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.
by LaTasha Chambers, ChildFund Communications Associate
Despite living in some of the most impoverished areas of the world, children remain optimistic about their futures, according to a new survey commissioned by the ChildFund Alliance.
The second annual Small Voices, Big Dreams global survey provides insight into the minds of some of the world’s most vulnerable and overlooked children from 44 countries.
Almost one in two children in developing countries is focused on a future career requiring a college education, recognizing that education can break the cycle of poverty. One-fifth (22.5 percent) of children who live in developing countries would like to be teachers when they grow up, while 20 percent want to be doctors.
However, with these children’s optimism comes the reality of daily encounters with crime, hunger and disease. One 11-year-old from Ethiopia shares, “One thing I mostly worry about is HIV/AIDS.” Answers like this from children living in developing countries were not uncommon and reveal the plight many of them face.
By contrast, children in developed countries who participated in the survey expressed few fears – illness and receiving an inadequate education were almost foreign to them. A majority of children in developed nations aspire to be athletes and artists.
“American children have the luxury of setting their career hopes high, but those in developing countries are focused on the single best way to disrupt the cycle of poverty — education, says Anne Lynam Goddard, president and CEO of ChildFund International. “What gives these children, as young as 10 years old, the permission to dream is the recognition that improving their lives is tied closely to the opportunity to learn. Sadly, for too many of these children, that opportunity does not exist. That is why so many ChildFund Alliance member organizations focus so much of our efforts on education.”
In the U.S. the dream of becoming whatever you want to be, even the president of the country, is so real because of the many opportunities that exist.
When children in developing countries were asked what they would do if they were the leader of their countries, a young girl in Afghanistan responded: “I will not be able to become the president of the Afghanistan, as a woman doesn’t have the right to be the president of Afghanistan.”
We still have much work to do ensure children everywhere are able not only to dream the biggest dream but also to make those dreams reality.
Guest post by Jacqui Ooi, Senior Communications Officer, ChildFund Australia
Earlier this month, I met a really lovely guy in a really grim Jakarta slum. Ahmad is 20 years old and lives in one of Jakarta’s toughest neighbourhoods. Located near the airport with planes flying low and loud overhead, the area is a mess of garbage, cramped alleyways and broken, makeshift houses. The roads leading in are so narrow that two cars can barely pass.
Ahmad was a sponsored child until last year when he finished his schooling. Where he comes from, that in itself is a massive achievement. Most kids in Ahmad’s neighbourhood drop out of school at 16, if not before. While primary and junior high school in Indonesia are free, the fees for senior high school put it out of reach for many.
Friendly and easy-going, Ahmad is now working as an “office boy” – sweeping and mopping floors, making drinks and buying food for the employees. I have to admit, it doesn’t sound like much at first. Ahmad himself tells me: “It’s not my ideal job but I’ll take it.” Yet after discovering more about life for teens in the Jakarta slums I’ve realised that Ahmad is on a much better path than most.
While young people in Australia can generally take education and jobs for granted, it’s certainly not the case for their peers in Jakarta’s poor neighbourhoods. By the age of 16, many of the kids have dropped out of school and are working underage in factories. Others turn to drugs or prostitution.
Ahmad tells me: “It’s hard living in Jakarta. There are lots of issues like drugs and free sex (sex outside of marriage). For me, it’s a problem seeing kids in my neighbourhood who tend to just hang out, drinking.”
Being sponsored and involved with ChildFund kept Ahmad in school and out of trouble. “My sponsor helped me with my school fees,” he says. “At the start of each new school year, I also got books.”
Ahmad has also attended ChildFund-supported trainings about drug education, HIV prevention and public speaking. He says: “The training helped with my confidence. I know how to mix with the right people and pick good friends. I live in an area with drugs, so I make sure I hang out with good people.”
At the end of our conversation, Ahmad mentions he loves interacting with kids and I suggest maybe he could study to become a teacher. “Maybe,” he ponders, but I’m later told teachers don’t earn much. His “office boy” wage of $115 per month would be about the same.
For now Ahmad is content to be employed and paying off his moped, which he uses to weave his way to work in Jakarta’s infamous traffic.
