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.”
Reporting by ChildFund Ethiopia
As the eldest child in a family of four, Dagnachew, 28, has shouldered bread-winning responsibilities for years, first helping his mother provide for his younger siblings and then assuming those duties entirely after his mother passed away.
Having a sponsor and support from ChildFund has helped him through troubled times.
“My early childhood was amazing, though; there are lots of good things,” he recalls. “I loved writing letters to my sponsor, and I also loved to read her letters. It gave me great satisfaction and encouragement. We used to talk about our two countries and so many things. I still keep the letters with me. My relationship was not limited to my sponsor; it also extended to her family including her husband. “They shaped my life appreciably.”
After completing grade 12, Dagnachew couldn’t continue his education, due to all of the family responsibilities before him. “I joined ChildFund while my mother was alive; after she passed away I remember the good deeds of ChildFund.”
So Dagnachew went to work full-time to keep his younger brother and two sisters in school. He took on odd jobs and also began painting signs and buildings, often doing signage work for ChildFund Ethiopia.
When ChildFund Ethiopia’s Semen Ber project offered Dagnachew professional training in photography and videography, he jumped at the opportunity. The program provides disadvantaged youth with vocational skills. ChildFund also helps graduates with capital and materials to start their own businesses.
Four years ago, Dagnachew opened his own photography shop. Today, he has two locations in Addis Ababa, employing four full-time employees and 10 part-time assistants on the weekends when weddings keep the photographers busy.
And Dagnachew is now finally able to return to school. He is pursuing a degree in cinematography and aspires to write, direct and produce his own films. “My big dream is to lead an independent life and become successful in the film-making industry,” he says. He already has several documentary film credits.
Although happy in his work and studies, Dagnachew has another measure of success that is equally rewarding. His siblings are on the right track in life. His brother graduated from Hawassa University and works with Dagnachew in the business. One of his sisters is pursuing a degree at Addis Ababa University and the younger other is a junior high school student.
This makes him feel proud – being the eldest and supporting the youngest.
Guest post by Tom Greenwood via ChildFund Australia
Thao is an only child. She lives with her parents and grandparents and attends ChildFund-supported Vi Huong preschool.
In Thao’s preschool class there are 15 children (12 boys and three girls). Altogether, there are 122 children in the preschool.
The preschool is a 2-minute walk away from her home. She likes it because she has friends there and she enjoys playing. Her favorite thing is the slide.
Thao’s mother, Yen, says: “I’m very happy because when Thao goes to school she has a chance to play with toys and meet her friends. It makes her more active and improves her knowledge. The teachers are so nice and kind. They consider the children like their own.
“I ask Thao about her day and she tells me what she ate. She says, ‘Mum, the food is really delicious!’”
Her favorite food is beansprouts and sweet rice.
When Thao grows up she wants to be a doctor so she can cure sick people.
She is one child in Vietnam who is already poised to make a difference.
Learn more about ChildFund’s operations in Vietnam and child sponsorship.
Reporting by Joan Ng’ang’a, ChildFund Kenya
Each year, the U.N. recognizes Aug. 12 as International Youth Day (IYD). Focusing on global initiatives to create and strengthen partnerships with youth, this day is a celebration of the innovation and capabilities of young people to change the world. Activists, philanthropists, politicians and academics will collaborate with young women and men from around the world to address issues such as political inclusion, employment, entrepreneurship, protection of rights and education.
Partnering with youth is a key part of ChildFund’s mission. The work we do around the world encourages young people to use their voices and advocate for their rights to help solve issues in their own communities. Oftentimes, higher education is a youth’s best means to break the cycle of poverty and also give back to the next generation. With the help of dedicated sponsors, youth in ChildFund programs have increased opportunity to not only finish high school but also obtain post-secondary degrees. This has been Kaltuma’s experience.
Born into a family of five children, Kaltuma, 22, is the only member to excel beyond high school. With the help of her sponsor, Susan, Kaltuma is now beginning her second year at Kenya Methodist University. She is studying to receive a degree in clinical medicine; a goal that her sponsor has encouraged her to pursue since high school.
“I am very proud of the support I have received. Someone very far believed in me,” Kaltuma says. “[Susan] made sure there were not obstacles regarding my education.”
Kaltuma’s mother also encourages her to study hard because she knows the benefits of education. “My mother keeps encouraging me to finish my studies,” Kaltuma says. “She tells me with education, my life will be better than hers.”
Kaltuma is one of very few girls in her clinical medicine class and the only student from her community. She is proud of her accomplishments and looks forward to a better future. Upon obtaining her degree, she hopes to land a job in the medical field, have a family of her own, and above all, help young people like herself.
When asked her thoughts on the International Youth Day, she said, “Support a young person today, so that they can be better people and better parents tomorrow.”
