Interview by Sierra Winston, ChildFund Communications Intern
In our 75-post series in honor of ChildFund’s 75th anniversary, we’ll hear from several of our national directors who oversee operations in the countries we serve in Africa, the Americas and Asia. Here, Billy Abimbilla shares some stories from his work in Sierra Leone.
How long have you worked at ChildFund?
I have been with ChildFund for the past five years. I joined ChildFund on Dec. 1, 2008, as the program director for Liberia; then I moved on to Sierra Leone as the national director in May 2011. I also acted as the regional director for West Africa for a few months recently.
What is your favorite thing about working here?
My favorite thing about ChildFund is the space that the organization offers for innovation and creativity in our support of children and their families. This has been facilitated by an enabling and inspiring leadership that recognizes and rewards efforts of the organization’s staff. Also fascinating to me are the results that our work has achieved for children and their families in making life more meaningful for them in very trying and fragile environments.
What successes have you had in your national office?
Together as a team, the Sierra Leone national office has made strides for children in the last two years, greatly increasing our program offerings and services. Our profile within the country has also increased, especially within the government and within the donor community. At all levels of government, we are known for our commitment to quality outcomes for children and having a child-centered focus. We have also helped our local partners diversify their sources of funding, rather than solely rely on ChildFund. This also has improved outcomes for children and their families.
What motivates you in life?
What motivates me in life is to see the results of the contributions you make in improving the lives of others who are less fortunate in life by no fault of their own. It is always satisfying to return to a place where you have helped people and to receive a hug — especially from children — and be most welcome. It is also my belief that no one on this earth is worthless; they may be born into circumstances that they did not help to create and when supported in the right way, they can correct their own situation and make things better for themselves.
Where did you work before ChildFund?
I have worked for ActionAid in Ghana, Tanzania and Ethiopia; DFID in Ghana; Concern Worldwide in Liberia; Oxfam in Uganda and now for ChildFund in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Senegal.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I like to watch National Geographic, National Geographic Wild and Discovery channels on TV. I also explore a lot on the Internet.
What is a quote, saying or belief that you live by?
Tony Robbins: “Identify your problems, but give your power and energy to solutions.”
By Sierra Winston, ChildFund Communications Intern
Victor Koyi, ChildFund’s new regional director of East and South Africa, has been with ChildFund for 17 years, most recently as national director of Kenya. He recently answered our questions about his motivations, successes and challenges.
What is your favorite thing about working for ChildFund?
The opportunity to make a difference in the many deprived, excluded and vulnerable children around the globe that as an agency we have committed to serve is an honor beyond measure to me. So, getting to the field and seeing that in action is my favorite high point all the time.
As ChildFund celebrates its 75th anniversary, could you tell us what you think has been the most important work we’ve done in East and South Africa?
In partnership with the respective governments and local partners in six countries in East and Southern Africa (Angola, Zambia, Mozambique, Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia), we have invested time and resources to ensure that children have access to education and training.
Education and training have a significant positive impact on health, social and economic participation, equal opportunities and income and productivity. Education provides the core skills that children need in a competitive global economy and certainly for children who do not proceed to higher institutions of learning. Getting skills that help them to find a means of livelihood is a critical lifesaver.
A variety of programs in East and Southern Africa, such as the Atlas project in Zambia, have helped public school teachers improve their technical capacities to teach children and increase use of active, participatory, child-friendly, research-based classroom practices, thus improving the quality, relevance and delivery of the curriculum. The Early Childhood Development investment in Kenya and Angola has given hope to young children in Emali and Elavoko; now they have equal access to effective care and development.
The Investment in Safe Water provision in Ethiopia is enabling hundreds of households to have access to clean water, reducing waterborne diseases and allowing children to have more school time. It is not easy to isolate the most important work we have done. However, our partnership with communities, regional governments, donors and communities over the years has created a wonderful platform for children to thrive.
How have conditions changed in the past couple of decades in terms of HIV and AIDS, particularly with children?
