Reporting by Joan Ng’ang’a, ChildFund Kenya
Each year, the U.N. recognizes Aug. 12 as International Youth Day (IYD). Focusing on global initiatives to create and strengthen partnerships with youth, this day is a celebration of the innovation and capabilities of young people to change the world. Activists, philanthropists, politicians and academics will collaborate with young women and men from around the world to address issues such as political inclusion, employment, entrepreneurship, protection of rights and education.
Partnering with youth is a key part of ChildFund’s mission. The work we do around the world encourages young people to use their voices and advocate for their rights to help solve issues in their own communities. Oftentimes, higher education is a youth’s best means to break the cycle of poverty and also give back to the next generation. With the help of dedicated sponsors, youth in ChildFund programs have increased opportunity to not only finish high school but also obtain post-secondary degrees. This has been Kaltuma’s experience.
Born into a family of five children, Kaltuma, 22, is the only member to excel beyond high school. With the help of her sponsor, Susan, Kaltuma is now beginning her second year at Kenya Methodist University. She is studying to receive a degree in clinical medicine; a goal that her sponsor has encouraged her to pursue since high school.
“I am very proud of the support I have received. Someone very far believed in me,” Kaltuma says. “[Susan] made sure there were not obstacles regarding my education.”
Kaltuma’s mother also encourages her to study hard because she knows the benefits of education. “My mother keeps encouraging me to finish my studies,” Kaltuma says. “She tells me with education, my life will be better than hers.”
Kaltuma is one of very few girls in her clinical medicine class and the only student from her community. She is proud of her accomplishments and looks forward to a better future. Upon obtaining her degree, she hopes to land a job in the medical field, have a family of her own, and above all, help young people like herself.
When asked her thoughts on the International Youth Day, she said, “Support a young person today, so that they can be better people and better parents tomorrow.”
Recognizing the woman who has supported her education for many years, Kaltuma insisted on writing a letter to her sponsor before we left. In the letter, she tells Susan how well she did on her latest exam and thanks her for her help.
Having children in our ChildFund programs participate in the Day of the African Child ceremonies at the African Union earlier this month was a shining moment. We asked Joan Ng’ang’a, communications officer for ChildFund Kenya, to post about the experience of traveling with the children from Kenya to Ethiopia.
Wednesday, 13 June
It is 11 a.m. when Jane and James meet for the first time. Discussing what they hope to get out of the trip, their respective projects, and the excitement of flying for the first time, both students are anxious to start their voyage.
One hour before check-in, Jane and James get their passports. They have waited a long time but it is worth it. We get to the airport at 4:20 p.m., check in and proceed to gate number 7 for boarding.
“You mean, they just jump off the ground,” James questions, as he watches a plane take off for the first time. We all laugh. Our flight takes off as scheduled at 6:20 p.m.
We land at Bole Airport in Ethiopia around 8:40 p.m. and are warmly greeted by Tenagne Mekonnen, ChildFund’s regional communications manager in Africa. It’s been nearly a year since our last meeting, so I am excited to see her and she is happy to finally meet Jane and James. After dinner, the children run off to recite their work. Everyone is in bed by 10 p.m.; it has been a long day.
Thursday 14 June
On Thursday, we rise with the sun around 6 a.m. We enjoy a good breakfast and meet the team from Gambia for introductions. We meet Abdulahi and Ramatoulie for the first time. Together, we ride to the U.N. complex in our van. We really like our van because it displays our countries’ names.
Today is the day that all the children, from Ethiopia, The Gambia and Kenya, will compete in a Q&A before the African Union. They will also be able to share their prepared art work. Both Jane and James read their poems. We conclude the day with a lunch and a visit to the Gambian embassy. It has been an exciting first day.
Friday 15 June
On Friday, by 7:30 a.m., we have all had breakfast and the children have dressed in their traditional attire. The fabrics and colors of their clothing display their rich African culture. They are proud to represent their countries.
On our way in, James sees the Kenyan flag and we take some pictures. I am truly humbled to finally arrive at the African Union, a place I had only read about over the last 10 years. We take even more photos!
