By Saroj Pattnaik, ChildFund India
At Avadi Municipal Middle School in Thirvalluru, India, the story of the animal kingdom is literally painted on the walls. Each day, students entering the school are greeted by a massive mural, a colorful landscape with wild animals in their environment.
On another wall of the fourth-grade classroom are posters demonstrating fruits and vegetables and their importance in our daily diet.
“These are things our students get to see every day,” teacher P. Jayanthi says. “They not only see those paintings and posters but learn a lot from them. Now, it is easy for us to teach our students through these materials.”
The paintings and other learning materials were made available to the school by ChildFund India under its Enhanced Education Quality Improvement Program (EQuIP). Supported by the Caterpillar Foundation, this program is being implemented in about 100 primary and middle schools around Chennai, the capital city of the southernmost Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
The three-year project, which started in September 2011, seeks to make comprehensive quality improvements in 100 schools in Villivakkam and Ambattur areas of Thiruvallur and Chennai districts of Tamil Nadu. These schools are run by the government and most students are from impoverished homes. Many are from the first generation of their families to attend school, so they may lack full support at home. So far, the project has reached more than 4,800 students.
“These wall paintings and hangings have made our task fairly easy. They not only help the classroom look great, but also help us in a great way to engage children in learning activities continuously,” says Mercy, a teaching assistant.
“All the classrooms of our school have some kind of thematic wall paintings, and we have observed that the paintings have helped gain students’ focus and increase learning,” she adds. “This has helped us greatly in teaching slower learners or those who take a longer time to grasp any subject material. We are thankful to ChildFund India for this support.”
Under EQuIP, schools were provided with learning modules specially designed for delayed learners, as well as workbooks, whiteboards, pencils, art materials, science sets, ceiling fans, round classroom tables and computers, among other resources. ChildFund has also appointed teachers trained to work with delayed learners.
The project has the following key objectives:
“Many slower learners suffer from low self-esteem and lack confidence,” says teacher N. Nalini. “You can address this not only by praising small achievements but also by personalizing lessons.
“I always keep this in mind and encourage them to work on their learning abilities. I encourage children to use our learning materials to observe, predict and solve problems. I invite them to tell stories and revise lessons on a regular basis. They like the attention given to them.” When the project started last year in this school, about two dozen children were designated as delayed learners. Now, 20 of these students have improved dramatically and are at par with their peers, she adds.
Eight-year-old Pallikondal had a problem in identifying animals a year ago. But today, she says, “I know everything about these animals in this painting,” pointing to the elephants.
School Management Committee member M. Laxmi is pleased about the progress her three grandchildren have made at school. “They are all doing well in their studies. I am very happy.”
By Saroj Pattnaik, ChildFund India
Kshetrapal, 33, and his family live in the town of Firozabad in India’s Uttar Pradesh region, an area known for its home-based bangle industry. With no other source of income, the family saw no alternative but to do this difficult and often dangerous work.
“I and all my family members were spending more than 10 hours every day in joining, sorting and coloring bangles in a very distressful environment,” Kshetrapal recalls. “I never liked that work, but I had no choice at all.”
Along with his wife, his younger brother and elderly parents, Kshetrapal used to crouch over hot, smoky stoves for all those hours welding the ends of glass bangles and decorating them with glitter — until he enrolled in ChildFund India’s Sustainable Livelihood Development Program.
Started in 2012 as a pilot in Firozabad supported by ChildFund Deutschland (Germany), the program aims to empower people, especially youths engaged in bangle making, to adapt to changing circumstances and take up sustainable business ventures of their own choosing.
“The Sustainable Livelihood Development Program is a great program through which we can help the youth and women become independent and self-sufficient,” says Dr. Werner Kuepper, ChildFund Deutschland’s program director. “With the help of this initiative, the local youth can be free from the bangle work and start up something of their own that is new and has sustainability.”
The program’s organizers first examined the participants’ lives, including their education, their current livelihoods and what kind of work they wished to do. During the second phase, the participants were trained to come up with business plans, develop commercial models and test the new business models in open-market conditions. They attended classes, worked in groups and collected market information, as well as creating prototypes of their products.
“Many a time, I wanted to start some other business that would allow me to get rid of this distressful bangle making,” Kshetrapal says. “But I had no idea of how to start a new business, nor had I money for it.” But a friend of his brother mentioned the livelihood program, and Kshetrapal enrolled.
During the program, the father of four was asked if he had a business in mind. “I shared my thoughts of starting a snack-making business, which I had harbored for several years but didn’t know how to start it,” he says. “During the training sessions, I was informed about the risks and techniques of running a sustainable business. Subsequently, they fine-tuned my business model, and today I am doing the business quite successfully.”
