Africa

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Hardships in Zambia’s School System

By Tenagne Mekonnen, Africa Regional Communication Manager

The road to education is hard, rocky and bumpy in Zambia. There are overcrowded classrooms, a shortage of materials, long walks to school and often not enough food.

Zambian children with mothers

John and Gracious, pictured with their mothers.

Flocks of children, age 8 and older, walk more than a mile each way to school every day, sometimes without having eaten breakfast. Some have no shoes, and their school may not have fresh water when they get there. Access to education is the right of every child, but poverty creates many obstacles to school attendance in Zambia and other countries that ChildFund serves. 

ChildFund strives to make the journey to school easier by working with the Zambian government to build standardized facilities that include libraries, labs, restrooms and learning materials. Sometimes we help provide shoes and uniforms too.

John and Gracious, two Zambian children, say they are happy just to be in school, even though it’s sometimes difficult to walk there. Their mothers now work for a small business that allows Gracious, 11, and John, 9, to attend school. They hope one day that there will be a school in their own community or a means of transportation other than their own feet.

Zambian community leaders at school

Community leaders meet at a new school.

The Isolation and Hardships of Refugees

By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist

What would you take if you were forced to flee your home?

Imagine you’re one of 44 million refugees around the world. With little or no warning, you must leave your home under threat of persecution, conflict or violence. Look around. Everywhere, people are running from all that’s familiar: Nearly one in two refugees is a child; two in five are women. In a single moment, people can lose everything.

Ivory Coast refugees

Children from war-torn Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) stayed at a refugee camp in Liberia in 2011.

In the chaos of war and conflict, children often end up unaccompanied, alone or left behind to experience events no child should ever see — all without the protection of family or the routine of school. Life in exile averages 17 years, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). If you had time to find only one thing to carry with you, what would it be?

Today, on World Refugee Day, we ask you to walk in solidarity beside those children who are still in transit.

Resettlement, Integration, Return

Consider Liberia. Last year the UNHCR completed repatriation of more than 155,000 Liberians scattered throughout West Africa — 23 years after the start of the civil war. ChildFund works in Liberia and also in The Gambia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, where Liberian refugees found shelter while the conflict in their country raged from 1989 to 2003.

Even when violence ends and peace and stability are restored, returning home may not be easy. In 2011, when I was teaching at Guinea’s national polytechnic university several of my young colleagues were Liberian refugees. They no longer spoke English — their native country’s official language — having received their entire education in Guinea’s French-speaking schools.

As the U.N. resettled and integrated the final 724 Liberians who had lived in Guinea, uprisings in neighboring Mali spiraled out of control. Displaced Malians scurried to safety in Senegal and Guinea — the same sanctuaries coveted by those escaping Côte d’Ivoire’s (Ivory Coast) election violence in 2011, as well as those fleeing the 2012 military coup in Guinea-Bissau.

Joining Mali on the International Rescue Committee’s (IRC) list of current hot spots are Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Where do refugees from these conflicts first seek asylum? They cross the borders into ChildFund countries Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. 

During 2007, I worked in Busia, a border town split between Uganda and Kenya. Refugees — mainly Somalis, Sudanese and Congolese — comprised 20 percent of Busia’s population on the Uganda side. By the end of that year, election violence in Kenya drove hundreds of thousands across the border at Busia, creating a humanitarian crisis in Uganda. A bitter irony of conflict and disaster in the developing world is that neighboring countries are the least equipped to support an influx of refugees.

Indonesia refugee camp

These children from Indonesia had to abandon their homes after a volcano erupted in 2010.

The IRC, which resettles more refugees and asylum seekers outside their native lands than any other organization worldwide, maintains a permanent watch list of four countries. Of these, ChildFund works in three: Sri Lanka, Indonesia and the Philippines. The IRC considers Sri Lanka vulnerable because of prolonged ethnic conflicts, while Indonesia and the Philippines experience nearly constant and unprecedented natural disasters.

ChildFund believes that a single family torn apart by war or natural disaster is one too many. We invest in disaster preparedness training in the countries we serve. Please take a minute to help us reduce the number of child refugees through a contribution to our emergency fund, ChildAlert.

Before joining ChildFund in 2012, Meg served in the Peace Corps’ health and education programs in Senegal, Uganda and Guinea. Between posts, she designed short-term projects for children and youth in Thailand and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. And stateside, she tutored two young girls whose family sought political asylum here from Iraq.

