Africa

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Think About Hunger This Human Rights Day

By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist

When you think of human rights, what comes to mind? For many, the phrase means the rights of freedom, equality and security; protection from slavery, torture or arbitrary arrest.

I think of hunger. So do the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Both recognize the fundamental human right to be free from hunger.

Ethiopia meal

An Ethiopian family’s meal. Photo by Jake Lyell.

In June 2007, when I first arrived in Busia, Uganda, a district bordering Kenya and Lake Victoria, I marveled at its fertility. The corn, or maize as it’s called overseas, was higher than an elephant’s eye. Leafy mounds of soil lining the dirt paths that connect each household hid new tubers — potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams and cassava.

Matooke, a plantain every Ugandan woman steams in banana leaf wrappers with crushed peanuts and chunks of smoked fish, was piled high in marketplaces. If a tomato spoiled before I could eat if, I tossed it outdoors; within a few weeks, a sturdy plant sprouted, its seeds warmed by the equatorial sun. Uganda had problems, but hunger was not one of them.

Yet when I left Busia six months later, we spoke nervously of food security. The rains had come, but not at the right times, duration, location or intensity. For centuries, rain fell reliably in certain parts of Uganda, so farmers traditionally settled and cultivated there. Then, suddenly, the rain swerved around Uganda’s arable land to spaces uninhabitable for water — forests, infested with deadly tsetse flies, and deserts, the preserve of nomadic herders. Uganda’s second harvest was not plentiful in 2007.   

Global climate change infringes on the human right to adequate food.

Ugandan mothers

Mothers in Uganda learn how to prepare healthy dishes at a nutrition workshop. Photo by Jake Lyell.

Hunger kills more children every year than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. Poor nutrition causes half of all deaths in children under age five. One of every six children in developing countries is underweight; one in three is stunted.  

South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa form hunger’s center of gravity. In Africa alone, 23 million children attend school hungry.

Small farmers make up fully half of the world’s food-insecure population. Sadly, despite producing some food, they still lack the resources to meet their families’ nutritional needs. Another 30 percent of the chronically hungry are fishers, herders and people who live in rural regions but do not own land. Poor urban dwellers round out the hunger rolls. The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization identifies four dimensions of food security: availability, access, utilization and stability. Failure of any one of these means hunger.

Worse, even when consuming sufficient calories, children can still suffer from micronutrient malnutrition. So-called hidden hunger — harder to diagnose, since it doesn’t present as a wasted body — is caused by an inadequate supply of vitamins, minerals or trace elements. And it impairs physical, emotional, behavioral and cognitive development.

Indonesian child

In Indonesia, hunger is also a serious problem.

Of the 20 countries most affected by hunger, ChildFund works in eight: Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Kenya, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Uganda and Vietnam.

According to UNICEF, Ethiopia, India, Sri Lanka and Vietnam are among the nations most successful in scaling up children’s nutrition and improving government policies. During the past decade, Ethiopia reduced stunting from 57 percent to 44 percent through a national nutrition program, provision of safety nets in the poorest areas and nutrition assistance at the community level.

We still have far to go. Please help us recognize Human Rights Day by giving a gift from the Nutrition and Agriculture section of our catalog.

In Zambia, ChildFund Celebrates Two Anniversaries

Zambia celebration

ChildFund’s Zambian office recently celebrated its 30th anniversary — and ChildFund’s 75th.

By Tenagne Mekonnen, Africa Regional Communications Manager

ChildFund’s Zambian office recently celebrated two important anniversaries — the national office’s 30th and ChildFund’s 75th — with an event for children, community members and local and national leaders.

75th ChildFund logoDorothy Kazunga, Zambia’s deputy minister of Community Development, Mother and Child Health, was among the honored guests and shared the government’s progress in improving the well-being of children in Zambia. She listened to the testimony of children, youth and community members and spoke about the good work ChildFund is doing. Kazunga also handed out awards to children for their artwork and other creative endeavors.   

Victor Koyi

Victor Koyi, ChildFund’s East and South Africa regional director.

Victor Koyi, ChildFund’s East and South Africa regional director, also attended the celebrations. “ChildFund is a proud organization because of its successful impact on children,” he said. “Today we have government officials, doctors, lawyers, teachers and confident children here in Zambia and all over the world.” He added that the organization is looking forward to the coming years, with the best yet to come for children.  