Kshetrapal’s life has been difficult. He lost his first wife to tuberculosis seven years ago, and he had to leave college to work and support his family.
“After my wife’s death, my father also fell ill because of the excessive smoke, which we had to inhale for hours while making bangles every day,” he recalls. “Since then, I was thinking of an alternate livelihood option, and ChildFund has given me that opportunity. I am so very thankful to this organization.”
Today, Kshetrapal has his own business of producing and distributing snacks, which are highly popular in India. Early this year, he and a few other students presented their business models at an event organized in Firozabad, and he received a certificate from the Bonn-Rhein-Sieg University of Applied Sciences, a German university.
“Today, I am very happy that we have shifted from bangle making to snack making — from unhealthy and painful work to relatively safer and less laborious work,” Kshetrapal says. “My younger brother is now going to college. We are able to earn more than what we used to earn in bangle making. I am very happy and want to scale up my business soon.”
By Saroj Pattnaik, ChildFund India
One in a series this week for World Health Day (April 7)
On a hot afternoon in southern India, the atmosphere inside the small community center was unbearably sultry. But for a group of women, the heat was not terribly bothersome, as they were in the middle of an informative and eye-opening session on child care and parenting skills.
Led by Beula Ruth of the Kalaiselvi Karunalaya Social Welfare Society, one of ChildFund’s local partner organizations in the state of Tamil Nadu, the workshop was aimed at educating pregnant and lactating mothers about prenatal and postnatal care.
“I had no idea about exclusive breastfeeding. I didn’t know that a child needs only breast milk for six long months,” says Saraswathi, a first-time mother of a 5-month-old baby. “This is something that I am hearing for the very first time.”
Beula agrees and adds, “Every time, we come across some women who don’t have the basic knowledge on child care. This is why we continuously conduct such awareness sessions in our project area.”
There has been substantial improvement to government health services in India, but a majority of people living in rural areas still don’t have access to health care. And that’s where ChildFund comes into the picture, by working with the government and local partners to bring public health services to underserved communities.
Here are some of the stark facts about the lives of rural Indians:
(Sources: National Rural Health Mission, Government of India; WHO; Indiafacts.in)
As part of our Early Childhood Development program, ChildFund and its partners in India conduct training sessions for mothers, discussing good nutrition (both for themselves during pregnancy and for their children under the age of 5), developmental benchmarks and preventive health care, among other issues.
Last year, there were more than 9,000 training sessions across India, with more than 180,000 parents and other caregivers participating. As a result, more than 86 percent of births occurred in hospitals or other health institutions, and more than 68,000 children have been fully immunized.
“We make sure that all the communities have the access to government health facilities and if they don’t we bring those services to their doorsteps,” Beula says. “Our ECD workers and volunteers continuously monitor the health of children, pregnant women and new mothers and refer them to nearby hospitals whenever necessary.”
Like Beula, Anita Ghalekar in Chochinde Kond — a remote village in Maharashtra State’s Raigad district — is a busy woman. Even after her retirement from ChildFund’s local partner Pride India, she is committed to maintaining access to health services for local families.
Besides overseeing ChildFund’s home-based ECD intervention activities in her region, Anita leads 15 health camps, which provide workshops and care in individual villages.
“We make sure that all the villages in and around our program area are covered under our programs designed to ensure basic health care of the people, especially children, new mothers and adolescent girls,” says Virendra Kulkarni, manager of Pride India.
“And we implement these programs in such a way that the communities take ownership of them,” he adds. “For example, when we conduct health camps, villagers provide us accommodation, beds and other logistic support required. And this has helped us reach out to a wider population and implement our program successfully.”
Dr. Vijay Kumar Singh, who led a health camp in Uttar Pradesh recently, says, “ChildFund is doing a great work. They are reaching out to people in those places where the government health service has not yet reached.”
Interview by Saroj Pattnaik, ChildFund India
As we conclude our 75th anniversary blog series, we are focusing on success stories of youth and alumni from ChildFund’s programs in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Europe. Today, we hear from Manisha, a 17-year-old girl from India who has been sponsored through ChildFund since 2005.
I belong to a poor and humble family. I am studying in 12th grade, and my younger brother is in 7th grade. My father works as a supervisor in a glass manufacturing factory in Firozabad. He used to be the sole breadwinner for our family, but now my mother also adds to our family’s earnings by working with UNICEF as a community mobilizer. Both my parents are working hard to give us a decent life. We are now a happy family, and I love my parents the most.
