By Belchior Goncalves and Zoe Hogan, ChildFund Timor-Leste
In many ways, Timor-Leste is a young country – just 10 years since the restoration of its independence, more than 60 percent of the population is under age 25 (2010 Census). As more young people leave school and look for work each year, the majority find that employment opportunities are few and far between. In the rural district of Bobonaro, about 56 percent of the people do not have formal employment (2010 Census). Many young people work on their family’s subsistence farms or admit that they “do nothing.”
With the support of ChildFund Timor-Leste, one man is taking action on what he sees as an opportunity, rather than a problem. “There are many youth I see who could grow, develop and support themselves,” says Yohanes, a 59-year-old carpenter. An experienced trainer, Yohanes has partnered with ChildFund Timor-Leste’s community-based organization in Bobonaro to provide young people with the opportunity of a lifetime – a chance to learn a trade and start their own business.
ChildFund Timor-Leste identified five unemployed young people in Bobonaro district who had limited education but displayed the determination to work for a brighter future. Yohanes is working alongside these five apprentices, showing them how to make quality chairs, desks, doors and windows. For five days a week, the center is a hive of activity as Yohanes and his apprentices try to keep up with local demand for their well-made products. After the apprentices complete the 12-month program, ChildFund Timor-Leste provides each one with carpentry tools so they can use their newfound skills to start a small business.
Natalino, a promising apprentice, was forced to leave primary school after just one year because his parents could no longer support him. “There are lots of youth in the village, but they don’t go to school. They will end up the same as I was before, just farming,” Natalino says.
Natalino is in no doubt of how important the support of ChildFund Timor-Leste and Yohanes is to his future: “If I stay here for one year, I will leave as a carpenter. It will change my life.”
Watch a video of the apprentices at work.
By Abu Bakarr Conteh, ChildFund Sierra Leone
As part of ongoing efforts to tackle unemployment in Sierra Leone, some 3,000 youth have started an intensive 12-month training program supported by ChildFund.
Years of civil war in Sierra Leone have robbed thousands of children and youth of a complete education. With few opportunities for employment, this generation of youth has been languishing in their villages with very little to offer and dim prospects for the future.
ChildFund, with funding from the World Bank, is rolling out the Youth Employment and Support Project (YESP) in five districts including the capital city of Freetown. And young people are eagerly enrolling in carpentry, masonry, auto mechanics and welding, among other vocational programs.
After completing the YESP training, the youth expect to improve their prospects of getting jobs.
“My dream is to become one of the best female auto mechanics in the country, so I can work for the big companies,” says 18-year-old Mamadi, who has been on the street and suffered exploitation.
Musa, who was struck with polio, is seeking to add value to his life. “I will become self-employed and be able to provide for my family once I complete the training,” he says.
In a country where unemployment remains a huge challenge across the population, these youth are highly spirited and determined to carve their own destinies.
by Mark Robinson, Communications Intern
I came to ChildFund unsure of what to expect from my first internship. We’ve all heard horror stories of interns who spent their summer filing papers and picking up packages. I didn’t want the best professional relationship I forged to be with the baristas at the nearest Starbucks. I wanted to get outside of my comfort zone. I wanted a chance to grow.
I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to come to work for 10 weeks as a respected member of the ChildFund communications team. Every project I’ve worked on has been purposeful. And aside from a now infamous assignment my mentor Cynthia Price gave me, I have been spared from doing too many “interny” tasks.
From day one, my mentors, Community Manager Virginia Sowers and Director of Communications Cynthia Price, took my goals into consideration and tailored my assignments to help me accomplish them. Because of their flexibility, I was able to focus on improving my multimedia skills. I researched podcasts and edited raw footage from Uganda into a video that was featured on ChildFund’s blog, Facebook and Twitter pages. My work has been showcased, not hidden away. But with all that said, I doubt when I look back at ChildFund that I’ll remember the work.
