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.”
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.
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!”
by Abu Bakarr Conteh, ChildFund Sierra Leone
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.
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.
Reporting by ChildFund The Gambia and ChildFund Indonesia
As ChildFund works around the globe to provide for the basic needs of children, a fundamental component of our efforts to reduce poverty and save lives is the provision of clean water and sanitation. To mark World Water Day, we spotlight two projects that are improving water access for children and families.
Safe Drinking Water in The Gambia
In 2011, ChildFund The Gambia, with support from ChildFund Deutschland and the German government, began working with the Ding Ding Bantaba Federation and Eastern Foni Federation to provide fresh water to 12 communities. The ongoing project is providing clean and safe drinking water from protected wells for about 22,400 people, the majority of whom are women and children.
Before this project began, women and young children would walk for more than 3 kilometers (almost 2 miles) to fetch water from open wells that were often polluted. With the construction of new wells, that walk for water is reduced to 1 kilometer, or even a few meters in some cases. By the time the project concludes, more than 30,000 families will have access to clean water.
As a result of having reliable sources of fresh water, health and hygiene are improving within the communities. Another outcome is reduced occurrences of diarrhea diseases and malaria infections that hit hard for children under the age of five.
Working with the two community federations, ChildFund is conducting management and finance trainings for the communities’ Water and Village Development Committees. “The idea is to equip local residents with the project management and financial skills necessary to effectively maintain and sustain the water facilities and other development projects,” says Eustace Casselle, ChildFund national director in The Gambia.
Opening Access to Clean Water in Indonesia
Prior to 2007, Cikaret village in West Java, Indonesia, did not have access to clean water. The 1,500 residents collected water from wells, irrigation gutters and rivers. During the rainy season, dengue fever, diarrheal diseases and skin infections were common. To have clean water, families had to buy it.
Five years ago, ChildFund Indonesia, working with the local government, teamed with a local partner and community members to build a half-mile pipeline to a nearby mountain source, providing 400 people with access to clean water. The local government then constructed a water tower near the village, growing the number of people served to 1,200.
“The clean water means a lot for the community. Now, there are no more skin infections happening around the community. Besides that, it also lowers our monthly expense,” said Yusuf, 36, a father of three children. “After the water pipes were built and we started to see the benefits, the community started to be closer. We now are aware that by working together, we can put an end to any problems in our community.”
by Christine Ennulat, ChildFund International
Liberia’s 13 years of civil war ended in 2003. Nine years later the effects of war linger. In post-conflict societies, children are the ones who suffer the most as their parents struggle to rebuild shattered homes and livelihoods. Often, children come to be viewed as burdens, or even commodities. They became at risk for exploitative child labor, domestic violence and other abuses.
Healing has been slow. Liberia’s Poverty Reduction Strategy of 2008 includes a statement that speaks volumes: “A whole generation of Liberians has spent more time at war than in the classroom.”
Some years after ChildFund began work in Liberia in 2003, staff began to realize that, despite the ongoing rebuilding of Liberia’s decimated education system, young children ages 5 to 8 were not enrolling at the rate they should, and those who did were not staying in school.
In May 2010, ChildFund began a program called Participatory Research and Learning (PARLER) to identify the obstacles to school attendance in 25 communities and try to remove them. The program is funded by the Union de Banques Suisses.
The centerpiece of PARLER is training older teens to facilitate participatory exercises (e.g., fun, animated games) with 5- to 8-year-olds to learn what keeps them from school. The exercises help children identify problems in their communities, prioritize them, analyze solutions and plan for the future.
Martin Hayes, ChildFund’s child protection specialist who helped launch the program, says, “In the long run, this helps build skills and leadership of the youth.” And it inspires older children to look out for the younger ones.
What kept the younger children from school, the youth learned, included bullying and harsh corporal punishment in the classroom. Girls faced the additional obstacle of parents keeping them home to do housework or prioritizing their brothers’ educations over theirs. Some of the children also would go to the nearby Nigerian peacekeepers’ base to beg instead of going to school.
Acting as advocates for the younger children, the youth brought these concerns to special committees focused on children’s needs. ChildFund has trained adult members of the committees to respond as appropriate, whether counseling parents or calling in authorities.
