By Raphael Opira
Raphael, a logistics officer for a Dutch aid agency in Uganda, wrote this article about his experience being sponsored as a child and later meeting his sponsor in Sydney, Australia. The story was first published on ChildFund Australia’s blog.
Life was simply so challenging before I was sponsored. I am one of 15 children. My father made just $50 a month to support us, so it was very hard for my family to pay school fees for us all. The difficulties were compounded by Uganda’s 23-year civil war. When I was introduced to ChildFund, it was a turning point in my life.
When I was a child, we lived in a refugee camp. Outside it was unsafe, but it was also not safe inside the camp, as the enemy forces would sometimes come in and raid us for food, or to kill or steal children.
I lived with my family in a makeshift home in the camp from the late 1990s until 2006. When we moved to the camp, the focus moved from education to security. During this time, many children couldn’t go to school. We also could not put on lights to study at night because the enemy would find you.
When I was 12 and attending school again, I was sponsored. The biggest benefit of being a sponsored child for me was that I didn’t have to worry about school fees anymore. Instead, I could concentrate on my studies.
Sponsorship pulled me from nowhere to being able to have a good life in Uganda. It was like a bridge; if that bridge had not been there, I would not have been able to get to the other side.
Even as a child, I knew that education was most important, because if I am educated, all the rest will come. Before my last year of primary school, a friend and I spoke to the ChildFund officer and said we wanted to be transferred to a better school. He assisted us with the application. Our parents didn’t come with us, and the school was afraid we wouldn’t be able to pay our fees. We told them, “It’s OK, we are with ChildFund,” and it was OK. I turned out to be one of their best students.
Raphael was accepted into one of the top high schools in his district. He then went on to complete an undergraduate degree, and he has recently finished postgraduate studies. He now works as a logistics officer for a Dutch aid agency.
ChildFund was my launch pad. If I had not been sponsored, I think I would be a peasant farmer or doing odd jobs.
Sponsorship may not translate directly to a successful career, but it does provide the environment and the resources you need to succeed. After that, it is our responsibility to make the most of the opportunity. For me, it was the beginning of a very bright future. I’ve spent most of my time so far at school, and I am going up from here.
I am now married with three boys. My children will go to the best schools in the district, but I don’t want to have any more children because I want to be able to support other children and make an impact in their lives.
My goal for my life is to ensure that people succeed through me.
I am now part of the ChildFund Alumni Association. We are a group of 300 successful formerly sponsored children who are reaching out to the next generation of Ugandan children. We are teachers, university lecturers, social workers and lawyers. I am in procurement and transport.
After reconnecting with Michael Coorey, a former teacher in Australia whose students sponsored Raphael through ChildFund Australia, Raphael made the long journey from Uganda to Sydney to meet him in person this year.
When the time came to meet Michael, it was something that cannot be described. It could just be felt. It was a moment in life that nobody can imagine to be true. It is a very good feeling for someone who has been sponsored through ChildFund for this to happen.
When I first started to think about a way of conveying my heartfelt thanks to my sponsors, the first thing that came into my thoughts was to name my last born in tribute to him. That is why my 4-year-old son is called Emmanuel Coorey. To actually meet Michael in person was unexpected but definitely a dream come true!
Coming to Sydney was such a special time for me.
I went to the school that sponsored me to meet their students. Speaking to them was a very big achievement for me. Interestingly, other teachers who were involved in my sponsorship were still there, and they were wonderful to meet. It was great that they, too, could see the impact they have had on me.
Read Michael Coorey’s observations about sponsoring Raphael and watch Raphael’s message on video, below.
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.
Please share the photos with your networks, create your own handprints, and help us build support for letting children grow up free from violence by emailing us pictures of your handprints. Below, see photos from Afghanistan, Bolivia, Brazil, the Caribbean, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Indonesia, Mexico, Mississippi, the Philippines, South Dakota and Texas.
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.
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.
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 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.
The Category 5 Cyclone Pam struck the South Pacific islands of Vanuatu on March 13, leaving many people homeless and destroying crops. ChildFund International and ChildFund Australia are raising funds to help families recover from the disaster, working with a local NGO, Live & Learn Vanuatu. Right now, the most urgent problem is a lack of clean water, but your donations are helping make a difference. Below, take a look at photos taken by Vlad Sokhin in Vanuatu last week, along with quotes from people affected by the cyclone.
Photos: ChildFund/Vlad Sokhin/Panos Pictures.
Reporting by Vlad Sokhin, freelance photographer for ChildFund Australia
A Category 5 cyclone struck the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu on March 13, leaving 75,000 people without shelter and affecting 166,000 people overall, according to latest estimates. ChildFund Australia is providing aid through its partner organization there, Live & Learn Vanuatu. You can help by making a donation to ChildFund’s Vanuatu Emergency Response Fund. Here are some notes from the field:
“I was in a community shelter with my parents,” says 10-year-old James from Efate Island. “When the strong wind came, it was very noisy. I was afraid. Then my sisters and I fell asleep. Next morning, we came to our house, and it was destroyed. My school was destroyed too. Now I sleep with my parents in the tent and can’t attend classes.”
James and his family are among the tens of thousands of people left homeless in Vanuatu after Cyclone Pam devastated the archipelago. The family of five is currently living in an improvised tent.
James’ mother, Margaret, says she is worried about feeding her children and generating an income since the family’s crops were wiped out by the cyclone.
