By Saroj Pattnaik, ChildFund India
“It was past midnight. I woke up to the alarmed voice of my wife shouting, ’The house is cracking!’ We came out of our house, and it came shattering down just in front of us,” says a terrified Sangram, 45, whose thatched house collapsed on the night of Oct. 12, when Cyclone Phailin struck coastal Odisha State in India. The storm brought 124 mph winds and heavy rains.
“Had it not been for my wife’s dreadful scream, we may not have been alive today,” adds the father of six, whose children were staying in a community center that night. “It was just a matter of few seconds when the roof collapsed after a tree in my back yard fell onto it.” The multi-purpose community center was built by ChildFund India’s local partner organization VARRAT (Voluntary Association for Rural Reconstruction & Appropriate Technology) after the 1999 cyclone that killed more than 10,000 people in Odisha, then known as Orissa.
“I am thankful to the project staff who insisted that I allow my children to go to the community center, but we decided to stay here, as I underestimated the cyclone threat,” Sangram says.
Sangram’s house in Odisha’s Kendrapara district is among the 37 homes damaged by the cyclone in the area VARRAT serves. VARRAT has 827 ChildFund-enrolled children in the region, including 621 who are sponsored. Sangram’s 15-year-old daughter Gurubari is one of the sponsored children. Fortunately, none of the children were hurt, though the houses of a few were damaged.
For Gurubari, the biggest losses after her home were her textbooks, which were washed away by floodwaters that gushed through her house after it collapsed. “I don’t have a single book left,” she says. “I don’t know whether I will be able to get another book set.”
Sangram, who is waiting for government compensation for his broken house, is a fisherman by trade and had returned to the village just two days before the cyclone. Like his 200-some fellow villagers, he was asked by the project staff to move to the community center, but he decided to stay in the house with his wife at the last moment.
“I get goose bumps when I think of that night,” he says.
Before Phailin hit, VARRAT staff members visited all 25 villages where it has programs to make sure everyone was in a safe location.
“All of our field staff members were deployed to ensure that the message of the cyclone reached everyone and that all of them were evacuated ahead of the cyclone that wreaked havoc in coastal Odisha,” says Naba Kishore Mishra, VARRAT’s project manager. “We were informed about the cyclone about a week before, and ChildFund India advised us to take necessary measures to safeguard not only our sponsored children and their families, but also all villagers. And we took measures accordingly.”
History played a role as well, Mishra notes. “Since we had experienced the 1999 cyclone, we had strengthened our disaster response mechanism, and that helped this time around to save all lives, including cattle and other livestock.”
Soon after 1999’s devastating super cyclone, VARRAT took several protection measures, one of which was the construction of multi-purpose community centers — like the one to which Sangram’s children evacuated — in all their program villages. Although they had access to shelter during the recent cyclone, villagers still lost more than 75 percent of their standing paddy crop because of heavy rains. A ChildFund team has visited those villages and found that many of the villages’ roads were destroyed by flooding. Mosquitoes are breeding in the standing water, increasing the risk of malaria, dengue and other vector-borne illness, and villagers are beginning to suffer from waterborne diseases that cause upset stomachs and skin infections.
Education also has been affected because all schools and Early Childhood Development centers are currently serving as makeshift shelters or as bases for relief services. Normally, children receive lunch prepared at school or an ECD center, but this has been suspended during the disaster as well.
Representatives from VARRAT have started distributing water purification tablets and diarrhea medication in some villages, but much still needs to be done. ChildFund’s Emergency Action Fund helps us prepare for disasters in the countries we serve, allowing staff and partners on the ground to provide help quickly and also over the long term. Please consider making a donation today.
By Sylvia Ximenes, ChildFund Timor-Leste
In Timor-Leste, staff members at ChildFund’s national office recently created a wall decoration in celebration of the 75th anniversary of our organization and looked back at what ChildFund has meant in our country, which has seen major changes in the past decade, including its political independence.
“In the life of a child, every year is significant,” says Geoffrey Ezepue, ChildFund Timor-Leste’s national director. “Each year, children need access to education, good nutrition, health services and a safe and supportive environment in which to grow and learn. This is something that ChildFund has been striving to achieve every year for 75 years.”
