Earlier this week, ChildFund President & CEO Anne Lynam Goddard visited the White House for the launch of Let Girls Learn, a U.S. government initiative that aims to make education accessible for all girls worldwide, despite some daunting obstacles. Girls’ rights and the barriers to them figure strongly in our work at ChildFund, so it is thrilling to see such a major push led by the Office of the First Lady, involving USAID, the State Department, the Peace Corps and other agencies. You can read more of Anne’s thoughts on Let Girls Learn on her Tumblr page.
On the ChildFund blog, we’ve written about many girls and young women who have overcome significant barriers to attaining a full education — including early marriage, spotty electrical power, long walks to school and cultural mores that discourage women from getting an education. Read about Phanny, a Zambian woman who works as an automotive repair supervisor; Mahdia, an Afghani woman who is learning to read despite the objection of some of her male relatives; and Alexia, a Dominican police officer who encourages her younger siblings to remain in school. They’re heroines in our book.
By Janat Totakhail, ChildFund Afghanistan
Janana is 15 and the oldest of four sisters. They live in a village in northern Afghanistan near the border of Tajikistan, where few children — especially girls — have the opportunity to get an education. Janana, too, had never been allowed by her mother and father to attend school.
Her father works as a shopkeeper and sometimes as a hired farmer, while her mother takes care of the household. As the oldest sister, Janana also has many responsibilities at home. But she always hoped to go to school. Today, that goal has become a strong possibility.
In Afghanistan, ChildFund supports Child-Friendly Spaces (CFS) where children and teens can study and play. In Janana’s village and four more, we started 10 CFSs in 2013: one for boys and one for girls in each community, and 1,001 children have taken part in the program. Many have experienced war-related trauma and are still at risk of violence, abuse and neglect, so the spaces don’t just serve educational needs. They help keep children safe and also let community members plan for emergencies, particularly how to protect their children. Once ChildFund’s direct supervision ended in January, community members have stepped in to run the programs.
The CFSs for girls have eased some of the stigma attached to education for young women. Janana persuaded her parents to let her attend.
Now, it is her second home, giving her a place to learn and spend time with girls from her neighborhood. Janana is able to read and write names and short sentences, and she’s about a year away from mastering primary school-level literacy and numeracy. One of her sisters has joined her at the CFS.
“I like learning the Pashto language,” Janana says, “and I feel proud and empowered while reading a letter for my parents and helping my little sister to read and write.”
If she had not attended the CFS, she adds, “my life would be different. I would be busy all day with housework, with no opportunity to interact with peers, make friends, play, and learn to read and write.”
Janana’s parents also are happy to see their daughter progressing in her studies.
“An illiterate person is like a blind person,” her father says. “My daughter helps me to learn Islamic principles; she reads for me the letters, invitations and wedding cards; takes note of money that I lend to people, and she helps me understand the details of the electricity bill. She helps her mother and sisters in understanding personal hygiene and health issues. I am proud having Janana as a helping hand.”
Kochai, who facilitates the CFS, also has noticed her progress: “Janana has been very active participating in learning activities. She learned to respect parents and elders, gained awareness in health and hygiene, and, more importantly, is progressing well in literacy and numeracy. I am hopeful that one day she will join school with children of her age.”
Her family, too, is encouraging Janana to continue her education at a school close to her village. She has a big dream for the future: “I want to be a teacher, to help all school-age girls in my village to go to school and learn to make their future and help others.”
As you may have noticed during the past few months, we have encouraged ChildFund supporters to purchase bikes as part of our Dream Bikes program. Girls in Sri Lanka and India face long walks to school, as well as attendant danger and exhaustion. Bicycles make a real difference.
And now, 1,000 girls will have their wheels, thanks to the generosity of our donors. We cannot thank you enough. We could not be prouder of everyone that contributed to this campaign, which began in September. Together, we raised enough money to provide 1,000 girls with bikes in less than 140 days. That’s about seven bikes a day!
Maybe you clicked onto our website and saw the video of Hirabai on her bicycle. Or you were scanning through Facebook and saw our posts about Dream Bikes on Giving Tuesday in December. However you found out about our Dream Bike campaign, we are so happy that you did — and that you took action to help a girl stay in school.
Thank you to everyone who helped us to reach our goal in record time, but more importantly, thank you for changing 1,000 girls’ lives and giving them the opportunity to finish their education, which they might have had to otherwise forego.
If you missed our Dream Bikes campaign, don’t worry. You can still contribute $100 and help change a life. Because you know what’s better than giving 1,000 bicycles? Giving 2,000!
