By Emmanuel Ford, ChildFund Liberia
In 2012, ChildFund launched a program called Shine a Light in four countries — Dominica, Indonesia, Liberia and Senegal — thanks in large part to a major gift from a concerned donor. The project’s goal is to raise awareness of gender-based violence, assist child survivors of sexual abuse and help communities develop child-protective systems and responses. In four blog posts, we’ll learn about the progress made in these countries; today, we focus on Liberia.
In Liberia, Shine a Light was launched in Klay Town, Klay District, Bomi County. The project targets 200 children in two schools — 100 boys and 100 girls aged 10 to 17.
Schools in Liberia are rife with sexual exploitation and abuse. Sexual exploitation and abuse, a form of gender-based violence, is an abuse of a position of authority for sexual purposes. In 2012, research among 800 girls in four of Liberia’s counties found that 88.7 percent had experienced a sexual violation, 40.2 percent had engaged in transactional sex, and 47 percent had endured sexual coercion — citing classmates, teachers, and school personnel as the main perpetrators.
To respond to this enormous challenge with the aim of preventing sexual exploitation and abuse before it happens, the project has formed two clubs for girls. These clubs provide a safe space in the school setting where girls may interact with each other and community mentors. Community mentors are individuals who live and work in the same communities as the girls and who demonstrate interest in empowering both girls and boys to stop sexual exploitation and abuse at school.
Utilizing a dynamic and interactive curriculum, club members and community mentors together address important issues such as sexual harassment, HIV and AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, prevention of unintended pregnancy, and reproductive myths. Girls also receive financial education where they spend time learning about options for income generation, how to control spending, learning the differences between needs and wants, and how to save. Girls will be exploring options to open savings accounts and form savings groups.
However, because boys and teachers are also important partners to end sexual exploitation and abuse, the project engages these critical groups. For example, boys are learning about the causes and consequences of sexual exploitation and abuse and are receiving financial education. The project works with teachers and school administrators to reinvigorate and apply a school code of conduct for all personnel.
Gender-based violence has long been an issue of critical importance in Liberia. The national government started a national effort to fight gender-based violence in 2012, focusing on a community-based observation network to identify problems and address them quickly. In 2007, the World Health Organization worked with Liberia’s Ministry of Gender and Development to interview 2,828 women about violence in their relationships.
According to the study, 93 percent had been subjected to at least one abusive act. Of those who survived violence, 48.5 percent said they were forced to work as sex workers; 13.6 percent of survivors were younger than 15. Rape cases are the most frequently reported serious crime in Liberia, and in 2007, 46 percent of reported rapes involved children under age 18; sexual assaults frequently occurred during Liberia’s political strife as a tool to control civilians, according to a 2012 Liberian government report.
Despite the response by Liberia’s government, sexual violence remains a serious problem, with a total of 2,493 sexual and gender-based violent crimes being reported across the country in 2012 and 2013, according to the Ministry of Gender and Development.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who has taken on gender equality and gender-based violence as key causes in her administration, said in a November speech: “In Liberia, through the pain and anguish experienced by each of these victims, we have found the strength and the courage to start to build a new, transformed society — where women enjoy equal rights and fair treatment, and where their productive role in society and the economy is acknowledged. In my country, women occupy high-ranking government positions; rape, though continuing, has been criminalized; and women have greater property and custodial rights.”
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
Ebola, a deadly and extremely painful virus, has broken out in western Africa. We asked Meg, who worked in Uganda during a previous outbreak, to share her impressions of Ebola and how it’s spread.
In Guinea’s Forest Region, where the world’s latest Ebola outbreak began, a bat is considered a delicacy — unless it’s your totem animal. If your family name is Guemou, Gbilimou, Gamamou, Balamou or Kolamou, you won’t eat bats, dogs or snakes.
You’ll also be at slightly less risk of contracting Ebola. Researchers believe that one in three West African bats carries Ebola antibodies. Even animals with no sign of illness can infect humans through blood or body fluids.
Every Ebola outbreak begins with a single animal-to-human transmission, then spreads from human to human through direct contact with blood, saliva, perspiration, urine, feces, organs, even semen. After an incubation period of two to 21 days, those infected pass Ebola on — often to family members and health care workers.
In Guinea, doctors initially mistook Ebola for Lassa, another viral hemorrhagic fever that accounts for about one in seven hospital admissions across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Hospitals there often lack laboratories equipped to distinguish one virus from another.
