By Himangi Jayasundera, ChildFund Sri Lanka
Vijayakumaratharun, who is 10, says that what makes him most sad is seeing his mother cry. It hasn’t been an easy life for Ithayakala, 34, who was abandoned by her husband when her son was very small.
Living in a rural village in the Batticaloa district of Sri Lanka and with little education, her livelihood came from selling the vegetables she grew in her small home garden, plus doing odd jobs and working in rice paddies, seasonal work. But when Vijayakumaratharun was sponsored three years ago through ChildFund New Zealand, one of ChildFund International’s Alliance partners, his mother saw a ray of hope.
“Things have changed for us now,” Ithayakala says. Although she still struggles to make enough money, the strain has decreased. “Almost all of his educational expenses are covered thanks to sponsorship,” she adds.
In addition to his sponsorship, Vijayakumaratharun and his mother have three goats and three cows. Ithayakala sells surplus milk, which supplements their income.
Ithyakala has had the opportunity to participate in ChildFund’s nutrition program, where she learned about growing and cooking nutritious foods for her son. Now, she is a leader and teaches other mothers the same skills. She has also benefited from child protection programs organized by ChildFund Sri Lanka for the community.
Vijayakumaratharun shares with us a photograph and letters he has received from his sponsor in New Zealand. The kea, he points out from a card with several animals from New Zealand, is his favorite. “I want to thank her for all the greeting cards and letters she has sent me. I have learnt new things about her family in New Zealand and about the animals there.”
In October, ChildFund’s blog is celebrating the harvest and traditional foods of the countries where we work, as well as the importance of nutrition and agriculture.
By Silvia Ximenes, ChildFund Timor-Leste
Nine-year-old Fernanda’s family tends a garden in Manatuto, Timor-Leste, with corn, long beans, bananas and cassava that feed Fernanda and her four siblings, with enough left over to sell and make a small income. Now, they have a goat too, which they received earlier this year.
“We don’t have a rice field, as most people do, but only a small plot of land for vegetables,” says Fernando, Fernanda’s father. “We only do farming in which the production is very low and not enough to sustain family needs. We really wanted to do some other things in order to support family’s income, like buy goats, but we have no money. So we are lucky and happy to receive the goat.”
Fernando’s family is one of 10 families who received a goat this past spring. Fernanda and her siblings enjoy taking care of the 10 goats, which are kept in the same field. “After school I pull out the goats, feed and give them drink and let them eat the grass,” says Fernanda, who wants to become a teacher.
“Once our goat has multiplied, then I will sell some to buy my children’s school materials — such as books, pens, uniforms, et cetera,” says Fernando. “Moreover, we will also have some for family consumption.”
It is quite rare for families in Manatuto to include meat in their meals, as it is too expensive and in limited supply. “We can only eat goat’s meat when there is a cultural event or ceremony, which probably happens about two to five times a year,” Fernando says.
“With respect and happiness, I want to thank the donors who provide us goats,” he adds. “We will take care of them.”
Fernando hopes his children will have a promising future. “I want them to have a good education and later to have a job, so they can have a better life. I will keep supporting them with my own efforts to help them realize their dreams.”
School is starting this week for many children in the United States. Children and youth in many of the 30 countries where ChildFund works have limited access to school, whether it’s because their families can’t afford to pay fees for uniforms, or the children are relied upon to fetch water or work to contribute to a family’s livelihood. Sponsorship helps many children attend school longer and have a better chance to break the generational cycle of poverty. Here are some pictures of students from communities where we work:
By Himangi Jayasundere, ChildFund Sri Lanka
“Soap and water, scrub, scrub, scrub,” hums Sashini as she washes her hands.
Like many of her friends, the 11-year-old did not bother too much with washing her hands properly before. Sometimes she and her friends would come home after playing outside or helping with paddy cultivation and wash their hands a little with water to get the mud and dust off. But now things have changed with a program organized by ChildFund Sri Lanka to promote proper hand washing, especially before meals.
