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.
By Selamawit Yilma, ChildFund Ethiopia
Every June 16, the Day of the African Child, brings together representatives from African Union states, development organizations and other groups to discuss issues pertaining to the children of Africa. This year’s theme, “The Rights of Children with Disabilities: The Duty to Protect, Respect, Promote and Fulfill,” focuses on the unequal treatment of children with disabilities. We interviewed Hannan Endale, inclusive programming specialist, at ChildFund Ethiopia, who knows the challenges faced by those with disabilities due to her own impairment—blindness.
Would you please tell us your understanding of the Day of the African Child?
In my view, Day of the African Child is a very important event that needs widespread attention. By educating the public about the potential, rights and concerns of children, we have the chance to make the world a friendlier place for them to live. However, because the day is better known by child-focused organizations, there is a strong need to engage other governmental organizations and potential stakeholders.
How do you perceive the theme for this year?
This theme is timely, focusing on the right topic at the right time. We have seen a worldwide shift in the discussion of the rights of people with disabilities due to the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). The convention draws attention to the rights of children with disabilities in diverse arenas and recalls “obligations to that end undertaken by States.” Our country, Ethiopia, has been a state party to this convention since 2010. The 2012 theme for the Day of the African Child gives us the opportunity to develop our understanding about the rights of children with disabilities and to work for the improvement of the quality of their lives.
Would you address how to protect and support children with disabilities?
Children with disabilities are not enjoying the same privileges as their counterparts, nor are they receiving equal treatment. Neglect, abandonment and discrimination are among the injustices faced by disabled children.
Futhermore, there is a lack of commitment to increase their involvement in activities that may enhance their personal development. These children are also overlooked as valuable assets to the well-being of the community. For that reason, it is our responsibility to ensure that their rights are protected, respected and fulfilled while encouraging the government to bear the same duties.
If we truly have a child’s best interest in mind, we must not fail to include those children with disabilities. They deserve to have the opportunity to grow, develop and enjoy their childhood by exercising the same rights as everyone. Institutional, environmental and attitudinal barriers that hinder their full, equal and effective participation in society have to be removed. Most importantly, the children themselves have to be given the opportunity to participate actively in the development of policies that will affect them.
Could you explain how ChildFund is working in this area and how it plans to strengthen the support given to children with disabilities?
ChildFund, in partnership with Pact Ethiopia and Family Health International 360, is the technical lead organization in the Yekokeb Berhan Program for Highly Vulnerable Children—a program funded by USAID.
Yekokeb Berhan is committed to providing high-quality, age-appropriate, inclusive services for all children. In the program, we ensure that all excluded children are given the proper attention in every aspect of the project. ChildFund is playing a leading role in fulfilling this objective by initiating strategies to provide equitable access to services for individuals and groups, and specialized techniques that will foster participation of excluded individuals or groups within the Yekokeb Berhan Program.
How does it feel to work with these children and ChildFund?
Working with a program that has had this much impact in reducing the challenges faced by highly vulnerable children gives me great personal and professional satisfaction. It is my hope to see my fellow citizens lead a life free from discrimination and poverty.
As a person with a disability, I know, firsthand, what it means to live a life of segregation. And I know the feeling of being discriminated against and unaccepted because of one’s abilities. Having experienced those feelings, it is more than a pleasure to be part of ChildFund’s mission to support children with disabilities.
by Martin Nanawa, ChildFund Philippines
Twenty-year-old Necie “Nice” wasn’t precisely sure how she’d stare down five of the local tambays [idle men] in her neighborhood. But something had to be done.
Earlier in the day, a neighbor had caught a peculiar-looking turtle in the Agos River. By evening, the turtle was in a plastic basin, and it looked like it might soon be served as pulutan [finger-food] for the local tambays when they gathered for a drink. Nice wasn’t sure, but the turtle looked like a pawikan, a sea turtle, to her.
The most remarkable thing happened, however. The turtle managed to jump from the basin, and slip away unnoticed. In the confusion following its disappearance, Nice joined the search. She had no intention of helping her neighbors reacquire their meal; Nice was an Eco-Scout, and she knew she had to save that turtle.