For nearly three decades, HIV and AIDS have devastated individuals and families with the tragedy of untimely death and medical, financial and social burdens. Although children’s concerns have always been present within the great spectrum of need associated with HIV, they have to some extent been overshadowed by the very scale of the epidemic in the adult populations.
Thanks to the improved evidence and accelerated action by many development players, including ChildFund International, the story of how AIDS is affecting children is being rewritten.
Children are now central to strategies and actions to avert and address the consequences of the epidemic. It is true that infections still thrive, babies are being born with the virus and mothers are dying. Adolescents are still becoming infected, but advocacy and investment on behalf of children have had an impact, and the goal of virtual elimination of mother-to-child transmission by 2015 appears within reach.
Through its East and Southern Africa country programs and in partnership with communities and other stakeholders, ChildFund has built community capacity to address psychosocial needs of children affected by HIV, helped reduce mother-to-child transmission, and contributed to a generation of informed youths who work to eliminate biases against HIV-positive people and are aware of the dangers of risky behavior.
The combined treatment efforts and increased knowledge have significantly reduced infection rates in the region.
What motivates you in your life?
I am fortunate to have had people in my life who helped me to navigate my way through life with some level-headedness. My parents and guardians helped to shape the value system that has influenced the person I am today. My greatest motivation is to pass on to my family, friends and peers values that contribute to making our communities a better place to live in. One of the most serious indictments against our civilization is our flagrant disregard for the welfare of our children and weaker minorities. Any effort I can make to change that — even if it is one person at a time — is my motivation in everything I do.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
ChildFund International is participating in Blog Action Day, which encourages a worldwide conversation on an important topic. This year’s focus is human rights.
For ChildFund, human rights often mean children’s rights: the freedom to grow up with basic resources like food, water and health care, as well as education and peaceful homes. In the 30 countries where we work, child protection is a significant part of our mission, including exposing children to knowledge that helps them stand up for their rights.
In Uganda, ChildFund has taken on a major role in the new Center of Excellence for the African Child, or as it’s more commonly known, the AfriChild Center. The purpose of this institution is to help improve practices and inform policy through a systematic process of scientific research, analysis and knowledge development. The center was started in May in Kampala through a partnership of Uganda’s Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, Makerere University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences, UNICEF Uganda, TRP Uganda, Columbia University and ChildFund Uganda.
The center has eight full-time employees (from Kenya, Uganda, the United Kingdom and the United States) overseeing mentorship, research, business development and other areas, and it is currently focused on Uganda’s child protection needs. Its first major project is a national survey about violence against children, funded by the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.
The questions, which are being finalized this month, are about “all kinds of violence: physical, sexual and emotional, in all settings,” says David Mugawe, the center’s executive director. He expects the survey to be completed in 15 to 18 months, after the questionnaire is finished and poll takers are trained. In each region of Uganda, 1,800 men and 1,800 women will participate, and Uganda’s National Bureau of Statistics will use this data in reports that will help determine national policies for children.
This survey is expected to be an important tool for advocacy of children, Mugawe notes. “If we want to engage with the government, we need to have our facts right.”
AfriChild’s future aim is to influence East African public policy through current and accurate research, which has been a shortcoming in the region. “AfriChild Center is for Uganda [now],” Mugawe says, “but the intent will be for it to have a regional and ultimately global outreach.”
Its researchers, assisted by doctoral students in child development who will be mentored, will also examine ways to improve family livelihoods, assist children with disabilities, prevent child trafficking and strengthen inter-country adoption policies, Mugawe says. “By and large, we’re looking at the family framework,” which has changed in recent decades from mostly extended families to largely female-led or child-led households because of the effect of AIDS and political conflict.
Girls ages 10 to 18 are at particular risk of exploitation and violence, he adds, so this segment of the population will receive special attention. But younger children, too, will be part of AfriChild Center’s work. “We recognize that we need to prepare children for adulthood.”