I’ll remember poking my head over ChildFund writer Christine Ennulat’s cubicle to chat about my most recent journalistic pursuits.
I’ll remember the shock I felt when I learned KISS front man Gene Simmons sponsors more than 140 children through ChildFund and the subsequent buzz around the communications pod after the episode of his reality show filmed in Zambia debuted.
I’ll remember the disbelief I felt when I found out my colleague and longtime ChildFund employee Alison Abbitt passed away following reconstructive knee surgery. We had spoken only days before.
While the extremes stand out, the small lessons I’ve learned here will not be forgotten and this, my first formal foray into the professional world, has prepared me in some ways for my next adventure: Botswana.
My next four and a half months will be spent studying journalism at the University of Botswana in Gaborone. It’ll be my first trip abroad, so my feelings about it fluctuate between giddy excitement and crippling nervousness on a day-to-day basis. I do now, however, have the comfort of knowing that a network of sympathetic world travelers is only an email away.
While I’m in Africa, I plan to freelance in pursuit of my career as a foreign correspondent. Who knows? Maybe one of my stories will find its way into ChildWorld.
By Virginia Sowers, ChildFund Community Manager
When I have the opportunity to travel to ChildFund’s programs in the field, I’ve learned to watch for the unexpected moment—the shy, camera-ready smile of a child peering through a window, a chance to walk slowly through a village with a community volunteer who readily shares her insights or an impromptu conversation on the edge of a muddy road with the head of a parent’s committee.
Most recently, my travels to Uganda included a brief stop at the high-performing Buyengo Primary School that ChildFund has supported since 1984. We were there to see the students and tour a new library being built. Someone casually mentioned that a former sponsored child was now the school’s head teacher.
And that’s how I met Fred Wabwira, who recalled the early days of the school when students—so eager for the opportunity of education—sat on rocks in the absence of desks. His own education progressed, however, and he eventually returned to oversee the teaching staff at a school he considers home.
Watch the video interview with Mr. Wabwira.
Special thanks to videographer Jake Lyell and communications intern Mark Robinson for video editing.
Reporting by ChildFund Belarus
Nastya was born with a congenital disability that required her to use a wheelchair starting at an early age. She’s now seven.
Nastya’s parents wanted their daughter to be educated; however, they believed in-home education would probably be the best choice for her. They worried that the social problems she would face at school would be too much for her. As a result, she never attended kindergarten and did not have opportunities to develop communication skills.
This situation is typical for families of children with disabilities in Belarus, where ChildFund began working in 1993. Parents wish to protect their child from discrimination and aggression. Yet, an overprotective upbringing is one of the major barriers to a child’s inclusion in society and participation in community life.
In 2011, ChildFund’s USAID-funded program “Expanding Participation of People With Disabilities” began to reach children like Nastya. Working with another NGO partner, Special World, we started “The First Step to Independence Project.” Nastya and her parents were among 30 families to participate.
The project provides social adaptation tools for children in wheelchairs and resources for their families. Children enjoy the art studio, dance and the Healing of Magic class, while parents work on parenting skills, discuss challenges and share successes with their peers at the parents’ club. Since the project began, children and their parents have experienced physical and psychological improvements and have become more sociable and self-confident.
Successful adults who have disabilities and use wheelchairs act as trainers and leaders, providing inspiration for the children and their families.
When Nastya joined a wheelchair dance class in June 2011, everything was new to her. She was shy and afraid that everyone would laugh at her if she failed. Step by step, with encouraging support from volunteers, peers and her parents, she started to dance.
All of the hard work and achievement was spotlighted during a youth forum in Belarus dedicated to an inclusive society. The event brought together on stage children with disabilities, their typical peers and young volunteers. Nastya appeared with three other children in a special performance, “Dance With Us.”
“Thanks to ChildFund, my daughter opened up and overcame her shyness,” says Nastya’s mom. “I look at the progress Nastya made during the last six months. Now, my daughter is looking forward to going to school. I am absolutely sure that she will find many friends at school.”