Organized and trained by ChildFund and its local partner in the Philippines province of Quezon, the Ecological Scouts, or Eco-Scouts, are young environmental advocates age 10 to 21. Cognizant of Quezon’s rich and yet delicate ecology, ChildFund provides young people with training in biodiversity and environmental conservation techniques. Over the past two years, the Eco-Scouts have produced videos and materials to build understanding and support for environmental issues pertinent to Quezon.
Through her Eco-Scout training, Nice knew pawikans were endangered. She wondered, however, what one of these turtles would be doing so far inland, and in freshwater. She had to find it before the others did so she could explore the mystery further.
By sheer luck, Nice did find the turtle. She picked it up, and made a break for it, running past the tambays. When accosted over her precious cargo, Nice warned them of the steep penalties they would face under environmental protection laws if they harmed the turtle. Having that bit of legal knowledge from her Eco-Scout training came in handy. Her quick feet and equally quick wit got her home with the turtle. Not entirely sure what to do next, she reported the situation to her Eco-Scout trainer, ChildFund’s Erwin Galido. He contacted the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to arrange the turtle’s turnover. Nice would have to babysit the reptile until the DENR arrived.
In the two days it took DENR reps to reach Nice’s home, she’d taken a liking to her little guest, whom she named Pauie. Nice and her cousin Ken would forage for moss to feed Pauie. During one of their forays, Ken and Nice returned to discover that the intrepid turtle had escaped again, but they were quickly able to find her.
DENR representatives retrieved Pauie and took her to the neighboring town of Real. It was there they determined Pauie was not, in fact, a sea turtle, but an even rarer and more endangered species—the Cantor’s giant softshell turtle (pelochelys cantorii). Unique to only a few Asian geographies, Cantor’s softshell was last seen in the Philippines in 2001, in neighboring Isabela province. Regional sitings have been equally rare, with the last recorded sighting in Cambodia in 2003. The Cantor’s softshell turtle lives in freshwater, spending most of its time burrowed motionless in mud.
The discovery of such a rare specimen, and its rescue from being stewed, was duly noted by the DENR, and official commendations for Nice are being scheduled.
Nice says she was only doing what she was trained to do as an Eco-Scout, supporting conservation and endangered species. Besides, she says, “You don’t need to be an Eco-Scout to know you shouldn’t eat them.”
Guest post by Erika, a youth in ChildFund Ecuador’s programs
My experiences of having a sponsor are many. My sponsor’s name is Pascale, and he has been my sponsor since I was very little.
One of the nicest experiences is to write and send him letters because I can tell him everything, such as what kind of music I like, my favorite sport, what I like to eat and also about my family and what I do with them.
In each letter I send, I thank him for his support of ChildFund since with the money he contributes, that helps [our youth programs] do all the planned activities in all areas of Ecuador. I especially thank him because with his support we can do activities that benefit boys and girls.
What I like the most about writing letters is the happiness I feel to know my sponsor is going to read them though he lives very far away. I also like because I know I have an unconditional friend from another country, who will also tell me many things of his life, his favorite activities and how his country is.
Anyway, having a sponsor is simply unexplainable because as I said before, it is a friend from far away that at the same time is very close.
In the Quito area, we have the youth association called “Association Quito Youth,” and I am part of the board this year. This association is formed by youth groups of all communities affiliated with ChildFund. Among the activities we do are working with children’s clubs, which are formed by children affiliated with ChildFund. This work consists of teaching them about their rights and duties through entertainment techniques, which we also learn from the youth technician for the area. I love these activities because I like to help children in my community and be a good model for them. This has also helped me become more sociable and perform better in front of the public.
Other activity I carry out in the youth group is to organize the sport and cultural events for children once a year as well as to organize the sport and cultural event for youth. The main objective is to consolidate ourselves as an association and promote participation in our project by other youth. During school vacations, we—with the community’s support—organize summer camps. Last year we had the support of Quito Municipality technicians, who trained us on the activities we carried out with children during the camp.
