The United Nations declared Aug. 12 as International Youth Day in 1999, so ChildFund is taking this week to focus on challenges that especially affect teens and young adults, as well as celebrate young people who are showing strong leadership in the countries we serve.
Reporting by ChildFund Ethiopia
Mekdes, an 18-year-old girl from Ethiopia, received a one-year scholarship in March 2012 through ChildFund and our Twitter followers to mark International Women’s Day. We checked back with her in July 2013 to see how she was doing.
“I trained in hair dressing for six months and graduated in September 2012,” Mekdes reports. “I started working in one hair salon in our village four months ago, earning a monthly salary of 600 birr [approximately US$32] that enabled me to fulfill our basic needs and cover the medical cost for my grandmom, who has asthma. I have also bought a cell phone for myself and also started to fulfill my needs, such as clothing and shoes.”
Mekdes was chosen as a scholarship recipient for a Twitter campaign ChildFund launched in honor of International Women’s Day. She had encountered many hardships, having lost her father at a young age; her mother couldn’t take care of Mekdes on her own. She also had to drop out of secondary school despite having good grades after her grandmother lost her job. When we met her last year, Mekdes had to work as a hairdresser and a day laborer, but today she has the hope of one day owning her own business.
She has passionate feelings about International Women’s Day because it demonstrates that all women have the potential to be productive and involved in community development. Mekdes also explained that since women are vulnerable in many ways and are sometimes affected more by poverty, the need for supporting them in their pursuits is important.
“In the future, I have a plan to get further training in a boys’ beauty salon, and I have a plan to open my own beauty salon,” Mekdes says. “After fulfilling the income need, which is a priority for us to survive, I will continue my education. I would like to thank ChildFund for helping me to be successful in my life.”
By Tenagne Mekonnen, ChildFund Africa Regional Communications Manager
Here in Africa, it is a crucial time for focusing on the rights of children in Africa, as we prepare for the Day of the African Child on June 16.
This annual event, supported by member countries of the African Union, commemorates the day in 1976 when hundreds of schoolchildren were killed in Soweto, South Africa, while participating in a nonviolent protest against an inferior and discriminatory educational system and for the right to be taught in their own language.
The day also draws attention to the need to improve the condition and well-being of children across the African continent. This year’s theme is “Eliminating Harmful and Social Practices Against Children: Our Responsibility.”
“The event should remind us all of our duty, as citizens of Africa and as friends, to promote the rights of the child on the continent,” said Jumbe Sebunya, ChildFund regional director for East and Southern Africa. “In Africa today there is some progress achieved for children in the areas of education, gender equity, HIV, AIDS and others.” Yet, with children making up a significant portion of the world population (in some countries more than 50 percent), Sebunya said that governments, civil society organizations and other key development partners must keep children’s well-being and rights central to any and all sustainable development efforts in Africa.
ChildFund marks the Day of the African Child at all levels, using the occasion as an opportunity for children to speak out about the importance of children’s rights.
ChildFund’s Africa regional office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, is excited to welcome children’s delegations from our programs in Mozambique, Zambia, Kenya, The Gambia and Ethiopia this week. Children and youth events celebrating the Day of the African Child took place June 14 in the African Union’s headquarters, the same place where national leaders make decisions for the continent.
The young delegates led the conference, engaging in intergenerational dialogue and weaving in arts, poems and music. It was their day, and they wanted to make sure that everyone heard their message.
In addition, I am working with ChildFund’s national office in Mozambique on its own Day of the African Child celebration. Mozambique’s government is one of many African countries that have not yet submitted a report about children’s rights to the African Union.
ChildFund (in cooperation with Plan International, another child-focused organization) is sending a group of experts to Mozambique this week to make a special request of the government that the report be submitted. We are working to keep children’s rights in the spotlight.
Below is a video of Seveliya, a 13-year-old girl from Zambia, speaking at the African Union as part of the Day of the African Child celebration:
Reporting by ChildFund Ethiopia staff
Tariku, now 33, grew up in a family of nine in the Amhara region of Ethiopia. Without the support of ChildFund, he says he would not have been able to afford school materials or continue his education. Today, as a university graduate and a master’s degree student, Tariku has found success. The following is his story in his own words:
Today I am going to tell you about myself, about how ChildFund changed my life, as it did for many children, by providing various kinds of support. ChildFund played a great role in my life and helped me become who I am now. I enrolled in the project when ChildFund opened its office at Semen Shoa, in the Amhara region, in 1992 during the downfall of the Derg political regime. At that time, I was a grade-six student, while my father was a soldier and my mom was a housewife. We were nine in the family.
I am the youngest in my family, except one younger sibling. However, no one in my family has gone far from home or been successful in education. Since I joined the project, ChildFund supported me with educational materials, health care and fulfilling our family’s needs. Before, I had no means to buy books or other educational materials. The project provided me with everything I required for my education; that, in turn, increased my interest in learning.
