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Our Common Humanity

By Virginia Sowers, Editorial Manager

I often say the best part of my job at ChildFund is collaborating with colleagues around the world, as we seek to better serve children who live in extreme poverty. So it was a real treat to spend last week with ChildFund’s regional communications managers from Africa, Asia and the Americas, gathered with the communications team here in Richmond, Va., to share ideas and up our game for the coming year.

We asked each other lots of questions: What worked? What didn’t work? Why? How can we better integrate? What are the stories we most want to tell about children who need help? How do we assist each other as colleagues? What’s next, as we near our organization’s 75th anniversary?

group shot of communication staff

ChildFund Communications team members (l to r): Jennifer Atkins, Patrica Toquica (Americas region), Tenagne Mekonnen (Africa region); Kate Andrews, Dale Catlett, Tasha Chambers, Julien Anseau (Asia region); Cynthia Price, Virginia Sowers, Christine Ennulat, and Loren Pritchett.

Yes, five days of questioning, brainstorming, deliberating and priority setting is enough to make your head spin by Friday afternoon. But we parted with a deep commitment to moving forward as a team.

program cover from Richmond ForumAnd it was in that musing mindset that I moved into Friday night, attending the Richmond Forum’s speaker series, featuring former president Bill Clinton, now head of the Clinton Foundation. I’d been looking forward to hearing him speak for months, but I had no inkling his message would help me with some dot-connecting.

“We need more community forums like this, citizens coming together to have a conversation,” Clinton said. “We’d make better decisions as a people if we had more nights like this.”

Allowing that the world we live in is increasingly complex, technologically sophisticated and highly interdependent, he asserted that we all “need a framework for thinking about the modern world,” which has a global job shortage, economic inequality, a shifting climate and depleting local resources.

And then he started throwing out (oh, no!) questions for each of us to ponder: What would I like the 21st century to look like? What are the obstacles to shared peace and prosperity? What do you do? Who’s supposed to do it?

The challenges are high, Clinton said, especially for the poor. “Half the world is living on less than $2 a day,” he noted. “Kids under 5 are dying of malaria, dysentery and tuberculosis – diseases of the poor… almost 100 million kids don’t go to school. We’re killing off human potential left and right.”

It’s time to pursue a different strategy, with values that rest on human dignity, Clinton said. “That strategy looks different in poor places than in rich places; and in some countries like India and Brazil, you do both.” Poor places like Haiti, where the Clinton Foundation is at work, need systems, he noted. “Haiti needs to build a system that rewards good behavior with positive results,” referencing the need to invest in entrepreneurial businesses that lead to sustainable job creation.

“At some point when you stop investing in the future, you pay a terrible price,” he said.

Across the world and at home in the U.S., Clinton called for a change in outlook, a change he believes is coming. “We have to revitalize the way we do things and engage in the prospect of renewal,” he said.

But who’s supposed to do it? “My answer is everybody,” Clinton asserted. “The nongovernmental organization (NGO) is a gift America makes to the world.” Yet, he pointed out that it’s not just the large and well-known NGOs that are getting things done at home and abroad.

“The NGO movement is sweeping the world,” he said, adding that the millennial generation, which has been raised to be service-oriented, is helping fuel this movement. And it’s a movement open to all – community groups, citizens groups, churches and faith-based organizations. “If you contribute to the United Way in Richmond, you’re part of an NGO,” he said. “A lot of people doing a little together can have a huge impact…. When we work together, it works.”

Uganda Makes Progress on HIV and AIDS Interventions

By ChildFund Uganda staff

ChildFund and its local partners in Uganda made a concentrated effort  to increase HIV and AIDS interventions in the past year, setting three primary objectives:

  1. Make significant contributions to the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
  2. Improve access to care and treatment for children living with HIV and AIDS.
  3. Strengthen the existing district health care system to ensure effective delivery of HIV and AIDS services.
women and men in classroom

Expectant mothers and their husbands attend a prenatal care training session, which includes HIV and AIDS counseling and education services, in Agago district in northern Uganda.

To effectively deliver quality HIV and AIDS programs to the target populations, ChildFund is taking an integrated approach to service delivery in Uganda. We are working within existing programs including maternal and child services, health care and immunization.

Last year, we made considerable progress toward those goals, including

  • comprehensive training for 28 health workers in four districts on prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV
  •  a fully equipped maternity unit constructed in Kitgum district
  • 7,800 pregnant mothers accessing HIV counseling and testing
  • 8,100 children tested for HIV, with 72 percent of children who tested positive receiving appropriate treatment
  • more than 350 HIV-affected households supported with income-generating activities
  • 160 health volunteers trained and engaged in community mobilization and follow-up for HIV-positive patients
  • more than 100 local and religious leaders selected and trained on their roles in promoting HIV and AIDS prevention services.
building with blue roof

A newly constructed maternity ward at Akuna Labor Health Center III in Lagoro Subcounty in Kitgum district now offers HIV and AIDS interventions.