Board members, local partner representatives, children and community leaders shared their thoughts, showing what it was like before ChildFund came to the communities and since. Schools have improved, health facilities are better equipped, income is higher, and children have higher levels of confidence and self-reliance, they said.

Zambia celebration

Children perform at Zambia’s celebration.

 

Why Do You Work at ChildFund?

“In the beginning, I was just an IT guy, but I learned what ChildFund does for the African children. It’s noble. It’s very powerful.”— El Hadji “Sidy” Ndiaye, information technology manager at ChildFund’s national office in Senegal

El Hadji (Sidy) Ndiaye

In Kenya, a Strong Resolve to Serve Children

By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

As part of our 75th anniversary blog series, we are talking with staff members about how they’ve seen ChildFund make a difference for children and what they hope to see our organization achieve in the future. Today, John Ngugi, a grants coordinator from our Kenya office, shares his perspectives.

75th ChildFund logoJohn has been with ChildFund for eight years, formerly working in field operations and now as a grants coordinator. One of his top concerns for Kenyan children is access to a quality education. “They don’t have good schools,” John says. “The teachers are not well-trained,” and better schools are too expensive for children living in poverty to attend. 

He added that Early Childhood Development programs, a hallmark of ChildFund’s current work, are making a difference in Kenya by emphasizing good nutrition and helping parents attain greater knowledge and skills, which consequently help children develop into healthy adults. In John’s current role, he also emphasizes ChildFund’s commitment to being a good steward of donors’ funds and carrying out their wishes.

John Ngugi of ChildFund Kenya

John Ngugi

In five years, John adds, “we’ll have stronger ECD programs, and we’ll have more donor participation in programs.”

When John and I talked, it was just a short time after the deadly terrorist attack at the WestGate mall in Nairobi, which is not far from ChildFund’s national office in Kenya. Although the attack caused the closing of our office temporarily, John emphasized that he and the other staff members there are committed to ChildFund’s work.

“Our resolve is to continue,” he says. “You have to be courageous in development.”

A Q&A With Mozambique’s National Director, Chege Ngugi

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. Today, we hear from Chege Ngugi of Mozambique

75th ChildFund logoHow long have you been at ChildFund?
Two years.

What is your favorite thing about working at ChildFund? 
Working with local community-based organizations to address the development challenges faced by children and their communities.

What is the most difficult situation you have encountered in your job?
Helping staff see things through a different lens.

What successes have you had in your national office?
Building a cohesive team and an interactive working environment, networking and alliance creation and growing the grants portfolio.

What motivates you in life?  
Seeing the results of our work in the lives of the target group, especially children and women.

What do you like to do in your free time?
Reading, discussing and listening on geopolitical issues.

What is a quote, saying or belief that you live by?
“You must be the change you want to see in the world.” –Mahatma Gandhi

ChildFund Mozambique

ChildFund’s Mozambique national director, Chege Ngugi (left) visits children in the field.

A Q&A with Billy Abimbilla, Sierra Leone National Director

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.

75th ChildFund logoHow 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.

Sierra Leone

Billy Abimbilla and children from Sierra Leone.

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.”

A Q&A with Victor Koyi, Regional Director of East and South Africa

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.

75th ChildFund logoWhat 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.  

Victor Koyi

Victor Koyi (center), regional director of East and South Africa for ChildFund.

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.

In Uganda, the AfriChild Center Takes on Child Violence

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.

Ugandan children

The AfriChild Center’s first project is to poll Ugandans about violence against children, a serious problem nationwide.

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.”

 

 

 

 

Giving Girls the Support They Need

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.

Guinean students

These girls are part of the student government in their primary school in Guinea.

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.

Please help us celebrate International Day of the Girl Child with a Dream Bike for a schoolgirl in India or Sri Lanka, or a year’s scholarship for a girl in Ethiopia.

girl_child_graph

A Friendship Spanning Decades and Oceans

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.”

75th ChildFund logoHe 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.

Nicky

Nicky Mutoka

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.

Nicky and sponsors

Nicky and his wife, Ketty, meet his sponsors for the first time in Los Angeles.

“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.”

grocery store

An American grocery store was a particularly interesting stop for Nicky and Ketty.

“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.”

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