Guest post by Jack Siegel
Last spring 10-year-old Jack Siegel traveled to Kenya on a ChildFund study tour, accompanied by his father John and grandmother Alice. For Jack, the highlight of the trip was meeting 10-year-old Willis, whom Alice began sponsoring right after her grandson’s birth so that the two boys, though worlds apart, could write and become long-distance friends throughout their childhoods. Jack, who has since turned 11, shares his memories of the trip.
The trip to Africa was great. We planted trees that will help the environment and we saw how a well helped a community. But, definitely, the best part of the trip was meeting my sponsored child Willis. That was amazing!
Willis is really nice, and he’s really smart. We took him a shirt and a soccer ball. I noticed that he was very thankful for the things we gave him. I think many Americans, especially if they’re wealthy, might not be that excited about a shirt, but he was happy and excited about it.
We took pictures of our family and we found out more about Willis’s family. His brother had died, and his family has had a lot of hardships.
But Willis is a kid like me. He enjoys playing soccer. I enjoy playing basketball. He enjoys playing with his goat. I like playing with my dog.
We had almost a full day together, and I got to find out what he likes to do — play soccer — and who is favorite soccer team is — Chelsea.
I got to play soccer with him. And I found out he was much better at soccer than most Americans.
Now that I’ve met Willis, it’s going to be easier to write. We can talk about what we did that afternoon for a long while.
It’s very crazy how it is that Willis and other children in Africa have so little. We have so much in this country and we spend money so shamelessly. I think my grandmother began sponsoring a child in Africa for each of her grandchildren because it’s a great learning experience for us. It’s amazing what less then $400 a year can do for a child living in Africa and other places in the world.
Sponsorship is fun. You get a friend. I have learned so much from writing letters to Willis. I plan to be his pen pal for at least 20 more years!
I just want Willis to be able to stay in school so that he can have options like I have when he grows up.
Definitely, I think more people should sponsor children. I mean, it can change a life! Without this support, children may not be able to stay in school. What if one of these children turns out to be a president of a country? Maybe a child will grow up to invent a new kind of gas or energy source — there are endless possibilities.
by Anne Lynam Goddard, ChildFund President and CEO
At ChildFund, we talk a lot about changing childhoods. We believe that children who are nurtured as infants, educated as children and involved as youth will become the leaders of future change in their communities and countries.
I want to share with you that it’s really happening.
Earlier this spring, I traveled to Kenya to visit ChildFund projects and to share our work with a group of donors and sponsors on a study tour. ChildFund has worked in Kenya for more than 50 years, reaching more than 1 million children and families over the decades.
Kenya also holds a special place in my heart, having served two years there as a Peace Corps volunteer some 30 years ago. My Swahili is somewhat mixed up with the other four languages I’ve studied since then, but I found it coming back to me while on the trip—on one day in particular.
That was the day that I traveled to the town of Nakuru with ChildFund Kenya National Director Victor Koyi. En route, we were unexpectedly stopped by a policeman. As our driver was sorting out the cause, I was able to pick up some of the exchange: “Where are you headed? “Who is this foreigner?” “I know ChildFund.”
By then, Victor was out of the car and shaking hands with the officer. The policeman stopped us because he recognized the ChildFund logo on our vehicle. He wanted to tell us that he was a former sponsored child! He rattled off his sponsor’s name and shared how he came from a very poor family.
He said he would not have had the opportunity for an education or to be trained as a policeman without the 11 years of sponsorship support he received through ChildFund. He completed secondary school and also volunteered for a while as a youth intern with the Maikona Family Helper Project.
Meeting Barako, who is now 37 with a family of his own, turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip to Kenya. It once again confirmed why we do what we do every day.
So, to our ChildFund supporters, I say asante sana. Many thanks.
More than 1 billion people in 190 countries are participating in activities to mark the 40th anniversary of Earth Day today and this week.
Those living with the fewest personal resources in developing nations often bear the brunt of environmental disruptions — severe drought, water scarcity, extreme flooding, erosion and food shortages.