Our sessions begin at 10 a.m. with opening remarks from the Commissioner of Social Affairs, followed by more speeches from the organizers and representatives from the government of Ethiopia and ChildFund International. Like celebrities, the children get interviewed by two radio stations. Someone from a local newspaper interviews James, as well. Before long, the children are treated to tea time. They really like the break and enjoy their cake and soda.
After lunch, we tour the University of Addis Ababa’s museum. There we absorb the history and culture of Ethiopia. We are all fascinated by the stuffed lion at the entrance of the museum. It looked so real!
Saturday 16 June
Today is the actual anniversary of the uprising in Soweto, South Africa, in 1976. But since it’s a weekend, the children are allowed to sleep until 7:30 a.m. After breakfast, we all head to the Arada community to visit a children’s art club. Abdulahi speaks on behalf of the group. He briefly recaps the last two days of our stay in Ethiopia and the children get to know each other. Split into four groups, the children break off to view and learn more about pieces of art posted in the club. Some of us learn a new word, today: Jambo – hello in Swahili.
Our van picks us up at 5:30 p.m. and takes us to the awards ceremony and closing reception at the African Union. A surprise to us, Tenagne brings ice cream! We arrive at the AU and meet ChildFund’s regional director for Eastern and Southern Africa, Jumbe Sebunya, with whom the children take photos. The highlight of the evening is the presenting of awards by ChildFund. We are excited when Jane wins first place in literature in the high school group and James wins first place in literature for the middle school group. We take more photos than ever at this event!
Monday 18 June
It is 8:15 a.m. and we have arrived at the airport. We depart from gate number 7 and before long, the plane lands in Nairobi. We are finally home. James and Jane meet with ChildFund Kenya National Director Victor Koyi for a debrief. They tell him about their exciting trip, yet we all express happiness to be home!
by Joan Ng’ang’a, ChildFund Kenya
Last year, Kenya’s Turkana region was the hub of disaster. The drought had bitten hard, as evidenced by the bare landscape, pocked with livestock carcasses and dried up vegetation. Families moved away from their homes in search of food, water and pasture for the livestock that remained.
Children and women bore the brunt of the disaster as malnutrition, illnesses and death became common. This was not the first drought experienced in the area. But it was the worst in many, many years. A strong community was brought to its knees by disease, hunger and desperation.
To survive, many families began to embrace farming as an alternative to a nomadic pastoral lifestyle. With agricultural training and support from ChildFund, women are farming huge gardens that now stretch along River Turkwell. And they are producing enough maize, sorghum, beans and vegetables to feed their families. These gardens have attracted settlements of traditional pastoralists. Through the sale of crops such as sorghum, household incomes and food security are increasing. Children are growing healthy and strong.
Excitement ran high in the community when Jumbe Sebunya, ChildFund’s regional director for East and South Africa, recently visited the garden projects. As they carried Jumbe shoulder high, the women sang of their past struggles. They also sang of the great joy they now feel as a result of the hard work and the change they have embraced.
Dedicated to their children’s survival,these resilient women are saving a generation.
Over the course of January’s 31 days, we’re making a blog stop in each country where we serve children, thanks to the generous support of our sponsors and donors. Today we travel with Missions in Action to ChildFund’s programs Kenya.
More than 400 people perished when fire erupted in a large urban slum in Nairobi, Kenya, in September 2011. The fire added an extra layer of hardship to an already difficult living environment.
Alex Boylan, the host of the web reality series Missions in Action (MIA), travels to the Mukuru community to check in with children and families who are recovering from the fire. Many children like Steven are receiving assistance from ChildFund programs made possible through sponsorship support.
Watch the video on MIAtv.
by Karen Chieng, ChildFund Kenya intern
They may not be based at the North Pole, but ChildFund employees are paving the way for a happy holiday for children in our programs.
Right now, ChildFund offices around the world are abuzz with various activities. It’s one of the busiest times of the year for our organization. As much as opportunities to be of service to others surround us every day, our commitment becomes heightened during this season of giving.
As sponsors continue to show their love and support toward the children by sending Christmas and holiday greetings, ChildFund employees are happy to play the role of Santa’s helpers. In each of our national offices, a team is busily working to ensure that children receive their letters in time to celebrate the season. After all, photos, cards and letters are the crucial links in the chain of friendship between sponsors and children.