Children Bloom in Central Java, Indonesia

Only about 1 in 5 children in Indonesia have access to a pre-primary education program. In the remote highlands of Central Java, ChildFund is working hand in hand with communities to refurbish Early Childhood Development centers and also train teachers and parents to nourish children in their critical early years of development.

Timor-Leste: Bringing Lessons Home

 By Silvia Ximenes, ChildFund Timor-Leste

Novito, a 5-year-old boy from Timor-Leste, describes “scribbling and drawing a house” as his favorite activity in his Early Childhood Development (ECD) center in the Manatuto district.

five-year-old boy

Five-year-old Novito.

This district in central Timor-Leste has a population of about 42,000, and the economy is based on agriculture, fisheries, small handcraft industries and minerals. Many in Aiteas, the village where the ECD center is located, are involved in farm production activities, such as planting coffee, coconut, vegetables, cassava, corn and rice.

Novito rides his bicycle back and forth to the center, and he also likes to play soccer. He hopes one day to be a professional soccer player.

One of 60 students who attend ECD Aiteas six days a week, Novito is taught by Manuela, Divia and Joana. With ChildFund’s support, the teachers received training in teaching methodology, curriculum design and the Portuguese language.

three boys and two female teachers

Novito, his classmates and teachers at the ECD center in Aiteas, Timor-Leste.

Two years ago, ChildFund helped renovate the ECD center, expanding the building to house three classrooms. ChildFund Timor-Leste supports this center by providing school materials and furniture, school uniforms, snacks and supplementary food. The center also receives a subsidy from the Timor-Leste Ministry of Education every four months to help maintain the facility and update educational materials.

Maria, an ECD coordinator, notes that the center provides learning materials, a proper playground and qualified teachers who work well with the children. Novito often brings home lessons he’s learned at the center and has shown his siblings how to draw a house. He says he is looking forward to moving to the next level of education: primary school.

Monitoring the Needs of Children in Mali

By Kate Andrews, with reporting from BØRNEfonden

As strife spreads through Mali, ChildFund Alliance partner BØRNEfonden reports that the children they serve will face many hardships in the future.

Groups of rebels have taken over the northern part of Mali and recently moved southwest as far as Diabaly, a rural town previously held by the Malian government. This recent encroachment has increased the urgency for an international response. Last month, the United Nations Security Council authorized a peacekeeping mission, and now the French military, leading an international coalition, is working to defend the North African country from rebels.

The children served by BØRNEfonden, a Danish organization, are in the relatively secure localities of Bougouni, Yanfolila and Diolila in the southernmost Sikasso region of Mali.

Health worker weighs child.

A child is weighed at a hospital in Gao in northeastern Mali, after being admitted for malnutrition last fall. Photo: REUTERS/Adama Diarra, www.trust.org/alertnet

Nevertheless, says BØRNEfonden CEO Bolette Christensen, “At the moment many of the families, children and young people who have fled the northern parts of Mali stay with relatives in southern parts of the country. We must support them now and start thinking long term, or we will end up in a vicious spiral that makes it difficult for Mali to get firmly back on its feet.”

BØRNEfonden supports 14,000 children and families in 22 development centers in southern Mali, although the program is now working with more people, given the recent influx of refugees. Since March 2012, more than 300,000 northern Malians have fled to the southern part of the country, and others are refugees in nearby nations.

One of BØRNEfonden’s main objectives is to assist young Malians in creating small farms with irrigation systems; this program will contribute to the country’s long-term food security. BØRNEfonden will also support schoolchildren who have fled from the northern regions by providing textbooks and other teaching materials.

“Long-term development and targeting job creation, food security and education is more important than ever,” Christensen says.

Indian Preschool Teachers’ Work Matters

By Saroj Kumar Pattnaik, ChildFund India

For Manju Sharma, 37, life once was structured around taking care of her two children and doing daily household chores. Until a few years ago, she had little idea of the world outside her home in the Firozabad district in northern India. But since she began working at an Early Childhood Development (ECD) center supported by ChildFund India, her definition of life has changed. Now she is a self-assured and respected woman in her community.

woman in classroom

Manju Sharma works at an Early Childhood Development center in India.

Initially, Manju was nervous about accepting a job outside the home. Staying away from her children and husband for more than six hours a day was a challenge, but she accepted an offer to work with the ECD program in 2007 because of her passion for helping children living in poverty.

“It was not a very smooth start for me, but my affection for small kids helped to overcome my fears gradually,” Manju recalls. “Soon I was able to strike a chord among the children, and they started loving my presence.”

