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I Ask the Sea, “What Did I Do Wrong?”

This week, we are marking the 10th anniversary of the Dec. 26, 2004, earthquake and tsunami, which devastated towns and villages in 14 Asian countries and claimed more than 230,000 lives. ChildFund works in India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia, which were all hit hard by the disaster. Saroj Pattnaik of ChildFund’s national office in India asked several people who live in coastal regions devastated by the tsunami to share their memories of that day. You can read more about the tsunami this week on our blog and here on the ChildFund website.

K Rathnavel

“That was a Saturday morning, and we had just returned home after a daylong fishing trip. I was inside the bathroom when the tsunami struck our village. It was like the entire stretch of sea came rushing towards us. We all ran for safety, holding each other’s hands, and found ourselves on a building that had been pushed up by the water. Suddenly, we realized that our younger son was missing. We searched all over, crossing through heaps of dead bodies, uprooted trees, broken boat parts and debris. Thoughts of his being no more had started killing us from inside. Five days passed, but we never stopped our search. And finally my wife found our son in a rescue center in another village. We were relieved. But other parents were not so lucky — their grief of missing their loved ones still continues.” — K. Rathnavel, 41


Govindaraj 1

“I hate the word ‘tsunami.’ For the past 10 years, I have been going to the sea every day and talking to it. I ask the sea, ‘What did I do wrong? Why have you eliminated my entire family – just because I never liked to stay alone? Were you jealous of me just because I was the most loved and privileged one? You killed 13 of my family members and must be thinking that I am afraid of you. No. Actually, I hate you!’ ” — Govindaraj, 30


Divya, 21

“It was terrifying, and I ­struggled to get our door open. While the water was gushing into our home, the door was pressed from outside by a wooden log. Suddenly, I realized my feet were not on the ground. I was floating. I forced myself out through the broken window. There was water everywhere, and it was perhaps going back to sea again. I still remember the power of the water. You couldn’t hold yourself in one place. It was taking you where it wanted. I managed to cling to a concrete house. When the water receded, my mother and brother returned home from another building while my father returned after searching for us. But we could not find our younger sister, who had been playing outside with her friends.” — Divya, 21


 A Mahesh

“When I hear the word ‘tsunami,’ dreadful pictures of the huge dark wave and the trail of devastation play in front of my eyes, and I start feeling the pain anew. It did not kill any of our family members, but it gave us lifelong suffering instead. I was very pregnant and was eager to welcome the new family member. But the tsunami water washed away our happiness. The strong current of the water swept me along and slammed me with some hard object. It was painful, but I managed to cling to a building wall and survived. Three months passed by, but there was no sign of any labor. Doctors advised me to go for an emergency C-section. I obliged, and my daughter Joyse was born. The joy of her birth, however, was cut short when we learned she was suffering from cerebral palsy, which left her dependent on others and suffering for her whole life. Watching her suffer kills us every day.” — A. Mahesh, 31, pictured with Joyse, 9.



“I cannot recall anything that happened on that day and what the tsunami was like. But from what I have heard so far, I visualize a dark, huge wave that came rushing toward our village and devastated hundreds of families, including mine. I am told that my parents were killed in that disaster and I was left to be cared for by my aunt. I have only photographs of my parents. I miss them the most when people talk about them and about the tsunami.” — Anitha, 14

The Tsunami and the Years Since

This week, we are marking the 10th anniversary of the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. The disaster killed approximately 230,000 people in 14 countries on Dec. 26, 2004. At the time, ChildFund had programs in Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka, which all suffered massive losses. This month, the ChildFund Sri Lanka staff asked people to recall their experiences in the tsunami and the years since, and we included their pictures and quotes in this slideshow. In coming days, we’ll have more stories and pictures from Indonesia and India. You can also watch a 2005 video from Sri Lanka.

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Typhoon Hagupit Makes Landfall in the Philippines

Child-Centered Spaces in Philippines

After last year’s devastating Typhoon Haiyan, ChildFund was the first to deploy pre-positioned Child-Centered Spaces to help children cope with the trauma.