After I finished my diploma in agriculture at Jimma University (a top Ethiopian teaching university) in 2000, I had the chance to join ChildFund’s local partner organization staff as a community development worker. After some time there, I moved to a project in Addis Ababa.
I received my first degree in business management in 2009, and now I am a graduate student at Addis Ababa University in psychology. I am now a sponsorship relations head at work.
“Supporting one child means supporting the family.”
One thing that I want to highlight is how ChildFund’s work is fruitful. There are many successful alumni who are working in many areas in different organizations. Supporting one child means supporting the family. For instance, my family has benefited a lot. I have created work opportunities for my elder siblings by supporting them financially, and I was able to teach my younger sibling.
The support I received in the Semen Shoa project is the basis of all my success. I can say that ChildFund was just as important as my blood circulation.
I am sure that I will keep on improving my life even after this, but I will give credit to ChildFund often. Now I am successful in my work. I want to be a role model and pass this message on to other children who are receiving support from ChildFund to give credit for what ChildFund did for them. I hope that many children will attain similar success to what I have achieved now.
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 Kate Andrews, with reporting by Saroj Pattnaik, ChildFund India, and ChildFund Kenya staff
The first World AIDS Day was held in 1988, and a great number of medical and social advances have been made in the 24 years since then. Nevertheless, much remains to be done. Today, we turn our focus to ChildFund’s work in India and Africa.
Rajashri is a supervisor for the Link Workers Scheme (LWS), a program in India that helps children orphaned by AIDS and some who are HIV-positive. She provides medication for hundreds of children infected with the disease in 19 districts of Andhra Pradesh, a central Indian province with a population of about 76 million. Started in 2008 by the national and regional governments with help from ChildFund India, LWS targets high-risk groups with prevention and risk-reduction information.
ChildFund India has identified more than 7,400 children in Andhra Pradesh who have been orphaned or left otherwise vulnerable by AIDS or HIV.
Although African nations often receive the most attention when the topic of AIDS arises, India has approximately 2.4 million people living with HIV, the third-highest population in the world, based on a 2009 estimate by UNAIDS. According to the Indian government, the state of Andhra Pradesh reported the second-highest HIV rate in the nation.
The LWS program, which ChildFund supports, began in three districts in Andhra Pradesh in 2008, reaching 19 districts in 2011. About 23,000 volunteers have been engaged in this effort, and more than 11,600 HIV-positive patients have been identified and helped by the state’s health department.
ChildFund also is working in African countries to help prevent the spread of AIDS. In Ethiopia, we work with children, youth, parents and community leaders to provide HIV and AIDS prevention and testing interventions as well as make available social networks to counter stigma and discrimination.
Through our Strengthening Community Safety Nets program in the Addis Ababa and Oromia areas, 50,000 orphans and vulnerable children affected by HIV and AIDS have received family-centered care and support. The program builds on existing partnerships with community groups and local volunteers to build the resilience of families and community structures to support children affected by HIV, especially those under age 11.
In Kenya, where an estimated 1.2 million people are infected with HIV (the same number as the far more populous United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), a ChildFund program has helped connect HIV-positive and other vulnerable children to organizations that offer anti-retroviral treatment and social assistance.
The number of vulnerable children attending school and receiving health care has risen since the 2005 institution of Weaving the Safety Net, part of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. Today, that program has concluded, but ChildFund’s work with orphans and vulnerable children impacted by HIV and AIDS continues. As of spring 2012, more than 73,000 orphans and vulnerable children were being served in Nairobi, and 3,200 HIV-positive children were enrolled in support groups.
Lucy, a 9-year-old who is HIV-positive, lives in Lamu, an island off the coast of Kenya. She, her grandmother, her aunt and four cousins share a one-room thatched home. When Lucy was a baby, her mother died from AIDS complications. Their village had few resources to deal with the disease, but now, with ChildFund’s support, Lucy goes to a district hospital to receive anti-retroviral treatment. She is healthy and thriving at school.
At age 8, Lucy started attending a support group for children living with HIV. “I know my status, and that is why I take my medicine, so that I can remain strong to be able to go to school and also play like the other children,” Lucy says. “My teacher and some neighbors know my status, too, and I know they love and support me.”
A side benefit of ChildFund’s and others’ work in Kenya has been a greater acceptance of those affected by HIV, lessening the stigma of the disease.
“When I was requested to enroll her in a support group, I hesitated, but today Lucy shares information about the support group discussions with all of us here,” her grandmother says. “Through her, we have learned a lot about HIV and AIDS.”
By Loren Pritchett, ChildFund staff writer
In recent months, more than 62 percent of U.S. states have experienced moderate to exceptional drought, and the children and families in our Oklahoma program areas are feeling the heat.
