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.
By Silvia Ximenes, ChildFund Timor-Leste
It’s never too early to learn this lesson: “You need to study to get more knowledge and skills,” Josefa tells the children — ages 5 and younger — in the Early Childhood Development center in Leopa, a coastal community in Timor-Leste.
Josefa has taught since 2007 at this ECD center, which is supported by ChildFund and Timor-Leste’s Ministry of Education. Her duty is to make sure her children are learning effectively and to build their confidence in a safe and comfortable environment. ChildFund, working with Timor-Leste’s education ministry, holds training sessions for teachers on education methodology, and we also provided Josefa’s center with furniture, toys, teaching materials and healthy food for the children, including milk and green beans.
The children play before class starts and then come to attention after giving their teacher a warm greeting hello.
Josefa takes down a book and asks the children, “What do you see in this book?” Today’s topic is transportation.
The children respond with various answers: “It’s a car. That’s a plane. It’s a horse. It’s a boat!”
“All are the correct answers,” Josefa says. “Do you know how these means of transportation work?”
Adi, a 4-year-old boy with a confident and loud voice, replies, “A car runs on the road! A plane is in the air! Horses carry things!”To liven up the class, Josefa asks the children to stand and sing: “I’d like to ride pleasant transport!” Adi and his friends burst out in a chorus.
A few minutes later, Josefa distributes paper and crayons, bringing the children back to a calmer state. “Now, let’s draw your favorite means of transportation: a car, a plane, a horse or boat,” Josefa says.
Adi and his friends begin to sketch. Adi’s favorite activity is drawing. “I’m drawing five motorbikes, because I like to ride a motorbike,” he says with pride. “I want to become a police officer who rides a motorbike and arrests people who are involved in a crime.”
Josefa takes this opening to let her students know what such a dream will require: “If you want to drive or want to become a skilled driver of any kind of transport, then you need to study hard, to get better knowledge and skills on how to drive properly.”
Adi walks to the ECD center every day. His parents, Januario and Terezinha, both work as subsistence farmers, growing the food their family needs to survive. They have a second son, 2-year-old Felis. In Timor-Leste, about 95 percent of food grown — mainly corn and rice — is produced by subsistence farming.
On his 15-minute trek home that afternoon, perhaps he hums, “I like to ride pleasant transport!” And perhaps the seed his teacher planted is growing in Leopa’s sea breezes.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
At ChildFund, we have spent many hours helping children and families cope with the aftermath of wars, disasters and other traumatic events. For the past 25 years, we’ve raised funds specifically for emergency relief and often remain in affected communities for months or even years, helping people recover financially and emotionally.
Hand in glove with disaster recovery is preparation for future emergencies, such as earthquakes, typhoons and droughts. To help communities be prepared, ChildFund supports disaster risk reduction efforts in several countries, including Indonesia and the Philippines, which are prone to destructive storms.
In March, ChildFund Australia’s international program director, Mark McPeak, led ChildFund’s delegation to the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan, an internationally significant gathering. At the end of the meeting, world leaders from 187 countries signed the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, 2015-2030, which sets seven global targets for the next 15 years. They include lowering the number of people killed or harmed by disasters; reducing economic loss, damage to infrastructure and disruption of basic services; increasing the number of countries with disaster risk reduction strategies and enhancing international cooperation to implement these goals.
McPeak notes in this piece for Devex that these targets are admirable, but right now, they are nonbinding and unfunded, which leaves them less potent than they could be. However, the door has not closed on discussions about funding and requiring governments’ participation, with opportunities ahead in the United Nations’ other conferences this year: the Third International Conference on Financing for Development in July, the global U.N. summit in September and the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris in December.
ChildFund’s chief goal at Sendai was to get other participants to understand and recognize the value of child and youth participation in disaster recovery and preparation.
“Children and young people are normally seen as helpless, passive victims of disasters,” McPeak writes. “During and after emergencies, the mainstream media, even many organizations in our own international NGO sector, portray children and young people as needing protection and rescue. Of course, children and young people do need protection. When disasters strike, they need rescue and care. But what such images fail to show is that children also have the capacity — and the right — to participate, not only in preparing for disasters but in the recovery process.”
To make his point, McPeak presented information about youth who took part in disaster risk reduction efforts in 2011 in Iloilo and Zamboanga del Norte provinces in the Philippines, spreading awareness in eight communities. A year and a half later, this work paid off when Typhoon Haiyan struck just north of the area, and local governments were more prepared than in previous storms. More people in vulnerable areas were evacuated, and Child-Centered Spaces were up and ready to help children soon after the storm passed.
By Saroj Pattnaik for ChildFund India
Pictures often communicate information more efficiently than words do (hence the famous adage), and that holds true in a small classroom in western India, where children are discovering the alphabet, animals, fruits and vegetables through paintings and pictures.
“Earlier, I could not tell the difference between a cabbage and a cauliflower. Now, I know all the fruits and vegetables that we eat,” says 4-year-old Vaishnavi, one of the 30 children enrolled in an Early Childhood Development (ECD) center in the Raigad district of Maharashtra state, where ChildFund works in 43 rural villages. “Cauliflower is my favorite vegetable, and it contains many vitamins,” she adds.
Vaishnavi’s best friend, Ashok, is more interested in animals, particularly lions. He explains that the lion is the king of the jungle. “You know, a lion won’t kill other animals if it is not hungry,” the preschooler says, recalling a story that his teacher told them the other day.
According to Dr. Virendra Kulkarni, program manager of PRIDE India, ChildFund’s local partner organization in this area, young children explore visual art with both a creative and a scientific eye.
“Through art, they not only identify objects and concepts clearly, they try to explore everything related to them,” he explains. “Wall paintings are one of the best ways to make children know many things through visual expression. Our role is to provide them with materials and inspiration, then to stand back and let them go.”
Shanta Ghatge, a tutor at the ECD center, agrees: “Wall paintings, posters and other wall decorations not only make the classrooms look great, but they also make learning easy for children and remind them of concepts.
“We cannot just talk all the time in class,” she adds. “Children need to be stimulated in their learning, and we need such wall paintings, posters and other teaching aids to make their learning interesting.”
Ghatge, who has been an ECD teacher in the area for more than 20 years, says she follows a curriculum adopted by ChildFund to teach the preschoolers, and their routine includes examining paintings, writing, singing, storytelling, drawing and painting.
“Although the children like almost all the activities, the most favorite for them has been creating their own art,” Ghatge says. “I often give out drawing sheets and watercolors to them and ask them to make some art. They just love this activity.”
Children need to be stimulated in their learning, and we need such wall paintings, posters and other teaching aids to make their learning interesting.
Research has shown that participating in art, music and storytelling activities helps children develop language, mathematics and social skills. “These essential activities can help the young brain develop to its fullest capacity,” Dr. Kulkarni says. “In all our ECD centers, we use learning methods that are recognized as best practices for preschoolers.
“One of them is using rhythm to help children develop patterning abilities and make relationships between the rhythm, beat and words,” he explains. “There are a lot of local language rhymes that teachers use to improve children’s patterning ability, while toys and other aids are used to improve their motor skills.”
Ghatge points out that the children also have fun in the classroom. “Amidst all this noise, we certainly know one thing: These children are learning while enjoying their childhoods.”