But a few years ago, our family was not what it is today. My father was struggling to meet our basic needs. There have been times when my mother had to sleep with an empty stomach, as there was not enough food for all of us. Just to add to our family income, we all started making bangles at home.
I never liked that work of welding the ends of bangles together with the help of a gas stove. We used to sit for hours, welding and coloring the bangles in a very unpleasant atmosphere. Though I was going to school, I had to sit with my parents in sorting or coloring the bangles soon after returning home. I was unable to give much time to my studies. Both my mother and father were having health issues because of the smoke they were exposed to during the day-long bangle work. Even I had developed chest pains and was admitted to hospital several times. But we had no other option then but continuing this unhealthy work.
But things started to change when I became associated with ChidFund. I was enrolled in the Disha Children’s Program and also got a sponsor in 2005. Not only did I start getting the benefits of being a sponsored child, but our entire family benefited. Soon, my mother joined a self-help group promoted by the organization. Slowly, we reduced the bangle-making work at home, with my mother attending parenting sessions and supporting ChildFund field staff in encouraging other women to adopt best child-care practices.
In 2010, my mother was selected as a community mobilizer with UNICEF India because of the training she received through ChildFund. Then, we completely stopped bangle-making at home, and my father joined a glass factory as a supervisor. It’s purely our family’s association with ChildFund that helped bring in these changes.
As a sponsored child, I am very active in all program activities conducted in our town. Earlier, I was a member of a ChildFund-supported children’s club. Now I am an active member of a youth club. We have been participating in various training programs designed to develop our skills and leadership qualities.
I was very quiet and shy as a child, but ChildFund’s activities have truly helped me to open up and express my thoughts clearly. I am now an educated and confident girl. I am well aware of my rights as well as my responsibilities. Now, I have a vision for my life – to become a doctor and serve the deprived and marginalized communities that don’t have access to quality health service even today.
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 Christine Ennulat, ChildFund Senior Writer
Giving Tuesday is a day dedicated to giving back.
And today, we will be doing our part by trying to reach a goal of providing bicycles to 1,000 girls who live in rural villages in Sri Lanka and India — so they can continue their path toward education and economic independence.
In developing countries the world over, girls are up at the crack of dawn, getting ready to leave for school. They have to be, because their morning ritual includes a long, long walk — two miles, three miles or more.
A Year Ago
In Sri Lanka, Sanuja’s trek to school is a gravel road through a deep wilderness, especially scary in the dark. But she has no choice if she is to take advantage of the evening classes her school offers to help children make up ground lost while Sri Lanka’s schools were closed during the recent civil conflict. So, Sanuja leaves the class early or skips it entirely to be home before dark.
In rural India, snakes or scorpions often block Shakuntala’s path to school. Sometimes streams rush down from the hillsides and across the way during the monsoons. Her classmate Hirabai once faced a pack of wild boars.
Both girls remember stopping to help friends who had hurt themselves on the poorly maintained roads, and being late for it. At their school, when anyone is late for any reason, they are made to stand outside of class for an hour.
Sanuja’s attendance at school and her special classes is now regular and punctual, and her grades have improved dramatically — with the gift of a Dream Bike.
Shakuntala, who wants to become a teacher and support her widowed mother, and Hirabai, who aspires to be a police officer, feel much more confident that they’ll be able to achieve their dreams, thanks to the gift of a Dream Bike.
As we focus on giving gifts during the holiday season, consider the girls of India and Sri Lanka who could live happier lives with greater educational and job opportunities, better health and economic freedom. Donate a Dream Bike.
By Saroj Pattnaik, ChildFund India
Today we recognize World AIDS Day by taking a look at the hardships encountered by an Indian boy who was diagnosed HIV-positive after losing his parents to AIDS.
The pain that Appashi has gone through is too overwhelming to be contained in an 11-year-old’s heart. At the age of 3, he lost both his parents to AIDS. Though he found a shelter at his maternal uncle’s place, he soon became a victim of severe discrimination and negligence — because he too was found to be HIV-positive.
Living in India’s Karnataka state, Appashi was kept in a separate room and not allowed to mingle with his uncle’s children, who were all older than him. While they attended school, he was tasked with taking care of the cattle. While the other family members ate together, he took his meals separately in the corner of the room.
“I cannot remember when the last time I had food together with others at my uncle’s house. They often ate chicken, but I was never given any. Whenever I asked for it, I got scolded by my aunt,” Appashi says.
