By Nicole Duciaume, Regional Sponsorship Manager, ChildFund Americas
Nicole recently visited our Mexico office, where she met with children in ChildFund programs. This week, she is sharing highlights from her visit.
Much of ChildFund’s work in the field depends on volunteers, who are typically community members trained to encourage healthy development in children in a variety of ways. Here’s one mother who’s doing her part in Mexico.
Eli, the mother of two girls and a third baby on the way, is a volunteer with one of our local partner organizations in the state of Oaxaca. We met her two daughters, who are among 30 wildly energetic children, ages 6 to 12, participating in the Activate (Get Active) after-school program. Eli has her hands full trying to maintain order.
The session begins with a game called “the mailman.” The children circle up outside on a basketball court, and the leader calls out, “The mailman brought a letter for a child with … a ponytail! Blue jeans! Red shirt!” The children scurry to the correct position in the circle, depending on their hairstyle or clothing. Younger children learn to identify categories through the game, and everyone burns some energy.
We then venture inside to a large room that the municipal government lends to the local partner. It’s centrally located and safe, so the children have an easily accessible space for learning, and the partner doesn’t have to put funding and effort toward construction or maintenance of a building. Inside these walls, creativity flows.
Now the children work together to create a new fairy tale, which winds up being called “Little Red Riding Hood and the Boy in the Blue Cape.”
Eli walks around the room asking children to provide the next line in the story, building on what the last child said. The story, intricate with details, twists and plot turns, grows and grows, and another adult volunteer writes the story on a blackboard — but with intentional spelling and grammar mistakes. After the story is finished, the children tell her how to correct the story: where an accent was missing, where a comma needed to be added, where an S needed to be changed to a Z.
As a facilitator, Eli supervises four sessions a week: two for children ages 6 to 12 like the one we saw, and two sessions for youth, age 13 and older.
These sessions are meant to be different from school, Eli says, because in class, the children have to be formal and quiet. But in these programs, they get to let their energy and creativity soar. As a facilitator, she receives a small stipend of approximately US$50 a month to help her family. But the payback is more than monetary; Eli describes the children as her friends, and she loves when they run up to her and give her big hugs when she walks through the community.
After the fairy tale session, the children have another recess outside. This time, the basketball court is turned into an obstacle course with a fabric tunnel, foam rollers, large boxes and rings. They jump, hopscotch and crawl through the course, ultimately sitting in a throne made from cushions. Then it’s time to go home.
Eli says she has a new purpose and higher confidence with the skills she has learned as a facilitator, and she feels empowered to be a leader in her community. More important, Eli says the training has helped her to be a better mother to her own children.
Member organizations of the ChildFund Alliance believe a focus on child protection can foster a global mindset that prioritizes and protects children. To this end, we are working hard to ensure that child protection appears among the global priorities that will follow the Millennium Development Goals for reducing poverty worldwide.
The children on whose behalf we are acting, it turns out, have much to add to the conversation. This year, the ChildFund Alliance held more than 50 focus groups with more than 1,300 children in 41 of the 58 countries where Alliance member organizations, including ChildFund International, serve children.
The first question we asked them was, “What makes you feel free?”
A 15-year-old girl in Bolivia answered, “I feel free when I reach my dreams and the elders don’t tell me to shut my mouth.”
The rest of the questions largely built on the first: What makes you feel free from violence and exploitation? To take action to stop them? What can world leaders and adults do? What are your risks?
Too many children experience violence and exploitation, most often sexual violence, exploitative labor conditions and physical and humiliating punishment. Even in school, sexual harassment and corporal punishment are everyday occurrences; still, children also cite access to education as a primary key to their keeping safe from violence and exploitation.
“If I were president, I would build a very nice school in every village,” says a 12-year-old Laotian boy.
Children have ideas about how the situation might be improved, and they are clear that they want a role in that change. They call upon legislators to create and enforce laws to protect them, and upon all adults to learn about the issue, to listen to children and to respect them.
“I don’t understand why we are treated inhumanely and not considered citizens,” says one girl, 13, from Nepal.
A 15-year-old boy from Liberia says it another way: “Overlooking me is violence.”
Please sign the ChildFund Alliance’s Free From Violence and Exploitation petition. Thank you for caring about children.
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
When you were young, did your parents read you bedtime stories?
