By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
Today we celebrate the second International Day of the Girl Child, declared by the United Nations General Assembly to recognize girls’ rights. In 2012, the day focused on ending child marriage, and this year’s theme is related: Innovating for Girls’ Education.
Years ago, when I began working in the developing world, I thought I knew the reasons behind girls’ early marriage and lack of education. But the longer I lived there, the more I discovered complexity and nuance. We still struggle to end child marriage and educate girls.
Imagine for a moment you’re a teenaged girl living in a developing country.
Your name means beautiful.
At the beginning of each school year, your brothers move to the district capital to board with distant relatives. While they learn math, chemistry and physics, you pound rice in a mortar and pestle, cook meals over a three-stone fire, and tend the family’s garden, goats and chickens. Each week on market day you harvest avocados and mangoes to sell in the open-air market, bartering for whatever you can’t grow — rice, flour and oil.
You carry water home from the river in a basin on top of your head, moving slowly to avoid spilling the precious liquid. In sunny weather, you wash laundry by hand, laying clothes out on bushes to dry.
Each day, you gather branches from the forest, carrying them tied in a bundle on your head. At home you chop the wood into equal lengths to feed between the stones of your cooking fire.
In the evenings you prepare snacks to peddle in the streets: grilled peanuts, popcorn and ginger juice. Hearing the generator at the local bar shut off, you stack bowls of your mother’s specialties on your head and hurry to meet the village men as they celebrate the latest soccer match. You offer fried plantains, sweet potatoes and cassava, crisp with fragrant peanut oil.
This month, you turned 15. Soon, you expect to marry a man at least twice your age. Within another year, you’ll carry your first baby on your back. You hope your husband will allow you to return to school or learn a trade.
Long ago, your older brothers passed their high-school leaving exams. The eldest studies engineering at university. The second graduated from teacher-training college, and the third works at a nearby government office — one of the few salaried occupations in your country.
Your parents rejoice in their sons’ academic success; it brings your family a measure of economic security — an excellent return on investment. Your family will prosper.
You and your older sister completed primary school with certificates of merit, exceeding your community’s expectations. Your family speaks of you with pride. Your domestic skills attracted the attention of respectable families in the village, and your father now has several alliances to consider. Whomever he chooses as your husband will pay a substantial dowry.
Had you stayed in school, your marriage options would be fewer. An educated girl sparks no interest among village men. After a certain age, a girl cannot marry and enjoy the security of a husband. Your mother argued for you to leave school — like your sister before you — to prepare for marriage. Your father sadly agreed.
You are his favorite, the child he carried, running for miles to a hospital, as you convulsed with malaria. An old man now, he fears he can no longer protect you.
You will be beautiful on your wedding day.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
Laurie Tragen-Boykoff’s first glimpse of Nicky stuck in her memory: “He had the look of an old soul in his eyes.”
He was 7 years old, and Laurie and her husband had decided to sponsor him through ChildFund (then known as Christian Children’s Fund). It was nearly 25 years ago, and they were a young married couple living near Los Angeles. Nicky lived in Kafue, Zambia.
“We weren’t upper-class by any means,” Laurie recalls, but “the program pulled at my heart.” One thing she decided: She would write to her sponsored child. It was important.
At first, Nicky couldn’t write to her in English, so they corresponded through interpreters. Still, his personality shone through, Laurie says. “He was an unusually expressive child, filled with joy and appreciation.” She learned details about his everyday life, and she kept everything he sent in a manila envelope in her nightstand’s drawer.
The letters continued for eight years, as Nicky grew up and eventually was able to write to Laurie in English. During that time, she became a licensed social worker and had a son and a daughter. ChildFund later contacted Laurie to let her know that Nicky’s village was healthy and self-sustaining and that the organization would be leaving to work in a village with greater need.
