ChildFund Australia

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.

Home Gardens Boost Nutrition and Income in Timor-Leste

By Aydelfe M. Salvadora and Dirce Sarmento, ChildFund Timor-Leste

Highly nutritious food is often unavailable in Timor-Leste. Many children are malnourished because they don’t have a proper mix of vegetables and protein, but a ChildFund home-gardening program, begun in 2012, is helping improve nutrition and provide needed income for families.

Irene, the eldest daughter of Rosalia and Felipe, started a garden in the backyard of her parents’ small farming compound located in the sub-district of Tilomar. Like others in this community, Irene’s family depends on farming for their livelihood, yet their earnings are meager and uneven.

Irene, who is married with a child of her own, recognized the opportunity for growing nutritious food and helping her parents achieve more steady income. She invited her friends, Felicidade and Guillermhina, to join in the backyard garden project and also share in the benefits.

Before they started the garden, Irene and her two friends received training in farming techniques through Graca, ChildFund’s local partner, with funding from ChildFund Australia and AusAID’s Maternal and Child Health project. The women received tools and seeds for bok choy, kangkung (a type of spinach), eggplant and tomatoes.

woman in garden

Rosalia tends the garden.

Irene and her husband shuttle between her parents’ home and his home in another district, which makes it difficult for Irene to tend the approximately 300-square-foot garden all the time, so her mother, Rosalia, also helps the other two women.

leafy green vegetables

Bok choy grows well.

Last year, the women harvested twice, generating income of US$110 that was shared among them. Irene and her friends now have money for family essentials and a bit left over to buy seeds for the next growing season.

With Irene’s help, her parents now earn $20 monthly from the combined harvests of the home garden and the farm. Sometimes, Rosalia and Felipe also sell chickens raised in their backyard. This income is augmented when bananas are available; the family cooks pisang goreng (banana fritters) and offers them for sale to neighbors.

Without the garden, notes Felipe, the family would not be able to afford extra household items. He and his wife can buy food items like rice, as well as shoes and clothes for their 3-year-old grandchild.

Reflecting on their first year of gardening, the friends noted that their main challenge was access to water. During the dry season, the women had to take a brief break from gardening, and even during the rainy season, they have to fetch additional water for their plants from the neighboring aldeia (village), which is approximately 2 kilometers away.

And, yet, the garden thrived. The division of labor is fair, Rosalia says, and the gardeners look forward to this year’s first growing cycle, which began this month and runs through March.

Connecting Children Through ChildFund

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.

On World Health Day: A Caring Brother in the Community

Reporting by Zoe Hogan, ChildFund Timor-Leste

Around the world, little brothers regard their older siblings with a mixture of awe and admiration. In a small town in Timor-Leste, 6-year-old Silvino looks up to his 25-year-old brother, Marcolino, but for a special reason.

Older brother and younger brother

Marcolino, 25, recently became a ChildFund Community Health Volunteer. He is using his new knowledge to help protect his family and community from preventable diseases.

A few months ago, Marcolino became a ChildFund Community Health Volunteer, and his new role is to share important health information with his community. He has learned about malaria and dengue prevention, hygiene and the importance of encouraging parents to use the local health clinic.

His training is just one part of a comprehensive maternal and child health project funded by ChildFund Australia and the Australian Agency for International Development. ChildFund is working with local communities and government to enhance health care and knowledge in order to improve the health of children and mothers. In addition to 410 Community Health Volunteers, ChildFund has trained 84 professional health workers and 36 midwives, distributed 6,000 mosquito nets to families and provided vital health training to 312 schoolchildren and more than 21,000 community members.

“What I like most [about being a volunteer] is that I can learn new ideas,” he says. “Before, I didn’t have knowledge about health, but today I do. And I can share it with others who need it.”

Marcolino and Silvino live with their parents and two sisters, Umbelina and Abita, on a small farm near a dry riverbed and a collapsed bridge. Last year, a flood destroyed their house and washed away precious topsoil. Marcolino’s father, Jose, could plant only enough to feed his family. Like others in the area, they simply cannot afford to deal with expensive and debilitating health problems.

So, when Silvino developed a fever, headache and persistent cough in February, Marcolino’s training proved essential. Recognizing that Silvino’s symptoms were potentially serious, Marcolino and his mother took the boy to the nearby government health clinic. With timely access to proper treatment, Silvino recovered quickly and is now back at school. Two mosquito nets from ChildFund are also helping the family to reduce their vulnerability to malaria.