The natural environment faces many challenges, yet it is the cumulative effect of many small efforts by individuals and organizations that adds up to larger progress to sustain the planet and its people.
Here are four positive things we’re doing through ChildFund:
> Solar panels at the Kokwa Island school in Kenya: This girl’s boarding school in the Lake Baringo community has installed four solar panels to deliver electricity to eight classrooms, two dormitories, a staff room, kitchen and dining hall. By harnessing the sun, “children are now able to have longer study periods in the evenings, between 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., and again in the early morning hours, between 5 a.m. and 6:30 a.m.,” reports Jackie Mollel of ChildFund Kenya.
> Eco-friendly stoves in Uganda: Confronting severe poverty often means thinking creatively while keeping the environment in mind. The introduction of energy-saving stoves in Uganda’s Wattuga Subcounty is creating manufacturing jobs, and it’s changing cooking practices. Families in Wattuga have typically cooked on open fires, using considerable amounts of firewood. The eco-friendly stoves hold heat, reducing the amount of wood needed to cook, and they produce less smoke than an open fire.
> Tree planting in Kenya: The widespread cutting of trees for fuel and construction is a leading cause of environmental degradation in eastern Africa. ChildFund Kenya has launched a major tree-planting initiative involving children, youth and communities in reforestation. For example, the Wamunyu Breakthrough Youth Group has started a tree nursery, growing and then selling tree seedlings. Proceeds from the tree nursery have helped fund the group’s efforts to address unemployment issues among youth through vocational skills training programs.
> Growing food locally in Guatemala: A collaboration between ChildFund and the Family Parents Association of Kajih-Jel of Tecpan, Guatemala, is producing a bounty of tomatoes through efficient growing techniques. Bypassing costly traditional greenhouse structures, ChildFund and Family Parents Association opted for an alternative method known as the “macro tunnel.” Shallow dirt canals are dug into the soil to use as walkways, and slopes between the canals act as elevated planting beds. The tunnels are then covered with a tarp in the same dome-style fashion as larger greenhouses. Not only are the tunnels more cost efficient in technique, they also yield a better harvest for tomatoes based on climate and weather conditions.
by Virginia Sowers
ChildFund Community Manager
As we mark World Health Day, cities and communities across the world are participating in this World Health Organization effort to improve individual and collective health globally.
Having just returned from a ChildFund Study Tour in Kenya, I was pleased to learn that Nairobi is one of 13,000 cities participating in this year’s World Health Day events, with an emphasis on urban health.
This week, Nairobi is closing a major street to traffic and setting up a health fair. Fun activities including music, dance, acrobats and a carnival procession will advocate and educate the public on healthy lifestyles in cities.
As we learned on a project visit to the Karai Pamoja HIV/AIDS support group in Kenya, education is absolutely critical to improved health. When this community was struck with the AIDS epidemic several years ago, the majority of the population feared the disease and lacked adequate knowledge about transmission and prevention. Those who became ill did not receive adequate care or nutrition. Children struggled to survive as their parents became bedridden or died.
In September 2005, ChildFund Kenya’s Weaving the Safety Net program “came to the rescue of the Karai community in the Kikuyu District,” explains Gad Son Thiru, chair of the community-based organization. ChildFund trained home-based care workers to support the bedridden and refer them to health facilities for antiretroviral therapy.
Next came the formation of the Karai Pamoja support group for people living with HIV/AIDS. It started with 15 members who tested positive and grew to 86 members. “Karai Pamoja support group became the only hope and savior of the people living with HIV/AIDS in this area because it was here members felt safe and secure,” Gad explains. Members felt safe to share personal worries, fears and hopes for the future.
As the members regained their health through good nutrition and access to medication, ChildFund helped them develop income-generating activities. The group has opened a community bank account, and the money is used to buy food, improve housing and support their children’s education.
ChildFund also helped sustain the community’s children by providing school uniforms, books, deworming, vitamin A supplements, mosquito nets and psychosocial support.
