By Arthur Tokpah, ChildFund Guinea
“I should have graduated from high school like my friends,” Mariame says. But like many young Guinean women, she felt pressure to marry. Yielding to local tradition, Mariame wed an older man when she was only 13. He moved her to the capital city of Sierra Leone, where she didn’t know anyone.
“My parents obliged me to get married to a man who gave them the impression that he would allow me to continue school,” recalls Mariame, who is now 18. “After moving to his house, he said he did not marry me to go to school but to take care of the home and bear children for him.”
Mariame was able to leave her marriage and return to school, but many Guinean women don’t have the same opportunity.
According to UNICEF statistics from 2015, 21 percent of Guinean women ages 20 to 24 were married by the age of 15, and 52 percent were married by the time they were 18 years old, often to men more than a decade older in marriages arranged by their parents.
But Mariame and many other young people in Guinea are now speaking out to advocate for the rights of girls and young women — and against early marriage — with the support of ChildFund Guinea. Last month, our local partners in Kindia and Dabola held three public forums about early marriage, female genital mutilation and violence at school. More than 100 girls and boys ages 12 to 17 spoke openly about these issues, which are often kept quiet there, and recommended solutions to teachers, parents and government officials.
Public discussion is an important step in changing harmful traditions and attitudes that keep girls and women — and entire communities, by extension — trapped in poverty. We applaud the bravery and honesty of young people like Mariame who are shining a light on Guinea’s problems.
By Nyararai Magudu, ChildFund Mozambique Program Director
Maria enthusiastically picked up her school bag. Although it’s dirty and worn out, she clutched it close to her chest. Inside were a few workbooks without covers, a 30-cm ruler, a pen and a pencil. She lives in a remote and poor province in Mozambique with her parents, three younger sisters and two younger brothers.
Maria, 15, hoped for many things: a box with a compass, rulers and other mathematical tools, colored pens, a big rubber eraser, a scientific calculator, a student dictionary, even a computer. What a wish list. Poverty’s grip had often made her life miserable, she sometimes thought.
Anyway, it was a new day, she remembered, a school day, which came with new hopes and possibilities. Maria loves school more than anything. This morning, she grabbed her new bike, which came from ChildFund’s Dream Bike program, and rode majestically to school.
I used to be the last to arrive in class. Most of the time I missed the first lessons, or I dozed. Now, everything has changed.
Before she received the bike, Maria used to leave her home at dawn to walk six miles to school and often returned after dark. Although she was never physically abused during the daily journey, there have been several stories of girls who have been attacked and hurt in Maria’s district, Zavala, where ChildFund has worked since 2006.
Now, instead of waking at 4 a.m. and trekking three hours to school, Maria has an hour-long journey. It’s still a long way, but she considers herself lucky.
“I used to arrive at school weary. The 10 kilometers was a long walk to freedom,” Maria chuckled. “Yes, education is freedom!”
When she walked to school, Maria often had to take 10 minutes to clean the dust and sweat off her face, arms and legs, making her even later to school.
“I used to be the last to arrive in class,” she recalled. “Most of the time I missed the first lessons, or I dozed. Now, everything has changed. It only requires me one hour to get to school. I’m investing more time now in my studies, and I can sleep for another hour. I can study for another hour, and I can ride to school for only an hour. I’m no longer weary; no more dozing. The benefits are beyond imagination.
“These are tangible benefits. There are also other ones,” Maria added. “My grades improved tremendously as soon as I got the bike. I developed high self-esteem. Some people who used to laugh at my poverty started to respect me. I was nominated to be a prefect* in my class after I got a bike. Believe me, I´m now a public figure in the school!”
*Prefects are students who are left in charge of the class when the teacher has to leave the classroom and are considered prestigious positions.
You can help girls like Maria achieve their educational goals by donating to ChildFund’s Dream Bike project.
By Janella Nelson, ChildFund Education Technical Advisor
Imagine not being able to sign your own name or your child’s name. What if you couldn’t read a doctor’s instructions on your child’s medicine? This is the situation for millions of youth and adults around the world. According to the United Nations, approximately 757 million youth and adults are illiterate, with women and teenage girls making up two-thirds of this number. In the United States, 32 million adults can’t read, states a 2013 report from the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy.
Illiteracy is linked to poor outcomes in education, health, nutrition, sanitation, economics and even peace; areas with higher rates of illiteracy have higher rates of crime and conflict. Reading is a skill that carries you throughout life. In their early years, children learn to read, but quickly there is a transition, and then they must read to learn.
In their early years, children learn to read, but quickly there is a transition, and then they must read to learn.