Sashini was among 90 children age 6 to 14 who participated in the hand-washing program conducted at Mayurapada Kanishta Vidyalaya, a school in the Polonnaruwa district in north central Sri Lanka.
“We teach children about the importance of washing their hands, especially before meals,” says K.M. Chandralatha, a teacher. “But it happens within the classroom. This program was a practical experience in correct hand washing, and I think many of them got first-hand experience on the proper way to do it.”
Access to clean water is crucial for hand washing and other good hygienic practices.
The program commenced with an introduction to hand-washing day, followed by a practical demonstration by a science teacher, illustrating how harmful bacteria can be neutralized with the use of soap and water.
A midwife who works in public health taught the children good hand-washing techniques. “We talk regularly with parents on this subject, but we rarely get an opportunity to talk to children about the importance of hand washing,” says H.M. Chamali Piyaratne, the midwife. “It was a good experience, and I look forward to doing more sessions with children.”
Sashini adds that the program has helped many of her friends, who have in turn taught their younger siblings about proper hand-washing techniques.
“We were never taught to wash our hands like this before,” she says. “The experience of doing it with clear instructions has taught us how important it is.”
To further assist and promote hand washing and good hygiene among children, ChildFund Sri Lanka also provided two sinks to Sashini’s school.
By Sagita Adeswyi, ChildFund Indonesia
In Banten, Indonesia, teachers sang about how much they would miss ChildFund and its corporate partner, Krakatau Posco, as a six-month pilot project to improve their schools was coming to an end.
“Please don’t go, ChildFund,” sang the teachers. “Please don’t go, Krakatau Posco.”
March marked the end of Sekolahku Asik, Indonesian for “My School is Really Cool.” The project was a joint initiative between ChildFund Indonesia, Krakatau Posco, an Indonesian company, and the Community Chest of Korea to support Indonesia’s government in improving the quality of basic education.
“The Sekolahku Asik program has improved the schools’ infrastructures, teaching skills of the teachers, students’ engagement and employees’ participation in education,” says Min Kyung Zoon, president of Krakatau Posco.
The program was implemented in three elementary schools as a pilot in Cilegon, Banten, and 35 teachers from 13 schools in the region received training in interactive learning. Children attended consultation events to express what they wanted their schools to be like, voicing their views through drawing, writing and storytelling.
The schools received minor repairs, and employees of Krakatau Posco had the opportunity to volunteer at the schools, teaching children how to plant trees, wash their hands properly and how to dispose of organic and inorganic waste. More than 500 children benefited from the experience.
The schools now have better and cleaner restrooms, organized libraries with more books and fresh coats of paint on the walls.
“My school was quite dull,” says 12-year-old Novalina. “The restroom was dark and dirty. Sometimes I felt scared when I went there. I joined the competition with other students to tell what we want to be improved in our school. Now, my school looks really nice and much cleaner. We chose the color for the walls, too.”
Teachers, too, were pleased with the program: “We really like the training, as it has enhanced our knowledge and skill in an interactive teaching method,” says Tati Fatayati. “This brings changes to the students; where they might have been feeling bored with the teaching process in the class, now they feel it is more fun and interactive.”
Now that the pilot stage has ended, ChildFund and Krakatau Posco are working together to continue the program at the three schools, as well as other schools, this year.
By Saroj Pattnaik, ChildFund India
At Avadi Municipal Middle School in Thirvalluru, India, the story of the animal kingdom is literally painted on the walls. Each day, students entering the school are greeted by a massive mural, a colorful landscape with wild animals in their environment.
On another wall of the fourth-grade classroom are posters demonstrating fruits and vegetables and their importance in our daily diet.
“These are things our students get to see every day,” teacher P. Jayanthi says. “They not only see those paintings and posters but learn a lot from them. Now, it is easy for us to teach our students through these materials.”
