ChildFund International

‘When I Met Irene, I Knew …’

Reporting by ChildFund Bolivia

Snapshot of a struggling family in Bolivia: The father works on faraway farms and returns home only occasionally. The mother sells vegetables in the local market during the morning and part of the afternoon, leaving her children in the care of the eldest, who is 10. The youngest, Irene, is 5 months.

In 2006, the government of Bolivia instituted a new program, called Zero Malnutrition, with the goal of eradicating malnutrition in children under age 5. Knowing of ChildFund’s vast experience in child development, the Bolivian Ministry of Health and Sports invited ChildFund to implement a child development component through Zero Malnutrition in rural Oruro, the region where Irene’s family lives.

ChildFund’s contribution was to train “guide mothers,” volunteers who monitor and support the development of the children in their communities. ChildFund taught the guide mothers how to use our child development scale to screen children and identify specific developmental needs. They also received training in ways to work with parents to help them support their children’s development.

Maria was one of those guide mothers. She visited Irene.

Four children standing

Irene and some of her siblings.

“When I met Irene, I understood my mission,” she says.

On that first evaluation, Maria found that Irene had diarrhea, an acute respiratory infection, acute malnutrition, anemia and visible signs of emaciation, and that she was under both height and weight for her age.

Trained to recognize danger signs, Maria reported the case to the local health center, and staff from there soon performed a field visit. They provided Irene’s mother with medicine as well as an orientation on how to treat Irene.

Maria also evaluated Irene’s development and found she was not progressing in all areas as she should.

Toddler seatedWithin a year, after continued visits from Maria and with appropriate care, Irene was a healthy 18-month-old. She was still small for her age, but her weight was appropriate for her size. She also had caught up with her peers in three of five developmental areas.

Maria says the work is hard, but when she sees families in her community who have so little, she’s inspired to give her best efforts to teaching them what she’s learned about how to keep children on track and healthy.

ChildFund Americas: Sustaining People and the Planet

Reporting by Patricia Toquica, Communications Manager, ChildFund Americas

In the Americas region, children, youth and adults in ChildFund-supported communities are joining hands to help break the cycle of poverty while working toward protecting and preserving a sustainable environment. Check out some of the exciting green projects that are under way from the U.S.A. to Brazil.

Sustainable Ag in the U.S.
child holding vegetablesThe Wyan Toka Win community garden in South Dakota is a ChildFund U.S. program that involves children and youth in promoting sustainable agriculture and the consumption of fresh, natural products. Families in the community are taking children selling vegetablessurplus vegetables and fruits they raise in the garden and selling them at the local farmer’s market to generate additional income.

Innovative Farming, Water Use and Soil Conservation in Mexico
child tending plantIn Mexico’s Totonaca region, 450 families have learned innovative agricultural techniques and are putting the knowledge to work on their own farms. This program is supported by ChildFund México in partnership with the local bank, Compartamos Banco.

piping fresh water into the homeNearly 9,000 people, especially women, in indigenous communities of Hidalgo, Mexico, are benefitting from ChildFund’s training programs to improve water usage, including proper collection and recycling techniques.

children learning about soil conservationIn many areas of Mexico’s Mixteca region, gradual erosion is negatively impacting the land. ChildFund works with children and youth to promote sustainable agriculture that will allow the production of healthy products without deteriorating soil fertility.

Family Gardens and Fruit Trees in Honduras
children studyingIn Honduras, families in the Santa Barbara region work with ChildFund’s local partners to promote community-based agricultural production based on principles of sustainable development.

boy planting treeIn the mountains of Honduras, children in ChildFund’s programs are receiving a hands-on education in environmental awareness by planting fruit trees that will benefit their communities. And as part of ChildFund’s Friendly Schools program, children in some areas of Honduras receive comprehensive environmental education and participate in practical projects such as maintaining school gardens.

Eco-volunteers and ‘Harvesting My Future’ in Guatemala
young environmentalistsAbout 180 teenagers from urban areas of Guatemala are involved in ChildFund environmental protection projects. They participate in training workshops and propose practical solutions for environmental issues affecting their communities.

About 450 young people from 10 communities in Guatemala are benefitting from ChildFund’s “Harvesting my Future” project. Teenagers receive training in ecological production of sesame and maize crops that will provide income and a better future to their families.

Environmental Education and Youth Involvement in Bolivia
children in drama productionFrom early childhood, children in ChildFund Bolivia communities learn about the importance of water, soil and trees, thanks to ecological education programs and activities implemented by ChildFund-trained youth leaders.

girls recycleAbout 200 families at the Lucerito Center in the city of Santa Cruz will benefit from ChildFund’s environmental training program focused on reducing and reusing waste to preserve the environment.

