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.  

For a Young Dominican Woman, Dreams Come True

By Gelina Fontaine, ChildFund Caribbean

As we conclude our 75th anniversary blog series, we are focusing on success stories of youth and alumni from ChildFund’s programs in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Europe. Today, we meet Alexia of Dominica.

So many people have dreams and don’t pursue them, but this is not so for 20-year-old Alexia. Born and raised in a little community on the outskirts of Roseau, the capital of Dominica, the talented and ambitious young woman was sponsored through ChildFund. Today, she is the first female police officer to emerge from her impoverished neighborhood.

Alexia of Dominica

Alexia, a Dominican police officer.

She is the oldest of six children of a single mother who sells food items and walks long distances during the day, making money to send her children to good schools.

“I always tell my younger brothers and sisters to learn well at school and follow their dreams, because if I can do it, they can do it too,” Alexia says.

Alexia, who has a charming smile, has always appreciated her mother’s efforts and made the best of her education. She first entered the culinary field, working as a cook at a rotisserie restaurant, before deciding to go to school to become a police officer.  

She currently serves on the Commonwealth of Dominica Police Force and is well respected in all parts of the island country. Alexia has worked as a patrol officer, a district officer and at the headquarters doing clerical duties. The journey continues for the young officer, and she has plans to further her studies in criminal justice so she will be better equipped to “protect and serve” her country and fellow citizens.

Alexia has inspired many young people, as well as adults, who have interacted with her; she is very polite and carries out her duty diligently. Her younger siblings all look up to her as their mentor and role model.

“I will always be grateful to the people at ChildFund,” she says. “They really encouraged me and motivated me to do well in life. They helped me with my school things, uniform and books and also helped my brothers and sisters.”

In Alexia’s spare time, she spends time with her siblings, encouraging them to take their education seriously and focus on the positives in life. She also motivates the youth in the community, reminding them that it does not matter where you are from, you can achieve your goals.

After Exchange Week, Sponsor Relations Managers Ready to Take Action

By Nicole Duciaume, Regional Sponsorship Coordinator, ChildFund Americas

In the Americas region, four of ChildFund’s sponsor relations managers visited other countries for a week to observe firsthand what their counterparts do. This post concludes our four-part series about the exchange program designed to improve the sponsorship experience. Read the series.

Our weeklong exchange program for sponsor relations managers in the Americas opened the door to in-depth conversations on policies, practices, processes, operations and cultures. Each sponsor relations manager now has an action plan to implement a promising practice gleaned during the exchange.

Here are some of their final reflections on the experience:

Mexico visit

Ana enjoyed her visit to Mexico, where she, like the other sponsor relations managers in the exchange, visited the field.

Ana Handrez, of Honduras, who visited Mexico: In the 19 years I have worked with ChildFund, this was my first time visiting another country specifically to discuss sponsorship issues and experiences. I was very surprised to see the engagement and initiatives from ChildFund Mexico’s local partner organizations. They knew their policies very well, and they were very proud to share their ideas of engaging children in sponsorship activities. It was amazing! The visit was worth every single day.

Valeria Suarez (Mexico): Ana’s visit was an enriching experience for Mexico’s office and especially for the sponsorship team. The national office and field sponsorship staff realized that even though each country has “particularities,” both share similar conditions, processes, histories and results. We enjoyed showing Ana how things are done here in Mexico, how sponsorship processes and visions have changed in the past few years, and how results have started to be achieved. We learned from her how processing times should be improved to continue enhancing the sponsorship experience, and Ana learned from us how creativity and working closely with children can provide better information for sponsors.  

Cynthie Tavernier-Jervier, of the Caribbean, who visited Guatemala: This week makes me want to continue to make the sponsorship position more and more effective. I realized again how important the part that we play in programs actually coming to fruition to meet the needs (educational, social, health) of the less fortunate of our countries. So, a wonderful thing about my job is helping to bring benefits to less fortunate children and families and making a difference.

Diana Benitez (Guatemala): The exchange is an opportunity to know in situ the sponsorship processes. I see this experience as very exciting and enriching. Although Dominica and Guatemala have very different contexts, the sponsorship processes are similar. This exchange will impact our work going forward.

Bolivia group picture

Dov (in blue shirt) was impressed with the youth involvement during his visit to Bolivia.

Dov Rosenmann, of Brazil, who visited Bolivia: This was an opportunity to reflect on our current practices and identify key areas of improvement for immediate implementation. I consider myself a beginner in sponsorship management in ChildFund, and being in Bolivia with an experienced team is, for me, a unique chance to directly ask questions and take in knowledge. On the other hand, I hope I was able to share with my Bolivian peers more about Brazil’s experience in managing sponsorship. As for what has been the best part of the exchange, for me it was seeing the youth participation at the local level and learning about Bolivia’s communication corners. Both were very inspiring and definitely an initiative to be multiplied in other countries.

