Reporting by Ahmadullah Zahid, ChildFund Afghanistan
After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s, Malik Nader fled to Pakistan and lived there as a refugee for 20 years before returning to his homeland. Now 41, the father of eight lives with his family in Sheikh Mesri New Township, a refugee resettlement community near Jalalabad, in eastern Afghanistan. ChildFund is at work in Sheikh Mesri through its RESTART program, a collection of services designed to help meet the needs of the community’s youngest children for education, nutrition, water and sanitation. In this remote, dry landscape, water was the greatest challenge. Malik shares his story as we mark World Water Day on March 22.
When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, we lost everything. We had to take our last option ― migrating to Pakistan ― and it was very difficult to live with no basic services in another country. We settled in a refugee camp, where we were provided tents and some food items.
Like other Afghan refugees, I started working as a laborer to feed our family. Twenty years of my life passed without any promotion to any other work, but still we were happy that our families and children were safe.
But after a while, the Pakistani government began destroying our small mud houses and camps, and we became afraid again. Nothing in our lives was guaranteed, and we had to deal with the Pakistani police every day. Tired of this, we finally decided to return to our home country.
Arriving in Afghanistan with only a Voluntary Repatriation Form from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), we received a piece of land from the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriations. And so we began our new lives in Sheikh Mesri New Township.
At first, we lacked even the basics for life such as water, health care, food, decent roads and jobs. It was just like 20 years ago, making a start in Pakistan.
The most difficult problem was drinking water. We spent as much as five hours a day bringing water from far away to meet the needs of our children and families. Awhile after we arrived in Sheikh Mesri, the UNHCR built some wells, which helped to some degree, but they were often out of order, and water would be unavailable.
Then, last year, ChildFund built seven solar-powered water systems in Sheikh Mesri. The design is great! It’s very easy to collect water, and it’s accessible to everyone ― enough water 24 hours a day. We had dreamed of seeing water flowing in our camp, and the solar-powered water systems made our dream come true.
In fact, the UNHCR is building similar solar-powered water systems in Sheikh Mesri, which will solve 100 percent of the water needs of the Afghan returnees who are making their lives here.
Now life feels more stable, and Sheikh Mesri feels like a place where we can stay.
Were you inspired by today’s blog? Share your thoughts on the subject with your Twittter followers! This week, ChildFund is encouraging its supporters to “tweet-out” for World Water Day using the hashtag #Water4Children. Top tweeters will receive water gifts sent to a family in their honor. More details here.
By Loren Pritchett, ChildFund staff writer
To build awareness around World Water Day on March 22, ChildFund is asking its Twitter followers to compose their best tweets to shed light on the issues of water insecurity for children around the world.
Starting March 18, ChildFund’s Twitter followers are encouraged to “tweet out” about water issues or ways to solve them. The individual who tweets the most inspiring message will have a 1,000 liter water tank delivered in their honor to a family in Mexico (valued at $190). Four runners-up will each have an apple tree seedling and a watering can delivered in their honor to a child in Ethiopia (valued at $15). Both prizes will be sent from our Gifts of Love & Hope catalog; plus, all winners will receive a piece of ChildFund swag!
How to Enter:
Think of yourself as a World Water Day ambassador. We encourage each tweeter to think of a short but compelling message to inform their followers of the issues of water insecurity – especially for children. Think of the kids who fall ill from drinking unsanitary water; the farmers in drought-stricken regions who have lost their livelihoods during dry conditions and therefore cannot provide nutritious food to their children; or the young people who walk 4 miles multiple times a day to collect water.
Sample Tweets to Get You Started
Start Tweeting Today!
The five-day tweet-off runs until 11:59 (ET) Friday, March 22 (World Water Day). A panel of ChildFund staff members will choose the top five tweets and we’ll announce the winner and four finalists on Monday, March 25, 2013. Remember: we cannot see your tweets without the hashtag #Water4Children.
The Rules in One Easy List
It’s that simple – tweet out! Do your part to build awareness; join the conversation and get people talking about World Water Day and why children deserve clean water.
By Patricia Toquica, Americas Region Communications Manager
School sponsorship is a new initiative of ChildFund Brasil to reach children in the most remote areas of the Amazon forest and improve their educational opportunities.
