As the Ebola virus continues to claim thousands of lives in western Africa, many children have been orphaned. To help these children — many of whom are being watched for early signs of the virus — ChildFund has opened an Interim Care Center specifically for children in Monrovia, Liberia, with the cooperation of Liberia’s Ministry of Health and Social Welfare.
Currently, 20 children are getting settled in the facility, where they will stay for 21 days in quarantine while being monitored and receiving counseling from volunteers who have survived Ebola and are now immune. A nurse, social workers and mental health workers will be on hand to assist the children too.
“More than 2,000 children have been orphaned by Ebola in Liberia,” says Billy Abimbilla, ChildFund’s national director for Liberia and Sierra Leone.
“In addition to the tragedy of losing parents, these children are being traumatized by the stigma associated with the virus. They have nowhere else to go.”
As of now, more than 3,400 people have succumbed to the virus, with more than 7,400 cases being reported, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
In addition to losing parents and caregivers, children affected by Ebola often are shunned by community members out of fear of contracting the deadly virus, so ChildFund’s center serves an important need. Aside from shelter and food, the children will be able to play and read, as well as receive psychosocial support to address their grief and trauma. If they turn feverish or show other early signs of Ebola, they will go to a treatment center immediately.
Also, staffers at the Interim Care Center will be looking for family members or foster caregivers who can take in the children once they safely finish their quarantine. Plans are also in the works now for ChildFund and the Health and Social Welfare Ministry to open more centers across Liberia.
“The Interim Care Center is a supportive, safe place where the children can grieve while the staff tries to connect them with surviving family members,” Abimbilla says.
Make a contribution to ChildFund’s Ebola Response Fund.
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
Home from an afternoon at the beach, my brothers, sisters, cousins and I would sit crowded on the front porch, still in our swimsuits with our feet crusted in sand, eating ice cream made with heavy cream, sugar, eggs, vanilla and fresh peaches. My first summer living in Senegal, I found a cast-off barrel freezer, bought mangoes from the market and a block of ice and sea salt from the local fishery, then invited my friends to an ice cream party, which brought back those memories from the beach.
Food is far more than just nutrition; it’s also a universal symbol of hospitality. Sharing a meal creates community. Food comforts us when its scent or flavor triggers emotion and memory.
Comfort food is generational as well as geographical. Senegalese children take comfort in a knobby green fruit called corossol, with flesh the color, flavor and texture of custard. Ugandan children scoping out street food choose kabalagala, a deep-fried doughnut made of sweet fingerling bananas and cassava flour. And children in Guinea suck on small bags of frozen bissap, gingembre or pain de singe – hibiscus, ginger or baobab fruit juices.
Food shortages throw families and communities into crisis, and it’s mainly a distribution problem because we have enough food to feed everyone. Food shortages result from climate change, waste or spoilage, poor infrastructure, unstable markets, conflicts, politics and disease.
We rarely consider disease as a factor in hunger, but epidemics dramatically affect food availability. HIV and AIDS, by primarily killing adults between ages 25 and 45, leave the back-breaking labor of farming to the children and elderly. Annual bouts of malaria reduce a farmer’s capacity to plant and harvest. And the Ebola outbreak in western Africa threatens food security through human response.
Ebola spread as people moved freely around the Western Guinean Lowland Forest that spans southern Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. This shared ecosystem is home to ethnic groups whose family members extend across all three countries. Borders in the rainforest are unofficial and permeable. Initially, Ebola cases clustered in the triangle where Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia meet. But in time, as the infected sought treatment elsewhere, Ebola was transmitted to every district in Sierra Leone and to all but two of Liberia’s southernmost districts.
An early approach to limiting Ebola involved closing land borders. This tactic threatened thousands with starvation because more than three-quarters of Liberia’s produce comes from Guinea. Sierra Leone cannot cultivate enough crops to feed its population, either, and relies on trade with Guinea.
Also, Liberia quarantined towns and Sierra Leone locked down the country for a time. Because many western Africans lack a reliable source of electricity, they have no refrigeration and must purchase food daily. Otherwise, it perishes.
In October, the blog is focusing on the harvest and traditional foods. Stay tuned this month for recipes from some of the countries where we work.