Rosario Miranda (Bolivia): My expectation was to learn by comparing processes and seeing opportunities of improvement. Both national offices have similar interests and efforts toward integrated sponsorship and program activities to contribute to children’s development. Having Dov visit our national office and four local partner organizations was a wonderful educational exchange experience. We were able to compare operations and provide valuable information to improve each other’s sponsorship processes and developmental activities with children. 

Santiago Baldazo, of the United States, who hosted Ecuador: This was a great experience. Although in planning for the week, we assumed that discussing sponsorship processes when both countries were already very familiar with the procedures would be somewhat tedious.  But, while we shared the “how” of the sponsorship processes, it was very valuable for us to have the opportunity to discuss the “why” as well. 

Zoraya Albornoz (Ecuador): Staff in both offices work hard to give children the chance of better opportunities for their lives. Through this experience, I was able to better understand the way other offices work and realize the good things we have in our own operations as well as the importance of working closer to the local partners. In the daily work we lose the real perspective of our strengths and weakness. I saw that we have some things that can be improved in order to reach our goals.

Learn more about all of the countries where ChildFund works around the globe.

Sponsor Relations Exchange: Stories From Guatemala

 By Nicole Duciaume, Regional Sponsorship Coordinator, ChildFund Americas

 In the Americas region, four of ChildFund’s sponsor relations managers visited other countries for a week to observe firsthand what their counterparts do. This is the second of four posts about the exchange program. Read the series.

We asked Cynthie Tavernier-Jervier, sponsor relations manager for ChildFund Caribbean, to share some stories about her exchange experience in Guatemala: what she hoped to learn beforehand, what she encountered during the exchange, and which practices she wants to implement in her own office.

Guatemalan baby

Cynthie spent time in the field, meeting children we serve in Guatemala.

Before the exchange, Cynthie was excited about the opportunity but also concerned that she might not be able to apply many lessons at her home office, which works with children in Dominica and St. Vincent. ChildFund Caribbean has about 6,500 enrolled children spread across the two islands, whereas ChildFund Guatemala is almost three times the size, with 18,500 enrolled children.

“I expect to be dazzled and overwhelmed because of the size of the office that is hosting my visit,” Cynthie said before the trip. “I am most concerned that due to the size of my office, I will not have anything to contribute to that large office.”

But on arrival, she learned that every ChildFund office, regardless of size, language or culture, has something to share and also something to learn. Cynthie noted later that it was important “not to be intimidated since difficulties and sometimes even frustrations can be encountered by all, and solutions suiting those situations can be found and successfully applied — sometimes even done as a team.”

Cynthie spent a few days in the national office in Guatemala City, as well as two days in the field, visiting local partner organizations that work with ChildFund and, of course, interacting with the children we serve.

Along the way, Cynthie and her hosts discussed processes like sponsorship department structure and roles, orienting families to ChildFund’s programs, child enrollment, children’s letters to sponsors, communication methods, handling of monetary gifts from sponsor to child, youth communication teams and the integration of sponsorship and program activities.

In return, Cynthie gave a presentation to the entire Guatemala senior management team (including the national director and the leaders of programs, sponsorship, finance and human resources) about operations, processes and programs in ChildFund’s Caribbean office in Roseau, Dominica.

What was the most important thing Cynthie learned? Providing more child-friendly resources to the local partners to share with children as they write to their sponsors, she says, after observing how these tools make letter writing more engaging.

So, the first thing Cynthie wants to do upon her return to the Caribbean is “make the correspondence fun and colorful, friendly and easier for children, so as not to make it a chore.”

As for the unexpected, Cynthie says she was surprised to learn that in Guatemala many of the programs and daily activities in the communities are carried out in indigenous languages, not Spanish.

group of Guatemalan children

During the exchange, Cynthie learned that many programs are conducted in indigenous languages.

In the field, there are many different languages spoken by the indigenous people, and some don’t speak Spanish, she says. “Some of the people wear specific cultural dress and no other, unlike in my country, where the cultural dress is worn only during certain months (or during traditional activities).

I was also surprised that children of about four or five years were working in the fields on a weekday, especially since school was in session.” So she spent time discussing how Guatemala is seeking to address child labor issues.

The exchange visit to Guatemala resulted in several professional and personal gains, Cynthie says. “Basically, this week makes me want to continue to make the sponsor relations position more and more effective.”

Tomorrow: From Ecuador to South Dakota.

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