Raimundo and Tomé are the local teachers in Tres Unidas, a small community located along the banks of the Amazon River, three hours by boat from the Brazilian city of Manaos. This community is part of the Kambeba indigenous group, one of hundreds of ethnic groups that live in the Amazon forest, a vast green territory more than twice the size of Texas.
Elementary schools in remote areas of the Amazon lack basic infrastructure, such as proper roofs, desks and even bathrooms. “Sometimes children take their lessons outside, under the shade of a tree, because it gets very hot during the day in the classroom, not to mention during the rainy season,” explains Tomé.
Most of the classes are multi-grade with an average of 30 students, ages 4 to 12 years. The children’s age differences make it difficult for teachers to follow up on programs and individual progress. “We divide the board into four parts and the children into four groups according to their ages; we work with them in separate activities, depending on the topic,” says Raimundo.
Still, every single child in this little village of palm-thatched huts housing about 20 families goes to school every day and looks forward to learning.
The ChildFund school sponsorship program in Brazil is a new initiative developed in partnership with the Sustainable Amazon Foundation (Fundação Amazonas Sustentável – FAS). ChildFund seeks to improve school infrastructure and access to quality education for school-age children in isolated communities deep in the Amazon forest. Launched in September 2012, the program also aims to raise children’s awareness of the importance of sustainable use of their resources, so that they can become “true guardians of the forest.”
For Raimundo, who is also the Tres Unidas school director, educating children in his community is about delivering formal curriculum and also focusing on indigenous culture. It’s important that the children learn about traditional history, rituals, language and medicine.
He notes that indigenous schools in Brazil typically have inferior infrastructure and learning materials. As part of their partnership strategy for the school sponsorship program, ChildFund Brasil and FAS are working to reduce the cost of delivering educational services to remote areas. “We don’t want to replace government but facilitate development,” says Virgilio Viana, director of FAS.
Thus, ChildFund and FAS are partnering with municipalities. For example, the municipality is covering the cost of providing teachers, and ChildFund and FAS, with the help of the community, are building or improving schools and also supporting teachers with additional training and teaching tools.
The School Sponsorship program is already piloting in the Sustainable Development Reserves of Juma and Uatumã, supporting 20 schools and nearly 300 students. In the long term, ChildFund Brasil’s goal, with the support of sponsors and donors, is to have a presence in eight natural reserves and reach children in more than 500 communities in the Amazon.
By Kate Nare, ChildFund Marketing Specialist
“Please, don’t forget about us. Please, go back and tell the world about us here in Carchi.”
As I reflect on my recent trip to Ecuador with ChildFund, these words cycle in my mind. Spoken through tears with conviction and emotion, each mother we met pleaded with us to share their stories with the rest of the world. So, here goes.
The sun was barely rising on a Tuesday morning when our group set out in a bus from Ecuador’s capital, Quito, to visit communities in Carchi. This region of Ecuador borders Columbia, and ChildFund has been helping communities here since 1984.
We had been preparing for this trip for months, knowing that we would meet the mothers and children whose lives are being transformed through ChildFund’s Early Childhood Development program (ECD), which strives to holistically help children ages 0-5 to ensure they reach their full potential.
Surrounding us throughout our drive were crisp blue skies and undulating bright green mountains, speckled with colorful houses. When we think of poverty it’s easy to envision urban slums fraught with trash heaps and filthy alleyways. The view here was much different. It’s easy to think, “It’s beautiful! I could live here!” But I quickly learned that the beauty of the land masks the underlying poverty, discrimination, lack of opportunities and exclusion that the people who have lived here for centuries continue to face.
This fact became apparent as soon as we met Monica.
After four hours of jostling along bumpy dirt roads, steadily climbing up steep mountain sides, we came to a sudden halt. We were instructed by Mauricio, our guide and a ChildFund Ecuador staff member, that we would be visiting a home in the community.
We walked down a dirt path and were greeted by Monica and her 4-year-old son, Daniel. Fields of corn and wild flowers skirted her property. A scruffy stray dog rubbed against my leg, eager for a pet. Monica led us to her home, which had a corrugated tin roof, cinderblock walls and three rooms. We followed her into the living room and took seats in a semi-circle, eager to hear her story.
