By Rosa Figueroa, ChildFund Guatemala
On Oct. 1 each year, the Guatemalan people celebrate Children’s Day, a holiday to promote children’s rights. Many schools have special activities for students, such as breaking piñatas, exchanging gifts and handing out candy and other food. Sometimes, to the delight of children, there are clown performances.
Here’s how children in ChildFund-supported communities plan to celebrate.
Three hours from Guatemala City, you will find Rabinal in the Baja Verapaz region. Rabinal is a small town with friendly, lovely and sweet people, mostly of indigenous origin. Their houses are almost identical: small, sometimes with just one room, and made of adobe with a tin roof and dirt floor. Most of the families do not have access to water and electricity, and they use outdoor latrines.
In the community of Rabinal live Luciano and Rigoberto, who are both 12. Luciano lives with his parents, four brothers and five sisters, and Rigoberto’s household includes his mother, three sisters and three brothers.
Luciano is an active participant in ChildFund Guatemala’s project “Let Me Tell You,” in which he draws and paints and participates in programs that improve his self-esteem and teach values, including respecting others. He loves to have fun with his friends and share stories with them. Rigoberto participates in the ChildFund project Seeds of Change, where he has learned how to save money, share with others and be a valuable part of his community. With big smiles, both children told us about how they celebrate Children’s Day in their community.
“This day is very special for me; it’s like my birthday,” Luciano says. “We break piñatas, and everyone is happy and laughing. I would love for every child in the communities of Guatemala to celebrate this day.”
“I know my rights … right to life, education, health, to have a family, to have fun,” Rigoberto says, “but sometimes adults do not respect them, especially when parents do not let children go to school. Children’s Day is special because we talk about our rights.”
“How do we celebrate this day? Usually we have a big event at school, the major comes and the police. All children sing the national anthem, and later we have some food and candies,” Rigoberto adds.
By ChildFund Brasil Staff
What does a perfect school look like? Lots of windows in the classroom, new desks, plenty of good books, bright colors, happy students and excellent teachers are some of the elements of a great school. Children in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, were asked to draw pictures of their dream school, which now illustrate a new book, Out of School No!, produced this summer by UNICEF with the support of ChildFund Brasil.
Brazil’s high rate of school dropouts is a serious problem, with only 48.7 percent of 19-year-olds having finished high school, according to a 2011 national survey. Fewer than two-thirds of 16-year-olds completed fundamental (or junior high) school, and almost a quarter of 12-year-olds had already dropped out, the report concluded.
Out of School No! tackles this issue focusing on social exclusion and how it factors into the number of students who drop out of school. Living in poverty, having a disability, being part of a racial minority group and residing in a rural region are all risk factors for students, who sometimes are also in danger of being exploited or hurt.
“What can each one of us do to ban the exclusion from education?” asked Maria Salete Silva, UNICEF Brasil’s education chief. “Every child can and must learn; there’s no child who can’t learn. This is a right that every child has. Because of this, the strategic agenda for Brazilian adolescents must be geared toward education and not reduction of the legal age for criminal responsibility. We have to discuss the construction of schools and not prisons. Without guaranteeing education, we won’t guarantee anything else.”
Children and teens enrolled in ChildFund programs read poetry, showed paintings and performed music at a launch party for the book, which was held at ChildFund Brasil’s office in Belo Horizonte.
“I participate in Oficina do Saber [an art workshop], where I learn to draw and do graffiti art,” said Luiz, a 12-year-old sponsored child, who attends programs held by ChildFund Brasil’s local partner organization, Gedam.
“I found it very important to participate in the book. Seeing my drawing in the book means a lot to me,” he added. “When I was younger, I never thought I could do such a thing like that, which can change the world. The world is too violent, and with the picture I drew, I’m sure the world can change school for better. That’s why I drew it, to change the world and schools for better. Drawing is the thing I like the most.”
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
When you were young, did your parents read you bedtime stories?
One summer my youngest sister lived with me. She was 18, between high school and college. My daughter was 6. Every night, I read the two of them bedtime stories. Together, we finished the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit and the entire Chronicles of Narnia.
Sept. 8 is International Literacy Day, a time to recognize how crucial literacy is to social development, along with the intrinsic benefits of reading and writing.
