By Gelina Fontaine, ChildFund Caribbean
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 Alexia of Dominica.
So many people have dreams and don’t pursue them, but this is not so for 20-year-old Alexia. Born and raised in a little community on the outskirts of Roseau, the capital of Dominica, the talented and ambitious young woman was sponsored through ChildFund. Today, she is the first female police officer to emerge from her impoverished neighborhood.
She is the oldest of six children of a single mother who sells food items and walks long distances during the day, making money to send her children to good schools.
“I always tell my younger brothers and sisters to learn well at school and follow their dreams, because if I can do it, they can do it too,” Alexia says.
Alexia, who has a charming smile, has always appreciated her mother’s efforts and made the best of her education. She first entered the culinary field, working as a cook at a rotisserie restaurant, before deciding to go to school to become a police officer.
She currently serves on the Commonwealth of Dominica Police Force and is well respected in all parts of the island country. Alexia has worked as a patrol officer, a district officer and at the headquarters doing clerical duties. The journey continues for the young officer, and she has plans to further her studies in criminal justice so she will be better equipped to “protect and serve” her country and fellow citizens.
Alexia has inspired many young people, as well as adults, who have interacted with her; she is very polite and carries out her duty diligently. Her younger siblings all look up to her as their mentor and role model.
“I will always be grateful to the people at ChildFund,” she says. “They really encouraged me and motivated me to do well in life. They helped me with my school things, uniform and books and also helped my brothers and sisters.”
In Alexia’s spare time, she spends time with her siblings, encouraging them to take their education seriously and focus on the positives in life. She also motivates the youth in the community, reminding them that it does not matter where you are from, you can achieve your goals.
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 Rosa, a former sponsored child from the rural state of Jalapa in Guatemala and the youngest of six siblings. Today, she works for a local partner organization affiliated with ChildFund Guatemala. Here is her story in her own words.
Reporting by ChildFund Guatemala
One of my dreams was to work for the organization that helped me when I really needed it. Now, I’m working for ChildFund, and I want to share with you my own story!
My name is Rosa (people call me Rosy). At the age of 7, I started participating in the ChildFund projects through our local partner organization, Cactus. Nutritional, educational and health programs were implemented in the region where I was sponsored. I participated in the programs for 17 years, and it was the best experience!
The program that I participated in when I was 7 was the nutritional one, because in my community there were many children with malnutrition problems. At the same age, I started attending primary school; six years later, I started elementary school.
When I was 16, I was supposed to start going to secondary school. But it was a really hard time because my father did not allow me to study; he said that girls have to stay at home doing chores and have to get married to serve their husbands. Also, transportation was another problem. There were no buses, and school was so far away from my home, so the only option to continue studying was to move to another state. Too much for my overprotective parents!
So, people from the ChildFund project offered me a scholarship and helped me convince my parents to let me study. After long talks, my parents agreed with me. I lived with one of my relatives; they offered me a bedroom and enough food.
I was able to graduate, and I became the first girl to graduate as a teacher in my community.
After a couple of years, someone from ChildFund’s local partner Cactus called me to ask me if I was interested in working with them, and I said yes, of course. It was like a dream! So, I started working for Cactus and ChildFund as a sponsorship assistant doing many administrative chores.
Also, I worked as a program coordinator, and now I am working as a technician in the project Let Me Tell You, to increase children’s literacy, self-expression and research skills.
I have been working here for 17 years, and I am very happy working with children. I had a dream a few years ago, and now I am doing what I love to do.
ChildFund has been working for 75 years in the world, and working here means a lot to me. Serving the new generation is awesome! When I was sponsored, I received so much love, and it changed my attitude. Now I am returning all of these gifts to my children in the communities, and I like to see how children are changing their attitudes and aspirations, by reminding them that dreams can come true with perseverance and effort.
Now I am 41, and I have two children, Andrea Isabel and Julio Fernando, 5 and 12 years old. My two children are my inspiration, I love and am really proud of my parents, I have a family that always supported me and a job that I love! What else I could I ask for?
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
As part of our 75th anniversary blog series, we are talking with staff members about how they’ve seen ChildFund make a difference and what they hope to see us achieve in the future.
Since the 1950s, ChildFund has worked in underprivileged communities in the United States, particularly with African-American, Latino and American Indian children. Today, we support projects in Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas.
Julia Campbell, program director for ChildFund’s U.S. programs, spoke with us about the commonalities and the differences between the approximately 10,000 children we serve in the U.S. and those who live in other countries. American children’s situations are typically not as dire as they are for children in developing countries, where families often confront severe hunger, a complete lack of health care, dirty water and the spread of deadly disease.