The AfriChild Center may one day become a powerful influence for all of Africa, bridging gaps between academia, the private sector, aid organizations and policymakers, particularly as Uganda vies for the presidency of the United Nations General Assembly this year. Notes Mugawe, “AfriChild is aiming to be a center for information on children of the whole continent.”
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
Today we celebrate the second International Day of the Girl Child, declared by the United Nations General Assembly to recognize girls’ rights. In 2012, the day focused on ending child marriage, and this year’s theme is related: Innovating for Girls’ Education.
Years ago, when I began working in the developing world, I thought I knew the reasons behind girls’ early marriage and lack of education. But the longer I lived there, the more I discovered complexity and nuance. We still struggle to end child marriage and educate girls.
Imagine for a moment you’re a teenaged girl living in a developing country.
Your name means beautiful.
At the beginning of each school year, your brothers move to the district capital to board with distant relatives. While they learn math, chemistry and physics, you pound rice in a mortar and pestle, cook meals over a three-stone fire, and tend the family’s garden, goats and chickens. Each week on market day you harvest avocados and mangoes to sell in the open-air market, bartering for whatever you can’t grow — rice, flour and oil.
You carry water home from the river in a basin on top of your head, moving slowly to avoid spilling the precious liquid. In sunny weather, you wash laundry by hand, laying clothes out on bushes to dry.
Each day, you gather branches from the forest, carrying them tied in a bundle on your head. At home you chop the wood into equal lengths to feed between the stones of your cooking fire.
In the evenings you prepare snacks to peddle in the streets: grilled peanuts, popcorn and ginger juice. Hearing the generator at the local bar shut off, you stack bowls of your mother’s specialties on your head and hurry to meet the village men as they celebrate the latest soccer match. You offer fried plantains, sweet potatoes and cassava, crisp with fragrant peanut oil.
This month, you turned 15. Soon, you expect to marry a man at least twice your age. Within another year, you’ll carry your first baby on your back. You hope your husband will allow you to return to school or learn a trade.
Long ago, your older brothers passed their high-school leaving exams. The eldest studies engineering at university. The second graduated from teacher-training college, and the third works at a nearby government office — one of the few salaried occupations in your country.
Your parents rejoice in their sons’ academic success; it brings your family a measure of economic security — an excellent return on investment. Your family will prosper.
You and your older sister completed primary school with certificates of merit, exceeding your community’s expectations. Your family speaks of you with pride. Your domestic skills attracted the attention of respectable families in the village, and your father now has several alliances to consider. Whomever he chooses as your husband will pay a substantial dowry.
Had you stayed in school, your marriage options would be fewer. An educated girl sparks no interest among village men. After a certain age, a girl cannot marry and enjoy the security of a husband. Your mother argued for you to leave school — like your sister before you — to prepare for marriage. Your father sadly agreed.
You are his favorite, the child he carried, running for miles to a hospital, as you convulsed with malaria. An old man now, he fears he can no longer protect you.
You will be beautiful on your wedding day.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
Laurie Tragen-Boykoff’s first glimpse of Nicky stuck in her memory: “He had the look of an old soul in his eyes.”
He was 7 years old, and Laurie and her husband had decided to sponsor him through ChildFund (then known as Christian Children’s Fund). It was nearly 25 years ago, and they were a young married couple living near Los Angeles. Nicky lived in Kafue, Zambia.
“We weren’t upper-class by any means,” Laurie recalls, but “the program pulled at my heart.” One thing she decided: She would write to her sponsored child. It was important.
At first, Nicky couldn’t write to her in English, so they corresponded through interpreters. Still, his personality shone through, Laurie says. “He was an unusually expressive child, filled with joy and appreciation.” She learned details about his everyday life, and she kept everything he sent in a manila envelope in her nightstand’s drawer.
The letters continued for eight years, as Nicky grew up and eventually was able to write to Laurie in English. During that time, she became a licensed social worker and had a son and a daughter. ChildFund later contacted Laurie to let her know that Nicky’s village was healthy and self-sustaining and that the organization would be leaving to work in a village with greater need.