The paintings and other learning materials were made available to the school by ChildFund India under its Enhanced Education Quality Improvement Program (EQuIP). Supported by the Caterpillar Foundation, this program is being implemented in about 100 primary and middle schools around Chennai, the capital city of the southernmost Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
The three-year project, which started in September 2011, seeks to make comprehensive quality improvements in 100 schools in Villivakkam and Ambattur areas of Thiruvallur and Chennai districts of Tamil Nadu. These schools are run by the government and most students are from impoverished homes. Many are from the first generation of their families to attend school, so they may lack full support at home. So far, the project has reached more than 4,800 students.
“These wall paintings and hangings have made our task fairly easy. They not only help the classroom look great, but also help us in a great way to engage children in learning activities continuously,” says Mercy, a teaching assistant.
“All the classrooms of our school have some kind of thematic wall paintings, and we have observed that the paintings have helped gain students’ focus and increase learning,” she adds. “This has helped us greatly in teaching slower learners or those who take a longer time to grasp any subject material. We are thankful to ChildFund India for this support.”
Under EQuIP, schools were provided with learning modules specially designed for delayed learners, as well as workbooks, whiteboards, pencils, art materials, science sets, ceiling fans, round classroom tables and computers, among other resources. ChildFund has also appointed teachers trained to work with delayed learners.
The project has the following key objectives:
“Many slower learners suffer from low self-esteem and lack confidence,” says teacher N. Nalini. “You can address this not only by praising small achievements but also by personalizing lessons.
“I always keep this in mind and encourage them to work on their learning abilities. I encourage children to use our learning materials to observe, predict and solve problems. I invite them to tell stories and revise lessons on a regular basis. They like the attention given to them.” When the project started last year in this school, about two dozen children were designated as delayed learners. Now, 20 of these students have improved dramatically and are at par with their peers, she adds.
Eight-year-old Pallikondal had a problem in identifying animals a year ago. But today, she says, “I know everything about these animals in this painting,” pointing to the elephants.
School Management Committee member M. Laxmi is pleased about the progress her three grandchildren have made at school. “They are all doing well in their studies. I am very happy.”
By Sagita Adeswyi, ChildFund Indonesia
Yufen, a fifth-grader, lives in the Belu district of East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia. He loves to play soccer, and he also likes school.
“I have two younger sisters, but they live with my parents in another village,” he says. “On weekends, Grandma takes me to visit my parents. I love my grandma. When she takes me to the farm, she likes telling me lots of different kinds of stories. At home, I help her, collecting water for cooking from our neighbor’s well. I have lived with my grandma since I was little, because my parents said the school here is better.”
Yufen attends Nanakelot Elementary School, which is supported by ChildFund and its local partner, LPAA Belu, through the Child-Friendly School program. ChildFund has provided schools with classroom renovations, school books, teaching aids, tables, chairs, bookcases and guitars. The program, which benefits 338 children and 17 teachers, helps schools become safe, healthy and protected environments for children, encouraging child participation in all aspects of school life.
“I like to go to school because I have many friends there,” Yufen says. “What I like most is science, learning about nature and living creatures. The teachers really care about us. If we are too noisy, they will remind us to be quiet and get back to studying.”
Maria Tai, the school’s principal, agrees that the changes have been beneficial for everyone. Teachers have learned better ways to convey information to their students by preparing lesson plans, managing their classrooms and disciplining children in more effective manners. In turn, students are more comfortable asking questions and giving their opinions in class.
“Before the training on child-friendly schools, we easily became angry with children when they made mistakes. Slowly, we changed our interactions with the children. We listen to children’s needs. On the second break between classes, children were usually asked to just stay in the class. However, some children mentioned that it was really boring and asked if they could take a break in the library. I thought it was a good idea, so I let them.” As a result, students read more than just their textbooks and discuss what they have learned back in class.