Reflecting on our organization’s history, Vicente Alves, in sponsor relations, also looks forward to its future growth. “Commit and move ahead,” he says. “We can do it!”
Marcos Fatima has worked with ChildFund since 1991, when it was still known as Christian Children’s Fund. At the start, Marcos was employed with local partner organization Assistentia Caritas, and he has held several positions with ChildFund in the intervening years. In 1999, a time of political upheaval in Timor-Leste, Marcos was an assistant manager for a shelter program. His team provided assistance to families in need of homes, distributing materials such as zinc roofing sheets, timber and cement in two districts.
In 2006, another conflict broke out in Timor-Leste, causing the displacement of many families; at that time, Marcos became a youth facilitator, providing training and games for youth and children to reduce stress and feel more at ease while they lived in Internally Displaced People, or IDP, camps.
Since 2007, he has been a senior assistant for ChildFund Timor-Leste. “I enjoyed my work from the beginning, because this is a great job,” Marcos says. “We dedicate our time to work directly with children, especially the ones who are deprived, excluded and vulnerable.” Furthermore, he adds, we can help to empower children through our programs and activities.
As a father of six children — two boys and four girls — he acknowledges the importance of education to all of his children. “I started with nothing, but after working with ChildFund, I feel confident to provide a better education and support to my own children from the benefits that I receive,” Marcos says.
As you may be aware, India’s eastern state of Odisha was hit last weekend by Cyclone Phailin, with 124 mph winds and heavy rain that damaged or destroyed nearly 250,000 homes and 1.25 million acres of farmland. Children and families whom ChildFund serves were affected, and three families suffered damage to their homes. Our emergency updates page has current information about the storm’s impact and how we are responding to the needs of the families we serve. You can help us stay prepared to respond quickly to the next natural disaster by making a donation to the Emergency Action Fund.
Interview by Sierra Winston, ChildFund Communications Intern
This is one in a series of interviews with ChildFund’s national directors in honor of ChildFund International’s 75th anniversary.
Where did you work before ChildFund?
I have done many jobs before working at ChildFund: When I was growing up, I took holidays jobs such as cinema usherette, postal service redirection worker, vegetable and fruit picker, toy shop and gift shop salesperson. Later on in life, I was a teacher in Australia and Africa, and I have also worked for Australian Volunteers and Save the Children.
What is the most difficult situation you have encountered in your job?
The most difficult situation I have encountered in my job is speaking to young people and hearing about the barriers that prevent them from achieving their dreams. The barriers can range from the simple, which ChildFund can address through programs and project activities, to the more challenging, systemic barriers.
ChildFund is working on challenging existing power structures in an appropriate manner, both at the local and national level, but it takes time. There are many visible improvements in the lives of children today in Cambodia, but there is still a lot more to do, especially in rural communities where the wealth gap between the rich and poor has increased at a greater rate than in urban communities.
What successes have you had in your national office?
Some of the successes would have to include establishing the Cambodia program and scaling up activities each year, responding to opportunities that present themselves. Also, hearing that the relationship Cambodia staff have with the royal government of Cambodia is highly valued by authorities.
Authorities at the district, commune and village levels now have firsthand experience of working with children and youth and understanding the value they can bring to development planning. We see members of a youth group reach into their backpacks and pull out the 5-year District Development Plan and identify the priorities that were included as a result of their lobbying. Also, we read in evaluations that youths and households have increased monthly income through ChildFund income-generation training and support activities. A parent approached us to ask if her son could attend youth group trainings even though he is not a youth club member, because she has seen the benefit it gave her eldest daughter.
What motivates you in life?
I am motivated by hope and possibility. Even in very difficult circumstances, young people will often have ideas and want to be involved in community planning.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Like so many people I know, I am often trying to have greater balance in my life. I spend time with family and friends, I read, I get involved in my local community wherever I am living, try to do something new every year. A friend and I have committed to each identify resolutions to focus on each month, but we’ve also learnt that we often have to revise or reschedule resolutions. Perhaps we’ll get better at this as time goes on.
Who is your role model?
My mother, who believed that it didn’t matter what religion you were but whether you helped your neighbor when they were in need. I am not sure if she would have called herself a feminist, but she had the same expectations of my brother and me to help around the house; only after I left home did I realize this was not a common expectation across all families.