Children Urge African Leaders to Take Action

We could not be prouder of the children from ChildFund programs who participated in last week’s Day of the African Child events held at the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Facing many challenges, including harmful social and cultural practices across the continent, these children urged the African Union, its member states and partners to take a stand to protect children and allow them to become educated, healthy and fulfilled adults.

group of African children

Children from several countries gathered at the African Union headquarters for the Day of the African Child.

Children from Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, The Gambia, Kenya, Mozambique and Zambia attended the event. Below is the platform the children adopted and presented:

AU member states:

a)     To ratify and domesticate all international and regional treaties relevant to the protection of children from harmful social and cultural practices.

b)     To harmonize national laws with other international and regional standards on the prevention and protection of children from harmful social and cultural practices, in particular Article 21 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.

c)     To openly condemn practices that harm the physical and mental integrity of children.

d)     To provide free and high-quality health services for children affected by harmful social and cultural practices, and expand social-protection and child-rights systems to increase access to integrated quality services to children.

e)     To establish data systems reflecting age and gender disaggregated data on the nature and magnitude of these practices.

f)       To put in place mechanisms and institutions, including a national strategy, policy and plan of action, for the implementation, enforcement, monitoring and reporting, along with financial and human resources.

g)     To submit a report within three months to the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) on the implementation of activities organized during the 2013 Day of the African Child.

Zambian girl

Seveliya, 13, of Zambia, spoke during the conference.

AU member states in collaboration with partners (regional economic communities, parliaments, UN agencies, international and regional organizations, the media):

a)     To advocate and promote the total elimination and abandonment of harmful social and cultural practices in Africa through awareness and social mobilization to change attitudes and influence behavior.

b)     To support the strengthening of the social workforce and social protection mechanisms so as to deliver effective quality social services for affected children, especially young girls, as well as provide love and care to affected children.

c)     To support meaningful participation and representation of children, families and communities, including children with disabilities and other vulnerable groups, in efforts to combat harmful social and cultural practices.

d)     To ensure African governments take children’s issues seriously, provide them with a voice to speak on their own, as well as respect their views and ideas of children.

e)     To strengthen collaboration with various stakeholders, such as the parliaments, media, schools, institutions of higher learning, traditional and religious leaders, civil society organizations, children and youth, as agents of positive change.

f)       To strengthen cross-border and cross-regional cooperation so as to protect children from the impact of harmful practices.

g)     To facilitate quality education to all children and provide integrated life skills to affected children, especially young adolescent boys and girls.

h)     To conduct research to inform national policy and action on the elimination of harmful practices.

Partners:

a)     To monitor progress and the accountability of governments in the implementation of standards for the protection of children.

b)     To organize advocacy campaigns and youth-led actions to eliminate harmful social and cultural practices.

c)     To provide financial resources and technical assistance targeting comprehensive and inter-agency programs and strategies that address the needs and priorities of children subjected to harmful social and cultural practices.

Adopted on Friday, 14th June 2013, at the African Union Commission Headquarters, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Children’s Rights in the Spotlight on Day of the African Child

By Tenagne Mekonnen, ChildFund Africa Regional Communications Manager

Here in Africa, it is a crucial time for focusing on the rights of children in Africa, as we prepare for the Day of the African Child on June 16. 

This annual event, supported by member countries of the African Union, commemorates the day in 1976 when hundreds of schoolchildren were killed in Soweto, South Africa, while participating in a nonviolent protest against an inferior and discriminatory educational system and for the right to be taught in their own language.

The day also draws attention to the need to improve the condition and well-being of children across the African continent. This year’s theme is “Eliminating Harmful and Social Practices Against Children: Our Responsibility.”

“The event should remind us all of our duty, as citizens of Africa and as friends, to promote the rights of the child on the continent,” said Jumbe Sebunya, ChildFund regional director for East and Southern Africa. “In Africa today there is some progress achieved for children in the areas of education, gender equity, HIV, AIDS and others.” Yet, with children making up a significant portion of the world population (in some countries more than  50 percent),  Sebunya said that governments, civil society organizations  and other key development partners must keep children’s well-being and rights central to any and all sustainable development efforts in Africa.

African children arriving

Children supported by ChildFund arrive in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for the Day of the African Child celebration.

ChildFund marks the Day of the African Child at all levels, using the occasion as an opportunity for children to speak out about the importance of children’s rights.

ChildFund’s Africa regional office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, is excited to welcome children’s delegations from our programs in Mozambique, Zambia, Kenya, The Gambia and Ethiopia this week. Children and youth events celebrating the Day of the African Child took place June 14 in the African Union’s headquarters, the same place where national leaders make decisions for the continent.