Photos by Jake Lyell and words by Sara Woznicki, ChildFund Digital Marketing Specialist
This month, ChildFund is focusing on the harvest and traditional foods in the communities where we work, so check here often in October to find recipes and more. Today, we look at Ethiopia. The basis for Ethiopian cuisine is injera, a large flatbread that has a sponge-like texture similar to a pancake. Here’s more about injera and how it’s made:
Sept. 21 is the United Nations-designated International Day of Peace, celebrated throughout the world.
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
When I first moved to Senegal, I learned a local language. For official business we spoke French, but in the field we spoke Wolof, the language of teranga, kalante and jamm — hospitality, joking kinship and peace.
When greeting someone in Wolof, the answer is always “peace, only peace.” How are you, how’s your household, and your work, your farm, your herds, your day (or night), how’s the family (just double-checking) and, ending the ceremony, are you all in peace? Jamm’ rekk.
Life in Senegal was peaceful. Senegal’s first president, a famous poet and war hero, was Catholic and part of the Serère population in a predominantly Muslim, Wolof land. Léopold Sédar Senghor, who served as president from 1960 to 1980, transformed his nation into an exceptionally tolerant and democratic society. A visionary in human and economic development, Senghor led Senegal to independence.
Years later, I lived in neighboring Guinea, where joking kinship also reigns. Studying Pular there, I immediately recognized the ritual response: jam tun, only peace. Guinea’s recent history has been much more turbulent than Senegal’s, and the U.N. designated the country in its Human Development Index as one of the world’s 10 least developed.
Lacking peace, a country struggles to educate its children. It can’t provide health care, employment opportunities for youth, infrastructure or public services, safety and security, or a stable economy. Since a country and its peoples have no future without peace, peace is a human right.
Each summer, the Fund for Peace publishes a Fragile States Index (FSI), scoring countries on 12 socioeconomic and political indicators. Overall scores fall into four categories: Sustainable, Stable, Warning and Alert. A county’s FSI level often tracks closely to its HDI tier: Very High, High, Medium or Low.
The HDI measures health, education and income (adjusted for inequality) at a moment in time, while the FSI predicts future conflict. Factors such as the number of refugees, uneven economic development, the flight of educated citizens to other countries, economic decline and poverty, human rights and external influences are all taken into account to determine a country’s status in the Fragile States Index.
Over the past decade, Belarus and Indonesia — countries where ChildFund works — experienced the most notable improvements in the world. Senegal, on the other hand, shows the worst long-term performance. In 2007, Senegal was on par with Brazil. Then the country tumbled 55 places and, in the 2014 report, is now at the Very High Warning level. Why? Refugees from the conflicts in Guinea and Mali, emigration of Senegal’s educated populace, political competition and demographic pressures, such as drought, flooding, food and water scarcity and chronic malnutrition. Guinea, trapped at High Alert, is unlikely to improve. Ebola has devastated the nation’s precarious health system and damaged its economy.
Please consider sharing your peace with a child in Guinea or Senegal.
ChildFund’s emergency management unit provided a status report late last week on the spread of the Ebola virus in our program areas in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Senegal, which has reported only one case so far. Read more here about Guinea, too. To help, you can make a gift to our Ebola Response Fund, which will help ChildFund support local efforts to control the virus’ spread and provide information and resources to communities.
Reporting by Arthur Tokpah, ChildFund Guinea
Ebola has sickened an estimated 4,200 people in Africa, and as of Sept. 9, 2,288 people have died from the virus, according to the World Health Organization. The spread of Ebola remains most serious in Liberia, where there have been the most deaths. Also affected are Guinea, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. Senegal reported its first Ebola case last week, and officials in The Gambia are keeping close watch for cases, although none had been reported as of Sept. 9.
In Guinea, the situation appears to be stabilizing. As part of its strategy to fight the deadly Ebola virus, ChildFund Guinea identified and engaged community leaders to convey information to the public in three of Guinea’s affected communities.
These 108 leaders include imams, priests, a pastor, traditional healers and hunters — all of whom are respected and have influence within their communities. In March, as the outbreak began, ChildFund Guinea’s office held training workshops on conducting outreach campaigns, as well as identifying and referring people with suspected cases of Ebola to health facilities.