Monica is 41 and has four children, ages 18, 11, 6 and 4. She told us how her husband abandoned her and left her to care for the children on her own. Every day she works in the fields to make a living for her family and her father, whom she takes care of as well. As Monica shared these details, her voice broke and she began to cry. She said there were times in the past when she would come home from a long day, stressed and tired, and she would take this out on her children by beating them. The youngest, Daniel, whom she holds affectionately in her lap as she talks, became fearful and withdrawn at that time.
Recognizing that she needed support, Monica signed up when she heard that ChildFund, in partnership with a local partner, was training mothers in the ECD program. Soon Monica was attending meetings and learning the full benefits of ECD: a caring and loving household, proper nutrition and health care and stimulation and learning opportunities for young children. She came to realize how the abuse she inflicted on her children was harmful to their healthy development. After going through a 10-month training program, Monica became a certified trainer, known as a “Mamita.”
Hugging Daniel even tighter, Monica said she wants to use her experience to teach and support other mothers in the community so their children will be able to grow up healthy and empowered. In these excluded communities where ChildFund works, 18 percent of women are married by the age of 15. Forty-percent of women are married by 18 years old.
She shared how she wants to pursue her dream of finishing high school and becoming a teacher. And she smiled as she shared that Daniel is now playful, cheerful and likes to go to school. “All is worthwhile for the happiness and welfare of my children,” she said.
We met many other Mamitas during our trip. Strong, empowered and dignified, they are each creating a ripple effect in their communities as they train other mothers to love and care for their children. Yes, they still face daily struggles. But their efforts on behalf of their children will bring more opportunities for
the community as a whole as their children grow up healthy, educated, and full of ideas to improve their lives. Monica and the 1,200 other Mamitas in Carchi are living proof of this transformation.
I now have a picture of Monica on my desk to remind me of her story, and why we do what we do here at ChildFund. I will never forget the Mamitas I met in Ecuador who are committed to a better future for their children.
By Martin Nanawa, ChildFund Philippines
On International Women’s Day, we’re spotlighting some of the amazing girls and women we’ve encountered in ChildFund-supported communities. We honor their struggles and cheer their successes.
“Not today, Sister,” the woman whispered to Jo-anne. They had the street to themselves, but the woman spoke in hushed tones. “You shouldn’t go today,” she repeated.
Jo-anne understood the advice. Danger was afoot, according to the woman, who is a member of the Tausug indigenous communities in the southern Philippines. Jo-anne is a nun who works for a local organization that partners with ChildFund.
Jolo is the largest island in the Sulu archipelago, which comprises the southernmost tip of the Philippine Islands. There, rolling hills give way to pristine coastlines of crystal clear water and fine white sand. In the provincial capital, also named Jolo, the exotic durian fruit is found in such abundance that a mere breath of air yields a trace of the fruit’s distinct yet controversial smell (imagine garlic plus old garbage).
Despite Jolo’s beauty, the island is not a tourist destination because of abductions and frequent clashes between government and armed groups. Private investors and even development agencies have withdrawn to the safety and convenience of cities like Davao and Cagayan de Oro in nearby Mindanao.
Jo-anne was born in the Mindanao mainland. Her father was a farmer, and her mother was a public school teacher. Growing up in a community of Christians and Muslims, she developed an appreciation for different beliefs and cultures. Jo-anne worked as a government agricultural technologist for five years until 1999, when she decided to join a religious order.
As a nun, Jo-anne served in different provinces in Mindanao. Her assignment to Jolo in 2011 as a project manager posed unique challenges.
Jo-anne had to learn the Tausug language and its culture, which is different from the mainland’s. “Children were my first tutors in the local language,” she says.
Another concern was safety. On her commute to work, Jo-anne often saw curious crowds flocking to fresh crime scenes. Other times, the motorcycle taxi driver would share news of an armed clash between government and militia the night before. “That kind of thing always used to scare me,” she says. “It came to a point where I confronted myself, asking if I would let fear keep me from my work.”
Working in partnership with ChildFund did much to help Jo-anne allay her fears. “ChildFund’s reputation for working in some of the most difficult circumstances in the Philippines lends me much credibility,” she says.
Also, Jo-anne’s work with Tausug children endeared her to their families, particularly mothers, who grew protective of her. When possible, one or two mothers accompany Jo-anne when she travels to rural villages to visit ChildFund project sites or the homes of sponsored children.
