By Himangi Jayasundera, ChildFund Sri Lanka
Nine-year-old Lojana dreams about having a bike. She wants one not just to ride to school, which is 2 kilometers away, but also because she would be able to live again full time with her grandmother in Sri Lanka.
Lojana lost her mother to cancer when she was just 3, and her father, who has remarried, lives separately with his new wife, while Lojana and her sister have lived at their grandmother’s house until recently.
An elephant trampled their home, and now all three live in Lojana’s uncle’s house, which is miles away from school. During the week, Lojana stays with a relative who lives closer to her school and stays with her uncle on weekends. Buses run infrequently, so a bicycle would help Lojana travel from her uncle’s home to school and require less moving around.
That’s where ChildFund’s Dream Bike project comes into play. We are working to raise money to provide 3,400 girls in 12 countries (including Sri Lanka) with bikes, which will allow them to travel to school safely and quickly, instead of walking long distances through sometimes dangerous terrain. Snake bites are very common where Lojana lives, and the hospital is a long distance away. Sometimes people die before they can get medical help.
Lojana is sponsored and receives financial support for her books and other educational needs from her sponsor, which is a “big relief,” according to her grandmother, who is struggling to make a livelihood. “I have a few chickens and sell about five eggs a day,” she says, noting that the family depends on help from Lojana’s uncle and ChildFund Sri Lanka.
Despite the hardships in her life, Lojana has big dreams: “I’d like to be a doctor one day,” she says.
You can help girls like Lojana achieve their educational dreams by donating a Dream Bike.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
For the past year, ChildFund Alliance (of which ChildFund International is a founding member) has been working to make sure the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, which take effect in September 2015, will include a goal to keep children free from violence.
So far, more than 300,000 people have signed the Alliance’s Free From Violence petition calling for such a measure. And recently, ChildFund’s national offices have created a visible show of support for this goal: handprints of children, youth and adults who want to see every child able to attend school, play with friends and conduct their lives without fear of physical, sexual or emotional violence. Here are some of the handprints we’ve collected.
Below, see photos from Afghanistan, Bolivia, Brazil, the Caribbean, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Indonesia, Mexico, Mississippi, the Philippines, South Dakota and Texas.
By Rashmi Kulkarni, ChildFund India
Five months after the launch of ChildFund India’s Books, My Friends campaign, we’re learning more about the children who are getting their first chance to own books and read for pleasure.
This spring, ChildFund India and its campaign partner, Macmillan Education, conducted a baseline assessment of 1,200 children across 15 Indian states, to understand their reading abilities. About 40,000 children have received books and bags since December through the Books, My Friends program.
The analysis showed that reading ability improved with age, although far too many children still can’t read. In the group of 6- to 8-year-olds tested, 66.2 percent were not able to read at all, while 44.8 percent of 11- and 12-year-olds and 29 percent of 13- and 14-year-olds were illiterate. Geography mattered as well, with higher literacy rates in the states of Delhi, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, while Rajasthan, Jharkand and Chhattisgarh had lower rates.
Pooja, 14, who lives in a village in Andhra Pradesh, was able to read at the level of an 8- or 9-year-old when she received her books in December.
“I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to read these books,” she says. Also, most of her time was spent in studying her textbooks or attending classes, so Pooja preferred to get away from books during her leisure time.
But because some of the books she received were in her local language, Telugu, they piqued her interest. Soon, she was enjoying them, and she moved on to the other books in her bag, which were in English. That presented an obstacle, since English is harder for Pooja to read.
With a smile on her face, Pooja says, “My school coordinator has helped me a lot in improving my English reading ability. She would patiently sit with me, make me read these story books and correct me whenever I went wrong. And as soon as I started understanding the stories, I started enjoying them and wanted to read more.”
As a result, Pooja has joined a group of other students who discuss their books.
“This campaign has really helped me make new friends,” she says. “All the students who have received these books have formed a group, and during weekends, all of us sit together to read these books and enjoy chatting with each other. The illustrations in these books make the reading all more interesting. I’m really grateful to ChildFund for giving me these books. Because of this campaign, I’ve made this extra effort to read, and today I can read an entire sentence in English without faltering.”
Reading is an important source of knowledge, happiness, pleasure and even courage. It opens your mind and transports you virtually into newer worlds. It develops your brain and helps in communicating and sharing ideas, and therefore is essential for advancement and development of any society.
Read Rashmi Kulkarni’s first story about Books, My Friends.
By ChildFund Australia staff, with reporting from Live & Learn Vanuatu
Schools officially reopened in Vanuatu at the end of March, just weeks after the destructive Cyclone Pam wiped out homes and schools across the Pacific island nation on March 13. But for thousands of younger children, school is still out of session because Vanuatu’s Ministry of Education does not fund kindergartens. ChildFund Australia and its local partner Live & Learn Vanuatu are working to rebuild two of them.
