nets purchased by ChildFund supporters, benefiting more than 100 children who now have a better chance of avoiding malaria.
Talking to community members, many say that ChildFund’s contribution to local health services has meant a lot.
“The presence of community health activists in the area, trained by ChildFund through the Community Caring for Children Programme, has been a great opportunity for us, because we now understand the benefits of taking our children to the health centers at the first signs of sickness,” says Julio Domingos, a community leader in Mazicuera. “We now know the importance of managing waste to avoid diseases, such as diarrhea, and we now know how important is to use a mosquito net in order to prevent malaria. We are now aware of the methods of how to prevent HIV and AIDS. We also see community activists paying visits to people living with HIV and AIDS, and we know that this gesture is very important for all of us.”
By Priscilla Chama, ChildFund Zambia
As we conclude our 75th anniversary blog series, we are focusing on success stories of youth and alumni from ChildFund’s programs in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Europe. Today we meet Phanny, an automotive repair supervisor in Zambia.
“I never imagined when I was growing up that one day I would work as a supervisor in one of the prestigious companies in this country. I supervise a team of men who work in automotive repair, vehicle servicing and boat repair. I owe my success to a man that sponsored me through ChildFund, and I’m really grateful. My life has turned around for the better, and I wake up every morning with a reason for living.”
These are the words of 28-year-old Phanny, a supervisor at Autoworld, which sells an extensive range of automotive, marine and lifestyle products in Zambia.
Phanny’s parents died when she was only four years old, and none of their relatives offered to take in Phanny and her 16-year-old sister after they were orphaned. So, the sisters remained in their parents’ home, and Phanny’s sister dropped out of school and resorted to doing odd jobs so that they could survive.
“My life before ChildFund was very difficult,” Phanny explains. “My sister only made enough for us to have a meal, I had no hope of ever starting school, and most of the time I joined my sister, washing people’s clothes and cleaning their homes for food.”
Phanny’s big breakthrough came when her sister heard about the ChildFund sponsorship program (then, Christian Children’s Fund) and the girls were immediately enrolled in programs at Tiyanjane Community Association.
“Being enrolled at Tiyanjane project was the biggest relief for us,” Phanny says. “The sponsor I was assigned to was very kind. In our letters, my sister explained that I came from a child-headed household, and he became like a father to me. He did not just send us money for my school but also inspiring letters and cards. I looked forward to receiving them every month.”
With support from her sponsor, Phanny sailed through primary school and qualified for secondary school with good grades. She completed school in 2006 and decided to study motor vehicle engineering.
As you can see, I’m the only lady here, supervising a number of men. I feel like I’m living my dream.
In 2009, she started working for Autoworld as an assistant motor vehicle technician. She rose through the ranks through her commitment and love for the job. Today, she is the supervisor and still the only female at Autoworld’s downtown branch. She and her sister live together in a nice house, and Phanny’s sister no longer has to take odd jobs.
“As you can see, I’m the only lady here, supervising a number of men,” Phanny says. “My life has changed positively, and I feel like I’m living my dream. I have dreams of meeting my sponsor to thank him and tell him in person what his support has done.”
About her future plans, Phanny explains that she wants to further her education and open a garage of her own so that she can support other children in need in her community.