Sometimes, Jo-anne hears, “Not today, Sister. You shouldn’t go. You should stay in town today.” This is the warning mothers share whenever news of troop movements, incursions or other dangers reaches their ears. When Jo-anne is already in the field, the women make sure she is properly accompanied and escorted home or to town. Jo-anne’s thankful to be included in the local “warning chain,” despite being an outsider.
“I’ve learned being a woman in these circumstances is an advantage,” Jo-anne says. “The Tausug regard women highly, mothers particularly.” Though Jo-anne has chosen a religious life, the Tausug mothers identify with her because she has devoted herself to the wellbeing of their children.
Today Jo-anne continues to travel all over Jolo. She remains cautious, but because of this web of protection, she is no longer as scared.
“When I arrive home at the end of the day, I exclaim my thanks, not for making it back safely, but for the mothers who’ve adopted me as one of their own.”
Reporting by Ahmadullah Zahid, ChildFund Afghanistan
On International Women’s Day, we’re spotlighting some of the amazing girls and women we’ve encountered in ChildFund-supported communities. We honor their struggles and cheer their successes.
A young girl stood before a panel of adults in a government office in northern Afghanistan. It was not her first visit.
What is your name, and how old are you?
My name is Nazifa, and I am 12 years old.
Are you happy with your family?
Yes, I am. My mother is a kind woman, and my father is often away from us, working.
Why are you in the district governor’s office?
I presented a written complaint to get out of being married to an old man.
How much is a 12-year-old girl worth?
To Nazifa’s grandfather, $2,000 sounded about right. This was the offer from the pair of community elders who approached him a year ago about arranging a marriage between his eldest granddaughter and a young boy from their rural village.
The three men, says Nazifa, showed her a picture of the boy and made her agree to the marriage despite her objections, which included her desire to continue school.
On the wedding night, she was taken to a room where an old man sat. She kissed his hands, the traditional demonstration of respect for elders by Afghanistan’s young people. And then she was made to sit next to him. She began to cry, harder and harder as she came to understand that this elderly man was her new husband ― that she had been deceived, and that there was nothing she could do. Finally, she fell quiet, and the man did as he wanted. He was 72 years old.
Nazifa’s grandfather left immediately after the wedding on a pilgrimage funded by Nazifa’s bride price.
Within two weeks, Nazifa’s husband began to abuse her.
The moment she saw an opening, Nazifa ran home to her mother and told her everything, and they submitted a complaint to district authorities. Eight months later, there was still no resolution.
ChildFund learned of Nazifa’s case through its Social Work Coaching project in Takhar province, which aims to improve child protection systems to address the needs of children at risk. In addition to working with local and national government authorities, the project trains social workers and community outreach workers on child rights, child development and protection, referrals and other social work services. ChildFund is one of several partner organizations in the project, which is supported by UNICEF.
After Nazifa told her story, the room fell quiet, her listeners struck by her tender age, her sweet face, her directness, her passion for education. Her questioner changed the subject.
Do you go to school?
Yes, when I am not coming to court.
When you go to school, does anyone bother you?
Yes, on the way to school and in class, they all laugh at me and say unpleasant words.
Do you want to continue going to school?
Yes. I will never stop going, even though it’s hard.
If you don’t succeed in getting out of this marriage, what will you do?
I am sure the government will decide in my favor. Otherwise, I can’t accept life with an old, disturbing man, and I will end my life somehow.
Nazifa was finally able to leave the marriage, and school is easier now, thanks to some support from social workers trained by ChildFund.
Authorities had no good answer as to why this case had taken so long, and there are many more such cases throughout Afghanistan due to the cultural breakdown following the country’s two decades of conflict. Social work is not really a formal profession in Afghanistan, but this is beginning to change as authorities recognize the need for it, thanks largely to awareness raised by ChildFund and others working to strengthen child protection systems in Afghanistan.
We work to expand people’s knowledge about the rights and worth of children, and we help protect as many children as we can from becoming victims.
Because a 12-year-old girl is priceless.
By Mario Lima, National Director, ChildFund Guatemala
Last Nov. 7, Guatemala suffered a strong earthquake. Thanks to the support from ChildFund sponsors and from donors to the ChildAlert Emergency Fund, we were able to bring relief to families and children throughout the affected areas.