Just over a year after Super Typhoon Haiyan devastated the central Philippines, Typhoon Hagupit, locally known as “Ruby,” roared slowly across that country, including some areas still recovering from Haiyan.

After Hagupit’s erratic pattern of development from tropical storm to Super Typhoon to “strong typhoon,” leaving millions shaken and fearful, Hagupit made landfall as a Category 3 hurricane on Saturday evening, tracking across Samar and just north of Tacloban City, the area hardest hit by Haiyan.

Fortunately, Hagupit has turned out to be not nearly as powerful as last year’s deadly Haiyan. Still, the slow-moving storm brought torrential rains, and flashfloods and landslides are concerns. The storm is curving northwest, toward Manila, and will pass south of the capital on Monday night.

Meanwhile, ChildFund is participating in coordinated response and needs-assessment planning with the government and other NGOs. We also are coordinating closely with our local partner organizations in potentially affected areas; before the storm, all reported that they were ready, with Child-Centered Space kits pre-positioned to provide children with psychosocial and other support. Emergency response teams have pre-positioned supplies, including emergency kits and tents.

As of right now, our easternmost local partner is gathering information about the community it serves and will conduct rapid assessments this week. We are still waiting to hear from our other four local partners in Hagupit’s path, but the weakening of the storm as it passes over land is reason for hope. We’ll provide more updates as we receive them.

Riding Toward a Dream

By Himangi Jayasundere, ChildFund Sri Lanka 

Today, which is known as Black Friday in the United States, is a great opportunity to think about sharing our good fortune with children in need. Dream Bikes allow children — especially girls — to get to school safely and quickly. 

Piyumi on her Dream Bike

Piyumi rides in her Sri Lankan village.

An impatient Piyumi, waiting for her father to take her to school, used to be a regular sight. Her teacher scolded her many times for being late, which she often was: Her long trek from home to school was more than two miles each way, on foot unless she could catch a ride on her father’s bicycle. Some days she stayed home because it was too difficult to get to school.

But today, she no longer has to catch a bicycle ride with her father or walk down village paths in Mahakalugolle, Sri Lanka. Piyumi, an 11-year-old sixth-grade student, has her own bike, thanks to a ChildFund donor.

Piyumi has been in ChildFund’s sponsorship program for more than five years. Last year, she sat for Sri Lanka’s Year 5 scholarship exam and passed with high marks, which made her school proud.

So, along with the bicycle, Piyumi also received school materials, a school bag and shoes from ChildFund donors, to recognize her hard work and achievements.

“Some days, I had to wait till my father finished his work to come to school,” Piyumi says. “But now soon as I get ready, I can come to school on my own. My brother also likes my new bicycle.” Sometimes he rides with her.

“I feel better knowing that Piyumi is on a bike on the journey back home,” her mother says. “I feel that she is safer.”


Children Have the Right to Be Free From Violence

By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

Violence against children remains a terrible problem, according to children themselves. Today — on the 25th anniversary of the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child — hundreds of children say their right to be protected from violence is not being upheld.

Gangs, political strife and child labor are issues in many developing countries, where only 30 percent of children polled say they are always or often protected from doing harmful work.

ChildFund Alliance released the fifth annual Small Voices, Big Dreams report today, a survey of 6,040 children ages 10 to 12 in 44 countries. Poor access to education also is a concern among children in developing countries.

This year, as the United Nations prepares to decide on its post-2015 global agenda, the Alliance, a network of 12 international development organizations (including ChildFund International), has launched a campaign called Free From Violence to motivate world leaders to prioritize the protection of children against violence and exploitation.

“A quarter century ago, leaders across the globe made a commitment to the world’s children, that we would help them reach their full potential by protecting, educating and nurturing them. While much progress has been made, it is abundantly clear that we still have a long way to go. Harming even one child is one child too many,” says Anne Lynam Goddard, ChildFund’s president and CEO.

Below, see a slideshow of children holding signs that spell out their rights according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

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Things to Know on World Toilet Day

By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

Today is World Toilet Day. OK, get the giggles out of your system. We do indeed have a world day for just about everything! Despite the funny name, World Toilet Day draws attention to an important problem: the lack of proper sanitation in many communities around the world.

