Telling the Stories of Children

New Year signby Virginia Sowers, ChildFund Community Manager

Happy Ethiopian New Year! In case you’re not following the Orthodox Julian calendar, which is seven years and eight months behind the Gregorian calendar, it’s 2004. The New Year began Sept. 11 and celebrations continue for about two weeks. Thus, my colleagues and I who’ve met in Addis Ababa this week for ChildFund’s Africa region communications training are feeling younger than we’ve felt in years. It’s going to make a great story when we return home.

In fact, that’s the reason the communications officers from ChildFund’s national offices in Africa have come together this week — to talk about storytelling.

woman and man

Monica Rukundo of Uganda and Emmanuel Ford of Liberia

Bernardo from Angola. Joan from Kenya. Arcenio from Mozambique. Ya Sainey from the Gambia, Emmanuel from Liberia, Priscilla from Zambia, Arthur from Guinea, Selamawit from Ethiopia and Monica from Uganda.

three women at table

Tenagne Mekonnen, Ethiopia; Ya Sainey Gaye, Gambia; Monica Planas, Americas region

“It’s the first time we’ve had nine members of our communications staff together for training,” says Tenagne Mekonnen, regional communications manager for Africa. “I am happy and excited. I’m sure it will help all of us to improve our storytelling and our news reporting.”

Led by Christine Ennulat, ChildFund’s Communications & Public Affairs writer, with assistance from Julien Anseau, Asia regional communications manager, this week-long session is the first of three. Monica Planas, regional communications manager for the Americas also has joined us in Addis, as she will be hosting a similar session next month in Honduras. Julien will be hosting the Asia region training in Indonesia.

I’m along to assist with the training and also gain more hand’s-on experience in talking with children and families in our projects and then telling their stories to ChildFund’s supporters.

This week we’ve been exploring key elements of memorable stories, the art of observation, news values, interviewing techniques, photography, video and social media.

We’ve tackled some challenging issues that arise when reporting from the field. What are the most relevant stories for our supporters? How do you capture concrete details? How do you get shy children talking? How do you work effectively with translators? What steps can you take to improve photos shot  in a family’s poorly lighted home?

mother, child and neighbors

Neighbors in the Arada community.

These last two days of the week are being spent in the field, visiting ChildFund projects in urban slums near Addis. We’re interviewing children, youth and community members in Arada and Semen Ber to learn about their daily lives.

One thing we all know as we walk the rock-strewn back alleys of Addis, teeming with livestock, litter, mothers cooking on outdoor stoves and children scuffling in the dirt — these are stories that need to be told.

Drought’s Terrible Toll

Anne Lynam Goddard, ChildFund president and CEO, recalls her work in East Africa during a drought in the 1980s. Accompanying her husband on a trip to a refugee camp, she took her healthy infant son, who was a stark contrast to the Ethiopian children near starvation. It was an experience she will never forget.

Child Eagerly Awaits Respite from Drought

by Tenagne Mekonnen, Africa Region Communications Manager

Ethiopia’s Oromo region has been hard-hit by the drought. Last year’s crops failed, leaving hundreds of thousands hungry. Although the rains have now come to some areas, the months between now and the November harvest remain dire due to dwindling food supplies. ChildFund is working with its local association partner to distribute relief food in the Siraro area, where ChildFund’s regional communications manager met 12-year-old Derartu.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
Photo of Derartu in EthiopiaMy name is Derartu, and I live in Siraro District. I’m in fifth grade and attend Damine Gadana primary school. My father died when I was young, so my mother raises our family. I have seven siblings.

Tell me more about your family’s situation and how the drought has affected you.
My mom has a half hectare [1.2 acres], and we get food from our farm. Although the land is small, before the drought we could get enough food from this land for the whole family. We ate three times a day and were never hungry. I was going to school with a full stomach, attending class and actively involved.

This year I am not happy. I am struggling due to the absence of rain. My mom could not harvest maize, and we started to see a food shortage in our home. We started looking for food near the house, but it was not easy like before. My mother started going to market three days a week, walking 5 km [3.2 miles] away from our village for petty trade.

She bought maize and local cabbage to feed us. But it was not enough to feed all of us. The little food I ate wasn’t enough to keep me in my school. I love to study, but without regular food it was not easy.