Because ChildFund protects children and sponsors by monitoring all correspondence and not allowing the exchange of personal addresses, Laurie and Nicky had to say goodbye to each other, but they didn’t stop thinking about each other
As a teenager, Nicky even went to the U.S. Embassy in Zambia to see if he could contact Laurie and her family. Unfortunately, the embassy’s employees said it was too difficult to find them without more information.
Laurie, meanwhile, held on to the manila folder and thought about Nicky from time to time but never imagined she would hear from him again.
One day in 2011, though, when Laurie was making a stop at Starbucks, her daughter Megan called. She said she had received an unusual message on Facebook from a Zambian man named Nicky Mutoka.
“It was all I could do to not scream,” Laurie recalls. She gave her daughter very specific instructions about what to tell Nicky, because as a self-described technophobe, Laurie wasn’t on Facebook.
Soon enough, Laurie reconnected with Nicky through email, phone calls and even on Facebook. Nicky still lived in Zambia and had progressed a long way from childhood. He was the only one of six siblings to attend college, and he had married a woman named Ketty.
“The sponsorship, for me, meant a lot,” recalls Nicky, who is now 32. “I felt so special among my siblings because I had all my school needs taken care of. I still remember my parents never bought me a uniform, a pair of shoes or books during my primary and junior secondary school. I can’t forget about this, and my memories are still fresh even if it’s over a decade now.”
When the sponsorship ended, Nicky says he was fairly discouraged and unsure if he would complete school, but he says that his faith in God gave him courage to continue. Today, after earning a degree in business administration, he is a sales adviser for a bank.
After several months of contact, the two families took a big step; Nicky and Ketty came to California for a visit in 2012.
“California, and particularly Los Angeles, is a great and beautiful place,” Nicky says. “There is so much to learn there. I enjoyed myself, had so much fun with my lost friends and family.”
“We just seemed to get each other,” Laurie says, and friends from her synagogue and neighborhood were drawn to Nicky like a magnet. “People were absolutely blown away [by the story].” Laurie and Nicky’s friendship also served to show that sponsorship helps real people, she adds. “People were so reassured to hear that the money went where it was supposed to go.”
Today, Ketty and Nicky have a baby son whom they named for Laurie’s husband Terry, and Laurie visited them in Zambia this past spring. Both families are so happy to be reunited.
“As a young boy,” Nicky says, “I always knew these were very good people and felt strongly attached to this family.”
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
Annet Amiret, 21, was sponsored through ChildFund while growing up in Uganda, a politically unstable country at the time. Today, she is studying to become a nurse. In this Q&A, Annet reflects on the value of having a sponsor.
Where did you grow up, and what was it like?
I grew up in a lot of different places. My family had to move from our village when I was 8 years old. I stayed behind to live with a neighbor because my parents wanted me to remain in the ChildFund program. Eventually I had to leave when I was 12 because war broke out. I went to live in Soroti town [in eastern Uganda] with various family members.
How many siblings do you have, and who raised you?
I had six siblings, but one of my older sisters passed several years ago. I’m the youngest of all my brothers and sisters. Because of the instability in Uganda, I was raised by various people, including my grandmother, auntie, older brother and neighbor.
How did your family make their living?
My father is a farmer. He grows peanuts and maize. My mother sells fish in the market.
How old were you when you received a sponsor?
I was 6.
Do you recall particular ChildFund programs that helped you as a child?
I remember my sponsor sent money for a uniform and books. I had no money for it, so it helped then. When I was 9, I received a cow and a few goats, which later helped me with secondary school. It helped me pay for tuition fees, books and after-school tutoring. Unfortunately the goats were stolen from our family during the war, but to this day we still have the offspring from that cow. We still get milk and breed the cows to sell.
My mum also used to attend meetings and training sessions. Some of it was to do with agriculture and farming practices.
I was 8 or 9 when ChildFund built new classrooms at our school and provided desks. I remember before we used to sit on the floor or study under the trees. When it rained, there were no classes.
What changes did you experience after being sponsored?