In LaPaz, children participating in ChildFund’s early childhood development programs engage with their mothers in activities to improve their motor skills using natural elements easily found in their communities such as seeds, fruits, grains, clay and water. These activities help kids connect and care for their natural resources from an early age.

Natural Resource Protection in Ecuador
school children learn about ecologyIn the Ecuadorian province of Tungurahua, children enrolled in ChildFund programs are participating in the “Futurahua” (Water Future) project. They are learning about the importance of water sustainability and its role in the production of crops that feed their families.

youth plant treesWith the donation of more than 50,000 native plant species, ChildFund Ecuador is supporting reforestation plans developed by children and their parents in various communities living in poverty in Ecuador.

More than 300 families in various rural areas of Ecuador benefit from ChildFund training programs in sustainable agriculture. Community members are now working jointly to maintain water reservoirs and grow organic products in community gardens and orchards.

Water Conservation in Brazil
Youth monitoring water sourcesIn Brazil’s Jequitinhonha Valley, ChildFund’s Water Watchers Program engages children and youth leaders in environmental education, contributing to the preservation and proper usage of water resources that are so scarce in this area.

planting cropsChildFund’s Water for Life Program in the rural semi-arid areas of Brazil has involved thousands of children and their families in adopting techniques for water conservation and socio-environmental sustainability. Through this program, ChildFund Brazil helps thousands of families in semi-arid areas learn about water collection and conservation to ensure adequate resources for household consumption and crop growth.

Three Cheers for ChildFund Volunteers!

by Kate Nare, ChildFund Marketing Specialist

This week is National Volunteer Week, so we’re taking a moment to send a big THANK YOU to all of our volunteers at ChildFund’s LIVE! concert series.

Since February, ChildFund has been on a whirlwind, nationwide tour with Thompson Square. During each concert, the husband and wife duo of Keifer and Shawna Thompson, who sponsor a young girl from Indonesia, take a moment to describe the difference each fan can make in a child’s life through child sponsorship.

ChildFund relies on the help of current sponsors to volunteer at the events and share their experiences of sponsoring a child with concert-goers. Volunteers are stationed at the ChildFund booth, ready to have conversations with fans about how sponsorship can change the life of a child. The table is lined with packets of children ready to be sponsored that evening.

volunteers at sponsorship tableOne of our recent outstanding volunteers is Alan Mireles (second from right), who volunteered at a Thompson Square concert in San Diego March 24. Talking with concert-goers before the show and during intermission, Alan shared photos and letters from his sponsored child, Carla Beatriz, a little girl from Brazil whom he has sponsored since 2009.

“My experience at the concert was amazing,” Alan says. “It was very self-rewarding to volunteer for such a great cause. With meeting new people, listening to great music – and let’s not forget saving lives as well — it was an overall awesome experience that I was proud to be a part of!”

Thank you, Alan, and all of our stellar concert volunteers. You’re helping ChildFund spread the word about how sponsorship changes the life of a child living in poverty.

If you would like to volunteer with ChildFund, visit our website to review volunteer guidelines and a list of upcoming concerts in your area, or simply call 800-458-0555 for more information and to sign up.

Innovate. Collaborate. Illuminate.

Guest post by Jen Butte-Dahl, Nokero

Jennifer Butte-Dahl is the head of alliances and the Bright Future Fund at Nokero International Ltd. Nokero (short for No Kerosene) develops affordable and environmentally friendly technologies that eliminate the need for harmful and polluting fuels used for light around the world, and then partners with local organizations to reach communities who need light most.

We can learn a lot from kids. In a phrase, they keep it simple. Kids don’t talk about building innovative partnerships, or crafting collaborative alliances. Kids find other kids who have similar interests, or have something they want or need, and they make friends. They play together, they learn from one another and they bring their diversity of talents together to shape the lives they live. My niece, Kaitlyn, is seven and a budding artist. She loves drawing little girl stick figures with skirts, long hair and high heels. Her best friend Sophie has a penchant for flowers and houses. They work together and fill countless sheets of construction paper with their vivid imaginations, creating colorful works of art together that are better than anything they could ever create on their own. And decorating many a fridge!

At Nokero, we are constantly working to hold ourselves to the lessons we learn from children. “Keep it simple” is one of our core values, and it touches everything we do, from designing new products to making new friends.

solar light

Nokero Ed

Today, we’re unveiling the Nokero Ed, a small solar light with a big mission: to change the lives of kids around the world who live without electricity. At the same time, we’re launching a friendship with ChildFund International, an organization with the drive and the know-how to help us get these little lights into the hands of children around the globe who need them. Our friendship is simple: we want the same things, and we each have something to bring to the relationship.