Skipping lunch or dinner and still continuing school is just too hard — how to walk to school without food? How to study? I become hungry in the middle of the class and have no concentration. Due to lack of food, my academic performance is very low this year.

How has the support from ChildFund helped you and your family?
You just don’t know how happy I am — words can’t explain enough. The distribution of food from the organization will enable me to eat. I will not be hungry. I don’t want to be hungry again, and not have food at home to eat.

With this rain we are finally getting, we hope our crop will mature for harvest and we will start producing enough food again. Our life will hopefully get back to normal, and I will continue my education.

A Close-up Look at the East Africa Drought

Based in Ethiopia, Isam Ghanim, ChildFund’s executive vice president for Global Programs, answers questions about the cause and impact of the drought in East Africa. Read the full interview with Isam on ChildFund’s website.

Photo of Isam Ghanim

Isam Ghanim, ChildFund's executive vice president for Global Programs

What has led to this food crisis?
It’s a situation that we refer to as a slow-onset emergency. This was caused by two consecutive rainy seasons failing, and the short rainy seasons in Kenya and Ethiopia also failed. This has led to an increase in food prices. There is also high inflation in all of these countries. And there is violence in Somalia. A significant number of Somalians have moved to established camps in Ethiopia and Kenya.

Families entered this crisis with depleted assets and very poor physical conditions. For almost two years now, they have been affected by food shortages. They are suffering from nutritional stress. There is only so long you can cope before you fall into acute malnutrition. The environmental conditions and the health conditions take their toll.

What is the current situation?
More than 11.5 million people are affected. In the areas where ChildFund works, we estimate 660,000 people are affected, with 7,000 children facing life-threatening conditions. This is a very serious situation. Stress indicators are reaching the levels that you see in the middle of a famine. Without immediate intervention, children will die.

What impacts of the drought are we seeing?
Children and their parents are malnourished and at increased risk of disease due to poor hygiene because of the shortage of water. They are suffering from physical and emotional stress. People are moving from their homes.

The most grievously affected are women and children. They have less capability to move. For young children, there is a permanent impact on their health — stunting, wasting, mental development. If the mother is breastfeeding, she won’t have enough milk. When parents are under significant stress, the normal care and support for children will be minimized.

What is ChildFund doing to help?
ChildFund is addressing the immediate life-threatening conditions affecting children — providing food, water and basic health services, as well as supplemental feeding through early childhood care and development centers to ensure babies and young children will not fall into acute malnutrition.

In addition, ChildFund is working to help families stay in their own communities so that when the rains come in September they are there to plant crops and cultivate their farms. If they don’t plant, they will lose another harvest and experience another year without food.

There is also a need to address child protection issues. Parents are too weak to care for their children. They have no roof over their head. Providing support is critical so that families don’t deplete their resources as part of their coping mechanism.

Read the complete interview and learn more about ChildFund’s response in the Horn of Africa.

ChildFund Will Stay Painted in My Heart

Guest post by Seble

Sponsored as a child in Ethiopia, Seble, now 22, reflects on how far she has traveled.

Photo of Seble smiling


Since my childhood, ChildFund has been walking beside me, helping me be all that I wanted to be. I completed my education because of the support of the organization. I can’t also ignore the extra support coming on an occasional basis from my sponsor — it helped me to fill in the gap.

Today I am a teacher at a primary school earning 841Birr (US$49) a month. Now I am able to stand on my feet; I can support myself and my family.

The other thing that touches my heart very much when I think about ChildFund is its effort in the development of not just the individual but also the community. The school built in my village, with the support of ChildFund, is now benefiting the community in general. The water scheme [system], again through the support of ChildFund, gave the community access to safe drinking water.

What can I say? ChildFund’s good work will stay painted in my heart forever!

Sponsorship Made Selfnesh ‘Different Today’

by ChildFund Ethiopia

Photo of Selfnesh in Ethiopia

Selfnesh, 12, stands outside her family's house. (Jake Lyell Photography)

Five years ago, Selfnesh lived in a one-room house with her family about 65 miles outside Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. That single room served many purposes — kitchen, bedroom, living space and covered shelter for the family’s cattle.