One summer my youngest sister lived with me. She was 18, between high school and college. My daughter was 6. Every night, I read the two of them bedtime stories. Together, we finished the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit and the entire Chronicles of Narnia.
Sept. 8 is International Literacy Day, a time to recognize how crucial literacy is to social development, along with the intrinsic benefits of reading and writing.
Children in developing countries often don’t share the experience of bedtime reading. At night, when families sit together in the darkness, parents sometimes tell stories — folk tales or oral history about ancient gods and kings, proud empires and illustrious ancestors. But many of these adults are illiterate, and books are scarce in their countries. Electricity, if it exists at all, is unreliable. On the equator, days are short. The sun rises at 6 a.m. and sets at 6 p.m. every day, regardless of the season.
In some countries where ChildFund works, there are no bookstores or public libraries; lack of demand results in no supply. Whatever reading material is available is far too expensive for all except the very wealthy. In the end, there is no culture of reading.
Even school classrooms often lack textbooks. Teachers lecture from hand-written notebooks — signed and stamped by the government ministry. They write on the chalkboard, and children copy into their own notebooks. Transcription errors handed down over the years create some misconceptions.
Research shows that, during story time, children bond with their parents, learning to read by matching the colorful pictures in their books to the storyline. Children also learn to think critically by observing the characters’ behavior. Bedtime stories begin a lifetime of reading.
Literacy is a fundamental human right. According to UNESCO, it’s the foundation for lifelong learning. It transforms lives, empowering people to improve their health, education and income. Without literacy, social and human development stalls.
UNESCO’s theme for International Literacy Day 2013 is Literacies for the 21st Century. In the United States, elementary school children learn computer-literacy skills, which are considered critical to success in modern society. Yet most of my 19-year-old information technology students in Guinea had never seen a computer.
Our measures for literacy in developing countries are limited to basic book-literacy. In Afghanistan, only 12 percent of youth attend secondary school. Of all of the countries we serve, Ethiopia has the lowest youth literacy rate — 63 percent for males and 47 percent for females. Only 16 percent of Ethiopian youths attend secondary school.
In many African countries, achieving literacy in their country’s official language (English, French, Spanish, Arabic or Portuguese) doesn’t occur until secondary school. Elementary school children are mostly taught in their local languages. They may not be able to write letters to their sponsors without assistance.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
In celebration of the 75th anniversary of ChildFund, we are running a 75-post series highlighting our past, present and future. Today we hear from longtime supporters Sue and David Gossman.
Sue Gossman’s church started sponsoring a child through what was then known as Christian Children’s Fund in the early 1970s, when she herself was a teenager. As she grew up, went to college and then married in 1976, she continued that sponsorship. Sue and her husband, David, sponsored more children as the years passed, a commitment that continues today.
Now, they support 10 children through ChildFund, and their generosity includes a meaningful Christmas tradition: giving gifts from ChildFund’s Gifts of Love & Hope catalog to children and communities in need.
“It really goes back a couple of years,” David explains. “It didn’t make sense to give large gifts to everybody in the family.” In previous years, he and Sue, who split their time between Illinois and Iowa, have chosen items from the Gifts of Love & Hope catalog to give in honor of their three daughters and other family members, but this past Christmas, their loved ones chose gifts themselves. The family gathered in December 2012 at David’s parents’ 60th anniversary celebration, so David and Sue brought along the catalog.
One daughter, who is a veterinarian and an EMT, picked out a fully stocked health station, and another daughter who likes to sew donated a sewing machine. The Gossmans also like to donate a gift yearly that has a long-term, infrastructural benefit, often assisting a village to grow its own food or have clean water. This year, along with the health station and the sewing machine, the Gossmans donated a water filter, a scholarship for a child in Ethiopia and a starter farm.
“It was a way of saying, ‘Hey, this is what Christmas is all about,’ ” David notes.
Also, through their years of sponsorship, the Gossmans learned how much good even a small donation can do.
“We’re always astounded at how far the Christmas and birthday gifts go,” Sue says of the monetary gifts the couple gives to their sponsored children. For only $8 or $10, a whole family can purchase clothing and party treats, David adds. One boy they sponsored in Africa since the age of 5 or 6 wrote the Gossmans a closing letter after he had turned 18 and was leaving ChildFund. He’d finished a tailoring course, and he was saving money to buy his own sewing machine to start a business. Sue and David decided to step in and purchase the machine for him.