Sponsorship made life easier because I could remain in school. There were several children that I knew that weren’t sponsored who couldn’t always go. Things were difficult for them.
Do you have any fond memories of a letter or a gift from your sponsor? How did this person make your life different?
My sponsor never wrote a letter, but they did send money for school uniforms and books.
How long did you attend school, and what do you do now?
I’m studying to become a nurse now in Kampala [Uganda’s capital]. I do a combination of attending lectures and working on the wards.
What is your career goal?
I want to work in health care, because if you have your health, you can do anything. People here lack basic information about prevention of diseases, and I want to be part of the group that helps educate people.
Do you have a message for people who are considering sponsoring a child?
I would tell them to go ahead and sponsor. There are very many people with potential that need help to realize their goals. ChildFund gave me a strong foundation and helped prepare me for who I am today.
Lloyd McCormick, director of youth programs at ChildFund, will speak at the 2013 Women, War & Peace conference at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va. The conference will take place this weekend.
The title of his talk, scheduled on Saturday afternoon, is “Livelihoods and Economic Recovery in War-Affected Environments – Lessons Learned from Sierra Leone, Northern Uganda and Liberia.”
The two-day conference will focus on women’s roles in war and peace building in West and North Africa and how these issues can be transformed into opportunities for social and economic well-being.
The conference grew out of a partnership among VCU, the Richmond Peace Education Center, Virginia Friends of Mali and the Richmond Sister Cities Commission, all of which work to highlight Virginia’s links with West Africa and to promote collaboration among the schools, universities, organizations and community groups working in the field of human development.
The conference will present films on women, war and peace; research on Africa with a focus on Mali; and opportunities for academic, professional and community development. If you are in the Richmond area, consider volunteering with ChildFund. We’ll be on-site both days of the conference, Sept. 20 and 21. For more information, email Kate Nare.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
In our 75-post series in honor of ChildFund’s 75th anniversary, we’ll hear from several of our national directors who oversee operations in the countries we serve in Africa, the Americas and Asia. Uganda’s national director, Simba Machingaidze, discussed some of the issues his office is working on currently, including reducing the child mortality rate, which is high in Uganda.
What are ChildFund Uganda’s main focuses right now?
ChildFund Uganda’s main focus is holistic ECD (Early Childhood Development) including child health, nutrition, stimulation and protection.
Do you have a favorite story about a child or family who has been helped?
To many beneficiaries like Federsi, a widow aged 65 years in Kasengejje village, getting a water jar was a dream come true. Federsi lives with two of her children and five grandchildren. The family used to fetch water from the only borehole in the village, which is 6 kilometers (more than 3 miles) away from their home.
The borehole serves approximately 900 households. It took the children 3 to 4 hours every day to fetch water, and as a result, they were always late for school. Due to the long queues at the borehole, the family often fetched water from a pond shared with animals or bought some from other people who had tanks. Buying water was quite difficult for Federsi, since she has no source of income.
In such water-stressed communities, a 2,000-liter tank like that constructed near Federsi’s home saves children the burden of walking long distances to fetch water while parents and caregivers are relieved of worrying about their children getting abused on their way to and from the distant water sources.
What challenges and goals do you have in the future?
Our goal is to enhance the capacity of our local partners to sustainably deliver programs that help solve their communities’ day-to-day problems. However, our biggest challenges include resources to cope with the ever-growing needs of a country with high population growth, and inadequate functional government systems.
How is ChildFund Uganda helping expectant mothers to sustain their own health and their child’s?
ChildFund Uganda has focused on increasing skilled birth attendance and quality postnatal care. This has been promoted through child health days, outreach clinics to underserved areas and through the Village Health Teams. In the last year, ChildFund Uganda constructed and commissioned two maternity wards in underserved districts. Expectant mothers received mama (delivery) kits, which are an incentive for the mothers to go for postnatal checkups and to deliver at health centers instead of going to traditional birth attendants. ChildFund has also worked with the district health offices with supervision from the Ministry of Health to support skills improvement programs for health workers to manage maternal and neonatal health issues better. This has been through mentorship as well as in-service training.
