By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
One in a series this week for World Health Day (April 7)
One bright morning, I was administering the English language section of a four-hour exam in a high school in Saint-Louis, Senegal. About halfway through the test, which divides high school graduates who go on to university from those who return to their villages to farm, I felt dizzy and feverish.
By noon, I was walking slowly across a quarter-mile-long cantilever bridge, clinging to the handrail. The bridge connects the island portion of the town to the mainland, where I lived. It felt as if a vise was crushing my head; I could barely see.
Reaching the mainland, I sat down on a pile of rocks on the bank of the Senegal River, shaking uncontrollably in the intense sunlight. Eventually, a cool hand grazed my forehead. I heard a sharp intake of breath, then a familiar voice saying, in French, “malaria.”
I stared at the child in front of me, unable to move or speak.
“Miss Meg, it’s me, Amadou N’Diaye. I’m taking you home now.”
He ran back to the street and flagged down a taxi. Together, Amadou and the driver lifted me inside. When we arrived at our apartment block, Amadou ran first to my Peace Corps colleagues, who carried me up the stairs and into bed. Then he found my French friend. “Bring your medicines, quick,” he told Christian.
Christian’s cocktails of anti-malarial and tetracycline drugs worked. Three days later, I came out from under my mosquito net, no longer wanting to die.
I’d slept under that net for nearly two years. And I’d taken tonic water daily for its quinine benefit, lit a mosquito coil in my bedroom each evening at sunset, and swallowed my weekly pills. But despite these precautions, on restless nights when I bumped up against my net, mosquitos feasted on my arms and legs. Anti-malarial drugs don’t entirely destroy plasmodium parasites, which carry malaria; they merely keep them under control. In those days, the West African breeds were increasingly drug-resistant.
Now imagine what it’s like for children without bed nets or medication who are bitten every night of every rainy season by hundreds of mosquitos.
This year, World Health Day is turning its focus toward vector-borne infections; its motto is “small bite, big threat.” Epidemiologists refer to insects and snails as the vectors for parasites and viruses they transmit to our bloodstreams.
Malaria is the world’s most prevalent vector-borne infection, but dengue fever, a mosquito-borne virus, is the fastest growing. In the countries where ChildFund serves, other parasitic diseases such as Chagas, from kissing bugs, and trypanosomiasis, from tsetse flies, threaten children’s health. Viral illnesses, including chikungunya (mosquitos), schistosomiasis (freshwater snails), and the hemorrhagic fevers — Yellow Fever (mosquitos), Rift Valley Fever (mosquitos) and Crimean-Congo Fever (ticks) — are less widespread but still deadly.
Urbanization, deforestation and damaging agricultural practices all contribute to the spread of malaria. Deforestation and urbanization also led to resurgences of Yellow Fever and the sudden emergence of dengue and chikungunya.
Mosquitos breed in stagnant water, hiding in tall grass during the day and tracking their human targets nightly by the carbon dioxide we exhale. Although we can’t yet eradicate malaria, giving families access to medicated bed nets is a step in the right direction.
By ChildFund Mozambique Staff
One in a series this week for World Health Day (April 7)
Olga Jeje has worked in Gondola as a doctor since 2009, and she’s experienced firsthand the partnership between ChildFund and Mozambique’s health department, a collaboration that helps provide basic health services for children and families.
“At the health services department, we work in close coordination with ChildFund, which supports vaccination campaigns against polio and measles, and also in reaching children with supplements of vitamin A,” Olga notes.
ChildFund has supported doctors and other medical personnel with transportation and by facilitating their moves from one clinic to another. As a result, about 8,000 children have benefited in Gondola.
Another result of the partnership between ChildFund and the District Office of Health Gondola has been the distribution of insecticide-treated mosquito nets purchased by ChildFund supporters, benefiting more than 100 children who now have a better chance of avoiding malaria.
Talking to community members, many say that ChildFund’s contribution to local health services has meant a lot.
“The presence of community health activists in the area, trained by ChildFund through the Community Caring for Children Programme, has been a great opportunity for us, because we now understand the benefits of taking our children to the health centers at the first signs of sickness,” says Julio Domingos, a community leader in Mazicuera. “We now know the importance of managing waste to avoid diseases, such as diarrhea, and we now know how important is to use a mosquito net in order to prevent malaria. We are now aware of the methods of how to prevent HIV and AIDS. We also see community activists paying visits to people living with HIV and AIDS, and we know that this gesture is very important for all of us.”
By Priscilla Chama, ChildFund Zambia
As we conclude our 75th anniversary blog series, we are focusing on success stories of youth and alumni from ChildFund’s programs in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Europe. Today we meet Phanny, an automotive repair supervisor in Zambia.
“I never imagined when I was growing up that one day I would work as a supervisor in one of the prestigious companies in this country. I supervise a team of men who work in automotive repair, vehicle servicing and boat repair. I owe my success to a man that sponsored me through ChildFund, and I’m really grateful. My life has turned around for the better, and I wake up every morning with a reason for living.”
These are the words of 28-year-old Phanny, a supervisor at Autoworld, which sells an extensive range of automotive, marine and lifestyle products in Zambia.
Phanny’s parents died when she was only four years old, and none of their relatives offered to take in Phanny and her 16-year-old sister after they were orphaned. So, the sisters remained in their parents’ home, and Phanny’s sister dropped out of school and resorted to doing odd jobs so that they could survive.
“My life before ChildFund was very difficult,” Phanny explains. “My sister only made enough for us to have a meal, I had no hope of ever starting school, and most of the time I joined my sister, washing people’s clothes and cleaning their homes for food.”