“He’s becoming a part of the community who is giving back in a productive way,” David says proudly. “That’s a fantastic long-term thing that happens.”
One of their daughters, who started a job just after finishing graduate school, now sponsors a child in Africa, so the Gossmans’ tradition continues.
“Something as basic as clean water is pretty amazing, that that’s considered a gift,” David says. “Much of what we discuss in the letters with the children is education — encouraging them to continue with it and work hard on it. It’s so important to them.”
By Federico Diaz-Albertini, ChildFund Americas Regional Program Manager
Editor’s note: As part of a training workshop, ChildFund staff members recalled a time in the lives when they made a deep connection with international development work, whether with ChildFund or another organization. Freddy kindly agreed to share his story.
It was another day in the life of an NGO worker, but this one started a little earlier than usual. The plan on this particular day was to visit rural Peruvian communities where we were in the earliest stages of starting work.
I did not expect anything really surprising to happen during the course of the visit, since I was relatively familiar with the area and its population. We had a good preliminary assessment focused on supporting the community’s development efforts with the children. The car ride took us quickly from the paved streets of the city to the bumpy, unmaintained dirt roads of the countryside. As we climbed higher, I was once again impressed by the natural beauty of this rural area and dreamed about the potential of the region’s agricultural lands.
Of course, every one of the hundreds of bumps along the road tried to convince me that it was really more rational to be back in the city conducting a workshop that brought participants to a central location. Regardless, on we went, and the conversation with my colleagues was lively and motivational as we discussed the prospects of working in a new area that had experienced extreme levels of marginalization for as long as anyone could remember. It certainly coincided with our ideas of populations entrenched in an unending generational cycle of poverty.
Cesar, an experienced field manager, was quick to emphasize, however, that in spite of the scant support these populations had received through the years, “their sense of caring for the future had brought them progress in education and health.” That certainly made me think that a sense of independence and empowerment are always good for spurring determination and achievements.
The excitement level was quite high as we reached our destination and looked for the community leaders, who usually only believed outsiders were serious about a visit when you actually arrived. As usual, we sat patiently and waited for the community members to work their way to the small community center that they had built many years ago with their own labor and financial resources.
While waiting, a couple of us decided to walk around a little and greet the villagers. Outside one small house made of quincha, a mixture of mud and wood, there was a mother and daughter. The girl must have been about 4 or 5 years old and reminded me very much of my daughter, who was about the same age. She was rosy-cheeked, as is common in those windswept areas of the Andean region, and her hair was light colored. Whether the color of her hair was the product of malnutrition or just her natural color, we could not tell. In any case, she definitely caught our eye and took center stage during our visit.
As we stopped to talk to the mother, the little girl turned our attention her way with a song and by telling us her name, favorite games and family. She whispered to us about her older sister “who was always helping her mother around the home, while keeping her away from doing mischief.” She then spontaneously broke into a lively chorus of El pollito dice pio pio pio… .
The vibrancy of her movements and the spirit of her voice told us that we were in the presence of an extremely resilient human being whose potential was boundless. She captivated us in all sense of the word. It was a brief moment in physical time, but it left a lingering memory to contemplate for the rest of my life.
That little girl, whose name I don’t remember and to whose place I have not returned, awakened a dilemma in me with regard to life’s journey and the circumstances we experience along the way. Was she going to be able to build on her great joy for life, strength of character and intelligence, or would life in a rural, impoverished community slowly dampen the brilliance that we witnessed in her?
Since then my constant companion has been a vision in which all children are provided with equal opportunities on their walk through life, thus giving them the chance to help remake a world into one in which all girls and boys can thrive.
Children in Afghanistan face some of the greatest challenges in the world: political instability, lack of infrastructure, few educational opportunities and poor access to water, health care and other essentials. ChildFund started working in Afghanistan in 2002, and we’ve made some progress, particularly in providing education and fresh water to communities, but there is still a long way to go.
View the video:
Reporting by ChildFund Mexico
ChildFund Mexico is teaming up with ArcelorMittal Mexico, a multinational steel manufacturer, to improve conditions for children in six communities in Michoacán, Mexico.