The young delegates led the conference, engaging in intergenerational dialogue and weaving in arts, poems and music. It was their day, and they wanted to make sure that everyone heard their message.

In addition, I am working with ChildFund’s national office in Mozambique on its own Day of the African Child celebration. Mozambique’s government is one of many African countries that have not yet submitted a report about children’s rights to the African Union.

ChildFund (in cooperation with Plan International, another child-focused organization) is sending a group of experts to Mozambique this week to make a special request of the government that the report be submitted. We are working to keep children’s rights in the spotlight.

Below is a video of Seveliya, a 13-year-old girl from Zambia, speaking at the African Union as part of the Day of the African Child celebration:

The Struggle Continues in Africa

By Tenagne Mekonnen, ChildFund Africa Regional Communications Manager

Jumbe Sebunya, ChildFund’s regional director for east and southern Africa, recently reflected on ChildFund’s commitment to children’s rights and the Day of the African Child, celebrated annually on June 16.

man standing

Jumbe Sebunya

What are ChildFund’s current strategies in Africa?
We currently work in 11 African countries, reaching a total of 8.5 million children and families. ChildFund focuses on engaging children, families and communities in an effort to improve outcomes for children both at the micro level within their immediate communities but also on a macro level, within their countries and regions. Thus, our approach is two-pronged: hands-on at the community level, and also at national and regional levels in terms of policy advocacy efforts on children’s issues.

We have had good success with a number of our program strategies, such as ChildFund’s work on early childhood development (ECD), which focuses on parent-child-community relationships that are central in creating a healthy beginning for a child. Through ECD programs, we are able to ensure that the first experiences of a child begin with an informed ECD caregiver and a supportive community. We have seen that such an environment has a lifelong impact on the children’s development and success in life.

The Day of African Child is one of the main events celebrated in Africa. How is the event helping promote the rights of children in Africa?
The event should remind us all of our duty as citizens of Africa and its friends to promote the rights of the child on this continent. It does indeed commemorate children rising up against [South Africa’s] apartheid government that was bent on denying children their equal rights to education, health, etc. In Africa today, there has been some progress achieved for children in education, gender equity, HIV and AIDS and other areas. However, with children making up a significant portion of our populations (in some countries more than 50 percent), governments, civil society organizations and other key development partners have to keep children’s well-being and rights central to any and all sustainable development efforts on the continent.

girls on playground

Biftu and Chaltu play at an ECD center in Fantale, Ethiopia Photo: Jake Lyell

How are you planning to celebrate the Day of the African Child, and what will that mean to the children you serve?
In Ethiopia, we are joining with the African Union Commission and others to organize a forum that will highlight African achievements and the plight of children in the continent. We are also bringing children from other countries where ChildFund works to share their stories and have their voices heard on issues affecting children in Africa. We are also participating in various events within countries in which we operate.

The theme this year is “Eliminating Harmful and Social Practices Against Children: Our Responsibility.” What is ChildFund doing along these lines?
In almost all the countries where ChildFund operates, children experience some form of physical violence before the age of 8! This is unacceptable, and in a number of countries ChildFund works with children, families, local communities, as well as governments, to address harmful social practices as well as violence and exploitation against children.

What are your expectations as you join other organizations and the African Union to celebrate the Day of the African Child?
I have many expectations for the Day of the African Child, especially to urge all African citizens and governments in renewing our commitments: To significantly reduce the number of children that are subjected to sexual violence and abuse of any form; to reduce the number of children living outside family care; to end harmful social practices against children like early marriage and genital mutilation; to eliminate any form of child labor on the continent; and to support birth registration for all children without discrimination in Africa.

Fredrick’s Success Story: ‘I Can Be an Engineer’

By Sharon Ishimwe, ChildFund Uganda

Fredrick’s family grew their own food in eastern Uganda, like many other families in their village. They used the food for their meals and sold the extra vegetables. It was enough to help the family get by, but the income was too low to send Fredrick and his six siblings to school.

young man with goats

Fredrick has bought farm animals with the help of his sponsor, which has increased his family’s income.

Fortunately, Fredrick, who is now 21, gained a sponsor through ChildFund in 2000. He was able to go to school then; and, today, he’s on his way to becoming a mechanical engineer. For most youths, sponsorship ends in their teens, but some sponsors continue to assist when a young adult pursues higher education.

As a child, Fredrick went to Magombe Primary School.

“When I first went to school,” he says, “I felt hopeless because I didn’t see a bright future in education. My parents were poor. I didn’t think I’d reach this level of education.”

