Dominica

Children Are the ‘Third Gender’

By Gelina Fontaine, ChildFund Caribbean

For 50 days, ChildFund is joining with numerous organizations to demonstrate support for government policies and programs that will allow women and girls to be healthy, empowered, and safe – no matter where they live. This week’s theme focuses on preventing gender-based violence, which often starts with the most vulnerable – children.

Two years ago, I walked into Rapid City, S.D., airport and I saw my maternal grandma’s face that I love so much seemingly peering at me from these huge black-and-white photos of former Native American chiefs – it was the same bone structure, the same wide forehead and the same intensity of resilient stare. I remember smiling at the portraits with a nostalgic sense of love and recognition before hurrying to catch up with my ChildFund colleagues.

This year, I walk into the airport in Dakar, Senegal, and I see these sculpted, lean bronzed, dignified warrior-like bodies of my step-grandfather – my grandma’s husband – and I smile and ache with that same sense of instant love and recognition. I think to myself: our people of the Caribbean truly are the “melting pot,” influenced and built by so many races – Native Americans, African slaves, Indian and Syrian indentured laborers, Hispanics, French, English and Portuguese – all blending to make up my world, my genealogy and my heritage.

In South Dakota, we heard from our U.S ChildFund colleagues how teenagers in Native American communities were committing suicide at such a frequent rate that their parents were more consumed by mourning than cherishing their children who are still alive. Their recounting of these ongoing tragedies became unbearable to me when I learned that children as young as 5 years old were killing themselves for various reasons, including hopelessness and abuse and after witnessing it happening all around them to their siblings, extended relatives, schoolmates and community friends.

I left the U.S. not being able to internalize or envision the inner thoughts and external situations that would lead a young child to decide not to remain here with the rest of us.

liberation statue

Gelina later noticed  that the child representative is missing in the liberation statue. “Often the child does not get his or her share of the story unless given a voice by organizations like ours,” she notes.

I had shelved that discomfort until I walked into one of the first transatlantic slave houses in West Africa on Senegal’s Goree Island. Our guide took us to the statue honoring the first slave liberation in 1802 by the French island of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean, and I was proud to know that we islanders had shown the first demonstration of humanity and common sense by abolishing slavery.

shackles and chains

The historic site is a witness to suffering.

The guide then took us to the slave holding compound – a preserved structure from centuries before and empty of the spirits of those once held in captivity. We went through the various rooms where men were weighed and measured for strength, where young virgins were holed in, where slaves were shoved into claustrophobic “time-out” 3-foot cells when being punished.

holding cell for child slaves

Gelina views the holding cell for “enfants.”

I treated the excursion as a historical exercise until we entered this dusky, elongated room where 30 or more children at a time were crunched together. In that instant, I had a flash vision of those children huddled in fear and cold, innocent and traumatized, trying their best not to cry aloud and barely able to breathe, with only two or three open slits in the wall facing the ocean for ventilation.

That was when my defenses went down, and I turned to the slit in the wall and remained silent and choked, hiding the tears from my colleagues. Every cowering, every tear, every thought of hopelessness I envisioned as experienced by these 30 children at a time had the face of my 6-year-old son stamped on their bodies. And I thought, no children of any ethnicity – be they Native American, African, Asian; the former slaves of Egypt to the the Oliver Twists of industrialized Europe; or those children today ensnared in the modern, underground slavery network of child abuse and trafficking should ever again die or have to live through that kind of inhumane experience.

Later that week as our ChildFund “Shine a Light” project team gathered to discuss gender-based violence and how to better integrate gender-based elements in our programming for children, I began musing that the “child” could be considered a third gender, like a third universal ethnic group.

When there is a rising situation of violence or a culture of violation and death, sadly, children are never exempt. Their misfortune and, often, their fatalities are unacceptable. The young child, still vulnerable and unable to take care of his or her basic needs or protect the self, the child still too innocent to distinguish cultural gender norms, the child who simply and for certain knows that she or he just wants to be safe and loved is the “third gender,” highly vulnerable to exploitation and requiring particular support and attention.

Children are gifts. They are assets, and that’s the cornerstone of ChildFund’s work. Their positive foundation as future ancestors of other generations is our daily fight.

Reducing Violence Against Children in the Caribbean

by Patricia Toquica, Regional Communications Manager, ChildFund Americas

banner for conferenceAs a member of the Global Movement for Children, ChildFund is actively participating this week in the Sub-Regional Meeting for Follow-up on the United Nations Study on Violence Against Children in the Caribbean, taking place in Kingston, Jamaica, May 14-15.

Marta Santos Pais, special representative of the U.N. Secretary-General on Violence against Children, and the Honorable Lisa Hanna, Jamaica’s Minister of Youth and Culture, are among the 150 delegates from CARICOM (Caribbean community) member-states, civil society groups and adolescents participating in the meeting.

The initial U.N. study— the most comprehensive global report on violence against children—was presented to the U.N. General Assembly in 2006. It includes several recommendations to protect children against all forms of violence. Sub-regional meetings are being held to monitor and assess progress.

Gelina Fontaine presents on ChildFund’s work to protect children.

Gelina Fontaine, ChildFund Caribbean program manager, presented on ChildFund’s life stages approach and programs to combat violence against children in Dominica and St. Vincent, as well as our active child advocacy work in the region.

speakers on stage

Paul Bode (l), regional director for ChildFund Americas, addresses the sub-regional U.N. meeting on violence against children.

Paul Bode, ChildFund’s regional director for the Americas, is moderating the discussion on information systems and research needed to support public policy strategies and plans to prevent violence against children.

For more than 10 years, ChildFund, as a member of the National Early Child Development Council and the Child Rights Committee, has been contributing to national policy discussion in the Caribbean. Our approach and experience in partnership with local public and private organizations has continuously influenced the National School Crisis Management Policy and the National Child Friendly Schools Approach in both Dominica and St. Vincent.

ChildFund Caribbean is also currently conducting a study on Family, Community and Gender-Based Violence in cooperation with the government of Dominica. We believe the results will contribute to improved public policy and prevention programs that address many forms and effects of violence against children.

Learn more about the Stop Violence in the Caribbean movement, and follow the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.

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!

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