Flavia Crosses the Gorge

Photos and reporting from Gelina Fontaine, ChildFund Caribbean

As you may have read in her two-part diary, Flavia Lanuedoc was scared of crossing the 250-foot river gorge near her home in Boetica, Dominica, where flooding has caused great damage. Late this week, we heard that she crossed the gorge. Here are a few pictures. We wish Flavia and her neighbors well, as they recover from Tropical Storm Erika.

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Moving People by Helicopter and Pulley in Dominica

Photos and story by Flavia Lanuedoc, ChildFund Caribbean

Flavia Lanuedoc works as a sponsor relations officer for one of ChildFund’s local partner organizations in Dominica. She lives in Boetica, a village that was cut off from help after flooding from Tropical Storm Erika in late August. This is the second of two parts of her story. Read part one here


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Having filled some of the most basic needs, village leaders soon decided that we needed an emergency route in case someone needed to be taken out of the village for medical reasons.

More than 50 years ago, people had built a path across a 250-foot gorge with rocks and dirt, connecting Boetica and Laplaine. Now, it needed to be tackled and tamed once more. Villagers placed a rope over one side of the cliff, then scaled the cliff and climbed up the other side.

During the next few days, helicopters brought in much-needed supplies, and we decided at a meeting that we needed to get the sick and elderly out. Eight people were airlifted, and soon, children and youth who attended school and college in town were airlifted too. Firefighters helped us bring in supplies with a pulley over the gorge once helicopters were no longer available.

A century-old villager died, and his coffin was pulled across the gorge to its resting place. Electricity returned almost two weeks after the storm, so I was able to receive and send emails. I visited several of the ChildFund-enrolled children’s families in Delices (though the road remained dangerous, especially when wet), helped in village cleanups, distributed relief supplies and assisted in any other way I could.

Getting out of the northern section of Boetica to the rest of the island is no easy feat; neither is it for the weak nor faint-hearted. I dared not climb the ladder or crawl down a cliff using a rope, and I didn’t walk along cliff edges or on the deserted beach, either.

However, with families to serve and community mobilizers to support, my task would have been impossible without the village heroes. I am able to function effectively as a sponsor relations officer (despite being cut off) because villagers climb the ladder and ropes and help me carry letters and other documents from the area offices to ChildFund Caribbean’s national office.  Thanks also to the staff members who supported me in so many ways.

My experience is overwhelming evidence that the local people are the first responders. They have the skills and experience of traversing this terrain and, most importantly, the resolve to create the means of survival in times of disaster.

Read more about Dominica’s flooding and support ChildFund’s Emergency Action Fund, which helps us react quickly to disasters and provide help to children and families in the immediate aftermath.

Community Support Makes a Difference in Flooded Dominica

Damage from Tropical Storm Erika.

Damage from Tropical Storm Erika.

By Flavia Lanuedoc, ChildFund Caribbean

Flavia Lanuedoc works as a sponsor relations officer for one of ChildFund’s local partner organizations in Dominica. She lives in Boetica, a village that was cut off from help after flooding from Tropical Storm Erika in late August. Despite spending her whole life in the area, Flavia had never seen anything approaching a disaster of this magnitude. Here’s part one of her story. We’ll post the second part tomorrow.

Flavia's yard became a river.

Flavia’s yard became a river.

The early hours of Aug. 27 had brought with it torrential rains, so I peeped outside to survey what damage had been done. To my disbelief, the yard of the house where I had lived all my life had turned into a raging river.

As I turned from the window, I saw that water and mud were rushing in through the other door. I screamed and ran to wake up my children. Within a split second, water was gushing into the house, bringing with it thick mud. It soon became obvious that our efforts to prevent the water from entering were futile. We gave up, and our focus now turned to saving the items that were at floor level.

Soon, seven men barged into our yard. Every community has “village champions” who carry out search-and-rescue efforts, even if they have little or no training.

These men were bearing news of hope as well as horror. Their tidings still resonate as if it was yesterday: “Give thanks, all of you. Say praises to the Lord, because if that road in the corner did not break, all of you would be dead.” And without even pausing, they entered the house and began assisting us. It took all of us over an hour to clear the mud from inside the house and then pour buckets of water to clean it off. They quickly moved on in search of another family in trouble.

