To commemorate ChildFund’s 75th anniversary, we invited the leaders of each of the 12 ChildFund Alliance member groups to reflect on the past and future of their own organizations and the Alliance. Today, we hear from Ireland.
September 2013 marked my 10th year as chief executive officer of ChildFund Ireland. Throughout the past decade I have been lucky enough to witness immensely positive changes throughout both our own organisation and the wider ChildFund Alliance. This piece is far too short to mention them all, so I will share highlights from the past decade.
On the sponsorship front, we worked hard to streamline sponsorship funds and focus on 11 countries, as compared to 27 in 2003. This means we now can really see an impact that Irish sponsorship funds have on ChildFund work in the field. I have always been a great believer in child sponsorship. On a personal level, I am proud to have helped form the Sponsor Relations Network, which brings even greater efficiencies for the Alliance, our national offices and our sponsors.
In terms of grants, ChildFund Ireland received its first grant of €95,000 from Irish Aid in 2003 for a 12-month project in Kenya. In the intervening years, our relationship with Irish Aid has grown, and we now have a four-year multiannual funding agreement that focusses on early childhood development in three countries in Africa, building on the sponsorship-funded programme in the same areas.
Our first forays into the online world came in 2004 with the launch of our first website. This year, we carried out a major overhaul of the site. Visual appeal and navigability have been greatly improved through extensive use of colour, animation and a more intuitive layout, and a whole host of new features have been added. Our social media presence has progressed from limited use of a single platform (Facebook) in 2010 to daily updates on Twitter, photo-sharing on Pinterest and engaging an active community on Facebook.
In just the last few months, we have introduced a digital newsletter to share our favourite articles with supporters on our email database and created our first Facebook advertising campaign in aid of the ChildFund Alliance Free from Violence and Exploitation campaign. The combination of all of these efforts has meant that traffic to our website has roughly tripled, and readership of articles has multiplied from a few hundred to several thousand per article.
The economic situation in Ireland is well-publicised and has impacted ChildFund’s supporter base. However, perhaps due to the nature of child sponsorship, our cancellation rate has been well below what might have been expected. We are embracing the challenge, and I am indebted to the hard work of my team and the loyalty of our supporters during this difficult time.
Moreover, our increasing public profile means we are well placed to take advantage of the coming improvement in national economic fortunes. I, myself, have enjoyed every year of my time at ChildFund Ireland, and I look forward to many more.
Slán go foill … (good-bye for now).
By Melissa Bonotto, ChildFund Ireland
Machava, a 32-year-old community leader, has been working with children for 10 years. He first started talking with village children under a tree close to his house. Then, ChildFund Mozambique built a resource center close by in 2009, and Machava had the chance to use it for his daily meeting with pupils. He also teaches adult education and is a student himself. He had to stop his studies during the Mozambican Civil War, but he is delighted to tell us that he managed to go back to school. He will complete the final year in secondary school next year.
As part of the Communities Caring for Children Programme (CCCP) launched last week by ChildFund Ireland and ChildFund Mozambique, this resource center has been adapted to become an early childhood development center. Flush toilets and basins with running water have been installed at children’s level and the center has been made more child-friendly. Zaza, a talented local artist painted colorful and animated pictures on the walls. A small playground is in the works, as is training for center facilitators.
Machava remembers the time he didn’t have any of this. “Children used to sit on the ground. We didn’t have a blackboard or chalk. Also, they were exposed to bad people. Now they are safe and secure in the center.” He teaches subjects such as Portuguese and math, but he acknowledges that the children´s favorite activities are dancing and singing.
Currently, 85 children are enrolled: 50 girls and 35 boys, age 3 to 6 years old. Children stay in the resource centre from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Parents who can afford it make a monthly contribution of 10 meticais (less than 35 cents in U.S. currency). Those who are enrolled in ChildFund’s sponsorship program receive a school bag containing a notebook, two pencils and a sharpener.
When we went to the center, we brought some toys, games, books and activities to share with the children. The children were fascinated with bubbles, Irish stickers and pop-up books. We had the chance to tell a story and we also listened to stories told by the children. Maria, a young girl, told a story about “a boy who was friends with a monkey. One day the boy said he wanted to steal something, but the monkey said he should not do it because it was not nice!”
We watched them singing and dancing enthusiastically and animatedly. Just as Machava said, they love it!
Through the CCCP program, ChildFund seeks three primary outcomes for children:
• improve the quality of the services related to ECD
• strengthen community structures
• develop a culture of learning.
Four additional ECD centers are planned in Gondola before 2015, funded by ChildFund and Irish Aid.
By Melissa Bonotto, ChildFund Ireland
It’s the end of another week and villagers from the Gondola district in Mozambique are gathered at their usual meeting spot. They each have their meticais – the local currency – and are eager to participate in today’s Village Savings and Loans (VSL) meeting. After the official welcome by the organization’s 23-year-old president Aida, they begin shouting out numbers, adding their money to the pool and cheering — happy to be investing in the future of their community.
Through a partnership with the local KureraWana Association, ChildFund Ireland and ChildFund Mozambique have encouraged VSL groups to invest in early childhood development as part of their new Communities Caring for Children Programme (CCCP). CCCP coordinator, Alberto, says “The community became so excited that they could not wait.” Some VSL groups began saving before the program’s official start date and will soon be able to support childhood development initiatives in the area. With an early start, most VSLs have saving down to a science.
Each group, consisting of about 15 to 25 members, meets weekly to make deposits into a communal fund. Participants must contribute at least one share each week, but they are allowed to give up to five. One share is equal to 20 meticais – or US$1.
Members can borrow up to three times the amount they have contributed but only at the last meeting of the month. Borrowers have three months to pay down their loan, and do so at a 10 percent interest rate. Members follow clearly prescribed guidelines to participate and start each meeting by reciting the rules and penalties so that everyone in attendance understands.
With financial guidance, individuals use these loans to maintain or jumpstart new businesses and community programs. “These groups have been targeted for business management training during the program,” says Jean, a ChildFund Ireland grants officer. “So their loans are managed appropriately and used for viable businesses.”
Each group is supported by a secretary, two cashiers, a “money-box” guard and multiple key guards. All participants, identified by a number, announce how much they have saved for the week. The secretary records the amount in a ledger and members of the group cheer for their fellow banker’s accomplishments.
Beyond entrepreneurship, VSLs also encourage emergency preparation through savings. At every meeting, each participant contributes 5 meticais to a social fund that can be used as a donation to a member in times of need.
As their savings grow, VSL groups will help reshape the economic capacity of their communities and empower individuals to reach financial stability. Group members will start new businesses, providing services their neighborhoods need desperately, as well as support key community initiatives that will benefit the families and children of their community.