“I was spending my day feeding and taking care of the cattle at home. I was hardly allowed to play, not even with other children in the village. The only thing my uncle was doing for me was that he was taking me to a hospital when I was falling sick,” he recalls. “This was my life till I came here three years ago.”
Appashi was brought to Namma Makkala Dhama, a unique rehabilitation center for orphans and other children affected by HIV and AIDS, run by Ujwala Rural Development Service Society in Bhagalkot district and supported by ChildFund. Last year, the orphanage was renamed as Nammuru Dham (My Village) and was shifted to Bijapur, a small city some 500 kilometers away from Bangalore.
When Appashi came to the orphanage, he was severely malnourished and sick. The officials at the center immediately carried out his health check-up and gave him medication including antiretroviral therapy (ART) — the standard medication used to suppress the HIV virus and stop progression of the disease.
“At the time of admission to our orphanage, he was weighing only 15 kilograms [about 34 pounds], which was much below the standard weight for a 7-year-old,” says URDSS director Vasudev Tolabandi. We gave him special care as required by his health condition. With proper food and medication, his condition improved gradually and now he is weighing 28 kilos [about 62 pounds].”
Appashi, now in fifth grade, says he is relieved to be living in the center and now looks forward to a better life. “I am happy that I don’t have to take care of cattle anymore. I am getting good food, including my favorite dish — chicken curry and scrambled egg,” he says. “All my friends here also like chicken and egg. I think all children should be given chicken, eggs, milk and fruits because they provide all vitamins to our body,” he reasons.
“Here, I have many friends with whom I study and play together. I am lucky to be here,” Appashi says, adding he would like to become a police officer and punish those who commit violence against children.
According to Tolabandi, there are 10 children like Appashi who are HIV-positive and need constant care and supervision. “We had 30 children aged 6 to 14 years at our center. But recently, some children who were not HIV-infected have been allowed to go to their families or relatives’ places on the assurance that they will be taken care of properly,” he says.
“There are so many children who need our help, and we are planning to enroll 25 more children in the orphanage within a couple of weeks,” he says, adding that arranging funds for the children’s basic needs such as food, clothes, medicine and study materials is still a big problem.
You can help children like Appashi on World AIDS Day by making a contribution to the center through our Gifts of Love & Hope catalog.
By Saroj Pattnaik, ChildFund India
He had only heard about stories of big typhoons, but 11-year-old Loknath experienced a devastating storm for himself on Oct. 12, when Cyclone Phailin struck the shores of the eastern Indian state of Odisha.
Loknath, who is enrolled in ChildFund programs, was among a dozen children seeking shelter at a nearby school before the storm, which brought heavy rains and 124 mph winds, causing enormous damage to homes and farmland in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh.
“I was not very sure what was going to happen,” Loknath recalls. “Though there was no electricity, we had some kerosene lamps in the hall. We cooked our food inside the hall and started singing and talking to each other to pass time.
“Gradually, the wind began to blow with a moaning sound. And soon it became louder and louder. I felt as if the wind would blow the building away and we would all be thrown into the River Daya, which was just 50 meters away,” he added.
At the height of the storm, “we held each other’s hands and started praying to God for our safety till the winds weaken early in the morning,” Loknath said while staring at his broken house and a damaged rack where he used to keep his study materials and books. They were swept away in the storm.
“I don’t know how I will be able to buy all those materials,” Loknath said.
His mother, Rashmita, added that all of their belongings were either blown away or destroyed in the cyclone, and some lie scattered on the village’s roads now. However, she was thankful to the ChildFund staff for convincing them to leave the house before the cyclone arrived.
“Initially we thought that nothing would happen to our house,” she said. “But the project people came and forced us to leave the house as soon as possible. Thank God that we adhered to their advice. Otherwise, who knows what would have happened to us.”
Chabi, Loknath’s father, works hard to feed his six-member family, which includes his 65-year-old mother, whose foot was injured by a falling brick. He is now hoping for a house-repair aid fund from the Indian government, which was announced recently.
In the villages served by ChildFund India’s local partner Nilachal Seva Pratisthan, four houses were severely damaged and others were partially damaged. The partner organization serves 724 ChildFund-enrolled children, including 484 sponsored children, in 14 villages.
Sudhansu Maharath, the partner organization’s project manager, said that he and his staff coordinated with the government to provide tarps to families whose houses were damaged, providing some protection from the elements, and helped them arrange for immediate shelter. “We are also exploring ways for some long-term measures to strengthen the communities’ livelihood means, which primarily include farming and pisciculture,” Maharath adds.
