A Woman’s Story of Self-Empowerment

by Sachal Aneja, Communications Officer, ChildFund India


A few years ago, Basanti, 32, and her husband Udhab, could not afford basic necessities for their three children, much less the children’s small desires. The couple, who owned no land, were subsisting in a mud hut in a rural village in India.

Udhab, a daily wage laborer, used to sell wood he cut from a protected forest. Although cutting wood was illegal, Udhab believed it was the only way to feed his family of five, as there were few jobs in the village. The family lived in fear he would be caught and sent to jail.

ChildFund India bangles poverty

Udhab, Bsanti's husband with one of their children.

To protect the family from hunger and exploitation, Basanti courageously started a small business of selling bangles. She would carry a basket of bangles on her head and travel to several villages to sell them in the weekly markets.

“We could manage to buy bangles for only 25 to 45 cents (US), and I used to make consistent efforts to sell what I had. The sale was good but not enough,” says Basanti, recalling the initial days of her business. Because the profit earned was not always sufficient to support the family, Basanti and Udhab had to occasionally borrow from the local moneylenders who charged a high interest fee. Consequently, a large portion of their earnings were eaten away every month.

Self-Help Group ChildFund India

Basanti with her ChildFund Self-Help Group

The family’s situation began to turn around when their 10-year-old daughter, Nilabati, was enrolled in the local ChildFund project and matched with a sponsor to support her education, health and nutritional needs. Basanti became a member of the women’s Self-Help Group that ChildFund helped the village establish. During one of the group meetings, ChildFund educated Basanti and other women about micro-credit and how to access those services. Basanti began to think about expanding her business. Her hopes soared.

“I was excited to learn about the micro-credit support in our village”, says Basanti. As part of the LEEP (Livelihood and Economic Enhancement for the Poor) strategy, ChildFund helps marginalized families like Basanti’s increase their income through investment and support services.

With a recommendation letter from the Self-Help Group, Basanti applied for a loan of US$110, and was approved. She was then able to procure a large variety of bangles that she sold in five weekly village markets. A wider selection of bangles led to a sudden growth in customers. Basanti now earns a profit of US$77, more than triple the US$22 she earned before. A confident Basanti is repaying her loan.

“I feel very happy the way things are changing,” says Basanti. “I am now able to send all my children to school and meet their little wishes. I am now thinking of starting a fancy bangle store in future.”

Udhab also supports his wife in selling bangles to more villages and is looking forward to buying a small piece of land.

ChildFund India children poverty self-help

Basanti and her daughter, Nilabati

“I am very proud of my mother. What we are today is largely because of her efforts,” says an elated Nilabati.

In this small village of rural India, Basanti has become a great example of willpower, dedication and inspiration. She is still found cooking, sweeping, washing dishes and preparing children for school each morning before attending to her business – offering village women a selection of bangles representing the diverse colors of life.

Every day, Basanti works to bring happiness, peace and success to herself, her husband and, most important, her children.

Finding Generosity in the Palms of My Hands

by Nicole Duciaume
ChildFund Regional Sponsorship Coordinator
Americas Regional Office

As I finished talking to Daniel, Venkatesh and their father, a neighbor vigorously calls me over to her house. She wants to show me her craft – henna.

The problem: I fidget – a lot. So I’m not sure I’ll be able to sit for a long time while she slowly draws henna on the palms of my hands. However, my worries are short-lived when she shows me her henna stamp collection.

To create each stamp, she cut old rubber-soled shoes, usually discarded flip flops, and cleaned them to provide a good drawing surface. After drawing an elaborate design (such as leaves, flowers, fish, vines, hearts, suns, temples, bugs), she traces out the “empty space” with a razor blade or knife to create a stamp of the remaining, now elevated design.

She has a collection of more than 100 stamps, guaranteeing a unique combination for my palms. She takes her time picking through the collection, her husband offering suggestions as well. After choosing a large stamp, she dips it quickly into the dye, centers it and stamps it on the palm of my hand.

A fresh garland of jasmine is the finishing touch.

She then carefully selects a second stamp for each finger and a third stamp for the empty spaces. She repeats the process for my other hand, but with all different selections. In all, it takes about 10 minutes. This is her livelihood, and on the streets outside the settlement she charges 5 rupees (approximately 11 cents) per customer.