Discover more about ChildFund’s work in Belarus.
Having children in our ChildFund programs participate in the Day of the African Child ceremonies at the African Union earlier this month was a shining moment. We asked Joan Ng’ang’a, communications officer for ChildFund Kenya, to post about the experience of traveling with the children from Kenya to Ethiopia.
Wednesday, 13 June
It is 11 a.m. when Jane and James meet for the first time. Discussing what they hope to get out of the trip, their respective projects, and the excitement of flying for the first time, both students are anxious to start their voyage.
One hour before check-in, Jane and James get their passports. They have waited a long time but it is worth it. We get to the airport at 4:20 p.m., check in and proceed to gate number 7 for boarding.
“You mean, they just jump off the ground,” James questions, as he watches a plane take off for the first time. We all laugh. Our flight takes off as scheduled at 6:20 p.m.
We land at Bole Airport in Ethiopia around 8:40 p.m. and are warmly greeted by Tenagne Mekonnen, ChildFund’s regional communications manager in Africa. It’s been nearly a year since our last meeting, so I am excited to see her and she is happy to finally meet Jane and James. After dinner, the children run off to recite their work. Everyone is in bed by 10 p.m.; it has been a long day.
Thursday 14 June
On Thursday, we rise with the sun around 6 a.m. We enjoy a good breakfast and meet the team from Gambia for introductions. We meet Abdulahi and Ramatoulie for the first time. Together, we ride to the U.N. complex in our van. We really like our van because it displays our countries’ names.
Today is the day that all the children, from Ethiopia, The Gambia and Kenya, will compete in a Q&A before the African Union. They will also be able to share their prepared art work. Both Jane and James read their poems. We conclude the day with a lunch and a visit to the Gambian embassy. It has been an exciting first day.
Friday 15 June
On Friday, by 7:30 a.m., we have all had breakfast and the children have dressed in their traditional attire. The fabrics and colors of their clothing display their rich African culture. They are proud to represent their countries.
On our way in, James sees the Kenyan flag and we take some pictures. I am truly humbled to finally arrive at the African Union, a place I had only read about over the last 10 years. We take even more photos!
Our sessions begin at 10 a.m. with opening remarks from the Commissioner of Social Affairs, followed by more speeches from the organizers and representatives from the government of Ethiopia and ChildFund International. Like celebrities, the children get interviewed by two radio stations. Someone from a local newspaper interviews James, as well. Before long, the children are treated to tea time. They really like the break and enjoy their cake and soda.
After lunch, we tour the University of Addis Ababa’s museum. There we absorb the history and culture of Ethiopia. We are all fascinated by the stuffed lion at the entrance of the museum. It looked so real!
Saturday 16 June
Today is the actual anniversary of the uprising in Soweto, South Africa, in 1976. But since it’s a weekend, the children are allowed to sleep until 7:30 a.m. After breakfast, we all head to the Arada community to visit a children’s art club. Abdulahi speaks on behalf of the group. He briefly recaps the last two days of our stay in Ethiopia and the children get to know each other. Split into four groups, the children break off to view and learn more about pieces of art posted in the club. Some of us learn a new word, today: Jambo – hello in Swahili.
Our van picks us up at 5:30 p.m. and takes us to the awards ceremony and closing reception at the African Union. A surprise to us, Tenagne brings ice cream! We arrive at the AU and meet ChildFund’s regional director for Eastern and Southern Africa, Jumbe Sebunya, with whom the children take photos. The highlight of the evening is the presenting of awards by ChildFund. We are excited when Jane wins first place in literature in the high school group and James wins first place in literature for the middle school group. We take more photos than ever at this event!
Monday 18 June
It is 8:15 a.m. and we have arrived at the airport. We depart from gate number 7 and before long, the plane lands in Nairobi. We are finally home. James and Jane meet with ChildFund Kenya National Director Victor Koyi for a debrief. They tell him about their exciting trip, yet we all express happiness to be home!