What is a quote, saying or belief that you live by?
Different quotes have been important to me at different times in my life. Today an Australian Aboriginal proverb resonates: “Those who lose dreaming are lost.”
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
With credit to A Book about Children by Larry E. Tise and Yankee Si! by Edmund W. Janss
A name you’ll see often in our 75th anniversary blog series is Dr. Verent Mills, who was our third executive director from 1970 to 1981. But his connection to ChildFund (and our preceding identities as Christian Children’s Fund and China’s Children Fund) goes back much further.
Born in Birmingham, England, and raised in Winnipeg, Canada, Mills became a missionary to South China in 1931 and remained in Asia for decades. He and his wife, Alma Kenney Mills, and their three daughters lived in China through the 1940s, where Mills was director of an orphanage in Toishan, in the region of Sz Yup. This area was cut off from food supplies beginning in 1937, when Japan began its invasion of China.
In 1942, Mills led 142 children more than 300 miles to KuKong, where he knew CCF had established an orphanage. These children were malnourished, and others did not survive the journey. In 1945, Mills called upon CCF’s help again, as he moved 700 children from Toishan to Canton, another arduous journey.
Dr. Calvitt Clarke, our organization’s founder, agreed by letter to help support the 700 children by finding American sponsors for them. Ultimately, Mills moved the children into an orphanage in Canton, where they went to school and received training in skills that would be useful for their livelihoods: weaving for girls, carpentry for boys.
In 1947, Mills joined the CCF staff as regional director in Shanghai. He scouted existing orphanages in China’s northern provinces, which were underfunded and needed help. Funding came quickly from the United States, where Clarke was recruiting new sponsors so fast that Mills could hardly keep up with the writing of children’s case histories.
But in December 1949, the communist government was established on China’s mainland. At the time, our sponsors were assisting 5,113 children in 42 orphanages across the country. But Westerners, CCF staff members included, realized quickly that they were not welcome under the new regime. Like many others, Mills was accused of being a spy.
The government took over orphanages, and Mills was not allowed to visit the 11 homes for orphans in North China or have any contact with them, and he and all foreign CCF personnel were forced to leave the country shortly. The Mills family moved to Hong Kong.
Most of the 5,113 children’s fates are unknown, but 280 children, who were among the 700 orphans that Mills moved to Canton, were able to cross the border to Hong Kong. Many received full educations, and among them (according to an interview with Mills in the early 1990s) were five pastors, nine doctors, four dentists, three professors and two millionaires.
Mills, who was named our overseas director in 1950, continued his work for the renamed Christian Children’s Fund through the 1950s while based in Hong Kong, opening orphanages and expanding operations through Asia and the Middle East. He was instrumental in opening the campus-style Children’s Garden in Hong Kong for Chinese refugee children.
Coming to the United States
In 1958, Mills was transferred to CCF headquarters in Richmond, where he worked as a coordinator and then director of operations, and in 1970, he was named our third executive director.
During the ’70s, CCF concentrated its focus by decreasing its span from 70 countries to 20; we left Europe and the Middle East and focused greater attention on Africa, where a regional office in Nairobi, Kenya, opened in 1973.
Mills commissioned two evaluations of CCF’s philosophy and practices, which led to a shift toward home- and community-based projects, with less concentration on orphanages and boarding schools.
In 1976, CCF launched TV and magazine ads featuring actress and sponsor Sally Struthers, a move that brought greater attention to the organization and helped the number of sponsors grow through the 1970s and ’80s. Mills retired in 1981, and in 1995, the Verent Mills Endowment for Health and Education was established. This fund fosters innovative health and education programs in countries where ChildFund has long-term commitments.
Dr. Mills died at the age of 83 in 1996, but his legacy carries on. In a 1991 interview, he quoted a Chinese proverb that he thought demonstrated our philosophy: “If you plant for a year, you plant grain. If you plant for 10 years, you plant a tree. But if you plant for a hundred years, you plant men.”
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
With credit to A Book about Children by Larry E. Tise
Between 1949 and 1951, about 2.5 million Chinese refugees fled to Hong Kong, which was not equipped to handle such a crowd.