Consider these facts:

Last year, more than 1,000 children died each day from diarrheal diseases contracted through poor sanitation.

One billion people — 15 percent of the world’s population — practice open defecation, which spreads disease.

And 2.5 billion people do not have safe, private toilets.

This year, World Toilet Day (designated Nov. 19 by the United Nations General Assembly) is calling attention to the special challenges women and girls face when they don’t have safe toilets. School attendance decreases among girls, especially once they reach puberty. According to a 2012 study published by WaterAid, more than 50 percent of Ethiopian girls reported that they missed school one to four days a month due to their menstrual cycles, often out of embarrassment from a lack of privacy. Women also are more vulnerable to violent attack if they must leave their homes to use the toilet. One of the ChildFund Alliance’s primary goals is to promote child protection worldwide, through our Free From Violence initiative.

Nongovernmental organizations including WaterAid and the Water Supply & Sanitation Collaborative Council are advocating for the following goals to be included in the U.N.’s post-2015 agenda:

No one practices open defecation.

Everyone has safe water, sanitation and hygiene at home.

All schools and health facilities have safe water, sanitation and hygiene.

Water, sanitation and hygiene are sustainable, and inequalities in access have been progressively eliminated.

Below, see pictures of some of the latrines children in ChildFund-supported communities use, and consider sharing this information today on your social media networks (use #wecantwait on Twitter or Facebook). World Toilet Day may have a funny name, but it addresses a serious topic.

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An Opportunity to Learn

By Janat Totakhail, ChildFund Afghanistan



Janana is 15 and the oldest of four sisters. They live in a village in northern Afghanistan near the border of Tajikistan, where few children — especially girls — have the opportunity to get an education. Janana, too, had never been allowed by her mother and father to attend school.

Her father works as a shopkeeper and sometimes as a hired farmer, while her mother takes care of the household. As the oldest sister, Janana also has many responsibilities at home. But she always hoped to go to school. Today, that goal has become a strong possibility.

In Afghanistan, ChildFund supports Child-Friendly Spaces (CFS) where children and teens can study and play. In Janana’s village and four more, we started 10 CFSs in 2013: one for boys and one for girls in each community, and 1,001 children have taken part in the program. Many have experienced war-related trauma and are still at risk of violence, abuse and neglect, so the spaces don’t just serve educational needs. They help keep children safe and also let community members plan for emergencies, particularly how to protect their children. Once ChildFund’s direct supervision ended in January, community members have stepped in to run the programs.

The CFSs for girls have eased some of the stigma attached to education for young women. Janana persuaded her parents to let her attend.

Now, it is her second home, giving her a place to learn and spend time with girls from her neighborhood. Janana is able to read and write names and short sentences, and she’s about a year away from mastering primary school-level literacy and numeracy. One of her sisters has joined her at the CFS.

Child-Friendly Space in Afghanistan

A community volunteer leads an orientation session at one of Afghanistan’s Child-Friendly Spaces.

“I like learning the Pashto language,” Janana says, “and I feel proud and empowered while reading a letter for my parents and helping my little sister to read and write.”

If she had not attended the CFS, she adds, “my life would be different. I would be busy all day with housework, with no opportunity to interact with peers, make friends, play, and learn to read and write.”

Janana’s parents also are happy to see their daughter progressing in her studies.

“An illiterate person is like a blind person,” her father says. “My daughter helps me to learn Islamic principles; she reads for me the letters, invitations and wedding cards; takes note of money that I lend to people, and she helps me understand the details of the electricity bill. She helps her mother and sisters in understanding personal hygiene and health issues. I am proud having Janana as a helping hand.”

Kochai, who facilitates the CFS, also has noticed her progress: “Janana has been very active participating in learning activities. She learned to respect parents and elders, gained awareness in health and hygiene, and, more importantly, is progressing well in literacy and numeracy. I am hopeful that one day she will join school with children of her age.”

Her family, too, is encouraging Janana to continue her education at a school close to her village. She has a big dream for the future:  “I want to be a teacher, to help all school-age girls in my village to go to school and learn to make their future and help others.”

