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.
By ChildFund Brasil Staff
ChildFund Brasil, with the financial support of telecommunications company Fundação Telefônica Vivo, has launched a project to fight against exploitative child labor in Brazil.
The project, Melhor de Mim (“The Best of Me”), is set to last two years and will target 500 children ages 6 to 14 in the Jequitinhonha Valley in the state of Minas Gerais. Working with its local partner organizations, ChildFund Brasil seeks to raise awareness of the risks of child labor through dialogue with children, teens, parents and other community members. Expert facilitators will lead the discussions. One notable part of the project is that it will also engage businesses who employ children. ChildFund’s goal is to educate employers about the serious risks that young laborers face, including physical dangers and missed educational opportunities.
In Brazil, hiring children under 13 is illegal. Yet, according to national data from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, 704,000 Brazilian children aged 5 to 13 were working in 2011. The majority of child workers are 10 to 13 years old, and 63 percent live in Brazil’s countryside. These numbers mark a 23.5 percent decrease of child laborers from 2009, but clearly the problem remains significant.
The majority of Brazilian child laborers, almost 55 percent, receive no income for their work, and those who are paid earn an average monthly income of only US$68. Child labor practices are receiving a spotlight today with the International Labour Organization’s World Day Against Child Labour.
The Best of Me’s activities began this spring with the enrollment of children involved in labor. The next step is to mobilize parents to make them aware of the project and sensitize them to the risks of child labor. After that, children will attend workshops using the Aflatoun method, which empowers children to play a key role in building a better society. By affirming children’s right to speak out on the issue and fostering dialogue among all parties involved, ChildFund seeks to facilitate sustainable change around child labor.
“The name of the project, The Best of Me, means that everyone becomes involved to the best of their abilities,” says Dov Rosenmann, ChildFund Brasil’s program manager. “Everybody is contributing their best to prevent child labor.”
By Ron Wolfe, ChildFund IT Project Portfolio Manager
In December 2004, as the Indian Ocean tsunami raced outward from the Great Sumatra-Andaman earthquake’s epicenter, the sea devastated the Sri Lankan coastline from the eastern city of Trincomalee to the western capital of Colombo. In the middle of this target stood Hambantota, a picturesque town on the island’s southern coast, which sustained devastation of a scale that is hard to comprehend.
Today, the visible scars of the disaster are primarily gone. The city has rebuilt, while much of the development has been relocated further inland. The children play, and civic life continues as it has for centuries. The tsunami, though, remains a part of the people’s identity.
A team from ChildFund headquarters was recently in Sri Lanka to deploy a new online tool called the Letter Translation Exchange (LTE). Its purpose is to facilitate the digitization of child and sponsor correspondence and reduce the time it takes to translate the letters. As part of the deployment process, we travelled from Colombo, the location of the ChildFund Sri Lanka National Office, to Hambantota to meet the staff in this district and the children we all serve.
After visiting the Hambantota Area Office, the team arrived at one of 12 zonal offices of the Ruhulu Wellassa Area Federation, ChildFund’s local partner organization in this area, tucked beneath a thick grove of cashew trees. Each Zonal Office in this district is led by a community mobilizer who manages 200 to 400 children participating in our programs.
On the day of our visit, a number of children were there playing with friends and family and writing letters to their sponsors, some of them writing in English instead of their native Sinhala. ChildFund is offering language skills programs through the local partner. “English is an important skill that the children are eager to gain,” said Dilrukshi Ruwanpura, ChildFund Sri Lanka’s sponsor relations manager. It was impressive to see the children combining some of the benefits they receive from sponsorship and one of the essential components of sponsorship itself: one-to-one communication.
The LTE is ChildFund’s first step in modernizing that communication between sponsor and child. National Office staff will scan letters to create PDFs, which will be uploaded into an online document system. Translators can then access the system at any time and from anywhere via the Internet to translate the letters. Once translated, each letter will be printed out and mailed to the addressee. ChildFund currently manages approximately 1.5 million pieces of correspondence annually.
The technology is meant to enable the staff to do their jobs more efficiently while reducing the time it takes for correspondence to travel back and forth. “As we become more familiar with the LTE, our workload and the workload of the local partner will decrease,” said Dilrukshi. This in turn should allow even more time for the staff within each ChildFund area to focus on programs for the children.
Future ChildFund technology projects will eventually carry this further by facilitating sponsor access to the digital correspondence and providing a way to respond electronically. First, though, the LTE will continue to be deployed to additional countries. The team went next to Honduras and will soon be in Ecuador to scale up the LTE even further.
As we spent the afternoon with the children in Hambantota, they continued to impress us. One group of youth worked together to create a regularly published newsletter called Dawn, writing articles, taking photographs and editing and laying out the content. Others are involved in job skills training, such as hotel management, construction or information technology. One young woman proudly displayed images of the art she had created for a solo exhibition in her community, with art supplies provided by ChildFund. All showed the promise of becoming fully engaged in the continuing effort to lift up their country and make a difference.