By Virginia Sowers, ChildFund Community Manager
For the past few years, the ChildFund Alliance (a 12-member organization that includes ChildFund International) has been asking children to tell us what they would do if they were president or the leader of their country. As you can imagine, 11- to 12-year-olds have some definite ideas.
As U.S. voters go to the polls today to elect the next president of the United States, we wanted to share with you some very good ideas for changing the world offered up by children who have a lot of important things to say when asked.
If I Were President…
To help these children and others like them achieve their dreams, and maybe one day grow up to be president, consider sponsoring a child.
By Cynthia Price, Director of Communications
The other week I was thinking about how much we love to scare ourselves at Halloween. We dress in creepy costumes and go to horror movies. Most of the scariness, of course, is just pretend.
But at ChildFund, we’re all too aware of the threats that are much more real and much more frightening to children living in developing countries.
Few things are scarier than unsafe drinking water, hunger, diseases and even a lack of education. Here are the frightening statistics:
If you would like to make the world a little less scary this year, then consider a Halloween gift to ChildFund’s Children’s Greatest Needs fund.
by Aloisio Assis and Zoe Hogan, ChildFund Timor-Leste
Rosita is no stranger to the difficulty of feeding a family. For more than 20 years, she has been farming a small plot of land, growing what vegetables and crops she can, to support her 10 children. A few months of each year, Rosita and her family experience the “hungry time,” when harvests are sparse. During this time, some families sell a pig or some chickens to buy enough rice to eat, while others struggle to make do.
“Sometimes we didn’t have enough food,” Rosita says. “Normally, the children would eat three times a day, but when we didn’t have enough food they had to eat less. Sometimes we didn’t have very nutritious food, but we just had to eat what we could find.”
Rosita has been farming for decades but just recently learned about new farming techniques that could help her feed her children throughout the year. In 2011, she joined a farmer’s group assisted through ChildFund Korea’s food security program. Since then, ChildFund Timor-Leste has worked closely with that group to facilitate training sessions on horticulture and coffee production and has provided farming tools.
For Rosita, the training sessions have already had an impact – she now sorts through her coffee harvest, dividing the beans in terms of quality. As a result, she can sell her high-quality coffee beans for a better price and increase her overall income.
Rosita is also now able to grow enough vegetables to feed her family and sell the extras. Twice a year, at the end of each harvest, she earns an estimated US$200 from selling her surplus crops. She uses the additional income to cover school costs for her children and other basic needs of her family. “With the money from vegetable harvests, I can buy uniforms, books, pens and bags,” she says.
Through the provision of seeds, vegetable cuttings and a new water tank, ChildFund Timor-Leste is also helping to establish a small aquaculture enterprise in Rosita’s community. Farmers are able to grow more, which increases farm productivity and enhances the nutritional value of families’ meals.
“During the hungry time from January to March, we usually just eat cassava, maize, jackfruit and bananas. We had to conserve foods so we’d have enough to eat at that time of year,” says Rosita. “The project is supporting us with seeds and cuttings to plant in our farm.”
After school, Rosita’s 9-year-old daughter Elia sometimes helps her mother by watering the vegetables. She says her favorite vegetable from her family’s farm is black mustard. If the farm continues to improve, Elia will have the opportunity to pursue an education, an accomplishment Rosita has experienced with only one of her children.
By Virginia Sowers, ChildFund Community Manager
To celebrate Blog Action Day 2012, we take you to Mékhé, Senegal, where a community has discovered the “Power of We.”
The sun is high overhead when we arrive at the Daara school on the outskirts of Mékhé, Senegal, located in the Thies region, about 100 miles from the capital city of Dakar. A large crowd of community members has gathered in the circle of shade bestowed by the largest tree in the compound. The children, unfettered by the heat that is radiating from the parched and sandy soil, run quick steps around us, flashing shy, yet welcoming smiles.
Thies is home to more than 700 Daaras, which are informal Islamic schools that most parents favor over the government school system. From an early age, boys are sent to board at Daaras, where they learn religious principles and how to read and write. Because most of these schools have operated independently without oversight or financial assistance from the government, more than 30,000 children in the Thies region are missing out on a well-rounded formal education. Far worse, these children – often lacking proper shelter and food at the Daaras – beg on the streets and are exposed to risks and abuses.
