Dominica

Two Young Women Give Back to Dominica

by Ron Wolfe, ChildFund Senior Business Systems Analyst

For the past two weeks, staff from ChildFund International and ChildFund Honduras have been in Dominica, collaborating with the ChildFund Caribbean office to test a new child survey tool loaded onto ultra-portable computers. This pilot project,  which is funded with support from Intel, will help determine the feasibility of collecting and transmitting digital data in all of the countries where ChildFund works.

church overlooking ocean

A church with a view.

Climbing the northern mountains of Dominica early on Sunday morning, our caravan tried to outrun the impending downpour. After another hairpin turn near the summit, we slowed and began to see villagers dressed beautifully, walking uphill with a purpose. And then we heard the music.

Our team had arrived in Penville. Perched on a promontory overlooking the confluence of the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, we found a small green-painted church that seemed to be the center of the universe. The mass was about to begin, but the congregation, still arriving, first had to weave its way through a crescendo of song.

community members in church

A time for reflection.

Music is a vital part of life here, especially sacred music rooted in American gospel and blended with diverse cultural variations found uniquely on the island. The melodies and harmonies also provided our team a peaceful way to decompress from the drive, as we waited for the service to end and our next round of child status interviews to begin. While pausing outside of the church, I began to reflect on the work completed to-date and those whose participation was so vital to its success.

Among the data collectors that day were Clasia, a ChildFund-trained community mobilizer for the West Federation in Dominica, and Valarie, a community volunteer from the Northeastern District. ChildFund has organized its programs on the island into an East and a West Federation, with each serving approximately 2,000 enrolled and 1,500 sponsored children.

youth with child

Clasia puts children at ease as she gathers data about key health indicators.

Clasia has worked with the West Federation for just more than a year and is responsible for reaching out to 332 children who are enrolled or sponsored through ChildFund. “I am getting to know each one,” she says.

As a youth, Clasia enrolled in the Dominica Business Training Center, a second-chance learning institution. Through the center, she became familiar with ChildFund’s work and later accepted a job, knowing that her passion is working to better the lives of children. “It’s wonderful to see how [they] react to us,” Clasia says, beaming. Even the casual observer can see that the children feel comfortable around her. As a result, they talk about the things that matter most to them. “It takes a while, though, to gain their trust,” she says.

Technology in the form of ultra-portable computers should help Clasia become more efficient in her job in the future. She was impressed with the initial tests and looks forward to future technologies as they are rolled out. “When you are in the field all day, you have to go back to your sub-office [to file reports]. You have to think about what to do next, and you have to put your information into the office computer. Now, it’s already there. It’s much easier. The next day [after being in the field] you can just continue with your work.”

youth with children

Valarie takes time to listen to the children.

Valarie, a community volunteer whose poise belies her young age, didn’t know what to expect when she signed on to collect data for the Child Status Index pilot. One thing she didn’t anticipate, though, was to “work such long, hard hours for so many days,” she says. “I found the motivation to move on, though,” Valarie adds, “to wake up every morning and face it again. And to be honest, I could do this all over again.”

Watching Valarie engage with a family that she’d never met and ask questions that, at times, could get personal, it was easy to see that the work came naturally to her. Children opened up and answered questions as if they were continuing a longstanding conversation.

“My best experiences were the home visits,” she says, “getting the opportunity to meet and dialogue with people in my country—and being touched by it.” Valarie is at the point in her life where she’s deciding on career paths. “I definitely will consider this field,” she says. “Whatever path I choose, though, I will always desire to be a volunteer and give back to my country. This was a life-changing experience!”

As the music died down, it was time to carry on with our work, but, for a brief time, we were able to clear our heads, rest our feet and imagine ourselves entwined in the daily existence of Penville, Dominica.

Making Digital Connections With Children Around the World

by Ron Wolfe, ChildFund Senior Business Systems Analyst

According to legend, upon Columbus’s return from Dominica in 1496, Spanish Queen Isabella asked him what the island was like. He crumpled a piece of paper, laid it on a table, and said, “Like this.”

scenic view of Dominica

The Nature Isle.

Known as the Nature Isle of the Caribbean, Dominica is formed by towering mountains climbing through the clouds, deep gorges, often interrupted by picturesque waterfalls, and boiling lakes, heated by volcanoes that dot the landscape. With 70 percent of the island still covered by rainforest or other vegetation, Columbus would still recognize the island he so aptly described.

woman interviewing child

A member of the team conducts a Child Status Index interview at a plantain-processing facility in Marigot.