I have many dreams and aspirations: the first one is to finish my education and continue it by going to college. I want to study social communications to become a great TV presenter or a reporter.
I would love to travel to other countries to fulfill another dream of mine, which is to become a great actress and show that in my country there is much talent that needs to be discovered. I would like to go to Mexico too and fulfill a promise, which is to take my parents to the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
Currently, my nearest aspiration is to pass the tests for entering into college, so I am studying very hard. I know I will achieve all of this working hard, and with dedication in all activities and dreams I have.
by Jose Felix, ChildFund Timor-Leste
“My goal is to become a leader of this nation,” says Benditu, 13, from Aileu, Timor-Leste. As an avid student in Year 6 at primary school, Benditu is lucky. His parents understand the importance of education – not only to Benditu’s future but also for the future of Timor-Leste. “My dad and mum want me to go to school. If I do not go to school, then they are angry with me,” says Benditu. “They also buy shoes, school books and clothes that I need for school.”
Raising awareness of the importance of education, particularly among parents, is a major challenge that ChildFund is helping address in Timor-Leste. Without personal experiences of the transformative power of education – in Aileu district, more than 50 percent of people have no formal education – many parents do not understand the opportunities that schooling can bring to their children. Instead of attending class, many children work alongside their parents to farm, fetch water and collect wood. Improving education in Timor-Leste must start with engaging parents to support their children’s education.
As a member of the Timor-Leste Coalition for Education, ChildFund Timor-Leste recently participated in Global Action Week. Awareness-raising events were held in Aileu and Ermera districts, drawing hundreds of students, teachers, parents and representatives from government, NGOs, the U.S. embassy and UNICEF. Speeches, marches and music were followed with question-and-answer sessions between local communities and education specialists.
The focus of this year’s Global Action Week was early childhood development (ECD). ChildFund Timor-Leste is currently supporting 80 ECD centers, some of which are home-based, across the country. A key focus of ChildFund Timor-Leste’s ECD program is to build the capacity of Parents and Teachers Associations so they can advocate and take pride in their community ECD centers. Alongside engaged parents and teachers, centers supported by ChildFund Timor-Leste are currently preparing more than 3,000 children for a successful future at school.
Events like Global Action Week are vital in influencing community perceptions of the importance of education. As 12-year-old Derina, a school student from Aileu, said, “We are all here at this event so that parents can influence us so that we all go to school. Parents should send their children to school because their children will be the future of this country.”
Today is a day for champions—a day to call on global leaders to commit to ensuring all children have enough food to eat, no matter where they are born in the world.
Nearly 200 million children are chronically malnourished and suffer from lifelong, often irreversible, physical and cognitive damage as a result. Malnutrition also contributes to 35 percent of all deaths of children under the age of 5 annually, and roughly 20 percent of all maternal deaths.
Malnutrition is not just a result of poverty—it is also a cause.
As ChildFund’s CEO Anne Lynam Goddard often points out: Childhood is a one-time opportunity. We have one chance to get it right, especially when it comes to nutrition during the 1,000-day window that starts with a mother’s pregnancy and continues until a child is 2 years old.
Experts agree—nutrition delivers the biggest bang for the buck when investing in future generations. A panel of Nobel laureate economists known as the Copenhagen Consensus recently concluded that fighting malnutrition in young children should be the top investment priority for policymakers. The payoff is huge: $1 in invested in nutrition generates as much as $138 in better health and increased productivity.
Investing in improved nutrition can
At ChildFund, we emphasize growth promotion until the child is 3 years old. Helping ensure the health and security of infants is a critical component of our work with children throughout their life stages. Healthy infants are more likely to become educated and confident children, who, in turn, grow into skilled and involved youth. When children have a healthy start in life, they have a greater opportunity to break the bonds of poverty.
We fully support the Scaling Up Nutrition roadmap that is guiding the international aid community’s efforts to combat undernutrition.