Children also are allowed to water plants in the school garden, a task formerly done by staff members. “We never thought that it could be of interest to them and that they could participate,” Tai says. “Now, children water the plants every day, using the water jugs they bring from home.”
Yufen notes that there are other new projects that have brought fresh life to school. “We also made our own attendance boards,” he says. “We made them from recycled materials like used plywood, paper and plastic. We made it together in class. When we come in to the classroom, we mark our arrival time ourselves on the attendance board.
“In every class we also have an honesty box. It is made from a used carton. It teaches us to practice honesty. If we find a pen, we put it in the box. If tomorrow morning, someone is looking for a pen, he or she will be asked to look for it in the box. Once, I lost my book. The next day I checked in the box and I found it had been put there by my friend.”
Yufen also likes to play soccer with his friends after school, but his village doesn’t have a soccer field, so they play in the garden. He hopes his school will get a field one day.
By Sagita Adesywi, ChildFund Indonesia
In 2012, ChildFund launched a program called Shine a Light in four countries — Dominica, Indonesia, Liberia and Senegal — thanks in large part to a major gift from a concerned donor. The project’s goal is to raise awareness of gender-based violence, assist child survivors of sexual abuse and help communities develop child-protective systems and responses. In four blog posts, we’ll learn about the progress made in these countries; today we focus on Indonesia.
“I was a dropout by my second year of junior high school. I didn’t like the school, the other students and the teachers. They said I was naughty, and I was bullied too,” says Chandra, a 16-year-old boy from Semarang, Central Java, Indonesia. “Paulus, the director of KOMPASS, ChildFund’s local partner organization in Semarang, invited me to join the Child Forum and to get back into school. Now I am catching up my education through the informal school and actively involved at the Child Forum. If I hadn’t joined the Child Forum, I would only be a dropout and a motorcycle club hotshot.”
As a member of the Child Forum, Chandra participated in a recent workshop on gender-based violence, part of the Shine a Light project. In an effort to prevent and respond to gender-based violence against children, ChildFund has worked through local partners to educate youth on the issue of violence between intimate partners — a growing problem in Indonesia. The participants in turn serve as peer educators in their communities.
“At the gender-based violence training, we learned about gender and violence, focusing on children and young girls,” says Irma, 18, one of the youth facilitators. “After the training, we held group discussions to get to know what the issues are among us.”
More and more, young people are experiencing violence in dating relationships, not just marriages. These programs are showing Indonesian youth how to manage these relationships in safe and healthy ways, preventing violence before it starts.
The youth facilitators led group discussions with 80 children and youth from several schools. The groups were divided by age: 10-12, 13-17 and 18-24.
Not everyone is comfortable talking these sensitive issues, Chandra explains. “We played some games to lighten the atmosphere, so they could feel more relaxed.”
“I was the facilitator for the 18-to-24 group,” says Irma. “The physical and emotional abuses are also considered as normal for them. They didn’t realize that when they tease or make fun of someone, it could hurt the other person. In the training, I learned that we may also be the person who did the violence toward others without even realizing it.”
Helping children and youth learn about safe and healthy dating practices involves establishing good communication between partners, understanding gender equality and stereotypes, creating boundaries, expressing feelings and perceiving signs of possible dating violence, among other lessons.
Stefanie facilitated the 13-to-17 group. “I found some of them have experienced violence in dating because they were afraid to say no,” she says. “They are afraid of losing their boyfriends. They don’t know to whom to share. They need someone they can trust.”
The physical and emotional abuses are also considered as normal for them. They didn’t realize that when they tease or make fun of someone, it could hurt the other person.
She remembers a girl who was raped and became pregnant, which caused her to drop out of school. “The Community Development Agency of Semarang contacted the Child Forum to ask our opinions on that case. Through the discussion, we found out that students were sharing sexual content on mobile phones at school. We then held a sharing session with the students at the school on violence against children and on reproductive health.”
The facilitators have learned that peer involvement makes students listen more closely than to adults dictating rules.