“We in the U.S. are more focused on the softer side,” Julia notes. Self-confidence, community engagement, literacy and education are emphasized here. A major issue, she adds, is a “lack of involvement by parents, who sometimes are intimidated [by their children’s schools]. Inequality of education is a huge issue in the U.S., and a large part of it is determined by race.”
In Oklahoma, ChildFund and its local partners work to bring communities together, which can be difficult when distance between homes is great; in South Dakota, where we work with Lakota children and families, our programs encourage cultural engagement and work to prevent youth suicide. In Mississippi many children and youth have family members in prison, and young people in Texas, whose parents often came from Mexico, are trying to navigate a bicultural world, Julia says.
Although the children are under some pressure to serve as English translators for their parents, “their potential is pretty much endless in this country,” she says, particularly when children and youth learn about opportunities here.
For Julia and her colleagues in the U.S., the primary questions are, “How do we define poverty and tackle lack of engagement?”
We asked Lloyd McCormick, ChildFund’s director of youth programs, to tell us his favorite story from the field. He travels many weeks out of the year to our programs around the world.
I was in Guatemala a few years ago assisting the Americas regional office, national office and the local partner organization in conducting a community consultation in a rural village in the mountains, a very beautiful place. It was held over two days, and during one of the first sessions, I started to interact with a boy about 10 or 11 years old. I don’t speak Spanish, so he was listening to me speak English to others around me that knew English. He was very intrigued by me speaking English, as were some other kids his age who were in the same session. After a bit, he started to address me in an imitation of what he thought English sounded like. It was actually just gibberish, but I immediately responded to him as if I understood exactly what he was saying. We then just got into a rhythm of a conversation with hand gestures, tones, and laughter — as if two old friends were having a great conversation.
The kids around him were flabbergasted that he seemed to know English and that we were having this conversation. The adults around us that knew English and Spanish just let us continue our “drama” and confirming that the other kids were so impressed their friend could speak English so fluently. After some time, we both just finally burst out in full laughter, and the gig was up. From that point on during the rest of the stay in the village, whenever this boy and I would run into each other, we would start our “English” conversation where we left off the last time, just enjoying a laugh and some simple fun. The whole thing continues to remind me how we can truly connect with children in different and simple ways.
Members of ChildFund-supported communities in Ecuador have been working nonstop during the last two weeks to complete orders for St. Valentine’s Day. It’s the peak season for flower production and exports, and we were lucky enough to be visiting Ecuador last week to see the business in action. This country, along with Colombia, is among the main flower exporters, and during these days the local industry in Ecuador estimates exports for about 4,000 metric tons to the United States and about 2,600 metric tons to Europe, approximately 30 percent of its yearly production.
Twelve years ago, the community of Santa Rosa de Patután had no running water, sewage treatment, schools or health center. However, today, after many years of projects and trial-and-error experiences, this village has transformed into a community of dynamic farmers who produce mainly roses and carnations for export to the United States, Europe and Russia.
Jose Manuel Yaule is one of the leaders behind this change. With no education other than what he calls “the university of life,” he began working for his community by building a water system with the help of ChildFund. Today, that is the local water company, a service and business totally run by the community. That was the first step toward his venture into the flower business.
He then began researching with technicians in businesses from surrounding areas and first tried with his own greenhouse as a pilot. Realizing they could actually produce high-quality carnations and roses for exporting, he replicated this model by teaching the business to the whole community.
“I remember back in 1994, seeing children here was very sad: very poor, hungry, no shoes, no school. I was thinking all the time about work opportunities for parents, who were mainly peasants without any hope and lots of alcohol problems,” Jose Manuel says. “Now I see children and I can’t even recognize them… sometimes I think they are from another town: so educated, so well-dressed, so happy and healthy!”
The flower business has indeed brought color, joy and progress to this community. Jose Manuel didn’t have an education, but his five children went to university; two of them graduated, two study music at the conservatory, and one is pursuing a degree in economics.
His dream is for everyone in this community of about 400 families to be a small business owner. Continued water supply, agricultural technical support and financing are keys to making this a reality.
To support the farmers with credit, the community also created in 2008 their own credit union, which has 780 members and assets of about US$1 million, provides loans for land, supply and machinery. The credit union works well under the management and supervision of Monica, a former sponsored girl in the community, who, after finishing university, decided to come back and work for the development of her own village.
This community keeps dreaming and growing, just as the flowers do. Farmers continue to get training and are currently working on producing new varieties of flowers and diversifying their production. Thanks to this work and the support of buyers in the United States every Valentine’s Day, more children keep playing and learning in better schools, while their mothers and fathers continue cultivating the seeds of change and progress in their community.
