Paying a Special Visit to a Colleague’s Sponsored Child

by Nicole Duciaume, Regional Sponsorship Coordinator, ChildFund Americas


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


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.

A Leader Who Leads by Example

by Virginia Sowers
Community Manager

One of the truly great things about working at ChildFund is discovering children’s uncanny ability to bring people together from all walks of life.

Just recently, I found myself on the phone with His Excellency Dr. Nicholas J. O. Liverpool, president of the Commonwealth of Dominica.

Can you guess why?

Dr. Liverpool is a ChildFund sponsor.

His Excellency Dr. Nicholas J. O. Liverpool, president of the Commonwealth of Dominica

His reasoning is simple: lead by example.

Having attended a number of ChildFund functions, Liverpool says he was “impressed by the enthusiasm” with which National Director Francis Joseph and the ChildFund staff are engaged with their duties in his country.

“They were doing a wonderful job,” he says, “so I thought this will be one way that I can offer assistance. Mr. Joseph can now say: ‘The president is a sponsor.’”

He’s also inviting a number of his friends to become sponsors as well.

“I’m very enthusiastic about the project,” says Liverpool, who has placed a strong emphasis on education during his administration. “There are a lot of children in need.”

As a new ChildFund sponsor, His Excellency is eager to participate more fully in the issues that impact children. “I’ve been involved in children’s issues on and off for years,” he says. “In a few years — when I’m free to be able to play a part — I hope to do more.”

Read the full story on ChildFund’s Web site.

Q & A with Denzel on His U.N. Experience

By Virginia Sowers
Community Manager

When 16-year-old Denzel Matthew left his rural village of La Plaine in Dominica last Friday en route to the United Nations in New York City, it would be an understatement to say he was a tad nervous.

Only in New York!

Accompanied and reassured by Francis Joseph, ChildFund’s national director for Dominica/St. Vincent, Denzel rose to the occasion from the moment he landed at JFK.

Representing ChildFund International, Denzel appeared at three separate events related to the United Nations Commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

Throughout the day, Denzel mingled with ambassadors and U.N. officials.

While in New York, Denzel also had the opportunity to meet with a number of ChildFund donors as well as fellow Dominicans now living in the U.S.

As Denzel was preparing to return home, he graciously agreed to one more in a long line of interviews.

Q: What will you tell your family, friends and teachers about your experience at the United Nations?

I will tell my family and friends that speaking at the United Nations was a great experience for me.

Q: How did you feel when you stood up and delivered your statement before the large crowd at the United Nations?

At first I felt nervous and afraid, but I had a lot of support from ChildFund and friends, so I just stood up and delivered.

Q: What did you learn about yourself during this trip?

I learned that I’m a great photographer and a good speaker.

Q: Do you think that it is important for young people’s voices to be heard at the United Nations?

I think it’s important for young people to be at the United Nations because many people from all around the world go to the United Nations, and the young people’s voices will be heard.

Denzel, Francis Joseph, and Crispin Gregoire, Dominica's UN representative
Denzel, Francis Joseph, and Crispin Gregoire, Dominica’s UN representative

Q: What was it like to meet the United Nations ambassador for Dominica?

Meeting the U.N. Ambassador (Hon. Crispin Gregoire) for Dominica was great! We even sat down at a panel discussion together.

Q: Has this trip inspired you to keep working on your goal to help other children when you return to Dominica?

This trip has inspired me in many ways, and I hope that I can help other children reach their goals by introducing positive and fun activities that they can take part in.

Denzel at the commemoration event
Denzel at the commemoration event

Q: Do you think this experience has changed your life?

This experience changed my life by opening a new door for me and allowing me to see my future in a positive and successful way.

Q: What was the most fun thing you did while in New York City?

Everything I did while in New York was fun and exciting! I went to see the play “Shrek” on Broadway. We went sightseeing and walked through Central Park. We went to see 3-D movies. And even though I was scared to speak at the United Nations, I enjoyed it and it was fun.

Youth Find New Ways to Express Themselves

31 in 31Yesterday we met Denzel Matthew, a 16-year-old boy from Dominica who turned his life around to help others. The help he is providing to younger children is greatly needed in that country, as well as in nearby St. Vincent in the Caribbean.

ChildFund Caribbean, which runs programs in both Dominica and St. Vincent, reported recently that violence among youth in schools has become a major issue.

“The youth are expressing their restlessness through violence with each other, their teachers, parents and even community members,” says ChildFund Caribbean National Director Francis Joseph. “The list of juvenile offenders is increasing in each country.”

However, there are signs of hope, as you read about yesterday with Denzel. The photography course is just one example of how ChildFund programs work to give youth alternative ways of expressing themselves without turning to violence.

“Consistently from one school to the next, we saw youth becoming friends and finding that common passion for life, for a skill, for opportunity given, for the chance to see life and see their future in a different light,” Francis says.

Youth who participate in ChildFund programs typically become closer to their parents and caregivers; many become more actively engaged in learning.

“Many of them are now excited about being at school. This is a small step we’re taking toward a long-term partnership with the youth through their school system to get them excited about learning, leadership and self-improvement,” Francis says.

For more information about these two countries, click here.

