Walking for Children: A Family’s Quest to Cross India

by Virginia Sowers, ChildFund Community Manager

logoWhen the Petrucco family of Australia begins its walk across India in December, their journey will allow them to experience the wonders of life as well as to face its challenges.

Not unlike the pilgrims who traverse the Camino de Santiago (the way of St. James) across Europe or Mahatma Gandhi, who walked on behalf of the poorest of the poor, the Petruccos’ footsteps will be a meditative mission. Their goal is to make a difference in the lives of India’s most vulnerable children by raising funds through ChildFund Australia. They also anticipate a life-changing experience as a family.

family group

Petrucco family

“It’s the most challenging goal we have set for ourselves as a family, says Nick Petrucco. He and his wife, Bec, their three children, Nick’s parents and sister, along with other family members and close associates have been fundraising and preparing carefully for the ultimate trek. “Together we plan to walk from the west coast to the east coast of India, some 800 kilometers [nearly 500 miles),” he says. “What makes this so incredibly special is the opportunity to experience all of this together as a family.”

The plan is to have a daily walking team as well as a support team, with the goal of traveling about 25 km (15 miles) per day. Nick, his eldest daughter, aptly named India, and Nick’s stepfather are committed to walking every step of the way. Bec and the younger children (Maggie, age 9, and Gus, age 3) will walk as much as they can, accompanied by other family members.

In early December, the group will start from a seaside town in Kerala (West India), walk through Bangalore (central India) and finish in Chennai (East India) in mid-January, visiting ChildFund programs along the route.

Although the family has traveled extensively in Asia, the U.S. and Australia, crossing India on foot will be a first. “Never before have we attempted an adventure on this scale. We are just an everyday family, certainly not athletes or intrepid explorers,” says Nick.

“This trip is about bringing together all of our passions: spending time together as a family, making a real difference in the lives of disadvantaged children and experiencing new people, cultures and places through our travels,” he says.

Follow the journey and offer your support on the Petrucco’s blog and Facebook site.

ChildFund India Celebrates 60 years with Song and Ringtone

by Lee Steinour, with reporting from Sachal Aneja, ChildFund India

ChildFund India’s program staff has produced an inspirational song to celebrate the children they help and ChildFund’s 60 years of accomplishments in this country.

Group of schoolchildren

Schoolchildren in India

Staff participated in the process by writing, composing and singing the upbeat tune. Throughout the song you can hear the voices of children and youth repeating the phrase “ChildFund India.”

The song explains how ChildFund India programs teach children about their rights, while building their confidence and helping them to set and reach goals.

The inspirational lyrics also tell a story about children dreaming to recreate history while the whole world watches, and it celebrates ChildFund India’s anniversary theme: 60 years of empowering children and youth to become leaders of enduring change.

Here’s a translation of the lyrics:

We will go further touch the sky and the entire world will witness
We will get to our goal, we will grow
As with us is
ChildFund India India, ChildFund India

We have cherished our dreams
ChildFund showed us the way to our goal
We will work hard, reach our goal
As with us is
ChildFund India India, ChildFund India

We will go further touch the sky and the entire world will witness
We will get to our goal, we will grow
As with us is
ChildFund India India, ChildFund India

We got educated about our rights
ChildFund helped us discover our ambitions, our desires
Together we will recreate history
As with us is
ChildFund India India, ChildFund India

Listen to the complete song, and the ringtone.

You can download the ringtone here.

The song and ringtone are being promoted across India and were shared with all ChildFund India staff, partners and local supporters.

In fact, we’re told you can hear the music ringing on mobile phones throughout ChildFund India offices!

Flooding in India: ChildFund Responds

Reporting by Sachal Aneja, ChildFund India Information and Communication Officer

Flooded village

Villagers seek escape from rising flood waters

In Orissa, India, disastrous flooding earlier this month has affected more than 2 million people in 19 districts, claiming at least 22 lives. In the three affected districts where ChildFund operates, about 20,000 people were evacuated from low lying areas to safer places and provided with emergency food assistance with the help of the government.

The India National Office initiated immediate relief measures in the affected villages, concentrating on the two blocks most affected: Kanas block of Puri District and Mahakalapara block of Kendrapara District.

Kanas Block

Women in shelter

Families make do in temporary shelters.

In this block, 783 children from 14 villages are enrolled in ChildFund programs. Thatched houses situated on low level lands have partially collapsed. People dwelling in these houses were provided emergency shelter in a school building and safer places on higher ground.

