Today, Feb. 21, is International Mother Language Day, so we’re looking at some of Africa’s linguistic traditions. Did you know that a child you sponsor in Africa may speak as many as five languages?
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
In July 1975, I began a training program for Peace Corps volunteers in Dakar, Senegal. The volunteers were immersed in French and Wolof in the classroom and in field settings. We practiced our bargaining language while speeding along in cars rapides — large, open vehicles painted bright blue and crammed with women, children, chickens and goats — on our way to Dakar’s open-air markets.
Speaking a mixture of Wolof and French, we sometimes saw English phrases painted lopsidedly on cars and walls: “It is forbidden to spit,” for instance.
“Spit” is one of about two dozen words common to many cultures that have remained highly stable over time, so they’re useful for understanding language dispersion. In French, to spit is cracher, and spit itself is crachat; Wolof uses tufli and tuflit. Both languages make use of onomatopoeia — the words sound like what they mean — even though English and French are members of the Indo-European cluster, and Wolof belongs to the world’s largest language family, the Niger-Congo.
As an English speaker, it was easier for me to learn French than Wolof. The U.S. Foreign Service Institute agrees. French, Portuguese and Spanish are relatively straightforward for native English speakers to learn, with their many cognates, similar alphabets and common grammatical structures. It’s tougher for us to achieve proficiency in Hindi, Vietnamese or Thai; Arabic is among the most difficult of languages for Americans.
West Africans move effortlessly between four or five languages.
Yet many of the children in ChildFund’s programs speak three or more languages fluently before the age of 15: First they learn their mother tongue, then a regional or national language — Wolof, in Senegal — and, in school, an international language like Arabic, English, French, Portuguese, Russian or Spanish.
In Senegal, I lived in a Pular-speaking district. Wolof and Pular are siblings: Tuttugol (to spit) is clearly related to tufli. My high-school students had already mastered Pular, Wolof, Arabic (the language of Islam) and French (Senegal’s official language). I taught them their fifth language: English.
English is often hard for non-native speakers to learn. Our vocabulary borrows from two sources — Romance (tricky, difficult, arduous) and Anglo-Saxon (tough, hard, thorny). Decades later, I taught English to university students in neighboring Guinea. Guineans also speak Pular, along with Malinké, Soussou and Kissi.
Just as Romance languages (French, Portuguese and Spanish) all derive from a Latin root, Malinké, Soussou and the Sierra Leonean Mende dialect belong to the same cluster as Senegalese and Gambian languages such as Mandinke, Bambara, Soninke and Serahuli. Its influence is felt in Liberia and Sierra Leone too. Niger-Congo languages blanket the West African coast, from the Sahara Desert to the River Congo.
West Africans move effortlessly between four or five languages. Not surprisingly, linguistic research suggests language itself originated there. As our African ancestors explored and settled the rest of the globe between 50,000 and 75,000 years ago, these expert language learners took their abstract communications and distinct cultures with them.
Our original mother tongue was an African language. Why not celebrate International Mother Language Day by sponsoring a child in West Africa? Explore one of the 1,500 living languages spoken by nearly a quarter of the world’s population.
To commemorate ChildFund’s 75th anniversary, we invited the leaders of each of the 12 ChildFund Alliance member groups to reflect on the past and future of their own organizations and the Alliance. Today, we hear from Ireland.
September 2013 marked my 10th year as chief executive officer of ChildFund Ireland. Throughout the past decade I have been lucky enough to witness immensely positive changes throughout both our own organisation and the wider ChildFund Alliance. This piece is far too short to mention them all, so I will share highlights from the past decade.
On the sponsorship front, we worked hard to streamline sponsorship funds and focus on 11 countries, as compared to 27 in 2003. This means we now can really see an impact that Irish sponsorship funds have on ChildFund work in the field. I have always been a great believer in child sponsorship. On a personal level, I am proud to have helped form the Sponsor Relations Network, which brings even greater efficiencies for the Alliance, our national offices and our sponsors.
In terms of grants, ChildFund Ireland received its first grant of €95,000 from Irish Aid in 2003 for a 12-month project in Kenya. In the intervening years, our relationship with Irish Aid has grown, and we now have a four-year multiannual funding agreement that focusses on early childhood development in three countries in Africa, building on the sponsorship-funded programme in the same areas.
Our first forays into the online world came in 2004 with the launch of our first website. This year, we carried out a major overhaul of the site. Visual appeal and navigability have been greatly improved through extensive use of colour, animation and a more intuitive layout, and a whole host of new features have been added. Our social media presence has progressed from limited use of a single platform (Facebook) in 2010 to daily updates on Twitter, photo-sharing on Pinterest and engaging an active community on Facebook.
In just the last few months, we have introduced a digital newsletter to share our favourite articles with supporters on our email database and created our first Facebook advertising campaign in aid of the ChildFund Alliance Free from Violence and Exploitation campaign. The combination of all of these efforts has meant that traffic to our website has roughly tripled, and readership of articles has multiplied from a few hundred to several thousand per article.
The economic situation in Ireland is well-publicised and has impacted ChildFund’s supporter base. However, perhaps due to the nature of child sponsorship, our cancellation rate has been well below what might have been expected. We are embracing the challenge, and I am indebted to the hard work of my team and the loyalty of our supporters during this difficult time.
Moreover, our increasing public profile means we are well placed to take advantage of the coming improvement in national economic fortunes. I, myself, have enjoyed every year of my time at ChildFund Ireland, and I look forward to many more.
Slán go foill … (good-bye for now).
When I think of 2013, I see great waves of floodwater. Over the past year, a typhoon and a cyclone struck communities in India and the Philippines, causing great devastation to families we serve, as well as our local partner organizations and national office staff. Yet these disasters also gave us the opportunity to show the best of our human spirit, whether it was through donations or assistance on the ground.
