By Saroj Kumar Pattnaik, ChildFund India
On International Women’s Day, we’re spotlighting some of the amazing girls and women we’ve encountered in ChildFund-supported communities. We honor their struggles and cheer their successes.
Dusk was settling over a suburban neighborhood in southern India, but Stella Leethiyal wasn’t ready to go home. The 47-year-old teacher was busy visiting shanties to meet women and educate them about good parenting — the key to a child’s successful development.
Aside from teaching women about parenting, Stella also focuses on educating them about their individual rights and convincing their male partners to understand and respect the value of the women in their households. Stella, who works as a teacher at a ChildFund-supported early childhood development (ECD) center in Chennai, India, does this out of a desire to see her fellow women become aware and empowered.
“Personally, I have seen many setbacks faced by women in my locality since my childhood,” Stella says. “I have always dreamt of a society where women and men are treated equally in all aspects of life. My association with ChildFund India has given my dream a direction, and I have tried my best to achieve this goal.”
Currently, Stella works with children whose families often migrate to find work, a population that faces serious obstacles to a full education.
Before becoming an ECD teacher in 1997, Stella was a community mobilizer for ChildFund; her prime focus was educating and empowering women. Her efforts helped convince nomadic families to send their children to school for the first time.
Stella is very happy about her work, but she is dissatisfied with the general condition of women across the country. “People say India is now a powerful country,” she says, “But how can you be powerful when one section of your population is so weak?”
According to latest U.N. Human Development report, India is ranked 129 out of 146 countries on the Gender Inequality Index. However, many people in India like Stella are working to improve the state of women and girls through education, health care, sanitation and political participation. The government also runs several programs aimed at empowering women.
In the past year, ChildFund India has reached out to more than 142,000 women and engaged them in various issues ranging from their health and sanitation to economic empowerment.
To assist women who wish to earn income, ChildFund India promotes women’s Self-Help Groups (SHGs) that manage microloans at a village level, which helps women become more self-sufficient. India has more than 5,600 such groups across the country, with 18,000 members.
ChildFund is also committed to helping youths become involved community members, and toward this goal, we support more than 700 clubs for boys and girls.
Female youth clubs, also known as Kishori Samuha, have proven to be a major success in creating an informed and confident new generation.
Durgesh, 15, is a testimony to this success. A sponsored child from Uttar Pradesh’s Firozabad district, Durgesh led a campaign against child marriage and managed to bring the number of early marriages to almost zero in her community.
As a leader of her youth club, she generated great awareness about the ill effects of child marriage and managed to gain broad community support .
“Initially, it was very difficult for us to convince parents to say no to child marriage, which has been going on in our community since ages,” says Durgesh, who is in 10th grade. “But with the support and guidance from ChildFund India program staff, we continued our campaign for months. And we finally succeeded. Parents are now not in favor of getting their young daughters married. Rather, they are sending them to schools.”
Stella and Durgesh are two of hundreds of committed individuals in India who are giving hope to women across the country. They aspire to build a new India where women are respected and allowed to lead.
By Meg Carter, Sponsorship Communications Specialist
In 2007, the United Nations declared Feb. 20 World Day of Social Justice, formally recognizing centuries of civic- and faith-based movements aimed at improving the lives of the oppressed.
In the 1840s, the Jesuit theologian Luigi Taparelli, influenced by the 13th-century writings of Thomas Aquinas (who himself studied the philosophy of an ancient Greek named Aristotle) coined the phrase social justice.
Although the concept of social justice is not new, its impact on U.S. foreign policy and foreign aid became more prominent in the second half of the 20th century. ChildFund didn’t wait for formal theories of development assistance. This fall we will celebrate 75 years of social justice in action, beginning with the aiding of war orphans in China and extending our circle of care to vulnerable children in 31 countries throughout the world.
According to the U.N., the pursuit of social justice is at the core of human development. Social justice promotes gender equality and the rights of indigenous peoples and migrants. It removes barriers of gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion, culture and disability. It eradicates poverty, promotes full employment and supports opportunity for all people, particularly when accomplished with an eye to sustainability.