This week and next, staff from ChildFund International and ChildFund Honduras are in Dominica, collaborating with our colleagues in the ChildFund Caribbean office. We’re testing a new child survey tool loaded onto ultra-portable computers. This pilot project, which is funded with support from Intel, will help determine the feasibility of collecting and transmitting digital data in all of the countries where ChildFund works.

By the end of this week, our team of community mobilizers and interviewers will have spoken to approximately 300 enrolled and sponsored children. These interviews will cover a number of child status evaluation factors, including education, nutrition, emotional health and access to health services. As we gain additional knowledge of the most critical issues impacting Dominica’s children, the data will be used to guide ChildFund’s future programs here.

scenic view of Dominica landscape

This picturesque landscape is common around the island, often belying the poverty that exists below.

Earlier this week we travelled from Roseau, Dominica’s capital, to La Plaine on the Atlantic coast to interview families in surrounding communities. As if to confirm Columbus’s description of the island’s topography, the team drove for more than an hour and a half through the mountains on twisty roads and hairpin turns to reach our destination, which was only 15 miles away on a straight line. As the caravan of cars and a mini-bus filled with data collectors and support staff climbed the mountains and entered the forest, it began to pour, only reinforcing the prehistoric feel of this untouched landscape.

Taking notes outdoors

The ultrabooks provide needed flexibility in the field.

Arriving in La Plaine, the group split into teams and walked the village to meet with selected families. Each group carried an ultrabook computer, equipped with a data-collection program developed by ChildFund International’s IT staff. This program facilitates both online and offline (or asynchronous) data collection—a necessity while working in ChildFund communities.

We met children in their homes, their parents’ places of business or under a tree. Once the data was collected, our teams returned to the La Plaine Child Development Centre (ChildFund’s local partner in this community) and, through a wireless Internet connection, immediately transmitted all data back to ChildFund’s Richmond, Va., headquarters for analysis.

With its rugged landscape and secluded communities, Dominica provides a challenging environment to test ChildFund’s initial assessment of asynchronous technology. As the next two weeks progress, we will continue to report out on progress toward digitally linking children in our programs with the world.

Around the Globe with ChildFund in 31 Days: Supporting Youth in Dominica

Reporting by ChildFund Caribbean

31 in 31 logoOver the course of January’s 31 days, we’re making a blog stop in each country where we serve children, thanks to the generous support of our sponsors and donors. Today and tomorrow, we visit ChildFund’s programs in Dominica and St. Vincent, which are under the umbrella of ChildFund Caribbean.

Located between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, just north of Venezuela, you’ll find the two small island nations of Dominica and St. Vincent. Although these islands are beautiful tourist destinations, both are battling serious social and economic challenges including high unemployment, a teen pregnancy epidemic, domestic violence and low education levels among the population.

Youth, in particular, are at high risk in Dominica. With few employment opportunities, many teens lose faith in the future and become involved in gangs or drugs. Young women who become pregnant are typically banned from school, losing their opportunity to complete their education.

ChildFund is working to give Dominica’s youth an alternate, positive view of the future by supporting youth groups that empower young people and provide them with leadership and communication skills. Once youth gain confidence among their peers, they typically perform better in school and begin to engage in community improvements.

Domincia youth gather for drama coaching

During a drama workshop, youth learn to use their words, bodies and emotions to make a statement about teen pregnancy, drug abuse and domestic violence.

Last fall, several youth groups in Dominica helped paint Early Childhood Development centers in ChildFund project areas and contributed to other beautification projects on Community Day of Service. One youth group staged a skit to call the community’s attention to domestic violence. Another youth group focused activities on HIV/AIDS prevention.

Students in Dominica

Jack and Barbara Clarke lead a three-week photography course for Dominica students.

Dominica’s youth have also benefitted from access to creative outlets. ChildFund supporters Jack and Barbara Clarke conducted their third photography workshop in October 2011 at the Pierre-Charles Secondary School. During the three-week program, 18 students, age 12 to 16, learned to operate a camera and gained new perspective on their own lives as well as insights into their families and communities.

Students honed their photography skills through field assignments in the Grand Bay community and at the Creole in the Park, a national week-long cultural event held in Dominica’s Botanical Gardens. The festival draws local and international artists in celebration of Dominica’s independence. The photography students were able to take shots of the artists, visitors, the cultural scenery and the busy street scenes of the capital. Students then displayed their photographic work at a grand exhibition to mark the conclusion of the course.
Now, Dominica’s youth are forming visual arts groups to keep the creative momentum going. Although much work remains to be in this island nation, youth are discovering that they can have an impact on the future.