“As you can see,” Gad says, “you cannot tell our HIV status because we are now strong and back to our feet.”
by Virginia Sowers
ChildFund Community Manager
When our bus pulled up at the park, the children were waiting tentatively. Most had traveled long distances from ChildFund projects in Kenya the prior day—many had never been away from home, much less in a large city like Nairobi.
Yet, with the skillful coordination of ChildFund Kenya staff, children and their guardians were quickly matched with sponsors — and the day of fun and fellowship began.
“Meeting my child was fantastic,” says Sylvia Moran, who traveled from Alexandria, Va. “Moreen is three years old, and she’s just a beautiful little child. Her mother came with her, and it was obvious that she is a good mother. It was just such a wonderful day. I’m so glad I did it, and I’m looking forward to going on more study tours with ChildFund.”
For Marie-Paule and Jeff De Valdivia of Westport, Conn., meeting 6-year-old Daisy was a memorable moment. “It was really lovely to meet our sponsored child, who clearly is living in extreme poverty right now, but is incredibly bright and possibly has an incredible future ahead of her,” says Marie-Paule. “For me, personally, I loved it because I really see the opportunity to make a difference, and we bonded with her really well. It was great.”
Jeff adds, “I hope we’ll be able to help Daisy’s mother in a significant way so that she will be better able to take care of Daisy as well as three others, and one coming. Healthcare for Daisy’s mother is a primary short-term concern. Then it will be education for Daisy. Of course, I’ve started dreaming about her going to university.”
Across the park, similar sponsor-child stories played out, as gifts were exchanged and morning tea was sipped.
Sponsor Mel Zwissler of Powell, Ohio, entertained his four sponsored children with bubble blowing and hilarious antics that caused giggles to erupt.
It wasn’t long until a soccer game was under way and balloons were floating in the breeze.
Changing a childhood will change the world.
by Virginia Sowers
ChildFund Community Manager
Jambo and greetings from Nairobi, as the ChildFund Study Tour continues in Kenya.
Since last checking in following our ChildFund project visits, our journey has taken us deep into the bush (and away from telephones, Internet access and even 24/7 electrical power).
We’ve been off the grid and immersed in an amazing educational experience.
We’ve traveled to Amboseli National Park, located at the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro; Lake Nakuru, a famous migratory stop for flamingos; and Masai Mara National Reserve, known for its lions and golden grassland plains.
Our last stop this morning before returning to Nairobi was a Maasai village, where the semi-nomadic tribe greeted us warmly and explained their unique culture preserved through generations and closely interwoven with nature.
In addition to brushing up on our Swahili (by the way, jambo means “how are you?”), we’ve learned that Maasai has two “a’s” when referring to the people, but one ‘a” when referring to the land.
And, of course, there have been animals — close-up encounters (from within the safety of our vehicles) with elephants, lions, giraffes, wildebeests, gazelles, flamingos, tawny eagles, hippos, rhinos, and many, many more species.
Sharing these experiences has brought our ChildFund group together in a companionable way.
As we returned to Nairobi today, our conversations began to center on child sponsorship day with ChildFund Kenya tomorrow. Many members of the tour will be meeting their sponsored children for the first time.
It promises to be another amazing day.
by Virginia Sowers
ChildFund Community Manager
As I travel the back roads of Kenya this week with the ChildFund Study Tour visiting projects outside Nairobi, I have an overwhelming feeling of gratitude.
At each stop, entire communities have turned out for us—cheering, singing, dancing, drumming and grasping our hands tightly. “You are very, very welcome,” they say again and again.
Although these children and their families are living in some of the poorest areas of Kenya, their hospitality is unmatched as they greet the 29 ChildFund sponsors and four staff members, including Anne Lynam Goddard, president and CEO.
ChildFund Kenya’s national office and area staff have taken much time and gone to great effort to immerse us in the communities and for us to see a rich variety of programs.
As we travel to early childhood centers and community centers, children and youth confidently tell us firsthand how ChildFund is impacting their lives.
