Teamwork and Communication Yield Stronger ChildFund Programs

by William Oscar Fleming, ChildFund Program Quality Team Leader

Facilitators discuss experiences with colleagues.

Editor’s Note: A ChildFund team is working in Brazil for several weeks to carry out two pilot projects with netbook technology.

Voices rise with excitement, reverberating off the room’s concrete walls and painted tiles, as staff and volunteers with ChildFund Brazil’s local partner GCRIVA embrace the challenge of improving programs for children and the community.

The discussion is lively, though sometimes quiet, and often punctuated with laughter and expressive hand gestures. These young men and women, who mobilize communities, are eager to develop new skills through ChildFund’s pilot projects using netbooks and software. The end goal is to streamline our child sponsorship processes and effectively deliver educational programs.

Yet, through these pilots we’re learning valuable lessons about how to improve the skills of our partners in the field.

Participants share their evaluations of work to date.

Working in teams is new for these ChildFund partners. It requires them to define and assign individual roles (such as primary facilitator) and develop detailed lessons plans for each activity planned with children. Some mobilizers are working with different age groups than they would in their normal roles, and most volunteers have not previously been involved in group activities.

Working in this new way, team members were initially quite nervous about their ability to complete a lesson plan with children. Yet, thanks to their dedication and the training support they received, each educational session went very well.

As they worked with the children, the mobilizers and volunteers encountered several unexpected circumstances. In one early session they noted that the age mix was too broad and the total number of children too large to realize full participation. They quickly talked among themselves and subdivided the group by age, splitting facilitation and support roles, to ensure that children could actively participate in the lessons. At other sessions, the facilitators changed seating arrangements to make settings less formal and involve children in the lesson, effectively channeling their energy. Despite being unsure at times, each team demonstrated the ability to adapt and react effectively to the needs of the audience, increasing the success of the lessons.

As their skill and comfort levels grew, several teams revised the lesson plans to try new approaches to working with children. However with these adaptations the community mobilizers soon learned the importance of broadly communicating the proposed changes so that all team members felt included in decisions.

After each session with the children, the teams met to discuss what went well and what changes were needed going forward. Team members came to realize that how they worked together directly affected the success of the learning activities they were implementing. They also grew closer and developed mutual trust as they identified and overcame challenges together.

Through our pilot projects in Brazil, ChildFund has verified that supporting young leaders in interpersonal skill development and program implementation is just as critical as the content of the programs we’re designing for children and families. As we work with our partners to deliver programs, we are paying close attention to their capacities and needs so that we can provide corresponding support.

Using netbooks to share training materials will likely prove to be as useful for building the skills of our implementing partners as delivering programs to children and families.

Youth Rise to Challenge of Leadership

by Nicole Duciaume, Regional Sponsorship Coordinator, Americas Regional Office, and Ron Wolfe, Business Development Specialist

Turmalina, an agricultural area in the northeastern part of Minas Gerais, Brazil, is the site of ChildFund’s second pilot project using netbooks.

We are preparing our local partner staff and volunteers to hold small community events where youth, children and infants with their caregivers will be invited to participate in educational activities. We’ll also be attending to various child sponsorship activities such as enrolling children in programs, helping them write letters to sponsors and updating child photos. The goal is to join our educational programming and child sponsorship efforts so that they are more efficient and engaging. To plan these events, we have used netbooks to train staff and young volunteers.

Roberta, Nathany and Thais (l to r) are gaining leadership skills.

Thais, 16, Roberta, 16, and Nathany, 15, gather nervously to discuss the upcoming community activities. They are all members of the local youth group but have not held leadership positions. Soon they will stand before 25 of their peers for one hour and lead group discussions, activities and workgroups. They are evolving from participants into leaders.

We chatted briefly with the trio, who preferred to give their collective feedback on the training and their expectations for the days ahead.

Did you enjoy training on the netbooks?
Yes! They are so cool. They are so small and we loved learning on them. We have done trainings before, but never like this. We love it. We have a small computer lab, but they are all old and some are broken. There aren’t enough for us to use so we mostly don’t know much about the computers at all. But these were so fun. We moved things all around, followed the training and learned a lot. We can use these in so many different ways.