Today on Capitol Hill, ChildFund is joining hands with other international development organizations, members of Congress, government leaders, civil society groups and private industry to call for action on child nutrition issues at the G8 Summit taking place this weekend at Camp David in Washington, D.C.
We call on leaders in the U.S. administration, Congress and G8 delegations to join us in support of improved nutrition globally, particularly for women and children in the 1,000 days from pregnancy to a child’s second birthday.
Our objectives are straightforward:
Now is the time for global leaders to reaffirm their commitment to confronting the challenges of hunger, poverty and disease by accelerating efforts to improve nutrition, particularly for women and children.
Will you join us and be a champion for change?
by Ron Wolfe, ChildFund Senior Business Systems Analyst
For the past two weeks, staff from ChildFund International and ChildFund Honduras have been in Dominica, collaborating with the ChildFund Caribbean office to test a new child survey tool loaded onto ultra-portable computers. This pilot project, which is funded with support from Intel, will help determine the feasibility of collecting and transmitting digital data in all of the countries where ChildFund works.
Climbing the northern mountains of Dominica early on Sunday morning, our caravan tried to outrun the impending downpour. After another hairpin turn near the summit, we slowed and began to see villagers dressed beautifully, walking uphill with a purpose. And then we heard the music.
Our team had arrived in Penville. Perched on a promontory overlooking the confluence of the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, we found a small green-painted church that seemed to be the center of the universe. The mass was about to begin, but the congregation, still arriving, first had to weave its way through a crescendo of song.
Music is a vital part of life here, especially sacred music rooted in American gospel and blended with diverse cultural variations found uniquely on the island. The melodies and harmonies also provided our team a peaceful way to decompress from the drive, as we waited for the service to end and our next round of child status interviews to begin. While pausing outside of the church, I began to reflect on the work completed to-date and those whose participation was so vital to its success.
Among the data collectors that day were Clasia, a ChildFund-trained community mobilizer for the West Federation in Dominica, and Valarie, a community volunteer from the Northeastern District. ChildFund has organized its programs on the island into an East and a West Federation, with each serving approximately 2,000 enrolled and 1,500 sponsored children.
Clasia has worked with the West Federation for just more than a year and is responsible for reaching out to 332 children who are enrolled or sponsored through ChildFund. “I am getting to know each one,” she says.
As a youth, Clasia enrolled in the Dominica Business Training Center, a second-chance learning institution. Through the center, she became familiar with ChildFund’s work and later accepted a job, knowing that her passion is working to better the lives of children. “It’s wonderful to see how [they] react to us,” Clasia says, beaming. Even the casual observer can see that the children feel comfortable around her. As a result, they talk about the things that matter most to them. “It takes a while, though, to gain their trust,” she says.
Technology in the form of ultra-portable computers should help Clasia become more efficient in her job in the future. She was impressed with the initial tests and looks forward to future technologies as they are rolled out. “When you are in the field all day, you have to go back to your sub-office [to file reports]. You have to think about what to do next, and you have to put your information into the office computer. Now, it’s already there. It’s much easier. The next day [after being in the field] you can just continue with your work.”
Valarie, a community volunteer whose poise belies her young age, didn’t know what to expect when she signed on to collect data for the Child Status Index pilot. One thing she didn’t anticipate, though, was to “work such long, hard hours for so many days,” she says. “I found the motivation to move on, though,” Valarie adds, “to wake up every morning and face it again. And to be honest, I could do this all over again.”
Watching Valarie engage with a family that she’d never met and ask questions that, at times, could get personal, it was easy to see that the work came naturally to her. Children opened up and answered questions as if they were continuing a longstanding conversation.
“My best experiences were the home visits,” she says, “getting the opportunity to meet and dialogue with people in my country—and being touched by it.” Valarie is at the point in her life where she’s deciding on career paths. “I definitely will consider this field,” she says. “Whatever path I choose, though, I will always desire to be a volunteer and give back to my country. This was a life-changing experience!”
As the music died down, it was time to carry on with our work, but, for a brief time, we were able to clear our heads, rest our feet and imagine ourselves entwined in the daily existence of Penville, Dominica.