Flavia sweeps mud out of her home.

Flavia sweeps mud out of her home.

After the rain ceased, it was time to survey the village. I was amazed at the devastation. We were blocked from the nearby village of Delices, on the southern end, and the main bridge on the northern end linking us to the rest of the island was gone. There was rubble and debris all over.  We were trapped in the village without water, electricity and means of communication.

Dominica has been identified as the island in the Caribbean with the highest number of cell phones per capita, but that meant little for our village and our ability to reach the outside world at a time when it mattered most. Going from one village to another was dangerous, as one had to go through huge mudslides, boulders and rocks. Before long, a villager discovered one little spot with cell reception, and it became the meeting place where villagers would gather to contact their loved ones and transact business via phone. Those from the neighboring village who were cut off by a landslide braved the dangerous journey to that little spot to communicate with the outside world as well.

With no electricity in the village, it was hard to keep phones charged. But as luck would have it, a shopkeeper had a small generator, so villagers were able to recharge their cell phones there.  Meanwhile, the owner of the village shop had to begin rationing his stock to ensure that everyone was able to have some food and drinking water.

The days that followed were hard on my children. My 17-year-old son refused to sleep in the bedroom and chose rather to sleep on a chair so he could keep an eye on the door to see if water was again coming in.

Tomorrow, making contact with the outside world.

In Dominica, Resilience in the Face of Destruction

By Federico Diaz-Albertini, Americas Region Program Manager

Federico traveled to Dominica following Tropical Storm Erika. Flooding and landslides have caused major damage to the entire country, and at least 11 people lost their lives. Nineteen more people are missing and presumed dead. Authorities there say it’s the worst disaster to hit Dominica in 30 years. Read more about the storm’s aftermath on ChildFund’s emergency updates page.

Willma shows ChildFund staff her home, which was devastated by a mudslide.

Willma shows ChildFund staff her home, which was devastated by a mudslide.

On Aug. 27, a tropical storm decided to visit the island of Dominica. Unlike many of the storms that pass by this tranquil Caribbean nation, Erika parked itself above the island and deposited approximately 12 inches of rain during 12 hours.

The after-effects included widespread damage to infrastructure, water systems, crops, houses and, most importantly, people’s lives.  Approximately 300 families were moved to shelters; many others were cut off from access roads. At least one community, Petite Savant, has been declared too risky to rebuild houses there. Most of the population has been touched in one way or other by the disaster.

While it is easy to see the general damage, one can only get the real feel and emotion of the situation while visiting families that have been most severely hurt by the storm. This became evident a little while after we arrived to the community of Marigot on the northeastern side of Dominica.

What we found at first was a smiling lady, Willma Stevenson, and her mother welcoming us.  As we made small talk and told jokes, we did not anticipate what we would encounter when visiting her house. The house had been devastated by the force of a mudslide from a cliff behind it. This area had never really seemed at risk of such destruction, but the heavy rains dramatically changed that.

In an instant, a home for a family of five, including three sponsored children, was uninhabitable, a structure that contained only the memories and personal effects of its members.

Luckily, Willma and the children were able to escape the house uninjured and are living with relatives. The children are doing well but are still affected by the sound of rain and the memories of the mudslide that took their house. Willma says she is grateful for her job in a nearby town, and she looks forward to establishing her family in a place where another natural disaster will not uproot them.

Your donations to ChildFund’s Emergency Action Fund help families recover from natural disasters.

Top Five Blog Posts

By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

Like many organizations, ChildFund is on a fiscal-year calendar. As part of our review of FY15, which ended June 30, I’ve compiled the top five most-viewed blog posts written since July 1, 2014. Here they are, in ascending order:

5. A Recipe for Liberian-Style Jollof Rice. This post was part of our October 2014 food and harvest theme. It was nice to post something positive about Liberia, which was in the thick of battling the Ebola outbreak at that time. 

