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Sonam’s Fight Against Child Marriage

By ChildFund India staff

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.

Sonam, 17, a child marriage activist from Madhya Pradesh, India, accepts an award.

Sonam, 17, a child marriage activist from Madhya Pradesh, India, accepts an award.

In India, the country with the most child brides worldwide, an estimated 47 percent of girls are married before age 18, putting their physical, emotional and mental health at risk. Although it is illegal in India for girls under 18 and boys under 21 to marry, the tradition remains entrenched.

For a long time, ChildFund has worked with adults and youth in the state of Madhya Pradesh, where the practice is particularly prevalent, to end this harmful tradition. For many in this fight, the stakes are personal.

When 17-year-old Sonam’s parents insisted that she get married, she protested, and together with her youth club members who had taken an oath to become role models for others by not becoming the victims of early marriage, she spoke with her parents. She shared that she did not want to get married before reaching the legal age and also wanted to study further to achieve her dreams.

At the launch of a 100-day child marriage awareness campaign in 75 villages earlier this year, Sonam was recognized for addressing the issue of early marriage and for standing up against her own marriage. Anmol Jeevan, the campaign, drew great support from the community, including village leaders and parents. Thousands of people attended the event where Sonam and other youth members received awards.

“ChildFund has changed my life — it came as a ray of hope in my life and has given me courage to dream about my future,” she said while accepting the award.

Sonam (left) at a literacy campaign event.

Sonam (left) at a literacy campaign event.

Sonam has been with ChildFund India since the beginning of the project, for more than six years.  She has actively participated in several of ChildFund’s programs, awareness camps and meetings on early marriage. She also encourages mothers to get their children immunized and provide nutritious food. She also has promoted literacy in her village by doing door-to-door counseling and getting children of her village enrolled in school. With Sonam’s and her youth club members’ persistent efforts, more than 62 community members have learned to read — out of the 142 illiterate village members they had identified.

After a lot of persuasion, Sonam’s parents were convinced that she should remain unmarried. With their support, she is now preparing for exams, with plans to become an engineer and help her village.

“If convinced properly,” says Sonam, “parents will support their daughters’ wishes to study instead of getting them married at an early age.”

And when they do, those girls will be able to make enormous contributions within their own communities — as Sonam has.

Listening to Girls’ Voices

Maria Antonia of Brazil

Maria Antônia in New York City.

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.

Day of the Girl: Hope for Mung

Mung of Vietnam

By ChildFund Australia and ChildFund Vietnam staff

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, its theme 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.   

Thirteen-year-old Mung was born in one of the poorest villages in Kim Boi district in rural Vietnam’s mountains, and even here, she’s had a difficult life compared to many children.

Mung’s father passed away when she was young, and her mother has a disability and is unable to work. She struggles to provide for Mung’s needs with the approximately US$13 she receives from the Vietnamese government each month.

Her uncle tries to support Mung and her mother, as well as his own wife and two children. His rice fields produce enough rice to feed the family and pay for their basic daily expenses, but if a crop fails, they will be hungry for several months.

“When I get home from school, I feed the pigs, clean the house and cook for my mom to help her,” Mung says.

Mung has just completed seventh grade. She has a passion for learning and is a good student, despite having to borrow schoolbooks from her friends to follow the lessons. Also, her house is more than four miles from school, so it often took Mung and her cousin two hours to walk to school each day.

“I used to have to leave home at 5 a.m. to be at class on time,” she says. “It was so dark and freezing.”

Mung and her mother.

Mung and her mother.

In 2013, ChildFund Vietnam staff members identified Mung as being at great risk of dropping out of school due to her family’s financial situation. So, Mung was among 200 children in her village who received bicycles through the Hope Bike project, which was funded by KB Financial Group in partnership with ChildFund Korea and ChildFund Vietnam. She was also enrolled in a project designed to offer support to families struggling to provide for their children’s school needs.

Through the project, Mung receives paper and clothing for school, her fees are covered by direct transfer to her school, and she receives a daily meal to ensure her dietary needs are met.