As a result, community members have received important information about good hygiene and preventive measures from people they know and trust. The training has concluded, but information sharing continues through local groups and one-on-one discussions at Guineans’ homes and houses of worship.
To date, 35 traditional healers (10 in Kindia and 25 in Dabola) and 28 hunters involved in the project are actively continuing the efforts to contain the spread of Ebola in Guinea. These men are part of indigenous peoples, who trust them as caregivers of the land and of people. Because of their roles and influence, healers and hunters are critical to public awareness efforts.
This community-centered approach has created widespread trust and increased public support for the use of preventive measures.
The outreach campaign has yielded concrete results, as three people suspected of having the virus were referred to the Regional Hospital of Dabola. Unfortunately, these three patients died a few days later, but this intervention helped prevent further spread of the virus.
Since the end of March, no new cases have been reported in any of the communities where ChildFund works in Guinea. Nevertheless, community members continue to be vigilant and prepared to take action if they see anyone who has a suspected case of Ebola.
Read more about ChildFund’s efforts to prevent and contain Ebola in Guinea and other western African countries.
We often talk about how a lack of clean water affects many facets of a child’s life. He or she is likely to become sick, miss school and be exposed to danger, all because there is no source of fresh water nearby. But this video really shows the struggle. Here’s Aleyka, a girl from Ethiopia whose days are consumed by the quest for water for her family. Video by Jake Lyell.
School is starting this week for many children in the United States. Children and youth in many of the 30 countries where ChildFund works have limited access to school, whether it’s because their families can’t afford to pay fees for uniforms, or the children are relied upon to fetch water or work to contribute to a family’s livelihood. Sponsorship helps many children attend school longer and have a better chance to break the generational cycle of poverty. Here are some pictures of students from communities where we work:
By Christine Ennulat, with reporting by Joan Ng’ang’a, ChildFund Kenya
On any given day, Halima has her work cut out for her. As a community health volunteer in a rural area outside of Mombasa, she makes one or two home visits per day, checking in on families participating in ChildFund’s program to help children and families affected by HIV and AIDS in Kenya’s Coast and Nairobi provinces. Halima has 50 children on her list.
Launched in 2011 and run by ChildFund and several other partner organizations, the USAID-funded program takes a comprehensive approach to ensuring that these children and their caregivers have a safety net so they can build toward a more hopeful future. The program works to ensure that basic needs are met, including:
Today, Halima’s first visit is with Nadzua, age 35, mother of 11; she is a second wife, married into a family who lost their mother to HIV. In her packed-dirt front yard, she greets Halima warmly, a sleepy toddler balanced on her hip. Her 2-year-old son, Mbega, is the only one of Nadzua’s children home this morning — the others are at school, and her husband is in town.
The women sit outside, facing each other, and begin. Before moving on to today’s subject — how Nadzua can gain skills to improve her family’s income — there’s a lot to talk about: the children’s health and immunizations, how things are going at school, how their improved hygiene practices are working out, whether the family is getting the nutrition they need, how Nadzua is doing in the literacy classes Halima encouraged her to take.
How You Can Help
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It’s all hard with 11 children to care for, but life has improved since Halima’s visits began. “I have gained a lot from Halima,” Nadzua says. “I am more educated, more informed on how to take care of my children and my household.”
And she’s especially proud of herself on this day: She just harvested and sold 10 bags of green lentils, which meant she could cover her oldest son’s high school fees.
As Halima leaves a little later, she breathes a happy sigh: She loves her work. She loves seeing families thrive despite the devastation of HIV and AIDS. Because she knows exactly how hard it is.
Halima, a single mother of four, has taken in the three children left behind by her two sisters, whom she lost to AIDS. All three children are HIV-positive.
And, thanks to Halima and all she’s learned, all seven children are thriving.
On her way to her next appointment, Halima passes a school she visits nearly every week, educating parents about children’s needs, sanitation and more. “I’m proud to see that the parents in the village understand the importance of growth monitoring, and that they’re interested in their children’s school performance and attendance,” she says.
She’s also had a hand in one important improvement to the facility itself: Until recently, the toilets were dirty, spilling human waste outside — a biohazard. Halima contacted the local public health officer, who ordered the school administrator to either fix the latrines or close the school.