Like many others in the Sodo Buee Child and Family Development Association, with whom ChildFund partners, Selfnesh’s family are subsistence farmers. On their small parcel of land, they grow false banana trees, which provide the family’s main source of food. The false banana is a common source of nourishment for this area, and community members prepare bread and porridge from the root part of the tree. Because this meager farming is not enough for Selfnesh’s family’s basic needs, her father has sometimes found work as a guard, earning 400 birr, or about $23.50, a month.

But life changed for Selfnesh five years ago when her family learned about ChildFund and enrolled Selfnesh in community programs. Before long, Selfnesh had a sponsor.

Now 12, Selfnesh is attending school and making new discoveries every day. Even better, she gets to share these learning experiences with her elder sister, Meselu, who got the opportunity to attend school for the first time when Selfnesh became enrolled — ChildFund programs benefit the entire family.

And with extra financial support from Selfnesh’s sponsor, the family has built a sheet metal house. “Now I can say we have a house, which is built from better materials, and has three rooms: bedroom, kitchen and living room,” exclaims Selfnesh. “Now we are not in the same room with our livestock.”

Selfnesh holds one of her family's goats. (Jake Lyell Photography)

ChildFund also provided the family with an ox, two cows and an expectant goat. “Now we also drink milk and sell some to get income out of it,” Selfnesh says. “Our goats are multiplied from one to three,” she adds gleefully.

Selfnesh also has something else she’s happy about — a nest egg. Using some of the money sent by her sponsor for special occasions through the years, Selfnesh opened a savings account, and proudly reports a tidy sum. She plans to use the money only when she and her family have an urgent need. She adds: “Thanks to my sponsor and ChildFund — who made us different today.”

Facilitating a Culture of Learning within ChildFund

by Manal Durri, ChildFund Ethiopia Child Protection and Gender Coordinator

Sarah Bouchie, ChildFund’s new vice president of Program Development, spent her second week on the job visiting two projects for children in Ethiopia. Our staff  in Ethiopia caught up with Sarah as she prepared to return to the U.S., where she will be based in ChildFund’s Washington, D.C., office.

Would you please tell us your opinion on the interventions you have seen in our urban and rural areas?

Photo of young girl presenting flowers to Sarah Bouchie

A young girl presents a bouquet of flowers to Sarah upon her arrival at Ayer Tena community-based organization.

I was very impressed with the dedication of the staff in both sites. The work that has gone into building local affiliates to carry out ChildFund’s work is admirable. Staff and board members in the CBOs [community-based organizations] could articulate clearly what they were trying to achieve and the activities they have undertaken to make them happen. It appeared as if careful consideration had been given to how we collaborate with local governments as well.

Photo of children  in Feto ECD

Children at the ECD Centre in Feto.

It was also nice to see how spaces for children had been created in schools and ECD [early childhood development] centers in both sites. I was pleased to hear community members, board members and staff talk about their efforts to address child-protection issues, and it is clear that there are compelling stories about how ChildFund’s support has changed the lives of individuals in both sites.

Have you observed anything unique in our interventions from what you have experienced before?

Photo of children with Sarah Bouchie

Meeting with children from Feto.

A couple of things struck me as unique results, or ways of working, that ChildFund has in the two sites I visited.

In the community that we visited in Boset, the pass rate of students — and of girls in particular — was very impressive. It sounds like the school is doing some things very well that might deserve a good look.

I also heard that communities were changing practice around harmful traditional practices. It might be worthwhile to dig into this deeper and find out how deep this perception translates to people’s daily practice and to try to identify some of the things that make the approach so successful. For sure, I was pleased to see that both sites had worked to ensure that referrals to government systems for child protection were in place.

Finally, I think that ChildFund might be in a unique position to be able to advocate about the most cost-effective way to provide services for OVC [orphans and vulnerable children]. Through the sponsorship program, focused on vulnerable children using the DEV framework [deprived, excluded and vulnerable children], and through SCSN [Strengthening Community Safety Nets], ChildFund has experimented with two very different models of delivering support to children in greatest need. With some investigation, we might be able to help shape policies about how to best deliver support to these children in the most cost-effective way. If we can track some of the children who participated in both programs over time, we could help to determine if higher cost per child programming gives deeper, more lasting benefits to communities and children in the long run.

In addition to positive things you saw, could you address any areas for improvement that you may have observed?

Some of the things that I think the national office seems to be doing well include community mobilization, working with CBOs and capacity building, improving educational outcomes, creating child-friendly spaces and networking to referral systems for child protection cases.

