Today’s Global Handwashing Day, which emphasizes the importance of washing hands with clean water and soap to prevent diseases and infections. Just months ago, we saw how proper handwashing could be the difference between life and death in West Africa during the Ebola outbreak. It’s also a skill nearly anyone can learn. Watch (and share) this video by Jake Lyell, where 5-year-old Joseph from Kenya teaches all of us how to clean our hands. You can help children gain access to clean water through our Real Gifts Catalog, too.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
Oct. 11 is the International Day of the Girl Child, a day set aside by the United Nations to recognize girls’ rights and the special challenges they face. This year’s theme for the day is The Power of the Adolescent Girl: Vision for 2030, so ChildFund’s blog will focus this week on girls who are working to achieve great things now and in the future.
Thinking about girls — especially those who are entering adolescence — reminded me of some favorite stories from past blog posts, featuring girls raising their voices to advocate for themselves and other young people. In March, Maria Antônia, a 14-year-old girl from Brazil, spoke about violence against children at the United Nations’ headquarters in New York. “It is very important to improve child-friendly services within the child protection network, so that children feel confident and safe,” she said. It was her first time in the United States, as well as the first time she’d seen snow.
In a post from 2014, this one from Indonesia, we met Stefanie and Irma, teenagers who were youth facilitators in a large, multi-age forum about dating violence, which has grown more prevalent there in recent years. It’s impressive how open children and youth can be about such sensitive issues, and it’s thanks to young people like Irma and Stefanie that Indonesian communities are making progress in stopping domestic violence.
Finally, in Ethiopia, four young women spoke out about children’s right to a complete education, during 2014’s Day of the African Child, an annual, Africa-wide event that marks the deaths of young protesters who marched for better educational access in Soweto, South Africa, in 1976. Eden, Helen, Aziza and Bemnet, all in their teens, addressed the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. You can read their words, which reflect the struggles they and other young people in their communities face.
At the U.N.’s Day of the Girl website, read about the special challenges girls face, including early marriage, gender-based violence and poor access to education and job opportunities. Also, if you’re on social media, use the hashtag #dayofthegirl to learn more and discuss these issues.
During our month-long focus on literacy, ChildFund staff members asked children in Asia, Africa and the Americas to tell them about their favorite books and why they love them. You can support children’s reading habits in a couple of ways: ChildFund’s Just Read! program in the United States, or helping ship textbooks to schools overseas. Enjoy the pictures, too!
Brazil: Agatha is 6 years old, and she loves to read and dance ballet. At the local partner organization where she spends time, Sorriso da Criança (Smile of the Child), she often goes to the library.
“My favorite story is The Princess and the Frog,” Agatha says. “Because there’s a princess, and to me she is the best character. The frog falls in love with a princess, and after all, she discovers that he is a prince. In the end, they live together forever.”
“Before I could read, I used to ask my father to read stories for me. Now I can read by myself and I love it. I would say to all the children in the world: If you can, go to a library, it’s so cool!”
Philippines: “I always go to the library during my free time,” says Jamil. “I love looking through books about animals, like the hippopotamus. I wish to become a wildlife photographer someday.”
Bolivia: Reyna is 11 years old. She loves short stories like Aesop’s fables.
United States: Anastasia, 8, of Cheyenne River, South Dakota, received a princess book and a “pillow pet” from her sponsor, so she read the book to her new pet.
Brazil: Jéssica, 10, is a shy girl who loves to read. Her favorite book is Diary of a Wimpy Kid. “I really love to read, especially in my home. But the library is also very important in my life.”
Sierra Leone: Saio, 11, lives in Koinadugu District. “I am in class five. My favorite story book is The African Tea Pot.”
Sri Lanka: Sarujan, 10, loves to read under the shade of the mango tree in his garden. He likes comic books the best because they have lots of pictures.
“My favorite story is about animals living together in peace, in the jungle,” he says, explaining that he likes it because the animals live in harmony in their jungle home without conflicts or disturbances. “My grandmother tells the best stories,” he adds.
By Nyararai Magudu, ChildFund Mozambique Program Director
Maria enthusiastically picked up her school bag. Although it’s dirty and worn out, she clutched it close to her chest. Inside were a few workbooks without covers, a 30-cm ruler, a pen and a pencil. She lives in a remote and poor province in Mozambique with her parents, three younger sisters and two younger brothers.