“When the information is delivered by their own friends, it is more easily accepted and understood,” Irma says. “When it is delivered by older people, the kids tend to be quiet.”
Through the Child Forum, ChildFund also provides leadership training for youth to encourage and support them to be the leaders and role models among their peers. With youth facilitators in the students’ communities, more young people will hopefully feel more comfortable seeking the help they need.
“If I hadn’t joined the Child Forum, I would still be the quiet and shy girl, only focus on academic lessons,” Irma says. “I wouldn’t have any broad ideas about the issues that affect children. Now, since I have joined many activities at the Child Forum, I know more! I was really idolizing Stefanie. I think she is really cool. She knows and shares many things to other children, like the issues of gender-based violence.”
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
When I grew up near Lake Erie in Ohio, I lived on the north coast; or, taking a Canadian perspective, the south shore. As an adult, I moved to England’s south coast, then the west coast of Africa, and finally, the east and west coasts of North America.
Water attracts people. It’s no coincidence that oceans, blood and amniotic fluid all share the same concentration of salt.
Worldwide, three out of five people live in coastal areas, and 50 million call tiny islands home. Although Small Island Developing States (known as SIDS) produce less than 1 percent of global greenhouse gas, their inhabitants suffer most from climate change. Of the 51 countries classified as SIDS, 12 are also among the least developed — including Timor-Leste, where ChildFund works. It gained its independence from Indonesia in 2002.
More than half of Timor-Leste’s population lives in poverty. The United Nations predicts its population will triple to 3 million by 2050, and the country faces a temperature increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius (3.4 degrees Fahrenheit) over that time, according to a 2012 report from the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
We must account for climate change as we address poverty, simply because of its impact on the availability of water and food.
About two in three Timorese people already suffer from food insecurity; half of Timor-Leste’s population is under age 15, and malnutrition affects half of the children under age 5. In Timor-Leste, the hungry season lasts from October through February — until maize, the primary crop, is ready for harvest.
Although 85 percent of Timorese practice subsistence agriculture, the country cannot meet its nutritional needs, partly because insects, fungi and rodents ruin a third of the harvest during storage. Crops suited to the Timorese climate — such as rice, maize, wheat, barley, arrowroot, cassava, sweet potato, potato, cowpeas, red beans, peanuts and coconuts — provide acceptable caloric intake but insufficient protein. For its population to survive, Timor-Leste imports food and exports coffee.
So, what happens if Timor-Leste gets hotter and more crowded? Interactions between carbon dioxide (CO2), temperature and water are complex. The so-called “CO2 fertilization effect” benefits certain crops, such as rice, sweet potatoes and peanuts. Others, however, experience harm, especially maize and cassava. Too much carbon dioxide causes cassava leaves, an excellent source of protein, to become toxic.
Warmer temperatures cause crops to mature faster but at reduced yields. Peanut harvests, for example, could shrink by one-fifth. Warmth also favors pests, so incidence of insect damage and fungal diseases will increase. And farming requires rainfall at crucial stages. If Timor-Leste doesn’t receive enough — or gets too much — rain, the crops currently cultivated there may no longer thrive.
Coffee beans are especially vulnerable to heat, and if they don’t adjust to higher temperatures, farmers will move their plants up the central mountain, increasing deforestation and soil erosion.
Climate change also puts Timor-Leste at greater risk of floods, landslides, cyclones and drought — disasters that already affect the country. Grain yields decreased by 30 percent in 2007, due to a drought caused by El Niño, a disruption in the Pacific Ocean related to unusually warm temperatures. Climate models indicate a high likelihood of another El Niño event in 2014.
Climate change is a serious concern around the world, and it often seems like too great a problem for one person. But if each one of us does our part, we can make a difference; you can help improve the diets and incomes of families in Timor-Leste by making a gift of goats, cows or chickens.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
You can learn a lot about the children you sponsor through the exchange of letters. For Bernadeta Milewski’s family, their sponsored child Hermie is like a second daughter, despite more than 8,000 miles between them.