But Fredrick worked hard and completed school with top grades. By this point, he knew that he wanted to be an engineer. So he remained optimistic and focused.

young man in field

Fredrick plans to become an engineer, a goal that is within sight because of income from his livestock.

The assurance he got from his sponsor, Kathryn, through letters and gifts gave him confidence and the hope that he could achieve his goal. When Fredrick finally sat for his A-level exams in 2012, he scored an outstanding 15 points in physics, chemistry, mathematics and economics. With such a stellar performance, Fredrick feels his dream has drawn even closer.

He’s also working to earn his own income. Fredrick received one heifer through a ChildFund project and used monetary gifts from his sponsor to purchase a second heifer. Over time, these animals have multiplied to seven, and with proceeds from the sale of milk and calves, he has bought seven goats. The milk from all these animals has been of great help to the family, as they sell it and also use some of it at home.

“This helped me realize I could reach my dream with even the little I have,” Fredrick says. He plans to start his engineering training in January 2014.

The family has also managed to build a semi-permanent house, which is a major step forward from the mud-and-grass-thatched house they lived in before.    

“I thank ChildFund and my sponsor Kathryn for supporting me. I can now be an engineer,” Fredrick says.

Keeping Children’s Rights Close to the Heart of the African Union

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the African Union, ChildFund, Save the Children, Plan International and the African Child Policy Forum (ACPF) gathered last week to focus on the future of children across Africa. The meeting culminated with the drafting of an open letter to the chairperson of the African Union Commission, urging renewed support for the rights of children, who will become tomorrow’s leaders. We wanted to also share that letter with you.

child-focused organization representatives meeting

Meeting on Children’s Rights in Africa 50 Years of the African Union.

man at projection screen

Timothy, from Uganda, presents on behalf of ChildFund.

23 May 2013

Her Excellency, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma
Chairperson of the African Union Commission

As civil society organisations working to secure a better future for children in Africa, we would like to congratulate the OAU/AU on its 50th anniversary. We would particularly like to commend the great strides that have been made for children in Africa over the last 50 years, including improved primary school enrolment, impressive reductions in child mortality and increased access to essential maternal and child health services, and the establishment of mechanisms to protect and promote children’s rights set forth in the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

However, despite this progress, much remains to be done to ensure every child grows up healthy, well-educated and able to enjoy the full rights to which they are entitled. Ensuring we maintain and increase the gains we have made for children will require political leadership, strengthening of institutions and targeted investment. It will take concerted effort from us all – governments, regional bodies, business, international partners and the civil society.

We believe the 50th anniversary of the AU and the 21st Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union represent important opportunities to place children at the centre of Africa’s vision for the next 50 years, through reflecting their needs and interests in the African Common Position on Post-2015 Development Agenda.

We urge Your Excellency to use your Chairmanship to encourage and influence African Governments to:
1. Meet the commitments they have made to children under the regional and international child rights instruments and relevant declarations such as the Dakar Declaration and the Abuja target to allocate 9% of their GDP to education and 15% of their national budgets to health, respectively.
2. Address with the same commitment and vigour the issues of violence and exploitation against children, with clear and measurable targets for protection.
3. Honour their reporting obligations as Member States to the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child

Investing in children and putting their rights and best interests at the centre of Africa’s development will not only help ensure that every child grows up to meet their full potential, but it is also a viable economic strategy to drive and accelerate Africa’s economic growth.

Today, Africa’s prospects are bright with booming economies, a burgeoning middle class and a youthful population. It is now feasible to imagine that in the coming decades no child in Africa will die from preventable causes, every child will go to school and learn, every child will have adequate protection from violence and exploitation and we will break the intergenerational poverty from the continent.

The African Union has demonstrated its commitment to children on many occasions. Under your leadership, we remain committed to working with you and the African Union Commission to ensure that children are at the heart of Africa’s renaissance.

ChildFund International
Save the Children
Plan International
African Child Policy Forum (APCF)

Celebrating 50 Years of African Unity and Remembering Children

By Tenagne Mekonnen, ChildFund Africa Regional Communications Manager

logo commemorating 50th anniversary of African UnionThe 50th anniversary of the Organization of Africa Unity is being celebrated this week in Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia.

The official anniversary on May 25 marks a significant milestone in the journey of Africans since the OAU charter was signed in 1963 by representatives of 32 governments. The aim was to promote the unity and solidarity of the African states and achieve a better life for Africa’s people. South Africa became the 53rd member in 1994, and in 2002, the OAU’s successor, the African Union, was formed.

Anniversary celebrations will draw on African narratives of the past and present, while looking to the future. The anniversary is expected to motivate and energize denizens across the African continent to accelerate a forward-looking Pan-African agenda and a 21st-century renaissance.