“ChildFund’s support has helped to reduce the burden on my uncle,” Mung says. “He has been really tired taking care of the two families. Now he doesn’t have to worry about the expense to send me to school. I am provided with tuition fees, course books, a desk and lamps to study at home. I also get rice for meals every month. I feel like I am getting closer to my dream.”

Despite her challenges, Mung always tries her best to study hard, and her efforts are showing. She recently took part in a mathematics competition in her district and received an “encouragement award.” Everyone in the community is proud of her.

“I would like to become a teacher in the future to earn enough money to support my mom,” Mung says. “My goal next school year is to improve my grades in Vietnamese. Any teacher should be good at Vietnamese to convey what she means to her students.”

My Favorite Book

During our month-long focus on literacy, ChildFund staff members asked children in Asia, Africa and the Americas to tell them about their favorite books and why they love them. You can support children’s reading habits in a couple of ways: ChildFund’s Just Read! program in the United States, or helping ship textbooks to schools overseas. Enjoy the pictures, too!



Brazil: Agatha is 6 years old, and she loves to read and dance ballet. At the local partner organization where she spends time, Sorriso da Criança (Smile of the Child), she often goes to the library.

“My favorite story is The Princess and the Frog,” Agatha says. “Because there’s a princess, and to me she is the best character. The frog falls in love with a princess, and after all, she discovers that he is a prince. In the end, they live together forever.”



“Before I could read, I used to ask my father to read stories for me. Now I can read by myself and I love it. I would say to all the children in the world: If you can, go to a library, it’s so cool!”

Philippines: “I always go to the library during my free time,” says Jamil. “I love looking through books about animals, like the hippopotamus. I wish to become a wildlife photographer someday.”

Bolivia: Reyna is 11 years old. She loves short stories like Aesop’s fables.

United States: Anastasia, 8, of Cheyenne River, South Dakota, received a princess book and a “pillow pet” from her sponsor, so she read the book to her new pet.

Brazil: Jéssica, 10, is a shy girl who loves to read. Her favorite book is Diary of a Wimpy Kid. “I really love to read, especially in my home. But the library is also very important in my life.”

Sierra Leone: Saio, 11, lives in Koinadugu District. “I am in class five. My favorite story book is The African Tea Pot.”

Sri Lanka: Sarujan, 10, loves to read under the shade of the mango tree in his garden. He likes comic books the best because they have lots of pictures.

“My favorite story is about animals living together in peace, in the jungle,” he says, explaining that he likes it because the animals live in harmony in their jungle home without conflicts or disturbances. “My grandmother tells the best stories,” he adds.

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Children Advocating for Safe Schools

children against violence

Members of Timor-Leste’s Children Against Violence group pose for a photo during their journey from their hometown, Maliana, to neighboring district Suai for a national child rights forum.

By Janella Nelson, ChildFund Education Technical Advisor

This blog post was originally published by the Global Campaign for Education’s United States chapter.

As many children return to school this month, it is an exciting time for parents and students. There is an assumption by many that school is a safe place, but there are children around the world, including in the United States, who will be returning to school and wondering if their school is really safe.

Children have the right to learn in a physically and emotionally safe environment that is conducive to learning. When we think about “safe environments,” there are several things we consider, but usually physical safety is at the top of our minds. Globally, children are exposed to several forms of violence in the classroom, on school grounds and on the way to or from school. They include corporal punishment, bullying, sexual gender-based violence, gangs and political unrest.

Children in Timor-Leste rehearse a skit about corporal punishment.

Members of Timor-Leste’s Children Against Violence group rehearse a skit about corporal punishment.

These forms of violence, which can be physical or psychological, can prevent children from learning and staying in school. Evidence shows that corporal punishment by educators increases dropout rates and perpetuates a cycle of violence. Bullying is linked to poor mental and physical health, school absenteeism, lower test scores and higher crime rates (bullies are four times more likely to engage in serious crime, according to a study in 28 countries published by the American Psychological Association in 2013). Sexual violence based on gender has a detrimental effect on girls’ attendance and completion of basic education, which contributes to the large gender gap in secondary school. Gang-related and political violence prevents children from even attending school, causing schools to close and teachers to resign.