What opportunities will you gain from this experience (past training and future activity leadership)?
Courage. We will conquer our fears of public speaking and be leaders. We will know how to interact with our peers, prepare presentations and have a better understanding of our friends’ feelings about our community.

There are so few opportunities for youth in our community to meet, discuss important things and even lead these discussions. This is a great opportunity for us individually and as a group. We will speak up and be heard.

What are your concerns?
We are nervous about standing up in front of our friends and other youth. We often discuss things with our friends in small groups, but never in front of 20 or more people. What if we say the wrong things? What if our friends laugh at us? What if no one shows up to the activity? What if they do not like we do? We are nervous. But we are also excited. We think it will get easier the more we do.

The young leaders apply themselves diligently in training sessions.

The lesson plans you selected are about how education is important in making healthy life decisions and about setting future goals. What other topics do you think would be important or interesting to discuss among the youth?
There are lots of topics that we don’t usually have the opportunity to talk about among ourselves in an informed way. Important topics would be drugs, environment, healthy bodies, violence and so many others.

Sometimes we have adults who will talk to us about these things, but sometimes it is hard to be honest with them because we are not comfortable telling them our personal thoughts or experiences. Sometimes we just get too nervous and never say anything at all.

And then sometimes we talk about these things among ourselves, but we don’t always have the right information we need or don’t know how to say things.

So it would be good to have the right information that we can talk about in these activities like we are doing next week. In the future, we can lead discussions and activities on these different kinds of topics. Or other youth can lead and we can participate. It will be good either way.

Sponsorship First Step in Lifelong Changes for Brazil’s Children

by Nicole Duciaume, Regional Sponsorship Coordinator, Americas Regional Office

Editor’s Note: A ChildFund team is working in Brazil for several weeks to carry out two pilot projects with netbook technology. We’ll be hearing from the team regularly.

ChildFund works with more than 100 local partner organizations spanning 883 communities in Brazil. One of them is PROCAJ: Projecto Caminhando Juntos (Walking Together Project) in Diamantina, about a six-hour drive from Belo Horizonte, the capital of the state of Minas Gerais and the location of our Brazil National Office.

PROCAJ works with 22 rural communities outside of the city of Diamantina. It can take hours to drive to any given community, along dusty dirt-packed roads and over shaky wood-plank bridges. Some communities are only accessible via horse, which the PROCAJ staff borrow when they arrive at the outskirts, where the dirt roads end and the steep terrain begins. It is the dry season now, so many of the plants are wilted and brown, and everything is covered with red-clay rust.

Virginia at PROCAJ headquarters

Virginia is a social educator with PROCAJ and is participating in the Intel Child Status Index (CSI ) pilot. I first met her in March, when she came to Belo Horizonte for an initial discussion about the pilot. She made an immediate impression on me — outspoken, confident and focused on the well-being of the children. Now I am here in Diamantina for the pilot implementation and am going community-to-community with Virginia for the data collection.

I took the opportunity to sit down and do a quick interview with Virginia so you can know more about the faces of ChildFund in the communities:

How long have you lived in the area? Since childhood. I was born here. I am from here — I am Diamantina. I worked briefly in Sao Paulo and Belo Horizonte some, but mostly only in Diamantina. This is my home.

You can feel the happiness of the children, and you can see the program results in their lives.

How long have you worked in the social development field? Six years: one year as part of my university research and field work and then five years with PROCAJ.

How did you decide to work with PROCAJ? I saw an announcement in the paper and was already familiar with the good reputation of PROCAJ and of Fundo Cristao para Criancas (ChildFund Brazil). I wanted to give back and to work more in the rural communities to make a difference. When I first began thinking about poverty and social work while in university, my interest was awoken. I knew what path I wanted to take, I was committed to social action and I knew I had to apply for the position.

How many families/communities do you oversee? I oversee four communities, representing more than 200 families. I work not only with the children enrolled in ChildFund, but their siblings and other family members as well.