Maria, 15, hoped for many things: a box with a compass, rulers and other mathematical tools, colored pens, a big rubber eraser, a scientific calculator, a student dictionary, even a computer. What a wish list. Poverty’s grip had often made her life miserable, she sometimes thought.
Anyway, it was a new day, she remembered, a school day, which came with new hopes and possibilities. Maria loves school more than anything. This morning, she grabbed her new bike, which came from ChildFund’s Dream Bike program, and rode majestically to school.
I used to be the last to arrive in class. Most of the time I missed the first lessons, or I dozed. Now, everything has changed.
Before she received the bike, Maria used to leave her home at dawn to walk six miles to school and often returned after dark. Although she was never physically abused during the daily journey, there have been several stories of girls who have been attacked and hurt in Maria’s district, Zavala, where ChildFund has worked since 2006.
Now, instead of waking at 4 a.m. and trekking three hours to school, Maria has an hour-long journey. It’s still a long way, but she considers herself lucky.
“I used to arrive at school weary. The 10 kilometers was a long walk to freedom,” Maria chuckled. “Yes, education is freedom!”
When she walked to school, Maria often had to take 10 minutes to clean the dust and sweat off her face, arms and legs, making her even later to school.
“I used to be the last to arrive in class,” she recalled. “Most of the time I missed the first lessons, or I dozed. Now, everything has changed. It only requires me one hour to get to school. I’m investing more time now in my studies, and I can sleep for another hour. I can study for another hour, and I can ride to school for only an hour. I’m no longer weary; no more dozing. The benefits are beyond imagination.
“These are tangible benefits. There are also other ones,” Maria added. “My grades improved tremendously as soon as I got the bike. I developed high self-esteem. Some people who used to laugh at my poverty started to respect me. I was nominated to be a prefect* in my class after I got a bike. Believe me, I´m now a public figure in the school!”
*Prefects are students who are left in charge of the class when the teacher has to leave the classroom and are considered prestigious positions.
You can help girls like Maria achieve their educational goals by donating to ChildFund’s Dream Bike project.
Mobile banking, or allowing funds to be sent electronically to a “mobile wallet,” may not spring immediately to mind as a major opportunity in developing countries. But in Kenya, a mobile banking project launched last November has helped families receive financial aid more quickly, efficiently and, most important, safely. In this video produced by our corporate partner Standard Chartered Bank, which created the Straight2Bank Wallet service, a Kenyan girl named Beatrice and her family talk about how they’ve used financial support through ChildFund to purchase her school books and uniforms, and ChildFund’s global treasurer, Sassan Parandeh, discusses its advantages in terms of security and broad social and economic change.
By Arthur Tokpah, ChildFund Guinea
Most of the children ChildFund works with in Guinea’s Dabola prefecture used to walk 2 1/2 miles or more to get to school. Many dreamed of bicycles to get them there quickly and safely.
One day, the dream came true, when 8-year-old Lansana and his friends received bicycles from ChildFund. “We will no longer be late for school!” they shouted with joy.
“Before, I used to walk to school with my little brother,” Lansana said. “We often got to school late, because I needed to go slowly with him along the road. Most of my friends whose parents bought bicycles for them could get to school sooner than we did. But today, I am so grateful to the donors of this bicycle. Though we are on school vacation, the bicycle will be a great help for my brother and me when school reopens. We will no longer get to school late.”
Lansana also talked about how much the bicycle was already helping his family: “Even now, the bicycle is a help to me and my family because I use it to get to the football field to play with my friends and also do little chores for my parents. Thanks again to the donors and to ChildFund.”
You can help make a difference in a child’s life by donating a Dream Bike.
Reporting and Photos from ChildFund staff in Mozambique, Sierra Leone and The Gambia
Although ChildFund’s Dream Bikes campaign began with a focus on India and Sri Lanka, children in several African countries also have expressed their desire for bicycles so they, too, can travel safely to and from school. Fanta, a 9-year-old girl from northern Sierra Leone, received a bike recently after her ChildFund sponsor sent the funds necessary for her family to purchase one.
