By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
Long before recorded history, children played. From the beginning, their play took three outward forms: conflict, imitation and chance. Play as conflict appears in games of skill and competitive sports. We associate imitation with cooperative games, such as role playing and creative or imaginative play. Games of chance — most familiar to us in cards and dice — often involve sticks, stones, shells, beads, or bones in developing countries.
We also know now that play is critical to children’s development, and many who live in developing countries do not have the time and opportunity to play with their peers, to lay down their worries for a moment and just be children.
Today is Universal Children’s Day, an event that aims for greater understanding of and among children of all nations. Its roots are in a 1954 United Nations conference when officials recommended that each country set aside a day for children. Nov. 20 has special meaning as the date on which the U.N. General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959 and, 30 years later, the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Educators describe play as the young child’s work. It’s more than self-expression. Unstructured play teaches children about the natural world, themselves and society. Through play, children develop motor and cognitive skills, learn cultural values and mature in emotional intelligence. Strategic thinking, pattern matching, problem solving, math mastery, negotiation, sensitivity to others and conflict resolution are just the beginning of play’s hidden benefits.
If child’s play is the foundation of our intellectual, social, physical and emotional development, then play is education. And if education is human development, then development truly begins when each young child plays.
Last year, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched Global Education First (GEFI), a new initiative raising the political profile of education. Its premise is that education leads to gender equality, economic opportunity, health and environmental sustainability. GEFI aims to put every child in school, provide them all with quality education and, ultimately, transform children into global citizens.
ChildFund also seeks to improve educational opportunities and learning environments in every community where we work.
Having taught both here in the United States and in Africa, I know there’s more to education than schools, equipment, materials and instructors, essential as they are. The Declaration of the Rights of the Child reminds us: “The child shall have full opportunity for play and recreation.”
Play is universal; it comes naturally. Kids everywhere turn anything into a game. Think of hide-and-seek, kick-the-can, string games, Simon Says, clapping rhymes, rope skipping and hopscotch. You find them in Virginia, Eastern Europe, Southern Asia, Latin America and West Africa. In ChildFund International’s lobby, we have toys created by children in the countries we serve, playthings that demonstrate resourcefulness and creativity.
In developing countries, children play with scrap materials. A stick turns a wheel rim into a perpetual motion machine. Gathering up discarded plastic shopping bags, village boys weave them into soccer balls. Empty aluminum cans and bottle caps morph into toy animals or race cars. In a girl’s hands, a bit of cloth, some string and a corn husk become a doll.
Here in the United States, we’re blessed with leisure and money to spend on play dates, soccer lessons and computer games. But when play becomes our babysitter, we tend to forget its true value in children’s lives.
Kristina, a tutor at an Early Childhood Development center in Indonesia, often makes toys from available resources, including recycled materials, that teach her children about shapes and numbers. “With these resources, they get to play with a range of different educational toys, and we know that they are learning while enjoying being a child,” she says. “I wish I had these when I was a child.”
By Himangi Jayasundera, ChildFund Sri Lanka
ChildFund Sri Lanka celebrated the 75th anniversary of ChildFund International by taking 175 children to an amusement and water park. It was a day of fun rides and water slides for these children, who came from 11 districts where ChildFund works in Sri Lanka.
The celebrations commenced with a video screening of a message from ChildFund CEO and President Anne Goddard, followed by speeches from Eleanor Loudon, Sri Lanka’s national director, and short speeches by three participating children, who aired their opinions on education, child protection and what they would do if they were the leader of their country.
A highlight of the day was the launch of Listening to the Voices of Children, a report on the ideas and aspirations of children based on a survey of 1,000 children in 11 districts. The children who went to the amusement park were selected in a lottery from those who participated in the survey.
Other highlights included the cutting of the big 75th anniversary cake, distribution of gifts and a group photo.
“It has been a great day,” said Isuru, 12. “I especially liked the water slides, and we went on many rides. I didn’t expect it to be so much fun.”
By Sierra Winston, ChildFund Communications Intern
Victor Koyi, ChildFund’s new regional director of East and South Africa, has been with ChildFund for 17 years, most recently as national director of Kenya. He recently answered our questions about his motivations, successes and challenges.
What is your favorite thing about working for ChildFund?
The opportunity to make a difference in the many deprived, excluded and vulnerable children around the globe that as an agency we have committed to serve is an honor beyond measure to me. So, getting to the field and seeing that in action is my favorite high point all the time.
As ChildFund celebrates its 75th anniversary, could you tell us what you think has been the most important work we’ve done in East and South Africa?
In partnership with the respective governments and local partners in six countries in East and Southern Africa (Angola, Zambia, Mozambique, Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia), we have invested time and resources to ensure that children have access to education and training.
Education and training have a significant positive impact on health, social and economic participation, equal opportunities and income and productivity. Education provides the core skills that children need in a competitive global economy and certainly for children who do not proceed to higher institutions of learning. Getting skills that help them to find a means of livelihood is a critical lifesaver.
A variety of programs in East and Southern Africa, such as the Atlas project in Zambia, have helped public school teachers improve their technical capacities to teach children and increase use of active, participatory, child-friendly, research-based classroom practices, thus improving the quality, relevance and delivery of the curriculum. The Early Childhood Development investment in Kenya and Angola has given hope to young children in Emali and Elavoko; now they have equal access to effective care and development.
The Investment in Safe Water provision in Ethiopia is enabling hundreds of households to have access to clean water, reducing waterborne diseases and allowing children to have more school time. It is not easy to isolate the most important work we have done. However, our partnership with communities, regional governments, donors and communities over the years has created a wonderful platform for children to thrive.
How have conditions changed in the past couple of decades in terms of HIV and AIDS, particularly with children?
For nearly three decades, HIV and AIDS have devastated individuals and families with the tragedy of untimely death and medical, financial and social burdens. Although children’s concerns have always been present within the great spectrum of need associated with HIV, they have to some extent been overshadowed by the very scale of the epidemic in the adult populations.
Thanks to the improved evidence and accelerated action by many development players, including ChildFund International, the story of how AIDS is affecting children is being rewritten.
Children are now central to strategies and actions to avert and address the consequences of the epidemic. It is true that infections still thrive, babies are being born with the virus and mothers are dying. Adolescents are still becoming infected, but advocacy and investment on behalf of children have had an impact, and the goal of virtual elimination of mother-to-child transmission by 2015 appears within reach.
Through its East and Southern Africa country programs and in partnership with communities and other stakeholders, ChildFund has built community capacity to address psychosocial needs of children affected by HIV, helped reduce mother-to-child transmission, and contributed to a generation of informed youths who work to eliminate biases against HIV-positive people and are aware of the dangers of risky behavior.
The combined treatment efforts and increased knowledge have significantly reduced infection rates in the region.
What motivates you in your life?
I am fortunate to have had people in my life who helped me to navigate my way through life with some level-headedness. My parents and guardians helped to shape the value system that has influenced the person I am today. My greatest motivation is to pass on to my family, friends and peers values that contribute to making our communities a better place to live in. One of the most serious indictments against our civilization is our flagrant disregard for the welfare of our children and weaker minorities. Any effort I can make to change that — even if it is one person at a time — is my motivation in everything I do.
Enjoy and share this new video produced for ChildFund International’s 75th anniversary, featuring the faces of children, families and staff members over the years. Our sponsors and other supporters make all this possible. Thank you.
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.
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