“I am happy because I have friends and a supportive family,” he says. “But I hope one day that I will have a better job and continue my studies.”
by Selamawit Yilma, Communications Officer, ChildFund Ethiopia
Un Enfant par la Main, based in France, is a member of the ChildFund Alliance. The 12-member global organization, which includes ChildFund International, provides assistance to children in 59 countries. Chairman of the Board Pierre Jablon recently led a sponsor visit to Ethiopia.
ChildFund Ethiopia: Would you please tell us a little about your organization?
Pierre Jablon: Un Enfant par la Main is a member of ChildFund Alliance and is based in France. The name Un Enfant par la Main refers to the linkage between the mother and child, and it has an English translation of “holding a child’s hand.” Established in 1990, the organization is involved in about 15 countries including Ethiopia. Ethiopia is the third [largest] country with regard to the number of sponsored children we have, next to Mali and Senegal.
ChildFund Ethiopia: What is your impression of Ethiopia in general?
Jablon: I am impressed very much by the people I see on the street and have met on our field visits. The people are so kind, smiling. They also have sense of dedication to welcome others.
ChildFund Ethiopia: What is the purpose of organizing the group of sponsors from France to visit Ethiopia?
Jablon: The first objective was to better understand what ChildFund Ethiopia is doing and how you are organized — to learn more about the system of sponsorship and financing and to know what challenges you are facing. The second objective was to be a witness to the event while sponsors meet their children and share their feeling.
ChildFund Ethiopia: Did anything strike you differently than you expected?
Jablon: I was not completely aware of the development of the association and the system used to organize the communities, which encourages them to take over the responsibility and be engaged more in the community work. Other countries also work closely with the community, but the system I noticed here is very impressive.
ChildFund Ethiopia: What was the feeling of the sponsors while they visited their sponsored children and learned about some of the interventions of our partners? Was it interesting for them?
Jablon: It was an important moment in their lives. For most of them, it was their first time to meet their sponsored children so it was a very significant event for them. They were very happy, emotional and positive. We would like to organize similar visits at least once a year but one of our barriers to sending sponsors to Ethiopia was the language problem. Most of our sponsors speak only French so they need a translator. But this time, they were happy because they were able to converse with their children and their families with the help of the team and the translator.
ChildFund Ethiopia: Is there any other expectation from the sponsors that we need to improve more in the future?
Jablon: Some of the concerns mentioned by the sponsors were to receive pictures of their sponsored children more frequently to see their physical change and growth. It is also important to have up-to-date information of the children as well as news flashes on what activities are successful for the children, families and community. Strengthening communication is important to all sponsors, and most sponsors had positive feedback on ChildFund’s sponsor activities.
ChildFund Ethiopia: Un Enfant par la Main delegated you to lead the team to visit ChildFund Ethiopia. Can you share with us a few thoughts on how your board members, and you as a chairman, are actively involved in supporting the organization and what motivates you to work on behalf of children?
Jablon: Let me start with myself. I joined Un Enfant par la Main in 2006. Before I came to this organization, I used to work with UNICEF France. I was involved in many similar activities there, like talking with children in school and doing promotional and communication work. However, I was looking for an organization that has international collaboration and is smaller in size, enabling me to understand how the donated resources reach the children and to see the impact at the individual level. I found all this in Un Enfant par la Main. The important moment for me is being here, and in other countries, is to meet ChildFund staff, introduce our organization and meet children supported through Un Enfant par la Main. Though we are small organization, we want to be closest with our partners.
Regarding to the board activity, most of them are very active and have different responsibilities such as fundraising, coordination of regional volunteer workers and raising the profile of Un Enfant par la Main through various meetings and other opportunities.
ChildFund Ethiopia: Currently Un Enfant par la Main has about 450 sponsored children in Ethiopia. Is there any plan to increase this number or enhance the partnership between Un Enfant par la Main and ChildFund Ethiopia to help children in Ethiopia?
Jablon: I have discussed this issue with the national director and agreed that if there is room to increase the number of sponsored children, we would like to do that. In addition, we would like to strengthen our partnership by starting micro projects in communities where Un Enfant par la Main sponsored children live. As I observed from my visit, micro–enterprise opportunities exist and have a positive impact of increasing family income.
ChildFund Ethiopia: Do you want to add any more?
Jablon: I would like to thank the team from ChildFund Ethiopia. It was a really fantastic welcome and excellent cooperation. I hope we could also do more to inform and motivate the sponsors from France. In the future, we may also prepare another trip since this trip has been so successful.