At the same time, ChildFund, started in 1938 as China’s Children Fund, also found itself unwelcome in China, which had ushered in a communist government that insisted it could take care of its own orphans and also confiscated CCF’s properties. It was clear that our organization could no longer operate in China, and because we were already working in other countries since the end of World War II, CCF’s board changed our name to Christian Children’s Fund in 1951.
In 1952, under the guidance of then overseas director Verent Mills, we began building Children’s Garden in Hong Kong, a campus for orphans who were assigned 12 to a cottage. It remains the most ambitious building project in our history.
Each cottage was assigned a “mother” (often a widow) who oversaw the children, who were of all different ages, and they also attended school on the grounds. This project was groundbreaking in its vision to provide more than just food and shelter; it aimed for a higher standard of care, giving children a supportive, loving home.
Children’s Garden, which was placed at the base of Saddleback Mountain, was finished in 1957, and for years it served as home and school for thousands of children. In 1977, as CCF wrapped up its work in Hong Kong, Children’s Garden (renamed Wu Kwai Sa Youth Village) was donated to the Hong Kong YMCA for its youth programs. The increasingly prosperous colony could now build its own schools and day care centers, as well as assist children and families with special needs.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund staff writer
In late August, about a month’s worth of rain fell within a couple of days in Manila, causing massive flooding in communities where ChildFund Philippines works. Some of the families of enrolled children were displaced temporarily, and many are now cleaning and repairing their homes.
Typhoons are a common occurrence in the Philippines, and it’s important for communities to be prepared. That’s where ChildFund’s Emergency Action Fund enters the equation. With your contribution, we’ll be able to respond to emergencies faster, bringing aid and protection to children within hours and days of a disaster.
Although we’ve come to expect seasonal flooding in some regions of the world, often a crisis can occur without warning, such as the 2012 earthquake in Guatemala. ChildFund’s many years of experience in the field helps us assess needs, coordinate projects and deliver resources that assist families in dire need. We also have strong partnerships with local governments and other relief organizations.
More than 200 million people are affected by natural disasters each year, and 7.6 million are displaced by conflict or persecution. By making a donation to the Emergency Action Fund, you’ll help us assist children who need immediate help. Here is what the fund will help us do:
Enable ChildFund to mobilize teams of specialists within hours of when a disaster strikes.
Supply food, clean water, blankets, shelter and other emergency aid to children and families as quickly as possible.
Repair and restore homes, schools and vital social infrastructure such as water, sanitation and hygiene systems to prevent disease.
Provide Child-Centered Spaces and psychosocial support to help children cope and recover confidence after an emergency.
In the months after a disaster, ChildFund will remain in the affected communities, doing some of the most important long-term work: helping children regain a feeling of safety and self-esteem. Help these children and their families by making a gift to the Emergency Action Fund.
By Martin Nanawa, ChildFund Philippines
Rosemary was sure she knew how to raise her children in a healthy way. She knew to feed them good food, and she knew to work hard so she could feed her five children well. When she could afford it, she would put meat on the table. “Rich children have meat all the time, and none of them are malnourished,” she believed.
Like many mothers in the Philippines, Rosemary thought expensive food was nutritious for her children. That’s why, as a washerwoman, she would accept as many wash loads as she could. But hand-washing laundry from neighbors in a largely low-income community doesn’t yield Rosemary much profit, and often, she found herself barely able to put food on the table, much less the variety that she believed was good for her children.
ChildFund established a “Supervised Neighborhood Play” (SNP) site in her community in 2011, which taught community members about early childhood development — emphasizing nutrition, activities and parenting methods that help infants and toddlers develop healthy cognitive, emotional, social and physical skills. In Rosemary’s village, her sister’s front porch was the SNP center. She did not need much convincing to enroll her youngest three children.
But her excitement about this opportunity soon turned to shock when she learned that her children were malnourished. All three were underweight, Rosemary discovered at a weight and growth monitoring session.
But Rosemary’s anxious questions were answered by the SNP volunteers, who were trained by ChildFund. She learned that she didn’t need to attempt to feed her children food that she couldn’t afford. In fact, the most nutritious food she could give her children was relatively inexpensive and widely available: moringa leaves, okra, squash, water spinach and string beans. These vegetables easily grow in the Philippines and are the prime ingredients or additives in many simple dishes.
