By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
As part of our 75th anniversary blog series, we are talking with staff members about how they’ve seen ChildFund make a difference for children and what they hope to see our organization achieve in the future. Today, John Ngugi, a grants coordinator from our Kenya office, shares his perspectives.
John has been with ChildFund for eight years, formerly working in field operations and now as a grants coordinator. One of his top concerns for Kenyan children is access to a quality education. “They don’t have good schools,” John says. “The teachers are not well-trained,” and better schools are too expensive for children living in poverty to attend.
He added that Early Childhood Development programs, a hallmark of ChildFund’s current work, are making a difference in Kenya by emphasizing good nutrition and helping parents attain greater knowledge and skills, which consequently help children develop into healthy adults. In John’s current role, he also emphasizes ChildFund’s commitment to being a good steward of donors’ funds and carrying out their wishes.
In five years, John adds, “we’ll have stronger ECD programs, and we’ll have more donor participation in programs.”
When John and I talked, it was just a short time after the deadly terrorist attack at the WestGate mall in Nairobi, which is not far from ChildFund’s national office in Kenya. Although the attack caused the closing of our office temporarily, John emphasized that he and the other staff members there are committed to ChildFund’s work.
“Our resolve is to continue,” he says. “You have to be courageous in development.”
By Sylvia Ximenes, ChildFund Timor-Leste
In Timor-Leste, staff members at ChildFund’s national office recently created a wall decoration in celebration of the 75th anniversary of our organization and looked back at what ChildFund has meant in our country, which has seen major changes in the past decade, including its political independence.
“In the life of a child, every year is significant,” says Geoffrey Ezepue, ChildFund Timor-Leste’s national director. “Each year, children need access to education, good nutrition, health services and a safe and supportive environment in which to grow and learn. This is something that ChildFund has been striving to achieve every year for 75 years.”
Reflecting on our organization’s history, Vicente Alves, in sponsor relations, also looks forward to its future growth. “Commit and move ahead,” he says. “We can do it!”
Marcos Fatima has worked with ChildFund since 1991, when it was still known as Christian Children’s Fund. At the start, Marcos was employed with local partner organization Assistentia Caritas, and he has held several positions with ChildFund in the intervening years. In 1999, a time of political upheaval in Timor-Leste, Marcos was an assistant manager for a shelter program. His team provided assistance to families in need of homes, distributing materials such as zinc roofing sheets, timber and cement in two districts.
In 2006, another conflict broke out in Timor-Leste, causing the displacement of many families; at that time, Marcos became a youth facilitator, providing training and games for youth and children to reduce stress and feel more at ease while they lived in Internally Displaced People, or IDP, camps.
Since 2007, he has been a senior assistant for ChildFund Timor-Leste. “I enjoyed my work from the beginning, because this is a great job,” Marcos says. “We dedicate our time to work directly with children, especially the ones who are deprived, excluded and vulnerable.” Furthermore, he adds, we can help to empower children through our programs and activities.
As a father of six children — two boys and four girls — he acknowledges the importance of education to all of his children. “I started with nothing, but after working with ChildFund, I feel confident to provide a better education and support to my own children from the benefits that I receive,” Marcos says.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
This week, we recognize Peace Corps volunteers, many of whom leave the United States to live thousands of miles away from family, friends and familiar cultural landmarks. In exchange, volunteers gain global perspective and unforgettable experiences.
To celebrate Peace Corps Week (Feb. 24-March 2), we spoke with a few of ChildFund’s Peace Corps alumni, who shared their stories of living in the field.
Bethany Tebbe, who joined ChildFund in January as a grants management officer, was posted in Togo, a western Africa country, from 2003 to 2007, where she worked in girls’ education and empowerment. “I was 22,” she recalls. “I didn’t have any preconceived expectations.”
At first, she lived in a mud hut with a thatched roof, no electricity and no running water — a home she recalls fondly. It was Bethany’s first time outside of the U.S., but she says that she adjusted fairly well to village life and especially street food. She bicycled constantly.