To address this situation, while respecting religious traditions, the government of Senegal is undertaking a Daaras modernization program, working with nonprofit partners like ChildFund. The goal is to provide a safe and nurturing environment for children while incorporating languages (French and Arabic), math and science education with traditional religious teachings.
During the past 12 months, ChildFund has been working closely with community leaders to jointly transform the Mékhé Daara. We immediately see the results all around us – a new building with two airy classrooms; a brightly painted dormitory for 60 children, complete with neat bunk beds and hall bathrooms; and an open-air shelter for religious studies. Well-built private latrines are available for boys and girls—yes, the school now welcomes female children to day classes.
The new facilities are impressive, yet it’s only when school and community leaders lead us through the old classroom and dormitory building that we begin to comprehend just how much Mékhé Daara has changed. On the opposite side of the compound are the old buildings. Inside, we find a dark and dingy classroom that once held 300 students in what must have been impossibly crowded seating. Across the way is an equally bleak dorm room where 50 students once slept with cots and mattresses crammed together. As we step outside, we drink in the fresh air and sunshine while inwardly wondering how children could have possibly learned and slept in such environments.
Community members make room for us under the shade tree, eager to talk about the modernized school and to answer our questions. “We wanted to improve the situation of the children living here,” the leader of the Daara Management Committee says. “Everybody in the village is involved; we want to be effective,” he says.
As we talk with the men and women, we learn that the work of keeping up the school and grounds is now divided among subcommittees: education, children’s health and welfare, animal husbandry and food. The community has welcomed ChildFund’s efforts to strengthen and support teachers in delivering expanded courses. “Our children can now do the same exams as in formal school,” one community member says.
ChildFund also has been instrumental in helping establish the animal husbandry program (goats and cows) and a large garden to grow eggplant, okra, tomatoes and other nourishing foods for the children. “Children in other Daaras must go outside [the compound] and beg for food. We are growing our own food, and the children have mother and parent figures they can turn to,” the committee leader explains. “It’s a big difference in the old way of running the Daara, and the way it is now.”
We turn to ask the children what they think about the changes in their school. Shyness renders them silent. But then, Moy, a young boy of around 12 speaks up. “I like the new beds and the sleeping arrangements. I like the classrooms. And the fences that protect us.”
The success of the school has not gone unnoticed in the region. More parents are now sending their children to Mékhé. In turn, the Daara Management Committee and ChildFund are working together to gain more financial support from the Senegal government to pay teacher salaries and add more classrooms and teachers. Plans are under way to expand the garden and promote more community farming of millet, corn and peanuts to feed the children and also provide an additional source of income.
Working side by side these past 12 months, community members have discovered that they have the power to bring about positive change.
By Gabriela Ramirez, ChildFund Mexico
Jacqueline lives in Mexico’s state of Mesha a Choossto, home to the indigenous Mazahua people. It is a place between mountains, pine trees and cactus. A place where you feel the cold air that blows to the bone, no matter the time of year.
A cheerful countenance belies the fact that Jacqueline, 14, has a serious illness: pulmonary stenosis, an abnormal development of the fetal heart that affects blood flow to the lungs.
Because of this condition, Jacqueline has little appetite; can´t breathe well; gets tired quickly; can´t walk, run or play; or express strong emotions.
No and no and no!
With medical operations starting when she was 8 months old, Jacqueline´s life has not been easy.
At first, going to school meant being carried in the arms of her mother. But Jacqueline was eager to walk and she did it, slowly but surely taking long breaths.
In school, she doesn’t go out at recess time to play with other children, yet she has faithful friends who share lunch and spend time with her talking and laughing.
But not all days are good. Jacqueline has been a victim of discrimination by peers at school. Some of her classmates made fun of her condition. She would ask her mother: “Why am I going through all this? Why do they tell me that I’m going to die?”
Her mother, with tears in her eyes, could only hug her hard.
And then Jacqueline found another source of support—ChildFund and its partner organization in her community, Tziti’u a Mesha a Choossto I.A.P., where she now receives care and attention. She also has a sponsor who provided funds for a specially fitted bicycle. Jacqueline’s mother now has a better way to transport her daughter to school.
When Jacqueline came to ChildFund Mexico, her condition was deteriorating progressively, and she had to spend more time at home lying down.