By July 2011, according to an external evaluation commissioned by the Bernard Van Leer Foundation, 1,234 5- to 8-year-olds had been involved in PARLER sessions.
School enrolment in PARLER communities is moderately higher than in communities without the program, and retention also is higher. Children from PARLER communities also miss fewer school days and spend less time on household chores or jobs outside the house and more time on homework. In schools connected with the PARLER program, children suffer less corporal punishment; their parents are more likely to discipline their children verbally than physically. Children involved with PARLER even get sick less often.
The gains are modest, but they are consistent across many types of child-protection risks. Again, healing is slow. But this work is moving it forward.
These improvements flow from giving children and youth tools to improve their own lives. “We’re providing them with skills to protect themselves,” says Hayes, “but also life skills for when they get older.”
Reporting by ChildFund Philippines
ChildFund Philippines, joining other organizations and stakeholders from the government, academe, and the development sector, is reaffirming its resolve to reduce child labor in sugarcane fields.
Child labor is pervasive in this largely agricultural nation. Children begin working in the sugarcane fields at an early age. They are exposed to scorching heat, dangerous chemicals and machetes.
ChildFund Philippines is one of six implementing agencies of ABK3 LEAP: Livelihoods, Education, Advocacy and Protection to Reduce Child Labor in Sugarcane. The four-year project, headed by World Vision Philippines, is being funded by the U.S. Department of Labor. The other implementing partners are Educational Research and Development Assistance Foundation Inc., the Sugar Industry Foundation Inc., Community Economic Ventures Inc. and the University of the Philippines’ Social Action and Research for Development Foundation Inc.
Launched Feb. 29, ABK3 LEAP aims to lift 52,000 children out of the unsafe labor conditions found in the cane fields. The project will provide education opportunities for children, sustainable livelihoods for their parents and youth employment services among other services across 11 provinces.
“The production of sugar generates significant income for the Philippines,” says Gloria Steele, Mission Director of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). “Yet, sadly, sugarcane farmers and their families make up some of the poorest households in this country. Even more sadly, it is not uncommon for the children in these households to start working in the cane fields as early as six years of age.”
Katherine Manik, ChildFund Philippines national director notes that ChildFund has a long history in child protection programs. “ChildFund Philippines is privileged to have been part of the ABK initiative from its first project,” she says. “Now on its third ABK project, ChildFund reaffirms its commitment to help these vulnerable children lead better lives.”
Story told by Tony Ocira to Semu Okumu, ChildFund Uganda
I come from Laroo community in Gulu District, which is located in the Acholi area of Uganda. I’m 27 and I work as a veterinary doctor. But when I was a child, I was sponsored through ChildFund, starting in1993. Laroo community was one of those places affected by a 20-year civil war involving the LRA rebels.
By the time I joined ChildFund, my parents could not afford to pay my school fees or buy the things we needed. Our district was a battleground for the civil war. If we slept at home in our villages, we could be kidnapped by the LRA. We children often had to commute to the city in the evening to sleep on the streets and return to our school to study during the day.
My parents could not till the village land because the rebels often uprooted our crops. In any case, they were too scared to till the land with bullets flying all over.
When ChildFund came to introduce their programs to Gulu, Laroo community, I was one of the children who benefitted. Even at nine years, I knew that my life was going to change. ChildFund built a primary school for the little children and provided them with learning materials.
When I joined ChildFund, the Lowe family became my sponsors and they helped make me what I am today. Although they were not physically present, they showed me support during my childhood. Their letters showed concern, friendship and love.
With the support of my sponsors, my family bought livestock for rearing. The money got from selling the offspring of the livestock helped to provide clothes, household items for my family and pay for my school fees from primary school up to college. My sponsors were so good and I am eternally grateful.
Once, on my birthday, they sent me some money and my mother bought for me a short-sleeve blue shirt and brown khaki shorts. I felt so smart and walked around the village greeting all the elders and waving at the other children who were wearing tattered clothes.
Because of ChildFund, I had scholastic materials and lunch provided for me at school, and whenever I fell sick I received treatment. When I was young I had a dream of becoming a doctor, and now I am a veterinary doctor based in Amuru District in Northern Uganda.
I am glad that ChildFund came to Acholi area at a time when other organizations were fleeing.