Manju received basic training on maintaining good hygiene among the center’s 35 children ages 2 to 5.

“I also took training on how to monitor growth of the children attending the ECD center,” she explains. “Now, I am fully aware about the issue of malnutrition and often lead educational sessions for mothers, giving them tips about how they can take proper care of their children’s health.”

She adds, “People now know me as Manju Didi [sister], and I love the respect they shower on me.”

For 26-year-old Avdhesh Jadaun, a teacher at an ECD center in the nearby Andand Nagar locality, teaching was a passion she had held since childhood.

teacher with children

Avdhesh Jadaun teaches so she can help empower children in her district.

Avdhesh, who has a master’s degree in psychology, has a desire to see all children in her locality receive an education and grow up to be self-sufficient young adults — a goal that ChildFund also wishes to achieve.

“Since my school days, I wanted to work for poor children, especially helping them complete their basic education. Now, ChildFund gave me the opportunity to fulfill my dream, and I am very happy,” Avdhesh says.

ChildFund India’s local program manager Bikrant Mishra says, “Avdhesh and Manju are two of our most committed staffers who not only take care of the ECD centers but also actively participate in our maternal and child health-related activities.”

ChildFund currently runs nine ECD centers in Firozabad. More than 600 children up to age 5 are cared for in these centers. Mothers and pregnant women are also given important training on pre- and postnatal health care that includes immunization, breastfeeding, nutritional food intake and regular check-ups.

teacher weighing child

Manju monitors the growth of the children.

“And these teachers often act as health workers in their own capacities and help us deliver better service among the communities,” Mishra adds.

Although Manju and Avdhesh are paid modest salaries for their hard work, they are satisfied when they see the children play, sing and dance happily around them.

“The children are so sincere; often their gratitude is enough,” Avdhesh explains.

Manju says, “The satisfaction I draw from working with these innocent children is incomparable. It’s priceless.”

ChildFund Program Reunites a Father and Daughter

Anya was reconnected with her father through a media campaign encouraging adoptions.

Anya was reconnected with her biological father through a media campaign encouraging adoptions.

 By ChildFund Belarus staff

For 9-year-old Anya, who lives in the small Belarus town of Logoisk, the word “family” has varied definitions. She first lived with her biological mother and then in a foster home, and now she has begun a relationship with her biological father.

Anya’s biological mother could hardly meet her daughter’s basic needs; often, she was left alone and hungry while her mother was out. The girl never knew her biological father, as her mother prohibited him from visiting Anya. She moved to a children’s home after her mother lost custody.

In the children’s home, Anya was very shy. She was lonely, missed her mom and dreamed that one day she would have a real family.

In 2012, ChildFund, which has been operating in Belarus since 1993, began a media campaign with the Logoisk Socio-pedagogic Center to increase the number of foster and adoptive parents. The “Warm the Heart of a Child” campaign was made possible by the USAID-funded Community Services to Vulnerable Groups program. Local media, state agencies and businesses provided support.

The campaign featured pictures and details about real children from Logoisk. Anya’s biological father saw the calendar with Anya’s photo at a local doctor’s office. Eventually, he located Anya and began visiting her in the children’s home. The visits were a big step forward, as it’s a commonly held opinion in Belarus that contact with birth parents can emotionally harm a child in foster care.

However, Anya’s foster mother is an alumna of Parent Resources for Information, Development, and Education (PRIDE) training held by ChildFund. Through PRIDE, she understood the crucial role of the biological family in the life of a child and encouraged Anya’s father’s visits. The PRIDE model is revolutionary for Belarus as it is helping break down long-held stereotypes.

“I supposed that it’s important for a child to have contacts with biological family, but I used to hear from other foster parents that it would be traumatizing for a foster child,” Anya’s foster mother said. “PRIDE trainings assured me that family connections are essential to the child, and I was provided with instruments on mediating contacts with the birth family.”

Anya’s father, with the support of her foster mother, applied for family reunification and succeeded. Anya recently rejoined her father at home.

Other foster children from Logoisk have seen positive action by their biological parents, who have undertaken treatment for alcohol abuse and comprehensive rehabilitation to regain their parental rights after learning that their children might be adopted by others.

Similar stories have occurred in Lida, a neighboring community where stories about the campaign have aired on local television stations.

Learn about a teen with disabilities who attends a university in Belarus with the assistance of ChildFund and Community Services to Vulnerable Groups. 

Always Small: The High Price of Malnutrition

By Christine Ennulat

Way back in college, I went to Haiti for six weeks on an interdenominational mission trip. Our team lived in an orphanage outside of Cap-Haitien, on Haiti’s northern coast, where our task for the summer was to add a second floor to a building in an orphanage.