“We’ve lost everything — all our crops,” she says. “All we can eat now is fallen bananas and coconuts. Some taro survived too, but it’s not enough for our family. I will not be able to sell fruits and vegetables in the market to make some money. We barely have enough food for ourselves.”
Some schools have reopened in Vanuatu, but with 50 percent of the country’s educational infrastructure destroyed or badly damaged, thousands of children remain unable to attend. At this stage, it is unclear when James will be able to start classes again.
Access to clean water is also an immediate concern for families like James’. Most water tanks have been damaged or destroyed by the cyclone, and wells are contaminated. Some people are forced to walk long distances to fetch or purchase fresh water, while others are so desperate that they are boiling seawater to drink.
James, his 14-year-old sister, Priscilla, and his 3-year-old sister, Ester, are at high risk of waterborne diseases such as cholera, which causes severe diarrhea and can lead to death. ChildFund Australia is working with Live & Learn Vanuatu to restore access to clean water to help ensure the health of children and their families in cyclone-ravaged areas.
To help with the continued response effort, please donate today to ChildFund’s Vanuatu Emergency Response Fund.
Reporting and photos: Felipe Cala, ChildFund Alliance; Roberta Cecchetti, Save the Children; Agueda Barreto and Thiago Machado, ChildFund Brasil
Fourteen-year-old Maria Antônia has made a name for herself in her home of Crato, a city in northeastern Brazil, because of her determination and community participation. This week, she had the opportunity to be heard on a world stage: a panel on the prevention of violence against children, at the United Nations’ headquarters in New York.
“I see this opportunity as a process of inclusion,” she said before the event, “because young people from 10 different countries will contribute with relevant themes on our point of view, to achieve a better world.”
The March 23 side-event took place during the third gathering of U.N. members to negotiate the post-2015 development agenda, a global set of priorities to tackle such issues as poverty, hunger, inequality and disease in the next 15 years. The goals are expected to be finalized in September. The purpose of the side-event — hosted by the governments of Canada, Guatemala, Japan and Palau — was to highlight the importance of allowing children to grow up in violence-free communities, schools and homes, and to bring their voices to decision-makers in New York.
ChildFund Alliance, Plan International, Save the Children, SOS Children’s Villages International, UNICEF and World Vision International, as well as the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence Against Children and the Latin America and Caribbean Movement for Children, collaborated to organize the discussion.
Maria Antônia spoke about physical, psychological and sexual violence and children’s own recommendations to prevent and respond to violence, including ways to report incidents safely and increasing social services at schools and health clinics.
“It is very important to improve child-friendly services within the child protection network, so that children feel confident and safe,” she said.
The visit was exciting and somewhat overwhelming for Maria Antônia, who is sponsored through ChildFund and also takes part in community projects with one of our local partners in Brazil. This was her first visit to New York City, and on the first day, she went to Central Park and saw snow for the first time (“It was beautiful,” she said). The next day, Maria Antônia prepared to speak at the U.N. headquarters, a daunting prospect.
“Early in the morning, I could only think that I would not be able to represent children and adolescents,” she recalled. “I felt fear and insecurity. But after my speech, I was congratulated. And that made me very happy. I had the feeling that I did what I had come to do.
“I realize how important it is to improve the entire environment where I live — my home, my community and my school,” she added.
And Maria Antônia is returning home with tales to tell. “My friends will ask me about the city, my experience in a new and different place, but what I really want to talk about is the opportunity to be heard. It’s a dream I could never dream.”
By Abraham Marca, ChildFund Bolivia
ChildFund’s office in Bolivia recently hosted the daughter of a sponsor, who got to meet 2-year-old Neri and her parents.
Isabel, 18, is Spanish but lives in Germany; her mother, Luisa, has sponsored Neri since July through ChildFund Deutschland, one of our Alliance partners. They sponsor five children in all, one for each member of the family. Luisa needed to stay home to care for her younger son, so Isabel went in her place to Bolivia.
“With these pictures, my mom is going to be jealous of me,” Isabel said. “She really wanted to come here.”
Neri will become a big sister in January, when her mother is expecting her second child. Her father is a truck driver, and the family lives in La Paz, one of Bolivia’s largest cities. During Isabel’s visit, they went to see Mi Teleférico, a new cable-car system, which was very exciting for Neri. It was a sunny day, and the independent little girl was happy to walk by herself.
“Neri’s dream has come true,” her mother said. “She has wanted to get in the Teleférico for months.” Then they went to a children’s park, where Neri ran and played with Isabel and her mother.
“Neri reminds me of my younger brother,” Isabel said. “She has a lot of energy and independence, and it seems she never gets tired!”
Earlier in the trip, Isabel also visited an Early Childhood Development center supported by ChildFund and run by a local partner organization, San José Las Lomas. She had the opportunity to talk to the coordinators and meet children there, and she expressed a lot of interest in their work.
When the sun was going down, the group returned to the neighborhood where Neri’s family lives, again riding Mi Teleférico and enjoying the city’s sights one last time. “This is like her Christmas gift,” Neri’s mother declared. Below, see more pictures from Isabel’s visit, including a trip to the local ECD center. If you’re a sponsor and wish to visit your child in his or her country, call our Sponsor Care team at 1-800-776-6767, between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. (ET), Monday through Thursday and 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday.