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.
By Saroj Pattnaik, ChildFund India
Pavithra is just 9 years old. She is considered old enough to take care of her 3-year-old sister and 5-year-old brother. But her responsibilities at home in Chennai, India, kept her from attending school regularly for the past two years.
As a result, she was behind a grade level. Pavithra even had trouble with the Tamil alphabet. Writing sentences and doing basic math — tasks that were hard for her — fueled her dislike of school.
Things started to turn around for Pavithra after a new teacher who received training from ChildFund started working with her and other delayed learners more than two hours a day.
“I first approached Pavithra’s parents not to force her to take care of her siblings,” says Krishnaveni, her teacher. “Finally we managed to convince her parents, who agreed to send the younger daughter to an Early Childhood Development center and the other children to school regularly.”
“As part of our special quality improvement program, we used activity-based methods to develop Pavithra’s interest in studies. Slowly she started catching up, and now she is at par with other children,” adds Sham Begum, junior headmistress of the school.
“Earlier, I was afraid of coming to school, as I was not able to say anything when teachers were asking questions,” Pavithra says. “Now, I can answer everything. I have now many friends here, and I don’t want to miss school one single day.”
Started in 2011, ChildFund India’s Enhanced Education Quality Improvement Program (EQuIP) reaches more than 10,000 children in 100 primary and middle schools in parts of Chennai, the capital of the southwestern state of Tamil Nadu.
Besides providing infrastructure and other essential learning equipment, this program specially focuses on helping children who are delayed learners.
The project has four goals:
• improving the physical environment to make it more conducive to learning
• promoting a participatory learning environment
• increasing community involvement
• creating awareness of education’s importance among all stakeholders.
Nine-year-old Vinodini had many of the same challenges as Pavithra. Although her parents never forced her to work at home, the family often migrated to other places in search of work, so she fell behind in her education.
She has some knowledge of the Tamil alphabet but was very poor in mathematics. But within months of Krishnaveni’s arrival at the school, Vinodini was able to read, write and comprehend concepts effectively. Now she is one of the top students in her class.
“I was in class four, but my teachers were saying I was no better than a class-one student. But now I can read, write and even remember rhymes easily. My father is very happy for me now,” Vinodini says.
“We had no hope that our daughter would be able to study as her level of understanding was very poor,” says her father, Ravi, a construction worker. “Now I am very happy that she has improved a lot, and all credits go to the new teacher.”
According to Krishnaveni, there were 19 children who were behind pace in their learning when she came to the school in June 2012. Within six months, 10 of them had caught up with their peers. “We are now working hard on the rest, and we believe they will also be up to speed very soon,” she adds.
By Saroj Kumar Pattnaik, ChildFund India
For Manju Sharma, 37, life once was structured around taking care of her two children and doing daily household chores. Until a few years ago, she had little idea of the world outside her home in the Firozabad district in northern India. But since she began working at an Early Childhood Development (ECD) center supported by ChildFund India, her definition of life has changed. Now she is a self-assured and respected woman in her community.
Initially, Manju was nervous about accepting a job outside the home. Staying away from her children and husband for more than six hours a day was a challenge, but she accepted an offer to work with the ECD program in 2007 because of her passion for helping children living in poverty.
“It was not a very smooth start for me, but my affection for small kids helped to overcome my fears gradually,” Manju recalls. “Soon I was able to strike a chord among the children, and they started loving my presence.”
Manju received basic training on maintaining good hygiene among the center’s 35 children ages 2 to 5.
“I also took training on how to monitor growth of the children attending the ECD center,” she explains. “Now, I am fully aware about the issue of malnutrition and often lead educational sessions for mothers, giving them tips about how they can take proper care of their children’s health.”
She adds, “People now know me as Manju Didi [sister], and I love the respect they shower on me.”
For 26-year-old Avdhesh Jadaun, a teacher at an ECD center in the nearby Andand Nagar locality, teaching was a passion she had held since childhood.
Avdhesh, who has a master’s degree in psychology, has a desire to see all children in her locality receive an education and grow up to be self-sufficient young adults — a goal that ChildFund also wishes to achieve.
“Since my school days, I wanted to work for poor children, especially helping them complete their basic education. Now, ChildFund gave me the opportunity to fulfill my dream, and I am very happy,” Avdhesh says.
ChildFund India’s local program manager Bikrant Mishra says, “Avdhesh and Manju are two of our most committed staffers who not only take care of the ECD centers but also actively participate in our maternal and child health-related activities.”
