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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 12, of Vietnam:
Teresa, 12, of Mexico:
Jeferino, 12, of Timor-Leste:
Agnes, 12, of Zambia:
Jonathan, 11, of Mexico:
Reporting by Abraham Marca, ChildFund 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.
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.
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.
Photos and story by Flavia Lanuedoc, ChildFund Caribbean
Flavia Lanuedoc works as a sponsor relations officer for one of ChildFund’s local partner organizations in Dominica. She lives in Boetica, a village that was cut off from help after flooding from Tropical Storm Erika in late August. This is the second of two parts of her story. Read part one here.
Having filled some of the most basic needs, village leaders soon decided that we needed an emergency route in case someone needed to be taken out of the village for medical reasons.
More than 50 years ago, people had built a path across a 250-foot gorge with rocks and dirt, connecting Boetica and Laplaine. Now, it needed to be tackled and tamed once more. Villagers placed a rope over one side of the cliff, then scaled the cliff and climbed up the other side.
During the next few days, helicopters brought in much-needed supplies, and we decided at a meeting that we needed to get the sick and elderly out. Eight people were airlifted, and soon, children and youth who attended school and college in town were airlifted too. Firefighters helped us bring in supplies with a pulley over the gorge once helicopters were no longer available.
A century-old villager died, and his coffin was pulled across the gorge to its resting place. Electricity returned almost two weeks after the storm, so I was able to receive and send emails. I visited several of the ChildFund-enrolled children’s families in Delices (though the road remained dangerous, especially when wet), helped in village cleanups, distributed relief supplies and assisted in any other way I could.
Getting out of the northern section of Boetica to the rest of the island is no easy feat; neither is it for the weak nor faint-hearted. I dared not climb the ladder or crawl down a cliff using a rope, and I didn’t walk along cliff edges or on the deserted beach, either.
However, with families to serve and community mobilizers to support, my task would have been impossible without the village heroes. I am able to function effectively as a sponsor relations officer (despite being cut off) because villagers climb the ladder and ropes and help me carry letters and other documents from the area offices to ChildFund Caribbean’s national office. Thanks also to the staff members who supported me in so many ways.
My experience is overwhelming evidence that the local people are the first responders. They have the skills and experience of traversing this terrain and, most importantly, the resolve to create the means of survival in times of disaster.
Read more about Dominica’s flooding and support ChildFund’s Emergency Action Fund, which helps us react quickly to disasters and provide help to children and families in the immediate aftermath.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
Oct. 11 is the International Day of the Girl Child, a day set aside by the United Nations to recognize girls’ rights and the special challenges they face. This year’s theme for the day is The Power of the Adolescent Girl: Vision for 2030, so ChildFund’s blog will focus this week on girls who are working to achieve great things now and in the future.
Thinking about girls — especially those who are entering adolescence — reminded me of some favorite stories from past blog posts, featuring girls raising their voices to advocate for themselves and other young people. In March, Maria Antônia, a 14-year-old girl from Brazil, spoke about violence against children at the United Nations’ headquarters in New York. “It is very important to improve child-friendly services within the child protection network, so that children feel confident and safe,” she said. It was her first time in the United States, as well as the first time she’d seen snow.
In a post from 2014, this one from Indonesia, we met Stefanie and Irma, teenagers who were youth facilitators in a large, multi-age forum about dating violence, which has grown more prevalent there in recent years. It’s impressive how open children and youth can be about such sensitive issues, and it’s thanks to young people like Irma and Stefanie that Indonesian communities are making progress in stopping domestic violence.
Finally, in Ethiopia, four young women spoke out about children’s right to a complete education, during 2014’s Day of the African Child, an annual, Africa-wide event that marks the deaths of young protesters who marched for better educational access in Soweto, South Africa, in 1976. Eden, Helen, Aziza and Bemnet, all in their teens, addressed the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. You can read their words, which reflect the struggles they and other young people in their communities face.
At the U.N.’s Day of the Girl website, read about the special challenges girls face, including early marriage, gender-based violence and poor access to education and job opportunities. Also, if you’re on social media, use the hashtag #dayofthegirl to learn more and discuss these issues.