ChildFund Alliance

A Personal Journey Through the Developing World

By Nigel Spence, CEO of ChildFund Australia

To commemorate ChildFund’s 75th anniversary, we invited the leaders of each of the 12 ChildFund Alliance member groups to reflect on the past and future of their own organizations and the Alliance. Today, we hear from Australia.

In 2006, I took my first steps into the world of international development.

Having spent almost a decade at the helm of the Association of Children’s Welfare Agencies in Australia, following postgraduate studies and a long career in social work, I had a strong desire to continue working for an organisation focused on improving the lives of vulnerable children. To do this at a global, rather than national, level was an exciting opportunity.

Complexities of Child Protection

75th ChildFund logoMy experience thus far had taught me that myriad factors can result in increased vulnerability for children. Nor are these influences confined to national borders. Children suffering from a lack of proper parental care, inadequate food, shelter or clothing, poor health care and low family incomes can be found in each corner of the globe.

However, during my early days with ChildFund, I was quick to discover how extreme deprivation and poverty adds so many additional layers of complexity to the issue of child protection in countries where there is no social safety net in place.

In the communities where ChildFund works, the majority of parents are dedicated to giving their children a better future and determined to provide access to those opportunities unavailable during their own childhoods. Most importantly, parents are desperate to ensure that their children survive to adulthood.

Yet natural disasters, civil upheaval or a chronic lack of basic services are sadly not within their control. It is devastating for any parent to discover that, despite their most concerted efforts, they are not able to provide their children with the protection they rightly deserve. Many parents in developing countries live constantly with this fear.

Vietnamese children

Children at a preschool in Bac Kan, Vietnam.

This is where I believe ChildFund best fulfils its mission — by providing support to families and communities where all other possible options have been exhausted. We have the ability and know-how to fill the missing gaps; provide help, guidance and support with no strings attached; and work alongside communities to ensure that the best possible outcomes are achieved for children.

Along this 75-year journey, ChildFund’s approach to helping children has changed and evolved, moving from a focus on orphanages for destitute children, to family support and then to community partnerships that deliver effective development programs. Our child focus has strengthened, and children are actively consulted and encouraged to voice their opinions on plans for their communities. Taking the time to learn from mistakes has also been integral to our development.

We can be proud of what we have achieved so far. According to the World Health Organisation, the likelihood of a child dying before reaching the age of 5 is now approximately 7 percent, compared to 25 percent in 1950. This is a remarkable global achievement.

There is an oft-quoted phrase in our sector: “It takes a village to raise a child.” I would like to think that ChildFund is a member of that village.

Safe Haven for Children in Crisis

On one of my first trips for ChildFund, I visited newly independent Timor-Leste. It was 2006, and I arrived at the tail end of the unsuccessful coup and resulting military and civil violence.

Timor-Leste children

ChildFund Australia CEO Nigel Spence in Timor-Leste during a 2006 visit.

As many as 150,000 people living in and around the capital of Dili had been displaced, with families fleeing the conflict by taking shelter in public buildings, churches and schools before the government was forced to establish internally displaced people, or IDP, camps to cope with the mass migration.

I arrived to see ChildFund at work in a crisis — establishing Child Centred Spaces in the IDP camps to provide children with a safe haven and some sense of normality during the turmoil. The centres impressed me greatly — with no school to attend, these hastily established environments gave children a place to go where they could draw, paint or simply play with their peers.  

For parents, the spaces provided supervised care while they searched for other family members, or visited homes to assess the damage. In addition, ChildFund staff could monitor children for signs of extreme distress caused by the recent events — many had been witness to acts of extreme violence.

This visit, my first to a country in conflict, highlighted for me the fragility of life for so many people in the world. Just weeks before, these Timorese families had been at home — working, attending school, caring for children, beginning life anew after years of occupation.

Papua New Guinea children

This year, Nigel visited Papua New Guinea, another of ChildFund Australia’s countries.

Now, possessions and belongings gone, homes damaged and trapped in a city which had descended into violence and chaos, these same families were living in crowded, makeshift camps, with no jobs to go to, and no government services ready to replace what had been lost.