Tell us about ChildFund Uganda’s ongoing work to reduce child mortality?
Some of the goals include reducing household poverty as a compounding factor through the livelihoods programs, enhancing mothers’ knowledge and skills on prevention and management of common childhood illnesses as well as nutrition, reduction of HIV and AIDS infections in children through the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS programs, and strengthening the district level health systems to assess and respond to child and maternal health problems in the districts.
The unmet needs are mostly in the areas of nutrition, HIV and AIDS, district health systems’ financing and human resources for health. Our major limitation is funding; we would definitely like to be in a position to do more.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund staff writer
In late August, about a month’s worth of rain fell within a couple of days in Manila, causing massive flooding in communities where ChildFund Philippines works. Some of the families of enrolled children were displaced temporarily, and many are now cleaning and repairing their homes.
Typhoons are a common occurrence in the Philippines, and it’s important for communities to be prepared. That’s where ChildFund’s Emergency Action Fund enters the equation. With your contribution, we’ll be able to respond to emergencies faster, bringing aid and protection to children within hours and days of a disaster.
Although we’ve come to expect seasonal flooding in some regions of the world, often a crisis can occur without warning, such as the 2012 earthquake in Guatemala. ChildFund’s many years of experience in the field helps us assess needs, coordinate projects and deliver resources that assist families in dire need. We also have strong partnerships with local governments and other relief organizations.
More than 200 million people are affected by natural disasters each year, and 7.6 million are displaced by conflict or persecution. By making a donation to the Emergency Action Fund, you’ll help us assist children who need immediate help. Here is what the fund will help us do:
Enable ChildFund to mobilize teams of specialists within hours of when a disaster strikes.
Supply food, clean water, blankets, shelter and other emergency aid to children and families as quickly as possible.
Repair and restore homes, schools and vital social infrastructure such as water, sanitation and hygiene systems to prevent disease.
Provide Child-Centered Spaces and psychosocial support to help children cope and recover confidence after an emergency.
In the months after a disaster, ChildFund will remain in the affected communities, doing some of the most important long-term work: helping children regain a feeling of safety and self-esteem. Help these children and their families by making a gift to the Emergency Action Fund.
The United Nations declared Aug. 12 as International Youth Day in 1999, so ChildFund is taking this week to focus on challenges that especially affect teens and young adults, as well as celebrate young people who are showing strong leadership in the countries we serve.
Reporting by ChildFund Ethiopia
Mekdes, an 18-year-old girl from Ethiopia, received a one-year scholarship in March 2012 through ChildFund and our Twitter followers to mark International Women’s Day. We checked back with her in July 2013 to see how she was doing.
“I trained in hair dressing for six months and graduated in September 2012,” Mekdes reports. “I started working in one hair salon in our village four months ago, earning a monthly salary of 600 birr [approximately US$32] that enabled me to fulfill our basic needs and cover the medical cost for my grandmom, who has asthma. I have also bought a cell phone for myself and also started to fulfill my needs, such as clothing and shoes.”
Mekdes was chosen as a scholarship recipient for a Twitter campaign ChildFund launched in honor of International Women’s Day. She had encountered many hardships, having lost her father at a young age; her mother couldn’t take care of Mekdes on her own. She also had to drop out of secondary school despite having good grades after her grandmother lost her job. When we met her last year, Mekdes had to work as a hairdresser and a day laborer, but today she has the hope of one day owning her own business.
She has passionate feelings about International Women’s Day because it demonstrates that all women have the potential to be productive and involved in community development. Mekdes also explained that since women are vulnerable in many ways and are sometimes affected more by poverty, the need for supporting them in their pursuits is important.
“In the future, I have a plan to get further training in a boys’ beauty salon, and I have a plan to open my own beauty salon,” Mekdes says. “After fulfilling the income need, which is a priority for us to survive, I will continue my education. I would like to thank ChildFund for helping me to be successful in my life.”
