By Kate Andrews, with reporting from BØRNEfonden
As strife spreads through Mali, ChildFund Alliance partner BØRNEfonden reports that the children they serve will face many hardships in the future.
Groups of rebels have taken over the northern part of Mali and recently moved southwest as far as Diabaly, a rural town previously held by the Malian government. This recent encroachment has increased the urgency for an international response. Last month, the United Nations Security Council authorized a peacekeeping mission, and now the French military, leading an international coalition, is working to defend the North African country from rebels.
The children served by BØRNEfonden, a Danish organization, are in the relatively secure localities of Bougouni, Yanfolila and Diolila in the southernmost Sikasso region of Mali.
Nevertheless, says BØRNEfonden CEO Bolette Christensen, “At the moment many of the families, children and young people who have fled the northern parts of Mali stay with relatives in southern parts of the country. We must support them now and start thinking long term, or we will end up in a vicious spiral that makes it difficult for Mali to get firmly back on its feet.”
BØRNEfonden supports 14,000 children and families in 22 development centers in southern Mali, although the program is now working with more people, given the recent influx of refugees. Since March 2012, more than 300,000 northern Malians have fled to the southern part of the country, and others are refugees in nearby nations.
One of BØRNEfonden’s main objectives is to assist young Malians in creating small farms with irrigation systems; this program will contribute to the country’s long-term food security. BØRNEfonden will also support schoolchildren who have fled from the northern regions by providing textbooks and other teaching materials.
“Long-term development and targeting job creation, food security and education is more important than ever,” Christensen says.
By Christa Nedergaard Rasmussen, National Director BØRNEfonden Togo
Last month, BØRNEfonden — ChildFund’s Alliance partner in Denmark — celebrated its 20th anniversary in Togo. Government representatives thanked BØRNEfonden for its work in the east African nation, and two former sponsored children spoke about their experiences.
As in the other program countries where BØRNEfonden and ChildFund work, development activities in Togo are aimed at creating a better future for children and youth. The focus is on health, education, income-generating activities and early childhood development.
Approximately 12,000 children in Togo are supported by a sponsor, including many from the United States.
The anniversary was celebrated in the Togolese capital of Lome with 170 guests, including representatives from the federal government, Danish companies, international and national NGOs. BØRNEfonden’s CEO, Bolette Christensen, was also present.
“It’s great to see how collaboration between BØRNEfonden and local authorities, national and international NGOs give positive results,” Christensen said.
During the past 20 years, local partners working with BØRNEfonden have built 256 schools, 80 kindergartens and 18 libraries in 28 rural communities.
But particularly in the health sector, where the focus has been to give more people access to clean drinking water, the results are remarkable. Within just the past five years, 75,000 Togolese people gained access to potable water. Working with local partners, BØRNEfonden, with the support of sponsors, helped drill 40 wells, repair 110 existing wells and supported 238 local water committees to maintain the pumps and manage consumers’ fees.
Minister of Development Djossou Semodji, speaking on behalf of the federal government, thanked BØRNEfonden for its work and many achievements. He emphasized that he looks forward to many years of future cooperation.
Also, formerly sponsored children who have become successful adults spoke about what BØRNEfonden had meant to them. “After I left school, I came to a technical school and became a carpenter,” said Abdoulaye Issaka. “Today I have my own carpenter’s shop and trains apprentices.”
“I come from a poor family from the country,” said Adjoa Adjimon, “but at one of BØRNEfonden’s summer camps, it dawned on me that all men are worth something. I got enough confidence to get an education. I have a B.A. in economics and am now employed by the Togo Post Office.”
A group of youth from impoverished rural areas who advocate for young people’s rights came to the celebration to speak about their goals, including establishing the right to go to school, protection from violence and better hygienic conditions at school.
Christenson noted about the youth’s presentation: “It is an important task they have undertaken to fight for their own and other children’s rights.”
Discover more about ChildFund’s work in Togo.
by Cynthia Price, Director of Communications
In the Victorian era, children were to be seen and not heard. Today, we know it’s important to listen to children. At ChildFund, we really listen to children. We just heard from more than 6,000!
We asked them about their hopes, dreams and fears. We even asked them about the environment. It’s part of our third annual survey of children conducted with other members of ChildFund Alliance.