Because ChildFund protects children and sponsors by monitoring all correspondence and not allowing the exchange of personal addresses, Laurie and Nicky had to say goodbye to each other, but they didn’t stop thinking about each other
As a teenager, Nicky even went to the U.S. Embassy in Zambia to see if he could contact Laurie and her family. Unfortunately, the embassy’s employees said it was too difficult to find them without more information.
Laurie, meanwhile, held on to the manila folder and thought about Nicky from time to time but never imagined she would hear from him again.
One day in 2011, though, when Laurie was making a stop at Starbucks, her daughter Megan called. She said she had received an unusual message on Facebook from a Zambian man named Nicky Mutoka.
“It was all I could do to not scream,” Laurie recalls. She gave her daughter very specific instructions about what to tell Nicky, because as a self-described technophobe, Laurie wasn’t on Facebook.
Soon enough, Laurie reconnected with Nicky through email, phone calls and even on Facebook. Nicky still lived in Zambia and had progressed a long way from childhood. He was the only one of six siblings to attend college, and he had married a woman named Ketty.
“The sponsorship, for me, meant a lot,” recalls Nicky, who is now 32. “I felt so special among my siblings because I had all my school needs taken care of. I still remember my parents never bought me a uniform, a pair of shoes or books during my primary and junior secondary school. I can’t forget about this, and my memories are still fresh even if it’s over a decade now.”
When the sponsorship ended, Nicky says he was fairly discouraged and unsure if he would complete school, but he says that his faith in God gave him courage to continue. Today, after earning a degree in business administration, he is a sales adviser for a bank.
After several months of contact, the two families took a big step; Nicky and Ketty came to California for a visit in 2012.
“California, and particularly Los Angeles, is a great and beautiful place,” Nicky says. “There is so much to learn there. I enjoyed myself, had so much fun with my lost friends and family.”
“We just seemed to get each other,” Laurie says, and friends from her synagogue and neighborhood were drawn to Nicky like a magnet. “People were absolutely blown away [by the story].” Laurie and Nicky’s friendship also served to show that sponsorship helps real people, she adds. “People were so reassured to hear that the money went where it was supposed to go.”
Today, Ketty and Nicky have a baby son whom they named for Laurie’s husband Terry, and Laurie visited them in Zambia this past spring. Both families are so happy to be reunited.
“As a young boy,” Nicky says, “I always knew these were very good people and felt strongly attached to this family.”
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
Annet Amiret, 21, was sponsored through ChildFund while growing up in Uganda, a politically unstable country at the time. Today, she is studying to become a nurse. In this Q&A, Annet reflects on the value of having a sponsor.
Where did you grow up, and what was it like?
I grew up in a lot of different places. My family had to move from our village when I was 8 years old. I stayed behind to live with a neighbor because my parents wanted me to remain in the ChildFund program. Eventually I had to leave when I was 12 because war broke out. I went to live in Soroti town [in eastern Uganda] with various family members.
How many siblings do you have, and who raised you?
I had six siblings, but one of my older sisters passed several years ago. I’m the youngest of all my brothers and sisters. Because of the instability in Uganda, I was raised by various people, including my grandmother, auntie, older brother and neighbor.
How did your family make their living?
My father is a farmer. He grows peanuts and maize. My mother sells fish in the market.
How old were you when you received a sponsor?
I was 6.
Do you recall particular ChildFund programs that helped you as a child?
I remember my sponsor sent money for a uniform and books. I had no money for it, so it helped then. When I was 9, I received a cow and a few goats, which later helped me with secondary school. It helped me pay for tuition fees, books and after-school tutoring. Unfortunately the goats were stolen from our family during the war, but to this day we still have the offspring from that cow. We still get milk and breed the cows to sell.
My mum also used to attend meetings and training sessions. Some of it was to do with agriculture and farming practices.
I was 8 or 9 when ChildFund built new classrooms at our school and provided desks. I remember before we used to sit on the floor or study under the trees. When it rained, there were no classes.
What changes did you experience after being sponsored?
