Americas

2015 Highlights: Fighting Ebola, Speaking Out Against Violence

Timor-Leste Children against Violence

Student participants in Timor-Leste’s Children Against Violence program take flight! 

By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

As editor of ChildFund’s blog, I’m taking a look back at a few of the past year’s highlights that reflect the triumphs and struggles in communities where we work. See some of the year’s most memorable photos here.

As 2015 began, ChildFund staff members and local partner organizations were fully engaged in starting and running Interim Care Centers (ICCs) in Liberia and Sierra Leone, where the worst recorded outbreak of Ebola was killing thousands and leaving children orphaned and vulnerable to neglect, sickness and abuse.

ChildFund’s ICCs — staffed by survivors of Ebola, in many cases — helped children who had lost parents and other caregivers by giving them safe spaces to stay during the required 21-day quarantine period while they were observed for symptoms. The governments of Liberia and Sierra Leone recently recognized ChildFund’s work to educate children and family members and protect them from the further spread of Ebola.

Facinet Bangoura

Facinet Bangoura

This year, we’ve heard many personal stories of survivors and children touched by the deadly virus. You can read many of them here, but Arthur Tokpah’s interview with Ebola survivor Facinet Bangoura was particularly memorable for me. A young man from Guinea, Facinet contracted Ebola after performing traditional burial rituals for a relative who had died from the virus. He survived, but he explained to us how misinformation led many friends to shun him after he returned to his community. Today, Facinet is on a mission to prevent a further outbreak of Ebola.

Another of ChildFund’s heroes is Flavia Lanuedoc, a longtime staff member of our local partner organization in Dominica, which was hit with massive floods in August. A couple of months later, she shared with us her personal struggle after her house had been cut off from the mainland. Read how Flavia managed to do her job amid great adversity.

Debbie Gautreau and Momodou Bah.

Debbie Gautreau and Momodou Bah.

We also can’t forget Momodou Bah, the ChildFund alumnus from The Gambia who is now his nation’s youngest elected official and a 2015 Mandela Washington Fellow, an honor bestowed on young African leaders annually by the White House. Momodou is a remarkable person who is doing a lot of good in his country, despite impoverished beginnings, and now he is back in contact with his former sponsor, Debbie Gautreau.

I also want to pay tribute to all of the people — especially the youngest ones — who spoke up about violence and the importance of giving children safe schools, homes and neighborhoods so they can grow up and achieve their potential. Their numbers are great, and some spoke out in spite of personal risk. Children performing short dramas about corporal abuse in Timor-Leste, a Brazilian girl traveling thousands of miles to speak about violence at a U.N. panel, Bolivian teens drawing maps where gang activity occurs in their community, children across Africa marching against forced marriage — all are examples of amazing commitment that demand respect and attention.

Maria Antonia at the U.N.

Maria Antonia at the U.N.

On a global level, ChildFund Alliance’s Free From Violence campaign joined the voices of many people and organizations worldwide to advocate for the United Nations’ inclusion of a measure to end violence against children in its post-2015 agenda, the Sustainable Development Goals. This effort was successful, as child protection was prominently included in several goals adopted in September. We all hope to see a great deal of progress over the next 15 years and are ready to pitch in wherever we can.

Thank you for your support during 2015, and we wish you a wonderful new year.

Rita of Guatemala: A Student and a Teacher

Guatemala guide mother

Rita is a guide mother in Guatemala’s highlands, and she is learning to lead early childhood education programs in her community.

By Nicole Duciaume, Americas Region Sponsorship Manager

Rita’s first day as a volunteer is filled with bursting nerves, excitement, confidence and fear. At one point, she candidly admits that she wants to do a good job so that those who trained her would be proud of what she learned and how she is applying it.

Guide mother Rita with her children, 4-year-old Sebastian and 1-year-old Jocelyn.

Guide mother Rita with her children, 4-year-old Sebastian and 1-year-old Jocelyn.

She joined ChildFund recently as a guide mother in the highlands of Guatemala. Over the next several years, she will take weekly classes on diverse topics such as parenting skills, children’s learning styles, nutrition, child rights, the importance of play and many more. She will then lead weekly community-based early childhood education sessions and will be a go-to resource for other mothers in her community.