After four years of sponsorship, Bernadeta, her husband, Evan, and 6-year-old daughter Nadia traveled in May from Connecticut to see Hermie and her family in San Joaquin, Philippines. It was a dream come true for everyone, Bernadeta says. “When we saw each other for the first time, there were no words, just long hugs. Tight hugs,” she says. “So much affection. In my wildest dreams, I didn’t know it could be so amazing.”
The Milewskis were there for a couple of reasons — mainly to see 12-year-old Hermie, but also to assist her family, whose home is vulnerable to flooding. Fortunately, San Joaquin did not experience much damage from Super Typhoon Haiyan last November, but Hermie’s home is near water and has suffered harm in other storms. Sponsors typically don’t see their sponsored children’s homes, but the Milewskis were permitted to do so to assess the best way of helping, whether it was renovating the existing home or purchasing property elsewhere.
Ultimately, after thorough discussion with Hermie’s family and local staff, they decided to build a new home; they also purchased a fishing boat for Hermie’s father. Hermie, her mother and siblings depend on his income — often $2 to $4 a day — for their day-to-day needs. The new boat will improve their situation tremendously as it will increase their earnings significantly. “Our plan was to assist Hermie’s family with their living arrangements so that they could have a safe place during typhoons,” says Bernadeta, “but when we learned that Hermie’s father had been working for someone else for over 20 years and therefore making very little money, we quickly decided to help with the purchase of the fishing boat as well.”
The Milewskis sponsor three children through ChildFund; although they have relationships with all of their sponsored children, Hermie was always very special to them, Bernadeta says. Early on, “she was calling us Mommy and Daddy and telling us that she was dreaming of meeting us. We knew we would do everything to make her dream come true. We really love the whole family there. During our two-day visit, there was no awkward moment. We were really kind of reunited.”
Writing letters is very important to the sponsor-child relationship, Bernadeta emphasizes. During the trip, she met other children enrolled in ChildFund-supported programs who hunger for communication and encouragement from their sponsors due to a lack of correspondence. She promised that she would let other sponsors know how much the sponsored children look forward to receiving letters and establishing a relationship with their sponsors.
“They would love to get letters from sponsors,” Bernadeta says. “It’s very important to remind people that it’s not just about the monetary donations. Letters are extremely important. As sponsors, we can tell the children about things they do not know even exist. We can motivate them, encourage them and offer praise. Through letters, they learn about other kinds of opportunities — opportunities their own parents for the most part are not aware of.”
For instance, Hermie’s parents had never been to the main city in their province, Iloilo, until the Milewskis’ visit. “For Hermie, we hope life has more in store, and we want to make sure that she has big dreams,” Bernadeta says. Sponsors don’t take the place of parents, but they often provide a new perspective for children, giving them hope for the future.
“When you become a sponsor, you sign up for some sort of relationship,” Bernadeta says. “If they can feel that someone cares about them, that gives them confidence that they’re really lacking.”
Bernadeta acknowledges that writing to your sponsored child may seem difficult at first and gave some tips to other sponsors:
“I always introduce myself, tell the child who we are and why we sponsor. I am always very positive and ask lots of questions as this opens up a dialogue. I ask what the child likes doing, what holidays he or she celebrates, what their favorite subject is. I always stress how important it is for them to study and encourage them to do their best. We include stickers, postcards, bookmarks, balloons, coloring pages and photos we take during our vacations and on special occasions. As sponsors, we have a very important role in their life. We can provide something different than their immediate families do.”
After the Milewskis’ return home, they received a letter from Hermie. She wrote, “I will give my best to attain my dreams in life to help my family to combat poverty. I will follow you to help the poor so I will not disappoint you, and I will not waste your dreams on me.”
For more tips about writing letters and developing a friendship with your sponsored child, visit ChildFund’s website.