Guest post by Dr. Gilchrist Lokoel , ChildFund alumni
Gilchrist Lokoel is a physician in the Turkana district of Kenya.
They say that if you want to know how a society is doing, look at the way it treats its mothers and children.
My experience in giving back to society began in university, where I was the chairman of the Medical Students Association of Moi University Medical School. We took free medical camps to disadvantaged communities in Mt. Elgon, Turkana (my home area) and Pokot. We also visited and had medical camps for inmates at prisons on a yearly basis.
Later as an intern in Mombasa, my colleagues and I managed to put in a lot of hours day and night trying to save the lives of mothers and children, especially during the post-election violence that rocked Kenya in 2007-2008.
Now, upon qualification, I deliberately chose a transfer to Turkana (my home area), which my superiors found very odd as it was considered a hardship area. Upon arriving, I discovered all the doctors had resigned as there were no prospects for a young doctor to prosper in this difficult and remote area. So, I worked alone as the only medical officer for three months before the government sent three more doctors. It was during this time that I was attending to all patients — maternity and general surgery, accident victims and gunshot victims arising out of the inter-ethnic conflicts.
I worked day and night with minimal motivation and resources. It’s the spirit of helping others that has kept the fire burning.
Two months later, I was promoted to District Medical Officer of Health. During my two-year tenure, immunization coverage rose from 47.3 percent to 58.3 percent. Malnutrition dropped from 22 percent to 16 percent. We increased outreach to hard-to-reach areas, offering medical services to the nomads. Medical camps were introduced on a quarterly basis to save the lives of the poor. We renovated a pediatric ward with modern equipment. And we increased disaster preparedness and response, especially for preventable illnesses like polio and measles
The Day of the African child is a day to challenge all of us to hear the plea of African children to live and be who they want to be in future. It’s a day to give children a second chance to reach their full potential and contribute to their nation.
After all, ChildFund gave me the opportunity to be who I am today.
In the late 1980s, ChildFund Kenya and its affiliate in the Marigat area of the Rift Valley, the Marigat Family Helper project, partnered with Sight Savers International so that vision-impaired children would have the same chance to reach their potential as sighted children do. The result would be an integrated school where both blind and sighted would share a mainstream learning environment.
by Joan Ng’ang’a, Communications Officer, ChildFund Kenya
As ChildFund Kenya continues to respond to children and families who lost their homes in the fire outbreaks in early March, we have received immense support from our service partners.
As we were gathering donations to commemorate International Women’s Day a few weeks ago, we also thought to reach out to those organizations and vendors that help ChildFund provide services in Kenya. We shared the list of identified needs (e.g., food, clothing, bedding, scholastic materials and psychosocial counseling) and received initial support. Yet, weeks after the tragedy, we are gratified to still be receiving response.
Yesterday, Standard Chartered Bank helped distribute its contributions of clothing, maize flour, beans, rice, cooking fat and bar soap. These donations reached 187 families enrolled in ChildFund’s Mukuru Integrated Program.
What are we learning from this emergency situation?
No matter the role we each play in the service chain, we are all partners in ensuring that the children are at the center of our work.
by Joan Ng’ang’a, Communications Officer, ChildFund Kenya
To mark the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day on March 8, the women of ChildFund Kenya led the office in responding to the fire tragedy that occurred last week in the Fuata Nyayo area of our Mukuru Integrated Program.
We coordinated collections of food, clothing, bedding and household utensils. We then delivered the items to ChildFund-enrolled children and families at St. Catherine’s primary school.
ChildFund Kenya National Director Victor Koyi joined us to deliver the donations to St. Catherine’s. Victor spoke to the group and particularly encouraged the women present to take leadership not only on the home front but also in matters of their livelihoods and the health and education of their children.
The ChildFund Kenya team talked with and listened to children and caregivers (the majority of whom were women) who had suffered losses. Children played and socialized and they also received a snack donated by one of ChildFund Kenya’s service providers.
Additionally, ChildFund Kenya through the Mukuru Integrated Program redirected about US$10,000 to address the priority needs of children and parents recovering from the fires.
A team from the Kenya national office conducted a rapid needs assessment March 2 immediately following the fire outbreak. The following needs were identified:
The redirected funds are purchasing blankets, cooking pots and mattresses for families enrolled in ChildFund programs. We’ve also set up Child Centered Spaces at the distribution site, with ongoing activities to address psychosocial needs. These activities focus on play therapy with drawing, games, poetry and singing.
Other ChildFund service providers, including Techno Relief, donated 500 plates and spoons to the affected families. The response to this emergency has been tremendous — both locally from our service providers and from ChildFund’s regional and international offices. We thank each one for their support and well wishes.
If you wish to make a contribution, the ChildAlert Emergency Fund is designed to assist with these types of emergencies in our program areas.
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.