According to the latest estimate by the government and other agencies, more than 1.7 million people in 1,706 villages in Puri District were affected, and 105,000 houses have been damaged in the cyclone.
A joint team from ChildFund India and International Medical Corps have visited several villages in the district to conduct a needs assessment and are discussing long-term interventions in the region.
Families affected by natural disasters need immediate help, and ChildFund’s Emergency Action Fund allows us to act quickly when a disaster occurs in a country we serve. Please consider making a donation today.
By Saroj Pattnaik, ChildFund India
“It was past midnight. I woke up to the alarmed voice of my wife shouting, ’The house is cracking!’ We came out of our house, and it came shattering down just in front of us,” says a terrified Sangram, 45, whose thatched house collapsed on the night of Oct. 12, when Cyclone Phailin struck coastal Odisha State in India. The storm brought 124 mph winds and heavy rains.
“Had it not been for my wife’s dreadful scream, we may not have been alive today,” adds the father of six, whose children were staying in a community center that night. “It was just a matter of few seconds when the roof collapsed after a tree in my back yard fell onto it.” The multi-purpose community center was built by ChildFund India’s local partner organization VARRAT (Voluntary Association for Rural Reconstruction & Appropriate Technology) after the 1999 cyclone that killed more than 10,000 people in Odisha, then known as Orissa.
“I am thankful to the project staff who insisted that I allow my children to go to the community center, but we decided to stay here, as I underestimated the cyclone threat,” Sangram says.
Sangram’s house in Odisha’s Kendrapara district is among the 37 homes damaged by the cyclone in the area VARRAT serves. VARRAT has 827 ChildFund-enrolled children in the region, including 621 who are sponsored. Sangram’s 15-year-old daughter Gurubari is one of the sponsored children. Fortunately, none of the children were hurt, though the houses of a few were damaged.
For Gurubari, the biggest losses after her home were her textbooks, which were washed away by floodwaters that gushed through her house after it collapsed. “I don’t have a single book left,” she says. “I don’t know whether I will be able to get another book set.”
Sangram, who is waiting for government compensation for his broken house, is a fisherman by trade and had returned to the village just two days before the cyclone. Like his 200-some fellow villagers, he was asked by the project staff to move to the community center, but he decided to stay in the house with his wife at the last moment.
“I get goose bumps when I think of that night,” he says.
Before Phailin hit, VARRAT staff members visited all 25 villages where it has programs to make sure everyone was in a safe location.
“All of our field staff members were deployed to ensure that the message of the cyclone reached everyone and that all of them were evacuated ahead of the cyclone that wreaked havoc in coastal Odisha,” says Naba Kishore Mishra, VARRAT’s project manager. “We were informed about the cyclone about a week before, and ChildFund India advised us to take necessary measures to safeguard not only our sponsored children and their families, but also all villagers. And we took measures accordingly.”
History played a role as well, Mishra notes. “Since we had experienced the 1999 cyclone, we had strengthened our disaster response mechanism, and that helped this time around to save all lives, including cattle and other livestock.”
Soon after 1999’s devastating super cyclone, VARRAT took several protection measures, one of which was the construction of multi-purpose community centers — like the one to which Sangram’s children evacuated — in all their program villages. Although they had access to shelter during the recent cyclone, villagers still lost more than 75 percent of their standing paddy crop because of heavy rains. A ChildFund team has visited those villages and found that many of the villages’ roads were destroyed by flooding. Mosquitoes are breeding in the standing water, increasing the risk of malaria, dengue and other vector-borne illness, and villagers are beginning to suffer from waterborne diseases that cause upset stomachs and skin infections.
Education also has been affected because all schools and Early Childhood Development centers are currently serving as makeshift shelters or as bases for relief services. Normally, children receive lunch prepared at school or an ECD center, but this has been suspended during the disaster as well.
Representatives from VARRAT have started distributing water purification tablets and diarrhea medication in some villages, but much still needs to be done. ChildFund’s Emergency Action Fund helps us prepare for disasters in the countries we serve, allowing staff and partners on the ground to provide help quickly and also over the long term. Please consider making a donation today.
As you may be aware, India’s eastern state of Odisha was hit last weekend by Cyclone Phailin, with 124 mph winds and heavy rain that damaged or destroyed nearly 250,000 homes and 1.25 million acres of farmland. Children and families whom ChildFund serves were affected, and three families suffered damage to their homes. Our emergency updates page has current information about the storm’s impact and how we are responding to the needs of the families we serve. You can help us stay prepared to respond quickly to the next natural disaster by making a donation to the Emergency Action Fund.