4. A Show of Hands for Nonviolence. The most recent entry on the list, this post shows how committed our staff members and enrolled children are to the ideal of child protection. Over the past year, ChildFund Alliance has been working to make sure that the United Nations’ post-2015 agenda (also known as the Sustainable Development Goals) will include a goal to help children grow up free from violence. Children in several countries showed their support by making green-handprint butterflies, the symbol of the campaign.

3. Zambia Video Wins ChildFund Contest. We held a contest for the best video from a community last year. This video, the winner, is the unforgettable story of Tinashe and her river, which is polluted and the home to frightening crocodiles. Watch here:

2. Dominica Launches National Effort to Curb Sex AbuseGelina Fontaine of ChildFund’s Caribbean office wrote about the federal government of Dominica’s admirable effort to get more people talking about the problem of sexual abuse against children, which affects almost everyone on the island either directly or indirectly. ChildFund is taking a leadership role in these communities to support victims, encourage reporting of abuse and address the roots of abuse.

And drumroll, please…

1. ChildFund Opens Care Center for Children Orphaned by EbolaIn October, there was daily bad news from West Africa about the spread of Ebola. ChildFund works in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the center of the epidemic, and like many organizations, we were trying to help families and communities stop the spread of the deadly virus. Meanwhile, our staff members in Liberia and Sierra Leone saw the need for child-focused quarantine centers where children — many of whom had lost family members — could live in comfort, with access to caring adults, learning resources, games and toys while they were observed for symptoms of Ebola. The first Interim Care Center was opened in Monrovia, Liberia, in October, followed by more centers in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Today, as the countries are free from Ebola, we still are checking in on the children who stayed at the centers, many of whom are adjusting to new homes and families.

volunteer and baby A volunteer at an Interim Care Center in Liberia cuddles a baby who was affected by Ebola. 


Girls Get a Hand From the White House

Indian student

Sheela, 19, is attending nursing school through ChildFund India’s Udaan scholarship program. Photo by Jake Lyell.

Earlier this week, ChildFund President & CEO Anne Lynam Goddard visited the White House for the launch of Let Girls Learn, a U.S. government initiative that aims to make education accessible for all girls worldwide, despite some daunting obstacles. Girls’ rights and the barriers to them figure strongly in our work at ChildFund, so it is thrilling to see such a major push led by the Office of the First Lady, involving USAID, the State Department, the Peace Corps and other agencies. You can read more of Anne’s thoughts on Let Girls Learn on her Tumblr page.

On the ChildFund blog, we’ve written about many girls and young women who have overcome significant barriers to attaining a full education — including early marriage, spotty electrical power, long walks to school and cultural mores that discourage women from getting an education. Read about Phanny, a Zambian woman who works as an automotive repair supervisor; Mahdia, an Afghani woman who is learning to read despite the objection of some of her male relatives; and Alexia, a Dominican police officer who encourages her younger siblings to remain in school. They’re heroines in our book.

Dominica Launches National Effort to Curb Sex Abuse

Dominica faces a sex abuse crisis, but its government is working with NGOs and communities.

By Gelina Fontaine, ChildFund Caribbean Program Manager

In Dominica, everyone is affected by child sexual abuse in some way. With a population of just 73,000 people, the Caribbean island saw more than 700 reports of abuse between 2009 and June 2014. That’s one in every 104 people.

If there isn’t a case of abuse within his or her immediate family, a Dominican resident — child or adult — likely has a friend, a cousin or a neighbor who has experienced it. That’s why the island’s national government, along with entities like ChildFund, is taking action to stem the tide of abuse, which most often takes the form of incest or sexual exploitation of boys.

In June, ChildFund and other nonprofit organizations created the 13-member Dominica NGO Coalition for the Protection of Children and Youth. Members include the National Council of Women, the Caribbean Male Action Network, the National Youth Council, the Dominica Association of Disabled Persons and others.

ChildFund currently serves as its secretariat and has funded the establishment of the coalition and its advocacy efforts. The coalition’s vision is for a Dominica where children and youth are free from all forms of violence, which reflects ChildFund Alliance’s global campaign to include this goal on the United Nations’ Post-2015 Agenda.