With the support of ChildFund’s partner organization, Jacqueline was referred to Children’s Hospital in Mexico City for yet another operation. Although her condition has improved, another operation will be needed soon.
That makes her sad, but Jacqueline says she wants to keep improving her quality of life. She wants to study. She wants to be an example to her siblings and a help to her parents. And she is convinced that her illness will not get her down.
Perhaps the mark left by the doctors on her chest after the operation is an “I” for invincible.
Reporting by ChildFund staff in Kenya, Sierra Leone and Uganda
As we celebrate the Day of the Girl, ChildFund recognizes three young women who were empowered through programs that emphasized the importance of girls. In their youth, they were given opportunities to learn, grow and prosper. Today, we celebrate their accomplishments.
Wotay, 25, grew up in northern Sierra Leone. Despite the poor conditions of her community, she managed to finish both primary and secondary school. Wotay is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in accounting at Njala University.
In her youth, Wotay was always one of few girls to speak out on the problem of teenage pregnancy (often due to rape and incest) and other child abuse issues in her region.
Now, during her visits home, she continues to advocate and help children in her community, offering them advice and assisting them with writing letters to their sponsors. She also volunteers with ChildFund community partners and is an active public speaker. Although she has an interest in finance, Wotay is currently devoting much of her attention to youth development.
In Caroline’s family, school is viewed as being only for boys. As a result, it was difficult for her to access education as a young girl. It was also a common practice for girls to be circumcised. But a local school administrator was instrumental in preventing Caroline’s circumcision and also guided her to ChildFund’s Psychological Support and Care (PSS) trainings where Caroline gained key insights into the rights of women and children. That knowledge has given her drive and courage to pursue her academic goals.
Although now 20, Caroline is a thriving high school student in Kimalel Day Secondary School in Kenya’s Marigat District. She shares her experiences with other youth who are struggling to get an education. She has been instrumental in encouraging other girls to go to school and helping them understand their rights. Recently, her ideas around inclusion of girls were used to help ChildFund and its local partners map strategy for future community programs. Caroline’s efforts have also contributed to a noticeable reduction in regressive cultural practices in her community where education for girls is not highly valued.
When she finishes her education, she hopes to be a teacher and a community facilitator.
The Police Detective
Growing up in poverty, Christine, 24, was a shy and unhappy little girl who didn’t believe she was good enough to succeed. She often kept quiet and listened to other children speak – she thought they knew better and therefore had more right to be heard. That was before she was sponsored through ChildFund Uganda.
Fast forward a few years, and Christine is a confident, assertive, determined and independent police detective in the crime intelligence division. Christine describes ChildFund as the “miracle that changed her life.” She recalls the letters, greeting cards and gifts from her sponsor Hansen that helped motivate and encourage her to do her best.
When she became of age, Christine assumed responsibility for helping other children like her. She assisted with letter writing and contributed to programs for children in her impoverished community. Those experiences helped shape the leadership skills she uses in her current job.
Christine attributes her communications skills and the ability to love and give to her time with ChildFund Uganda. ”I am able to stand all challenges at work because of the trainings I was involved in,” she says. “I stand for what I believe in. I am not afraid; I am assertive and I know my rights!”
Christine hopes to continue giving back to her community by empowering children and wants to sponsor a child in the future.
By Danielle Roth, ChildFund Program Officer-Youth Programs
There is one issue on the minds of many Americans these days (myself included). In one word, it’s the economy. Many of us are trying to make it work in this difficult financial climate. Some of us are looking for jobs, others are working two and everyone is hoping for some forthcoming solutions to our financial woes.
During my recent trip to Sri Lanka, I learned that those same worries are weighing on youth in the beautiful island nation. Youth account for approximately 26 percent of Sri Lanka’s populace, and those who are old enough, and out of school, are looking for work. The unemployment rate among youth in Sri Lanka is 17 percent. If you’re a woman there, that number goes up 11 points to 28 percent. Youth employment has become a focus area for the government of Sri Lanka, and ChildFund is providing support programs in this area.
There is significant breadth and depth to ChildFund Sri Lanka’s work around youth employment. Career guidance centers are serving as focal points for youth to learn about job opportunities. We’re also facilitating visits to places of employment so that young men and women gain exposure to different work environments.