Children in developing countries often don’t share the experience of bedtime reading. At night, when families sit together in the darkness, parents sometimes tell stories — folk tales or oral history about ancient gods and kings, proud empires and illustrious ancestors. But many of these adults are illiterate, and books are scarce in their countries. Electricity, if it exists at all, is unreliable. On the equator, days are short. The sun rises at 6 a.m. and sets at 6 p.m. every day, regardless of the season.
In some countries where ChildFund works, there are no bookstores or public libraries; lack of demand results in no supply. Whatever reading material is available is far too expensive for all except the very wealthy. In the end, there is no culture of reading.
Even school classrooms often lack textbooks. Teachers lecture from hand-written notebooks — signed and stamped by the government ministry. They write on the chalkboard, and children copy into their own notebooks. Transcription errors handed down over the years create some misconceptions.
Research shows that, during story time, children bond with their parents, learning to read by matching the colorful pictures in their books to the storyline. Children also learn to think critically by observing the characters’ behavior. Bedtime stories begin a lifetime of reading.
Literacy is a fundamental human right. According to UNESCO, it’s the foundation for lifelong learning. It transforms lives, empowering people to improve their health, education and income. Without literacy, social and human development stalls.
UNESCO’s theme for International Literacy Day 2013 is Literacies for the 21st Century. In the United States, elementary school children learn computer-literacy skills, which are considered critical to success in modern society. Yet most of my 19-year-old information technology students in Guinea had never seen a computer.
Our measures for literacy in developing countries are limited to basic book-literacy. In Afghanistan, only 12 percent of youth attend secondary school. Of all of the countries we serve, Ethiopia has the lowest youth literacy rate — 63 percent for males and 47 percent for females. Only 16 percent of Ethiopian youths attend secondary school.
In many African countries, achieving literacy in their country’s official language (English, French, Spanish, Arabic or Portuguese) doesn’t occur until secondary school. Elementary school children are mostly taught in their local languages. They may not be able to write letters to their sponsors without assistance.
By Tenagne Mekonnen, Africa Regional Communication Manager
The road to education is hard, rocky and bumpy in Zambia. There are overcrowded classrooms, a shortage of materials, long walks to school and often not enough food.
Flocks of children, age 8 and older, walk more than a mile each way to school every day, sometimes without having eaten breakfast. Some have no shoes, and their school may not have fresh water when they get there. Access to education is the right of every child, but poverty creates many obstacles to school attendance in Zambia and other countries that ChildFund serves.
ChildFund strives to make the journey to school easier by working with the Zambian government to build standardized facilities that include libraries, labs, restrooms and learning materials. Sometimes we help provide shoes and uniforms too.
John and Gracious, two Zambian children, say they are happy just to be in school, even though it’s sometimes difficult to walk there. Their mothers now work for a small business that allows Gracious, 11, and John, 9, to attend school. They hope one day that there will be a school in their own community or a means of transportation other than their own feet.
By Tenagne Mekonnen, ChildFund Africa Regional Communications Manager
Jumbe Sebunya, ChildFund’s regional director for east and southern Africa, recently reflected on ChildFund’s commitment to children’s rights and the Day of the African Child, celebrated annually on June 16.
What are ChildFund’s current strategies in Africa?
We currently work in 11 African countries, reaching a total of 8.5 million children and families. ChildFund focuses on engaging children, families and communities in an effort to improve outcomes for children both at the micro level within their immediate communities but also on a macro level, within their countries and regions. Thus, our approach is two-pronged: hands-on at the community level, and also at national and regional levels in terms of policy advocacy efforts on children’s issues.
We have had good success with a number of our program strategies, such as ChildFund’s work on early childhood development (ECD), which focuses on parent-child-community relationships that are central in creating a healthy beginning for a child. Through ECD programs, we are able to ensure that the first experiences of a child begin with an informed ECD caregiver and a supportive community. We have seen that such an environment has a lifelong impact on the children’s development and success in life.
The Day of African Child is one of the main events celebrated in Africa. How is the event helping promote the rights of children in Africa?