Rosemary was thrilled to have this information.
“I was excited to try the nutritious dishes I learned to prepare at SNP parenting sessions,” she says. And instead of buying vegetables at the market, the SNP program helped her start her own backyard vegetable plot by providing her with the seedlings she needed. Meanwhile, her children were also given vitamin supplements to hasten their recovery. Growing her own vegetables helps Rosemary defray food expenses, allowing her to better support her elder two sons in school.
Enrolling her children in home-based ECD services has proved pivotal to Rosemary’s family.
“My children are learning, and staying healthy,” she says. “I’m excited to see them growing taller.”
By Jose Felix and Natasha Cleary, ChildFund Timor-Leste
“I like to come to the center because I want to play and learn. Mostly I like to play,” 5-year-old Roni says of the early childhood development (ECD) center he’s attended for two years in rural Timor-Leste.
At Roni’s age, access to appropriate play, stimulation and social interaction is crucial to his lifelong development and success. At home, his favorite activity is playing with his neighbor. He also helps his mother and father with some simple chores. However, the government of Timor-Leste reports that only one in 10 children have access to pre-primary educational services that help ensure they develop socially, mentally and physically.
To address that challenge, ChildFund helped establish the Chauluturo ECD Center in the rural Lautem District, which Roni attends. For seven years, the center has provided a safe and supportive environment,as well as trained teachers and high-quality learning resources. “In the school, I feel good because I have a lot of friends,” says Roni, who wants to be a soldier when he is older.
Chauluturo is a community of about 1,200 people who survive mainly by subsistence farming. It sits about 143 miles from Timor-Leste’s capital, Dili, but the village is a five-hour journey by car from Dili because of poor roads and rugged terrain. Due to its isolation, Chauluturo hasn’t always had the resources to support an ECD center.
ChildFund currently supports 76 ECD centers throughout the country, putting more than 3,300 children under the age of 5 on the pathway to reaching their full potential. The ECD program, which began in Timor-Leste in 2006, focuses on building awareness of children’s developmental needs among parents and center coordinators. Many parents from Chauluturo have received training to help them better understand their roles and responsibilities and how they can contribute to a child-friendly learning environment.
“I know this project will help the community, because before, the children didn’t have a center, and they just stayed home,” says the volunteer ECD coordinator, Sonya da Silva Ximenes, who receives ongoing training through ChildFund. “I am happy and hopeful about the current project. I learn a lot from the trainer, and I feel that the project is very good quality.”
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
The number of children and youths who work — whether they’re paid or unpaid — is notoriously hard to pin down. Many countries have laws against employing children, but industries still continue to use child laborers despite legal and social consequences.
What number would you guess is accurate? A million? Six million? Ten?
Not even close.
The estimated number of child laborers ages 5 to 14 is 150 million, according to UNICEF. But only 1 percent of 1,022 Americans in a recent survey conducted for ChildFund answered correctly; 73 percent said less than 1 million children are engaged in labor in developing countries.
Other statistics reported in the survey, which was conducted in late June by Ipsos Public Affairs, are more encouraging; a majority of respondents say they’re willing to pay more for clothing produced without the use of child laborers, and 77 percent say they would stop purchasing clothing from labels that are found to use child labor. That’s good.
But it’s important for children all over the world — including those risking their lives in African gold mines, spending hours in the sun harvesting sugarcane in the Philippines, burning their fingers while making glass bangles at home in India or working for no money at all, as hundreds of thousands of Brazilian children do — for Americans to be more aware of the scope of the problem.
Almost one in six children ages 5 to 14 in developing countries are engaged in labor; aside from the potential physical hazards, these children are unlikely to complete their education. And thus the generational cycle of poverty continues. ChildFund supports many programs that assist families caught in this vicious circle by providing training for safer, more stable ways to earn income, giving assistance to children and youth to keep them in school longer and working with entire communities to discourage the employment of children.
The missing piece here is broader awareness in the United States and other prosperous countries. Child labor is a worldwide problem that touches everyone in some way, and we need to use this knowledge to engage and educate industries on how to change their practices and stop exploiting children.