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.
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?
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.
And 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.”
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:
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
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.
By Silvia Ximenes, ChildFund Timor-Leste
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.
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.
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.
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.