Against this historical backdrop, ChildFund International’s Africa regional office, Save the Children, Plan International and the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Children are staging a one-day conference to shine the spotlight on Africa’s children.

Today’s event, “Children’s Rights in Africa 50 Years of the OAU/AU” reflects on challenges and progress during the past five decades, while seeking even greater protection and promotion of children’s rights by leaders across Africa in the future.

An Early Marriage Averted: Kadiatu’s Story

Reporting by ChildFund Sierra Leone

For 50 days, ChildFund is joining with numerous organizations to demonstrate support for government policies and programs that will allow women and girls to be healthy, empowered and safe — no matter where they live. Ending early and forced marriage is this week’s theme.

Sierra Leone girl in school uniform

School has been a refuge for Kadiatu.

In 2005, at the age of 10, Kadiatu was enrolled in ChildFund’s programs serving the Daindemben Federation in her Sierra Leonean community. With support from her sponsor to pay for school fees and learning materials, Kadiatu eagerly embraced the educational opportunities available to her.

But when she reached junior secondary school, Kadiatu’s father decided to remove her from school and give her in marriage to a middle-aged man in the village. ChildFund and its local partner intervened on Kadiatu’s behalf, standing firm to ensure that her father’s decision was overturned. The marriage was cancelled, and Kadiatu continued her schooling. But her father withdrew all support. Her mother has died long ago and her stepmother showed no love to her.

Without ChildFund sponsorship and the support of Daindemben Federation, Kadiatu would have had nowhere to turn.

girl sitting on bench near her home

“I have no fear now. I can continue my education.”

Today, Kadiatu, 18, is in senior secondary school preparing for the West African Senior School Certificate Examination. She credits ChildFund and Daindemben Federation for restoring her hope and believes she would have been the mother of two or three children by now had it not been for the intervention of the federation. “Daindemben has made me realize my importance and value in society,” she says.

Now she is determined to go all the way to university to study accounting. “I want Daindemben Federation and my sponsor to be proud of me. They have done so much to get me to where I am today. I don’t want to let them down,” she says. “Even my father is proud of me now,” she acknowledges. “He has regretted the action he had wanted to take then.

“I would like Daindemben Federation and my ChildFund sponsor to continue being my pillar, so that I will achieve my dream of becoming an accountant.”

Read more about ChildFund’s work to prevent early marriage.

50 Days: Keeping Women and Girls Healthy

 By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

For 50 days, ChildFund is joining with numerous organizations to demonstrate support for government policies and programs that will allow women and girls to be healthy, empowered, and safe — no matter where they live. Improving the Health of Women and Girls is this week’s theme.

Senegalese mother and daughters

Sadio and her twins, Awa and Adama.

Visiting the doctor is usually a mild inconvenience in the United States. It may entail a drive across town and a sit in a waiting room filled with people coughing and sneezing. But in Senegal, which has only 822 doctors serving a population of more than 12 million, seeking medical attention is a major undertaking.

For some families, it’s too much. Sadio is the mother of 2-year-old twin girls in the village of Pakala, which is often flooded during the rainy season. This makes it difficult to travel 6 kilometers (more than 3 miles) to the nearest health post staffed by nurses. Awa and Adama suffer from respiratory problems, and Adama is especially sickly, having come down with a debilitating cold that required a doctor’s care — a 30-mile journey from home to a hospital. 

Senegal health hut

A health hut in a Senegalese village.

Sadio and her husband Moussa, a farmer, have experienced loss before; their first child, Matar, died in 2007 at 13 months from diarrhea and a respiratory infection. But today their village has a health hut, which is staffed by a matron, community health workers and birth attendants. They can help patients with basic needs, but more complicated illnesses and ailments still call for a trip to the health post 3 miles away or 30 miles to the hospital.

Sadio reports that her diet improved during her pregnancy with the twins after receiving advice at the health hut, but her girls still face challenges from the respiratory infection; also, they were born underweight.

Senegal mother and children

Sadio, the twins and their 4-year-old brother, Assane.

The health of women and girls is important to ChildFund, as we work with local partners to provide access to health care in isolated villages as well as underserved urban areas in developing nations. In Senegal, ChildFund is leading the implementation of a $40 million grant from USAID to establish community health care services for children and families in great need.

Over five years, we plan to establish 2,151 health huts and 1,717 outreach sites throughout the country, along with a sustainable national community health policy working in partnership with USAID and other key community development organizations. By the end of the project, we expect to have helped more than 9 million Senegalese people in 72 districts.

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