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
For 50 days, ChildFund is joining with numerous organizations to demonstrate support for government policies and programs that will allow women and girls to be healthy, empowered, and safe — no matter where they live. Improving the Health of Women and Girls is this week’s theme.
Visiting the doctor is usually a mild inconvenience in the United States. It may entail a drive across town and a sit in a waiting room filled with people coughing and sneezing. But in Senegal, which has only 822 doctors serving a population of more than 12 million, seeking medical attention is a major undertaking.
For some families, it’s too much. Sadio is the mother of 2-year-old twin girls in the village of Pakala, which is often flooded during the rainy season. This makes it difficult to travel 6 kilometers (more than 3 miles) to the nearest health post staffed by nurses. Awa and Adama suffer from respiratory problems, and Adama is especially sickly, having come down with a debilitating cold that required a doctor’s care — a 30-mile journey from home to a hospital.
Sadio and her husband Moussa, a farmer, have experienced loss before; their first child, Matar, died in 2007 at 13 months from diarrhea and a respiratory infection. But today their village has a health hut, which is staffed by a matron, community health workers and birth attendants. They can help patients with basic needs, but more complicated illnesses and ailments still call for a trip to the health post 3 miles away or 30 miles to the hospital.
Sadio reports that her diet improved during her pregnancy with the twins after receiving advice at the health hut, but her girls still face challenges from the respiratory infection; also, they were born underweight.
The health of women and girls is important to ChildFund, as we work with local partners to provide access to health care in isolated villages as well as underserved urban areas in developing nations. In Senegal, ChildFund is leading the implementation of a $40 million grant from USAID to establish community health care services for children and families in great need.
Over five years, we plan to establish 2,151 health huts and 1,717 outreach sites throughout the country, along with a sustainable national community health policy working in partnership with USAID and other key community development organizations. By the end of the project, we expect to have helped more than 9 million Senegalese people in 72 districts.
By Sagita Adesywi, ChildFund Indonesia
Anastasia, a 16-year-old from the Indonesian island of Flores had the honor of being the youngest keynote speaker at two events aimed at helping communities be better prepared for natural disasters. Last week, Anastasia attended the 2012 International Day for Disaster Reduction and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Day for Disaster Management in Bangkok.
She was asked to participate at the events, not only because of her age, but also because of her tenacious work to increase children’s awareness of the hazards of natural disasters. “I live in a very vulnerable area, where there are many hazards: earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, landslides, volcanic eruptions,” she says. “Here, as in most other places, children are the most vulnerable group when these natural disasters take place. Children need to be educated to understand the hazards and respond to the risks.”
Anastasia, who has been sponsored through ChildFund since she was 8 years old, has been involved in Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) trainings for the last two years. During this time, she has completed three DRR courses and basic first aid.
In 2010, Anastasia’s interests led her to join the Youth Forum for DRR in Flores. She became a youth facilitator and coordinated the youth group’s participation in a national tsunami drill, an exercise led by the National Disaster Management Agency. This experience and her previous trainings prepared Anastasia well for her speech in Bangkok.
“ChildFund trained me well and really supported me in learning about DRR along with other youth in Flores. I know what to do in emergency situations and can spread that knowledge to people around me,” she says.
“The greatest benefit in joining this conference is that I’ve been able to meet many people who work in DRR in other ASEAN countries. They have all increased my understanding of DRR.”
As the keynote, Anastasia spoke about her experiences in helping children and youth understand the hazards of natural disasters. She discussed the challenges of developing action plans in schools and participated in a focus group discussion on encouraging youth (particularly girls) to become more involved in DRR activities in their neighborhoods.
One of Anastasia’s proudest moments was reading the “Women’s Declaration” statement. In fact, her efforts to include the issues of gender and youth in DRR conversations earned an award by ASEAN and the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.
“I am very happy. I am so proud and amazed, that I can be here to meet, speak and discuss with professionals who have long experiences in disaster risk reduction,” she says. “In media interviews, I can show that I can do something to aid DRR efforts in Indonesia.”
Anastasia is currently preparing for her final school exams. In her free time, she and her friends conduct capacity and vulnerability analyses to help youth develop action plans in preparation for natural disasters.
“My hope is that DRR training can start at Early Childhood Development (ECD) centers so that children receive the training they need and will know what to do and not panic when a crisis hits.”
Currently, ChildFund Indonesia is working to add disaster risk reduction training as a component of the ECD program. With these trainings, young children and their mothers will have greater awareness and knowledge of ways to cope in the event of a disaster and will be more empowered to bring positive change to their communities – as Anastasia is doing in Flores.
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.