Businesses Recovering After the Typhoon

Martin Nañawa of ChildFund Philippines has been traveling through the Visayas, the region most severely affected a year ago by Super Typhoon Haiyan, recording its current status. Despite dramatic loss of life and property last November, communities are rebounding, with businesses and homes having been rebuilt over the past several months. Here, you can see how your gifts, along with the elbow grease of residents and ChildFund’s local partners, have made a difference in Tacloban. Martin notes: “You may have noticed the signage says ‘Tindog Negosyo.’ Tindog is the verb for standing up, or getting to your feet, and Negosyo stands for business.”

Read more about the binagol makers here.

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Light a Candle

Martin Nañawa of ChildFund Philippines took these pictures in Tacloban, one of the worst-hit localities during Super Typhoon Haiyan, a year after the storm struck the central Philippines on Nov. 8, 2013. Community members lit candles to commemorate the people lost in the disaster.

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A Year After the Typhoon, Signs of Recovery

By Martin Nañawa, ChildFund Philippines

Before the typhoon, women in Miriam’s village would gather in a common space at the edge of their row of houses and take turns making batches of binagol, a staple dessert in Leyte, an island in the central Philippines.

Although there’s not a perfect comparison in Western cuisine, binagol is a little like tapioca pudding and also tastes similar to sticky rice cakes found throughout Southeast Asia. It is made with talyan roots, similar to taro, instead of rice.

binagol in Philippines

Binagol, wrapped up in banana leaves, is a portable treat.

There’s a smaller version of this sweet served in the northern Philippines, called “kulangot” (boogers). There’s also a variant made from rice, which is called “moron.” We have such glamorous names for local delicacies.

The women chop the talyan roots and cook them with coconut milk, condensed milk, eggs and sugar inside coconut husks with banana leaves layered on top. Everything is then wrapped in banana leaves and knotted with straw into a bun. This packaging makes binagol easily portable, and in Leyte, you’ll find it at markets, corner stores, canteens and even transit terminals. Miriam and the women of her village made enough binagol to drop off at nearby markets and make a small profit for themselves.

But when Super Typhoon Haiyan struck the region Nov. 8, 2013, everything changed for millions of Filipinos. The storm, one of the worst in the area’s history, claimed 6,300 lives and destroyed half a million homes in the central Philippines.

Scarcity of food was a primary challenge, and many villagers also had to repair or rebuild their homes. Selling binagol was not an option for Miriam and her neighbors, at least for the foreseeable future. This was especially difficult for her, as her husband’s earnings as a farmhand were never enough even before the typhoon.

But after immediate needs like food, shelter and clean water were filled, ChildFund and our local partner organizations started helping people reclaim their livelihoods — including the binagol-makers, who received assistance in July. This is all part of ChildFund’s response after disasters.

Miriam felt hope for the first time since the typhoon. She was not sure what to expect from ChildFund staff when they first came, but the workshop held right at her village helped her understand that we were there to help. Still, she and the other mothers would have to work hard to restore their livelihood, but improve it as well.

Miriam received a complete set of utensils for binagol production, allowing her and her neighbors to make as much of the dessert as they could. And ChildFund provided the ingredients for their first run. Most importantly, we’ve invested capital in the business, which has helped Miriam and her neighbors escape debt.

Before the typhoon, the binagol-makers took loans to buy the ingredients, repaying loans from their profits as they’re made. With ChildFund’s investment, though, the women don’t start off in debt and are now putting 10 percent of their profits into savings so their startup capital will grow.

Now Miriam and her neighbors individually produce binagol, and they no longer labor merely to pay debt. They’re able to increase their village’s total production many times. With their increased production capacity, they’ve been able to broker an agreement with a wholesaler.

“I’m pleased and surprised how much better business is now,” Miriam says. “Life was so difficult after Haiyan, I was desperate to find a new way to feed my three children. I’m glad I can return to what I’m skilled at and provide better for my family.”

Miriam preparing binagol

Miriam (left) prepares talyan roots to make binagol.

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