ChildFund Guatemala implemented a three-pronged emergency response to support children and their families in the most affected communities:
According to a traditional Mayan saying: “A good planting means a great harvest.”
Thanks for your support.
By Ya Sainey Gaye, ChildFund The Gambia
ChildFund’s national office in The Gambia, in partnership with Save the Children International, recently donated office equipment and supplies to the Child Welfare Unit, part of The Gambia’s armed forces. The donation was made at a presentation ceremony in the capital city of Banjul on Feb. 13.
The items — desks, paper, office chairs and filing cabinets — are intended to help establish operations of the newly formed Child Welfare Unit, which was established within the seven military barracks across the country. The unit has hotlines for Gambians to report abuse or neglect of children.
This partnership signifies that ChildFund and Save the Children stand with the Child Welfare Unit on a vital cause: protecting vulnerable children in The Gambia.
The country continues to suffer a food shortage, in part because of poor rainfall in the past year. As a result, food prices are higher than most Gambians can afford. Some children are sent to work by their families, leaving them vulnerable to physical and emotional duress.
At the presentation, Mustapha Kebbeh, ChildFund’s acting national director in The Gambia, spoke about his hopes that the Child Welfare Unit will help protect children from violence, exploitation and abuse. “As part of our core outcomes, ChildFund sees to it that children are provided with the right environment to develop in every life stage,” Kebbeh said.
By Kate Andrews
ChildFund is getting a shot of adrenaline — Audio Adrenaline, that is. The upbeat Christian rock band, which has two Grammys and multiple Dove awards under its belt, is ChildFund’s newest LIVE! partner.
The band is coming off a seven-year hiatus with a new lead singer and starts its latest tour March 1 in Morganton, N.C. The tour is in support of the band’s new album, Kings & Queens, which features former dc Talk member Kevin Max on lead vocals.
At each Audio Adrenaline concert, ChildFund will have booths staffed with volunteers. That’s where you come in; we’d like your help to answer questions about how child sponsorship works and help people sign up to begin their sponsorships. A ChildFund representative will be on hand to answer questions and give direction to volunteers. Check the tour schedule to see if Audio Adrenaline is playing near you.
Come rock out — and along the way, help children in need.
By Meg Carter, Sponsorship Communications Specialist
In 2007, the United Nations declared Feb. 20 World Day of Social Justice, formally recognizing centuries of civic- and faith-based movements aimed at improving the lives of the oppressed.
In the 1840s, the Jesuit theologian Luigi Taparelli, influenced by the 13th-century writings of Thomas Aquinas (who himself studied the philosophy of an ancient Greek named Aristotle) coined the phrase social justice.
Although the concept of social justice is not new, its impact on U.S. foreign policy and foreign aid became more prominent in the second half of the 20th century. ChildFund didn’t wait for formal theories of development assistance. This fall we will celebrate 75 years of social justice in action, beginning with the aiding of war orphans in China and extending our circle of care to vulnerable children in 31 countries throughout the world.
According to the U.N., the pursuit of social justice is at the core of human development. Social justice promotes gender equality and the rights of indigenous peoples and migrants. It removes barriers of gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion, culture and disability. It eradicates poverty, promotes full employment and supports opportunity for all people, particularly when accomplished with an eye to sustainability.
ChildFund’s dual focus addresses exactly those social justice concerns that have troubled philosophers for millennia. Through the one-to-one relationships between sponsors and children living in poverty, we discover our own – and each other’s – human dignity. Internal motivations – the dreams that urge a child to achieve more than anyone thought possible – form one side of the success equation. External changes in the child’s environment shape the other.
Sponsorship contributions provide for the fundamental health and education needs of sponsored children. And because no child succeeds alone, sponsor support also improves the conditions of entire communities. Sponsors make it possible for all children to thrive in their own cultures and contexts by identifying and removing the barriers that threaten their security – be it access to safe water, proper nutrition, sanitation, medical care or education.
Additionally, ChildFund’s programs build life skills among youth and behavior change among adults. We educate children to prepare for a future as responsible adult leaders, rather than handing out short-term fixes that offer them little hope of transcending institutionalized poverty.
How will you celebrate Social Justice Day? We’d love to hear from you.