By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
ChildFund International is participating in Blog Action Day, which encourages a worldwide conversation on an important topic. This year’s focus is human rights.
For ChildFund, human rights often mean children’s rights: the freedom to grow up with basic resources like food, water and health care, as well as education and peaceful homes. In the 30 countries where we work, child protection is a significant part of our mission, including exposing children to knowledge that helps them stand up for their rights.
In Uganda, ChildFund has taken on a major role in the new Center of Excellence for the African Child, or as it’s more commonly known, the AfriChild Center. The purpose of this institution is to help improve practices and inform policy through a systematic process of scientific research, analysis and knowledge development. The center was started in May in Kampala through a partnership of Uganda’s Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, Makerere University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences, UNICEF Uganda, TRP Uganda, Columbia University and ChildFund Uganda.
The center has eight full-time employees (from Kenya, Uganda, the United Kingdom and the United States) overseeing mentorship, research, business development and other areas, and it is currently focused on Uganda’s child protection needs. Its first major project is a national survey about violence against children, funded by the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.
The questions, which are being finalized this month, are about “all kinds of violence: physical, sexual and emotional, in all settings,” says David Mugawe, the center’s executive director. He expects the survey to be completed in 15 to 18 months, after the questionnaire is finished and poll takers are trained. In each region of Uganda, 1,800 men and 1,800 women will participate, and Uganda’s National Bureau of Statistics will use this data in reports that will help determine national policies for children.
This survey is expected to be an important tool for advocacy of children, Mugawe notes. “If we want to engage with the government, we need to have our facts right.”
AfriChild’s future aim is to influence East African public policy through current and accurate research, which has been a shortcoming in the region. “AfriChild Center is for Uganda [now],” Mugawe says, “but the intent will be for it to have a regional and ultimately global outreach.”
Its researchers, assisted by doctoral students in child development who will be mentored, will also examine ways to improve family livelihoods, assist children with disabilities, prevent child trafficking and strengthen inter-country adoption policies, Mugawe says. “By and large, we’re looking at the family framework,” which has changed in recent decades from mostly extended families to largely female-led or child-led households because of the effect of AIDS and political conflict.
Girls ages 10 to 18 are at particular risk of exploitation and violence, he adds, so this segment of the population will receive special attention. But younger children, too, will be part of AfriChild Center’s work. “We recognize that we need to prepare children for adulthood.”
The AfriChild Center may one day become a powerful influence for all of Africa, bridging gaps between academia, the private sector, aid organizations and policymakers, particularly as Uganda vies for the presidency of the United Nations General Assembly this year. Notes Mugawe, “AfriChild is aiming to be a center for information on children of the whole continent.”
By Virginia Sowers, ChildFund Community Manager
To celebrate Blog Action Day 2012, we take you to Mékhé, Senegal, where a community has discovered the “Power of We.”
The sun is high overhead when we arrive at the Daara school on the outskirts of Mékhé, Senegal, located in the Thies region, about 100 miles from the capital city of Dakar. A large crowd of community members has gathered in the circle of shade bestowed by the largest tree in the compound. The children, unfettered by the heat that is radiating from the parched and sandy soil, run quick steps around us, flashing shy, yet welcoming smiles.
Thies is home to more than 700 Daaras, which are informal Islamic schools that most parents favor over the government school system. From an early age, boys are sent to board at Daaras, where they learn religious principles and how to read and write. Because most of these schools have operated independently without oversight or financial assistance from the government, more than 30,000 children in the Thies region are missing out on a well-rounded formal education. Far worse, these children – often lacking proper shelter and food at the Daaras – beg on the streets and are exposed to risks and abuses.
To address this situation, while respecting religious traditions, the government of Senegal is undertaking a Daaras modernization program, working with nonprofit partners like ChildFund. The goal is to provide a safe and nurturing environment for children while incorporating languages (French and Arabic), math and science education with traditional religious teachings.
During the past 12 months, ChildFund has been working closely with community leaders to jointly transform the Mékhé Daara. We immediately see the results all around us – a new building with two airy classrooms; a brightly painted dormitory for 60 children, complete with neat bunk beds and hall bathrooms; and an open-air shelter for religious studies. Well-built private latrines are available for boys and girls—yes, the school now welcomes female children to day classes.
The new facilities are impressive, yet it’s only when school and community leaders lead us through the old classroom and dormitory building that we begin to comprehend just how much Mékhé Daara has changed. On the opposite side of the compound are the old buildings. Inside, we find a dark and dingy classroom that once held 300 students in what must have been impossibly crowded seating. Across the way is an equally bleak dorm room where 50 students once slept with cots and mattresses crammed together. As we step outside, we drink in the fresh air and sunshine while inwardly wondering how children could have possibly learned and slept in such environments.