I am so excited with my henna hands that she immediately wants to take a picture with me, so that I will always remember her.

Admiring my new friend's henna-stamping skills.

This is just one example of the generosity I’ve found in this settlement. So often marginalized in their own society for being gypsies, they are excited we came from many different countries to visit with them and learn about their lives.

The children clamor to have their photos taken. The parents share their crafts and talents with us. We all share quite a few laughs as we tell each other about our customs, traditions and families.

I tell my henna artist friend that I would remember her even without the photos, but I am certainly glad I have them so I can share her story, along with Daniel’s and Venkatesh’s and so many others I’ve met while in Chennai.

Third-Grader Dreams of Being Mayor and Building a School

by Nicole Duciaume
ChildFund Regional Sponsorship Coordinator
Americas Regional Office

Venkatesh, a third-grader, looks a lot like his older brother Daniel, but he is a bit more outspoken. As we chat, his father guides us toward their family’s house.

Spending time with Venkatesh and his father.

As we walk past the kindergarten center, where the youngest of the three brothers is enrolled in pre-school activities, Venkatesh tells me that he remembers going there as well when he was younger. He has many good memories of a picnic, and a drawing competition where he won the gold medal for a picture he drew of a house. He also talks a little about his ChildFund sponsor and about writing letters back and forth.

Venkatesh tells me about his daily routine and the importance of school. He hopes to be an administrator collector, what I understood through the translator to be somewhat of a mayor. He aspires to the job so that he can one day “build a school for all the children in the area.”

In fact, going to school is his favorite part of the community. He beams when he explains that he likes talking to his father, especially when sharing news of his good marks in school. Overhearing our conversation, Venkatesh’s father smiles proudly and says, “Children should study so they could make changes in the community.”

The change that Venkatesh most wants is a better road in the settlement because the current one is made of packed dirt with many rocks that children fall over while playing ball. As proof, he rolls up his pant leg to his knee and begins counting the scars. But he smiles again as he tells me the fun he had playing hide-and-seek and ball with his brothers and friends.

I want to know what else make Venkatesh and Daniel happy. They quickly respond that being able to stay with their parents is important. Before ChildFund India and the Kalaiselvi Karunalaya Social Welfare Society began serving this settlement, the children’s parents would travel to find food and work. Often, the boys would stay behind with elders and go a long time without seeing their parents.

Now the family is able to stay together in the community.

Tomorrow, I learn more about the art of henna.

Gypsy Youth Tells of Picking Iron and Missing School

by Nicole Duciaume
ChildFund Regional Sponsorship Coordinator
Americas Regional Office

Following a morning presentation by our ChildFund India National Office colleagues on program history, areas, priorities and future goals, we anxiously pile into vans and set forth.

After zigzagging for about an hour through the busy streets of Chennai, we make an abrupt left turn onto a worn dirt road, which will take us to a ChildFund project with the Kalaiselvi Karunalaya Social Welfare Society (KKWS).

Founded in 1983, KKWS began partnering with ChildFund India in 1999. KKWS works in 15 villages and settlements, including six gypsy communities. Through our work with KKWS, we have enrolled more than 1,000 children in ChildFund programs. Approximately 800 of those children have sponsors. The major source of livelihood for gypsy families is iron and rag picking, as well as making beads and other traditional handicrafts. This is true of the family I met.

Getting to know Daniel (r), Venkatesh (l) and their father.

Daniel is 13 years old, and he has two younger brothers, Venkatesh, 8, and Guna, 5. Daniel is in second grade and his younger brother Venkatesh is in third. I thought I misunderstood their ages and grades and asked for clarification as to why Daniel was five years older, but a grade behind his younger brother. It was then that he told me what his life was like before ChildFund and how things have changed for him and his family since.

As the son of gypsies, Daniel did not attend school. He spent his days alongside his father picking up iron scraps. The labor wasn’t necessarily hard (you use a long stick with a rag-covered magnet on the end; as you walk around you trace the ground with the magnet and brush any iron scraps into a bucket to later sell to iron metal workers), but the hours were long.

Daniel would work from as early as 4 a.m. until late in the afternoon, and sometimes late evening if there was a recent festival that promised extra scraps. In leaner times, the family would beg for food, eat discarded food out of the rubbish piles along the streets and use slingshots to kill and eat squirrels and cats.