We recently interviewed Americas Regional Director Paul Bode about his three years at ChildFund and what he sees in our organization’s future.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I am from the Netherlands. I am the youngest of the family of six, and all my brothers and my sister continue to live there, and my three children have moved there also.
How did you become involved in this field?
When I was in high school, I had a keen interest in development issues, and my career choices were directed at this. I studied anthropology with specialization on rural development of Latin America and a minor in development economics. During my study, I did field work in Colombia, living in a small rural village. I returned there after graduation, working on monitoring and evaluation for a rural development project. In 1989, through an advertisement in a Colombian newspaper, I came to Plan International and worked 21 years for that great organization, most of that in Latin America and a couple of years as program director at their international headquarters in the U.K. I left Plan in 2009 and then came to ChildFund.
What are the most significant changes you have seen in your time here?
We are making good progress on the changes we set out in our global strategy. Most importantly, we are making advances in building a high-quality, high-impact program. Through our partnership initiative, we are really changing our communication with our local partners [i.e., the organizations that help ChildFund implement our programs in communities] and targeting their sustainability, and we have created a financial mechanism to support our work with them. On the resource mobilization side, we have made good progress in building new income sources in the regions we are targeting, especially the corporate sector.
What is your favorite place you have visited?
I am very lucky — I get to travel a lot and experience some beautiful places. Once, I visited a project site in Ecuador in the Andes and got this really beautiful view of the snowcapped Cotopaxi volcano. I put the picture on my Facebook with the words “another day at the office…”
What is your favorite quote and why?
I think about the great legacy that Nelson Mandela has left us and especially his words, “Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice.” That guides us in our work, and the need to emphasize that it is about realizing the rights of all children.
Which world issue would you would like to see solved in your lifetime?
Poverty, without doubt.
What’s your best ChildFund story or memory?
When visiting the field, you come across some amazing young people who are really having a different perspective on the issues affecting their lives. Once, I participated in a community planning exercise in Guatemala. The facilitators were young people who worked with groups of adults. One of the groups was formed by adult men, farmers, rough guys accustomed to the hard work on the field to bring in the daily income for their families, guys to be respected.
The group was facilitated by a boy, a kid really, about 13 years old, and as they discussed the priorities for their communities, the men would come up with things like building a community center, improving the road and building a water system, all very valid and important things to do. However, the little fellow spoke to them and asked them if the issues of violence and abuse against boys and girls within the family, schools and wider community were not more important to be addressed.
It was amazing to see the confidence with which he spoke and how the men really listened to him and took his views on board. That was a great example of youth participation in practice.
Henry and Judi Ferstl began sponsoring two 5-year-old Brazilian children, Jovino and Suely, through ChildFund (then Christian Children’s Fund) in 1981. Henry was a dairy farmer living 45 miles west of Madison, Wisc., where he still lives. He hadn’t been to Brazil before, but he was curious about other cultures, and helping children appealed to him and his wife.
“They’re so grateful to have somebody care about them,” he says. As the years passed and their sponsored children aged out of the program, the Ferstls kept sponsoring; they have helped 10 children in all, and in the past decade, they took on two more sponsorships. Today, they assist four children and write letters every two months on average. The Ferstls’ son is continuing the tradition by sponsoring a child in Timor-Leste.
“I’m a big gardener,” Henry says. Just sharing ordinary details about weather or the vegetables he grows in the garden are interesting to the children. “The kids are amazed,” he notes, especially when he sends a picture of snow or, say, a moving truck in the neighborhood.
Henry says that he likes sponsoring through ChildFund because he knows where his donations go, and his assistance contributes toward children’s dreams.
“One girl wrote one time, ‘When I grow up, I’m going to sponsor a child, just like you sponsored me,’ ” Henry says.
Lidiane has a special place in the Ferstls’ heart; they started sponsoring her in 1995, and she’d aged out in 2006, but they maintain contact today, often through email. Lidiane attended college and started a clothing business in Brazil. She and her husband now have a daughter, and the Ferstls had the honor of choosing her name, Emily.
“She’s just a wonderful young woman,” Henry says of Lidiane. “It’s one of the great satisfactions. I learn as much or more as the children do. And that’s probably how it should be.”
In our 75-post series in honor of ChildFund’s 75th anniversary, we’re talking with several of our national directors who oversee operations in the countries where we work in Africa, the Americas and Asia. Virginia Vargas, national director of ChildFund Mexico, has been with our organization for 13 years and also served as Kenya’s interim national director for two months last year.
What is your favorite thing about working at ChildFund?
I work for ChildFund because I am convinced that by developing capacities in children and youth, they will be able to break the generational cycle of poverty and achieve their full potential.