Boy studying by solar light

A light for studying.

It all began with an innovation. Steve Katsaros, Nokero’s founder and chief inventor, was visiting Kenya late last summer, and was inspired by the children he met. They were enthusiastic to learn, eager for knowledge and excited by everything new. In each village, he handed out a few solar lights and asked for their feedback. But it wasn’t necessarily their words that made the most impact. It was the groups of kids crowding around each light to read and do their homework after dark. Sometimes two or three at once, but more often five or six, or ten, or more. It was uplifting and heartbreaking all at once. There was never enough light to go around.

Youth studying by solar light

Students gather to share the light.

When considered next to the daily, and oftentimes enervating cost of kerosene fuel, solar light is clearly the economical choice. Yet even a modest upfront cost holds many families back from making the switch from toxic kerosene lamps to clean, safe and healthy solar light. So Steve set out on a mission: design for extreme affordability. Keep it simple. Remove the bells and whistles. Make a solar light that could help kids learn and would be economical enough for more families to afford. Once we had the prototype in hand, we knew we had a powerful difference-maker for children around the world. But we needed to reach them.

And this is where ChildFund comes into the story. As serendipity would have it, we saw a ChildFund billboard while standing at a bus stop in Washington, D.C. The public service ad simply stated their mission: ChildFund is dedicated to improving the lives of vulnerable children worldwide—and that is exactly what we were looking for. It really is the perfect friendship. We bring the technology; they help deploy it to the communities who need it most. ChildFund programs serve more than 13.5 million children in 31 countries around the world. The majority of those children either live in unelectrified communities, or their families cannot afford electrical power.

So now we’re working together to bring sustainable and nontoxic solar light to the millions of children around the world living without access to electricity. Together, we are illuminating lives. Funds raised through the Global Light to Learn Challenge will support ChildFund in bringing clean, healthy Nokero solar lights to schools in unelectrified communities. Students will be able to study and read after dark, by checking out a light each night (just as they would a library book). The lights will also be used in classrooms to teach students about science, technology, renewable energy and the power of the sun.

An innovative partnership? Definitely. A collaborative alliance? Sure. But at its core, simply a great friendship between two organizations that can now achieve more together than they ever could alone. Together, we are coloring the world brighter, and drawing little suns and smiley faces all over the place.

ChildFund Honduras Guide Mothers Program Recognized for Innovation

by Lylli Moya, ChildFund Honduras Communications Officer

ChildFund Honduras has achieved an honorable mention as Best Innovation for its Guide Mother’s program. The award, presented jointly by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the ALAS Foundation (led by the Colombian singer Shakira) recognizes innovations and excellence in early childhood development programs in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Two mothers and a childChildFund’s Guide Mother’s program was cited for its commitment to children and for engaging families and communities with active participation in children’s development.

The success of the program stems from the voluntary work done by local mothers who assist neighboring families in the communities served by ChildFund Honduras programs. Trained by ChildFund Honduras, the guide mothers pay monthly home visits to provide guidance on children’s development, including communication and language, motor skills, cognitive and socio-emotional development appropriate for the child’s age group.

child playing with blocksThanks to the efforts of 2,095 guide mothers in Honduras, more than 8,600 children under the age of six have benefited.

More than 700 individuals and institutions throughout the Latin America and the Caribbean region submitted nominations for the ALAS-IDB award in the categories of Best Teacher, Best Publication, Best Innovation and Best Center. The ALAS-IDB awards are first of their type in the region and honor professionals and organizations that have made outstanding contributions to early childhood development.

Learn more about ChildFund’s work in Honduras and sponsoring a child.

Empowering Children Through Their Parents

by Alan Elliott, ChildFund Sri Lanka intern

To create better lives for children means to provide not only for the needs of the child, but also for the needs of the parents. Across Sri Lanka, parents often face a difficult choice on how to use their limited income. Should they use it for food, or should they use it to expand their children’s education?

Unfortunately, when it comes down to it, parents understandably choose to put food on the table. Many families can hardly afford to pay for basic school materials. As a result, children miss out on the opportunity to take private classes (tuition classes apart from free public school) or to get the extra help that they need to succeed.

family portrait

Dilshan (center) with his family.