Kindergartens are generally funded though school fees and small-scale fundraising by local communities. However, fundraising at a time when many families are rebuilding their homes, gardens and livelihoods is extremely difficult, and raising fees is likely to result in fewer children attending class, leaving younger children most vulnerable.
ChildFund Australia, our Alliance partner, is working with Live & Learn Vanuatu to help rebuild two destroyed kindergartens on the outskirts of Port Vila. The schools are being constructed using cyclone-resistant architectural design and will include rainwater systems and toilets so children have access to safe water and sanitation. Both kindergartens will also be wheelchair accessible.
“The project goal is to rebuild both kindergartens to get the children back into a normal and stable learning environment within four months of Cyclone Pam, without placing further financial burden on the communities or parents,” says Anjali Nelson, team leader of Live & Learn Vanuatu.
Live & Learn has engaged a team of local professional builders to support the reconstruction effort, as well as volunteer workers from the two communities. On one of the sites, a group of volunteer builders from New Zealand also pitched in for 10 days.
The project is on track, but a shortage of construction materials and a severe lack of water have caused problems.
“The biggest issue so far has been the acute shortage of water in the area,” Nelson says. “Although we have had a period of heavy rain, we couldn’t collect sufficient quantities of water for the concrete mix, mainly due to the shortage of water tanks and drums, which were destroyed in the cyclone. Instead, we had to truck in water, which has slowed down the rebuilding process.”
Still, working together with the community, and with patience and a lot of improvising, the team has managed to keep the project on schedule, and at this stage the kindergartens are due for completion by mid-July.
Together with Live & Learn, ChildFund Australia plans to support families of the kindergartners by providing chickens, poultry management training and seedlings for home gardens.
You can help us be prepared for emergencies like this by donating to our Emergency Action Fund.
ChildFund Sri Lanka sent us this picture from the Sinhalese/Tamil New Year’s Day celebration, held in April. To celebrate, our local partner organization Abhimana in Dambulla, a town in central Sri Lanka, held a party. Here, you see children with their hands behind their backs trying to be the first one to eat a whole bun. The first to finish wins a prize!
By Rashmi Kulkarni, ChildFund India
Last December, ChildFund India launched a nationwide campaign called Books, My Friends to provide bags full of age-appropriate books for 115,000 children ages 6 to 14 across India. The goal of the project is to make reading fun for children while helping them improve their reading, comprehension and learning abilities. We hope to create a love of reading that continues through adulthood.
In India, we work with children who live in rural villages and urban slums, and lack of education is a big concern everywhere. Many children living in poverty can’t read at grade level and often don’t have access to books at home. In rural communities, children are often limited to textbooks printed on poor-quality paper. Many parents are barely literate, so a culture of reading has not yet taken hold. Without strong reading comprehension, children can’t excel in school.
To address this situation, ChildFund India started the Reading Improvement Program, our flagship education initiative, and the Books, My Friends campaign, which encourages students to read for pleasure.
Shreelakshmi, a seventh-grader from the southwestern state of Karnataka, received a reading bag in December during the launch of Books, My Friends. She had a chance to meet Anil Kumble, a world-renowned cricket captain and major sports celebrity in India.
Shreelakshmi recalls the meeting fondly: “The experience of receiving books from Anil Kumble is still fresh in my mind. He and the ChildFund team spoke with us freely and inspired us to read more books. I am very grateful to ChildFund for giving me this opportunity,” she says, a smile spreading across her face.
Shreelakshmi received 17 books, and she’s already read many of them. Her favorite was Kadhakalu Maha Nagara, about a girl who had no one to read a story to her. Finally, she finds one person who starts telling stories to her daily. Slowly, other children start joining her to listen.
“I, too, like stories, and my brother also sometimes reads them to me,” Shreelakshmi says.
Since most of her neighborhood friends also have received reading bags, they enjoy reading and discussing books together.
Parents say it’s great for their children to have something constructive to do with their time, and Shreelakshmi’s teacher adds that the habit of reading appears to be taking hold, just a few months into the project.
Watch this space for another story soon about Books, My Friends and the Reading Improvement Program.
Photojournalist Jake Lyell arrived in Nepal three days after the 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck April 25 and accompanied ChildFund’s emergency relief team as they delivered supplies to devastated communities. Here is his personal experience of this humanitarian crisis. You can see more of his photos here.
Parts of Nepal are devastated. I say parts because I expected my plane to land in a rubble-piled wasteland; it didn’t. There was a runway, an immigration officer and a functioning baggage carousel.
Kathmandu’s ancient temples, however, are in ruins. Many multi-storied buildings have toppled down. But the capital city, still in shock, manages to keep pace at least somewhat. I still have the bandwidth to create this blog post, after all.
Upon exiting the Kathmandu valley, things become steadily worse. To the northeast, in Sindhupalchowk District, despite being further away from the epicenter of the earthquake, homes have been flattened. People sit in uncertainty by the side of the highway, while others comb through the wreckage of their former dwellings, searching for food or possessions.