Sponsorship made life easier because I could remain in school. There were several children that I knew that weren’t sponsored who couldn’t always go. Things were difficult for them.
Do you have any fond memories of a letter or a gift from your sponsor? How did this person make your life different?
My sponsor never wrote a letter, but they did send money for school uniforms and books.
How long did you attend school, and what do you do now?
I’m studying to become a nurse now in Kampala [Uganda’s capital]. I do a combination of attending lectures and working on the wards.
What is your career goal?
I want to work in health care, because if you have your health, you can do anything. People here lack basic information about prevention of diseases, and I want to be part of the group that helps educate people.
Do you have a message for people who are considering sponsoring a child?
I would tell them to go ahead and sponsor. There are very many people with potential that need help to realize their goals. ChildFund gave me a strong foundation and helped prepare me for who I am today.
Lloyd McCormick, director of youth programs at ChildFund, will speak at the 2013 Women, War & Peace conference at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va. The conference will take place this weekend.
The title of his talk, scheduled on Saturday afternoon, is “Livelihoods and Economic Recovery in War-Affected Environments – Lessons Learned from Sierra Leone, Northern Uganda and Liberia.”
The two-day conference will focus on women’s roles in war and peace building in West and North Africa and how these issues can be transformed into opportunities for social and economic well-being.
The conference grew out of a partnership among VCU, the Richmond Peace Education Center, Virginia Friends of Mali and the Richmond Sister Cities Commission, all of which work to highlight Virginia’s links with West Africa and to promote collaboration among the schools, universities, organizations and community groups working in the field of human development.
The conference will present films on women, war and peace; research on Africa with a focus on Mali; and opportunities for academic, professional and community development. If you are in the Richmond area, consider volunteering with ChildFund. We’ll be on-site both days of the conference, Sept. 20 and 21. For more information, email Kate Nare.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
In our 75-post series in honor of ChildFund’s 75th anniversary, we’ll hear from several of our national directors who oversee operations in the countries we serve in Africa, the Americas and Asia. Uganda’s national director, Simba Machingaidze, discussed some of the issues his office is working on currently, including reducing the child mortality rate, which is high in Uganda.
What are ChildFund Uganda’s main focuses right now?
ChildFund Uganda’s main focus is holistic ECD (Early Childhood Development) including child health, nutrition, stimulation and protection.
Do you have a favorite story about a child or family who has been helped?
To many beneficiaries like Federsi, a widow aged 65 years in Kasengejje village, getting a water jar was a dream come true. Federsi lives with two of her children and five grandchildren. The family used to fetch water from the only borehole in the village, which is 6 kilometers (more than 3 miles) away from their home.
The borehole serves approximately 900 households. It took the children 3 to 4 hours every day to fetch water, and as a result, they were always late for school. Due to the long queues at the borehole, the family often fetched water from a pond shared with animals or bought some from other people who had tanks. Buying water was quite difficult for Federsi, since she has no source of income.
In such water-stressed communities, a 2,000-liter tank like that constructed near Federsi’s home saves children the burden of walking long distances to fetch water while parents and caregivers are relieved of worrying about their children getting abused on their way to and from the distant water sources.
What challenges and goals do you have in the future?
Our goal is to enhance the capacity of our local partners to sustainably deliver programs that help solve their communities’ day-to-day problems. However, our biggest challenges include resources to cope with the ever-growing needs of a country with high population growth, and inadequate functional government systems.
How is ChildFund Uganda helping expectant mothers to sustain their own health and their child’s?
ChildFund Uganda has focused on increasing skilled birth attendance and quality postnatal care. This has been promoted through child health days, outreach clinics to underserved areas and through the Village Health Teams. In the last year, ChildFund Uganda constructed and commissioned two maternity wards in underserved districts. Expectant mothers received mama (delivery) kits, which are an incentive for the mothers to go for postnatal checkups and to deliver at health centers instead of going to traditional birth attendants. ChildFund has also worked with the district health offices with supervision from the Ministry of Health to support skills improvement programs for health workers to manage maternal and neonatal health issues better. This has been through mentorship as well as in-service training.