The Small Voices, Big Dreams survey found that 10- to 12-year-olds from Africa, Asia and the Americas put an overwhelming emphasis on their schooling, have admirable aspirations for their future and have personally experienced such natural disasters as drought, flood or fire.
What struck me as I read the results was the wisdom of these children from 47 countries. They are well aware of what they need for a brighter future. If they were president of their countries, they said their priorities would include improving education, curtailing pollution and planting more trees.
One in two children in developing countries said she or he would improve education or provide greater enrichment opportunities. This answer really hits me hard. Having visited some of our programs around the world, I know how important education is to a brighter future. And each day, as I pass the reconstructed Kenyan classroom in ChildFund’s headquarters lobby, I am reminded of the constant lack. Too often children have only pencil nubs to write with, not enough notebooks to write in and few books to read. Chalkboards are cracked, maps are tattered and classrooms are terribly overcrowded. Despite such conditions, children show up every day ready to learn.
The good news is that child sponsorship helps improve educational opportunities. Children have revitalized schools and an adequate supply of pencils and books for writing and reading. They have trained teachers who are excited to teach and help students grow in their confidence. In fact, many of the children surveyed said they want to become a teacher (24%) or a doctor (27%). They aspire to careers that they know will make a difference in their lives and in their community. The professions are in contrast to children in the U.S., who most wanted to become pro athletes (18%).
And while the survey found that at least one in three children from developing countries has experienced drought (40%), flood (33%) or forest/bush fire (30%), their biggest ecological concern was the growing threat of pollution on the environment. One in four children cited various forms of pollution as the “environmental problem they worry about most.”
When asked what one thing they would do to change the environment around their community, 28 percent of children in developing nations said they would plant more trees and build more parks. A similar number (29%) of children in developed countries said their top priority would be to reduce or stop littering.
As we reaffirm every year in the Small Voices, Big Dreams survey, children have important things to say and we must listen to their concerns and their ideas.
Learn more about the survey and download a copy of the full report.
By Virginia Sowers, ChildFund Community Manager
For the past few years, the ChildFund Alliance (a 12-member organization that includes ChildFund International) has been asking children to tell us what they would do if they were president or the leader of their country. As you can imagine, 11- to 12-year-olds have some definite ideas.
As U.S. voters go to the polls today to elect the next president of the United States, we wanted to share with you some very good ideas for changing the world offered up by children who have a lot of important things to say when asked.
If I Were President…
To help these children and others like them achieve their dreams, and maybe one day grow up to be president, consider sponsoring a child.
By Melissa Bonotto, ChildFund Ireland
Machava, a 32-year-old community leader, has been working with children for 10 years. He first started talking with village children under a tree close to his house. Then, ChildFund Mozambique built a resource center close by in 2009, and Machava had the chance to use it for his daily meeting with pupils. He also teaches adult education and is a student himself. He had to stop his studies during the Mozambican Civil War, but he is delighted to tell us that he managed to go back to school. He will complete the final year in secondary school next year.
As part of the Communities Caring for Children Programme (CCCP) launched last week by ChildFund Ireland and ChildFund Mozambique, this resource center has been adapted to become an early childhood development center. Flush toilets and basins with running water have been installed at children’s level and the center has been made more child-friendly. Zaza, a talented local artist painted colorful and animated pictures on the walls. A small playground is in the works, as is training for center facilitators.
Machava remembers the time he didn’t have any of this. “Children used to sit on the ground. We didn’t have a blackboard or chalk. Also, they were exposed to bad people. Now they are safe and secure in the center.” He teaches subjects such as Portuguese and math, but he acknowledges that the children´s favorite activities are dancing and singing.
Currently, 85 children are enrolled: 50 girls and 35 boys, age 3 to 6 years old. Children stay in the resource centre from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Parents who can afford it make a monthly contribution of 10 meticais (less than 35 cents in U.S. currency). Those who are enrolled in ChildFund’s sponsorship program receive a school bag containing a notebook, two pencils and a sharpener.
When we went to the center, we brought some toys, games, books and activities to share with the children. The children were fascinated with bubbles, Irish stickers and pop-up books. We had the chance to tell a story and we also listened to stories told by the children. Maria, a young girl, told a story about “a boy who was friends with a monkey. One day the boy said he wanted to steal something, but the monkey said he should not do it because it was not nice!”