Discover more about ChildFund’s programs in Dominica and how you can sponsor a child.

Tomorrow: We visit ChildFund’s programs in neighboring St. Vincent.

New National Director Takes Helm of ChildFund Caribbean

by Nicole Duciaume, Regional Sponsorship Coordinator, ChildFund Americas

National Director at press conference

Newly appointed ChildFund Caribbean National Director Ana Maria Locsin speaks at a press conference.

Ana Maria Locsin became national director of ChildFund Caribbean in early August, though her welcome was a bit delayed due to a tropical storm. But once she arrived, it was nonstop action her first week, despite the 12-hour time difference from her native Philippines.

Her first two days on the job were a whirlwind of activity: national office orientation, an official welcome to the region, team debriefs, program field visit, community meetings, CSP review, audit finding reports and a press conference. If memory serves, we did allow her to eat, rest and shower as well.

National director with child in community

On her first day as ChildFund Caribbean national director, Ana Maria Locsin is all smiles posing with a child participating in ChildFund's summer camp program.

In the press conference to introduce her to the local media, Paul Bode, regional director for ChildFund Americas, highlighted Locsin’s long career working in child development. “Ana’s international knowledge, experience and perspectives will be invaluable to Caribbean programs,” he noted.

Most recently, Locsin served as ChildFund’s national director in Afghanistan. She’s also worked with ChildFund in India and the Philippines. Earlier in her career she held international assignments in Vietnam and Timor-Leste.

Locsin holds degrees in development management and business administration. She has also participated in intensive programs in senior leadership; disaster risk reduction and emergency management; child protection; child-centered community development approach; home-based early childhood care and development; adolescent reproductive health; HIV/AIDS/STD; environmental protection; and gender and development.

Locsin says her first two orders of business are to “marry the statistics and demographics” she’s read about with actual site visits. “I want to better understand the country context and to meet community stakeholders, as well as local government officials and members of the media.”

With a new direction and new leadership in place, the first week of August was certainly an exciting time to visit ChildFund Caribbean.

An Inside View of ChildFund’s Work in the Caribbean

by Nicole Duciaume, Regional Sponsorship Coordinator, ChildFund Americas

Staff sit in planning room

ChildFund Caribbean National Director Ana Maria Locsin listens carefully as staff members from our partner organization provide some basic commentary on programming in their region of Dominica.

Developing a Country Strategy Paper (CSP) is an enlightening process — for both ChildFund and the community organizations and community members with whom we forge long-term partnerships. Although some findings are anticipated, others may come as a surprise. The process helps ChildFund prioritize the strategic program areas for children and their communities.

To give you insight into our program direction for Dominica and St. Vincent, here are just a few of the findings from ChildFund Caribbean’s CSP.

Country Context
Dominica and St. Vincent have high migration rates due to limited economic opportunities. The region is also prone to natural disasters, specifically hurricanes. More than 40 percent of population is under 25 years, and approximately 30 percent live below the poverty line. As a result, the population faces many challenges: high rates of teen pregnancy; lack of early education for young children; many female-headed households and widespread sexual abuse.

Deprived, Excluded and Vulnerable Children
A social stigma exists for those living in squatter settlements. Children and youth have low self-esteem, and economic hardships lead to parental stress and child abuse. Overcrowded homes with extended family members often lead to increased sexual abuse. Among those interviewed for the CSP, 86 percent reported experiencing corporal punishment in schools. Teens who become pregnant are routinely kicked out of school. The majority of youth lack adequate skills to get a job.

Strengths and Gaps
ChildFund works in the poorest areas of Dominica and St. Vincent; we have a long history of on-the-ground support and partnerships in the Caribbean. Strategic goals include expanding our reach to more countries within the region. To achieve this aim, we will need more team building across islands, additional financial resources and increased public relations and communications efforts.

Strategic Directions
The CSP will help ChildFund set clear strategic objectives for each age group of children we serve. We’re also seeking to have greater community and societal impact, which means we’ll need more partners and supporters to help accomplish our goals efficiently and effectively.

One of Nicole's favorite parts of field visit is getting on the floor and interacting with the children participating in our programs.