Reporting by Tenagne Mekonnen, ChildFund Africa Communications Manager, with Priscilla Chama, ChildFund Zambia
Seveliya, 13, represented Zambia at the Day of the African Child conference this past spring in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (scroll down at the link above to watch her speech). She recently talked to us about her hero book, an autobiographical work that she created at the ChildFund-supported resource center in Kafue, a town in Zambia’s Lusaka province. Hero books let children describe the challenges they face and set goals for the future — in a sense, making themselves the heroes of their own lives.
To boost this feeling of self-confidence, other children write supportive comments in the books for their friends. Here is Seveliya’s experience, in her own words:
My hero book: That is me, my guide, my dream and my future! It is my discipline. My hero book is all about me, my family, friends, the future.
The resource center at the Kafue Child District Agency shaped my life. It is a place where I share with my peers and do different activities to tackle life’s struggles! It is where we come together to know ourselves, fight for our rights and educate our community about children’s rights.
The resource center helped me to express myself through the hero book, which helped me to reflect. It shaped my character; before my hero book, I always felt that I am always right, and everyone else is wrong. I fought with family, siblings, friends, just because I thought I am the only one who is right!
But the hero book helped me to accommodate family, friends, siblings and the community. Now I have confidence to say that my dreams will come true. Now I have a plan to be an architect 10 years from now, and 20 years from now I will be having my own business, which will help me open an orphanage and provide support. I will be there for my future!
I know I am tomorrow’s leader! It is clear, no more fear.
By Kate Andrews, with reporting by Joan Ng’ang’a, ChildFund Kenya
Titus loves to play soccer, cook with his brother and do math. One day the 12-year-old hopes to be an engineer. Yet, Titus faces some serious challenges. He lives in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya, a tough place to grow up. Most families live in one-room shanties constructed of makeshift materials, and children typically sleep on the floor. Adding to these disadvantages, Titus and his mother are both HIV-positive.
But with support from ChildFund, Titus has found a bit of good fortune in the midst of harsh challenges. He and his mom receive the medications they need to stay healthy, and they also attend a support group for those affected by HIV and AIDS.
Titus and his mother, who is a community health worker and sells vegetables near their home, tested HIV-positive in 2006. His mother was in shock for the first year and didn’t take medications she needed to be healthy. Today, though, thanks to the support group, both mother and son take their medicine regularly and have learned about nutrition therapy, as well as receiving water treatment kits and school materials. Titus went to a special camp for children affected by HIV and AIDS last year.
Titus is happy and confident about the future, and he and his parents and brothers talk about HIV openly. “The one thing I love about my family is that we love each other,” he says.
Kenya has a serious AIDS epidemic that touches virtually everyone in the country. Although the prevalence of the disease has declined in the past 15 years, in 2011, 1.6 million people — 6.2 percent of the country — were recorded as HIV-positive, according to UNICEF, and 1.1 million children were AIDS orphans.
Children like Titus, including some who don’t have the same level of family support, need our help to stay healthy and receive the education and other resources they require for a fulfilling future. For the past two years, ChildFund has implemented a long-term support program for children in Kenya who have been affected by HIV and AIDS.
How You Can Help
We provide health services, educational support and community assistance with a $3.5 million matching grant. To meet its terms, ChildFund must raise $725,491 by Aug. 31. Because of this arrangement, your dollars will go a long way; each one will be matched by $4.35. Numerous children and families in Kenya will benefit from your gift.
So far, 350 children and 200 parents have been tested for HIV and received counseling, and more than 1,000 families have started income-generating work that allows them to afford nutritious food and school materials. More than 70,000 children have received insecticide-treated mosquito nets that help prevent malaria, a disease that is particularly debilitating for those already weak with HIV or AIDS.
