ChildFund Australia

A ChildFund Alumnus Looks Back at Being Sponsored


Raphael with his wife and three sons. Photo by Jake Lyell.

By Raphael Opira

Raphael, a logistics officer for a Dutch aid agency in Uganda, wrote this article about his experience being sponsored as a child and later meeting his sponsor in Sydney, Australia. The story was first published on ChildFund Australia’s blog.

Life was simply so challenging before I was sponsored. I am one of 15 children. My father made just $50 a month to support us, so it was very hard for my family to pay school fees for us all. The difficulties were compounded by Uganda’s 23-year civil war. When I was introduced to ChildFund, it was a turning point in my life.

When I was a child, we lived in a refugee camp. Outside it was unsafe, but it was also not safe inside the camp, as the enemy forces would sometimes come in and raid us for food, or to kill or steal children.

I lived with my family in a makeshift home in the camp from the late 1990s until 2006. When we moved to the camp, the focus moved from education to security. During this time, many children couldn’t go to school. We also could not put on lights to study at night because the enemy would find you.

When I was 12 and attending school again, I was sponsored. The biggest benefit of being a sponsored child for me was that I didn’t have to worry about school fees anymore. Instead, I could concentrate on my studies.
Sponsorship pulled me from nowhere to being able to have a good life in Uganda. It was like a bridge; if that bridge had not been there, I would not have been able to get to the other side.

Even as a child, I knew that education was most important, because if I am educated, all the rest will come. Before my last year of primary school, a friend and I spoke to the ChildFund officer and said we wanted to be transferred to a better school. He assisted us with the application. Our parents didn’t come with us, and the school was afraid we wouldn’t be able to pay our fees. We told them, “It’s OK, we are with ChildFund,” and it was OK. I turned out to be one of their best students.

Raphael was accepted into one of the top high schools in his district. He then went on to complete an undergraduate degree, and he has recently finished postgraduate studies. He now works as a logistics officer for a Dutch aid agency.

ChildFund was my launch pad. If I had not been sponsored, I think I would be a peasant farmer or doing odd jobs.

Sponsorship may not translate directly to a successful career, but it does provide the environment and the resources you need to succeed. After that, it is our responsibility to make the most of the opportunity. For me, it was the beginning of a very bright future. I’ve spent most of my time so far at school, and I am going up from here.

I am now married with three boys. My children will go to the best schools in the district, but I don’t want to have any more children because I want to be able to support other children and make an impact in their lives.
My goal for my life is to ensure that people succeed through me.

I am now part of the ChildFund Alumni Association. We are a group of 300 successful formerly sponsored children who are reaching out to the next generation of Ugandan children. We are teachers, university lecturers, social workers and lawyers. I am in procurement and transport.


Raphael and Michael in Sydney, Australia.

After reconnecting with Michael Coorey, a former teacher in Australia whose students sponsored Raphael through ChildFund Australia, Raphael made the long journey from Uganda to Sydney to meet him in person this year.

When the time came to meet Michael, it was something that cannot be described. It could just be felt. It was a moment in life that nobody can imagine to be true. It is a very good feeling for someone who has been sponsored through ChildFund for this to happen.

When I first started to think about a way of conveying my heartfelt thanks to my sponsors, the first thing that came into my thoughts was to name my last born in tribute to him. That is why my 4-year-old son is called Emmanuel Coorey. To actually meet Michael in person was unexpected but definitely a dream come true!

Coming to Sydney was such a special time for me.

I went to the school that sponsored me to meet their students. Speaking to them was a very big achievement for me. Interestingly, other teachers who were involved in my sponsorship were still there, and they were wonderful to meet. It was great that they, too, could see the impact they have had on me.

Read Michael Coorey’s observations about sponsoring Raphael and watch Raphael’s message on video, below.


An Uphill Battle for Kindergartners in Vanuatu


Celina Amos, the head teacher of a village kindergarten in Efate, Vanuatu, plays with Paloma, 5, (left) and Luisa, 3. The kindergarten was destroyed by Cyclone Pam on March 13. Photos by Vlad Sokhin/Panos Pictures.