Eventually, it would be time for them to start again all over again. Fortunately, ChildFund and similar organisations would be there to help pick up the pieces, but this would clearly take time, money and planning — it would not happen overnight.

Seven years later, I am pleased to see how far this young country has come. The mood in the country as it celebrated its first decade of independence last year was full of hope for the future. There are many challenges still ahead, but I hope that political stability and the sheer indomitable will of its people will see this tiny nation emerge from the shadows of its past.

The Difference a Decade Makes

A similar story has unfolded in a Vietnam community. Ten years ago, ChildFund Australia began working in Bac Kan, a remote and mountainous province in Vietnam’s north.

In 1999, families here were able to grow only one rice crop each year, resulting in food scarcity and poor child nutrition. School buildings were in disrepair and enrolment rates low, as many parents could not afford school fees and were discouraged by the very low standard of education. Poor hygiene and a lack of nearby health services meant children were often ill, and child mortality was high.

irrigation canals

Irrigation canals in Bac Kan, Vietnam.

Over the past decade of working in partnership with ChildFund, a transformation has taken place in this community. Today, construction of gravity-fed water systems and new irrigation canals mean farmers produce four rice harvests annually. Water for household use is easy to access and safe from disease.

A new preschool and primary school, as well as trained teachers and learning materials, have encouraged more children to attend school. Available health care, particularly immunisation programs, has reduced the number of parents losing their children to preventable disease.

It is the collaborative effort of a range of committed individuals who make this possible: community members, donors and child sponsors, as well as ChildFund staff and volunteers. Ending the cycle of poverty can seem an impossible task, but the changes in Bac Kan demonstrate day that positive change can happen — one child, one family and one community at a time.

ChildFund Australia: A Timeline

1985: CCF Australia is founded, focused on supporting CCF’s child sponsorship program.

1990s: CCF Australia continues to support CCF U.S. programs and begins delivering emergency relief.

1994: CCF Australia begins work in Papua New Guinea.

1995: CCF Australia begins work in Vietnam.

2005: CCF Australia changes its name to ChildFund Australia, joining the ChildFund Alliance.

2007: ChildFund Australia begins work in Cambodia.

2010: ChildFund Australia begins work in Laos.

2012: ChildFund Australia begins work in Myanmar.

Our Shared Humanity

By Anne Lynam Goddard, ChildFund International President & CEO

To commemorate ChildFund’s 75th anniversary, we invited the leaders of each of the 12 ChildFund Alliance member groups to reflect on the past and future of their own organizations and the Alliance. Today, we hear from Anne Goddard.

75th ChildFund logo“Nothing ever lasts forever,” the old saying goes. I find this applies to all kinds of things in life. So, as we celebrate ChildFund’s 75th year, I am mindful that not all nonprofits and for-profit companies have longevity. I’ve read that the lifespan of successful companies is shrinking – the typical company in existence today will be out of business in 15 years.

Since the recession started six years ago, I know of several nonprofits that have had to close their doors. Some closed due to financial and other problems. Others took a very positive step and merged with similar organizations to more effectively deliver on their missions. None closed because their mission had been achieved.

Dr. Clarke

Dr. Clarke

ChildFund International is still thriving after 75 years. I give a lot of the credit to our founder, Dr. J. Calvitt Clarke. He was a man of vision, with a passion for helping children living in poverty. A strategic thinker, Clarke was often described as having a “knack for fundraising.” At the age of 51, he founded an organization that was built to last.

Most people would be surprised to learn that Dr. Clarke established our organization to help children in China, now a world superpower with an economy envied by many. China pulled (and pushed) 680 million people out of poverty from 1981 to 2010, and has reduced its extreme-poverty rate from 84 percent to 10 percent, according to the Economist.

But the China of 1938 was very different than today. The country was devastated after the second Sino-Japanese war; famine, atrocities and bombings had destroyed the lives of millions. Children, being the most vulnerable, suffered the most. An estimated 1 to 2 million children died from 1937 to 1940 in China.