More on St. Vincent and Dominica
Population: 177,000
ChildFund beneficiaries: More than 36,000 children and families
Did You Know?: St. Vincent and the Grenadines are celebrating 30 years of independence in 2009, following centuries of French and British rule. St. Vincent and the Grenadines became the last of the Windward Islands to gain statehood status on October 27, 1979.

What’s next: We meet children in the war-torn nation of Afghanistan.

In Focus: Photo Class Leads to Changes for Dominican Youth

This is one of Denzel's photos that he took recently in Dominica.

This is one of Denzel's photos that he took recently in Dominica.

31 in 31

 Today, Denzel Matthew, a youth in Dominica, is presenting his success story to the United Nations as part of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. As part of our blog series “31 in 31,” we are sharing Denzel’s story in his own words, as well as some of the photos he has taken as part of a ChildFund-sponsored photography course.

By Denzel Matthew

I am 16 years old and one of a group of other people close to my age who are working together to address the needs of our community.

Denzel will speak in New York on Oct. 19 as part of the United Nations' International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

Denzel will speak in New York on Oct. 19 as part of the United Nations' International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

We have a high rate of school dropouts in my community. High poverty rates mean that many children and youth cannot attend school. Some quit school early because they are not happy, or they are thrown out because they do not behave properly. We hope to change this by mentoring and tutoring them in reading and writing schools. Our group has made a proposal to ChildFund staff to see if this is possible.

We are also focused on providing positive social activities, such as attending sporting events and playing football and hiking together.

We also want to help protect the environment. We are proposing a conservation program to help protect an area called Nature Island, a popular destination for tourists in my country. We want to help conserve the animals in this area, which includes rare turtles and a frog species known as a Mountain Chicken.

But this wasn’t always my story. Less than two years ago I was known in my community for other reasons. I used to feel frustrated and hopeless. I turned to violence to express my unhappiness with life. Every day was a struggle for me to survive, as I come from a poor family and community. I could not see my future. I had nowhere to go. I felt helpless.

These goats are among many photos that Denzel has taken of animals.

These goats are among many photos that Denzel has taken of animals.

But something happened at my school that changed my life — a photography class was introduced thanks to ChildFund. One of our assignments was a photo essay to show off our community. It seemed strange because in my world, there was little beauty. But I liked taking photos and my other friends liked it as well.

We also had a football program at our school that I participated in with my friends. For the first time in my life, I had a way to let out my emotions without being violent.

Today, I am a happier person and am happy to tell my story. But much work remains. I hope that by helping others in school and getting more youth involved that I can change the future of others who may be in situations like mine.

For more on Denzel and today’s event, click here.

Living on an island nation allows Denzel to take many photos of water.

Living on an island nation allows Denzel to take many photos of water.

What’s next: Our discussion of island nations continues as we stay in the Caribbean to visit neighboring St. Vincent.

From Violent Past to Youth Mentor

By David Hylton
Public Relations Specialist

Denzel will speak in New York on Oct. 19 as part of the United Nations' International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

Denzel will speak in New York on Oct. 19 as part of the United Nations' International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

A 16-year-old Dominican boy who overcame a violent and hopeless past through a program sponsored by ChildFund International will share his transformational story at the United Nations next week. The event is part of the commemoration of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty and the world body’s continuing observation of the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Denzel Matthew is one of five children from an impoverished family in the Caribbean nation of Dominica. His troubled life centered on his involvement with a spate of violent activities until a photography course brought him purpose and direction. He will take part in two U.N. events on Monday, Oct. 19.

The first, “Children and Families Speak Out Against Poverty,” takes place 1:15-2:30 p.m., in Conference Room 2, U.N. Secretariat Building. This commemoration is organized by the International Movement ATD Fourth World, the NGO Subcommittee for the Eradication of Poverty and the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and co-sponsored by the Missions of France and Burkina Faso to the United Nations.

The presentation will be followed by an interactive panel: “Children: The Future and the Present — Participation in Poverty Reduction and Accountability for Rights.” This event takes place at UNICEF’s Labouisse Hall, 3-5:30 p.m. The panel is organized in partnership with UNICEF by the NGO Subcommittee for the Eradication of Poverty and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, with the support of the NGO Committee on UNICEF.

About Denzel
Like so many youth in Dominica, Denzel faced a bleak future, having been involved in violent activities since a young age.

“Every day was a struggle for me to survive, as I come from a poor family and community,” he says. “I could not see my future. I had nowhere to go.”

But last year, a photography course made possible by ChildFund International donors opened an unexpected doorway for Denzel. After years of despair, he discovered how to channel his energy in artistic rather than violent ways. In addition to providing him with new skills, the photography class introduced the teenager to others with similar interests. When the program ended, Denzel wrote in his evaluation that he no longer felt like dropping out of school or hanging out with the local gang.

“For the first time in my life, I had a way to let out my emotions without being violent,” he says.

As he shapes his own future, Denzel also wants to change the lives of those following in his footsteps. He has joined a youth group of about 20 peers who are committed to making a difference in their community. Denzel’s latest effort is to create a mentoring program to assist children in his community with reading and writing skills.

The youth group also is developing a conservation program to help protect an area known as Nature Island, a popular tourist destination on Dominica.

“Today, I am a happier person and am happy to tell my story,” Denzel says. “I hope I can change the future of others who may be in situations like me.”

For more on Denzel’s story, click here. Denzel will be the featured blogger on Monday as part of our “31 in 31” blog series.

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