Some things to keep working on might be around analyzing high-cost and low- cost models of programming to reach OVC; conducting staff reflections about gender and harmful traditional practices — particularly with CBO staff; and thinking about some common protocols that we might use in communities to ensure we model the behavior we seek in others around upholding children’s rights and dignity in everything we do.

As the Vice President of Program Development, what will be your focus and how will you support national offices like Ethiopia in your new position?

Photo of Boset board with Sarah Bouchie

Meeting with members of the board of Boset CBO.

I play many roles in ChildFund. In my role on the executive team, I have a responsibility to ensure that resources are allocated in the most efficient and effective way possible to ensure better outcomes for children. To do that effectively, I need and want input about what we can do to make our operations more efficient and our programs more impactful.

I hope that in my position as the head of the program development team, I can help to facilitate a culture of learning in the organization that contributes to those ends. I think my team and I exist to help the organization learn from what it has done well (and not so well), and share that across the development community. We also help raise resources that facilitate innovation and high standards for our work globally.

I look forward to working with national offices to see how we can do this most effectively, and how my team and I can help bring voice to the lessons that are being learned around the ChildFund world.

A Backyard Garden Changed Our Lives

Guest post by Berhane, an Ethiopian mother

photo of family in garden

Berhane, 28, sits in her family's vegetable patch with her five children (left to right) Frehiot, 9; Yohannes, 5; Ermias, 10 months; Tarik, 13; and Matadel, 7. They live near Semen Shewa, Ethiopia.

Before ChildFund gave us training about the importance and the necessity of backyard gardening, I didn’t know how to do or understand the benefit.

Today my family and I are not only enjoying our garden but we are even making a profit from the product we raise.

Photo of Tarik


There is a big demand for the vegetables. The prices increased. Therefore, we all make sure the garden is kept well and taken care to give the products.

We are eating different vegetables according to the seasons and our diet has improved. The income from these products supports us to buy school materials for the children.

All photos by Jake Lyell Photography.

photo of mother and child

Berhane and 10-month-old Ermias

Photo of Matadel


Commemorating the International Day of the African Child

Reporting by Tenagne Mekonnen, Africa Regional Communications Manager

The Day of the African Child, marked each year on June 16, stems from the brutality and cruelty inflicted on children in Soweto, South Africa, in 1976 during apartheid.

Thousands of black schoolchildren went to the street to protest the inferior quality of their education and to demand their right to be taught in their own language. Hundreds of young boys and girls were shot down, and in the two weeks of protest that followed, more than 100 were killed and more than 1,000 injured.

Group photo of Ethiopian childrenEach year, schoolchildren across Africa honor the memory of those killed and the courage of all who marched. This year, children in ChildFund’s Ethiopian programs share a song and their artwork to commemorate the day.

Song for the Day of the African Child

by Meseret, 13, and Jerusalem, 12

Listen now, listen now
We children we know
We deserve the love of mothers and fathers
We need to be free of child abusers
We know, we know
Child abuse is not right
We have education right
Listen, listen
Parents and communities
We children have rights
We are tomorrow’s doctors and leaders
Listen, listen
Be gender sensitive
Abandon rape
Beating and insult is not good for us
Advise us and guide and grow us
To help us be good citizens

Art by Yabsra and Kuribachew

Yabsra's drawingYabsra, 14, Grade 8
On my art, I have tried to show a child who has opportunity to go to school and another street child who is crying there. At the same time, I tried to show the student who went to school greeted the [street child] and another child, being carried by his mom, waved his hand to this boy. There is also a teacher who is calling the street boy to join the school. The message I want to pass on is that everybody, regardless of age, should give love and respect to children and take care of them. I have tried to teach the community to support orphaned and street children as they are their own.

Kuribachew's drawingKuribachew, 12, Grade 6
I have tried to express my feeling on my art. We need to take care of orphan children. I tried to show how children receive educational materials and uniforms for their school needs. This is to teach the community to continue their support.

Q&A with Pierre Jablon of Un Enfant par la Main

by Selamawit Yilma, Communications Officer, ChildFund Ethiopia

Un Enfant par la Main, based in France, is a member of the ChildFund Alliance. The 12-member global organization, which includes ChildFund International, provides assistance to children in 59 countries.  Chairman of the Board Pierre Jablon recently led a sponsor visit to Ethiopia.