I would like to thank all sponsors who give children better opportunities in life and tell you that through your sponsorship you are making children’s dreams a reality.
by Virginia Sowers, ChildFund Community Manager
Uganda is once again in the news, and the focus is on children. Overall, that’s a good thing. There can never be enough attention heaped on this nation’s children, who endured 20 years of civil war from the 1980s to the mid-2000s. Yet, it’s important to distinguish between the Uganda of the early years of this century and the Uganda of today.
It is estimated that as many as 26,000 children in northern and eastern Uganda were abducted, raped and forced into servitude and military combat during the war. During the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) crisis, ChildFund responded with programs in some of the worst affected districts of Pader, Gulu, Lira and Soroti in Northern Uganda. We provided child protection and psychosocial support to thousands of children in the large camps of internally displaced people (IDPs).
Joseph Kony, who led the LRA, fled the country. Widely believed to now be in hiding in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kony remains a wanted man for the terrible atrocities committed on Uganda’s people and its children. And he continues to exploit children who come into his reach in central Africa.
“In the early years following the crisis, ChildFund Uganda focused on reintegrating formerly abducted children with their families and communities, as well as promoting the protection and psychosocial well-being of many other children who were not abducted but still were affected by the crisis,” says Martin Hayes, child protection specialist. “By 2006, the northern Ugandan city of Gulu no longer had ‘night commuters’— children on the run from the LRA abductors and who were afraid to sleep in their own rural homes,” Hayes notes. “Today, Gulu is a bustling town.”
The last 10 years have also seen the return of tens of thousands of the IDPs from camps back to their homes and a gradual return to normalcy. “ChildFund’s work has shifted to helping the Ugandan people get on with their lives,” Hayes says. ‘We’re working with our community partners to promote children and youth’s protection and healthy development – tangible support that is making their lives better.”
Since 1980, ChildFund has worked with community-based partners across Uganda to support the needs of children. ChildFund’s programs currently benefit approximately 784,000 children and family members through establishment of Early Childhood Development (ECD) centers and parental outreach programs, school construction and teacher training, youth leadership and job training. “We also have been working with communities and families to support the needs of children affected by HIV/AIDS, which is a tremendous problem in Uganda,” Hayes notes.
“Child protection is at the forefront of all of our programs,” says Hayes. “ChildFund is working closely in partnership with the Ugandan government, the national university, international and national organizations and community residents to collectively improve the protective environments for children. Together, our goal is to strengthen Uganda’s national child protection system.”
by Julien Anseau, Regional Communications Manager, ChildFund Asia
Afghanistan is one of the toughest places in the world to be a woman. On International Women’s Day, we talk with ChildFund’s country director, Palwasha Hassan, about the plight of women in her war-torn country and how ChildFund is helping.
Palwasha, what is the status of women in Afghanistan today?
There are many challenges to face as a woman. Every 30 minutes, an Afghan woman dies during childbirth. Life expectancy is only 45 years. Only 18 percent of girls age 15 to 24 can read and write. One in three Afghan women experience physical, psychological or sexual violence. And many women are forced into marriage.
Although there are encouraging signs of improvement such as women’s participation in activities outside the home and the number of girls enrolled in school, there’s still a long way to go. Discrimination, lack of education, domestic violence and poverty are a fact of life for many Afghan women.
What are the challenges in women’s education and getting girls to go to school?
Only 40 percent of girls attend primary school, and only 15 percent go on to attend secondary school. Traditionally, there is little awareness in Afghanistan on the importance of girls’ education. Many poor families cannot support their daughters’ education; girls are expected to stay home and help with housework rather than attend school. Schools are also often far away. Security is also an issue. It’s not safe for parents to send their children to school.
Education, however, helps women claim their rights, and it is also the single most powerful way to lift people out of poverty. ChildFund recently surveyed children in Afghanistan, and girls tell us they want to learn; they want more and better schools for all children.
Over the years, with support from UNICEF and the U.S. Department of State, ChildFund has trained teachers, provided educational materials to schools, run literacy classes, opened community libraries to promote reading and supported social mobilization efforts encouraging children to go to school. Particular focus has been on girls.
What is the situation regarding women’s rights in Afghanistan?
Although legislation has been passed, in reality, the implementation of women’s rights remains patchy. Many women in Afghanistan face physical, sexual and psychological abuse, forced marriage, trafficking, domestic violence and the denial of basic services, including education and health care.