Children growing up in poverty face several factors that prevent them from learning to read. Parental illiteracy, of course, is a major factor because they can’t teach their children a skill they don’t have, and illiterate adults often have a smaller vocabulary than their more educated counterparts do. In some countries, schools teach reading in a language foreign to the children, who may speak a local dialect or indigenous language at home. This, too, places children at a serious disadvantage.
ChildFund’s education programs put a special emphasis on learning to read in the grades one through three, because we recognize that learning to read early is essential to get children on the right track to continue their education. In several countries in Latin America, ChildFund has established “reading corners,” giving children dedicated time and books to read. In the Philippines, ChildFund has produced local storybooks, trained teachers in reading instruction, and hosted an eight-week summer camp for children who were struggling readers at school. In Afghanistan, ChildFund is developing radio stories to encourage parents to support their children’s reading habits at home, and also providing community reading clubs.
In September, we are celebrating literacy. This month, celebrate your ability to read this article while remembering the 757 million people who still need our support. Increasing literacy for children, youth and adults around the world benefits everyone.
Tomorrow, we’ll feature children who told us about their favorite books and stories, as well as how you can help encourage literacy worldwide.
By Janella Nelson, ChildFund Education Technical Advisor
This blog post was originally published by the Global Campaign for Education’s United States chapter.
As many children return to school this month, it is an exciting time for parents and students. There is an assumption by many that school is a safe place, but there are children around the world, including in the United States, who will be returning to school and wondering if their school is really safe.
Children have the right to learn in a physically and emotionally safe environment that is conducive to learning. When we think about “safe environments,” there are several things we consider, but usually physical safety is at the top of our minds. Globally, children are exposed to several forms of violence in the classroom, on school grounds and on the way to or from school. They include corporal punishment, bullying, sexual gender-based violence, gangs and political unrest.
These forms of violence, which can be physical or psychological, can prevent children from learning and staying in school. Evidence shows that corporal punishment by educators increases dropout rates and perpetuates a cycle of violence. Bullying is linked to poor mental and physical health, school absenteeism, lower test scores and higher crime rates (bullies are four times more likely to engage in serious crime, according to a study in 28 countries published by the American Psychological Association in 2013). Sexual violence based on gender has a detrimental effect on girls’ attendance and completion of basic education, which contributes to the large gender gap in secondary school. Gang-related and political violence prevents children from even attending school, causing schools to close and teachers to resign.
ChildFund International and our partners in the ChildFund Alliance are committed to contributing to a world where every child is free from violence and exploitation. We support children in exercising their rights and work to create environments where children can not only participate as advocates against violence but also lead efforts.
In Timor-Leste, ChildFund’s Children Against Violence program has prioritized the push for a legal framework prohibiting violence against children in schools, as well as community-based awareness activities. Students have created Child Advocacy Groups, which have conducted research on violence against children; group members have used this research to advocate for a national policy forbidding corporal punishment in school. A cadre of young advocates has grown out of the groups, and they promote the protection of children’s rights, as well as the education of teachers and parents about positive discipline practices.
Students, parents and teachers need to work together to tackle all types of violence in schools, and one essential step is to provide support to children so they can raise their voices about this issue and make schools truly safe.
By Rashmi Kulkarni, ChildFund India
Raimani lives with her family in Tangiri, a small village in India. She has three sisters and one brother, and is in the 8th grade. Not long ago, she wasn’t sure if she would be able to keep going to school. She used to walk more than four miles every day to get to class, often alone, which wasn’t very safe. Sometimes she was late, or she just didn’t make it to school at all. Her grades suffered, and, because her parents couldn’t afford transportation for her, she considered dropping out altogether.
But thanks to ChildFund’s Dream Bike program, things have improved for Raimani. Now, she regularly attends school, arriving on time and with plenty of energy, and her performance has dramatically improved. She no longer has to walk to school, which allows her time to invest in her studies. Her siblings are also attending school more regularly because Raimani gives them rides on her bike, too. Having a bike also enables Raimani to participate in club meetings and other events organized by ChildFund and our local partner organization in Tangiri.
“I am very happy my daughter received a bicycle,” Raimani’s mother says. “It has turned out to be very useful as my other children can also use it to go to school. The gift of a bicycle has ensured that Raimani can continue her education. We are very thankful to ChildFund.”
If you would like to make a girl’s dream of an education come true, consider giving the gift of a Dream Bike today.
By Nicole Duciaume, Americas Region Sponsorship Manager
A small public school in the Sierra Norte region of Puebla, Mexico, recently won a prestigious state award for its organic garden, which has produced much more than fruits and vegetables: It has also brought new outlooks on nutrition, agricultural practices and even entrepreneurship in the community.