By ChildFund Australia staff, with reporting from Live & Learn Vanuatu

Schools officially reopened in Vanuatu at the end of March, just weeks after the destructive Cyclone Pam wiped out homes and schools across the Pacific island nation on March 13. But for thousands of younger children, school is still out of session because Vanuatu’s Ministry of Education does not fund kindergartens. ChildFund Australia and its local partner Live & Learn Vanuatu are working to rebuild two of them.

Kindergartens are generally funded though school fees and small-scale fundraising by local communities. However, fundraising at a time when many families are rebuilding their homes, gardens and livelihoods is extremely difficult, and raising fees is likely to result in fewer children attending class, leaving younger children most vulnerable.

ChildFund Australia, our Alliance partner, is working with Live & Learn Vanuatu to help rebuild two destroyed kindergartens on the outskirts of Port Vila. The schools are being constructed using cyclone-resistant architectural design and will include rainwater systems and toilets so children have access to safe water and sanitation. Both kindergartens will also be wheelchair accessible.

vanuatu kindergarten

Progress on a new kindergarten in Port Vila.

“The project goal is to rebuild both kindergartens to get the children back into a normal and stable learning environment within four months of Cyclone Pam, without placing further financial burden on the communities or parents,” says Anjali Nelson, team leader of Live & Learn Vanuatu.

Live & Learn has engaged a team of local professional builders to support the reconstruction effort, as well as volunteer workers from the two communities. On one of the sites, a group of volunteer builders from New Zealand also pitched in for 10 days.

The project is on track, but a shortage of construction materials and a severe lack of water have caused problems.

“The biggest issue so far has been the acute shortage of water in the area,” Nelson says. “Although we have had a period of heavy rain, we couldn’t collect sufficient quantities of water for the concrete mix, mainly due to the shortage of water tanks and drums, which were destroyed in the cyclone. Instead, we had to truck in water, which has slowed down the rebuilding process.”

Still, working together with the community, and with patience and a lot of improvising, the team has managed to keep the project on schedule, and at this stage the kindergartens are due for completion by mid-July.

Together with Live & Learn, ChildFund Australia plans to support families of the kindergartners by providing chickens, poultry management training and seedlings for home gardens.

You can help us be prepared for emergencies like this by donating to our Emergency Action Fund

Preparing for the Storm: Disaster Risk Reduction for 2015-2030


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By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

At ChildFund, we have spent many hours helping children and families cope with the aftermath of wars, disasters and other traumatic events. For the past 25 years, we’ve raised funds specifically for emergency relief and often remain in affected communities for months or even years, helping people recover financially and emotionally.

Hand in glove with disaster recovery is preparation for future emergencies, such as earthquakes, typhoons and droughts. To help communities be prepared, ChildFund supports disaster risk reduction efforts in several countries, including Indonesia and the Philippines, which are prone to destructive storms.

In March, ChildFund Australia’s international program director, Mark McPeak, led ChildFund’s delegation to the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan, an internationally significant gathering. At the end of the meeting, world leaders from 187 countries signed the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, 2015-2030, which sets seven global targets for the next 15 years. They include lowering the number of people killed or harmed by disasters; reducing economic loss, damage to infrastructure and disruption of basic services; increasing the number of countries with disaster risk reduction strategies and enhancing international cooperation to implement these goals.

McPeak notes in this piece for Devex that these targets are admirable, but right now, they are nonbinding and unfunded, which leaves them less potent than they could be. However, the door has not closed on discussions about funding and requiring governments’ participation, with opportunities ahead in the United Nations’ other conferences this year: the Third International Conference on Financing for Development in July, the global U.N. summit in September and the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris in December.

ChildFund’s chief goal at Sendai was to get other participants to understand and recognize the value of child and youth participation in disaster recovery and preparation.

“Children and young people are normally seen as helpless, passive victims of disasters,” McPeak writes. “During and after emergencies, the mainstream media, even many organizations in our own international NGO sector, portray children and young people as needing protection and rescue. Of course, children and young people do need protection. When disasters strike, they need rescue and care. But what such images fail to show is that children also have the capacity — and the right — to participate, not only in preparing for disasters but in the recovery process.”