The new community-development project, launched in late June, will directly benefit 1,300 Mexican children and reach more than 7,000 people in the town of Lázaro Cárdenas over the next nine years. The project’s main purpose is to develop sustainable improvements in education, health, nutrition and livelihoods.
With funding from ArcelorMittal, a new community center has been established, as well as four smaller meeting points in other areas, giving children and adults places to discuss their communities’ needs. The goal is for residents to take the lead in evolving their groups into independent community organizations over the next several years.
“Through the Integral Community Development Project of Lázaro Cárdenas, we look to promote the well-being and socio-economic growth of the communities where one of our main operations is located,” said Felicidad Cristóbal, global director of the ArcelorMittal Foundation, the company’s social investment arm. “ArcelorMittal is one of the main companies in Mexico with a long-term strategy for corporate social responsibility supporting self-sustainable development processes. That’s why we value the partnership we have established,” says Virginia Vargas, ChildFund’s national director in Mexico.
We could not be prouder of the children from ChildFund programs who participated in last week’s Day of the African Child events held at the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Facing many challenges, including harmful social and cultural practices across the continent, these children urged the African Union, its member states and partners to take a stand to protect children and allow them to become educated, healthy and fulfilled adults.
AU member states:
a) To ratify and domesticate all international and regional treaties relevant to the protection of children from harmful social and cultural practices.
b) To harmonize national laws with other international and regional standards on the prevention and protection of children from harmful social and cultural practices, in particular Article 21 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.
c) To openly condemn practices that harm the physical and mental integrity of children.
d) To provide free and high-quality health services for children affected by harmful social and cultural practices, and expand social-protection and child-rights systems to increase access to integrated quality services to children.
e) To establish data systems reflecting age and gender disaggregated data on the nature and magnitude of these practices.
f) To put in place mechanisms and institutions, including a national strategy, policy and plan of action, for the implementation, enforcement, monitoring and reporting, along with financial and human resources.
g) To submit a report within three months to the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) on the implementation of activities organized during the 2013 Day of the African Child.
AU member states in collaboration with partners (regional economic communities, parliaments, UN agencies, international and regional organizations, the media):
a) To advocate and promote the total elimination and abandonment of harmful social and cultural practices in Africa through awareness and social mobilization to change attitudes and influence behavior.
b) To support the strengthening of the social workforce and social protection mechanisms so as to deliver effective quality social services for affected children, especially young girls, as well as provide love and care to affected children.
c) To support meaningful participation and representation of children, families and communities, including children with disabilities and other vulnerable groups, in efforts to combat harmful social and cultural practices.
d) To ensure African governments take children’s issues seriously, provide them with a voice to speak on their own, as well as respect their views and ideas of children.
e) To strengthen collaboration with various stakeholders, such as the parliaments, media, schools, institutions of higher learning, traditional and religious leaders, civil society organizations, children and youth, as agents of positive change.
f) To strengthen cross-border and cross-regional cooperation so as to protect children from the impact of harmful practices.
g) To facilitate quality education to all children and provide integrated life skills to affected children, especially young adolescent boys and girls.
h) To conduct research to inform national policy and action on the elimination of harmful practices.
a) To monitor progress and the accountability of governments in the implementation of standards for the protection of children.
b) To organize advocacy campaigns and youth-led actions to eliminate harmful social and cultural practices.
c) To provide financial resources and technical assistance targeting comprehensive and inter-agency programs and strategies that address the needs and priorities of children subjected to harmful social and cultural practices.
Adopted on Friday, 14th June 2013, at the African Union Commission Headquarters, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
By Tenagne Mekonnen, ChildFund Africa Regional Communications Manager
Here in Africa, it is a crucial time for focusing on the rights of children in Africa, as we prepare for the Day of the African Child on June 16.
This annual event, supported by member countries of the African Union, commemorates the day in 1976 when hundreds of schoolchildren were killed in Soweto, South Africa, while participating in a nonviolent protest against an inferior and discriminatory educational system and for the right to be taught in their own language.
The day also draws attention to the need to improve the condition and well-being of children across the African continent. This year’s theme is “Eliminating Harmful and Social Practices Against Children: Our Responsibility.”