ChildFund currently runs nine ECD centers in Firozabad. More than 600 children up to age 5 are cared for in these centers. Mothers and pregnant women are also given important training on pre- and postnatal health care that includes immunization, breastfeeding, nutritional food intake and regular check-ups.
“And these teachers often act as health workers in their own capacities and help us deliver better service among the communities,” Mishra adds.
Although Manju and Avdhesh are paid modest salaries for their hard work, they are satisfied when they see the children play, sing and dance happily around them.
“The children are so sincere; often their gratitude is enough,” Avdhesh explains.
Manju says, “The satisfaction I draw from working with these innocent children is incomparable. It’s priceless.”
By Kate Andrews, with reporting by Saroj Pattnaik, ChildFund India, and ChildFund Kenya staff
The first World AIDS Day was held in 1988, and a great number of medical and social advances have been made in the 24 years since then. Nevertheless, much remains to be done. Today, we turn our focus to ChildFund’s work in India and Africa.
Rajashri is a supervisor for the Link Workers Scheme (LWS), a program in India that helps children orphaned by AIDS and some who are HIV-positive. She provides medication for hundreds of children infected with the disease in 19 districts of Andhra Pradesh, a central Indian province with a population of about 76 million. Started in 2008 by the national and regional governments with help from ChildFund India, LWS targets high-risk groups with prevention and risk-reduction information.
ChildFund India has identified more than 7,400 children in Andhra Pradesh who have been orphaned or left otherwise vulnerable by AIDS or HIV.
Although African nations often receive the most attention when the topic of AIDS arises, India has approximately 2.4 million people living with HIV, the third-highest population in the world, based on a 2009 estimate by UNAIDS. According to the Indian government, the state of Andhra Pradesh reported the second-highest HIV rate in the nation.
The LWS program, which ChildFund supports, began in three districts in Andhra Pradesh in 2008, reaching 19 districts in 2011. About 23,000 volunteers have been engaged in this effort, and more than 11,600 HIV-positive patients have been identified and helped by the state’s health department.
ChildFund also is working in African countries to help prevent the spread of AIDS. In Ethiopia, we work with children, youth, parents and community leaders to provide HIV and AIDS prevention and testing interventions as well as make available social networks to counter stigma and discrimination.
Through our Strengthening Community Safety Nets program in the Addis Ababa and Oromia areas, 50,000 orphans and vulnerable children affected by HIV and AIDS have received family-centered care and support. The program builds on existing partnerships with community groups and local volunteers to build the resilience of families and community structures to support children affected by HIV, especially those under age 11.
In Kenya, where an estimated 1.2 million people are infected with HIV (the same number as the far more populous United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), a ChildFund program has helped connect HIV-positive and other vulnerable children to organizations that offer anti-retroviral treatment and social assistance.
The number of vulnerable children attending school and receiving health care has risen since the 2005 institution of Weaving the Safety Net, part of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. Today, that program has concluded, but ChildFund’s work with orphans and vulnerable children impacted by HIV and AIDS continues. As of spring 2012, more than 73,000 orphans and vulnerable children were being served in Nairobi, and 3,200 HIV-positive children were enrolled in support groups.
Lucy, a 9-year-old who is HIV-positive, lives in Lamu, an island off the coast of Kenya. She, her grandmother, her aunt and four cousins share a one-room thatched home. When Lucy was a baby, her mother died from AIDS complications. Their village had few resources to deal with the disease, but now, with ChildFund’s support, Lucy goes to a district hospital to receive anti-retroviral treatment. She is healthy and thriving at school.
At age 8, Lucy started attending a support group for children living with HIV. “I know my status, and that is why I take my medicine, so that I can remain strong to be able to go to school and also play like the other children,” Lucy says. “My teacher and some neighbors know my status, too, and I know they love and support me.”
A side benefit of ChildFund’s and others’ work in Kenya has been a greater acceptance of those affected by HIV, lessening the stigma of the disease.
“When I was requested to enroll her in a support group, I hesitated, but today Lucy shares information about the support group discussions with all of us here,” her grandmother says. “Through her, we have learned a lot about HIV and AIDS.”
By Virginia Sowers, ChildFund Community Manager
For the past few years, the ChildFund Alliance (a 12-member organization that includes ChildFund International) has been asking children to tell us what they would do if they were president or the leader of their country. As you can imagine, 11- to 12-year-olds have some definite ideas.
As U.S. voters go to the polls today to elect the next president of the United States, we wanted to share with you some very good ideas for changing the world offered up by children who have a lot of important things to say when asked.