What do you like about your job? I like being in the field, in the communities with the families doing the program activities. I like the direct contact with the families because you can see and feel their reality. You can feel the happiness of the children, and you see the program results in their lives. You dream it in the office and you realize it in the field.

How do you think child sponsorship creates change in communities? Sponsorship is a positive thing. It is a resource — financial, professional, personnel — and it brings the development to the people. It is the first step for lifelong changes. And when sponsors write, the children have a new friend far away.

Learn more about Virginia’s work in the CSI pilot in tomorrow’s blog post.

Exchange Market Empowers Brazilian Families

by Karen Van Roekel, Impact Assessment Team Leader

Community exchange market house

Now here’s a great idea.

ChildFund’s local partner in Brazil, PROCAJ (Projecto Caminhando Juntos), has converted a house into an exchange market.

Inside the market

Families now have the opportunity to raise vegetables for their families on land that PROCAJ has purchased with donor support. When they have surplus crops, they can go to the exchange market and sell the vegetables or trade them for other goods brought in from other towns.

Gardens that contribute to community market

The market is helping families improve their nutrition and quality of life.

Assessing the Well-Being of Brazil’s Children

by Karen Van Roekel, Impact Assessment Team Leader

Today we drove to a small community to visit our first group of children enrolled in ChildFund programs.

Getting there required that we leave the main highway and travel a bumpy red-dirt road. Dark gray clouds threatened rain but none came. We traveled up and down hills and across small streams with bridges made of wooden planks.

A fine layer of red dust covered all the plants for several feet on either side of the road, so we could see that it has not rained in some time. Chickens and roosters scuttled across the road in front of us.

Upon arrival, we split into three groups to start collecting data. In all, we were able to visit 47 children on this first day.

A child prepares a meal.

We saw a range of situations. Some children live in nice, simple homes while others live in houses with no running water or bathrooms. Cooking is done over wood fires and some houses were smoky as a result. The smoke can lead to respiratory troubles.

One mother told us that she uses the money she receives each month from the Brazilian welfare system to pay for water and electricity. Then she takes what is left and buys food for the month. Rice, pinto beans and pasta are the staple foods. Families with a little more money can buy vegetables or raise them in small plots, but the lack of rain makes this difficult. Meat is a luxury that most families we visited cannot afford.

A boy invites us into his family's home.

The children we visited all reported that they attend school regularly, thereby benefiting from a school lunch program. Fortunately, most of the children we encountered are healthy. Medical care is limited to a nurse who visits the community twice a week. There is no doctor here and families have no way of traveling to a larger town to see one.

We have encountered a number of sad situations, including a young girl orphaned at an early age. Yet, we’ve also witnessed the resilience of children if they find a loving home and support.

Our journey continues.

Expanding Opportunities for Brazil’s Children

by Karen Van Roekel, Impact Assessment Team Leader

Karen reviews key points with team.

By now you know that the ChildFund team is in Brazil this month to pilot a new tool for monitoring children who are enrolled in our sponsorship programs. The tool was designed by the Measure Evaluation project of USAID, with funding from the U.S. President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

Because the tool measures 12 dimensions of child well-being (e.g., food security, nutrition and growth, shelter, care, education) that are closely related to ChildFund’s approach , we are testing how well it works to capture a collective picture of children’s needs in the communities we serve. In addition, we plan to use this data as we work with our partners to design better programs for children.

Yesterday after a brief visit to ChildFund’s Brazil National Office, we spent most of the day driving to Diamantina, where our partner organization PROCAJ: Projecto Caminhando Juntos (Walking Together Project) has its headquarters. It’s a charming colonial town lined with cobblestone streets. Red tile roofs top the white-washed houses.

Training session with PROCAJ staff.

At our meeting with the PROCAJ educator group, we reviewed their questions that stemmed from online training they completed in advance of our arrival. We were pleased with their progress and discussed some sample cases to confirm their understanding of how to use the measurement tool. They also practiced entering data into the custom netbook application we built for the pilot.

Tomorrow we will travel to the communities where ChildFund is working and start collecting data on children.