Compelled to fight for children’s survival, Dr. Clarke believed that warm-hearted, generous Americans would help. So he established what was then known as China’s Children Fund. Within six months of start-up, the organization raised enough funds to send its first support to China – $2,000. Within a year, $13,000 was sent to the KuKong Orphanage to help care for children.

Japanese children

Japanese children enjoy a meal at a CCF-supported orphanage in 1960.

Even the onset of World War II did not stop CCF and Dr. Clarke from continuing the mission. By the final year of the war in 1945 – a mere eight years after the organization began – CCF sent the amazing sum of $372,217 to China to help children in the areas not occupied by Japan.

In 1949, when the Communists came to power, CCF was forced to abruptly leave the country and end its assistance to the 5,113 Chinese children it was caring for in dozens of orphanages. The fate of most of those children was never known. But, amazingly, 280 children managed to walk 60 miles, crossing the border into Hong Kong, then under British rule, where they eventually went to live in a new orphanage CCF established.

Just as China is different today than in the 1930s and ’40s, ChildFund is different in many respects from the days of China’s Children Fund. We have grown to be a $250 million organization that helps 18.1 million children and family members in 30 countries around the globe. We’re also a member of the ChildFund Alliance, 12 like-minded organizations working together to expand our reach to more countries. Our collective commitment to helping children remains as passionate as ever.

Kenyan children

Anne Goddard meets children in Kenya in 2011.

But because nothing lasts forever, I never take for granted that ChildFund will continue for another 75 years. The decisions we make today will impact the ChildFund of tomorrow. We must continue to evolve as an organization, meeting the needs of children in a rapidly changing and complex world.

Maybe one thing does last forever – the warm-hearted generosity of people who help children living in poverty. That part of our shared humanity is truly enduring.

A Q&A With Carol Mortensen, ChildFund Cambodia National Director

Interview by Sierra Winston, ChildFund Communications Intern

This is one in a series of interviews with ChildFund’s national directors in honor of ChildFund International’s 75th anniversary. 

75th ChildFund logoHow long have you been with ChildFund?
I have been working for ChildFund since May 2007. I was hired to establish ChildFund Cambodia, working in cooperation with ChildFund Australia.

Where did you work before ChildFund?
I have done many jobs before working at ChildFund: When I was growing up, I took holidays jobs such as cinema usherette, postal service redirection worker, vegetable and fruit picker, toy shop and gift shop salesperson. Later on in life, I was a teacher in Australia and Africa, and I have also worked for Australian Volunteers and Save the Children.

Carol Mortensen

Carol Mortensen, national director of ChildFund Cambodia

What is the most difficult situation you have encountered in your job?
The most difficult situation I have encountered in my job is speaking to young people and hearing about the barriers that prevent them from achieving their dreams. The barriers can range from the simple, which ChildFund can address through programs and project activities, to the more challenging, systemic barriers.

ChildFund is working on challenging existing power structures in an appropriate manner, both at the local and national level, but it takes time. There are many visible improvements in the lives of children today in Cambodia, but there is still a lot more to do, especially in rural communities where the wealth gap between the rich and poor has increased at a greater rate than in urban communities.

What successes have you had in your national office?
Some of the successes would have to include establishing the Cambodia program and scaling up activities each year, responding to opportunities that present themselves. Also, hearing that the relationship Cambodia staff have with the royal government of Cambodia is highly valued by authorities.

Authorities at the district, commune and village levels now have firsthand experience of working with children and youth and understanding the value they can bring to development planning. We see members of a youth group reach into their backpacks and pull out the 5-year District Development Plan and identify the priorities that were included as a result of their lobbying. Also, we read in evaluations that youths and households have  increased monthly income through ChildFund income-generation training and support activities. A parent approached us to ask if her son could attend youth group trainings even though he is not a youth club member, because she has seen the benefit it gave her eldest daughter.

What motivates you in life?
I am motivated by hope and possibility. Even in very difficult circumstances, young people will often have ideas and want to be involved in community planning.

Cambodian girls

Cambodian girls get water from a pump.

What do you like to do in your free time?
Like so many people I know, I am often trying to have greater balance in my life. I spend time with family and friends, I read, I get involved in my local community wherever I am living, try to do something new every year. A friend and I have committed to each identify resolutions to focus on each month, but we’ve also learnt that we often have to revise or reschedule resolutions. Perhaps we’ll get better at this as time goes on.