Now 21 years old, Rita got married at age 17. She explains that her father died when she was in the fourth grade, forcing her to drop out of school to work on a small farm along with her mother and six siblings. This was the only way for the family to survive. She talks about the hardships of being a mother in a part of the world where women have little opportunity for education or work.

When asked why she wanted to be a guide mother, she lights up. Her answer is simple: “A better future for my children, so that they have chances that I never had. I want them to get an education and get whatever job they want.” She goes on to explain how important it is for her to learn and be a good model for her children, saying, “I didn’t get a chance to study, so this is also my turn to learn.”

With her 1-year-old daughter, Jocelyn, wrapped to her back with a perraje, a woven shawl, Rita stands in front of 15 eager children ready to play and learn. One of them is her 4-year-old son, Sebastian. Rita leads the class of 3- to 5-year-olds through various singing and coloring exercises, which translates into language acquisition and fine motor skills development. A smile of relief spreads across Rita’s face as the class ends and she knows that this session, the first of many more to come, has been a huge success.

Through ChildFund’s guide mother program, Rita is both the student and the teacher.

Waiting and Watching: A Volcano Threatens Eruption in Ecuador

Reporting and video by ChildFund Ecuador staff

With its snow-capped peak jutting into the Ecuadorean sky, the Cotopaxi volcano is one of the highest and most famous active volcanoes in South America. Since its most recent eruption in August 2015, it has become a source of growing concern for people living in the Cotopaxi province, where ChildFund works through its local partner FEDECOX.

Currently, the volcanic activity is moderate as Cotopaxi continues to emit steam and ash, and the Ecuadorean government has placed the area on yellow alert – the lowest of three possible safety warnings. FEDECOX has distributed masks and caps to help children and families block out the ash and prevent respiratory and skin diseases. The affected communities are also conducting large drills to prepare for a possible eruption.

The volcano, known to be one of the most dangerous in the world, remains carefully watched. Cotopaxi’s glacier cover multiplies the potential for lahars, which are enormous and devastating mud- and rockslides that can race down a mountain much too fast for people to escape.

ChildFund and its local partner organizations in the area are working to ensure that children and their families are as prepared as they can be, and we remain poised to provide the special help they’ll need in case of emergency.

We will provide further updates as they become available. In the meantime, take a look at this video featuring 7-year-old Leidy, who shows us how she puts on her protective gear – with a smile and plenty of style.

Harvest Time in Ecuador

Mother and daughter in Ecuador

“I like spending my time helping my mom in the garden, especially when it is harvest time,” says 6-year-old Samira of Quito, Ecuador. Photo by Veronica Travez, ChildFund Ecuador. 

United States Children’s Survey Shows Fear, Insecurity

police in Oklahoma

Children line up to meet a police officer and check out a squad car during ChildFund’s Just Read! Reading Festival in Oklahoma. Safety and security are on many children’s minds, according to our recent poll. 

By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

If you were president, what is the one thing you would do to keep children safe?

We put that question to 1,188 children and youth ages 5 to 18 in ChildFund’s U.S. programs in Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas. When we take a look at their answers, the common denominator is fear.

What would they do as president? Most say they would keep children away from predators, bullies and strangers. Some would make children stay inside their homes, lock down schools, put stone walls around parks.

Some would even implant tracking devices under children’s skin and in their teeth.

More than 30 percent spoke about enforcing adult supervision, setting up alarm systems and giving children safe places to go.

Another 7.5 percent recommended keeping children isolated and restricting their movements or staying with their parents at all times. And 18 percent say they would create, change or enforce laws, mostly to keep children safer. Others would shut down the Internet or use technology to track down sex offenders and predators and keep them away from children.

Children usually are reflecting the concerns — voiced or not — of the adults around them.

Part of this sense of danger and insecurity is likely based on real problems in their communities; the children polled are from disadvantaged and poor areas, with more than 20 percent of the population under the national poverty line. High dropout rates, domestic violence and substance abuse are documented issues, along with other hardships associated with poverty.