Monitoring and Evaluation Plan
For each objective in its CSP, ChildFund Caribbean has identified indicators of success and methods to measure those indicators. At pre-set check points, the staff will meet to evaluate progress to date and adjust plans as needed to ensure children and communities are receiving maximum benefit from ChildFund programs.

Tomorrow: ChildFund Caribbean’s new national director.

ChildFund Caribbean Strives for Sustainable Change for Children

by Nicole Duciaume, Regional Sponsorship Coordinator, ChildFund Americas

A view of Dominica's coastline

During a community discussion, a look out the window reveals the true beauty of the Dominican coastline. What is not seen is the high levels of poverty and unemployment.

Earlier this month, several ChildFund Americas regional staff weathered the storm (literally hunkering down to see what tropical storm Emily would bring our way) to visit our Caribbean office, meet with staff and tour field programs in Dominica and St. Vincent.

The purpose of our trip was twofold: to review the draft Country Strategy Paper (CSP) and provide a brief orientation to the new ChildFund Caribbean national director.

In Dominica, a young mother hangs laundry out to dry.

In these two island countries, we’re working to bring significant and sustainable change to children, youth, families and communities.

Paul Bode, ChildFund’s regional director of the Americas, often states that to make significant changes through our programs, we need clear direction and strong leadership.

As part of ChildFund’s strategic planning process, each National Office writes a CSP that captures the full scope of where we’ve been, where we’re at and where we want to go. It’s our roadmap for success, merging ChildFund’s big-picture strategy with locally identified needs for children and communities.

The CSP process involves

  • stakeholder analysis (meetings with communities, families, program partners, government agencies, other NGOs who work in the country and potential funders to identify the needs/desires of each group)
  • secondary data review (analyzing existing reports, statistics and other available information to better understand the context of services needed in the country)
  • capacity assessment (identifying human, financial and system resources essential to our work)
  • direction setting (determining the strategic path ChildFund will take to bring about changes in the lives of children and youth and what we need to make that happen).

The process is labor intensive and can take upwards of six months to complete. Yet, it’s a worthwhile investment to ensure we have a common understanding of priorities and direction going forward.

More to come on the specifics of the ChildFund Caribbean CSP.

A Force for Positive Community Change in Dominica

Reporting by Graeme Thompson, ChildFund Americas Region Program Coordinator

As ChildFund goes about its work of improving the lives of children from birth to young adulthood, we are finding that youth, especially, have a lot on their minds. Increasingly, we are viewing youth as partners in our work, and we’re listening closely to their ideas. We’re also helping them form leadership groups and assisting them with projects they want to take on to improve their communities.

In the Caribbean nation of Dominica, youth are worried about high unemployment rates in their country. They recognize that education is the key to a better future, and they are eager for Internet access to help them with homework and research. Yet, web access has been limited and expensive.

Enter the Wesley Youth Achievers, a community youth group that ChildFund helped start. As its leader Philippa explains, “Its mission is to develop the minds and create strong rapport among the Wesley Youth.”

As you’ll see, Philippa has been a strong advocate for youth in her community.

Paying a Special Visit to a Colleague’s Sponsored Child

by Nicole Duciaume, Regional Sponsorship Coordinator, ChildFund Americas

House

Raneen's home in Dominica.

On my last day in Dominica, I had a rare and wonderful opportunity. A colleague and dear friend of mine, Davidson, sponsors a 10-year-old boy named Raneen on this beautiful Caribbean island. Davidson asked if I could check on Raneen and his family during my trip. It just happened to work out that on a late afternoon, I had a few hours to spend with the child.

Family photo

Raneen (in green shirt on right) and family with Nicole.

I had a dual mission: tell Raneen all about his sponsor and gather as many details as I could about Raneen and his family to share back with Davidson. I was an information conduit.

It was an amazing experience to enter their home, not as a ChildFund employee, but as a family friend. For once I wasn’t taking notes or asking questions; I was just in the moment, listening to the family talk about their sons, their experiences and what they wanted out of life for their children, themselves and their community.

I told Raneen and his family that Davidson is well-respected and wise, and that he has a laugh that immediately puts everyone at ease. I also shared a little about where he is from (Sierra Leone) and about the country where he lives today (Ethiopia). I even showed them a few recent photos.

family photo

Raneen, with a letter from Davidson, sits with his mom and dad.