ChildFund’s dual focus addresses exactly those social justice concerns that have troubled philosophers for millennia. Through the one-to-one relationships between sponsors and children living in poverty, we discover our own – and each other’s – human dignity. Internal motivations – the dreams that urge a child to achieve more than anyone thought possible – form one side of the success equation. External changes in the child’s environment shape the other.
Sponsorship contributions provide for the fundamental health and education needs of sponsored children. And because no child succeeds alone, sponsor support also improves the conditions of entire communities. Sponsors make it possible for all children to thrive in their own cultures and contexts by identifying and removing the barriers that threaten their security – be it access to safe water, proper nutrition, sanitation, medical care or education.
Additionally, ChildFund’s programs build life skills among youth and behavior change among adults. We educate children to prepare for a future as responsible adult leaders, rather than handing out short-term fixes that offer them little hope of transcending institutionalized poverty.
How will you celebrate Social Justice Day? We’d love to hear from you.
By Saroj Pattnaik, ChildFund India
Pavithra is just 9 years old. She is considered old enough to take care of her 3-year-old sister and 5-year-old brother. But her responsibilities at home in Chennai, India, kept her from attending school regularly for the past two years.
As a result, she was behind a grade level. Pavithra even had trouble with the Tamil alphabet. Writing sentences and doing basic math — tasks that were hard for her — fueled her dislike of school.
Things started to turn around for Pavithra after a new teacher who received training from ChildFund started working with her and other delayed learners more than two hours a day.
“I first approached Pavithra’s parents not to force her to take care of her siblings,” says Krishnaveni, her teacher. “Finally we managed to convince her parents, who agreed to send the younger daughter to an Early Childhood Development center and the other children to school regularly.”
“As part of our special quality improvement program, we used activity-based methods to develop Pavithra’s interest in studies. Slowly she started catching up, and now she is at par with other children,” adds Sham Begum, junior headmistress of the school.
“Earlier, I was afraid of coming to school, as I was not able to say anything when teachers were asking questions,” Pavithra says. “Now, I can answer everything. I have now many friends here, and I don’t want to miss school one single day.”
Started in 2011, ChildFund India’s Enhanced Education Quality Improvement Program (EQuIP) reaches more than 10,000 children in 100 primary and middle schools in parts of Chennai, the capital of the southwestern state of Tamil Nadu.
Besides providing infrastructure and other essential learning equipment, this program specially focuses on helping children who are delayed learners.
The project has four goals:
• improving the physical environment to make it more conducive to learning
• promoting a participatory learning environment
• increasing community involvement
• creating awareness of education’s importance among all stakeholders.
Nine-year-old Vinodini had many of the same challenges as Pavithra. Although her parents never forced her to work at home, the family often migrated to other places in search of work, so she fell behind in her education.
She has some knowledge of the Tamil alphabet but was very poor in mathematics. But within months of Krishnaveni’s arrival at the school, Vinodini was able to read, write and comprehend concepts effectively. Now she is one of the top students in her class.
“I was in class four, but my teachers were saying I was no better than a class-one student. But now I can read, write and even remember rhymes easily. My father is very happy for me now,” Vinodini says.
“We had no hope that our daughter would be able to study as her level of understanding was very poor,” says her father, Ravi, a construction worker. “Now I am very happy that she has improved a lot, and all credits go to the new teacher.”
According to Krishnaveni, there were 19 children who were behind pace in their learning when she came to the school in June 2012. Within six months, 10 of them had caught up with their peers. “We are now working hard on the rest, and we believe they will also be up to speed very soon,” she adds.
By Virginia Sowers, Editorial Manager
I often say the best part of my job at ChildFund is collaborating with colleagues around the world, as we seek to better serve children who live in extreme poverty. So it was a real treat to spend last week with ChildFund’s regional communications managers from Africa, Asia and the Americas, gathered with the communications team here in Richmond, Va., to share ideas and up our game for the coming year.
We asked each other lots of questions: What worked? What didn’t work? Why? How can we better integrate? What are the stories we most want to tell about children who need help? How do we assist each other as colleagues? What’s next, as we near our organization’s 75th anniversary?