In the Polonnaruwa district, 16 -year-old Dilshan’s family, was finding it harder and harder to pay for Dilshan’s education. As an 11th grader, this is Dilshan’s last year of secondary school. If he passes the Ordinary Level (O/L) exit exam, he will then move on to advanced-level education. Dilshan’s school materials, including supplies, uniforms, private classes and books cost nearly 50,000 rupees per year (roughly US$500). These costs will only get steeper, and, as a seasonal farmer, his father Damarathna was not confident in his ability to support his son. Dilshan was in danger of being deprived of the education he had worked hard for these past several years.

When ChildFund’s local partner, the Polonnaruwa Children’s Program, identified this situation, they consulted with the family about possible solutions. It was decided that ChildFund would support Dilshan’s family by helping them start their own home garden. This is no easy task for them to do on their own—water is quite scarce in this area during the dry season, and an irrigation system needed to be installed.

ChildFund granted Damarathna 25,000 rupees (US$250) to buy irrigation equipment, tools and seeds. “ChildFund also offered me an awareness program for home gardening,” Damarathna says, “where I learned about suitable crops for this climate, safe chemicals and how to make organic fertilizer.” In fact, almost his entire garden is grown naturally, with local materials.

Now that the home garden is fully developed, it gives Dilshan’s family the boost they needed so that they don’t have to choose between food or education for their children. During the off-season, the garden crop is used mostly for personal consumption. But during the rainy season, the garden is plentiful enough to allow the family to sell some of the yield.

As for Dilshan, he’s on his way to higher education. “My dream is to study liberal arts in an advanced -level school,” he says. But, first, he must sit for the O/L. To help him with this, ChildFund recently began offering supplemental classes in Polonnaruwa, some of which are specially targeted at supporting students to pass the O/L exam. ChildFund-trained teachers give students opportunities to review past exams, receive hands-on attention to catch up on weak areas and brush up on the three critical subjects: math, science and English.

Now Dilshan can concentrate on passing his exam, and can be confident that his family can support him wherever his dreams may lead.

One Day Without Shoes

by Cynthia Price, ChildFund Director of Communications

My morning routine was thrown off a bit today.

Usually I stare at my closet deciding which pair of shoes to wear. It’s a good problem to have because it means I have a closet full of shoes.

Working for ChildFund helps me to count my blessings more frequently. Many of the children we serve in developing countries don’t have shoes. They walk barefoot and get cuts and scrapes, which often become infected. Many children get diseases from walking barefoot.

In some communities, children can’t go to school if they don’t have shoes. Or the long trek to school may simply be too far to walk barefoot.

Decorated feet

Creative!

Today at ChildFund we’re participating in One Day Without Shoes, which seeks to raise awareness about those who don’t have the luxury of shoes. We’ll spend the day at work barefoot. We’ll have activities. Employees will be invited to walk barefoot in a “Walk Box,” where they can experience how difficult it is to walk across pebbles.

When I first started talking about a day without shoes, I heard some interesting comments. “I’m not walking across the parking lot. There are stones.” Another person said, “Are you kidding? There are staples in the carpet.”

I would simply respond, “Isn’t that the point?”

We take for granted our ability to walk anywhere we want, thanks to the multiple pairs of shoes in our closets. Just for today, try going barefoot. Try following in the footsteps of their tiny feet – without shoes.

Blogging While Driving Across Uganda

by Virginia Sowers, ChildFund Community Manager

Not too worry, I’m not actually driving, but we are being driven from Soroti to Busia this afternoon. To say it’s a bumpy ride would be a gross understatement. Or, as our traveling companions from Uganda point out, you know it’s a bad road when you spend more time driving on the shoulder than on the pavement.

Sponsor and child

David gives Brenda a photo from the beginning of her sponsorship.

This is Day 3 of the Experience of a Lifetime trip with David Levis, who is visiting five sponsored children across this great nation, alive with warm and welcoming people. This morning, we also managed to squeeze in a visit with a sixth child when we stopped in Amuda to see Brenda, who is sponsored by David’s sister-in-law and family.

Our next stop was ChildFund’s Akani project, where David’s sponsored child, Margaret, attends school.

The community federation and students teased David a bit by challenging him to pick out Margaret from a classroom full of identically dressed girls. After a few hints (you’re warm, you’re cold) as David moved around the crowded classroom, he spotted the child that he and his wife, Stacie, have been sponsoring since 2003.

girl and sponsor

Margaret and David share a hug.

Now 14, Margaret joined her classmates in two beautiful songs to welcome David to her community. “I am so happy, I am bursting,” Margaret said, as she described the day. Her entire family turned out for the occasion – eight brothers and sisters, mom and dad, grandmother, uncles, aunts and cousins.

Community member wave flag

Margaret's aunts and grandmother welcome David with a traditional greeting.