I begin to experience something that I never have felt before — an eerie sixth sense that comes from gaping at grand mountains and pristine rivers juxtaposed with piles of debris and the stench of bodies. Death seems nearer than ever before.
After a long journey, I arrive with ChildFund staff at one of their food distribution points. As the car comes to a stop, Aileen Santiago, the ChildFund Japan emergency worker who has been sitting next to me since we left Kathmandu, bolts out of the vehicle to meet a woman she recognizes. It’s clear that they haven’t seen one another since before the quake hit. Without a word, they embrace as grief paints their faces and the tears come, expressing what I’d been meaning all along but couldn’t quite put into words.
Assistance is arriving to Nepal’s hardest-hit communities. Despite what you may have read, not all food and other resources are held up at roadblocks or customs. ChildFund and other organizations are contributing to the relief effort, and I can attest firsthand to the blessings a contribution toward that work brings.
Good news will come; but for now, we take a moment to grieve.
Headlines fly by fast, even when tragedy happens, like the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that occurred in Nepal on April 25. Right now, families like Ayush’s are struggling to get back on their feet after losing their homes, jobs and even loved ones. This video, filmed by Jake Lyell, shows the personal toll the disaster has taken on Ayush’s family, and this was before Sunday’s 7.3-magnitude aftershock, which has taken more lives and destroyed more homes. Please watch this video, share it and give what you can to help ChildFund’s relief efforts in Nepal. Thanks.
By Nikita Haritos, ChildFund Indonesia
Three-year-old Ricky lives with his mother and father in South Sumatra, Indonesia, in a one-bedroom house, where the three share a bed under a mosquito net. Despite his humble home, Ricky has a collection of toys in a dedicated play area — and a mother who is learning about how he can develop to fulfill his potential.
“Ricky loves playing with his toy trucks and cars, but he is most happy when his older cousins come over to play,” says Dewi, his mother. “They spend hours together running around the yard.”
Ricky’s father is a mechanic at the local motorbike repair shop. Dewi stays at home and looks after Ricky, and she also participates in a parenting program developed by the government and available in her community through ChildFund’s local partner organization, LPM Sriwijaya. The organization’s staff members are working to expand the program to more families in the region.
An example of the activities I do with Ricky is to have him practice opening buttons, which will help him to develop his motor skills.
In workshops led by professionals, mothers learn how to manage childhood illnesses as well as practice better sanitation and hygiene at home. They also learn about the development of cognitive, social, emotional and motor skills, which are just as important as physical growth during a child’s early years.
Trainers show mothers how to play with their children and promote abilities that will help the young ones achieve their goals later. They also try to change some of the misconceptions and attitudes that cause problems within the community’s families.
“An example of the activities I do with Ricky is to have him practice opening buttons, which will help him to develop his motor skills,” Dewi explains. “We learned about the importance of breastfeeding. Many mothers, including myself, did not realize how nutritious it is for our children.”
Dewi is helping to ensure that Ricky will eat healthy food now and in the future; she recently started a veggie garden in their yard, where she grows corn, tomato and papaya. She has just planted spinach seeds, too.
Ricky’s favorite food is soup made from katuk, a green, leafy vegetable found in the tropics as well as Dewi’s garden. She cooks the soup over an open fire on the floor of her kitchen.
ChildFund and the local partner have also provided Dewi and other families with child development cards, posters that let parents track important benchmarks like crawling, walking, playing and speaking.
“It is reassuring to know that I am able to check for myself whether Ricky is developing properly,” Dewi says, “and so far we haven’t had any concerns. The program has been so important in reassuring me that Ricky is growing up into a smart young boy. It would be great if all mothers could be part of the program, too.”
Nikita Haritos is a student at Australia’s Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and is enrolled in the Australian Consortium for In-Country Indonesian Studies, or ACICIS. She worked as an intern for ChildFund Indonesia earlier this year.
Conditions in Nepal are dire after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake April 25. As of today, the death toll is more than 7,500 and climbing as assessments continue. The country’s National Emergency Operations Center, operating under its Ministry of Home Affairs, reports that more than 160,000 houses were destroyed, and nearly 144,000 more have been damaged.
ChildFund Japan, our Alliance partner, has worked in Nepal for 20 years and is helping distribute food in four villages in Sindhupalchowk, among the hardest-hit districts. On May 1, ChildFund Japan representatives brought 10 tons of rice, 1.5 tons of dhal (lentils) and salt to more than 10,000 children and family members. Longtime ChildFund freelance photographer and videographer Jake Lyell is documenting damage and relief efforts in Sindhupalchowk and elsewhere.
Jake has been to disaster zones before and says, “On my third day in the field, I can say that the area around where ChildFund works is the worst I’ve seen. It’s more remote, and the damage was very severe. It made our hearts sink.”
Jake’s not mincing words, but we are able to get help to some of the Nepalese families who need it most. Take a look at his pictures (as well as videos), and then donate what you can to help Nepal’s children through ChildFund’s Emergency Action Fund. You can follow our emergency updates, too.