When his younger brother Venkatesh was enrolled in ChildFund programs, Daniel began non-formal education classes. He has made vast improvements in school (everything from his handwriting to self-expression and literacy) and now knows more about hygiene and balanced nutrition.

He attends school from about 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and can get help from the teachers at the local kindergarten if he needs assistance with his homework, since his parents are illiterate. Daniel tells me his favorite subject is math, though he also enjoys environmental sciences. After school, when he has finished his homework, he plays with the other children in the community, something he didn’t have time for when he worked.

Now he has a new dream — to become a policeman when he grows up so he can help people.

Tomorrow, I will tell you more about Daniel’s younger brother Venkatesh and the rest of the family.

Sights and Sounds of India: A Carnival for the Senses

by Nicole Duciaume
ChildFund Regional Sponsorship Coordinator
Americas Regional Office

Over the past 15 years, I’ve lived in and traveled throughout Latin America and even spent some short work assignments in Africa as well. But now, for the first time, I am in Asia—in Chennai, India, to be exact.

I am here representing ChildFund International’s Americas Regional Office at the ChildFund Alliance Sponsor Relations Network meeting. This is a unique opportunity for ChildFund Alliance members (Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Sweden, Taiwan and the United States) to come together to discuss priority issues to improve our sponsorship efforts and operations in our program countries around the world. We share best practices and lessons learned and help set priorities for the coming year.

I left Panama and nearly 30 hours later arrived in Chennai. After getting some rest, I set out on Sunday morning to explore the area in a tuk-tuk (a three-wheeled, open-air scooter cab, of sorts). From my first hours in India, I can share that India is a carnival for the senses:

• Spice smells abound, wafting through the morning air.
• People are spilling out of stores, in the roads and out of bus windows.
• Horns are honking while bikes, mopeds, tuk-tuks, buses and vehicles weave through the streets.
• Roadside peddlers sell fruit, fish, vegetables, tires, sugarcane crushed into juice and coconut milk.
• Sunshine peeks out from behind the buildings and over the trees.
• Tile mosaics decorate walls, and even highway underpasses.
• Vibrant colors are everywhere — from Bollywood posters to political ads to colorful saris (not just red and blue, but fuchsia and turquoise; not just green and orange, but chartreuse and amber).
• Intricate religious shrines, decked with fresh flower garlands, are on several city corners.
• Storefronts sell electronics, fabrics, photocopies, jewelry, money transfers and meat.
• Green takes the form of trees, shrubs, flowers and city parks.
• Everyone seems to wear sandals…thin, worn and rugged.
• Cows stand idle on the sidewalks just outside ornate doors and gates.

Tomorrow we are visiting a ChildFund project community, followed by three days of conference presentations, discussions, debates and opportunities.

ChildFund Work Continues 5 Years after Indian Ocean Tsunami — Part III

by Virginia Sowers
Community Manager

Our three-part series on recovery efforts following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami concludes today with an update from India.

ChildFund India’s tsunami recovery and rehabilitation programs were aimed at protecting children coping with the loss of homes, parents and family members, reports Ilango Balu, child protection specialist in the India National Office.

Working in 35 villages, ChildFund India set up child-centered spaces, where children were given health care, nutrition and other creative activities to provide psychosocial support.

In the past five years, ChildFund India has established support groups for children, adolescent girls and youth, as well as community Child Well-Being Committees. They’ve also provided child-protection training for parents and

Rebuilding fishing boats was critical to helping communities regain their livelihoods.

communities, life-skills training for girls, employment skills training for youth and psychosocial support training for teachers. Resources have also been allocated to economic recovery efforts, such as fishing boat repair, fishing net replacement and small-business startups.

Tsunami recovery efforts by ChildFund and its community partners have focused on sustainability. Ilango estimates that about 75 percent of the people affected by the storm regained normalcy as they received shelter and were able to continue their regular occupations. Yet, 25 percent of the affected population continues to struggle with recovery even five years on.

Many lessons have been learned in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami. ChildFund has recently responded to the typhoons in the Philippines and the earthquake in Sumatra, and we have also begun implementing child-led Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) training in communities where we work.

