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.
By Melissa Bonotto, ChildFund Ireland
Machava, a 32-year-old community leader, has been working with children for 10 years. He first started talking with village children under a tree close to his house. Then, ChildFund Mozambique built a resource center close by in 2009, and Machava had the chance to use it for his daily meeting with pupils. He also teaches adult education and is a student himself. He had to stop his studies during the Mozambican Civil War, but he is delighted to tell us that he managed to go back to school. He will complete the final year in secondary school next year.
As part of the Communities Caring for Children Programme (CCCP) launched last week by ChildFund Ireland and ChildFund Mozambique, this resource center has been adapted to become an early childhood development center. Flush toilets and basins with running water have been installed at children’s level and the center has been made more child-friendly. Zaza, a talented local artist painted colorful and animated pictures on the walls. A small playground is in the works, as is training for center facilitators.
Machava remembers the time he didn’t have any of this. “Children used to sit on the ground. We didn’t have a blackboard or chalk. Also, they were exposed to bad people. Now they are safe and secure in the center.” He teaches subjects such as Portuguese and math, but he acknowledges that the children´s favorite activities are dancing and singing.
Currently, 85 children are enrolled: 50 girls and 35 boys, age 3 to 6 years old. Children stay in the resource centre from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Parents who can afford it make a monthly contribution of 10 meticais (less than 35 cents in U.S. currency). Those who are enrolled in ChildFund’s sponsorship program receive a school bag containing a notebook, two pencils and a sharpener.
When we went to the center, we brought some toys, games, books and activities to share with the children. The children were fascinated with bubbles, Irish stickers and pop-up books. We had the chance to tell a story and we also listened to stories told by the children. Maria, a young girl, told a story about “a boy who was friends with a monkey. One day the boy said he wanted to steal something, but the monkey said he should not do it because it was not nice!”
We watched them singing and dancing enthusiastically and animatedly. Just as Machava said, they love it!
Through the CCCP program, ChildFund seeks three primary outcomes for children:
• improve the quality of the services related to ECD
• strengthen community structures
• develop a culture of learning.
Four additional ECD centers are planned in Gondola before 2015, funded by ChildFund and Irish Aid.
Reporting by Dhina Mutiara, ChildFund Indonesia
My name is Dwi. Do you want to know more about me? I am 10 years old. I live in a village in Banyumas, Central Java, Indonesia.
Every morning I go to school at 7 a.m. My mother walks me to school every day without fail. The school is not too far from my house. Usually it will take 15 to 20 minutes to walk. There are around 400 students in my public school. I am in fifth grade.
This is my classroom and my friends. Science is my favorite subject. If you notice, there are a lot of materials hanging on the wall. Those are our creations. Our teachers always inspire us to be creative in class.
I go home around 1 p.m. As soon as I get home, I feed my pets. My pet is neither a dog nor a cat; they are uncommon here. I have five chicks. My family can sell them at the traditional market once they are big enough. Once I am done with that, I will help my mother to do home chores or play soccer with my friends.
I also love music. That is why I joined Karawitan extracurricular activity on Sundays. It is a traditional Indonesian music ensemble from Java. I play a traditional drum called kendang. My father is a Karawitan musician. He inspired me a lot in music. ChildFund helps my school, providing the extracurricular activity so that we can keep the traditional music legacy.
By Patricia Toquica, Americas Region Communications Manager
“Welcome. I’m Karla and this is my house,” says a 19-year-old girl from La Paz, Bolivia, as she ushers us into her home, a one-room rental house shared by seven family members. Karla’s house, located on a small lot, is surrounded by upscale homes, something quite common in Bolivia’s urban areas.
“When I was little, we had nothing,” says Karla, adding that she’s proud of what her family has been able to achieve in recent years. “My mother used to take me and my brothers and sisters to the ChildFund center, where they would feed us and play with us.” That’s how Karla and her siblings started participating in Early Childhood Development, after-school activities and youth leadership programs that ChildFund Bolivia offers in La Paz through its local partner Avance Comunitario.
“We would go there to study after school, and we would learn a lot that helped us improve our grades. We’d then write to our sponsors about this support, so that they could learn about our life and how their money was helping us,” explains Karla who is now a civil engineering student at a public university in La Paz.
She is the second of five children: the eldest sister is currently working on her thesis in computer science and soon will be graduating from the university. Karla’s younger brother also finished high school and is studying to become a sound technician; her younger sister, will graduate next year, and the youngest siblings are in junior high.
“We were able to go to university because through the center we built our self-esteem and leadership skills,” Karla explains. “I used to be very shy [when I was young], but when I saw the professionals and other youth leaders working at the project, I wanted to become a professional like them.”
Her father is an electrician and her mother, Albertina, works at home and on spare jobs cleaning houses or washing clothes. She volunteers at the Avance Comunitario Center, where she also has taken skills training classes.
“Their interest is to study and become professionals,” says Albertina, nodding at her children. “I could only make it until eighth grade, so we support them in every way we can. They are all good kids and know how it is to live in poverty. When they grow up, they will be professionals and entrepreneurs, and they’ll help others and give jobs for the ones in need.”