We can do so much more with your generous donations. More children like Titus can dream of one day becoming engineers — or teachers or doctors or anything else they want to be.
Reporting by Janella Nelson, ChildFund Education Specialist
Ramatoulie is a 15-year-old girl from The Gambia who was able to use her voice to stand up against early marriage — including the prospect of her own — and blossom into a confident teenager with support from ChildFund. Here is her story in her own words.
Until I was 12 years old, I stayed home all day and took care of my eldest sister’s baby. I wasn’t comfortable, since all the kids around me were going to school. I wanted to go to school because I could not speak English, so my mother put me in school. She advised me to do well in school. Sometimes she would cry in telling me this.
My father and mother are rice and groundnut (peanut) farmers. Neither one of them went to school. My mother got married around 18 years old and had six children — five girls and one boy, but one girl passed away. I am the youngest. The first two girls got married at 16 years old, and my brother was sent to live with a relative in Senegal to become a baker. My other sister was in school but dropped out when she got pregnant in grade nine because the school wouldn’t accept her anymore.I was focused on education because I kept hearing that education was the key to success. Our school was lucky because ChildFund brought the Aflatoun program, which is a club where I learned about my rights. I liked the club, and I worked really hard and eventually was chosen as vice president by the teachers and students. In grade six, I was voted to become president, and there were 120 students in the group.
One day, when I was 14, my father told me there was a man who wanted to marry me. He was much older, about 30 or more years older and already had a wife and a child. He was from another country and wasn’t educated. I did not want this. My father said the man would take care of me and pay for my school, and if I said no, I would no longer be his daughter, and he would take everything away. He gave me three days to change my mind. The man tried to give me money to convince me, but I gave the money directly to my father and said I don’t want it. I refused to take anything from the man. My mother couldn’t do anything to help me.
I continued going to school, and I was very sad. My teacher saw something was wrong with me, and eventually three teachers came to my house to see what had happened. They spoke to my father and learned that he was going to make me marry. They tried to convince him not to marry me off because I was doing so well in school. My father said he didn’t have any money to pay for school. The teachers and the local community organization said they would support me. My father said that from now onward the teachers and God will be responsible for me.
With the support of my teachers, I stayed home and finished sixth grade. ChildFund sponsored me to go into upper primary school by paying my school fees, and I went to live with another family. I am in a good school, and I will be in eighth grade this coming year. My father is happy because he couldn’t pay school fees for me. He is a poor man, not a bad man, and he thought marrying me off was the only way that I could be taken care of.
In my new school, I joined another club called Speak Out! that empowers girls and boys with skills to deal with problems that are hindering their access to academic development. My advice for other girls is that education is the key to success in life, and they should focus on education. Girls should be aware that many problems are caused by boys and sometimes even teachers, like sexual harassment. Girls should speak out to people and tell a teacher they can really trust.
I was chosen to represent The Gambia at the Day of the African Child conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, earlier this summer. The sky is the limit!
At the conference, Ramatoulie read a poem she wrote:
A dark world, an odd emotion
Crossing my dreams, taking my emotions, my laughter and joy.
My smile seems so meaningless
The dark corners where I hid
Began to feel like home
As my childhood days are numbered
I drown in an ocean of my tears
With no one to help or pull me out
Tying the knot with a stranger
No friends, no allies
No love, no sympathy
Just a hall of darkness
Where my future dies
My doom is certain
My end is near
I dream of death, as I dream of heaven
Hopeless and helpless I saw myself
I think there was no one to help
But then I was wrong. In my surprise, as I drown deeper in the oceans of my tears. An organization came to rescue me called ChildFund.
They give me a new life.
They brought back my laughter and joy
They make my smile so meaningful
The dark world I was living before became a brighter one
They made me what I am today. ChildFund is everything to me.
They pay my school fees and even offer me a place…
A very responsible and kind person took me to her place, sheltered me and treated me like her own child. The beginning of my end I saw was the end of my misery. And the beginning of my bright future.