Vision camps are helping youth develop a plan for their future that integrates their work and personal preferences. Youth are also learning entrepreneurial skills, participating in job placement programs and gaining practical life skills training that will serve them well as productive members of the workforce. Youth clubs are providing young people with hands-on leadership skills as they develop and administer projects that benefit their communities.
ChildFund is working to educate and empower youth in Sri Lanka to make decisions that ultimately will improve their futures, enabling them to contribute positively and productively to their country.
As humans sharing the globe, we are all connected in some way. Sri Lankans and Americans are both experiencing feelings of frustration in the job market and tentative excitement about new opportunities. We’re all looking to make a difference for ourselves, our families and society.
By Martin Nanawa, ChildFund Philippines
Marvin hails from a small coastal town in Northern Mindanao, the southernmost group of islands in the Philippines. In his hometown, people farm if they live inland or fish if they live near the shore. His father’s occupation is the latter, and 13-year-old Marvin’s family has tried to live within what the sea grants or denies. On a good day, the proceeds from the day’s catch are typically not enough to cover the family’s basic needs, including school fees for the children. On bad days, when Marvin’s father cannot sell much at the market to earn cash, the family can at least share the fish among themselves.
There are even worse days, however, when storms are at sea, and a rough tide keeps fishermen at shore. On days like these, Marvin’s father drives a commuter tricycle—a three-wheeled taxi. Earnings are not much because storms keep people off the road as much as they keep fishermen on land. His father also has to pay rent to the tricycle’s owner for each day of use.
Although public school education in the Philippines is officially free, each semester students like Marvin have come to expect an assortment of extraneous fees that make attending school expensive.
Small school budgets often mean that administrators shift many costs to students in the form of miscellaneous fees for registration, student ID, computer and library usage and special projects. Families also must pay for their children’s school uniforms, notebooks, pens and crayons, bus fare, recess snacks and lunch.
When his family couldn’t make ends meet, Marvin would forego the bus and his school lunch, walking to school and packing what food he could from home.
The cost of Marvin’s schooling weighs on his family, especially when his father’s earnings are down. “My parents sometimes fight over expenses, including the cost of keeping me in school,” Marvin shares. “Sometimes my father says it would be better if I’d stop schooling,” he says, noting the he recognizes that he could be helping his father earn money, instead of costing him money.
Marvin doesn’t know how to approach his father when he encounters a new expense at school. “I made it into a science class [in the honor’s program], but that required me to come to school in full uniform [other students wear only certain basic pieces], and I didn’t know where to get the 500 Pesos (US$12) to complete mine.”
Thankfully, Marvin has received help he didn’t expect. He’s been sponsored by his “Aunt” Janie through ChildFund since fourth grade. Recently, Aunt Janie sent Marvin a helpful boost just when he needed it most—extra funds for a full school uniform—a great gift he means to thank her for in his next letter. Now, he can attend the honors science class.
Marvin says ChildFund played a role in his admission into the science class. “I used to be real shy and timid,” he says, noting that he gained self-assurance by going to ChildFund’s summer camp and participating in leadership training activities. That confidence has led him a second term as president of his community’s youth organization. He’s also a youth representative on the National Anti-Poverty Commission. “I’m able to raise my community’s problems to the authorities,” Marvin says.
Newfound confidence and his gratitude for his sponsor’s support have moved him to excel at school. He tries to avoid ever being late for school, lest it seem he’s squandering the opportunities he’s fortunate to have. Even though his perseverance in school has led to greater expenses, Marvin remains grateful for his sponsor’s support that sees him through still.
If you’d like to sponsor a child like Marvin, visit ChildFund’s website. Your small contribution makes a big difference.
By Saroj Kumar Pattnaik, ChildFund India
Being born into an extremely poor family tends to reduce a child’s chances for a promising future. Years aoo, that seemed to be the case for Kesavaiah, a 6-year-old boy living in a remote tribal village in the Annanthpur district of southern India’s state of Andhra Pradesh.
Kesavaiah’s father, an agricultural laborer, was the only breadwinner for his five-member family. Insufficient income and paucity of alternative livelihood options often forced the family to struggle to prepare a full meal for all. Going to school and truly enjoying childhood was just a distant dream for Kesavaiah and his two sisters.