The goal of DRR training is to further mitigate the vulnerability of children and their families in the face of large-scale or smaller emergencies, by helping children increase their positive coping strategies should a disaster occur.

And, of course, the services ChildFund provides in 31 countries around the world would not be possible without the support of child sponsors, major donors and others who respond to the call with generosity in times of incredible, unforeseen need.

Heavy Flooding Strikes India

Our “31 in 31” series takes another detour today as we visit India, a country hit hard in recent days by some of the worst flooding in decades. (We promise that we’ll get to Vietnam soon!)

By Ellie Whinnery
Public Relations Manager

31 in 31From earthquakes to floods, Asia has been hit hard in the past few weeks with natural disasters. As we did yesterday, we’ve altered our blog schedule today to visit one of these areas – India.

Heavy rains over North Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh in southern India have caused serious flooding. According to Reuters, more than 250 people have been killed and more than 5 million people are in emergency shelters. ChildFund International is working with the local governments and partner organizations in southern India to address what some are calling the worst flooding in 40 years.

Many families were forced to leave their homes for higher ground because their villages are surrounded by water. The floods washed away livestock and destroyed crops. Many roads collapsed, making it difficult for ChildFund teams to reach local communities.

Major power outages have made communications difficult. In Karnataka, ChildFund assessment teams reported that 14 villages in the Vimochana Child Development Project were affected. Seven villages in Gangavati in the Koppal district also were impacted. Five villages in Kurnool district where ChildFund works have been severely impacted, with collapsed houses and crops destroyed. 
In Andreh Pradesh, more than 250,000 people in 200 villages have been moved to higher ground. ChildFund efforts are focused on securing safe drinking water and minimizing waterborne diseases.

For the latest information on this situation, click here to visit our Emergencies page. For more information about our work in India, click here.

More on India
Population: 1.1 billion
ChildFund beneficiaries: More than 630,000 children and families
Did You Know?: The game of chess got its start in India in the sixth century.

Battling Human Trafficking

By Bonica Dave,
ChildFund International Grants Officer

I recently attended USAID’s anti-trafficking symposium that reflected on a decade of efforts by the U.S. government to address the complex issue of combating human trafficking in the 21st century.

The venue was the historic Willard InterContinental Hotel in Washington, D.C., where in 1963 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Lucy Liu, actress and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador delivered the keynote address. She has worked with UNICEF since 2005 to highlight some of the critical issues children and youth around the world face, particularly that of human trafficking.

Between July and October every year, nearly 100,000 children in India are trafficked across the border from Rajasthan to the neighboring state of Gujarat to work in cotton fields. There are known cases of widespread sexual exploitation of young girls working in the cotton fields, and according to some estimates, 5 percent of these girls end up working as commercial sex workers in Gujarat or other states. Some continue to be trafficked for the purpose of commercial sex work. Debt bondage is also a significant problem facing these children and their families. Some children are forced to continue working against their will until their families’ debts are fulfilled.

Some of the key factors that contribute to human trafficking within communities are high unemployment rates, poverty and other exacerbating circumstances that put children at risk, including child-headed households and children who live on the streets. ChildFund International is working to build the capacity of five local organizations in Rajasthan to protect children from trafficking. We strengthen local capacity by promoting a series of mentoring activities including training, coaching, internship and development manuals.

ChildFund International is committed to ending trafficking in children and youth through our ongoing development work supported by donors and sponsors whose support makes a difference in the lives of children everyday. Our programs facilitate access to quality education for children and aim to prevent school dropouts. In order to facilitate successful transitions to adult life, we emphasize youth livelihood and life skills’ training, which is designed to enable youth to link up with viable employment opportunities. Education plays a critical role in prevention – if young children stay in school, then it less likely that they will be lured by traffickers.

We work through community structures and leaders to create a network for change. We work with families and local organizations that are networked and empowered to promote the development and protection of children, including protection from trafficking. In the process, ChildFund also recognizes that engaging local officials, religious leaders and local community groups in raising awareness is critical.

At the end of the day, I reflected on the role organizations such as ChildFund play in raising awareness on the issues related to trafficking, whether in the U.S. or internationally, and on ways we can collectively work together with other agencies to ensure that human trafficking is ended, once and for all. Together we can all make a difference.

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