Photo of Pierre Jablon

Pierre Jablon, chairman of the board, Un Enfant par la Main, a member of the ChildFund Alliance.

ChildFund Ethiopia: Would you please tell us a little about your organization?
Pierre Jablon: Un Enfant par la Main is a member of ChildFund Alliance and is based in France. The name Un Enfant par la Main refers to the linkage between the mother and child, and it has an English translation of “holding a child’s hand.” Established in 1990, the organization is involved in about 15 countries including Ethiopia. Ethiopia is the third [largest] country with regard to the number of sponsored children we have, next to Mali and Senegal.

ChildFund Ethiopia: What is your impression of Ethiopia in general?
Jablon: I am impressed very much by the people I see on the street and have met on our field visits. The people are so kind, smiling. They also have sense of dedication to welcome others.

ChildFund Ethiopia: What is the purpose of organizing the group of sponsors from France to visit Ethiopia?
Jablon: The first objective was to better understand what ChildFund Ethiopia is doing and how you are organized — to learn more about the system of sponsorship and financing and to know what challenges you are facing. The second objective was to be a witness to the event while sponsors meet their children and share their feeling.

ChildFund Ethiopia: Did anything strike you differently than you expected?
Jablon: I was not completely aware of the development of the association and the system used to organize the communities, which encourages them to take over the responsibility and be engaged more in the community work. Other countries also work closely with the community, but the system I noticed here is very impressive.

ChildFund Ethiopia: What was the feeling of the sponsors while they visited their sponsored children and learned about some of the interventions of our partners? Was it interesting for them?
Jablon: It was an important moment in their lives. For most of them, it was their first time to meet their sponsored children so it was a very significant event for them. They were very happy, emotional and positive. We would like to organize similar visits at least once a year but one of our barriers to sending sponsors to Ethiopia was the language problem. Most of our sponsors speak only French so they need a translator. But this time, they were happy because they were able to converse with their children and their families with the help of the team and the translator.

ChildFund Ethiopia: Is there any other expectation from the sponsors that we need to improve more in the future?
Jablon: Some of the concerns mentioned by the sponsors were to receive pictures of their sponsored children more frequently to see their physical change and growth. It is also important to have up-to-date information of the children as well as news flashes on what activities are successful for the children, families and community. Strengthening communication is important to all sponsors, and most sponsors had positive feedback on ChildFund’s sponsor activities.

ChildFund Ethiopia: Un Enfant par la Main delegated you to lead the team to visit ChildFund Ethiopia. Can you share with us a few thoughts on how your board members, and you as a chairman, are actively involved in supporting the organization and what motivates you to work on behalf of children?
Jablon: Let me start with myself. I joined Un Enfant par la Main in 2006. Before I came to this organization, I used to work with UNICEF France. I was involved in many similar activities there, like talking with children in school and doing promotional and communication work. However, I was looking for an organization that has international collaboration and is smaller in size, enabling me to understand how the donated resources reach the children and to see the impact at the individual level. I found all this in Un Enfant par la Main. The important moment for me is being here, and in other countries, is to meet ChildFund staff, introduce our organization and meet children supported through Un Enfant par la Main. Though we are small organization, we want to be closest with our partners.

Regarding to the board activity, most of them are very active and have different responsibilities such as fundraising, coordination of regional volunteer workers and raising the profile of Un Enfant par la Main through various meetings and other opportunities.

ChildFund Ethiopia: Currently Un Enfant par la Main has about 450 sponsored children in Ethiopia. Is there any plan to increase this number or enhance the partnership between Un Enfant par la Main and ChildFund Ethiopia to help children in Ethiopia?
Jablon: I have discussed this issue with the national director and agreed that if there is room to increase the number of sponsored children, we would like to do that. In addition, we would like to strengthen our partnership by starting micro projects in communities where Un Enfant par la Main sponsored children live. As I observed from my visit, micro–enterprise opportunities exist and have a positive impact of increasing family income.

ChildFund Ethiopia: Do you want to add any more?
Jablon: I would like to thank the team from ChildFund Ethiopia. It was a really fantastic welcome and excellent cooperation. I hope we could also do more to inform and motivate the sponsors from France. In the future, we may also prepare another trip since this trip has been so successful.

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