The children were always around, but I remember in particular four little boys — Roro, Antoine, Roger and tiny Delice. They were a pack, always smiling, always curious about what this group of giant, sweating teenagers was up to.

mangos in a treeI remember their throwing rocks into trees to knock down mangos and the insanely sour, thick-skinned grapefruit that I loved. I remember them looking on, grinning, as we toiled and complained while washing what must have seemed our overabundance of clothes at the orphanage’s well. I remember their small, rain-slick faces peering into the sick tent, where I suffered in quarantine with some unpleasant stomach ailment as a small river rushed past my air mattress, and Roro’s asking, “Ou malade?

Roro was my favorite. He had twinkle to spare, and he and Delice seemed to have a special bond. I thought it was nice that the older boy looked out for the younger with such obvious care.

A few weeks into our stay, I had learned enough Creole to find out that the boys were not 8 or 9 years old, as I’d thought, but 11. All of them — including Delice, whose head reached Roro’s shoulder, and whom I’d thought was maybe 5 or 6. But as I thought about him and paid more attention, I recognized his more sober, angular countenance was at odds with his birdlike, stunted body.

When I asked the minister who ran the orphanage about his story, I learned that Delice’s mother had left him there as a toddler, and that he had been severely malnourished, which was the reason he was so small. He would grow more, but he would always be small.

Now, decades later, as I explore ChildFund’s work so that I can do my job of writing about it, I often learn hard truths. In researching our Early Child Development programs, I’ve learned about the importance of nutrition in a child’s development — physical, cognitive, behavioral and more. The other day, I ran across a widely quoted nugget from Carl Sagan, from a statement he made to Congress in 1994:

“When there isn’t enough food, the body has to make a decision about how to invest the limited foodstuffs available. Survival comes first. Growth comes second. In this nutritional triage, the body seems obliged to rank learning last. Better to be stupid and alive than smart and dead.”

For Delice, his body’s “decision” was outwardly obvious. There’s no way to know about the rest of it — what losses he may have had in his learning or social capacities — but, remembering his eyes and his demeanor, I’m pretty sure he was able to hold his own.

I like to think that Delice was one of the comparatively lucky ones — that, with the care he received in the orphanage and with a friend like Roro, he found his way in the world and has lived a productive, satisfying life.

What I know for sure, though, is that the world is too full of 11-year-olds who look like 6-year-olds and too many children who don’t survive malnutrition to reach age 5 ― children whose potential has been stolen by malnutrition and other effects of poverty. And that’s why ChildFund’s work to turn this around for children is so important.

In the Philippines, Children Learn With Paper Shoes

By Martin Nanawa, ChildFund Philippines

In this small agricultural village in Eastern Luzon, children below schooling age don’t own closed-toe shoes. In many low-income communities across the Philippines, pragmatism leads children to wear flip-flops, which are relatively inexpensive and remarkably durable. Even when their parents can afford a pair of shoes, children still go about their casual business in flip-flops, preserving their shoes for school, church or other formal occasions.

Many young people in this village, much like other parts of the country, will own their first pair of shoes only when they begin school, where shoes are part of the uniform.

Children attend preschool in the Philippines.

Children attend a Supervised Neighborhood Play program in the Philippines.

Nonetheless, on the porch of a small home in this village, children younger than 5 learn to tie their shoes long before they ever own any. These children attend a home-based Early Childhood Development (ECD) program ChildFund supports in areas unreached by government day care centers. Home-based ECD sites like this are known as Supervised Neighborhood Play (SNP) centers, staffed by local volunteers. They are not professional day care workers or educators, but ChildFund trains them to be effective and innovative.

Innovate is just what Mabeth did. The SNP volunteer started with rolls of colored paper, felt markers and all the creativity she could pool together to make her front porch a learning environment for children. She hung paper cut-outs illustrating animals and objects that correspond to letters in the alphabet. In place of printed charts describing parts of the body, Mabeth’s front porch has hand-drawn illustrations. Mobiles hang from the ceiling describing different emotions children experience, such as happy, sad, and scared.

paper shoe with laces

A paper shoe helps children learn how to tie laces.

One cardboard box stores all the children’s shoes — shoes made from paper. They have a double-layer of colored paper for a sole and a loop of paper on top. Colored string is used for laces. “Poor children [in this neighborhood] often don’t have shoes, and I feel it’s important they learn to tie their laces like other children do,” Mabeth says.

Children at this SNP site may not yet own closed-toe shoes, but the innovation of ChildFund volunteers helps make sure they have many opportunities for development early in their childhood.

ChildFund Projects Up Close in Zambia

Jake Lyell, photojournalist and videographer, provides a behind-the-scenes view as he travels to southern Africa to document the needs of the people of Zambia and report on the successes of ChildFund projects in the area. Enjoy the video.

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