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.
By Saroj Pattnaik, ChildFund India, and Sagita Adesywi, ChildFund Indonesia
Our focus on child labor practices continues today in support of International Labour Organization’s World Day Against Child Labour.
Vipin, 18, aspires to become a doctor and is working hard to achieve his goal. Yet, there is unhappiness in his eyes. He worries about having time for his studies, as half of his day goes into bangle making. It’s the only livelihood option for his nine-member family, living in a half-constructed house on a narrow lane in Firozabad in India’s populous state of Uttar Pradesh.
Vipin wakes up for work at 4 a.m. each day. He sits before a hot stove and joins two ends of a glass bangle together, bangle after bangle, while his siblings sort the bracelets and decorate with glitter. Each family member spends at least five to six hours a day on this repetitive work, hoping that their collective efforts will bring sufficient income for their basic daily needs.
“I spend three hours in the morning and three hours in the evenings. Some days, I get my fingers burned and blistered. But I have to work; otherwise, we will not complete the day’s quota and incur loss,” says Vipin who recently sat for his 12th-grade exams.
“I have done well in my exams and I am preparing for the medical entrance exam,” he notes. “But I am not getting much time to read as I cannot just stop contributing to my family income. I don’t like the work, at least at this point of my life. But I have no choice,” he says, his voice breaking.
“See, we are a big family and we don’t know any other earning means other than bangle work, explains Vipin’s elder sister Kamlesh, as she comforts her brother. “Both our parents are aged and are not keeping well. So, we siblings have the responsibility to keep our kitchen running.”
Although she too was a good student, Kamlesh had to quit school and work full-time. “I took the decision because I wanted my siblings not to stop going to school. I am happy that all my younger siblings (two sisters and two brothers) are now studying and nursing big dreams,” she says.
For all the hard work her family does daily, Kamlesh says they earn a paltry 5,000 rupees (US$100) a month, which is much less than the family requires.
“We have seen lot of hardships since childhood,” she acknowledges. “But I am grateful to ChildFund India for choosing Vipin as a sponsored child. His sponsorship actually helped the others continue their studies.”
Vipin nods in agreement. “After being associated with ChildFund, I actually came to know what child labor is. I am now an active member of the ChildFund-initiated Youth Federation, which is campaigning against child labor in this town.”
Though Vipin and his siblings have additional support because of their enrollment with ChildFund, hundreds of other children work all day in home-based factories in Firozabad, a town famous throughout the country for its glass bangles.
“Firozabad is one of the worst examples of child labor. It’s because engaging children in the bangle process is a common and accepted norm in this area,” says Dola Mohapatra, national director of ChildFund India. “And getting a real estimate of the number of children working is quite a challenge. The problem is not just in numbers but also in the high level of acceptance among family members about engaging children [in the work]. It’s not seen as a ‘problem’ even by children themselves.”
Despite the ban on child labor in India, it’s estimated that more than 12.6 million children are still enduring hazardous conditions while working in various factories across India, while more than 200,000 children are working as domestic help.
The good news is that an anti-labor campaign launched by ChildFund in Firozabad is making inroads. Community factories are no longer employing children. However, it is estimated that more than 20,000 children are engaged in home-based bangle work, where most of the finishing work is being done.
“As a large number of families depend on bangle-making for their main livelihood, it’s not totally possible to move the families to some other occupation,” Mohapatra says. “We have been persuading families to adapt new occupations and at least keep their children out of this occupation.
“When we started our work, in 1995-96, we had to offer stipends for children as an incentive for parents to let their children come to ChildFund’s non-formal education centers. Over the years, we have seen changes in the mind-sets of parents,” he says.
“We are now seeing the emergence of children and youth leadership in spreading the message of education. These children were earlier working as child laborers – they were gradually weaned away and helped with completing their education. Their success stories have inspired parents. These children are now acting as a pressure group,” he notes.
“We have been successful in our endeavors,” Mohapatra adds, “but still a lot has to be done.”
By Saroj Kumar Pattnaik, ChildFund India
On International Women’s Day, we’re spotlighting some of the amazing girls and women we’ve encountered in ChildFund-supported communities. We honor their struggles and cheer their successes.
Dusk was settling over a suburban neighborhood in southern India, but Stella Leethiyal wasn’t ready to go home. The 47-year-old teacher was busy visiting shanties to meet women and educate them about good parenting — the key to a child’s successful development.
Aside from teaching women about parenting, Stella also focuses on educating them about their individual rights and convincing their male partners to understand and respect the value of the women in their households. Stella, who works as a teacher at a ChildFund-supported early childhood development (ECD) center in Chennai, India, does this out of a desire to see her fellow women become aware and empowered.
“Personally, I have seen many setbacks faced by women in my locality since my childhood,” Stella says. “I have always dreamt of a society where women and men are treated equally in all aspects of life. My association with ChildFund India has given my dream a direction, and I have tried my best to achieve this goal.”
Currently, Stella works with children whose families often migrate to find work, a population that faces serious obstacles to a full education.
Before becoming an ECD teacher in 1997, Stella was a community mobilizer for ChildFund; her prime focus was educating and empowering women. Her efforts helped convince nomadic families to send their children to school for the first time.
Stella is very happy about her work, but she is dissatisfied with the general condition of women across the country. “People say India is now a powerful country,” she says, “But how can you be powerful when one section of your population is so weak?”
According to latest U.N. Human Development report, India is ranked 129 out of 146 countries on the Gender Inequality Index. However, many people in India like Stella are working to improve the state of women and girls through education, health care, sanitation and political participation. The government also runs several programs aimed at empowering women.
In the past year, ChildFund India has reached out to more than 142,000 women and engaged them in various issues ranging from their health and sanitation to economic empowerment.
To assist women who wish to earn income, ChildFund India promotes women’s Self-Help Groups (SHGs) that manage microloans at a village level, which helps women become more self-sufficient. India has more than 5,600 such groups across the country, with 18,000 members.
ChildFund is also committed to helping youths become involved community members, and toward this goal, we support more than 700 clubs for boys and girls.
Female youth clubs, also known as Kishori Samuha, have proven to be a major success in creating an informed and confident new generation.
Durgesh, 15, is a testimony to this success. A sponsored child from Uttar Pradesh’s Firozabad district, Durgesh led a campaign against child marriage and managed to bring the number of early marriages to almost zero in her community.
As a leader of her youth club, she generated great awareness about the ill effects of child marriage and managed to gain broad community support .
“Initially, it was very difficult for us to convince parents to say no to child marriage, which has been going on in our community since ages,” says Durgesh, who is in 10th grade. “But with the support and guidance from ChildFund India program staff, we continued our campaign for months. And we finally succeeded. Parents are now not in favor of getting their young daughters married. Rather, they are sending them to schools.”
Stella and Durgesh are two of hundreds of committed individuals in India who are giving hope to women across the country. They aspire to build a new India where women are respected and allowed to lead.