Community members make room for us under the shade tree, eager to talk about the modernized school and to answer our questions. “We wanted to improve the situation of the children living here,” the leader of the Daara Management Committee says. “Everybody in the village is involved; we want to be effective,” he says.
As we talk with the men and women, we learn that the work of keeping up the school and grounds is now divided among subcommittees: education, children’s health and welfare, animal husbandry and food. The community has welcomed ChildFund’s efforts to strengthen and support teachers in delivering expanded courses. “Our children can now do the same exams as in formal school,” one community member says.
ChildFund also has been instrumental in helping establish the animal husbandry program (goats and cows) and a large garden to grow eggplant, okra, tomatoes and other nourishing foods for the children. “Children in other Daaras must go outside [the compound] and beg for food. We are growing our own food, and the children have mother and parent figures they can turn to,” the committee leader explains. “It’s a big difference in the old way of running the Daara, and the way it is now.”
We turn to ask the children what they think about the changes in their school. Shyness renders them silent. But then, Moy, a young boy of around 12 speaks up. “I like the new beds and the sleeping arrangements. I like the classrooms. And the fences that protect us.”
The success of the school has not gone unnoticed in the region. More parents are now sending their children to Mékhé. In turn, the Daara Management Committee and ChildFund are working together to gain more financial support from the Senegal government to pay teacher salaries and add more classrooms and teachers. Plans are under way to expand the garden and promote more community farming of millet, corn and peanuts to feed the children and also provide an additional source of income.
Working side by side these past 12 months, community members have discovered that they have the power to bring about positive change.
Nearly 1 billion people lack access to clean water, which causes hardship, disease and death.
The impact on children is particularly tragic. Each year 1.4 million die as a result of diarrhea, according to the World Health Organization. Most cases of diarrhea are attributable to polluted water and poor sanitation.
In 2009, ChildFund Zambia pilot tested the “Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Improvement Training Package for the Prevention of Diarrheal Disease” developed by USAID. The goal was to get more field staff up to speed on
“The WASH program is classic evidence-based best practice that we want our projects to adopt and use worldwide,” says David Shanklin, senior health specialist for ChildFund.
When applied in school settings, WASH interventions—including gender-specific sanitation facilities, hygiene education and safe drinking water—support child health, which furthers educational access and attainment.
The way up and out of poverty can begin with a reliable source of clean water, good hygiene and sanitation. It’s a powerful concept and worthy of our ongoing support so that children can thrive.
Today we are taking part in Blog Action Day, joining thousands of other bloggers around the world to post about the same topic – climate change. Blog Action Day started in 2007 as a way to get bloggers to create buzz around one subject. “The blogging community effectively changes the conversation on the web and focuses audiences around the globe on [one] issue,” Blog Action Day organizers say on their Web site, www.blogactionday.org.
In recent weeks we have seen Mother Nature at her worst. She has brought severe flooding to two countries we have visited for our “31 in 31” blog series – the Philippines and India. Today for Blog Action Day and our “31 in 31” series, we visit Kenya, another country hit by Mother Nature – or in this case, not hit. Kenya has an extreme drought. In many areas of Africa where ChildFund works, climate change has led to droughts lasting longer, causing famine and driving millions more people into poverty.
Children and families in Kenya struggle daily to get enough food because the lack of rainfall has led to severe crop destruction. The Turkana District in the northwest region of the country is experiencing high rates of malnutrition, especially for children under the age of 5.
The drought is leading to the deaths of hundreds of animals throughout the country, according to news reports. Kenyans rely on these animals as a source of nutritious food and as a means of income.
“This is a very ugly scene, a very disturbing scene that the country is facing,” Livestock Minister Mohamed Kuti told a Reuters blogger.
ChildFund International is conducting feeding programs and food distribution throughout the hardest hit areas where we work. We are distributing a highly nutritious food blend, known as “plumpy nut,” as an immediate and critical intervention for those already severely malnourished. In addition, we will provide oil, maize, beans and sugar. These few simple food items can mean the difference between life and death.
More on Kenya
Population: 39 million
ChildFund beneficiaries: More than 1.1 million children and families
Did You Know?: You can find all of the “Big Five” African animals in Kenya: elephant, buffalo, lion, rhino and leopard.
What’s next: A sponsor’s big heart for Mexico’s children.