We’ve had magical moments all week—shy smiles and exuberant laughter from tiny children in red-and-white gingham school uniforms; lively songs, poems and skits that demonstrate commitment to children’s rights; and heartfelt stories from those coping with HIV/AIDS.
One of my “wow” moments was planting a tree seedling at the Wamunyu ChildFund project office grounds. When we entered the compound, it was amazing to see little placards with each of our names marking pre-dug holes for our trees to be sunk into Kenyan soil.
A youth representative of the Wamunyu Self-Help Group explained that proceeds from the tree nursery have helped fund the group’s efforts to address unemployment issues among youth while helping protect the environment. With ChildFund’s help, the group is promoting youth education and vocational training while participating in community improvements.
As I washed the red dirt from beneath my fingernails and surveyed our group’s work planting nearly 40 trees, I felt so very welcome.
by Virginia Sowers
It’s amazing what people can accomplish when they work together.
In just three months, 22 generous ChildFund supporters have raised $62,588 to reduce malaria in Zambia, feed malnourished children in Kenya and bring fresh water to rural communities in Timor Leste.
These supporters likely will never cross paths, but they all shared a common quest through Fund a Project, which identifies critical needs in ChildFund program countries.
For the project in Nambala, Zambia, five ChildFund contributors and one major donor have put up more than $41,000 for malaria prevention and education. The program will significantly increase the number of treated bed nets in Nambala. A much larger trained force of malaria agents will also educate households on prevention and management.
In Kenya, ChildFund’s successful Pamoja nutritional support program will continue and expand to the Mukuru informal settlement in Nairobi, thanks to the generosity of a major donor and 10 contributors who gave more than $18,000.
The program will supplement the nutritional needs and reduce the levels of malnutrition in preschool children within the settlement. Funds will also cover the costs of transporting and distributing the supplement, employing cooks to properly prepare foods for the children and monitoring children’s progress to ensure the reversal of malnutrition.
In Timor Leste, children will no longer have to walk up to 40 minutes to reach a source of potable water and then carry a supply home to their families. With more than $2,800 from five contributors, ChildFund will be providing a nearby source of clean water for approximately 15 rural families. Without such long treks for water, children will have more time to study, play and help with other family chores.
All three projects should be under way this spring and summer.
More worthy projects await funding. So, what else can we do together?
by Naomi Njoki Nyaga as told to ChildFund Kenya
To commemorate World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, Naomi, who lives in the Kiambu District of Kenya’s Central Province, agreed to share her story. Today, we continue with part two of Naomi’s story of living with HIV/AIDS. This year’s theme for World AIDS Day is Universal Access and Human Rights.
With time, I made up my mind not to sit and wait for people to come and sympathize with me, but rather find a way to earn a living. Besides working hard on my farm, I started cooking food and hawking it at construction sites and market places. Since then, my children have not lacked life’s basic essentials. I recently bought a dairy cow, which supplies us
with milk for use at home and the little surplus is sold.
Having gone through tough times, I resolved to go out in the community and help many people with the same challenges learn how to cope with their conditions. I want to see them come out of denial and self-hate and be the best they can be. That has become the mission of my life.
When I expressed this desire to Kihara Widows CBO officials, they were excited about it. They asked me to join them as a member of Kihara Widows CBO, where I would be better placed to reach more others. Through ChildFund WSN (Weaving the Safety Net) program, I received training as a Community-Based Worker. I identified five clients who were completely bedridden and in dire need of support in form of home-based care.
Braved Ridicule and Objection
One case I will never forget is of a lady who had literally been abandoned by her family and left to die. Her children had been clandestinely taken to live with a relative who lived a long distance from her home. Her relatives went every morning and evening to check whether she had died. Before that could happen, I got wind of it, and swiftly went to rescue her. I braved ridicule and objection from her relatives. I was not about to see another soul die when I could help. When she regained her health, I helped reunite her with her children. She is now a very successful business woman and a Community Based Worker just like me.