The cultivated agricultural lands in the area have been submerged in floodwaters, resulting in a high loss of Kharif crop (crops planted in the rainy season) in the area. Rice, millet, maize, soybeans, vegetables and other staples have been ruined.

Fish ponds are submerged, and many fishermen lost their fishing nets, which are key to their livelihoods. However, Kanas suffered no human casualties. The government provided some cooked food and drinking water for the first seven days following the flooding, and ChildFund is assessing ongoing needs.

Mahakalapara Block

Two people inspect flooded house

A thatched house surrounded by water.

ChildFund and its partners operate in 25 villages covering 965 enrolled children. Petechella, Baghuamedi and Lunagheri are most affected by the flooding; Sabarpara and Olopada are partially affected. Some 75 ChildFund families are directly impacted but all children in the villages have suffered physically and mentally in this devastating flood. The families have lost their crops, vegetables and daily livelihoods.

In both blocks, children especially are at risk of contracting disease from unsafe drinking water. Nutritional food is also in short supply.

Three family members under tarp

ChildFund is working to ensure food and clean water reach families in need.

In the short-term, ChildFund and its partners in the area will work with the government’s relief management authority and respective district administrations to ensure distribution of government relief services. ChildFund India will focus its interventions more on the sanitation issue and distribute bleaching powder, carbolic acid and lime for sanitation of water sources in the affected areas.

In addition, ChildFund is preparing to provide a one-month supply of supplementary food for children, pregnant and nursing mothers and elders in the project areas.

Looking to long-term needs, ChildFund will be distributing vegetable seeds to project families for the winter planting season and ensuring that school buildings and Early Childhood Centers are cleaned and prepared to receive students when schools reopen.

ChildFund will also be convening a consultative flood preparedness meeting with disaster management experts and community members. The goal is to help communities be better prepared and less vulnerable to future flooding.

But I Did Not Give Up My Hopes

Guest post by Fulla, age 19 of India

Photo of Fulla


Fulla was enrolled in ChildFund programs in the mid-1990s, becoming a member of one of ChildFund India’s children’s clubs when she was 7, and later a youth club member. She united with other girls in the village and participated in social and cultural activities to spread awareness about hygienic practices, personal finance, environmental protection and adolescent health and behaviors.

Photo of Fulla in NCC uniform

She later completed her schooling and enrolled in a bachelor’s of arts program for three years. She also joined National Cadet Corps (NCC) and attained A & B certificates, which are preparation for entering national service.

I live with my parents, along with one sister and one brother. My father is a fisherman and has no land. We have a small house made of mud and wattle. My father manages our family by fishing in nearby river Daya. He sometimes goes to the lake Chilika, which is 30 kms (about 19 miles) distant from our village.

With this meager income it is difficult for my father to maintain our family. He has taken all the initiatives to provide us education. Although my father wanted to bring up my brother highly, the poor economic conditions of our family compelled my brother to give up his studies. He dropped his education after 10th grade and helped father in fishing.

But I did not give up my hopes and continued my studies. I was able to complete my secondary education. I have also passed the NCC A & B certifications, which will help me a lot to find a job in the defense area.

During the devastating flood in 1999, we lost our new boat, which we had obtained through a bank loan and borrowing from local moneylenders. My father was depressed and panicked as to how he could clear up all the debts. My grandma died of grief. We got really harassed then. My brother and father set up their minds to go to a distant place for wages. I assured my father to keep patience and not to worry about our family.

I opened a tutoring centre at village community hall and earned a little, but it was insufficient to manage. One of my friends suggested I join in a prawn-processing plant. I had to work in a place far from my village to earn Rs. 3000 (US$66) per month that my father reluctantly allowed. The job compelled me to discontinue my studies. Moreover I sent Rs.2000 (US$45) per month to my family. I stayed there for one year. We were relieved when all our debts cleared.

Photo of Fulla at school

Fulla's return to school.

One day my father urged me to return back and resume my studies. I got embarrassed, because I thought that it is not the suitable time to study. However I returned home and got readmitted in classes and successfully passed the +3 examination [secondary school graduation]. Thereafter I joined in a computer course to get my post-graduate diploma in computer applications.

Photo of Fulla with her family

Fulla with her family.