“I worry about my siblings getting sick,” Marcolino says. “It makes me sad.”

His concern is understandable. In 1999, when Marcolino was 12, the conflict preceding Timor-Leste’s independence destroyed many homes and most of the country’s public infrastructure. Without access to health care or basic services, four of Marcolino’s siblings died from respiratory illnesses that year. The youngest was a month old.

“I feel responsible for the children around here and their health,” he says. “They are the same as my brother.”

To date, Marcolino has spoken to 15 local families about how they can prevent common diseases, and he has plans to walk up into the nearby mountains to share the information with another 30 families. Marcolino has also referred about 20 people to the health clinic after identifying symptoms of malaria and dengue. “It’s not too hard to convince people to go to the clinic once they understand [the significance of their symptoms],” he says.

As an older brother, Marcolino looks out for his younger siblings. As a Community Health Volunteer, he’s now helping protect them — and all of the children in the area — from preventable diseases. And it’s obvious that Silvino is pretty impressed with that.

Walking for Children: A Family’s Quest to Cross India

by Virginia Sowers, ChildFund Community Manager

logoWhen the Petrucco family of Australia begins its walk across India in December, their journey will allow them to experience the wonders of life as well as to face its challenges.

Not unlike the pilgrims who traverse the Camino de Santiago (the way of St. James) across Europe or Mahatma Gandhi, who walked on behalf of the poorest of the poor, the Petruccos’ footsteps will be a meditative mission. Their goal is to make a difference in the lives of India’s most vulnerable children by raising funds through ChildFund Australia. They also anticipate a life-changing experience as a family.

family group

Petrucco family

“It’s the most challenging goal we have set for ourselves as a family, says Nick Petrucco. He and his wife, Bec, their three children, Nick’s parents and sister, along with other family members and close associates have been fundraising and preparing carefully for the ultimate trek. “Together we plan to walk from the west coast to the east coast of India, some 800 kilometers [nearly 500 miles),” he says. “What makes this so incredibly special is the opportunity to experience all of this together as a family.”

The plan is to have a daily walking team as well as a support team, with the goal of traveling about 25 km (15 miles) per day. Nick, his eldest daughter, aptly named India, and Nick’s stepfather are committed to walking every step of the way. Bec and the younger children (Maggie, age 9, and Gus, age 3) will walk as much as they can, accompanied by other family members.

In early December, the group will start from a seaside town in Kerala (West India), walk through Bangalore (central India) and finish in Chennai (East India) in mid-January, visiting ChildFund programs along the route.

Although the family has traveled extensively in Asia, the U.S. and Australia, crossing India on foot will be a first. “Never before have we attempted an adventure on this scale. We are just an everyday family, certainly not athletes or intrepid explorers,” says Nick.

“This trip is about bringing together all of our passions: spending time together as a family, making a real difference in the lives of disadvantaged children and experiencing new people, cultures and places through our travels,” he says.

Follow the journey and offer your support on the Petrucco’s blog and Facebook site.

ChildFund Australia Survey Finds Child Poverty Top of Mind

Poverty and hardship for children in developing countries is the global problem of greatest importance to Australians, according to survey results released today.

ChildFund Australia’s third annual survey, “Australian Perceptions of Child Poverty and Aid Effectiveness in Developing Countries,” finds that two-thirds of Australians believe international aid is effective to some degree. More than one-third of Australians think spending on international aid should increase, while half feel it should stay the same. Only 9% of Australians think we should be spending less on international aid.

The survey results echo a 2009 U.S. survey by ChildFund International that found 66% of Americans believe the United States has an obligation to help poor children around the world. Almost one-third (31%) of Americans surveyed said that aid to the globe’s poorest children should be the number one charitable priority in the U.S.

Other top global concerns for Australians are war and armed conflict, terrorism and refugees/human rights abuses. Concern about climate change and the environment has significantly decreased, while the global financial crisis is ranked as the problem of least concern.

ChildFund Australia’s research, also conducted in 2007 and 2008, examines the views of more than 1,000 Australians about international aid issues. This year, a children’s survey was introduced to find out what Australian children think about poverty and aid.

Among 200 Australian children, the survey found that children hold many similar views to adults. However, children believe lack of food is the most pressing concern facing children in developing countries, whereas adults rank water and sanitation as the greatest concern. Also evident is that Australian children are even more worried than adults about the plight of children in developing countries and believe Australians should be giving more money to help them.

Download a PDF copy of the report from ChildFund Australia’s website.

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