Crops like soy beans, wheat and corn have withered or died, producing low yields and forcing farmers to sell off livestock they can no longer afford to feed; while seasonal farm hands go without work. “Families who earn income in the summer months by helping with harvesting of hay and crops did not have jobs this summer,” says Linda Ehrhardt, ChildFund’s southern plains area manager.
With an already limited income, families in our Oklahoma program areas are bracing for what experts are predicting to be a nationwide surge in food prices. “Many of our families live on fixed incomes and receive assistance to help them feed their families,” Ehrhardt says. “The amount of that help does not increase every time the prices of groceries increase – leaving our families hungry by the end of the month.”
As ChildFund works with its local partners to monitor the situation and identify ways to support hard-hit families on the home front, we are reminded of the extreme hardships that millions of children and families in our programs in Africa have been experiencing since 2011. The severe drought that began last year in the Horn of Africa is mirrored in the Sahel region and continues to claim lives and destroy crops, livestock and families’ way of life.
of individuals experiencing food insecurity grew to more than 3.75 million. With the help of ChildFund, local NGOs and government agencies, families living in those areas received clean drinking water and food assistance to help feed their children. For many, this was the kind of hope and opportunity needed to rebuild their broken communities, but, today, dry conditions are back.
This year, with the short rains failing and the long rains coming late, once again crop yields have been low in eastern and western Africa. Food prices have spiked and families are in trouble.
This month, known as the lean season, Kenya will see food insecurity reach its peak. In Ethiopia, more than 3.76 million people will require food assistance until December. And in the Gambia, many children will be at risk for malnourishment or worse. Families who have planted crops are out of food and are depending on the small number of crops that will survive the drought. They will scramble for extra scraps and may even eat the seeds they had planned to plant next year. From now until October, food, milk and water will be hard to find.
Focusing our attention on the suffering in both eastern and western Africa, ChildFund will provide the necessary assistance to help families and children endure the drought season. It is paramount that we continue to provide access to clean water, sanitation and assistance with agricultural tools and activities but remedying food insecurity is even more pressing. ChildFund will provide food distributions, nutritional support and monitoring, as well as psychosocial support to help those experiencing the realities of drought.
For more information on how you can help children and families dealing with drought in our program areas, visit http://www.childfund.org/emergency_updates/ and help change a life.
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.
By Selamawit Yilma, ChildFund Ethiopia
Every June 16, the Day of the African Child, brings together representatives from African Union states, development organizations and other groups to discuss issues pertaining to the children of Africa. This year’s theme, “The Rights of Children with Disabilities: The Duty to Protect, Respect, Promote and Fulfill,” focuses on the unequal treatment of children with disabilities. We interviewed Hannan Endale, inclusive programming specialist, at ChildFund Ethiopia, who knows the challenges faced by those with disabilities due to her own impairment—blindness.
Would you please tell us your understanding of the Day of the African Child?
In my view, Day of the African Child is a very important event that needs widespread attention. By educating the public about the potential, rights and concerns of children, we have the chance to make the world a friendlier place for them to live. However, because the day is better known by child-focused organizations, there is a strong need to engage other governmental organizations and potential stakeholders.
How do you perceive the theme for this year?
This theme is timely, focusing on the right topic at the right time. We have seen a worldwide shift in the discussion of the rights of people with disabilities due to the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). The convention draws attention to the rights of children with disabilities in diverse arenas and recalls “obligations to that end undertaken by States.” Our country, Ethiopia, has been a state party to this convention since 2010. The 2012 theme for the Day of the African Child gives us the opportunity to develop our understanding about the rights of children with disabilities and to work for the improvement of the quality of their lives.
Would you address how to protect and support children with disabilities?
Children with disabilities are not enjoying the same privileges as their counterparts, nor are they receiving equal treatment. Neglect, abandonment and discrimination are among the injustices faced by disabled children.
Futhermore, there is a lack of commitment to increase their involvement in activities that may enhance their personal development. These children are also overlooked as valuable assets to the well-being of the community. For that reason, it is our responsibility to ensure that their rights are protected, respected and fulfilled while encouraging the government to bear the same duties.
If we truly have a child’s best interest in mind, we must not fail to include those children with disabilities. They deserve to have the opportunity to grow, develop and enjoy their childhood by exercising the same rights as everyone. Institutional, environmental and attitudinal barriers that hinder their full, equal and effective participation in society have to be removed. Most importantly, the children themselves have to be given the opportunity to participate actively in the development of policies that will affect them.
Could you explain how ChildFund is working in this area and how it plans to strengthen the support given to children with disabilities?
ChildFund, in partnership with Pact Ethiopia and Family Health International 360, is the technical lead organization in the Yekokeb Berhan Program for Highly Vulnerable Children—a program funded by USAID.