So as the mail keeps pouring in from thoughtful sponsors, we’re making our list and checking it twice to ensure speedy delivery. We know children are eagerly awaiting the latest news, updates and small gifts from their sponsors.
We take joy in spreading good cheer and love this time of year.
by Karen Chieng, ChildFund Kenya intern
Alfred Wambua Kimanthi, 46, loves his work as deputy head teacher at Kyangwithi Secondary School in Kitui, Kenya. When he pauses to reflect and tell his story, he notes that his life could have turned out much differently.
Growing up in abject poverty under the care of his grandfather who could barely provide basic necessities, Alfred, nonetheless, held the dream of becoming a teacher close to his heart.
His first break came in primary school when he was enrolled in ChildFund’s sponsorship program. He later managed to sit for his final exams and passed with flying colors, attaining his Certificate for Primary Education. “I remain indebted to my sponsor whose assistance enabled me to successfully complete my studies, a launch pad that set me toward my dream of becoming an educator,” says Alfred.
As he continues to tell his story, one can hardly miss the bevy of students constantly coming up to him for consultation. “A teacher affects eternity. He can never tell where the influence stops,” he says. It’s an adage he has come to know well in his profession.
One of his most memorable experiences as a physics and mathematics teacher was contributing to the rise of female enrollment at a school he was posted to in northeastern Kenya. This is an area rife with the cultural practice of early marriage for girls, since education is often deemed fit for the male child only.
Working closely with local authorities, Alfred persuaded community leaders and families to allow girls to attend school. He also engineered the promotion of science education for girls, succeeding in making physics the number two best-performed subject at an all-girls school in Kitui. The school became known for the quality of its science education, contributing to an increased number of female engineers in the area.
At his current teaching post, Alfred continues to pass the baton to eager learners. He credits ChildFund for its drive to empower young minds through knowledge. It’s a mission he shares with passion.
In a visit to a sponsored child’s home in Kenya, ChildFund President Anne Lynam Goddard learns from Iria’s family how they have benefited from their son’s enrollment in ChildFund’s sponsorship program. Iria attends school, sleeps under a donated mosquito net and has access to clean water.
At Early Child Care and Development Centers across drought-stricken northern Kenya, ChildFund is providing a daily meal to young children and monitoring their health status. One way to spot malnutrition is to measure the circumference of a child’s upper arm, explains Anne Lynam Goddard, ChildFund’s president and CEO, who recently visited our programs in Turkana.
Children who are severely malnourished at a young age often suffer developmental deficiencies the rest of their lives.
Join Anne on ChildFund’s Facebook page, Sept. 7, 12-12:30 p.m. (EDT), for a discussion of the Horn of Africa drought. Anne will be sharing her recent experiences visiting children and answering your questions. To post a question, you’ll first need to “like” ChildFund on Facebook.
We’d like to invite you to respond, too. Consider skipping lunch on Wednesday and donating that $10 to our ChildAlert emergency fund for the drought. It’s easy: Just grab your cell phone and text “RESPOND” to 90999 (message and data rates may apply). Alternatively, you may make a donation for drought relief through our website.
Then use your lunch break to join Anne on Facebook to learn more about the drought.
While her husband seeks work, Lopeyok, 32, struggles to care for their seven young children in northern Kenya, where drought conditions have become severe. She relies on ChildFund’s Early Child Care and Development Center (ECCD) for her children’s only meal of the day.
The mother and her children also expend precious energy collecting water at a borehole in neighboring Lokitaung district. The four-hour walk each day is hot and exhausting.
ChildFund is delivering 112 metric tons of cooking oil and a nutritional porridge mix for Kenya’s hard-hit regions, targeting children 5 and younger.
The need is great and predicted to grow as drought severity increases across the Horn of Africa.
To learn more about the drought and ChildFund’s response, join Anne Lynam Goddard, president and CEO, for a Facebook wall chat at noon (EDT) on Wednesday, Sept. 7. Anne recently returned from Kenya where she visited with children and families who are struggling to survive the worst drought the region has experienced in 60 years.
by Anne Lynam Goddard, ChildFund President and CEO
This trip to Kenya has been emotional for me in many ways. Seeing children suffering from hunger and disease is something that remains with a person for a long time. Kenya also holds a special place in my heart. I was married here 30 years ago and my son was born here a few years later. Kenya is part of my family’s story; and when a member of your family hurts, you hurt.