ChildFund International and our partners in the ChildFund Alliance are committed to contributing to a world where every child is free from violence and exploitation. We support children in exercising their rights and work to create environments where children can not only participate as advocates against violence but also lead efforts.

In Timor-Leste, ChildFund’s Children Against Violence program has prioritized the push for a legal framework prohibiting violence against children in schools, as well as community-based awareness activities. Students have created Child Advocacy Groups, which have conducted research on violence against children; group members have used this research to advocate for a national policy forbidding corporal punishment in school. A cadre of young advocates has grown out of the groups, and they promote the protection of children’s rights, as well as the education of teachers and parents about positive discipline practices.

Students, parents and teachers need to work together to tackle all types of violence in schools, and one essential step is to provide support to children so they can raise their voices about this issue and make schools truly safe.

Two Girls from Indonesia, and How Bikes Changed Their Days

Dream Bike Jakarta

Nurul (in green skirt) and Selfila (wearing navy blue tie) on the day they received their bikes.

Interviews and Photography by Sagita Adesywi, ChildFund Indonesia

Last week, we heard from Aisyah, a 12-year-old girl from Jakarta, Indonesia, who had just received a Dream Bike from ChildFund. Today, Nurul and Selfila, two more girls from Jakarta’s slums, talk about their lives before and after receiving bikes. You can help girls achieve full educations and escape everyday hazards by making a donation to ChildFund’s Dream Bike campaign.


Nurul is quite a shy one. She is 12 years old and in third grade, behind where she should be in school. Because she has dyslexia, Nurul finds it difficult to read and retain information. She has repeated grades several times and even moved to another school. Her mother always accompanies her to school to protect Nurul from bullying. Nurul doesn’t talk much, and looks to her mother to answer questions.



“She always wanted to have a bicycle,” Nurul’s mother explains. “She saw her friends with bikes. One time, she wanted to ride a bike and tried to borrow it from a friend, but the friend wouldn’t let her. Nurul asked, ‘Mama, when can I get a bike?’ ”

But the family didn’t have the money to buy a bicycle.

“We need to pay about US$8 per month for the school fee, which I haven’t paid for four months. I don’t know how much a bicycle costs, but I guess it is about US$100. We can’t afford it. It is way too much for us. I only work as a daily laborer, and my husband works as a security guard,” Nurul’s mother said. “What we earn is only enough for food and to pay the electricity bill. Before she received the Dream Bike, it took her about 45 minutes to walk to school. She often arrived late, and it was quite tiring for her. I am really happy now that Nurul has been given the bicycle from ChildFund. Praise the Lord!”

“I ride the bike to school,” Nurul says shyly. “I am really happy I don’t have to walk to school anymore! It is much faster for me to get to school than walking. I want to be a doctor when I grow up. I am going to be a dentist!”


Selfila, at 14 years old, is in her second year of junior high school. She is the oldest of three children. Her father supports them with daily construction work. Her mother is a housewife.

“I used to walk to school for about half an hour each way, starting early — at 5:30 a.m.,” she explains. “I walked by myself, as my friends don’t live in the same neighborhood. When I was younger, I was a little scared to walk on the big roads, because there were many cars. Sometimes I arrived at school late because I had to wait for the rain to end. It was quite hard when I returned home too, because the sun was so hot, and I carried so many books. So sometimes I felt too tired to help my mom at home. But now I have the bike, and I get home faster, so I can help her more. I also have more time to do my homework!”

Selfila and her younger brother.

Selfila and her younger brother. 


In Jakarta’s Slums, Children Fold Up Their Dream Bikes

bikes in Jakarta

Children in Jakarta, Indonesia, receive their fold-up bicycles and helmets from ChildFund. Aisyah is in the green T-shirt.