In exchange, I learned that Raneen is quite a good athlete and is doing really well in school. He also has a creative and artistic side, and especially likes to draw fast cars and read comics. I even found out that Raneen has never cut his hair and that each morning his mother and he decide how she is going to arrange it. I met his brothers, had a nice snack with his family and learned about his community. Raneen showed me where he keeps all the letters Davidson has sent, and he told me how much the letters mean to him.

Child with gifts

Raneen is happy to receive gifts sent from Davidson.

The visit ended with hugs and a few presents. Raneen is a happy, healthy, respectful and sweet young man, soon to be 11 years old. Though he was happy I came to visit, he insisted that I tell Davidson that he is looking forward to his visit as well.

Now that I think about it, my sponsored child lives in Kenya — maybe I should see if Davidson can visit him for me!

If Only Their Troubles Were Make-Believe

by Nicole Duciaume, Regional Sponsorship Coordinator, ChildFund Americas

I grew up doing school and community theater, so I feel right at home when I walk into a youth group drama workshop in Dominica. What may look like 20 youth milling about and playing games is actually a cluster of specific activities designed to encourage eye contact, expressive touch, intentional body movements and voice projection, cadence and enunciation. All of these skills are aimed at building not only self-expression but also self-esteem.

Drama group

Youth participate in dramatic exercises.

The youth divide into three skit groups, each with a given theme: domestic abuse, teen pregnancy and drug abuse. The youth are deciding the detailed roles, the props and the message for this workshop. However, these themes result from months of ChildFund’s work with Dominica’s communities, helping children and youth identify the root causes of poverty within their families and localities. These serious themes emerged as ever-present concerns in children’s lives.Youth drama group

Now I’ve participated in and seen hundreds of skits throughout my life, but the one on domestic violence stops me in my tracks, gives me shivers down my arms and makes me uncomfortable enough that I want to look away. Here’s the plot:

A girl is talking on her phone flirting with a boy. Her boyfriend comes in, catches her giggling and accuses her of cheating. She cowers in the corner of the room trying to hide, but he slaps her with such force that she crashes to the floor. He takes off his shoe and beats her over and over. The skit continues with each family retaliating and escalating the fight. Eventually, someone dies. Everyone comes together at the community funeral and cannot believe that a domestic spat escalated to such violence. The message from Dominican youth is clear: don’t let someone die before you break the cycle of violence.

The honesty and frankness with which the youth interpret this drama make it clear that they’ve witnessed similar real-life scenes play out in their community time and again, perhaps even in their own families. The skit was so raw and true that I still get shivers thinking about it. It was fiction, yet so clearly based on their childhood realities.

Dominica’s youth will be presenting similar skits in the coming week at a street theater event to raise community awareness about these important issues. This ChildFund-guided youth group, specifically its drama program, is giving youth the opportunity, resources, organization, space and time to join their voices and make an impact in their community. ChildFund hopes to replicate the success of this group across the island in the coming year.

Catching Up with Denzel from Dominica

by Nicole Duciaume, Regional Sponsorship Coordinator, ChildFund Americas

Denzel from Dominica

Denzel at United Nations in 2009.

Almost two and a half years ago, a timid young man from Dominica represented ChildFund at the United Nations telling his transformational story from a life of violence to one of involvement, participation and empowerment.

Denzel, now 18, remains a positive influence, championing the role of youth participation in their communities. Change doesn’t happen overnight for children and youth in ChildFund programs, but even small changes are worth recognizing and celebrating. Denzel believes that change starts with voicing your opinion. He tells me he has “learned the importance of participating and encouraging others to participate and learn and share and be present.”

Denzel at 18

Denzel

As Denzel finishes his last year in high school, he’s focusing his studies on auto mechanics, wood working, technical carpentry and social studies. He isn’t entirely sure what he’ll do after graduation because there just aren’t many jobs in his community. “One of the biggest issues is unemployment,” he explains. “We need support creating job opportunities and helping youth see that a different future is possible. Most people my age do not have a job, and most are discouraged about their futures.”

But even with this frustration, there is still hope among Dominica’s teens. One source of hope is the ChildFund-supported youth group. Following a program review in 2009, ChildFund realized that children and youth were discouraged that they were not being heard within their community.

Denzel was one of the more vocal of the youth. At that time, he was involved in drugs and violence, often missing school. He felt that no one was listening to the youth, and there were no opportunities for them. As a result, ChildFund helped form a youth group – one that gives youth a positive outlet to talk about the issues facing them, their peers and their communities.

More tomorrow on ChildFund’s work with youth groups in Dominica.

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