“I have been dreaming about this every day, especially when I see my friends going to school on their bicycles,” said Fanta on the day she received her bicycle. “Now I can go to school early and return home early. I will now have time to study at home because I am not exhausted.” In the slideshow below are children from Mozambique and The Gambia with their bikes. More girls in Africa need bicycles so they can get to school efficiently and avoid danger along the roads. Learn more about Dream Bikes and how you can make a difference in a girl’s life.
The MasterCard Foundation recently produced a video about our e-learning program to train nurses in Zambia. The $7.6 million program, launched last June as a collaboration between ChildFund, The MasterCard Foundation and the African Medical and Research Foundation, is helping young men and women find employment in a country where there are few job opportunities, while also addressing a critical shortage of health care workers. Zambia has only one nurse for every 1,500 people, far below the World Health Organization’s recommended nurse-population ratio of 1 to 700. The Zambia Nurse and Life Skills Training program is expected to train 6,000 students to be nurses and midwives. Please enjoy the video.
This week, the World Health Organization declared that for the first time in a year, Sierra Leone had no confirmed, active cases of the Ebola virus. If none are reported between now and Oct. 5, 42 days after the last case, the country will be considered free of Ebola.
By Karifa Kamara, ChildFund Sierra Leone
At the peak of the 2014 Ebola outbreak, ChildFund started Interim Care Centers throughout Sierra Leone to help children who found themselves at risk, living in households where they had been exposed to the virus. Often, they had lost parents to the disease and did not have reliable care or protection. Ultimately, ChildFund set up seven centers nationwide and served 343 children.
We checked in recently with some of the children and volunteer workers at the centers to see how they were doing.
Of the 343 children served between July 2014 and this past July, 75 percent are orphaned, 15 percent have one parent, and 10 percent were reunited with both parents. In recent months, 330 children have been reunited with parents or other family members.
ChildFund’s assistance, supported by donors to the Ebola emergency response fund, didn’t end there. We provided clothes and bedding to children whose belongings had to be burned to avoid spreading the virus.
We’ve also provided Cash Grant Livelihood Support packages of $300 each to 120 families, who used the funds for school uniforms, books and writing materials, or for household expenses. Staff members at ChildFund Sierra Leone’s national office also continue to visit children who have been reunited with their parents or caregivers, giving them further financial and emotional support as they cope with the trauma of losing loved ones to Ebola. We expect to stay in contact with these families well into the future.
Children were not the only people who suffered in the outbreak.
About 90 percent of the volunteer staffers at interim care centers are Ebola survivors who initially suffered some form of stigmatization from relatives or the general public. Due to ignorance of the disease, people were scared to come near Ebola survivors, despite the fact that they were no longer contagious or even vulnerable to catching the disease a second time. Survivors lost their jobs and homes as a result, and many have shared their sad stories with ChildFund staff members.
Even children who survived Ebola or were merely under observation for symptoms were not welcome in relatives’ homes after leaving the interim care centers. It took many appeals and negotiations for some of these children to be accepted in their communities.
According to an Ebola survivor, Theresa, whose two sons also fell sick and recovered, “When I was discharged from the clinic, I used to feel very ashamed. My neighbors’ attitude made things worse for me. I could not even use the apartment building’s toilet without fearing that someone would attack or abuse me.” Ultimately, the family left their apartment and now live elsewhere.
But people in Sierra Leone are becoming more aware of the truth about Ebola through an anti-stigmatization publicity campaign led by the federal government and assisted by ChildFund. Also, community members in areas with interim care centers have seen with their own eyes how Ebola survivors have helped many children.
“When the ICCs were established, survivors were still being stigmatized,” says Ebola survivor and center volunteer Mohamed Swarray, who helped track down exposed children’s family members so they could be reunited. “Since the centers were dealing with children from quarantined homes, it was difficult for them to get nurses and caregivers. It was decided that it is us — the survivors — who can do the job well. So, that is how my status as a survivor actually gave me a job.”
Community members started to view survivors differently and appreciate their work. Many of the volunteers, who received stipends for their work, say they’re grateful for ChildFund’s support and are proud of working with children affected by Ebola. Today, they stand by, ready to work if they’re needed again.