By Cynthia Price, Director of Communications
Gene Simmons is a rock star, a reality-TV celebrity and a businessman. He recently entered into a most unusual business contract.
It all began with a two-hour car ride in Zambia, with the final stretch along a bumpy dirt road, delivering Gene and his wife, Shannon, at the home of Esther, a young woman who recently lost her mother. She is being raised by her grandmother in a small house with a dirt floor and a thin metal roof. A few chickens scratch in the dirt yard.
She is excited to meet her ChildFund sponsor and has called her family together to join in greeting Gene and Shannon. Esther shows the couple where she sleeps with her sister and grandmother. She shares how she walks 6 kilometers to sell vegetables. There are days, though, when she and her family have no food. And while she loves school, she has to walk long distances to attend. But she doesn’t complain. She has a dream – she wants to be a nurse.
“So, why do you want to be a nurse?” Gene asks. Esther doesn’t hesitate: “If there were more nurses, my mother would not have passed away,” she tells him. Her mother died only last month and her father died when she was five months old.
Gene pauses and looks at Shannon, who nods in unspoken agreement. “I am a businessman,” Gene begins.” I want to make you a deal. We will pay all of your expenses for school.”
Loud chanting and cheering break out among Esther’s family members.
Gene isn’t finished, though. “You have to do well in school,” he tells her. Esther nods vigorously in agreement.
Shannon adds, “You don’t owe us anything. You don’t have to pay us back. You owe us to be a good nurse.”
As Gene leaves the village, he reflects on the time spent with Esther. “We just met an amazing 16-year-old girl with lots of charisma, who can change the cycle, but the odds are stacked against her,” he says.
“We can help,” he notes. “And ChildFund points us in the right direction. Hopefully, she’ll become a great nurse.”
By Cynthia Price, Director of Communications
Gene and Shannon Simmons recently traveled to Zambia to visit several of the children Gene sponsors through ChildFund. The trip became the basis for the June 25 episode of their reality TV show, Gene Simmons Family Jewels.
Today is all about learning. Gene and Shannon visit Zambia’s Muchuto Basic School, loaded down with notebooks, pens, pencils and crayons. The children eagerly look through everything, giggling and smiling. Suddenly they give a robust shout, “Thank you!” The children also belt out a healthy rendition of If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap your Hands.
While at the school, Gene and Shannon meet six children they sponsor: Miyoba, Lydia, Cecilia, Isaac, Kaoma and Robam. While the couple learns about the school and explores the classrooms, the children are busily drawing pictures for their honored guests. Gene and Shannon have brought a gift for each child, and a much-needed one for Roban, whom Gene has sponsored for more than two years. Robam loves school, but he doesn’t always make it to class because he has to walk more than 3 kilometers each day, each way.
Meeting Gene and Shannon is a thrill for Robam, but, truthfully, he’s even more excited when they present him with a bicycle. He jumps on the bike and makes energetic circles around the school yard, as his classmates cheer. This bicycle is more than a vehicle for fun; it will help Robam get to school on time and complete his education.
As Gene and Sharon prepare to leave, the children come running out of their classroom and surround the couple, eager to present them with drawings they created using their new school supplies. It’s been a good morning at Muchuto Basic School.
By Cynthia Price, Director of Communications
Fourteen-year-old Edward has waited patiently most of the morning. He’s sat on bench outside his one-room home with his hands clasped in his lap, gazing eagerly down the dusty road that leads to his home. His extended family members are gathered around him.
It’s an important day because Edward is going to meet his ChildFund sponsor. In his eyes, a sponsor is like a rock star – someone whose monthly contribution enables him to attend school and have the books he needs. Little does he know that his sponsor is actually a rock star.
And then the big moment unfolds. Gene Simmons of KISS and star of Gene Simmons Family Jewels arrives with his wife, Shannon, warmly greeting Edward and his family. Gene hears the traditional Nyanja greeting of “Bwanjia,” or “How are you?” Edward breaks out into a big grin.