Yes, five days of questioning, brainstorming, deliberating and priority setting is enough to make your head spin by Friday afternoon. But we parted with a deep commitment to moving forward as a team.
And it was in that musing mindset that I moved into Friday night, attending the Richmond Forum’s speaker series, featuring former president Bill Clinton, now head of the Clinton Foundation. I’d been looking forward to hearing him speak for months, but I had no inkling his message would help me with some dot-connecting.
“We need more community forums like this, citizens coming together to have a conversation,” Clinton said. “We’d make better decisions as a people if we had more nights like this.”
Allowing that the world we live in is increasingly complex, technologically sophisticated and highly interdependent, he asserted that we all “need a framework for thinking about the modern world,” which has a global job shortage, economic inequality, a shifting climate and depleting local resources.
And then he started throwing out (oh, no!) questions for each of us to ponder: What would I like the 21st century to look like? What are the obstacles to shared peace and prosperity? What do you do? Who’s supposed to do it?
The challenges are high, Clinton said, especially for the poor. “Half the world is living on less than $2 a day,” he noted. “Kids under 5 are dying of malaria, dysentery and tuberculosis – diseases of the poor… almost 100 million kids don’t go to school. We’re killing off human potential left and right.”
It’s time to pursue a different strategy, with values that rest on human dignity, Clinton said. “That strategy looks different in poor places than in rich places; and in some countries like India and Brazil, you do both.” Poor places like Haiti, where the Clinton Foundation is at work, need systems, he noted. “Haiti needs to build a system that rewards good behavior with positive results,” referencing the need to invest in entrepreneurial businesses that lead to sustainable job creation.
“At some point when you stop investing in the future, you pay a terrible price,” he said.
Across the world and at home in the U.S., Clinton called for a change in outlook, a change he believes is coming. “We have to revitalize the way we do things and engage in the prospect of renewal,” he said.
But who’s supposed to do it? “My answer is everybody,” Clinton asserted. “The nongovernmental organization (NGO) is a gift America makes to the world.” Yet, he pointed out that it’s not just the large and well-known NGOs that are getting things done at home and abroad.
“The NGO movement is sweeping the world,” he said, adding that the millennial generation, which has been raised to be service-oriented, is helping fuel this movement. And it’s a movement open to all – community groups, citizens groups, churches and faith-based organizations. “If you contribute to the United Way in Richmond, you’re part of an NGO,” he said. “A lot of people doing a little together can have a huge impact…. When we work together, it works.”
Only about 1 in 5 children in Indonesia have access to a pre-primary education program. In the remote highlands of Central Java, ChildFund is working hand in hand with communities to refurbish Early Childhood Development centers and also train teachers and parents to nourish children in their critical early years of development.
By Silvia Ximenes, ChildFund Timor-Leste
This district in central Timor-Leste has a population of about 42,000, and the economy is based on agriculture, fisheries, small handcraft industries and minerals. Many in Aiteas, the village where the ECD center is located, are involved in farm production activities, such as planting coffee, coconut, vegetables, cassava, corn and rice.
Novito rides his bicycle back and forth to the center, and he also likes to play soccer. He hopes one day to be a professional soccer player.
One of 60 students who attend ECD Aiteas six days a week, Novito is taught by Manuela, Divia and Joana. With ChildFund’s support, the teachers received training in teaching methodology, curriculum design and the Portuguese language.
Two years ago, ChildFund helped renovate the ECD center, expanding the building to house three classrooms. ChildFund Timor-Leste supports this center by providing school materials and furniture, school uniforms, snacks and supplementary food. The center also receives a subsidy from the Timor-Leste Ministry of Education every four months to help maintain the facility and update educational materials.
Maria, an ECD coordinator, notes that the center provides learning materials, a proper playground and qualified teachers who work well with the children. Novito often brings home lessons he’s learned at the center and has shown his siblings how to draw a house. He says he is looking forward to moving to the next level of education: primary school.
By Saroj Kumar Pattnaik, ChildFund India
For Manju Sharma, 37, life once was structured around taking care of her two children and doing daily household chores. Until a few years ago, she had little idea of the world outside her home in the Firozabad district in northern India. But since she began working at an Early Childhood Development (ECD) center supported by ChildFund India, her definition of life has changed. Now she is a self-assured and respected woman in her community.