We watched them singing and dancing enthusiastically and animatedly. Just as Machava said, they love it!
Through the CCCP program, ChildFund seeks three primary outcomes for children:
• improve the quality of the services related to ECD
• strengthen community structures
• develop a culture of learning.
Four additional ECD centers are planned in Gondola before 2015, funded by ChildFund and Irish Aid.
By Melissa Bonotto, ChildFund Ireland
It’s the end of another week and villagers from the Gondola district in Mozambique are gathered at their usual meeting spot. They each have their meticais – the local currency – and are eager to participate in today’s Village Savings and Loans (VSL) meeting. After the official welcome by the organization’s 23-year-old president Aida, they begin shouting out numbers, adding their money to the pool and cheering — happy to be investing in the future of their community.
Through a partnership with the local KureraWana Association, ChildFund Ireland and ChildFund Mozambique have encouraged VSL groups to invest in early childhood development as part of their new Communities Caring for Children Programme (CCCP). CCCP coordinator, Alberto, says “The community became so excited that they could not wait.” Some VSL groups began saving before the program’s official start date and will soon be able to support childhood development initiatives in the area. With an early start, most VSLs have saving down to a science.
Each group, consisting of about 15 to 25 members, meets weekly to make deposits into a communal fund. Participants must contribute at least one share each week, but they are allowed to give up to five. One share is equal to 20 meticais – or US$1.
Members can borrow up to three times the amount they have contributed but only at the last meeting of the month. Borrowers have three months to pay down their loan, and do so at a 10 percent interest rate. Members follow clearly prescribed guidelines to participate and start each meeting by reciting the rules and penalties so that everyone in attendance understands.
With financial guidance, individuals use these loans to maintain or jumpstart new businesses and community programs. “These groups have been targeted for business management training during the program,” says Jean, a ChildFund Ireland grants officer. “So their loans are managed appropriately and used for viable businesses.”
Each group is supported by a secretary, two cashiers, a “money-box” guard and multiple key guards. All participants, identified by a number, announce how much they have saved for the week. The secretary records the amount in a ledger and members of the group cheer for their fellow banker’s accomplishments.
Beyond entrepreneurship, VSLs also encourage emergency preparation through savings. At every meeting, each participant contributes 5 meticais to a social fund that can be used as a donation to a member in times of need.
As their savings grow, VSL groups will help reshape the economic capacity of their communities and empower individuals to reach financial stability. Group members will start new businesses, providing services their neighborhoods need desperately, as well as support key community initiatives that will benefit the families and children of their community.
Courtesy of ChildFund Australia, a member of the Global ChildFund Alliance
A global education program called ChildFund Connect is promoting a sense of community and friendship among primary school children in Australia and their peers in developing countries.
Through a variety of multimedia tools, with a central website serving as a hub for communications and child-created content, the program facilitates cross-country exchanges and collaborative education projects to increase children’s understanding of the world.
One of those projects is Our Day, a film that documents a day in the life of children around the world. Using pocket video cameras, hundreds of children in Australia, Laos, Vietnam and Timor-Leste captured the detail and color of their day, providing incredible insights into their childhood experiences.
Filmmaker Clinton J. Isle took on the creative task of combining this footage to create Our Day. The film shows how daily life is very different, but, also, in many ways the same, in different parts of the world.
This project was supported by the Australian Council for the Arts, the Australian Government’s arts funding and advisory body and by the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland. ChildFund Connect is also partly funded by Australian Aid, managed by ChildFund Australia on behalf of AusAID.
Take a few minutes to enjoy this absorbing film.
Reporting by Bernardo Florindo, ChildFund Angola
A few weeks ago, ChildFund Angola opened a new children’s resource center in the Olonjuli project area. It’s the first of its kind for the community, and cause for celebration.
A large number of community members turned out for the grand opening, which drew Angola’s vice administrator for education, local officials, Benguela National Radio and a Benguela TV station.
“The resource center is one contribution ChildFund Angola is making to help the government bring a better future to this community, especially for children,” said Benjamin Tchiyevo, ChildFund’s national director in Angola. He urged the community to take the center “with its two hands and preserve it.”
Built with funding from ChildFund Germany’s Learn and Play grant, the center features an entertainment space, computer stations and a library – all priorities for the community’s children and youth.