Reporting by ChildFund Ethiopia
When Mekdes was just 3 years old, her father passed away and her mother was unable to take care of her daughter on her own. So Mekdes went to live with her grandmother in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Today, 14 years later, Mekdes should be enrolled in grade 10 at Ketchene Secondary School, but times have been tough in recent years.
Mekdes was making good grades and enjoying her classes. Then her grandmother lost her job—their only source of income. Mekdes was forced to drop out of school and start working before she completed the national high school leaving examination that would open the door to advanced education.
Fighting back tears, she explains her situation: “We have no income at this time for our living. We have no one to help us. Our lives [have] become strange and gloomy. We are passing the day without food and go to bed with hunger.”
Since dropping out of school, Mekdes worked as a hairdresser and a day laborer for a small company, but her real dream is to finish school and become a doctor.
In March, we asked our Twitter followers to post 200 tweets and retweets focused on girls and women during a four-day time period culminating on International Women’s Day. As an incentive for the awareness-building campaign, we would honor our Twitter followers by awarding a one-year scholarship to a deserving Ethiopian girl (one of the items available in ChildFund’s Gifts of Love & Hope catalog).
ChildFund’s Twitter followers surpassed the goal, unleashing 275 tweets like: “Secure girls = strong women,” and “Being a student makes a girl unavailable for marriage.”
Mekdes is the recipient of the scholarship gift. She plans to work during the day and take evening classes so that she can complete her secondary education.
“Now with the help I got from ChildFund, I will start to train in hair dressing and make money,” she says of her near-term goals. “For me, ChildFund is my life. My grandmom is also so happy with the chance I got. She cried first when she heard the news, delighted with the hope we get from ChildFund.”
Thank you, ChildFund Tweeps!
Reporting by ChildFund Philippines, ChildFund The Gambia and Lloyd McCormick, Global Youth Development & Livelihood Technical Advisor
Arnyline is 15 and lives in the Philippines. Saffiatou, 17, lives in The Gambia. What could they possibly have in common?
A few things, actually. They both live in extreme poverty. They are both involved in ChildFund’s programs in their countries. Neither had ever traveled outside of their countries — until their recent, ChildFund-supported trip to Amsterdam.
What brought them there was another thing they have in common: their interest in the goals of Child and Youth Finance International (CYFI), an organization whose stated goal is to ensure that 100 million children and youth in 100 countries have financial access and education by 2015. Founded last year by social entrepreneur Jeroo Billimoria, who also founded the social and financial education nonprofit Aflatoun, CYFI has a simple, audacious vision: “We dream that all children have a safe place to save their money, and that they can manage that money on their own.”
From April 2-4 in Amsterdam, the first-ever CYFI Summit brought 70 children and youth representing 40 countries together with international bankers and policy makers from around the globe. During the event, participants focused on the topic of financial inclusion and finance education for children and youth. Young people also met to voice their opinions for shaping the Child and Youth Finance Movement. They then brought their recommendations to the Summit, which included representatives from the United Nations; the central banks of Europe, the U.S., Africa, Asia; donors such as MasterCard, CitiBank and Levi Strauss; and international and local organizations. The youth engaged directly with these policy makers on a level footing and shared their views on financial issues that most matter to them.
Arnilyne and Saffiatou were among the 10 participants selected to present the young people’s recommendations, which included the following:
“What excited me is that they care for children in the world, and they want all the children to have a better future,” says Saffiatou. “My favorite part was the discussion on child finance as a subject in school.”
Arnilyne also has a great interest in financial literacy education, but she’s not sure how it could be added to her school curriculum. “We have no funds for it,” she says. “I think it would be effective if trainings and activities are conducted for this.”
She’s particularly excited about the idea of a child-friendly banking system, which would give children access to banks and low-minimum initial deposits.
The two girls, who hail from the tropics, remarked on Holland’s cold climate. But they also noted the warmth of the people they met there, which they both cite as common ground with their home countries.
“They care for children in the world,” says Saffiatou, “and they want to see children as the good leaders of tomorrow.”