Initially, Manju was nervous about accepting a job outside the home. Staying away from her children and husband for more than six hours a day was a challenge, but she accepted an offer to work with the ECD program in 2007 because of her passion for helping children living in poverty.
“It was not a very smooth start for me, but my affection for small kids helped to overcome my fears gradually,” Manju recalls. “Soon I was able to strike a chord among the children, and they started loving my presence.”
Manju received basic training on maintaining good hygiene among the center’s 35 children ages 2 to 5.
“I also took training on how to monitor growth of the children attending the ECD center,” she explains. “Now, I am fully aware about the issue of malnutrition and often lead educational sessions for mothers, giving them tips about how they can take proper care of their children’s health.”
She adds, “People now know me as Manju Didi [sister], and I love the respect they shower on me.”
For 26-year-old Avdhesh Jadaun, a teacher at an ECD center in the nearby Andand Nagar locality, teaching was a passion she had held since childhood.
Avdhesh, who has a master’s degree in psychology, has a desire to see all children in her locality receive an education and grow up to be self-sufficient young adults — a goal that ChildFund also wishes to achieve.
“Since my school days, I wanted to work for poor children, especially helping them complete their basic education. Now, ChildFund gave me the opportunity to fulfill my dream, and I am very happy,” Avdhesh says.
ChildFund India’s local program manager Bikrant Mishra says, “Avdhesh and Manju are two of our most committed staffers who not only take care of the ECD centers but also actively participate in our maternal and child health-related activities.”
ChildFund currently runs nine ECD centers in Firozabad. More than 600 children up to age 5 are cared for in these centers. Mothers and pregnant women are also given important training on pre- and postnatal health care that includes immunization, breastfeeding, nutritional food intake and regular check-ups.
“And these teachers often act as health workers in their own capacities and help us deliver better service among the communities,” Mishra adds.
Although Manju and Avdhesh are paid modest salaries for their hard work, they are satisfied when they see the children play, sing and dance happily around them.
“The children are so sincere; often their gratitude is enough,” Avdhesh explains.
Manju says, “The satisfaction I draw from working with these innocent children is incomparable. It’s priceless.”
By ChildFund Ethiopia staff
Gegsebo Redi, 24, lives in Silti Aynage, Ethiopia. He is a formerly sponsored child and an alumnus of the Silti Aynage Child and Family Development Association, an organization that partners with ChildFund.
Gegsebo completed high school in 2006. He was an outstanding student and scored straight A’s. But Gegsebo’s family couldn’t afford the next step in his education — attending university preparatory classes away from home. They couldn’t cover the cost of his transportation or his living expenses.
“I had no chance,” Gegsebo recalls, “except missing the opportunity of the pre-university course and looking for other options around my village.” Recognizing Gegsebo’s potential, ChildFund’s local partner offered financial assistance to cover housing and living expenses while he attended classes. “They encouraged me to continue my education and to join the university. I have no words to thank them for enabling me to reach my current position.”
He has now completed studies at Hawasa University, earning a degree in rural development offered in cooperation with the Ethiopian government’s agriculture department. Today, Gegsebo is employed at Silti Aynage’s agriculture office and earns a salary that also allows him to also support his brother, who is still in school.
“I would like to thank the association for helping me to improve my life,” Gegsebo says. “They were helping me by being my family in many ways. In the future, I want to support children either by my profession or financially. I would also like to continue my education since our country is expecting much from young people like me.”
By ChildFund Belarus staff
Eighteen-year-old Vlad was born with cerebral palsy. His speech is unclear, and he cannot handle a pen or use a computer keyboard. And, yet, Vlad is a brilliant student.
Teachers educated Vlad at his Belarus home. Though the boy couldn’t write, he easily solved math problems in his head. By the age of 15, he had read many literature classics and could easily cite quotes by Dumas or analyze Dostoyevsky’s and Tolstoy’s works.