With support from UN Women and the U.S. Department of State, ChildFund has trained parents, community leaders and government staff to recognize gender-based violence and promote women’s rights, as well as strengthen referral mechanisms so that women can seek help.
Can you tell us how else ChildFund is helping women in Afghanistan?
We educate mothers on the importance of their children’s education, health, hygiene and nutrition. We train parents, community leaders and government staff to recognize child-protection issues. We have provided livelihood training and support to women for income-generating enterprises, including carpet weaving and tailoring so that they can support their families. We also provide reintegration support to internally displaced and refugee families, including the construction of shelter and wells. All told, our programs provide thousands of women and their families with the support they need to take greater control of their lives.
Looking ahead, what are ChildFund’s priorities in Afghanistan?
ChildFund’s priorities and expertise in Afghanistan lie in early childhood development, raising literacy rates and improving child protection. In addition, we are focusing on youth vocational and leadership skills development, gender-based violence and reintegration support to internally displaced people and refugee families.
As an Afghan woman, is there anything else you want to tell ChildFund supporters about your country and the women there?
ChildFund has worked in Afghanistan since 2001, assisting more than half a million children and family members. We operate in more than 150 communities within Badakshan, Baghlan, Kunduz, Nangarhar and Takhar. Yet, the needs of the Afghan people are still great. For sustainable development to happen in Afghanistan, there needs to be a long-term global vision for the country. Then, conditions will improve for women – and everyone.
by Virginia Sowers, ChildFund Community Manager
Congratulations to ChildFund Facebook fans:
In honor of the seven winners, we’ve sent an educational gift (a school uniform and/or school supplies) to a child in each of the seven countries featured in the photo album.
You’ll find photos of the children on ChildFund’s Facebook page. Their stories are touching.
Anmol, which in Hindi means precious, is enrolled in St. Anthony’s Orphanage Project in New Delhi, India. She received a school supply kit.
Brenda attends a child-friendly school in the remote and rural Honduran community of Sabana Ronda. Her grade point average last year was 94 percent. She received a new uniform and shoes along with some school supplies, notebooks and materials for arts and crafts.
Keli, who participates in ChildFund’s U.S. programs in Oklahoma, received much-needed school supplies and arts and crafts items.
Thilan, enrolled in Lanka Taiwan Children’s Program in Sri Lanka, was the recipient of a new school uniform.
Elise, whose family was forced to flee armed conflict and relocate to Ziguinchor, Senegal, now has educational supplies her parents couldn’t afford.
Irene, who participates in Kenya’s Kerwa Child and Family program, loves her new school uniform. She attends in PCEA Ruthigiti Academy.
Jenipher, whose parents are subsistence farmers in Zambia, has never owned proper school shoes or a uniform until now. She comes from a family of four children, and the family was overjoyed to receive the gift for Jenipher.
Thanks to everyone who participated in the Facebook promotion and for telling others about ChildFund’s work with children in 31 countries.
by Lee Steinour, Communications Assistant
Your tweets can help send a girl to school!
Starting today, March 5, and continuing through International Women’s Day on March 8 (5 p.m. EST), ChildFund is inviting its Twitter followers to tweet out on critical issues related to girls and women.
In developing countries, child marriage derails as many as 10 million girls a year from achieving their potential as women.
Lack of access to quality health care is another obstacle for girls and women who live in poverty.
And, in many countries, education for girls is a low priority or not available at all.
At ChildFund, we believe the healthy development of girls is critical to breaking the cycle of poverty. When girls have a secure childhood, they grow up to be strong women who lead positive change in their communities.
To mark International Women’s Day, we’re asking ChildFund’s Twitter fans to help build awareness around issues critical to women by tweeting and retweeting posts.
Please use the hashtag #girls2women in each Twitter post. If we reach 200 tweets and retweets in four days, we’ll honor our Twitter followers by providing a one-year educational scholarship to a girl in one of ChildFund’s projects.
Invite your friends to get involved by retweeting your posts and creating their own woman- and girl-focused tweets.
Need help with tweet ideas?
How about answering the question: What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
Or, send out some of these suggested tweets:
Happy tweeting, and remember to use the #girls2women hashtag. We can’t wait to see what you come up with!