By Nicole Duciaume, Americas Region Sponsorship Manager
Read Nicole’s first post about her trip to Dominica, a Caribbean island nation where ChildFund works.
I often say that ChildFund’s work begins where the pavement ends, and this rang true in Dominica. Within a few blocks of a docked cruise ship, about 10 miles outside of the capital of Roseau, we parked the car and walked up a path of crumbling stones and packed earth.
It was there that I met Miranda, 31, and her 4-year-old daughter, Lashana. Miranda and her five children, who are enrolled in ChildFund’s programs, live in a small two-bedroom home she inherited from her grandmother. The home is made of weathered wood panels atop cement blocks. There are gaps where the ceiling and walls don’t meet, and broken windows outnumber whole ones.
They have lived without electricity for more than five years, and their bathroom is in the backyard, with a pit latrine and a hose for a shower, plus a few panels of plywood and rusted metal sheets for privacy. Her three sons, aged 17, 14 and 12, share one tiny bedroom; her two daughters, aged 9 and 4, sleep in a twin bed in the hall outside of the bedroom that Miranda shares with Lashana’s father.
Miranda does her best for the family. She encourages her children to go to school so they will have more opportunities than she had. The school down the road is supported by ChildFund and embraces the child-friendly methodology (including alternative discipline, age-appropriate furniture, bright and engaging learning environments and parental engagement). We had visited the school earlier in the day to distribute sleeping cots for preschoolers and to see a renovated library where children can read, study and imagine.
Lashana suffers from asthma and other respiratory problems, which often forces her to return home early from preschool; she often falls ill if any of her classmates are sick. Miranda believes in the power of early stimulation and education, something ChildFund encourages throughout Dominica and in other countries, so she has educational charts at home to promote Lashana’s learning of the alphabet, numbers, vegetables and fruits.
Miranda doesn’t have a formal education, so her employment options are limited.
She takes on odd jobs, anything to provide for her family — cleaning homes, washing laundry by hand and so on. Miranda also keeps a small garden in the backyard to feed her family and sell the surplus produce in the market. But heavy rains this year ruined her crops and waterlogged the seeds. As a result, the family is having a hard time making ends meet. This is why Lashana was all smiles as she told me her most exciting news: She recently received a goat from her ChildFund sponsor. Though Lashana knows it is her goat, she also realizes that this goat will help the entire family with milk to sell, and once they breed the goat, they will be able to supplement their income by selling the offspring.
The day-to-day life for this family is daunting, but they have hope. Sponsors help provide hope for many children through their support of ChildFund’s programs and the families themselves. Sometimes in the form of a goat.
By Nicole Duciaume, Americas Region Sponsorship Manager
The descent onto the mountainous island is one of beauty and circus spectacular. Our small propeller plane surfed the air currents tipping left, right, up, left, left, up, right, like a toddler taking his first clumsy steps while teetering on the brink of a near-certain fall. As the plane touched down, at the end of the runway was the ocean, waves relentlessly crashing into the rocky shoreline.
Leaving the airport, I was immediately reminded of why Dominica is nicknamed the Nature Island. We passed over so many beautiful rivers and brooks that feed the rainforest canopy, which engulfed the taxi as we wound our way to my hotel, my home away from home for the week ahead. This country is nothing short of breathtaking. It is the perfect destination for hikers, divers and cruise enthusiasts.
In February, I spent a week in Roseau, Dominica, where ChildFund’s Caribbean national office is located. Dominica is about 1,400 miles southeast of Florida — past Cuba, past the Dominican Republic, past Puerto Rico.
Its beauty at first hides the harsh realities of poverty affecting the most vulnerable of the island’s inhabitants, particularly children. Seaside mansions built into the cliffs are brightly colored with Caribbean hues, as they obscure the shantytowns behind them, shacks constructed with plywood and rusted metal sheets.
Here, children sleep many to a bed. Their fathers often have left the home, and their mothers barely eke out a living. Incidents of child neglect and abuse are high, while income levels are low. The cost of living is high, too. Despite the common view that the Caribbean is better off than other parts of the developing world, the harsh living conditions of children and youth in Dominica are on par with what I have seen in some of the most remote and impoverished parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America.
This is why ChildFund works here. This is why we do what we do.
Tomorrow, Nicole reports on a family from Dominica.
Reporting by ChildFund Ecuador
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 hear from Belen, an Ecuadoran teen who is sponsored through ChildFund and also enrolled in our programs.
My name is Belen, and I am 16 years old. It makes me feel very good to know that somewhere in the world there is someone who cares about me and is interested in knowing how things are in my life.
My sponsor and I are in constant communication through the letters we send and receive. I love to receive letters from my sponsor. He lives in the U.S., and despite the fact that we do not speak the same language, thanks to ChildFund, the letters are translated, which makes our communication easier.
ChildFund has given me the chance to participate in programs such as the Youth Communicators group, which has allowed me to grow as a human being through sharing experiences with other youth my age and to learn different things such as producing TV and radio programs and writing about youth topics in a local newspaper.
I also participated in summer camps in different communities, which gave me enriching life lessons because I had the opportunity to share time with young people like me and we learned new things that help us to develop our abilities. Positive things like these have helped me to progress in my life.
Thanks to my participation in ChildFund’s projects, I have learned to communicate better with my sponsor, family and friends, and I have learned about values such as respect, honesty, solidarity, punctuality, responsibility and others. I have learned to go for and build dreams, to strive for them and look toward the future.
Water means many different things to different people. Maybe you’re thinking that you need to drink more of it daily, or it’s time for a hot bath. Perhaps you are picturing a tea kettle on the stove? Do you think of lakes and rivers, glaciers and rainclouds?
Many of our readers have easy access to clean water. All it takes is turning on a faucet in the kitchen or bathroom. This sets us apart from many of the children and families ChildFund serves in 30 countries. Today is World Water Day, and we ask you to take a couple of minutes to watch this video showing how a lack of clean water affects every part of life, from infant mortality to education. Here are some ways you can help bring the gift of clean water to children and families in need.
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.