Every two weeks, the NGO Coalition meets to discuss incidents of child sexual abuse and updates on earlier cases, calling on the police, Dominica’s Ministry of Social Services and the Social Welfare Division, medical personnel and concerned families to make sure that survivors are able to receive the support they need, particularly when they pursue justice.

Meanwhile, ChildFund has worked with communities to address another side of this serious problem, with the Shine a Light project, which focuses on ways to prevent gender-based violence. In addition to other programs, we are working with boys and young men so they’ll make healthy choices while showing respect toward their female peers.

ChildFund Caribbean also has worked to make communities aware of the huge presence of abuse through radio, TV, print and online media — as well as on a grassroots level, promoting weekly conversations among children, youth, parents and other community members. These meetings give participants a chance to discuss the effects of abuse and possible solutions.

In coming weeks and months, coalition members will advocate for critical reforms needed in the legal system, child care institutions, mandatory reporting requirements and other protective measures.

Reaching Boys and Young Men in Dominica

In 2012, ChildFund launched a program called Shine a Light in four countries — Dominica, Indonesia, Liberia and Senegal — thanks in large part to a major gift from a concerned donor. The project’s goal is to raise awareness of gender-based violence, assist child survivors of sexual abuse and help communities develop child-protective systems and responses. In four blog posts, we’ll learn about the progress made in these countries; today we examine Dominica.

By Martha Joseph, ChildFund Caribbean Area Manager, and Isaac Trice, Social Work Intern

Young men and boys from one of Dominica’s most deprived communities are seeing their lives transformed through the Man-Up program, designed to empower them to make responsible choices while respecting the rights of girls and women. This opportunity is made possible through the Shine a Light project.

In Dominica, sexual abuse is the most prevalent form of gender-based violence afflicting children. The goal of Shine a Light is to reduce the incidence of gender-based violence against children, by empowering young people and creating safe environments.

Greg playing soccer

Greg playing soccer at the community center.

Gender socialization research has produced some understanding of the connections between gender identity and violence affecting children. Boys often learn early to identify maleness with strength and aggressive behavior, according to a 2009 study. Man-Up, geared toward boys and youths ages 6 to 24, addresses such aggression and the frustration of males living in Dominica’s at-risk communities.

Thirteen-year-old Greg attends the events, and he has developed a strong passion to make his community a better place. Greg has lived all of his life in this community with high unemployment, juvenile delinquency and student dropout rates, as well as frequent drug use and sexual abuse. Most people who become successful move out of the area, and only two boys out of 17 attending the first session said they planned to stay in the community.

A strong student and soccer player for his school team, Greg recognizes that there are many who will not be able to leave, so he is taking a leading role in contributing to his community by coordinating activities and recruiting friends to participate. His first major project was a cleanup of the local community center and its surroundings to make it safe for all of the young men who play there.

“The community center is the place I feel safest,” Greg says. “We want to make it just a little bit better.”

Man-Up aims to help young men to express themselves in a positive manner instead of violently and destructively. Sessions focus on issues of respect for self and others; gender identity norms and their implications; community responsibility; brotherhood; goal setting; and sexual and reproductive health.

Soccer has become an important way to teach lessons. Shane, another young man in the program, explains, “By playing soccer, we learn how to work as a team to achieve the positive goal of winning. We learn the importance of rules and that violence does not solve problems, it only makes things worse.”

The national government of Dominica is making major strides in combating sexual violence. Stay tuned for a blog post soon about how ChildFund Caribbean is assisting this important effort through Shine a Light. 


3 legged race

Boys running a three-legged race, which teaches cooperation.

Hope in the Form of a Goat

By Nicole Duciaume, Americas Region Sponsorship Manager

Read Nicole’s first post about her trip to Dominica, a Caribbean island nation where ChildFund works.

I often say that ChildFund’s work begins where the pavement ends, and this rang true in Dominica. Within a few blocks of a docked cruise ship, about 10 miles outside of the capital of Roseau, we parked the car and walked up a path of crumbling stones and packed earth.

Miranda and Lashana

Miranda and her 4-year-old daughter Lashana.

