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.
by Anne Lynam Goddard, ChildFund President and CEO
Anne is in Kenya this week, where more than 3.5 million people need food aid as the worst drought in 60 years spreads across the Horn of Africa. One of the most affected areas is the Turkana region, where ChildFund is responding.
It’s a dusty and bumpy drive to Lokitaung in northern Kenya. You can taste the dust in the air. It’s early in the morning and already the heat is unbearable. Without water, nothing grows in this hostile environment.
We stop at a health tent. “Thirty-seven percent of children under 5 are malnourished here,” a local nurse tells me as she weighs a young girl. “Eight percent are severely malnourished. That’s a sharp increase compared to last year.”
In times of food shortage, children under 5 are the most vulnerable to malnutrition. Inadequate food intake in young children has lifelong growth and development implications. That’s why ChildFund is focusing its relief efforts on providing food to those 5 and younger, as well as pregnant and nursing mothers. We are using existing structures we have in place on the ground, including health facilities and Early Child Care and Development (ECCD) centers, to deliver food and water.
At the ECCD in Lokitaung, it’s just past 11 a.m., and the children are crying and hungry. They line up to receive a bowl of unimix – a nutrient-rich porridge. This is their first meal of the day. Since ChildFund started providing supplementary food, the number of children coming to the ECCD has soared. Mothers tell me they have carried their children for more than 5 kilometers, walking in the blistering heat to reach the ECCD center this morning.
Back at the health tent, Emuria, a 5-year-old boy, is having his mid-upper arm circumference measured. He looks frail. ChildFund’s health interventions include monitoring child growth to spot malnutrition at the early stages, providing vitamin A and iron supplements, deworming, vaccinating against measles and polio and also treating minor illnesses.
Mothers I speak to complain about eye irritations because of the dry and dusty conditions. Children are coughing. Today, we’re also testing mothers for HIV/AIDS. Luckily, all have tested negative.
In the afternoon, we visit the remote village of Kariburi. The road is even bumpier and dustier than the one we traveled this morning. Everywhere you look is the same landscape — dust fields. We drive through one dry riverbed after another. Turkana really is the epicenter of the drought in Kenya.
The situation in Kariburi is dire. Malnutrition levels far exceed emergency thresholds. In the local ECCD center, the young children are calm and quiet. They lack the energy to play. A combination of food insecurity, falling nutrition levels and poor access to health and water facilities has left children in need of urgent support. Immunization coverage is extremely low, which puts the under-five population at risk.
ChildFund is distributing relief food (maize, legumes and beans) to families today. Women line up and carry bags away on their heads. They have come far distances.
I’m happy to see that local women are involved in the relief distribution. The more you can involve the community, the better. ChildFund has also trucked in drinking water. A large crowd has gathered around the tap. Women have brought their containers to carry water back to their homes. ChildFund is also providing training on hygiene and sanitation practices. It’s in times of food shortage that people become weak and more vulnerable to disease outbreak.
Our help is needed most desperately. Thank you for your support.
Based in Ethiopia, Isam Ghanim, ChildFund’s executive vice president for Global Programs, answers questions about the cause and impact of the drought in East Africa. Read the full interview with Isam on ChildFund’s website.
What has led to this food crisis?
It’s a situation that we refer to as a slow-onset emergency. This was caused by two consecutive rainy seasons failing, and the short rainy seasons in Kenya and Ethiopia also failed. This has led to an increase in food prices. There is also high inflation in all of these countries. And there is violence in Somalia. A significant number of Somalians have moved to established camps in Ethiopia and Kenya.
Families entered this crisis with depleted assets and very poor physical conditions. For almost two years now, they have been affected by food shortages. They are suffering from nutritional stress. There is only so long you can cope before you fall into acute malnutrition. The environmental conditions and the health conditions take their toll.
What is the current situation?