But things changed gradually for Kesavaiah after he was enrolled in ChildFund India’s Early Childhood Development program in 1996. Praja Seva Samaj (PSS), ChildFund’s local partner, matched young Kesavaiah with a sponsor, who provided additional funds so Kesavaiah and his sisters could attend the village school.
“I still remember the days when my father was struggling to arrange a square meal for each of our family. My mother was also working as a daily laborer just to satisfy our hunger. Many a time we went to sleep at night after just drinking water,” recalls Kesavaiah, who has now completed his technical degree and aspires to become a top mechanical engineer.
He notes that it was the timely support from ChildFund and its local partner PSS that helped transform him from a pessimist to a dreamer.
“I never thought that I would able to complete my primary education as the conditions were not allowing that to happen. It was the moral and material support by ChildFund India and PSS that helped me to come so far in life,” he says.
“Their assistance and advice have not only allowed me to become the first person in our community to see a college, but they also have proved to be a solid platform for my sisters to continue their studies,” he adds.
Kesavaiah, who has understood the value of money since childhood, took full advantage of the sponsorship assistance, never neglecting his studies. He was the top student throughout his primary and intermediate education, earning a full scholarship to technical college.
In addition to his academic achievements, Kesavaiah, now 23, has been an active member of the local Children’s Club supported by ChildFund. His perseverance and tenacity to achieve have become an inspiration for others in his village.
Kesavaiah’s mother, Venkataramamma wants her son to fulfill his dream of becoming an engineer. “I am so proud for my son. He has been a reason for hope for all of us, and I am very much thankful to ChildFund for making this happen.”
Village leader Pakker Naik concurs. “[ChildFund] has been focusing on many issues with interventions at the school level and village level. We are now seeing this positive impact among children today. I would say proudly that Kesavaiah is the first engineer in our village.”
By Loren Pritchett, ChildFund staff writer
In the 30 seconds it took him to watch the ChildFund commercial, Pete Olson, Formula car racer, knew he wanted to sponsor a child. The decision was quick, but he was no stranger to speed.
Fast forward more than a decade later and, today, Olson is supporting his third sponsored child and racing in the name of children in need. Behind the wheel, he is in control but admits that compassion is really what drives him.
“It’s an incredibly rewarding experience,” he says. “You can change a child’s life and give them opportunities that many of us take for granted.”
Opportunities like getting a quality education and receiving proper nutrition are among those Olson knew as a small child, adopted into a loving family. He credits his own success to his adopted parents’ support and saw sponsorship as a way to share his good fortune. He began sponsoring as a student at Boston University.
“I felt that many of us there were privileged and lucky to have the opportunities that we did,” he says. “It was a point in my life where I started to feel it was important to give something back for all that I have been so grateful to have in my life.”
Olson maintained child sponsorships while earning two degrees, a regional racing license and pursuing his passion for speed. He excelled from motorcycles to professional karting and eventually found himself racing in China – thousands of miles from U.S. tracks but only a few hundred from his sponsored child, Trang.
“She writes a lot about her schooling, which she really seems to enjoy,” he says. “That makes me very happy as I think education is something that we tend to take for granted back home. In many other countries, children don’t have the same opportunities for education.”
Trang, 11, lives in Vietnam. In some rural areas of the country, children are discouraged from attending school because their classrooms are too far away. Other areas of the region lack clean drinking water and have inadequate sanitation facilities. With Olson’s support, Trang is able to attend school regularly and benefits from the various ChildFund health and nutrition programs in her community.
With a desire to help more children like Trang, Olson now races in the Asia Formula Renault Series and does so for children in extreme poverty. The ChildFund logo that shines from the side of his red Formula car is an invitation to all of his fans – sponsor a child. And although he aspires to be the first American to win the series this year, he knows this is much bigger than winning.
“I’ve stopped keeping track of the wins,” he says. “No matter what’s going on in my own life, I know without a doubt that in another part of the world I am bringing joy and happiness to a child in need, enriching their life and providing them with opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have.”
Olson plans to visit Trang soon to learn more about her family, community and where she goes to school. In the meantime, he continues his race for children.
Are you a racing fan? Catch Pete Olson September 15-16, October 20-21 and December 8-9. Check your local listings to find out how you can watch the races. Or stay updated on Facebook or www.peteolson.com. To learn more about sponsoring a child, speed over to the ChildFund website.