Yekokeb Berhan is committed to providing high-quality, age-appropriate, inclusive services for all children. In the program, we ensure that all excluded children are given the proper attention in every aspect of the project. ChildFund is playing a leading role in fulfilling this objective by initiating strategies to provide equitable access to services for individuals and groups, and specialized techniques that will foster participation of excluded individuals or groups within the Yekokeb Berhan Program.
How does it feel to work with these children and ChildFund?
Working with a program that has had this much impact in reducing the challenges faced by highly vulnerable children gives me great personal and professional satisfaction. It is my hope to see my fellow citizens lead a life free from discrimination and poverty.
As a person with a disability, I know, firsthand, what it means to live a life of segregation. And I know the feeling of being discriminated against and unaccepted because of one’s abilities. Having experienced those feelings, it is more than a pleasure to be part of ChildFund’s mission to support children with disabilities.
Reporting by ChildFund Ethiopia
When Mekdes was just 3 years old, her father passed away and her mother was unable to take care of her daughter on her own. So Mekdes went to live with her grandmother in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Today, 14 years later, Mekdes should be enrolled in grade 10 at Ketchene Secondary School, but times have been tough in recent years.
Mekdes was making good grades and enjoying her classes. Then her grandmother lost her job—their only source of income. Mekdes was forced to drop out of school and start working before she completed the national high school leaving examination that would open the door to advanced education.
Fighting back tears, she explains her situation: “We have no income at this time for our living. We have no one to help us. Our lives [have] become strange and gloomy. We are passing the day without food and go to bed with hunger.”
Since dropping out of school, Mekdes worked as a hairdresser and a day laborer for a small company, but her real dream is to finish school and become a doctor.
In March, we asked our Twitter followers to post 200 tweets and retweets focused on girls and women during a four-day time period culminating on International Women’s Day. As an incentive for the awareness-building campaign, we would honor our Twitter followers by awarding a one-year scholarship to a deserving Ethiopian girl (one of the items available in ChildFund’s Gifts of Love & Hope catalog).
ChildFund’s Twitter followers surpassed the goal, unleashing 275 tweets like: “Secure girls = strong women,” and “Being a student makes a girl unavailable for marriage.”
Mekdes is the recipient of the scholarship gift. She plans to work during the day and take evening classes so that she can complete her secondary education.
“Now with the help I got from ChildFund, I will start to train in hair dressing and make money,” she says of her near-term goals. “For me, ChildFund is my life. My grandmom is also so happy with the chance I got. She cried first when she heard the news, delighted with the hope we get from ChildFund.”
Thank you, ChildFund Tweeps!
Over the course of January’s 31 days, we’re making a blog stop in each country where we serve children, thanks to the generous support of our sponsors and donors. Today we listen in on the dreams expressed by a youth in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
“If he succeeded in doing it, why not me?” asks 15-year-old Frehiwot, her face serious. “I believe nothing is impossible as long as one decides to do it.”
It’s an expansive dream for a child growing up in the slums of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. But her dream is not without precedent.
Frehiwot dreams of becoming like Kitaw Ejigu. “Kitaw was a famous astronomer,” she explains. “He worked hard in school, went abroad through a state scholarship to pursue higher education, completed his degree and became a great person in the world. I will study hard, and when I get scholarship to enter university, I will study and become famous, too.”
While it is true that sometimes unbelievable things can happen, it is even harder to imagine when you look at the living standard in the Arada slum, where Frehiwot lives with her parents and two siblings in a mud-and-wood house covered by a rusted metal roof. The family uses an open, overfull mud latrine, right next to their house. Big green flies from there buzz outside their door and through the living space. The family’s water comes from a public well.
Frehiwot is fortunate, however, to be enrolled with ChildFund Ethiopia, through which she regularly receives school supplies. She will soon enter grade 10.
“I like school,” she says. “For me, school is everything, the place where one can be prepared to become the person he or she dreams of becoming in the future. I will even say that school is like my parents, because when I am educated and start to work in a country other than my own, what I have learned from school will take care of me like my own parents do, and even better. The government often provides scholarships to good students to do further studies, and I think that is a good opportunity. So all I need to do is to study hard and make good grades.”
Frehiwot’s highest grades are in her favorite subjects, physics and mathematics. She is also a member of the school media and science clubs, and she enjoys participating in school debates.
When asked how she would advise other children of her age about school given the chance, Frehiwot pauses, then speaks gravely. “I will tell them that school is a good place to be, and that if they want to be great people they should go to school and take their lessons seriously,” she says. “I will also tell them that if one is not educated, he or she is like a domestic animal. They obey anything the owner orders, whether good or not. So if you are not educated, you can be used by educated people any kind of way, for better or for worse. You are not able to read anything written against you.”
After a long silence and a deep breath, she concludes, in a soft voice, “My only hope is that I will secure a government scholarship and accommodation at the university. Otherwise I have nowhere to turn to for help.”