Recognizing the woman who has supported her education for many years, Kaltuma insisted on writing a letter to her sponsor before we left. In the letter, she tells Susan how well she did on her latest exam and thanks her for her help.
By Abu Bakarr Conteh, ChildFund Sierra Leone
As part of ongoing efforts to tackle unemployment in Sierra Leone, some 3,000 youth have started an intensive 12-month training program supported by ChildFund.
Years of civil war in Sierra Leone have robbed thousands of children and youth of a complete education. With few opportunities for employment, this generation of youth has been languishing in their villages with very little to offer and dim prospects for the future.
ChildFund, with funding from the World Bank, is rolling out the Youth Employment and Support Project (YESP) in five districts including the capital city of Freetown. And young people are eagerly enrolling in carpentry, masonry, auto mechanics and welding, among other vocational programs.
After completing the YESP training, the youth expect to improve their prospects of getting jobs.
“My dream is to become one of the best female auto mechanics in the country, so I can work for the big companies,” says 18-year-old Mamadi, who has been on the street and suffered exploitation.
Musa, who was struck with polio, is seeking to add value to his life. “I will become self-employed and be able to provide for my family once I complete the training,” he says.
In a country where unemployment remains a huge challenge across the population, these youth are highly spirited and determined to carve their own destinies.
By Aydelfe M. Salvadora, ChildFund Timor-Leste
For nine years, the Parent Teacher Association for Eskola Basiko Liaro sought assistance for its deteriorating school. But those requests went unanswered, says Raimundo de Carvalho, PTA president at the school, which is located in Suco Builale, Ossu, in the Timor-Leste district of Viqueque.
The school is surrounded by hills, making the temperature cold even during the day, and it easily penetrates inside the bamboo-walled classrooms.
When ChildFund first visited Liaro School, we knew that urgent assistance was needed. The school had a poor infrastructure, lacked water and sanitation facilities and didn’t have the most basic classroom and learning materials.
Given the poor condition of the school and the long list of areas for improvement, ChildFund worked with the school community to identify its main priorities for improvement. Classroom rehabilitation was on the top of the list, as it would deliver significant benefits within a short timeframe.
With the participation of community members, schoolchildren, PTA members and the Suco and Aldeia local councils, ChildFund Timor-Leste worked with Liaro School to quickly develop a proposal to be considered for UNICEF’s Participatory School Rehabilitation project.
The proposal was accepted, with Liaro School becoming part of the Child Friendly Schools (CFS) approach promoted by UNICEF, in partnership with the Ministry of Education. It is a distinct initiative that promotes and nurtures the inclusive involvement of parents, community members and children in education.
With approval, funding and technical assistance from UNICEF and ChildFund, construction commenced in the first week of November 2011. In less than two months, four new classrooms were constructed and ready for the beginning of school year in January.
Built with concrete walls and tin roofs, the classrooms are comfortable and secure from the elements. When asked how their new learning environment makes them feel, the school’s 150 students give an enthusiastic chorus of “kontente [happy].”They no longer fear water leaking from the roof and persistent cold through the bamboo walls. More importantly, they now have an environment conducive to learning that motivates them to study harder.
The PTA members and council chiefs say they’ve learned a lot about the importance of community participation and cooperation to benefit children. They also point to another benefit with lasting impact – not only do they have four new classrooms, but they now also have the skills to write more project proposals to gain additional funding for their community.
By Abraham Marca, Communications Officer ChildFund Bolivia
It is 5 p.m. in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. The weather is warm but pouring rain is keeping the children from playing outside after school. Instead, they look busy and seem very focused on the computer screens at the learning center run by our local partner Lucerito. The children do not mind missing playtime though because this is time well spent.
In the poorest areas of Santa Cruz, children have little access to technology. Providing various learning opportunities, ChildFund programs in the area collaborate with the Lucerito center to help children learn computer skills. The students also receive help with their homework and are given assistance by a unique but capable teacher.
When we ask where that teacher was, an 11-year-old boy quickly stands up from his desk, walks straight toward us and extends his hand. “Good afternoon. My name is Santiago and I am the teacher,” he says.
That surprises us.
Despite his youth, Santiago’s passion for technology motivated him to become more involved in his computer classes. Eager to learn, he spent extra time absorbing everything he could about computers; information he now shares with his peers. “I love machines and computers; assembling and disassembling things. I like coming here every day to teach and help other kids learn, too,” he says.
Once Santiago’s classmates discovered his skills, they began asking for his assistance. His teacher, Alvaro Peña, watched the young boy help around the classroom and immediately recognized his potential. It did not take long for him to ask Santiago to be his teaching assistant.
Now, Santiago attends Lucerito five times a week to teach child-friendly software to boys and girls from the five surrounding schools. He spends three hours a day helping his peers master Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
“I want to be a systems engineer when I grow up,” Santiago says confidently—and we know he has surely found his calling.