Through the Olonjuli project, ChildFund will lead and promote a number of center activities including story times, art and theater. The center’s entertainment corner offers games and toys, while the library encourages reading and quiet study time. Students and community members can use the computer center to access the Internet and to write and print documents.
With no other center like this in Baia-Farta, children, teachers and parents are welcoming the new opportunities for learning and creative expression that have finally come to their community.
by Priscilla Chama, ChildFund Zambia
Over the course of January’s 31 days, we’re making a blog stop in each country where we serve children, thanks to the generous support of our sponsors and donors. Today, we meet Matildah, a youth with disabilities, who realized her dream of competing in an athletic competition.
“I felt so grateful, humbled and honored to be crowned with a gold medal for best athlete of the year, contrary to what many people think about us, the disabled,” says Matildah, a 15-year-old Zambian. “That moment made me realize that I can do all that the so-called able, normal people can do, and I hope to do better than this next time,” she says.
Orphaned at an early age, Matildah is one of several hundred children with special needs who are benefiting from ChildFund Zambia’s Special Education Needs (SEN) project in Luangwa district, with support from ChildFund New Zealand. Luangwa has more than 300 children with special needs, who initially had no access to education. ChildFund Zambia has constructed classrooms, dormitories and teacher housing to create a positive learning environment for children. It’s made a world of difference for Matildah and her classmates, who are increasingly confident of their abilities.
A strong runner, Matildah was an eager participant in Zambia’s 2011 provincial athletics competition open to children with special needs from Lusaka, Luangwa and Kafue districts. The competition was held at the Olympic Youth Development Center in Lusaka.
“I love athletics but had no platform to showcase my talent. That is why I am so grateful that the organizers arranged a competition in which children with various disabilities like me could participate,” she says.
Matildah outclassed other competitors and placed first in both the 50- and 100-meter events. She beams with excitement as she recalls the experience of the competition and interacting with fellow athletes.
“Most of us were given an opportunity to travel outside Luangwa for the first time since we were born,” she notes. “As you know children like us are always kept indoors, but this is now changing because of the school for children with special needs,” she explains.
Matildah admits that just a few years ago she had no hope of ever getting an education. According to her grandmother, Matildah’s cognitive difficulties since birth meant she could not be enrolled in a regular classroom.
Her big breakthrough came when ChildFund introduced the SEN project, and Matilda was one of the first children registered. Matildah now attends school at Mwavi Basic, where she is enrolled in the special education unit and is in the second level.
“I want to finish school and become a teacher for children with special needs,”
Matildah says. For now, she loves going to school and also gardening. And, of course, there’s running.
by Kate Nare, ChildFund Marketing Specialist
The devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on March 11 left hundreds of thousands of families homeless, and hundreds of children orphaned.
Following this disaster, ChildFund Japan, with the help of child sponsors and other ChildFund Alliance members – including ChildFund International, was able to quickly create an emergency and reconstruction plan to help the hard-hit community of Ofunato, located in the Iwate jurisdiction.
Response included the delivery of emergency goods, psychological care and grief workshops and other community development projects. ChildFund Japan soon became a lead agency supporting children with counselling services to address the psychological effects of the tsunami and the loss of family members.
Last summer, local government officials asked ChildFund Japan to help build a sense of community in the temporary housing units where many displaced families were living in Ofunato. The goal was to create a space where residents could gather, have tea and socialize, with the key message being: We are with you! You are not alone!
Volunteers from the local university joined carpenters and community members to build colorful benches and tables to serve as a meeting place for the residents. Shortly thereafter, preparations began for a summer festival. Five months after the tsunami, residents were able to find enjoyment in socializing with their new neighbors and reconnecting with community.
Additionally, ChildFund Japan implemented a grief counseling program for teachers to deliver as they continue to interact with students who were in class on the day the tsunami hit, forcing them to flee for their lives. Today, an after-school daycare center provides children with a safe environment where they can once again laugh and play.
One child said, “Since we became victims, the after-school child center changed and became a bit quiet. But my friends are more cheerful now and that’s good.”
Although recovery and rehabilitation continue, these children are a symbol of hope and resiliency for Japan.
View a video from ChildFund Japan highlighting the emergency relief and development work following the earthquake and tsunami.