“Meeting Margaret is something we’ve dreamed about for a long time,” David said. “She is very special to Stacie and me. One of the reasons we chose to sponsor Margaret is because her short name is Margie, the same as Stacie’s late grandmother. We began sponsoring Margaret in her honor.” Inspired by the emotion of meeting Margaret, David pulled out his cell phone and dialed home. Although it was 2 a.m. California time, Stacie was thrilled to be briefly included in the conversation with Margaret.

family photo

David meets the family!

Meeting Margaret’s entire extended family, plus some neighbors and friends, was an unexpected treat, David said. “It’s so wonderful to see such a strong family working together to make their lives better, and it’s gratifying to actually see the difference that sponsoring a child and sending a cow has made in the day-to-day life of this family. I am humbled.”

So, on to Busia! On Thursday, we visit Buyengo Primary School followed by some quality time with a young man named Dixon. Along the way, we’ll be crossing the headwaters of the Nile River.

Learn more about ChildFund’s work in Uganda and sponsoring a child.

One Experience of a Lifetime: Coming Up!

Guest post by David Levis, ChildFund Sponsor

In 2011, David Levis was the grand prize winner of ChildFund’s Facebook promotion, the Experience of a Lifetime – a trip to visit his sponsored child. David chose to travel to Uganda, where he and his wife, Stacie, sponsor several children. A public school teacher from Citrus Heights, Calif., David opted to take the trip during spring break 2012. We’ll be following his travels next week as he visits five sponsored children and ChildFund programs.

Soccer balls and pumps, check. Baby dolls, Hot Wheels cars and Frisbees, check. Pencils and solar lights, check—the list goes on. This is a very different kind of packing list. My wife prepared me a few months ago, when she turned to me and said, “You only need one pair of pants and a shirt, right? She laughed and I laughed, and then she said, “No, really.”

Stacie and David Levis

We have been looking forward to this time since winning the “Experience of a Lifetime” last August. After months of preparation, both physically and mentally, the day of departure is almost here!

Over the last few weeks, so many things have come together. We have packed and repacked everything multiple times, and in multiple ways, trying to get as many small gifts for the children to fit in my luggage as possible without exceeding the 50-pound limit per bag.

toys for children

It's all going to fit!

As of tonight, we have to repack it all over again. A stuffed animal, medications and odds and ends from our latest Kmart trip has put us back at square one. Stacie is once again attempting to weed out my clothing!

In addition to meeting the children that we are blessed to sponsor, I will also be visiting a local school that ChildFund supports. Using Google Docs, my students and I have been making connections with the teachers and students in grade 7 of Buyengo School in Busia, exchanging questions and group photos. I look forward to visiting the school and meeting the students and teachers.

Meanwhile, I finished off all of my vaccinations, and started my malaria-prevention medication. I’ve packed multiple mosquito repellants, and a travel guide to Uganda so that I can brush up on the culture and the landscape. Using the itinerary that ChildFund has provided, I’ve also been using Google Earth to map out our trip. It’s going to be an amazing experience.

I’ve also had incredible support from my family and friends, who are all preparing to follow our trip through social media, blogs and Skype. Our family has been featured in the local newspaper, and even our children have been involved in preparing gifts for the families we will meet.

As I leave California this weekend, I will not be traveling alone. I take my family, friends and fellow ChildFund sponsors with me in thought and in spirit. It is my hope that I will be able to share this experience in its entirety with everyone I can when I return.

I invite you to follow along as I travel across the world for a true “Experience of a Lifetime!”

ChildFund and Partners Tackle Youth Unemployment in Sierra Leone

by Abu Bakarr Conteh, ChildFund Sierra Leone

ChildFund has launched a Youth Employment Support Project (YESP) in five districts of Sierra Leone, with the goal of reducing the high rate of youth unemployment in the country.

men and women at table

ChildFund Sierra Leone National Director Billy Abimbilla (standing) meets with project officers and training staff in the southern city of Bo.

The project is being implemented in partnership with Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Finance and Economic Development and the National Youth Commission, with funding from the World Bank. Some 3,000 youth with low levels of education will receive skills training over the next two years to improve their prospects for employment.

youth in line

Youth wait in line to register for the skills-training program in Sierra Leone.

ChildFund is working with a variety of training institutions in Freetown, Bo, Makeni, Kenema and Koidu cities to implement YESP. “We expect that about 60 percent of the trained youth will find employment at a living wage in the private sector or will be self-employed entrepreneurs after the training,” says Billy Abimbilla, national director in Sierra Leone.

Hundreds of young men and women who meet the criteria of being 14 to 25 years of age with little formal education are already queuing up at ChildFund’s area offices to register for the program.

The Mama Effect

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