It was there that I met Miranda, 31, and her 4-year-old daughter, Lashana. Miranda and her five children, who are enrolled in ChildFund’s programs, live in a small two-bedroom home she inherited from her grandmother. The home is made of weathered wood panels atop cement blocks. There are gaps where the ceiling and walls don’t meet, and broken windows outnumber whole ones.

They have lived without electricity for more than five years, and their bathroom is in the backyard, with a pit latrine and a hose for a shower, plus a few panels of plywood and rusted metal sheets for privacy. Her three sons, aged 17, 14 and 12, share one tiny bedroom; her two daughters, aged 9 and 4, sleep in a twin bed in the hall outside of the bedroom that Miranda shares with Lashana’s father.

Miranda does her best for the family. She encourages her children to go to school so they will have more opportunities than she had. The school down the road is supported by ChildFund and embraces the child-friendly methodology (including alternative discipline, age-appropriate furniture, bright and engaging learning environments and parental engagement). We had visited the school earlier in the day to distribute sleeping cots for preschoolers and to see a renovated library where children can read, study and imagine.

Lashana suffers from asthma and other respiratory problems, which often forces her to return home early from preschool; she often falls ill if any of her classmates are sick. Miranda believes in the power of early stimulation and education, something ChildFund encourages throughout Dominica and in other countries, so she has educational charts at home to promote Lashana’s learning of the alphabet, numbers, vegetables and fruits.

Lashana and goat

Lashana and her goat.

Miranda doesn’t have a formal education, so her employment options are limited.

She takes on odd jobs, anything to provide for her family — cleaning homes, washing laundry by hand and so on. Miranda also keeps a small garden in the backyard to feed her family and sell the surplus produce in the market. But heavy rains this year ruined her crops and waterlogged the seeds. As a result, the family is having a hard time making ends meet.   This is why Lashana was all smiles as she told me her most exciting news: She recently received a goat from her ChildFund sponsor. Though Lashana knows it is her goat, she also realizes that this goat will help the entire family with milk to sell, and once they breed the goat, they will be able to supplement their income by selling the offspring.

The day-to-day life for this family is daunting, but they have hope. Sponsors help provide hope for many children through their support of ChildFund’s programs and the families themselves. Sometimes in the form of a goat.

Natural Beauty, Harsh Poverty in Dominica

Dominica scenery

The Caribbean island of Dominica.

By Nicole Duciaume, Americas Region Sponsorship Manager 

The descent onto the mountainous island is one of beauty and circus spectacular. Our small propeller plane surfed the air currents tipping left, right, up, left, left, up, right, like a toddler taking his first clumsy steps while teetering on the brink of a near-certain fall. As the plane touched down, at the end of the runway was the ocean, waves relentlessly crashing into the rocky shoreline. 

Leaving the airport, I was immediately reminded of why Dominica is nicknamed the Nature Island. We passed over so many beautiful rivers and brooks that feed the rainforest canopy, which engulfed the taxi as we wound our way to my hotel, my home away from home for the week ahead. This country is nothing short of breathtaking. It is the perfect destination for hikers, divers and cruise enthusiasts. 

cruise ship

A cruise ship docks near the capital of Roseau.

In February, I spent a week in Roseau, Dominica, where ChildFund’s Caribbean national office is located. Dominica is about 1,400 miles southeast of Florida — past Cuba, past the Dominican Republic, past Puerto Rico.

Its beauty at first hides the harsh realities of poverty affecting the most vulnerable of the island’s inhabitants, particularly children. Seaside mansions built into the cliffs are brightly colored with Caribbean hues, as they obscure the shantytowns behind them, shacks constructed with plywood and rusted metal sheets. 

Here, children sleep many to a bed. Their fathers often have left the home, and their mothers barely eke out a living. Incidents of child neglect and abuse are high, while income levels are low. The cost of living is high, too. Despite the common view that the Caribbean is better off than other parts of the developing world, the harsh living conditions of children and youth in Dominica are on par with what I have seen in some of the most remote and impoverished parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America.

This is why ChildFund works here. This is why we do what we do. 

Tomorrow, Nicole reports on a family from Dominica.  

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