Halima’s next client, Mwau, is a widowed father of four, and he’s waiting. His wife died four years ago. “When one parent dies, it gets even more difficult to take care of the family,” he says. His children are a girl, 16, and three boys, 8, 12 and 14.
Mwau has participated in several of ChildFund’s workshops — on child rights, nutrition, health and economic empowerment. With other farmers, he’s a member of one of ChildFund’s village savings-and-loan groups. The men are also working together to find better markets for their wares. Thanks to what he’s learned and earned through the overall program, Mwau has been able to move his family from a rickety mud hut into a stone house.
Still, he worries about his children — especially his daughter.
“My daughter was most affected when her mother died,” he says. When the 16-year-old began coming home late after school, he wanted to yell at her, but he didn’t — in the workshops and from his talks with Halima, he knew there were better ways to handle teenagers. But this was really a job for a mother … and his children’s mother was gone. So, at his request, Halima stepped in.
“I explained that while she may want to enjoy the company of friends, some will not have good intentions toward her,” Halima remembers. “There are risks such as rape, and the consequences can be unwanted pregnancies and dropping out of school.”
Halima also encouraged the girl to help out at home — her family needs her. They all need each other.
It’s moments like this that keep her moving forward. “My drive is that people in the community listen to me,” she says. “I have a deep desire to see them grow and lead better lives.”
In 2012, ChildFund launched a program called Shine a Light in four countries, 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 have learned about the progress made in the countries; today, we focus on Senegal. To read the rest of the series, click here. If you want to help women and girls gain greater independence and empowerment, we have some ideas.
By Danielle Roth, Technical Coordinator for Youth Programs
Senegalese children experience gender-based violence at home and school and in their communities, which amount to an overall environment of pervasive fear and persecution, particularly for girls. A recent study found that in Senegal, 74 percent of schoolgirls have been sexually harassed, 22 percent have experienced an attempted rape, and 8 percent have been raped. Other studies have shown that the people likely to perpetrate this violence are often known to the victim — a classmate, a boyfriend, a neighbor or a teacher.
Gender-based violence, or GBV, is a problem of substantial proportions. It is also an issue with deep roots embedded in socio-cultural norms and community dynamics such as expectations around masculinity and femininity, power dynamics within the household and rigid gender roles. ChildFund is working with Senegalese communities to help them respond to and prevent GBV.
So, what exactly are we doing?
ChildFund works in the Tattaguine and Kolouckmbada areas of the Mbour district to address GBV against children and youth 6 years and older, through a community-led and action-oriented approach known as the community action cycle. This method of community mobilization includes four steps: 1) forming groups, (2) self-diagnosing challenges in the community, (3) developing action plans and (4) carrying out action plans.
From January through June 2014, six child protection groups, composed of community members themselves who are vulnerable to GBV and including both young people and adults, met to discuss some of the most pervasive GBV issues in their communities. These groups then developed their action plans, which outlined key steps they wanted to take in partnership with their communities to address these issues.
The groups chose to focus on community mobilization and advocacy with authorities around rape, early and forced marriage and early pregnancy. An example of the successful work of one group involves a case of forced marriage. A young woman, aged 14 — we will call her Mawa — was forced to leave school when her mother received a pre-dowry gift.
Mawa says, “One day, around 8 p.m., while I was learning my lessons in my mother’s room, she called me to introduce me to two young men. She told me with a very low voice that I should be very kind with one of the men because he had come to ask me for marriage. When I told her that I did not want to get married — I am a student and I want to stay at school — she told me that if I did not love the guy and if I refuse this marriage, she will no longer support me.”
Mawa was left with no choice. To prepare her for marriage, Mawa’s mother withdrew her from school and sent her to the capital, Dakar, to work as a housemaid.
When the youth group in her village learned of Mawa’s situation, they brought the case to the newly formed child protection group. The group then met with Mawa’s mother to negotiate for her return under circumstances that the mother would find amenable but that also recognized Mawa’s human rights.
Mawa had no idea that all this was going on. “One Sunday, my mother called and asked me to come back to my town to resume my studies,” she says. “It is then that I learned that it was thanks to my village child protection committee that I was able to return home.
Cases like Mawa’s are not uncommon in Senegal, and that is why child protection groups like the one in her community are so important. To deepen this vital work, ChildFund will continue to support the child protection groups through another community action cycle.