This morning we hit the road to Kalemunyang. On the way, we drive through barren landscapes. All around are dirt fields and no signs of water. We cross large river beds that are totally dry. Herds of goats and camels, tired and emaciated, walk through parched lands in search of food and water.
Hearing that the president of ChildFund is coming, the women of Kalemunyang have gathered to welcome our arrival. As we pull in, they are surprised to see a woman president. They had been expecting a man. They are excited, and to my surprise, they pick me up and carry me on their shoulders around the community!
After things settle down, community members fill me in on ChildFund’s Food for Assets program, funded by the United Nations’ World Food Program. I’m shown to the irrigation system on the bank of the Turkwel River.
After spending all of yesterday seeing barren earth and tasting dust, it’s amazing to see how smart farming practices have transformed this community. You wouldn’t realize you were in an arid area with all the plants that are growing. It’s green everywhere!
In the “shambas,” or vegetable gardens, women tend spinach, tomatoes, green peppers, okra, watermelons, kale, maize and cowpeas. In the midst of drought, we’ve discovered the Garden of Eden!
Through the Food for Assets program, ChildFund initially provides families with food and goods in exchange for their work to build irrigation systems and community gardens. Because of climate change, ChildFund is teaching pastoralist communities techniques for irrigation and how to grow gardens. We’re providing improved access to water for both humans and livestock, thereby increasing crop production, reducing environmental degradation and improving pasture for livestock. More than 20,000 people benefit from this program.
I speak to Anna, a cheery 38-year-old woman and mother of three. She is tilling the soil and watering her crops in the “shamba.” She tells me that her situation was desperate before ChildFund offered assistance, providing gardening tools, seeds and training in crop cultivation.
“My family can eat nutritious food. Malnourishment in children is not an issue here, despite the drought in Turkana. I’m happy, very happy,” she says. She smiles and wishes me well as I depart.
Food for Assets is not an emergency relief effort. It is a long-term development intervention that strengthens local communities, helping reduce their vulnerability to future droughts. In other areas of Turkana, which lack access to permanent rivers, we teach people to use special pans to catch water that is used to grow crops like maize and sorghum.
In the afternoon, we visit Kalemunyang’s local school. ChildFund helped pipe water from the community borehole to the school and has built new latrines. When students, especially girls, have adequate toilet facilities, school attendance goes up. Many of these students also have sponsors through ChildFund. But there are still challenges ahead, given that there only five teachers for 350 students.
I’m told a child wants to meet me. As I turn, a teenager confidently walks up to me and shakes my hand with a firm grip. Lomoru, 14, is the area children’s representative with the local government. As we talk, I learn that he wants to be a judge. Mature beyond his years, this is a confident child if ever I saw one! His colorful t-shirt reads in Swahili: “Activist for Truth.” I have no doubt that he will be a leader of tomorrow.
I end the afternoon by visiting Iria’s home. Iria is a 12-year-old boy benefiting from ChildFund sponsorship. His family lives simply, though I notice their house is in better shape than others around it. The house has permanent mud walls, a mosquito net to help prevent malaria, running water and an outside toilet. As I talk with Iria and his family, I am struck by the complexity of poverty. Iria and his family are doing relatively well, but times are tough. The elder brother is educated but there are no jobs. Education can only get you so far. You then need opportunity.
As we depart the village on yet another stifling hot day, I reflect on my trip to northern Kenya. Seeing the impact of drought firsthand has been a humbling experience. So many people in Kenya and across the Horn are in urgent and desperate need of food and water.
In many ways, Turkana life has changed little since I served in the Peace Corps here more than 30 years ago. It remains traditional, remote and susceptible to severe hardship. But then I think of the vegetable gardens in Kalemunyang, the community school with improved sanitation facilities for girls, Lomoru’s dream to be a judge and Iria’s neat home.
Today has been a day of hope. We must keep working with hope in mind. Your support for children in the Horn of Africa is making a difference.