ChildFund Alliance

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.

Children Share Their Hopes, Dreams, Fears

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.

illustration of childThe 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%).

young girl in front of houseAnd 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.

‘If I Were President’…Children Have a Few Ideas

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…

child with siblings

“I would provide more libraries and more learning opportunities.” – Antonio, 11, St. Vincent and the Grenadines (Caribbean)

boy talking to an adult

“I would encourage education for every child and I would multiply school infrastructures in every village where there are maximum numbers of children of school age. This is good because when you are educated you can help yourself and your family. You can get a better job and can go to any part of the world.” – Ibrahima, 12, Guinea

boy eating lunch

“I would provide school supplies for children free of charge.” – Dhanushka, 11, Sri Lanka

boy sitting on planter

“I would build roads in far-away places as well as organize summer camps.” – Erick, 12, Ecuador

girl with goats

“I would create school canteens in order to give the opportunity to many pupils who live very far away from school to eat lunch. And I would provide pupils with school supplies, uniforms and [pay] fees.” – Jeannette, 12, Togo

girl at school

“I would take away all of the weapons so kids don’t get hurt.” – Shalma, 11, United States

girl tending plants

“I would provide  free education for all children between 6 to 18 years.” – Anushree, 11, India

To help these children and others like them achieve their dreams, and maybe one day grow up to be president, consider sponsoring a child.

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