“While children responded overwhelmingly that they feel the safest at home, we know that many homes are not safe environments for children in these areas,” says program director Julia Campbell. “In previous surveys and consultations with children, they are reluctant to talk about what goes on at home and mainly focus on the problems outside the home. Perhaps compared to the other choices, home still feels the most safe to them. It’s still what kids know best and what they prefer.”

But children also are reacting to perceived problems, too. They’re scared of being targeted by sexual predators, kidnappers and other villains around every corner. Dangerous people exist, of course, but are they as omnipresent as some of the children’s answers suggest?

We need to pay attention, even when what they say seems a little off the wall. Children usually are reflecting the concerns — voiced or not — of the adults around them. Just read some of their answers to “If I were president …”

I would make a small town and keep them in there. There wouldn’t be no bullying, no people trying to get them.

I would keep children safe by putting the schoolhouse on lockdown.    

If they are ages 6-13, they should not go places without parents guarding them.

NO Guns, NO Drugs.

Ban drugs and walking home alone from school.

I would make a stone wall around the park and only kids and their parents can go in.

I would make the parks safe 24 hours.

Make sure that the parents are good; they don’t get drunk and beat their kids.

I would keep children safe by keeping ISIS away from America.

Remove every website.

I would have a soldier at as many doors as possible, make it illegal for people to use motorcycles, make animal shelters that don’t kill animals, and make it illegal to smoke or drink.

Have an online school because a lot of children get kidnapped walking home after school.

There are a few light-hearted and optimistic answers, like the children who would ban homework on Fridays and establish four-day weekends, but the vast majority of the young people polled suggest fairly extreme solutions to the question of keeping kids safe. And as we know from working in countries with political strife and other dangers, it’s hard for children to concentrate on playing, making friends, studying and reaching their potential when they’re afraid.

But if we look back to the children’s words, we can find a few answers about how to ease their fears and help them feel safer and more confident. We just need to listen:

Make parents teach children what’s right and wrong and lead them on the right path.

Have a class where all children go and talk to a teacher to tell them anything that is going on with their lives.

Listen to what they have to say and look for the best solution for their problems.

Talk to them about all their insecurities and just tell them that everything will be all right.

Small Voices, Big Thoughts

La Paz, Bolivia

Nestor, 11, lives in La Paz, Bolivia. “I think it is important to listen to children’s voices,” he says. “Boys without love grow to be aggressive. Parents’ love is important for children. It gives them more security and self-confidence.”

Reporting by ChildFund International staff members

Today is Universal Children’s Day, when ChildFund Alliance releases its annual Small Voices, Big Dreams survey. Almost 6,000 children in 44 countries (in the Americas, Africa, Asia, Europe and Australia) answered questions about what their fears are, what they’d do if they were their country’s leader and what they consider their rights. Here are some memorable responses from children in countries where ChildFund works.

Hoan of Vietnam

Hoan, 12, of Vietnam:

Adults mistreat children who are alone. Because some children do not have anyone who cares for them and protects them, adults mistreat them. I will create a safe environment for children so they can live safely and happily. I will open a free school for orphaned children who didn’t have the opportunity to go to school before.

 

Teresa of Mexico

Teresa with her younger siblings.

Teresa, 12, of Mexico:

There are parents who always tell their kids that they are not capable of doing certain things, and I think that is really wrong because we feel a lot of pressure, and over time, we’ll be afraid of expressing ourselves.

 

 

 

 

Jeferino of Timor-Leste

Jeferino, 12, of Timor-Leste:

We are children. We also have the right to play, but most of the adults limit us. When we play, they come to chase us away because they are adults, and we are children. And we can’t do anything.

Agnes, 12, of Zambia:

If I become a leader, I will make sure everyone knows and protects children’s rights.

Agnes gathers maize for her family.

Agnes gathers maize for her family.

 

Jonathan of Mexico

Jonathan, outside his home.

Jonathan, 11, of Mexico:

I think it is really important to listen to children’s opinions because people shouldn’t make decisions for them or force them to do anything.

Sponsorship and Raquel’s Silver Lining

Reporting by Abraham Marca, ChildFund Bolivia

Raquel, 19, is an up-and-coming jewelry artist in Bolivia.