Supported by ChildFund, the school’s garden helps students learn about not only nutrition and agriculture, but also their indigenous heritage. Here in Mexico’s northern highlands, much of the population is indigenous, and the program encourages students to talk about gardening, recipes and nutrition with their grandparents and parents in their native language, Nahuatl.
Maria Isabel, 15, took us on a tour of the garden this spring. She’s been heavily involved in the project since day one and was chosen to represent her school at the state ceremony in the capital, where the principal, teachers and students were recognized for their innovative garden.
“With programs like this school garden, a new hope is growing in this community, because we want to learn,” she said.
She pointed out each plant, telling us its nutritional value, recipes it can be used in and how much shade, water and care it needs. Maria Isabel also gave us the scientific names, as well as the plants’ names in Spanish and in Nahuatl. The garden has medicinal plants, fruits, vegetables, trees and herbs.
Students’ families come to the garden to learn advanced agricultural techniques, composting methods and plants’ nutritional value and levels of resistance to extreme weather. They also learn about how to use old soccer balls, plastic soda bottles and truck tires for planting, to save space.
The garden yields vegetables and fruit that also can become healthy dishes like pancakes made with bananas or carrots, complementing families’ usual diets and improving nutrition for children. Maria Isabel says she likes nopal cactus leaves steamed with onions, a dish that’s rich in vitamin A. She’d never eaten it before the school garden. Family members can take home some of the produce, and they’re also diversifying their own gardens, where they typically grew only rice and oranges. They’re beginning to sell surplus produce in roadside stands, supplementing their incomes, as well as sharing with relatives and neighbors.
The school has also started selling baked goods made with ingredients from the garden, even taking bakery orders for products like their increasingly popular carrot bread. In the future, students hope to create soaps and shampoo to sell at markets — next steps to look forward to.
By Rashmi Kulkarni, ChildFund India
Five months after the launch of ChildFund India’s Books, My Friends campaign, we’re learning more about the children who are getting their first chance to own books and read for pleasure.
This spring, ChildFund India and its campaign partner, Macmillan Education, conducted a baseline assessment of 1,200 children across 15 Indian states, to understand their reading abilities. About 40,000 children have received books and bags since December through the Books, My Friends program.
The analysis showed that reading ability improved with age, although far too many children still can’t read. In the group of 6- to 8-year-olds tested, 66.2 percent were not able to read at all, while 44.8 percent of 11- and 12-year-olds and 29 percent of 13- and 14-year-olds were illiterate. Geography mattered as well, with higher literacy rates in the states of Delhi, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, while Rajasthan, Jharkand and Chhattisgarh had lower rates.
Pooja, 14, who lives in a village in Andhra Pradesh, was able to read at the level of an 8- or 9-year-old when she received her books in December.
“I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to read these books,” she says. Also, most of her time was spent in studying her textbooks or attending classes, so Pooja preferred to get away from books during her leisure time.
But because some of the books she received were in her local language, Telugu, they piqued her interest. Soon, she was enjoying them, and she moved on to the other books in her bag, which were in English. That presented an obstacle, since English is harder for Pooja to read.
With a smile on her face, Pooja says, “My school coordinator has helped me a lot in improving my English reading ability. She would patiently sit with me, make me read these story books and correct me whenever I went wrong. And as soon as I started understanding the stories, I started enjoying them and wanted to read more.”
As a result, Pooja has joined a group of other students who discuss their books.
“This campaign has really helped me make new friends,” she says. “All the students who have received these books have formed a group, and during weekends, all of us sit together to read these books and enjoy chatting with each other. The illustrations in these books make the reading all more interesting. I’m really grateful to ChildFund for giving me these books. Because of this campaign, I’ve made this extra effort to read, and today I can read an entire sentence in English without faltering.”
Reading is an important source of knowledge, happiness, pleasure and even courage. It opens your mind and transports you virtually into newer worlds. It develops your brain and helps in communicating and sharing ideas, and therefore is essential for advancement and development of any society.
Read Rashmi Kulkarni’s first story about Books, My Friends.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
This is the first of three articles this month about Kate’s recent trip to report on ChildFund-supported programs in Guatemala’s highlands.
When ChildFund staff members travel to the field, we often hire translators, even when we have some command of the language being spoken. But in Guatemala’s highlands, I needed two translators: one who could translate Spanish to English, and a second to translate from the local language to Spanish. Often, we asked our local partner organizations to help us out.