I also appreciate that we reach the most vulnerable and deprived children; we try to help those children meet their potential. I like to be part of a global organization known as a child development and protection agency.
Where did you work before ChildFund?
I worked for a cerebral palsy foundation as the director for its education programs.
What is the most difficult situation you have encountered in your job?
The wonderful thing about the national director job is that every day is a different one. I always have to solve different problems, to make decisions, sometimes strategic and some operational. I always have in mind the communities and children we serve.
One of the most difficult tasks is to keep the “balance” among national office, local partners, the international office and the Mexican Board of Directors. As the leader of the organization in Mexico, I have the responsibility to take everybody in the same boat and to roll in the same direction.
What successes have you had in your national office?
Looking at the potential market for sponsorship in Mexico, during 2005, we started our fundraising. Today we have almost 7,000 Mexican sponsors. We developed a five-year business plan, and our goal is to have 15,000 sponsors by 2017.
What motivates you in life?
My motivation in life is to be able to support more vulnerable children; to give them hope, to help them to reach their dreams.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I like to read and go to the gym.
Who is your role model?
Gandhi, because he made a revolution in his country with no violence.
What is a quote, saying or belief that you live by?
“I want to end my life with empty hands, not because I have nothing to give, but because I have given everything.”
In Ecuador, children under 5 make up 10 percent of the total population, and 23 percent of them suffer from chronic malnutrition.
But in a small community north of Pichincha, we find Samira, a cheerful and lively 2-year-old girl who lives with her mother, Diana, and her grandparents, Maria and Miguel.
Maria and Diana participate in ChildFund’s early childhood development programs in their community. Diana has participated since she was pregnant, and when her baby girl was born, she already knew Samira needed the right kind of food. Maria tells us that Samira is the family’s “guinea pig” because they put into practice everything they have learned in raising her.
“My daughter does not get sick as other children do,” says Diana. “When the other children have had strong flu, she didn’t get it. She is a very healthy girl. She likes to eat soup. She really likes beans and corn, and she eats all kinds of fruits.”
Samira has access to this healthy diet thanks to another ChildFund-supported effort: Maria’s family garden. In her 30-square-meter plot, Maria cultivates a variety of fruits and vegetables. These form the basis of the family’s diet.
We hope to provide this opportunity to 70 more families in Pichincha through our Ecuador gardens Fund a Project. These endeavors assist communities with specific needs like treated mosquito nets or winterization kits.
With your help, the garden project will provide these families with a sustainable source of nutrition, helping to address health challenges common to this region. Each family will receive fruit and vegetable seedlings with supplies and training for growing their own gardens. Using recyclable materials and avoiding pesticides, families will create their gardens in a sustainable, safe way.
As a result, children will have better access to vitamin-rich produce, which will protect them from malnutrition and illness. And the sale of surplus fruits and vegetables will boost each family’s income by as much as $40 per month. We need about $5,000 to reach our goal to start these families on a healthier path. Please consider making a donation.
It was a cloudy Sunday morning in La Paz, Bolivia, and at 6 a.m., all you wanted to do was to stay in bed with hot chocolate and watch TV. But that Sunday, Dec. 8, we had something special in mind, and we had to wake up early and start moving.
We were not just running for ourselves but were running to promote the campaign, too.
Four staff members from ChildFund Bolivia’s office — Katerina Poppe, Ana Vacas, Fernando Arduz and I — and our pal HyeWon Lee from ChildFund Korea ran 21 kilometers (13.1 miles, or a half-marathon) that day. Aside from the pursuit of good fitness, our goal was to share awareness of the “Free From Violence” campaign, a global advocacy campaign by ChildFund Alliance asking governments to ensure that children are free from violence and exploitation.
“It was a very exciting, tiring but fruitful experience,” HyeWon notes. “We had a long, hard run of 21 kilometers ahead of us, but it felt really nice to be with the co-workers, one next to each other, cheering each other on and sharing the exciting moment together.
“We were wearing ChildFund T-shirts with the phrase ´Libre de violencia´ [Free from Violence] printed on the back, and this short phrase really made our running much more meaningful. We were not just running for ourselves but were running to promote the campaign, too. It made it much harder to give up, and as a result, we all met at the finish line.”
Ana also shared her thoughts: “I have run quite a few races before but never for a specific cause. However, this time was different. The race took on a whole new meaning for me; I was no longer there as another participant just hoping to cross the finish line but as someone who was actively participating in efforts to create a world where children are free from violence.”
Katerina added: “To be part of this competition was a wonderful experience for me because I believe in this cause. I believe that we all together can do something to raise our voices and share our commitment to fight violence against children, especially girls.”
That Sunday will be in our memories forever; if we can overcome this challenge, others in life can be defeated with an effort.