Vlad dreamed about becoming a lawyer who advocates for the rights of people with disabilities. But he faced a serious roadblock: Belarus’ system of entrance exams to its universities does not consider the special needs of a person with disabilities. The examination must be written, and parents are not allowed to be in a classroom during the exam. Personal assistants to help with writing or reading are typically unavailable.
In a quest to get their son admitted to college, Vlad’s parents petitioned several universities to allow him special assistance to take entrance exams, but they were turned down by most. In 2012, Vera, a vice rector at Baranovichi University, received training in inclusive education, a program conducted by ChildFund through the USAID-funded project Community Services to Vulnerable Groups.
Before the training program, Vera, like many other Belorussian educators, believed that children with communication problems also suffered from cognitive disability, often a misconception. But at the training, Vera was deeply impressed by the examples of academic achievements and talents that American children with disabilities have developed through proper support and teaching.
As a result, Vera decided to change the rigid entrance procedure at her university. She shared her new knowledge with her colleagues and obtained their full support. A special team was arranged to provide Vlad with adequate assistance during the testing process.
At the exams, Vlad gave his answers verbally, and a faculty member wrote it down. This minor adjustment allowed Vlad to pass the tests.
“The results inspired all of my colleagues,” Vera says. “The rector of our university and the members of the state educational board that inspected the exams applauded. Vlad showed brilliant results! He got the highest scores among all the applicants. We are very proud that the boy will become our student. Vlad is very persistent, and there is no doubt he will became a successful advocate for the rights of people with disabilities.”
Because of widespread media coverage, Vlad’s story became known all over Belarus and was praised by the minister of education, who said that 2013 will bring reforms to the entrance examination process at all Belarussian universities.
At Vera’s university, she has continued advocacy efforts by designing a course on inclusive education for students in preschool education. The course was recently approved by the Ministry of Education for university curriculums all over the country.
Read yesterday’s post about a Belorussian girl reunited with her father.
By Christa Nedergaard Rasmussen, National Director BØRNEfonden Togo
Last month, BØRNEfonden — ChildFund’s Alliance partner in Denmark — celebrated its 20th anniversary in Togo. Government representatives thanked BØRNEfonden for its work in the east African nation, and two former sponsored children spoke about their experiences.
As in the other program countries where BØRNEfonden and ChildFund work, development activities in Togo are aimed at creating a better future for children and youth. The focus is on health, education, income-generating activities and early childhood development.
Approximately 12,000 children in Togo are supported by a sponsor, including many from the United States.
The anniversary was celebrated in the Togolese capital of Lome with 170 guests, including representatives from the federal government, Danish companies, international and national NGOs. BØRNEfonden’s CEO, Bolette Christensen, was also present.
“It’s great to see how collaboration between BØRNEfonden and local authorities, national and international NGOs give positive results,” Christensen said.
During the past 20 years, local partners working with BØRNEfonden have built 256 schools, 80 kindergartens and 18 libraries in 28 rural communities.
But particularly in the health sector, where the focus has been to give more people access to clean drinking water, the results are remarkable. Within just the past five years, 75,000 Togolese people gained access to potable water. Working with local partners, BØRNEfonden, with the support of sponsors, helped drill 40 wells, repair 110 existing wells and supported 238 local water committees to maintain the pumps and manage consumers’ fees.
Minister of Development Djossou Semodji, speaking on behalf of the federal government, thanked BØRNEfonden for its work and many achievements. He emphasized that he looks forward to many years of future cooperation.
Also, formerly sponsored children who have become successful adults spoke about what BØRNEfonden had meant to them. “After I left school, I came to a technical school and became a carpenter,” said Abdoulaye Issaka. “Today I have my own carpenter’s shop and trains apprentices.”
“I come from a poor family from the country,” said Adjoa Adjimon, “but at one of BØRNEfonden’s summer camps, it dawned on me that all men are worth something. I got enough confidence to get an education. I have a B.A. in economics and am now employed by the Togo Post Office.”
A group of youth from impoverished rural areas who advocate for young people’s rights came to the celebration to speak about their goals, including establishing the right to go to school, protection from violence and better hygienic conditions at school.
Christenson noted about the youth’s presentation: “It is an important task they have undertaken to fight for their own and other children’s rights.”
Discover more about ChildFund’s work in Togo.