More than 11.5 million people are affected. In the areas where ChildFund works, we estimate 660,000 people are affected, with 7,000 children facing life-threatening conditions. This is a very serious situation. Stress indicators are reaching the levels that you see in the middle of a famine. Without immediate intervention, children will die.
What impacts of the drought are we seeing?
Children and their parents are malnourished and at increased risk of disease due to poor hygiene because of the shortage of water. They are suffering from physical and emotional stress. People are moving from their homes.
The most grievously affected are women and children. They have less capability to move. For young children, there is a permanent impact on their health — stunting, wasting, mental development. If the mother is breastfeeding, she won’t have enough milk. When parents are under significant stress, the normal care and support for children will be minimized.
What is ChildFund doing to help?
ChildFund is addressing the immediate life-threatening conditions affecting children — providing food, water and basic health services, as well as supplemental feeding through early childhood care and development centers to ensure babies and young children will not fall into acute malnutrition.
In addition, ChildFund is working to help families stay in their own communities so that when the rains come in September they are there to plant crops and cultivate their farms. If they don’t plant, they will lose another harvest and experience another year without food.
There is also a need to address child protection issues. Parents are too weak to care for their children. They have no roof over their head. Providing support is critical so that families don’t deplete their resources as part of their coping mechanism.
by Victor Koyi, National Director, ChildFund Kenya
As our team in Kenya grapples with the worsening drought affecting more than 550,000 people in ChildFund program areas and more than 2.5 million across the population, our constant concern is the well-being of children, especially those five and younger. They are at the highest risk of death and life-long development issues due to inadequate food intake at a young age.
Our analysis also shows a gap in the outreach to this vulnerable age category. Most drought-response efforts are targeting children in general, seeking to provide support through primary schools. But children in the 0 to 5 age range are not found in the basic schools. To assume that they are being reached through the general food distribution to their parents is taking a huge risk of excluding this developmentally critical age group.
To close this gap, ChildFund Kenya is targeting young children through existing structures we have in place on the ground, including health facilities and ECCD (early childhood care and development) centers, which are both home- and community-based. We’re also mobilizing our network of trained community health workers to deliver services and monitor child health. It is an efficient way to reach and serve this most vulnerable population. We’re also directing our services to expectant and lactating mothers as another means of ensuring we reach infants.
A number of interventions are under way. We are providing supplementary feeding in all ECCD centers in ChildFund’s seven operational areas: the North Rift region, the Lake region, Mt. Kenya region, Emali, Turkana, Mukuru and the Nairobi Integrated Project.
In addition, we are trucking in potable water and setting up point-of-use water treatment stations, as well as providing training on hygiene and sanitation practices. Health interventions include monitoring child growth to spot malnutrition at the early stages, providing vitamin A and iron supplements, deworming and treating minor illnesses. We also are providing psychosocial support, which is essential to help children recover from the trauma as well as cope with the situation.
In all of our drought responses, we are linking up with any partners also working in the area, including the government and the World Food Program. We’re also positioning ChildFund to respond to an increase in drought severity anticipated in the next few months.
Already the malnutrition rates in Turkana stand at 37 percent — way above the 15 percent threshold established by WHO for emergency conditions. Interventions to improve the health status of children in these hard-hit areas, especially pastoralist populations, present a huge challenge. This population’s near-constant migration in search of food and water limits their children’s access to primary and emergency health services.
A different but equal challenge exists in Kenya’s urban areas. Due to hunger, children remain in the house instead of going to school. This limits their access to education and basic health care as well as nutrition support.
In Kenya’s worst-hit areas, we do not have the luxury of time. We must act now or consign huge numbers of our population to fate, and that is contrary to the spirit of our joint humanity and resolve.
Our commitment as front-line development workers is to save lives. Our appeal to citizens of the world is to respond to this call to save young children facing the ultimate risk.
In Kenya, ChildFund is helping change the lives of young girls through two unique schools. One “books” girls for an education instead of early marriage. Another features solar-powered lighting so courses can be held in the evenings after the days chores are done.