“The event should remind us all of our duty, as citizens of Africa and as friends, to promote the rights of the child on the continent,” said Jumbe Sebunya, ChildFund regional director for East and Southern Africa. “In Africa today there is some progress achieved for children in the areas of education, gender equity, HIV, AIDS and others.” Yet, with children making up a significant portion of the world population (in some countries more than 50 percent), Sebunya said that governments, civil society organizations and other key development partners must keep children’s well-being and rights central to any and all sustainable development efforts in Africa.
ChildFund marks the Day of the African Child at all levels, using the occasion as an opportunity for children to speak out about the importance of children’s rights.
ChildFund’s Africa regional office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, is excited to welcome children’s delegations from our programs in Mozambique, Zambia, Kenya, The Gambia and Ethiopia this week. Children and youth events celebrating the Day of the African Child took place June 14 in the African Union’s headquarters, the same place where national leaders make decisions for the continent.
The young delegates led the conference, engaging in intergenerational dialogue and weaving in arts, poems and music. It was their day, and they wanted to make sure that everyone heard their message.
In addition, I am working with ChildFund’s national office in Mozambique on its own Day of the African Child celebration. Mozambique’s government is one of many African countries that have not yet submitted a report about children’s rights to the African Union.
ChildFund (in cooperation with Plan International, another child-focused organization) is sending a group of experts to Mozambique this week to make a special request of the government that the report be submitted. We are working to keep children’s rights in the spotlight.
Below is a video of Seveliya, a 13-year-old girl from Zambia, speaking at the African Union as part of the Day of the African Child celebration:
By Tenagne Mekonnen, ChildFund Africa Regional Communications Manager
Jumbe Sebunya, ChildFund’s regional director for east and southern Africa, recently reflected on ChildFund’s commitment to children’s rights and the Day of the African Child, celebrated annually on June 16.
What are ChildFund’s current strategies in Africa?
We currently work in 11 African countries, reaching a total of 8.5 million children and families. ChildFund focuses on engaging children, families and communities in an effort to improve outcomes for children both at the micro level within their immediate communities but also on a macro level, within their countries and regions. Thus, our approach is two-pronged: hands-on at the community level, and also at national and regional levels in terms of policy advocacy efforts on children’s issues.
We have had good success with a number of our program strategies, such as ChildFund’s work on early childhood development (ECD), which focuses on parent-child-community relationships that are central in creating a healthy beginning for a child. Through ECD programs, we are able to ensure that the first experiences of a child begin with an informed ECD caregiver and a supportive community. We have seen that such an environment has a lifelong impact on the children’s development and success in life.
The Day of African Child is one of the main events celebrated in Africa. How is the event helping promote the rights of children in Africa?
The event should remind us all of our duty as citizens of Africa and its friends to promote the rights of the child on this continent. It does indeed commemorate children rising up against [South Africa’s] apartheid government that was bent on denying children their equal rights to education, health, etc. In Africa today, there has been some progress achieved for children in education, gender equity, HIV and AIDS and other areas. However, with children making up a significant portion of our populations (in some countries more than 50 percent), governments, civil society organizations and other key development partners have to keep children’s well-being and rights central to any and all sustainable development efforts on the continent.
How are you planning to celebrate the Day of the African Child, and what will that mean to the children you serve?
In Ethiopia, we are joining with the African Union Commission and others to organize a forum that will highlight African achievements and the plight of children in the continent. We are also bringing children from other countries where ChildFund works to share their stories and have their voices heard on issues affecting children in Africa. We are also participating in various events within countries in which we operate.
The theme this year is “Eliminating Harmful and Social Practices Against Children: Our Responsibility.” What is ChildFund doing along these lines?
In almost all the countries where ChildFund operates, children experience some form of physical violence before the age of 8! This is unacceptable, and in a number of countries ChildFund works with children, families, local communities, as well as governments, to address harmful social practices as well as violence and exploitation against children.
What are your expectations as you join other organizations and the African Union to celebrate the Day of the African Child?
I have many expectations for the Day of the African Child, especially to urge all African citizens and governments in renewing our commitments: To significantly reduce the number of children that are subjected to sexual violence and abuse of any form; to reduce the number of children living outside family care; to end harmful social practices against children like early marriage and genital mutilation; to eliminate any form of child labor on the continent; and to support birth registration for all children without discrimination in Africa.