The Greatest Job in the World

by Jessi Hanson, Education Associate, ChildFund Program Quality

Traveling to the field is never a simple experience for a ChildFund employee. Yet for me, this trip has been particularly adventurous. First, I traveled from Richmond, Va., to Chicago only to discover that the airline had canceled our connecting flight to Miami minutes before.

They put me on the next flight to Miami that night, which was a struggle since there was an entire plane full of stranded passengers. I was lucky enough to land at Miami International minutes before my plane to Brazil departed. One of our lead staff had to hold the plane, literally standing at the door saying, “Don’t shut it! She is on her way now!” I raced through two terminals to just make it on to the long flight to Belo Horizonte, where our Brazil national office is located. However my checked bag was lost, but at least it got a free trip around the world. In total I traveled nearly 22 hours for a trip that should have taken only 11.

Two days after arriving in Brazil, I was picked up by Flavia and Gilberto, who work in our Brazil office. We set off on an 8-hour drive to the small town of Turmalina, located near the tree forests of Minas Gerais. It was a lovely trip, and we listened to lively Brazilian music. Flavia and Gilberto tried to teach this gringa some basic Portuguese so that I could get around on my own.

Gilberto to the rescue.

All seemed to be going well when suddenly we heard a flap, bang, flap, flap. Gilberto pulled the car over to find the front tire popped, and we were in the middle of nowhere — 30 kilometers from the nearest town or village.

Suddenly Gilberto transformed into a super hero, pulling out the spare tire hidden beneath the 10 Intel netbook computers that we were carrying for the project and Flavia’s 50-pound suitcase (the girl knows how to travel). It took a good 40 minutes in the heat to change the tire, but then we were off. The spare was old, so we had to stop in a small tourist town along the way. I am used to tire repairs being quick, so I was not expecting the three-hour Brazilian repair! Our 8-hour trip turned into yet another epic adventure.

We’re now safely in the field, engaged in the first week of the project that should last about 21 days. I think I will need a vacation from this trip, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. As I work with my colleagues and the children, I know that I have one of the greatest jobs in the world!

ChildFund Netbook Project Helps Brazil’s Children

by Ron Wolfe, ChildFund Business Development Specialist

Editor’s Note: A ChildFund team is working in Brazil for several weeks to carry out two pilot projects with netbook technology. We’ll be hearing from the team regularly.

It’s 10 a.m. and I’m driving through the cerrado in Minas Gerias, Brazil, one of the most biologically diverse savannas in the world. As we travel higher and higher, though, the landscape becomes starker and less hospitable until, off in the distance, we spot the town of Diamantina, clinging to a hill and falling off toward a valley. A beautiful example of colonial architecture, the UNESCO World Heritage Site certainly lives up to its name — translated in English as “diamond.”

I am here to participate in two pilot projects with our Brazil National Office to test the use of netbooks at the local level as a tool for streamlining ChildFund’s current sponsorship processes. We are collaborating with NetHope and partner companies Intel and Agilix on these projects.

Ron Wolfe

The first pilot is taking place here in Diamantina, where we’ll use netbooks to assist with collection of data on children who are sponsored and enrolled in ChildFund programs in the area. This pilot is called CPR/CSI, since we will use both the Child Progress Report and the Child Status Index – a broad measurement of a child’s well-being within six categories – to capture data on a selected group of children.

ChildFund’s community mobilizers will initially use the netbooks for a CSI training session, learning the theory behind the index and then practicing case study evaluation. Our staff developed all training materials using a software program called BrainHoney, which allows remote users to train on preloaded modules and then send assessment results or ask questions via the Internet. When their training is complete, community mobilizers will then use the netbooks to efficiently collect data during visits to children’s homes.

The second pilot project will be deployed in two locations — in Vespasiano, an urban setting outside Belo Horizonte, and in Turmalina, a rural community 150 kilometers from Diamantina.  In both settings, the goal is to use the netbooks to deliver educational lessons to the children at a ChildFund community gathering, and to streamline sponsorship administration by electronically collecting enrollment updates and facilitating letter writing to sponsors.