Here’s a look back at some of ChildFund’s highlights in 2013.
In November, Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest storm to hit the Philippines in many years, blew through several communities that ChildFund serves. Nationwide, more than 6,000 people died, and 550,000 homes were destroyed. We are still collecting donations to help those who lost their homes and belongings, as well as giving psychosocial support to children and families who were traumatized by the storm’s destruction. In October, Cyclone Phailin struck eastern India, causing massive flooding and the destruction of homes and more than a million acres of farmland. Our support there continues.
Our work against exploitative child labor took center stage in mid-June, when we recognized World Day Against Child Labor. We learned how child labor takes many forms, whether it’s in a sugarcane field, a mine or inside the home; sometimes, it’s hard to tell when children and youth are being exploited because of the secrecy surrounding the practice. In fact, a poll we commissioned in June revealed that 73 of Americans surveyed believe that only 1 million children are working in exploitative conditions. Wrong: The actual number is closer to 150 million. It’s important to pay attention to the signs and to make efforts to support industries that are taking a stand against child labor. ChildFund Alliance also launched the Free From Violence and Exploitation petition this year, aiming to make child protection a priority in the United Nations’ post-2015 goals.
In November, the Alliance released the results of its Small Voices, Big Dreams children’s survey, asking children what they would do if they were president of their countries, as well as what they consider the most important issues of the day. As usual, children gave wise and considered responses to our questions.
In September, ChildFund began marking its 75th anniversary, a landmark that our national offices, Alliance members and international office have recognized with numerous events, including meetings and celebrations with staff members, our Alliance countries, board members and, of course, sponsored children. Our 75-post anniversary blog series, which shares historical photos and stories — as well as the views of sponsors, children, Alliance members and staff — continues through the end of March.
As we take a look back at the past, we employ our history to lend perspective to ChildFund’s work and to help determine our future goals. Just as our founder, Dr. J. Calvitt Clarke, declared in October 1938, the well-being of children in need remains at the heart of ChildFund. Thank you for your past and present support, and have a happy and healthy 2014!
Who would ever think that something as simple as bananas could provide opportunities to break the cycle of poverty? In the village of Chongwe in Zambia, a banana plantation has become a symbol of hope.
The teens and young adults in Chongwe are among a booming sector of the population known as the “youth bulge,” which is concentrated especially in the developing world. Outnumbering adults disproportionately, these youth (ages 15 to 25) face an extraordinarily tight job market.
With support from ChildFund, the village of Chongwe is defying the odds. By bringing the community together and offering resources and education, ChildFund has helped the youth of Chongwe transform a growing problem into lasting change. Through its Youth Empowerment Program, ChildFund challenged these young people to envision a collaborative effort that would mobilize their skills and create a long-term opportunity for employment.
The program applied ChildFund’s Youth Employment Model, which is designed specifically to prepare young people to enter the workforce. The model takes participants through a five-part process: a market survey (to ensure job training is demand-driven), technical skills training and production support, basic business skills training, life skills training and ongoing mentoring.
Through these activities, the youth in Chongwe realized that their community offered a perfect environment for agriculture, and they suggested trying to establish a banana plantation. Soon, the idea moved toward becoming a reality.
A ChildFund grant paid for seeds and a state-of-the-art, solar-powered irrigation system. A local chief donated land, and the Ministry of Agriculture taught the young participants how to grow bananas and maintain their equipment. A fertilizer company provided the training to farm the plantation.
The result is a flourishing farm of more than 1,500 banana trees and residual employment opportunities for the youth.
Since the program began in 2010, many youth in Chongwe have become prospering entrepreneurs. They have learned to run a business and follow how bananas fit into the larger world economy, daily checking commodity prices. Some of the boys and girls who care for the banana plantation are laying foundations for other businesses, like one young man who started a vegetable garden and parlayed it into a grocery business.
What began as a challenge has become an opportunity. The Chongwe youth are a testament to the kind of change that can happen when potential is tapped and resources allow it to flourish.
This is the time of year when we often take stock of our past, present and future, and it’s a great opportunity to consider making a donation to help a child: a gift that truly has legs. Whether you begin sponsoring a child today or purchase a gift that will help a family or community, your gift will mean hope to a child in need.
Also, by giving before the end of the year, you can make a deduction on your tax forms for 2013. We encourage you to take a look at our planned giving options, which help make a difference to communities for years, allowing children to become independent, self-sustaining adults who have more opportunities than before. Thank you for your past, present and future generosity, and we wish you a happy and meaningful 2014!
Many of us are in a big rush to finish our Christmas shopping, decorating or holiday meal-planning. Let’s all slow down and take a moment to think about our blessings — and the millions of children who go without nutritious food, education and clean water. Instead of driving to the mall one more time, consider purchasing an item from our Gifts of Love & Hope catalog in the name of a friend or family member.
For $150, you can feed 25 orphans in Kenya for a week. In several countries, families have requested chickens; for $29, you can provide a family with three chickens. In the Philippines, children lost their homes and all their belongings in Typhoon Haiyan last month. We’re still collecting funds to help families rebuild in these communities, and your assistance is greatly needed.
All of the gifts in the catalog are items requested by the families we serve, and they fit different budgets and priorities. Best of all, you can print out a personalized card to your loved one so he or she will know how this gift is helping a child in need. Thank you for considering these children during the holiday season.
Many of our national offices have thrown celebrations recently for ChildFund’s 75th anniversary. Here are some photos from these events (featuring lots of ChildFund’s special shade of green), taken by staff members from our offices in Kenya, Liberia, Mexico and Mozambique. Enjoy!
Mexico City, Mexico
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Dorothy 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, 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.
“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