Reporting and Photography by Sagita Adesywi, ChildFund Indonesia

Many children who benefit from ChildFund’s Dream Bikes program are in isolated communities and face long journeys across rough rural terrain. It’s a little different in south and east Jakarta, the huge capital city of Indonesia. Children there live in dense, crowded slums, and to get to school, they have to walk or take the public bus or a motorbike, a big daily expense for families living in poverty.

Because their homes also are small, 125 children in Jakarta’s slums received foldable bicycles from ChildFund’s local partner organization, Perkumpulan Marga Sejahtera, which hosts after-school activities.

“When they fold the bike, it won’t take up as much space,” explains the organization’s director, Liest Pranowo. “These children walk every day to school, and also when they join some activities out of school. Having a bike hopefully will help them to get to school easier, get in on time and be more active as well in out-of-school activities. It would save their parents some costs too. Usually, it takes about US$2 for a rental motorbike. It is just too much for them. As children are very active, we also provided them with helmets. If they fell, their heads would be protected.”

Aisyah, 12, with her bike.

Aisyah, 12, with her bike.

Let’s meet Aisyah, a 12-year-old girl who likes watching the news and hopes to be a doctor one day. She received a bike and helmet, and it’s making a difference already. These are her words:

I walked to school and back every day with my younger brother. He’s in the second grade. I leave home around 5 a.m. and get to school by 5:30 a.m. Often I came late to school, especially on Mondays and Fridays. On Mondays, we have a morning ceremony where we need to be ready a bit early, and on Friday we have group study and exercise that I need to come early for too. On those days, often I came late.

Once, there were other kids in the street from another school who made fun of me. They would say something bad, like “Oh, you are a hobo! Even your school is the school for hobos!” They were boys, four of them. I would tell them to please not to say something like that, as they wouldn’t want other people to say something bad in return, right?

Another time, when I came home from school, these boys said something bad to me again. One of them pulled my hair from the back and pushed me down. I fell down and cried. A taxi driver stopped them. When I got home, I told my mom, and she then went to their house, but they still didn’t want to say sorry.

I am not afraid of them, though, but I try holding myself hard to just ignore them. My brother always says to ignore them.

Since I am in the sixth grade now, there are days where I stay longer in school for extra classes. That’s fine, as I need to be prepared for the exams. I take extra classes in math, science and Indonesian language. But sometimes when I got home, I was too tired from walking under the hot sun to study again or do my homework.

When I finish school, I am going to be a doctor! I want to help people who are sick. But if they don’t have money, I will do it for free. It’s all right. Even though our government has health insurance, it is not enough to cover everything.

One day I saw in the news that a mother had just given birth. The hospital kept the baby longer as the baby was born premature, and the family couldn’t afford the cost for the treatment. That’s why I want to be a doctor, to help people in need like that.

I really am happy I was given the bicycle by ChildFund. I will ride the bike to school. The bicycle lets me get to school on time, and now I have more time to do my homework. I will even take my brother in the back saddle!

You can help girls like Aisyah by donating a Dream Bike. One bicycle costs $100, and its value is priceless. Stay tuned for more Dream Bike stories from Jakarta, coming soon.

A Former Sponsored Child from Vietnam Gives Back

By ChildFund Vietnam Staff (first used on ChildFund Australia’s blog)

Nhu, a former sponsored child in Vietnam, receives an award for her work as a health officer.

Nhu, a former sponsored child in Vietnam, receives an award for her work as a health officer.

Bui Thi Nhu grew up in a remote village in Hoa Binh, a rural province in northern Vietnam. Her parents were both farmers who worked hard to provide for the now 28-year-old Nhu and her two siblings.

“I was born into a poor family,” Nhu remembers. “Like many other people living in the same village, we relied on agricultural activities for our living. Life was difficult, and the local economy was weak. I still remember the image of my parents working and sweating in the paddy fields on hot summer days.”

When Nhu was 13, she was sponsored through ChildFund by an Australian sponsor, Brendan, and his family. Nhu felt like she had another person watching over her. “I was very motivated by my sponsor through our letter exchange,” she says. “From my perspective, the most important benefit of being an enrolled child was the huge encouragement I received that encouraged me to strive for my future.”