The event should remind us all of our duty as citizens of Africa and its friends to promote the rights of the child on this continent. It does indeed commemorate children rising up against [South Africa’s] apartheid government that was bent on denying children their equal rights to education, health, etc. In Africa today, there has been some progress achieved for children in education, gender equity, HIV and AIDS and other areas. However, with children making up a significant portion of our populations (in some countries more than 50 percent), governments, civil society organizations and other key development partners have to keep children’s well-being and rights central to any and all sustainable development efforts on the continent.
How are you planning to celebrate the Day of the African Child, and what will that mean to the children you serve?
In Ethiopia, we are joining with the African Union Commission and others to organize a forum that will highlight African achievements and the plight of children in the continent. We are also bringing children from other countries where ChildFund works to share their stories and have their voices heard on issues affecting children in Africa. We are also participating in various events within countries in which we operate.
The theme this year is “Eliminating Harmful and Social Practices Against Children: Our Responsibility.” What is ChildFund doing along these lines?
In almost all the countries where ChildFund operates, children experience some form of physical violence before the age of 8! This is unacceptable, and in a number of countries ChildFund works with children, families, local communities, as well as governments, to address harmful social practices as well as violence and exploitation against children.
What are your expectations as you join other organizations and the African Union to celebrate the Day of the African Child?
I have many expectations for the Day of the African Child, especially to urge all African citizens and governments in renewing our commitments: To significantly reduce the number of children that are subjected to sexual violence and abuse of any form; to reduce the number of children living outside family care; to end harmful social practices against children like early marriage and genital mutilation; to eliminate any form of child labor on the continent; and to support birth registration for all children without discrimination in Africa.
By Saroj Pattnaik, ChildFund India, and Sagita Adesywi, ChildFund Indonesia
Our focus on child labor practices continues today in support of International Labour Organization’s World Day Against Child Labour.
Vipin, 18, aspires to become a doctor and is working hard to achieve his goal. Yet, there is unhappiness in his eyes. He worries about having time for his studies, as half of his day goes into bangle making. It’s the only livelihood option for his nine-member family, living in a half-constructed house on a narrow lane in Firozabad in India’s populous state of Uttar Pradesh.
Vipin wakes up for work at 4 a.m. each day. He sits before a hot stove and joins two ends of a glass bangle together, bangle after bangle, while his siblings sort the bracelets and decorate with glitter. Each family member spends at least five to six hours a day on this repetitive work, hoping that their collective efforts will bring sufficient income for their basic daily needs.
“I spend three hours in the morning and three hours in the evenings. Some days, I get my fingers burned and blistered. But I have to work; otherwise, we will not complete the day’s quota and incur loss,” says Vipin who recently sat for his 12th-grade exams.
“I have done well in my exams and I am preparing for the medical entrance exam,” he notes. “But I am not getting much time to read as I cannot just stop contributing to my family income. I don’t like the work, at least at this point of my life. But I have no choice,” he says, his voice breaking.
“See, we are a big family and we don’t know any other earning means other than bangle work, explains Vipin’s elder sister Kamlesh, as she comforts her brother. “Both our parents are aged and are not keeping well. So, we siblings have the responsibility to keep our kitchen running.”
Although she too was a good student, Kamlesh had to quit school and work full-time. “I took the decision because I wanted my siblings not to stop going to school. I am happy that all my younger siblings (two sisters and two brothers) are now studying and nursing big dreams,” she says.
For all the hard work her family does daily, Kamlesh says they earn a paltry 5,000 rupees (US$100) a month, which is much less than the family requires.
“We have seen lot of hardships since childhood,” she acknowledges. “But I am grateful to ChildFund India for choosing Vipin as a sponsored child. His sponsorship actually helped the others continue their studies.”
Vipin nods in agreement. “After being associated with ChildFund, I actually came to know what child labor is. I am now an active member of the ChildFund-initiated Youth Federation, which is campaigning against child labor in this town.”
Though Vipin and his siblings have additional support because of their enrollment with ChildFund, hundreds of other children work all day in home-based factories in Firozabad, a town famous throughout the country for its glass bangles.