A gracious host, Edward shows Gene and Shannon around his home, made of mud thatch, and notes that one of his chores is to wash the dishes. He shows them where his mother cooks the food. A pot is simmering on the small fire, and Gene inquires what is in it. “Sweet potatoes,” Edward answers softly.
Edward takes Gene and Shannon down the long dusty road to the community well where he pumps water for his family to use for drinking and cooking. He points further down the road in the direction he has to walk so he can attend school. As they return to the house, sponsor and child are at ease, with Gene’s arm comfortably resting on Edward’s shoulder as if they’ve been friends for life. And in a way they have. Gene has sponsored Edward since 2006.
As the cameras roll and capture the reunion, a teary-eyed Gene has a difficult time talking. “Just be courageous,” Shannon whispers.
Edward tells Gene that he wants to be a teacher. A delighted Gene observes: “He will continue to give and raise up people.”
At the end of the visit, Edward hands his gifts to the couple. “I don’t want gifts,” Gene protests. “I want to give.” But he accepts the gifts graciously – a flag depicting Zambia’s win of the Africa Cup, a Zambia cap and a skirt for Shannon. After consulting with the interpreter, Gene turns to say thank you to Edward in his native language: “Zikomo.”
Gene and Shannon also have brought gifts, including a soccer ball, which Edward and Gene immediately put to use.
Before departing, Gene takes a moment to talk with Edward’s mother, who is raising him on her own because her husband left when Edward was 6 or 7. “Mothers are the most important people in the world,” Gene tells her, adding that she is raising “an amazing young man.”
As Gene leaves, Edward’s grin doesn’t fade. “I am very happy, very happy.”
And what child wouldn’t be if they could meet their sponsor?
By Cynthia Price, ChildFund Director of Communications
OMG! I’m in an African village with Gene Simmons of KISS. Yes, that KISS.
He’s an imposing man. Six-feet, two-inches, and all action. He’s here in Zambia to take action – to meet the children he has sponsored through ChildFund for years and to determine what else he can do to help.
The experience will be captured for an episode of his reality TV show, Gene Simmons Family Jewels. His wife, Shannon, helped organize the trip.
I’ve been to ChildFund programs before. I’ve seen the dirt roads. The thatched houses with no running water or electricity. The classrooms with nubby pencils and recycled newspaper as activity books. I know what we’re about to see. Gene and Shannon don’t.
“We came here with a TV show. Let’s go to Africa and visit the children. It’s a nice sound bite,” Gene says. “But what happened along the way is that real life got in the way. We’re going to do something about this.”
Shannon adds, “Poverty and starvation… once you see it in person, you can’t walk away.”
And they don’t. They go for total immersion. And they’ve brought gifts for the children: school supplies, soccer balls, backpacks and clothing. There’s even a bicycle for one of Gene’s sponsored children, so he doesn’t have to walk the long distance to school. Shannon gives one young woman the shoes off her feet.
As we talk about what they saw and experienced, Gene often has to pause because he’s choked up. I’ve seen KISS perform – who would ever expect Gene to be quiet? But it was a lot to take in. “Here is a wake-up call,” Gene says, after meeting Edward, one of his sponsored children. “We must do something.”
Gene and Shannon are absolutely great with the children. They spend tons of time with them. At the schools we visit, they often sing with the children and in one school, Gene plays guitar.
What’s really amazing about the visit is that Gene and Shannon don’t act like rock stars. They’re truly humbled by the experience. “It really makes you appreciate the little things,” Shannon says. “I will waste less, spend less and appreciate more.”
The trip to Africa, Gene adds, is a “stark reminder that life doesn’t treat everyone the same.”
ChildFund supporters like Gene and Shannon help change those circumstances. Although the children didn’t recognize Gene as a celebrity – even when he handed out KISS swag – he’s a rock star in their eyes because he is their ChildFund sponsor.