Who is your role model?
My mother, who believed that it didn’t matter what religion you were but whether you helped your neighbor when they were in need. I am not sure if she would have called herself a feminist, but she had the same expectations of my brother and me to help around the house; only after I left home did I realize this was not a common expectation across all families.

What is a quote, saying or belief that you live by?
Different quotes have been important to me at different times in my life. Today an Australian Aboriginal proverb resonates: “Those who lose dreaming are lost.”

Children’s Voices on Violence and Exploitation

Member organizations of the ChildFund Alliance believe a focus on child protection can foster a global mindset that prioritizes and protects children. To this end, we are working hard to ensure that child protection appears among the global priorities that will follow the Millennium Development Goals for reducing poverty worldwide.

alliance logoThe children on whose behalf we are acting, it turns out, have much to add to the conversation. This year, the ChildFund Alliance held more than 50 focus groups with more than 1,300 children in 41 of the 58 countries where Alliance member organizations, including ChildFund International, serve children.

The first question we asked them was, “What makes you feel free?”

A 15-year-old girl in Bolivia answered, “I feel free when I reach my dreams and the elders don’t tell me to shut my mouth.”

The rest of the questions largely built on the first: What makes you feel free from violence and exploitation? To take action to stop them? What can world leaders and adults do? What are your risks?

Too many children experience violence and exploitation, most often sexual violence, exploitative labor conditions and physical and humiliating punishment. Even in school, sexual harassment and corporal punishment are everyday occurrences; still, children also cite access to education as a primary key to their keeping safe from violence and exploitation.

“If I were president, I would build a very nice school in every village,” says a 12-year-old Laotian boy.

Children have ideas about how the situation might be improved, and they are clear that they want a role in that change. They call upon legislators to create and enforce laws to protect them, and upon all adults to learn about the issue, to listen to children and to respect them.

“I don’t understand why we are treated inhumanely and not considered citizens,” says one girl, 13, from Nepal.

A 15-year-old boy from Liberia says it another way: “Overlooking me is violence.”

Please sign the ChildFund Alliance’s Free From Violence and Exploitation petition. Thank you for caring about children.

Vote for ChildFund Alliance!

By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

We’re pleased to announce that ChildFund Alliance (the global coalition formed by ChildFund International and 11 affiliates) is a finalist in the MY World People’s Choice Award, sponsored by the United Nations MY World Global Survey. The survey asks people to identify changes that would make the world a better place.

Because this is a people’s choice prize, we need votes! Please take a moment to vote for ChildFund Alliance, and then invite your Facebook friends to do the same. Voting closes at midnight EDT on Sept. 17, and the winner will be announced at an event in New York on Sept. 25.

Myworld CaptureThe ChildFund Alliance created a child-friendly version of the survey and conducted more than 50 focus-group interviews with children, providing data to the U.N. To promote children’s engagement in the survey, the Alliance also organized a conference with more than 50 countries represented.

The MY World Awards recognize the work of organizations that have helped spread the word about the survey, which allows people to express their views about global priorities for the post-2015 development agenda. More than 850,000 people in 194 countries have participated, and the number is expected to top 1 million by the end of the month.

Thanks for voting!

Let’s Band Together to Help Children

By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

Child labor is increasingly in the news, whether in Bangladesh, Afghanistan, southern Europe, southern Africa or India. With an estimated 150 million children aged 5 to 14 working worldwide, often in dangerous or exploitative conditions, child labor is a huge problem that needs fixing.

ChildFund sought to bring greater awareness to the issue last month in a poll conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs. We learned that 73 percent of the 1,000 adults surveyed thought that less than 1 million children worked, so clearly, there’s a lot of education that needs to happen. (View the full infographic.)

child labor pollIn ChildFund’s work in developing countries and impoverished areas worldwide, we provide help to individual children, families and communities. We’re also seeking to make a difference at a global level by building awareness of child-protection issues.    