“Firozabad is one of the worst examples of child labor. It’s because engaging children in the bangle process is a common and accepted norm in this area,” says Dola Mohapatra, national director of ChildFund India. “And getting a real estimate of the number of children working is quite a challenge. The problem is not just in numbers but also in the high level of acceptance among family members about engaging children [in the work]. It’s not seen as a ‘problem’ even by children themselves.”
Despite the ban on child labor in India, it’s estimated that more than 12.6 million children are still enduring hazardous conditions while working in various factories across India, while more than 200,000 children are working as domestic help.
The good news is that an anti-labor campaign launched by ChildFund in Firozabad is making inroads. Community factories are no longer employing children. However, it is estimated that more than 20,000 children are engaged in home-based bangle work, where most of the finishing work is being done.
“As a large number of families depend on bangle-making for their main livelihood, it’s not totally possible to move the families to some other occupation,” Mohapatra says. “We have been persuading families to adapt new occupations and at least keep their children out of this occupation.
“When we started our work, in 1995-96, we had to offer stipends for children as an incentive for parents to let their children come to ChildFund’s non-formal education centers. Over the years, we have seen changes in the mind-sets of parents,” he says.
“We are now seeing the emergence of children and youth leadership in spreading the message of education. These children were earlier working as child laborers – they were gradually weaned away and helped with completing their education. Their success stories have inspired parents. These children are now acting as a pressure group,” he notes.
“We have been successful in our endeavors,” Mohapatra adds, “but still a lot has to be done.”
By Diana Benitez, ChildFund Guatemala
In rural Guatemala, 18-year-old Didier works 10-hour days on a farm, and on weekends he attends high school. One day, he hopes to be a mechanic.
“I have to work daily because I need money to continue studying and also to help my family because our economic situation is not good enough. My dream is to finish high school to find a better job and to continue to college,” says Didier, a gangly youth who started working at age 15.
Didier lives with his parents, a brother and two sisters; their house has a tin roof, a cement floor and has just one bedroom. Didier’s father also works as a farmer. Didier earns only $35 a week, which goes toward school fees and his family’s survival.
But a ChildFund project known as “My Chance” is helping him and other Guatemalan youths make plans for their future. Didier also has a sponsor through ChildFund.
In the My Chance program, teens meet for workshops and activities that help them create plans for vocational studies and how to become leaders in their communities, as well as learning entrepreneurial skills. ChildFund representatives and local partner organizations support the project.
Many Guatemalan children, especially in rural regions, do not attend secondary school; only a third continue their education beyond primary school. This contributes to a high level of adult illiteracy.
Next year, after he completes high school, Didier plans to study auto mechanics and to continue helping his family.
“Since I started my participation in the ChildFund project My Chance, I have other expectations for my life,” Didier says. “Now I can see that a positive change is going to happen in my future. Thanks to ChildFund and my sponsor, I am a better person, and at some point I will be a good example in my community.”
By Sharon Ishimwe, ChildFund Uganda
Fredrick’s family grew their own food in eastern Uganda, like many other families in their village. They used the food for their meals and sold the extra vegetables. It was enough to help the family get by, but the income was too low to send Fredrick and his six siblings to school.
Fortunately, Fredrick, who is now 21, gained a sponsor through ChildFund in 2000. He was able to go to school then; and, today, he’s on his way to becoming a mechanical engineer. For most youths, sponsorship ends in their teens, but some sponsors continue to assist when a young adult pursues higher education.
As a child, Fredrick went to Magombe Primary School.
“When I first went to school,” he says, “I felt hopeless because I didn’t see a bright future in education. My parents were poor. I didn’t think I’d reach this level of education.”
But Fredrick worked hard and completed school with top grades. By this point, he knew that he wanted to be an engineer. So he remained optimistic and focused.
The assurance he got from his sponsor, Kathryn, through letters and gifts gave him confidence and the hope that he could achieve his goal. When Fredrick finally sat for his A-level exams in 2012, he scored an outstanding 15 points in physics, chemistry, mathematics and economics. With such a stellar performance, Fredrick feels his dream has drawn even closer.
He’s also working to earn his own income. Fredrick received one heifer through a ChildFund project and used monetary gifts from his sponsor to purchase a second heifer. Over time, these animals have multiplied to seven, and with proceeds from the sale of milk and calves, he has bought seven goats. The milk from all these animals has been of great help to the family, as they sell it and also use some of it at home.