After a mishap on a mountain hike that caused a serious knee injury, Bethany was posted in a Togolese city with greater ease of mobility. During her time in Togo, she traveled to many African countries, including Niger and Morocco.
When Craig Stein, senior grants and contracts manager at ChildFund, landed in North Yemen in 1982, it also was his first experience overseas. Craig had decided to apply to the Peace Corps after taking a college history class taught by a former diplomat who had piqued his interest in Middle Eastern history and culture. “I wanted to do something different,” he says, and he hoped to work in a Middle Eastern, Islamic society. A posting for an English as a Second Language teacher opened in Hodeidah, Yemen, and Craig was accepted. He lived in a three-bedroom home with three other volunteers, and he later moved to a mountain village as an office administrator of a water project.
Upon his arrival, Craig experienced a great sense of welcome. He and a friend were traveling in the mountains north of the capital city of Sanaa, and they stumbled into a wedding ceremony. They were immediately invited to be guests — for three days, the typical length of a Yemeni wedding. “The Yemenis were a lot more open to Americans or Westerners than I anticipated,” he says. “I’d expected some hostility or at least suspicion, but that wasn’t the case at all.”
Although volunteers cannot choose the country where they are stationed, they do have some control over the type of work they do and sometimes can pick the environment where they’ll live — such as city versus village.
Elizabeth Frank, a program assistant for global programs in ChildFund’s Washington, D.C., office, was posted in Ukraine from 2006 to 2008. Surprisingly, Ukraine has the most Peace Corps volunteers in the world. Elizabeth lived in the western half of the country, which identifies strongly with its Ukrainian heritage; the eastern half has a stronger Russian identity.
“It’s a very divided country,” Elizabeth says. She lived in a small village with a population of 3,000 or so and taught English and HIV prevention. She came away feeling strong respect for Ukraine’s “resilient people.”
“Overall, it was fabulous,” she says, and she remains very close to some of her former students. Two of them came to the United States for high school because educational standards remain very poor in Ukraine; now, they’re attending university in Western Europe.
Elizabeth, Craig and Bethany remain attached to the places where they lived and served, and concur that their perspectives on global issues are strongly influenced by their time in the field.
Since finishing their stints as volunteers a few years ago, both Bethany and Elizabeth have maintained ties to the Peace Corps and the people they met on their tours. Bethany also spent a year in Malawi working for the Peace Corps Response, a short-term assignment that is focused on a particular area of expertise; Bethany’s focus was on HIV and AIDS.
Craig eventually married an English nurse he met while working in that mountain village in Yemen. The couple went on to work in international development in Sudan, Sierra Leone, Senegal and the United Kingdom before settling in the United States.
“My Peace Corps experience had a profound effect on my life,” Craig notes.
By Joan Ng’ang’a, ChildFund Kenya
Esther Ndungu in our finance department and Eunice Kilundo in programs were good sports and agreed to share their stories.
How was it growing up using your left hand?
Esther: People used to imitate me; some would get very mad and say my parents failed to teach me how to use my right hand.
Eunice: Throughout my school life, including college, my classmates teased and made fun of me by imitating me as I wrote and as I played (throwing a ball with “the hand”). They found it funny as I tried to write while seated at a right-hand desk. I could even catch some of them staring as I ate! I guess they thought I would miss my mouth or something.
What have you heard about left-handedness?
Esther: Left-handed are bright people and they are lucky. They think with both sides of the brain…that they are very smart. They die early….
Eunice: I grew up feeling different, strange. My unsuccessful attempt to “change my hand” frustrated me. By and by, my perception changed. I now find it humorous when people get surprised that I am a leftie! I try teaching them the “art” of throwing a ball, eating without missing my mouth. It’s nice to tickle people once in a while by doing something so natural to me… being me.
Any thoughts you have about being left-handed?
Esther: We are unique people in our own way.
Eunice: They can do anything and everything. Just try and find us the left (not right) scissors, enough lecture room seats and allow us to be. To my fellow lefties: Guys, take it easy and go for anything including the presidency: George H.W. Bush, Clinton, and Obama did!
Happy Left-Handers Day!