In the meantime some of my relatives planned for my marriage, as I am the eldest daughter of my family. But I decided not to marry till my employment is finalized. I will have the burden to run our big family. I have experienced how the moneylenders exploit the poor and downtrodden. I am committed to struggle against unemployment and poverty.

I remain an optimist that I will get a good result worthy of my efforts and be able to be successful in my life.

Working with Youth as Partners

by Jason Schwartzman, ChildFund Team Leader for Child & Youth Involvement

Photo of ChildFund India staff

Jason Schwartzman, center, with members of ChildFund India's area staff.

What we have learned from young people in India and across all the countries and communities that we reached out to over the past few months are some central facts:

  • Youth everywhere want to play a role in their communities.
  • They want to participate in decision making.
  • They want to make a difference.

While ChildFund will continue to focus on literacy and education, health and nutrition, livelihood preparation and fostering the resiliency of children of all ages, we are moving rapidly into newer territory — working with youth as partners.

We are bringing young people together to discuss ideas, develop solutions for their own lives and help ChildFund make decisions about its future program offerings. We are talking to youth, we are listening and we are responding to what we learn.

ChildFund Supports Youth in India’s Remote Villages

by Jason Schwartzman, ChildFund Team Leader for Child & Youth Involvement

In a previous post, I described the situation of young Indian women who leave their home community for work or marriage and end up in distant communities, often feeling more vulnerable because they are not among their own people.

Young women in India

Young women in India are finding support from ChildFund and their communities.

While traveling in remote villages in the state of Orissa where ChildFund is working, I met a group of women who had formed a group that is growing mushrooms and selling them to earn income. I call this the daughter-in-law group because newly married young women dominate the group, having come together with some of the daughters of the village where they are now living. Most have very young children, and the oldest member of the group is 24 years of age. They’ve come together to increase their incomes, but their group also has a social component that makes them feel more protected and less vulnerable.

This is just one solution that young people in rural communities have come up with to address the profound challenges they face. ChildFund is partnering with these communities in a variety of ways to address the issue of poverty and the risks that young people face. With our support, youth have formed clubs that meet anywhere from weekly to monthly, and they’ve taken up the work of talking to parents about why they should keep their child in school rather than pull him or her out as they have just done—hence earning a visit.

When they make house visits, youth go armed with local stories, such as how a neighboring family thought that sending a son or daughter off to work was a solution to their economic struggles. But, in fact, turned out to put their child at greater risk. Their argument is simple — don’t repeat the mistakes of your neighbor.

Tomorrow, this blog series on youth issues concludes.

Talking to Youth: What Is Your Greatest Challenge?

by Jason Schwartzman, ChildFund Team Leader for Child & Youth Involvement

My visit to ChildFund programs in the state of Orissa continues with more opportunities to talk with youth about the challenges they face and the options they have.

I eventually come around to asking my core question, “If you and a group of your friends had to choose one issue that is the greatest challenge to youth in this area, what would you choose?”

It’s interesting because there is wide consensus — it’s not too difficult for them to come to an agreement. For young women, its migration to find work, and for young men, the issue of migration is there, but they focus more on alcoholism. Young women in rural villages have a profound sense of Youth in Indiavulnerability that comes with migrating to the major towns and cities. Without the support of their extended family, friends and community, the chances of abuse are high. And even for those who don’t migrate and stay at home, many bear the additional burden of maintaining the household in the absence of an older sibling or parent who has left. More responsibilities at home often pull them out of school, narrowing the choices and options they have in their lives. This is what they talk about.

While young men talk about the risks of migrating for work, and they have heard all the horror stories about exploitation, such as being penniless and in a strange city or being arrested by the police for vagrancy — they tell these stories to me — their feeling of vulnerability after leaving home is not as profound as with young women.

Instead, alcoholism is the issue top of mind for these young men. Drinking is a widespread problem in their community as is the social violence that often comes with it. When fathers and mothers are drunk, their children find themselves struggling to cope with a mix of emotions and fears. They’re also deeply concerned about their peers who drink too much. Young people are making choices, sometimes passively and sometimes actively, but they are acutely aware that these choices are not leaving them in a good place.

They candidly talk about feeling unconfident because they have not taken advantage of education, and now they feel ill prepared to earn a livelihood.

I thank them for their frankness. They ask to sing a song to close our meeting. They sing three.

Talking with Youth in India’s Remote Communities

by Jason Schwartzman, ChildFund Team Leader for Child & Youth Involvement

Cattle on road photoI have traveled from New Delhi up to the state of Orissa to talk with youth about the situation of their community and their lives. We sit in small rooms on carpets, shoes off and in bare feet. I learn a lot.