“This helped me realize I could reach my dream with even the little I have,” Fredrick says. He plans to start his engineering training in January 2014.
The family has also managed to build a semi-permanent house, which is a major step forward from the mud-and-grass-thatched house they lived in before.
“I thank ChildFund and my sponsor Kathryn for supporting me. I can now be an engineer,” Fredrick says.
Reporting by ChildFund Sierra Leone
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. Ending early and forced marriage is this week’s theme.
In 2005, at the age of 10, Kadiatu was enrolled in ChildFund’s programs serving the Daindemben Federation in her Sierra Leonean community. With support from her sponsor to pay for school fees and learning materials, Kadiatu eagerly embraced the educational opportunities available to her.
But when she reached junior secondary school, Kadiatu’s father decided to remove her from school and give her in marriage to a middle-aged man in the village. ChildFund and its local partner intervened on Kadiatu’s behalf, standing firm to ensure that her father’s decision was overturned. The marriage was cancelled, and Kadiatu continued her schooling. But her father withdrew all support. Her mother has died long ago and her stepmother showed no love to her.
Without ChildFund sponsorship and the support of Daindemben Federation, Kadiatu would have had nowhere to turn.
Today, Kadiatu, 18, is in senior secondary school preparing for the West African Senior School Certificate Examination. She credits ChildFund and Daindemben Federation for restoring her hope and believes she would have been the mother of two or three children by now had it not been for the intervention of the federation. “Daindemben has made me realize my importance and value in society,” she says.
Now she is determined to go all the way to university to study accounting. “I want Daindemben Federation and my sponsor to be proud of me. They have done so much to get me to where I am today. I don’t want to let them down,” she says. “Even my father is proud of me now,” she acknowledges. “He has regretted the action he had wanted to take then.
“I would like Daindemben Federation and my ChildFund sponsor to continue being my pillar, so that I will achieve my dream of becoming an accountant.”
Read more about ChildFund’s work to prevent early marriage.
By Aydelfe M. Salvadora, ChildFund Timor-Leste
At a primary school in Timor-Leste, parents are becoming more involved in their children’s education through the Parent-Teacher Association.
“As a member of the PTA, I have to help so that my children will have a comfortable classroom,” says Madalena Soro, a mother of four. Two of her children are at EBC Samutaben, a primary school in the Bobonaro district, where AusAID and ChildFund Australia fund a project to promote child-friendly preschools and primary schools. Seventeen Early Childhood Development (ECD) centers and 13 primary schools participate, with more than 4,000 children benefiting.
One of the program’s objectives is to strengthen schools through active PTAs. Parents and teachers are expected to understand their roles and responsibilities and how they contribute to a child-friendly school.
ChildFund is not new to Madalena; her children all benefit in different ways from projects run by our national office in Timor-Leste and Hamutuk, a local partner organization.
Her second child is a fifth-grader, and her third-born is in second grade. The youngest attends an ECD center in the same compound as the children’s school. Ricardo, the fifth-grader, has had a sponsor from Australia since 2007.
Madalena helped cook and provided vegetables and bread for workers who were renovating the school recently. She also was happy to assume the responsibility of supervising quality control whenever the workers asked her to check the alignment of blocks and proper placement of ceilings.
She excitedly anticipated the end result: a comfortable learning space for the schoolchildren. Before, children endured leaking roofs, which disrupted their learning, as well as unsecured doors and windows, which allowed the entry of stray animals into classrooms. Madalena says that before starting classes in the morning, the children had to clean the classrooms and the land around the school, putting their health at risk and reducing learning time.
But, today, with the help of parents, teachers and students, EBC Samutaben is more comfortable and has proper chairs and tables for the children. Teachers now have space to prepare their lesson plans and keep school records in a renovated faculty room. Madalena added that rehabilitated classrooms are not only good for students but for the entire community.
Still, the school has remaining challenges; animals continue to enter the school premises because there is no perimeter fence, and there’s no safe drinking water. Children also are at risk because the school is dangerously close to the community’s main road.
The PTA’s participation continues to be very important in improving the condition of the school, Madalena notes, and she hopes more parents will participate as time goes on.