If I Were President…
To help these children and others like them achieve their dreams, and maybe one day grow up to be president, consider sponsoring a child.
By Saroj Kumar Pattnaik, ChildFund India
Being born into an extremely poor family tends to reduce a child’s chances for a promising future. Years aoo, that seemed to be the case for Kesavaiah, a 6-year-old boy living in a remote tribal village in the Annanthpur district of southern India’s state of Andhra Pradesh.
Kesavaiah’s father, an agricultural laborer, was the only breadwinner for his five-member family. Insufficient income and paucity of alternative livelihood options often forced the family to struggle to prepare a full meal for all. Going to school and truly enjoying childhood was just a distant dream for Kesavaiah and his two sisters.
But things changed gradually for Kesavaiah after he was enrolled in ChildFund India’s Early Childhood Development program in 1996. Praja Seva Samaj (PSS), ChildFund’s local partner, matched young Kesavaiah with a sponsor, who provided additional funds so Kesavaiah and his sisters could attend the village school.
“I still remember the days when my father was struggling to arrange a square meal for each of our family. My mother was also working as a daily laborer just to satisfy our hunger. Many a time we went to sleep at night after just drinking water,” recalls Kesavaiah, who has now completed his technical degree and aspires to become a top mechanical engineer.
He notes that it was the timely support from ChildFund and its local partner PSS that helped transform him from a pessimist to a dreamer.
“I never thought that I would able to complete my primary education as the conditions were not allowing that to happen. It was the moral and material support by ChildFund India and PSS that helped me to come so far in life,” he says.
“Their assistance and advice have not only allowed me to become the first person in our community to see a college, but they also have proved to be a solid platform for my sisters to continue their studies,” he adds.
Kesavaiah, who has understood the value of money since childhood, took full advantage of the sponsorship assistance, never neglecting his studies. He was the top student throughout his primary and intermediate education, earning a full scholarship to technical college.
In addition to his academic achievements, Kesavaiah, now 23, has been an active member of the local Children’s Club supported by ChildFund. His perseverance and tenacity to achieve have become an inspiration for others in his village.
Kesavaiah’s mother, Venkataramamma wants her son to fulfill his dream of becoming an engineer. “I am so proud for my son. He has been a reason for hope for all of us, and I am very much thankful to ChildFund for making this happen.”
Village leader Pakker Naik concurs. “[ChildFund] has been focusing on many issues with interventions at the school level and village level. We are now seeing this positive impact among children today. I would say proudly that Kesavaiah is the first engineer in our village.”
by Sanjana Das, Technical Specialist, ChildFund India
To celebrate the New Year, we’re taking you on a tour of all 31 countries where ChildFund works. Over the course of January’s 31 days, we’ll make a blog stop in each country where we serve children, thanks to the generous support of our sponsors and donors. So whether you’re helping ChildFund build playgrounds in Afghanistan, provide drought aid in Kenya and Ethiopia or sponsoring a child in the United States, we hope you’ll make new discoveries about our work around the globe.
In India, the reality of violence against children is often not known or spoken about. Why? Is it because children are afraid to talk about or report violence because they consider it “normal” adult behavior or because they belong to a particular caste, class or gender? Perhaps it’s because they are children, and are more often than not unheard.
The fact is violence against children is as real as they are. It takes place everywhere – right within the domains of their families, schools, institutions, workplaces and communities. The abuse of power results in violence against children. It affects their overall well-being and hinders their normal developmental process. Ultimately, it takes away their childhood and prevents them from growing into healthy adults.
To create a collaborative dialogue around questions that matter to children, ChildFund India initiated a 60-day process of intense listening to children across the country, inviting them to present their ideas, views, aspirations and fears. Twenty-eight ChildFund India staff members and partners were trained on interacting with children and capturing their voices using World Café and Appreciative Enquiry processes. They hosted 60 children’s cafés in their area, with 1,789 children participating from nine states in India: Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.
We listened to children … to their spoken and unspoken words. We let them express themselves in various ways. They are hurt, humiliated, isolated and ignored. They are unable to trust, since they are harmed by parents, family, peers and relatives, teachers and community. They have suffered physical violence and psychological violence including utter neglect, discrimination, humiliation and maltreatment, which has a damaging impact on their overall well-being. Many circumstances, depending upon the severity of the violence, have left them scarred for a lifetime.
However, having experienced deprivation, exclusion and vulnerability, it does not deter children from appreciating what they have: their families, their homes, their friends, their teachers, their schools, their community and the gift of life itself.