Once again, we’ll use the netbooks to train community mobilizers and facilitators on how to plan community activities and deliver ChildFund-designed lesson plans to the children. As part of the lesson plan, children will produce art, plays and music that we will electronically scan or videotape.

Everyone on the ChildFund team is excited to test these innovative solutions with our partners in the United States and Brazil and, ultimately, to enhance children’s learning opportunities.

Smiles and Laughter – It Doesn’t Get Any Better

Note: Phil Harrell, a longtime ChildFund donor, has been on four Study Tours to visit program areas and his sponsored children. As part of our “31 in 31” series Phil shares his experiences with us, including his latest trip to Brazil. For more information about Brazil, click here, and for more on ChildFund’s Study Tours, click here.

By Phil Harrell
ChildFund International Donor

31 in 31Before I tell you about my latest Study Tour to Brasil (I am using the Brasilian spelling of Brasil), maybe I should tell you how I got started with Study Tours. I had been a sponsor for about a year or so, when I received a postcard in the mail announcing a Study Tour to Brasil. I was sitting in my chair and my dog Bondi was lying in the floor in front of me. I read the information on the card out loud and then said, “I wonder if I should go?”

I look down at Bondi, who lifted her head and winked at me. That was the exact “nod” that I needed, so I picked up the phone and called to make my reservation. This started what has begun as the greatest thing I have ever done – going on Study Tours. I have done four so far and am anxiously looking forward to doing more in the future.

I have been asked to tell you about my experiences on the Study Tours. Specifically, what it was like to meet my sponsored kids for the first time. We had exchanged letters many, many times, so I felt connected to these kids. When I saw them, Camila and Leandro, it was a feeling of similar to seeing my own kids I had not seen for quite some time. There was a feeling of instant caring and love for both of these young smiling Brazilian faces. There was a short period of awkwardness, but that soon disappeared and it became like we had known each other for such a long time. Camila and Leandro were accompanied by their moms. It was such a pleasure to meet the moms. It readily became apparent that these moms were truly grateful for the help that their kids were receiving from a ChildFund International sponsor. We all spent the day together and had such a wonderful time. It was truly remarkable and a memory that will stay with me for a lifetime.

ChildFund International's Study Tours allows participants to meet their sponsored children and visit ChildFund's program areas. For more information about Study Tours, visit

ChildFund International's Study Tours allows participants to meet their sponsored children and visit ChildFund's program areas. For more information about Study Tours, visit

When you go on these Study Tours, you get to see so many awesome and wonderful things, like the Taj Mahal, Victoria Falls, Christ the Emancipator and wild elephants. But, by far, the greatest thing that you get to see is the smile on the kid’s and sponsors’ faces, whether they are meeting for the first time or have met before. The smiles on all the faces add an inspiring touch to the overall greatness of the meetings. Smiles and laughter – it doesn’t ever get any better than that.

Years ago, I would never have dreamed that I would be a part of such a truly fantastic program. Becoming a sponsor has become one of the very best things that I have ever done. It is difficult to explain all the feelings that come from really deep down inside when I think about being a sponsor. These feelings became even greater when I was so blessed to meet my sponsored kids. It was then that I realized that I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing – helping children by providing them with financial support that allows them to receive an education and health assistance they would not otherwise have.

On the Study Tours, travelers visit the program centers provided by ChildFund International. After visiting these centers, it becomes so obvious that the staffs at the centers and ChildFund are doing great things with the donations provided by sponsors. Each center provides educational opportunities, medical and dental care, and programs for social development. The dedication of the staffs at these facilities leaves each visitor filled with awe. The staffs do such an incredible job.

If you are thinking about becoming a sponsor, I strongly urge that you do so. I can personally attest that the small amount of the monthly sponsorship cost is doing such great things in the life of your sponsored child. I have been to the ChildFund program areas many times and have seen how the monthly sponsorship fee is used. It is truly remarkable how many great and awesome things that ChildFund is doing with the donated funds.

More on Brazil
Population: 198.7 million
ChildFund beneficiaries: More than 285,000 children and families
Did You Know?: The 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro will be the first time South America hosts the event.

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