Phanny’s big breakthrough came when her sister heard about the ChildFund sponsorship program (then, Christian Children’s Fund) and the girls were immediately enrolled in programs at Tiyanjane Community Association.
“Being enrolled at Tiyanjane project was the biggest relief for us,” Phanny says. “The sponsor I was assigned to was very kind. In our letters, my sister explained that I came from a child-headed household, and he became like a father to me. He did not just send us money for my school but also inspiring letters and cards. I looked forward to receiving them every month.”
With support from her sponsor, Phanny sailed through primary school and qualified for secondary school with good grades. She completed school in 2006 and decided to study motor vehicle engineering.
As you can see, I’m the only lady here, supervising a number of men. I feel like I’m living my dream.
In 2009, she started working for Autoworld as an assistant motor vehicle technician. She rose through the ranks through her commitment and love for the job. Today, she is the supervisor and still the only female at Autoworld’s downtown branch. She and her sister live together in a nice house, and Phanny’s sister no longer has to take odd jobs.
“As you can see, I’m the only lady here, supervising a number of men,” Phanny says. “My life has changed positively, and I feel like I’m living my dream. I have dreams of meeting my sponsor to thank him and tell him in person what his support has done.”
About her future plans, Phanny explains that she wants to further her education and open a garage of her own so that she can support other children in need in her community.
Reporting by Ya Sainey Gaye, ChildFund The Gambia
As we conclude our 75th anniversary blog series, we are focusing on success stories of youth and alumni from ChildFund’s programs in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Europe. Kumba, 24, was sponsored and enrolled in ChildFund-supported programs in The Gambia.
My experience with ChildFund has been a great one, and I would like to add some key memories about being sponsored. I received a lot of learning materials (pencils, erasers, rulers, crayons and books) and letters from my sponsor. Sometimes I use to share her letters with my family and classmates in school. One interesting letter that I remember receiving was with a photo of my sponsor with her three children: Grace, Lara and Sara.
I was a brilliant child performing very well in school, but my parents were so poor that they could not support my education financially. So when I got a sponsor from ChildFund, and she started paying my school fees and providing me with learning materials, that’s when I realized that I could reach my dreams in the future. I have been supported throughout my education, and without ChildFund’s support, my life would have probably ended up in the streets.
Water means many different things to different people. Maybe you’re thinking that you need to drink more of it daily, or it’s time for a hot bath. Perhaps you are picturing a tea kettle on the stove? Do you think of lakes and rivers, glaciers and rainclouds?
Many of our readers have easy access to clean water. All it takes is turning on a faucet in the kitchen or bathroom. This sets us apart from many of the children and families ChildFund serves in 30 countries. Today is World Water Day, and we ask you to take a couple of minutes to watch this video showing how a lack of clean water affects every part of life, from infant mortality to education. Here are some ways you can help bring the gift of clean water to children and families in need.
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
Today we observe UNAIDS’ first Zero Discrimination Day. Unfair or unjust treatment, either by action or omission and based on real or perceived HIV status, exacerbates the risks of infection and its progression to AIDS.
Do you think children living with HIV should be able to attend school with children who are HIV-negative?
It’s mainly a hypothetical question here in the United States, but nine out of 10 HIV-positive children live in sub-Saharan Africa. Imagine Mozambique, where one in 12 female youth and one in 50 children are HIV-positive.
Worldwide, one in seven people infected with HIV is between the ages of 10 and 24; nearly 15 million children are AIDS orphans — they’ve lost one or both parents to the disease — and four-fifths of those orphans live in sub-Saharan Africa. In Mozambique, Zambia, Kenya and Uganda, almost every child has a loved one with HIV or AIDS within their extended family. At a community meeting I attended in Mozambique last April, many more grandmothers than mothers arrived, carrying babies in their arms, struggling to raise the youngest generation.
Would you buy fresh vegetables from a shopkeeper if you knew she had the AIDS virus?
Imagine a dilapidated, open-air market in Busia, a town on Uganda’s border with Kenya. Rough wooden tables, weathered through years of use, define the makeshift stalls. Neat pyramids of tomatoes, sour green oranges, carrots and potatoes alternate with bowls of finely shredded cabbage, large smooth-skinned avocados and hands of sugar bananas. Shallots, their shoots still intact, and small spicy peppers lay all around. Some of the women minding shop call out their prices and specials; others recline beneath tattered woven mats that shelter them from the merciless sun.
Selling fresh vegetables is one of the few occupations available to women suffering from HIV and AIDS in this town. No longer strong enough to work in the fields, carry water on their heads, cook meals in heavy steel kettles over open fires, or scrub laundry against the rocks in a stream, they can still garden and sell their vegetables in the market. Many of these women discovered their HIV status only after their husbands died of AIDS. Most learned about their children’s infections at the same time. The young ones were infected in the womb, during delivery or from breastfeeding.
My questions — about children and school, vegetables and vendors — are ways to consider the stigma of AIDS and how discrimination occurs to this day.
Although nearly half of all new HIV infections occur in those aged 15 to 24, the proportion of young people requesting HIV counseling and testing is still quite low, due to stigma and fear of discrimination. Even those eligible for treatment may find it difficult to stay on their medication regimen, or they may refuse the social services they’re entitled to.
One bright spot: Girls who finish high school are less likely to become infected with HIV. So, if you sponsor a girl, encourage her in her studies. Ask about her hopes and dreams, and praise her academic accomplishments. Show her what education means to you. And, by all means, erase discrimination and stigma wherever you encounter it.
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.