Tell us about ChildFund Uganda’s ongoing work to reduce child mortality?
Some of the goals include reducing household poverty as a compounding factor through the livelihoods programs, enhancing mothers’ knowledge and skills on prevention and management of common childhood illnesses as well as nutrition, reduction of HIV and AIDS infections in children through the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS programs, and strengthening the district level health systems to assess and respond to child and maternal health problems in the districts.
The unmet needs are mostly in the areas of nutrition, HIV and AIDS, district health systems’ financing and human resources for health. Our major limitation is funding; we would definitely like to be in a position to do more.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund staff writer
In late August, about a month’s worth of rain fell within a couple of days in Manila, causing massive flooding in communities where ChildFund Philippines works. Some of the families of enrolled children were displaced temporarily, and many are now cleaning and repairing their homes.
Typhoons are a common occurrence in the Philippines, and it’s important for communities to be prepared. That’s where ChildFund’s Emergency Action Fund enters the equation. With your contribution, we’ll be able to respond to emergencies faster, bringing aid and protection to children within hours and days of a disaster.
Although we’ve come to expect seasonal flooding in some regions of the world, often a crisis can occur without warning, such as the 2012 earthquake in Guatemala. ChildFund’s many years of experience in the field helps us assess needs, coordinate projects and deliver resources that assist families in dire need. We also have strong partnerships with local governments and other relief organizations.
More than 200 million people are affected by natural disasters each year, and 7.6 million are displaced by conflict or persecution. By making a donation to the Emergency Action Fund, you’ll help us assist children who need immediate help. Here is what the fund will help us do:
Enable ChildFund to mobilize teams of specialists within hours of when a disaster strikes.
Supply food, clean water, blankets, shelter and other emergency aid to children and families as quickly as possible.
Repair and restore homes, schools and vital social infrastructure such as water, sanitation and hygiene systems to prevent disease.
Provide Child-Centered Spaces and psychosocial support to help children cope and recover confidence after an emergency.
In the months after a disaster, ChildFund will remain in the affected communities, doing some of the most important long-term work: helping children regain a feeling of safety and self-esteem. Help these children and their families by making a gift to the Emergency Action Fund.
The United Nations declared Aug. 12 as International Youth Day in 1999, so ChildFund is taking this week to focus on challenges that especially affect teens and young adults, as well as celebrate young people who are showing strong leadership in the countries we serve.
Reporting by ChildFund Ethiopia
Mekdes, an 18-year-old girl from Ethiopia, received a one-year scholarship in March 2012 through ChildFund and our Twitter followers to mark International Women’s Day. We checked back with her in July 2013 to see how she was doing.
“I trained in hair dressing for six months and graduated in September 2012,” Mekdes reports. “I started working in one hair salon in our village four months ago, earning a monthly salary of 600 birr [approximately US$32] that enabled me to fulfill our basic needs and cover the medical cost for my grandmom, who has asthma. I have also bought a cell phone for myself and also started to fulfill my needs, such as clothing and shoes.”
Mekdes was chosen as a scholarship recipient for a Twitter campaign ChildFund launched in honor of International Women’s Day. She had encountered many hardships, having lost her father at a young age; her mother couldn’t take care of Mekdes on her own. She also had to drop out of secondary school despite having good grades after her grandmother lost her job. When we met her last year, Mekdes had to work as a hairdresser and a day laborer, but today she has the hope of one day owning her own business.
She has passionate feelings about International Women’s Day because it demonstrates that all women have the potential to be productive and involved in community development. Mekdes also explained that since women are vulnerable in many ways and are sometimes affected more by poverty, the need for supporting them in their pursuits is important.
“In the future, I have a plan to get further training in a boys’ beauty salon, and I have a plan to open my own beauty salon,” Mekdes says. “After fulfilling the income need, which is a priority for us to survive, I will continue my education. I would like to thank ChildFund for helping me to be successful in my life.”