Raquel, 19, is an up-and-coming jewelry artist in Bolivia.

Raquel, 19, is a young leader in her Bolivian community. We asked her to tell us about her sponsorship experience, what she’s up to now and her career plans. 

How would you describe your friendship with your sponsor?

I have a beautiful relationship with my sponsor. She tells me about her country and sends me pictures with beautiful landscapes, places where she goes with her family. She also tells me about her daily life and how she worries about me and my family. I love when she sends postcards.

What have you learned from your sponsor?

My sponsor is consistent about writing; we keep in touch often, and we know what is going on in each other’s lives. I learned a lot about the value of friendship with her. I think she is my best friend because she has taught me a lot about other places, about respect for the family. Her letters are written in a simple way but tell me a lot. I know she thinks about me all the time.

Tell me about the new activity you’re doing now.

The local partner in my community started a silversmith training program, and I was curious about how to work with silver and make a ring myself. The day I made my first ring, I was very happy and proud. I continued making other small pieces of jewelry, first during my free time, and now I am part of a small association.

Now that you have learned this skill, do you have future plans?

I would like to own a business, making jewelry with my own style. I would also like to teach other youth to make rings, earrings and many more things. Of course, I would also like to learn more about this art.

I understand you are the association’s president. How do you feel about holding this position?

Well, all of my friends and partners elected me. They told me I am a responsible, dynamic and good friend, and they trusted me.

Now we run our association by ourselves. All of us are youth, and we learn something new every day. I know this is a big responsibility. All of us want to strengthen our small association.

What is your biggest challenge and biggest triumph?

My biggest challenge is to find the time to keep up with this new responsibility and stay on time. We want to build our own brand — not only a logo but an identity. We would like to be known in Oruro and throughout Bolivia.

My main satisfaction is to see us grow as people, both as silversmiths and as friends. Being at the silversmith workshop is fun. We all are friends and take care each other.

A Childhood Full of Letters

Maria Elena of Mexico

Reporting by Paloma Gonzalez, ChildFund Mexico

Maria Elena (above) was enrolled in ChildFund’s programs in Mexico when she was an infant, and at age 2, she was sponsored by an American man, Hugh. Through the next 20 years, he wrote letters and sent financial gifts that her family used for clothes, shoes and food. Today, she holds a college degree in biology. Here are her words about corresponding with her sponsor.

Since I was an infant when I was assigned my sponsor, I wasn’t able to respond to his first letters, and my sisters wrote the answers for me! As time went by, I was able to write him directly, and we wrote every two months. He sent me letters, sweets, postcards and Christmas cards.

He always sent me words like “Yes, you can!” or “Go on!” and that helped me to keep going.

When I was going through elementary school, he would always send me letters to cheer me up. Despite the distance, he never forgot us and in his letters always asked about my family and how I was doing in school. It was very exciting for me because though we had never met, it felt great to have somebody showing such interest in me.

When I started high school, we kept exchanging a lot of letters, and he started to ask me about my future plans. At that time he told me that he was going to keep on sponsoring me for as long as I was engaged in the local partner organization’s activities and in my studies, as far as I wanted to go. That excited me so much, because since I was a little girl, my dream was to have a career. He always sent me words like “Yes, you can!” or “Go on!” and that helped me to keep going, because each letter encouraged me to go one step further.

My sponsor always motivated me to not give up, despite the many obstacles I crossed, and this is how I fulfilled my dream, and I can proudly say I have a degree in biology. It is the best thing that ever happened in my life, so I appreciate his trust in me and support without expecting anything in return.

This is why I invite all sponsors to write to their sponsored child, because a simple letter or photograph is exciting for us as children and brings us the best feelings and joy, and also motivation to keep going.

Read more about writing letters to your sponsored child.

Flavia Crosses the Gorge

Photos and reporting from Gelina Fontaine, ChildFund Caribbean

As you may have read in her two-part diary, Flavia Lanuedoc was scared of crossing the 250-foot river gorge near her home in Boetica, Dominica, where flooding has caused great damage. Late this week, we heard that she crossed the gorge. Here are a few pictures. We wish Flavia and her neighbors well, as they recover from Tropical Storm Erika.

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