I have joined hands with many other like-minded groups who have a passion and commitment to not only helping people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) but also assisting the community to accept rather than stigmatize and discriminate people in such conditions. I strive to sensitize the community to provide a favorable environment for those infected or affected by HIV/AIDS so as to enable us live life to its fullness without putting barriers to our ambitions.
Accepting My Condition and Choosing to Live Positively
I have received further training in Community Health Work through the Ministry of Health. I also represent Kihara Widows in the Constituency AIDS Control Committee (CACC) in the location, and work very closely with Kihara Health Center as a patient trainer, having received training for the same through the International Center for Aids Care and Treatment Program (ICAP). I am often called upon to give motivational talks at churches, chiefs’ barazas [meeting places], schools and other social gatherings. Accepting my condition and choosing to live positively have not only enabled me regain my self worth, but I’m also able to instill the same to others with confidence.
Now I realize I have a purpose to live. My family is happy. We are progressing well in life. My firstborn son who is 19 is currently sitting for his final examination in high school. The sister who follows him is 15 and in form two. My 10-year-old son is in standard three, while the last born girl is 5 years attending nursery school [Early Childhood Development Center]. I have disclosed to my three older children and made them know that, their youngest sister and I are HIV positive. They have accepted our status and are very keen to ensure we adhere to our daily medication.
I do not see my life as being abnormal in any way nor do I allow myself to be affected by what insensitive people say about me or my children. I urge everyone to know their HIV status. Testing positive to HIV/AIDS does not translate to death. I am a living proof — it is possible to come out of self-stigma, overcome stigma from without and live a full life.
Healing begins from within.
Tomorrow: The story of a HIV/AIDS home-based care volunteer in Uganda.
by Naomi Njoki Nyaga as told to ChildFund Kenya
On the occasion of World AIDS Day, Naomi, who lives in the Kiambu District of Kenya’s Central Province, agreed to share her story. The 37-year-old widowed mother of four children, Naomi and her youngest child are HIV-positive. She and her children are enrolled in the ChildFund Weaving the Safety Net program for orphans and other vulnerable children, which has delivered medical care and support to the family. This year’s theme for World AIDS Day is Universal Access and Human Rights. Today and tomorrow, Naomi shares her story.
Having lost my husband to HIV/AIDS in the year 2005, I knew it was just a matter of time before the same fate befell me, as I had also been diagnosed and tested HIV-positive.
I lost hope of living the day my husband was buried.
Back then, HIV/AIDS was considered a death sentence in my village. I had attended countless burials and had no doubt in my mind my day was imminent.
Depressed and Ill
My health started deteriorating very fast. I sunk into a serious depression. The whole situation would have been bearable with support from those around me, specifically my relatives, but it wasn’t so. They avoided us like a plague. I would spend days without anyone visiting me, despite them knowing how much I needed their support. Some even avoided a simple handshake. I felt such a social misfit. I begun to hate myself, and bitterness was slowly consuming me.
A Ray of Hope
When I thought all was lost, I encountered a local community-based organization (CBO) —Kihara Widows, a ChildFund partner in the Weaving the Safety Net for Orphans and other Vulnerable Children (WSN/OVC) program which understood my circumstances. In 2006, my children were enrolled in the program, which made me feel some weight had been lifted off my shoulders. My firstborn son, who had lost hope of going to high school, was enabled to do so. My other three children also became beneficiaries of the various interventions in WSN program.
The kind visitors from Kihara Widows CBO, who were now becoming good friends, noticed that my condition was worsening. Having been trained in home-based care they started coming to my home more frequently. Their encouragement, home-based care services and commitment made me come out of the sorry state I was in. My perception to life was different. There was a ray of hope, not just for my children but also for me. A determination to conquer started building up within me. Soon I wanted to live more than ever before, as it dawned on me that I have a right to life. Through their encouragement, I sought treatment for the opportunistic infections that had become frequent, I guess aggravated by stress, fear and anger. Soon I was put on anti-retroviral therapy.
Tomorrow: Read how Naomi is now supporting her family and helping others who face the same challenges that she has.