As a child, Nhu dreamed of treating the sick. Today she is turning that dream into a reality. After graduating from a medical college in 2008, she now works as a health-care worker in the community where she grew up.

I want to express my deepest appreciation to my sponsors. They made me what I am today.

“I feel proud of what I can do as a health officer,” Nhu says. “I love to give treatment to children and take care of them. Children are the most vulnerable and need proper care. This is my passion.”

Nhu has watched her community in Hoa Binh transform over the past 20 years, when ChildFund began its work there. “Sponsorship has made community development programs possible,” she says. “There have been big positive changes in our communities. Schools have been rebuilt with sufficient facilities so children have better access to basic education. Today, 100 percent of the children in my community are able to go to school and receive a good education.

“With ChildFund’s support, many roads were reconstructed using concrete. This has made traveling more convenient. Canal systems have been improved to enhance agricultural production. Clean water supply systems and sanitation facilities have also been constructed.”

As if her job as a health worker didn’t keep her busy enough, Nhu also has also worked with ChildFund Vietnam as a sponsor relations volunteer for the past five years. It is her role to deliver letters from sponsors to the children in her area and help them write letters back, as well as encourage all of the children to get involved in ChildFund-supported activities.

“To me, volunteering for ChildFund is very meaningful since I can make a significant contribution to child development,” Nhu says. “I see this volunteer job as a way that I can help other children to enjoy the same opportunities I had when I was small.”

Although she has aged out of sponsorship, Nhu continues to feel motivated by her friends in Australia. “I want to express my deepest appreciation to my sponsors,” she says. “Thanks to them, I received a good education and had the will to strive for success in my study and my work. They made me what I am today. As a grown-up, I am trying to devote my little effort to help the local community and children, just as my sponsor helped me before.”

You can learn more about ChildFund’s work in Vietnam over the past 20 years and read about sponsor and race car driver Pete Olson’s efforts to help a community in Hanoi.

Playing With What They Have

Photos from ChildFund’s offices in Bolivia, Brazil, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Mexico and Timor-Leste 

In the lobby of ChildFund’s international headquarters, we don’t have your typical office décor. Instead, we have a sparsely furnished Kenyan classroom, a world map mural with paper dolls holding hands, and homemade toys collected from around the world. A lot of the toys are made with what some people might call trash: used plastic bottles, twine and bits of rubber and metal. But the toys themselves are not junk and are often prized by the children who made and played with them.

In these pictures below, you’ll see the ingenuity and creativity of children who play with what they have — animals, traditional games and toys made from available materials.

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Raimani’s Dream Bike

By Rashmi Kulkarni, ChildFund India

Raimani and her Dream Bike.

Raimani and her Dream Bike.

Raimani lives with her family in Tangiri, a small village in India. She has three sisters and one brother, and is in the 8th grade. Not long ago, she wasn’t sure if she would be able to keep going to school. She used to walk more than four miles every day to get to class, often alone, which wasn’t very safe. Sometimes she was late, or she just didn’t make it to school at all. Her grades suffered, and, because her parents couldn’t afford transportation for her, she considered dropping out altogether.

But thanks to ChildFund’s Dream Bike program, things have improved for Raimani. Now, she regularly attends school, arriving on time and with plenty of energy, and her performance has dramatically improved. She no longer has to walk to school, which allows her time to invest in her studies. Her siblings are also attending school more regularly because Raimani gives them rides on her bike, too. Having a bike also enables Raimani to participate in club meetings and other events organized by ChildFund and our local partner organization in Tangiri.

“I am very happy my daughter received a bicycle,” Raimani’s mother says. “It has turned out to be very useful as my other children can also use it to go to school. The gift of a bicycle has ensured that Raimani can continue her education. We are very thankful to ChildFund.”

If you would like to make a girl’s dream of an education come true, consider giving the gift of a Dream Bike today.


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