To make his point, McPeak presented information about youth who took part in disaster risk reduction efforts in 2011 in Iloilo and Zamboanga del Norte provinces in the Philippines, spreading awareness in eight communities. A year and a half later, this work paid off when Typhoon Haiyan struck just north of the area, and local governments were more prepared than in previous storms. More people in vulnerable areas were evacuated, and Child-Centered Spaces were up and ready to help children soon after the storm passed.

You can read more about ChildFund’s disaster risk reduction programs, including our work in Indonesia, Zambia and the Philippines

Scenes from Vanuatu

The Category 5 Cyclone Pam struck the South Pacific islands of Vanuatu on March 13, leaving many people homeless and destroying crops. ChildFund International and ChildFund Australia are raising funds to help families recover from the disaster, working with a local NGO, Live & Learn Vanuatu. Right now, the most urgent problem is a lack of clean water, but your donations are helping make a difference. Below, take a look at photos taken by Vlad Sokhin in Vanuatu last week, along with quotes from people affected by the cyclone.

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Photos: ChildFund/Vlad Sokhin/Panos Pictures.

Cyclone Pam: A Report from Vanuatu

10-year-old James in front of his destroyed school

 James, at what remains of his primary school in Vanuatu. ChildFund/Vlad Sokhin/Panos Pictures.

Reporting by Vlad Sokhin, freelance photographer for ChildFund Australia

A Category 5 cyclone struck the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu on March 13, leaving 75,000 people without shelter and affecting 166,000 people overall, according to latest estimates. ChildFund Australia is providing aid through its partner organization there, Live & Learn Vanuatu. You can help by making a donation to ChildFund’s Vanuatu Emergency Response Fund. Here are some notes from the field:

“I was in a community shelter with my parents,” says 10-year-old James from Efate Island. “When the strong wind came, it was very noisy. I was afraid. Then my sisters and I fell asleep. Next morning, we came to our house, and it was destroyed. My school was destroyed too. Now I sleep with my parents in the tent and can’t attend classes.”

James and his family are among the tens of thousands of people left homeless in Vanuatu after Cyclone Pam devastated the archipelago. The family of five is currently living in an improvised tent.

James’ mother, Margaret, says she is worried about feeding her children and generating an income since the family’s crops were wiped out by the cyclone.

“We’ve lost everything — all our crops,” she says. “All we can eat now is fallen bananas and coconuts. Some taro survived too, but it’s not enough for our family. I will not be able to sell fruits and vegetables in the market to make some money. We barely have enough food for ourselves.”

Some schools have reopened in Vanuatu, but with 50 percent of the country’s educational infrastructure destroyed or badly damaged, thousands of children remain unable to attend. At this stage, it is unclear when James will be able to start classes again.

Access to clean water is also an immediate concern for families like James’. Most water tanks have been damaged or destroyed by the cyclone, and wells are contaminated. Some people are forced to walk long distances to fetch or purchase fresh water, while others are so desperate that they are boiling seawater to drink.

James, his 14-year-old sister, Priscilla, and his 3-year-old sister, Ester, are at high risk of waterborne diseases such as cholera, which causes severe diarrhea and can lead to death. ChildFund Australia is working with Live & Learn Vanuatu to restore access to clean water to help ensure the health of children and their families in cyclone-ravaged areas.

To help with the continued response effort, please donate today to ChildFund’s Vanuatu Emergency Response Fund.

James and his family in their temporary shelterJames and his family at their destroyed home. ChildFund/Vlad Sokhin/Panos Pictures.


Children’s Rights: An Enduring Conversation

This gem of a video was created by ChildFund Australia five years ago to honor of the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. With their kind permission, we’re sharing it in these last few days before the Convention’s 25th anniversary Nov. 20 because we think it’s every bit as relevant now as it was then.

The rights that are set forth in the treaty are sometimes simple, sometimes complex. The language is a bit of a mouthful for children themselves. But they get it, as you’ll see in the video. Enjoy!

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.

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