It definitely made reporting interesting. A couple of people compared the process to the childhood game of Telephone, which isn’t too far from the truth. Since it was hard to get direct quotes, I relied a lot on skills of observation in Palima, Patzite and Pachichiac, mountain villages that I visited in late April.
Bumpy dirt roads, bright blue tarps draped over mud-brick house frames, the scent of greens cooking on a rustic stove, chickens and dogs running loose, the smell of rain as a storm approached — they all fed my senses. So did the peal of 4-year-old Heidi Karina’s voice as she named colors in her native tongue of Kaqchikel, part of the Mayan family of languages. She’ll learn Spanish in school, but right now, she says räx for green instead of the Spanish verde.
People in these highland villages are isolated from the rest of Guatemala, particularly the capital of Guatemala City and nearby Antigua, where schools, jobs, running water and electricity are far more accessible. Although the highlands are just a couple of hours away from the cities by car, a lack of reliable transportation and job opportunities keeps many families in poverty.
As does the language barrier. Children learn Spanish in school, but most in the highlands don’t attend past sixth grade. How many of you reading this story took high school Spanish or French? And how much of it do you remember?
Anyone hoping for a professional job in Guatemala needs to be fluent in Spanish, and I overheard one person in our party advising a young woman that she also should study English to improve her chances for a job as a social worker. Such advice seems unreachable for people who stop school in the third grade, take up farming or weaving, marry in their teens and have six or seven children to care for. Hopes may be somewhat higher for the children, but few of them progress to high school even now.
A state-maintained highway runs near the district of Quiché, which gives people there an advantage over other communities like Pachichiac, which is far from any main roads. José Mario Lopez Ixcoy, general director of ChildFund’s local partner in Quiché, says that most people there speak some Spanish, at least enough to take menial jobs in cities, although, he adds, “sometimes they feel discriminated against in the city because of their customs.” People can walk half an hour to a bus stop, where buses come twice in the morning and return from the cities twice in the afternoon. School, health care and jobs are easier to reach, as a result.
The people in Guatemala’s highlands will need many things to happen to make school more accessible: better roads, regular transportation, funding for school uniforms and other necessities.
And, according to Aura Maria, a guide mother who lives in Pachichiac, the communities also need more job opportunities, reliable electricity and financial assistance for education and health care.
I learned how to say “thank you” in Quiché, another Mayan language: Maltiox, pronounced mal-tee-osh. It took a fair amount of practice, and although I got comfortable with saying it during the visit, the word is already starting to fade from my memory a month later.
Let’s not let the same happen with children who depend on us to think of their futures.
By Rashmi Kulkarni, ChildFund India
Last December, ChildFund India launched a nationwide campaign called Books, My Friends to provide bags full of age-appropriate books for 115,000 children ages 6 to 14 across India. The goal of the project is to make reading fun for children while helping them improve their reading, comprehension and learning abilities. We hope to create a love of reading that continues through adulthood.
In India, we work with children who live in rural villages and urban slums, and lack of education is a big concern everywhere. Many children living in poverty can’t read at grade level and often don’t have access to books at home. In rural communities, children are often limited to textbooks printed on poor-quality paper. Many parents are barely literate, so a culture of reading has not yet taken hold. Without strong reading comprehension, children can’t excel in school.
To address this situation, ChildFund India started the Reading Improvement Program, our flagship education initiative, and the Books, My Friends campaign, which encourages students to read for pleasure.
Shreelakshmi, a seventh-grader from the southwestern state of Karnataka, received a reading bag in December during the launch of Books, My Friends. She had a chance to meet Anil Kumble, a world-renowned cricket captain and major sports celebrity in India.
Shreelakshmi recalls the meeting fondly: “The experience of receiving books from Anil Kumble is still fresh in my mind. He and the ChildFund team spoke with us freely and inspired us to read more books. I am very grateful to ChildFund for giving me this opportunity,” she says, a smile spreading across her face.
Shreelakshmi received 17 books, and she’s already read many of them. Her favorite was Kadhakalu Maha Nagara, about a girl who had no one to read a story to her. Finally, she finds one person who starts telling stories to her daily. Slowly, other children start joining her to listen.
“I, too, like stories, and my brother also sometimes reads them to me,” Shreelakshmi says.
Since most of her neighborhood friends also have received reading bags, they enjoy reading and discussing books together.
Parents say it’s great for their children to have something constructive to do with their time, and Shreelakshmi’s teacher adds that the habit of reading appears to be taking hold, just a few months into the project.
Watch this space for another story soon about Books, My Friends and the Reading Improvement Program.
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.