As a member of the ChildFund Alliance, ChildFund is joining our 12 global affiliates in the Free From Violence and Exploitation petition, which is seeking to gather thousands of signatures in support of children’s rights. We encourage you to add your name to the list and spread the word to your friends and loved ones. The ChildFund Alliance will present this petition to the United Nations as evidence that people around the world place a high priority on child protection.

In 2000, the U.N. created the Millennium Development Goals with the goal of reversing extreme poverty worldwide by 2015. Right now, these world leaders are choosing priorities for the post-2015 agenda. Child protection was not on the list of original MDGs. Help us show governments around the world and the U.N. that protecting children is crucial to ending poverty. Please sign the petition today.

After Japan’s Tsunami, a Glimmer of Hope

By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

From ChildFund Japan, one of our ChildFund Alliance partners, comes a touching video about how the seaside city of Ofunato is recovering from the deadly earthquake and tsunami that occurred on March 11, 2011. “The Garland of Smiles,” which focuses on ChildFund’s people-centered approaches to healing and rebuilding, is nearly 22 minutes long, yet if you are interested in seeing what has happened in the aftermath of the tsunami, it’s well worth viewing.

More than 15,000 people in Japan died as a result of the disaster, and as we see in the video, numerous homes and buildings were destroyed, forcing as many as 8,000 people in Ofunato to live in temporary housing. It’s in this makeshift community where we meet ChildFund Japan project manager Yoshikazu Funato, who oversaw many initiatives to bring back some normalcy to children and adults.

ChildFund Japan, which normally assists children and families in the Philippines and Nepal, had to focus its energy inward after the disaster. With financial support from other ChildFund Alliance members, including ChildFund International, ChildFund Japan concentrated its activities in Ofunato because outside support was less available there than in other stricken areas. Beginning its work in the weeks after the earthquake and tsunami with a variety of volunteers and staff, ChildFund completed its projects in March 2013.

In preparation for the rebuilding, Funato and others conducted a door-to-door survey to see what Ofunato’s residents wanted and needed most. Some projects were small — building wooden benches in the temporary communities to promote socializing — while others were more ambitious, like providing grief counseling to preschoolers and creating a collective farm that keeps residents supplied with healthy food.

As a result of ChildFund Japan’s work throughout the past two years, some residents in temporary housing became invested in the improvements, from working at the farm to taking part in a residents’ association.

As you’ll see in the video, Ofunato has undergone a transformation in the past 24 months — not just physically but in attitude as well.

Responding to a Devastating Drought in Burkina Faso

women cooking grain

Women in Burkina Faso cook grain. The country is recovering from an extreme drought.

Dry weather can lead to disaster in developing countries. Without backup water supplies during a drought, food gets scarcer and more expensive, and people — usually the most vulnerable — become malnourished. This scenario repeats itself all over Africa, and Burkina Faso was one of the most recent countries stricken.   

However, this story has a happier ending than many, thanks to the leadership of Christian Children’s Fund Canada, part of the ChildFund Alliance. Beginning in April 2012, CCFC started a project that targeted 12,000 people at risk of illness and death related to malnutrition — mainly children under the age of 5 and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Canadian supporters and other Alliance partners, including ChildFund International, made donations that helped this project succeed.   

child at clinic

A child is checked for malnutrition with an upper-arm measuring device.

The project, which ended in December, provided supplementary feeding and related training; distributed food rations; supplied seeds and fertilizer; and distributed goats and sheep. In the end, about 19,000 people in 20 communities in Burkina Faso benefitted.

With some funds remaining and new funding coming in, the focus in Burkina Faso has now shifted to helping the communities prepare for future droughts and become more resilient.

Monitoring the Needs of Children in Mali

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.

Health worker weighs child.

A child is weighed at a hospital in Gao in northeastern Mali, after being admitted for malnutrition last fall. Photo: REUTERS/Adama Diarra, www.trust.org/alertnet

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.

BØRNEfonden Marks 20 Years in Togo

By Christa Nedergaard Rasmussen, National Director BØRNEfonden Togo

chldren in classroom

Schools have improved for Togolese children.

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.

toddler drinks from pitcher

Fresh water to drink.

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.

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