Literacy rates are low here —47 percent of men and only 24 percent of women are literate. Women die during childbirth at extremely high rates, and a major reason is that women marry at an early age (mid-teens), when they are at higher risk of childbirth complications.

Schools don’t function well so the quality of education is poor. Because families don’t value education, they don’t support their children in their studies or make sure they stay in school. Eventually, young men and young women leave the village for larger towns, in search of work. Women are more vulnerable to risks outside their home community. Those risks include sexual violence and marriage that moves them to distant and sometimes hostile communities where their life choices and options often deteriorate. Young men find themselves working but not getting paid. When they realize they are being exploited, they are without the money they need to return home.

The challenges are great, and the options are few. This is what young people tell me.

Tomorrow, my talks with youth continue.

Challenges and Opportunities for India’s Youth

by Jason Schwartzman, ChildFund Team Leader for Child & Youth Involvement

ChildFund Youth summit in IndiaThis is not such a great photo, but facing the camera are members of the group of youth we met with in India. They are presenting on the challenges they face and the opportunities they need following an exercise where we placed flip chart pages up on a large expanse of wall, about 8 feet wide and 4 feet high.

Youth map issuesMoving from left to right, we marked the childhood to young adult years, with age 10 at the extreme left and age 25 at the extreme right. We then asked the youth to map out how the challenges and opportunities evolve over that age span. Here’s a partial view of what it looked like.

What we saw were shifts in the issues with age — as we’d expect. Closer to 10 years of age, there’s a great focus on school, but as you move up in age, issues around puberty and relationships begin to appear, followed by the need to be prepared for the world of work.

The particular risks that young people say they face also evolve — dropping out of primary school comes up early on, but then HIV and pregnancy appear, around the same time that young people identify being taken advantage of in exploitative work.

The emotional tenor of the issues evolves as well. At the younger end of the age spectrum, young people talk about feeling the pressure to work and help out in the household, feeling the inequity of one’s gender and feeling vulnerable to the threat of abuse and exploitation. Feelings of uncertainty and unpreparedness emerge. This is what young people are telling us.

While in India, I had the opportunity to travel to a more remote area in the state of Orissa, where ChildFund has been working for a few years. There, I spent a couple of days talking to youth, and in the next blog, I’ll share what I learned.

Imagine Your Friend in Five Years

by Jason Schwartzman, ChildFund Team Leader for Child & Youth Involvement

In preparation for ChildFund’s Youth Program Summit in India, we’ve been talking to youth around the world, trying to get inside their heads to understand how they see the future unfolding, starting with their inner circle of friends.

We ask them to think of and actually draw a “friend” — a peer, a relative, a neighbor — someone they know well. We encourage them to be realistic. In five years, what do they really think their friend’s life situation will be? Not what they hope, but what they predict. We give them drawing materials, a quiet space, and we see what happens.

Often they are optimistic, like this drawing from a young Native American woman in the United States, who says her friend will be, “outgoing, energetic, and a great person to be around. She’s really bright and understanding. There is never a dull moment when you’re with her. She’s just a true friend.”

Sometimes they are quite sad, as illustrated by this prediction by a young woman in Sierra Leone, “Mary is the name of my friend. She is 16 years old. Mary is crying because she is carrying a heavy load. She is a girl. Mary is presently in the street. In five year’s time, Mary will be dropped out from school. She will be a failure in life.”

Sometimes young people are hopeful and romantic, as this future scenario envisioned by a young man in Bolivia, “Arturo is 19 years old and completed school and a lawyer’s course. He now has a fixed job and has a girlfriend called Katerin who is a teacher. The two love each other a lot and they get on really well. They like to go on walks. They are expecting Arturo’s baby.”

In other instances they predict that a friend’s situation could be transformed, as in this drawing by a young man in The Gambia. He writes: “My friend’s name is Abas. He is 13 years old. He is a male. In 5 years times, I am seeing my friend as someone who will not prosper in future because he don’t study at home. These might lead him to fail his exam. I think he may get involve in drug abuse, he can be in jail, or physically weak or die. If he change his mind and study hard and be punctual in school, he can be at the University or may even be sponsor by the president to go and read for further studies. He can therefore contribute to the nation development and build up a good family in future.”

In the next blog, we’ll take a look at the resources young people say they need to be successful.

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