Rats excrete the Lassa virus in their urine. It disperses during the daily sweeping of dirt floors, and then humans inhale it. Lassa, like malaria, requires vector control. Ebola’s transmission, on the other hand, plays into religion and culture; greetings, hospitality, caring for the sick, personal hygiene and funeral preparations all can cause its transmission.
I lived in Uganda in 2007 when a new strain of Ebola surfaced on its border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Guinea’s virus is also a new strain, very closely related to the type from the DRC. Back in 2007, an infected doctor seeking treatment in Uganda’s capital brought Ebola to Kampala. This March, an infected doctor brought Ebola to Guinea’s capital, Conakry.
In 2007, Uganda threatened to close Entebbe International Airport. Now, Senegal has closed its land border with Guinea, The Gambia cancelled flights into Conakry, and other passengers must undergo health screening at arrival and departure. Saudi Arabia has even suspended visas for the haj, meaning that Guineans and Liberians won’t be among the pilgrims to Mecca this October. Muslims save money for decades to make pilgrimages on behalf of their families. Upon return, they bless all who shake their hands.
Ebola twists, knots and adorns itself in filaments. It is one of the most lethal pathogens on earth, and the U.S. has classified it under bioterrorism. There’s no vaccine, cure or treatment. If your immune system can’t fight it off, the virus bores holes in your blood vessels. Ebola kills most of its human hosts. Since it’s rare for Guineans and Liberians to ever touch a microscope or see germs, many still attribute sudden death caused by Ebola to sorcery.
No child should have to watch her mother die alone, touched only by doctors encased in protective armor. No father should suffer the agony of having infected his child. And those who recover don’t deserve stigma. Please help us counter fear with education and hygiene interventions.
Many of our national offices have thrown celebrations recently for ChildFund’s 75th anniversary. Here are some photos from these events (featuring lots of ChildFund’s special shade of green), taken by staff members from our offices in Kenya, Liberia, Mexico and Mozambique. Enjoy!
Mexico City, Mexico
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund staff writer
Having children is hard work, no matter where you live and what kind of assistance you have available. But think of a mother living in a developing country. She may not be able to give birth in a hospital, and she may lack the proper nutrition that both she and her baby need to survive. As we prepare to celebrate Mother’s Day, here are some ways to show your appreciation for mothers who are striving to raise children in difficult circumstances. You even can give a gift in your own mother’s name if you’d like.
The Mama Kit, available through ChildFund’s Gifts of Love & Hope catalog, has supplies for a pregnant woman in Uganda to use during and after delivery, and qualified health professionals provide education for women to ensure safe birthing experiences. This is important because Uganda has a high infant mortality rate of 64 deaths for every 1,000 live births (2012), according to the CIA World Fact Book. For $35, an expectant woman and her baby have a better chance to survive.
Another item in the catalog is medicine for children and mothers in Liberia, protecting them from parasites, malaria and low hemoglobin levels. For $50, you can help stock ChildFund-supported clinics, which are run by trained community health volunteers. Health posts bring vital medication and education to communities that would otherwise go without.
The catalog features other gifts that make for great Mother’s Day presents. Mothers in Vietnam will benefit greatly from a small micro-loan of $137, which will allow them to start their own agricultural businesses. The income they earn provides food, clothing and educational opportunities for their children. In Honduras you can buy books for first-grade classrooms for only $9. When children learn how to read, the whole family benefits.
Mothers around the world want the best for their children. This Mother’s Day, consider helping a mom.
Reporting by ChildFund Liberia and ChildFund Zambia
Ever wonder how much gifts and sponsorships matter to children who live in extreme poverty? Staff members of ChildFund Liberia and ChildFund Zambia recently gathered some first-person reactions from children who have benefited from the generosity of sponsors and companies who donate goods through ChildFund’s gifts-in-kind program.
Jessica, age 12, of Liberia received a Life Is Good tote bag through ChildFund’s relationship with Good360, the nonprofit leader in product philanthropy.
“I attend the Christian Revival School in Konia, Zorzor District, Lofa County. I am in the fourth grade, and I am happy going to school. I carry my bag every morning to school. Other students who don’t have it call me ‘Life’s Good Girl.’ I like the bag … the drawing is funny. It is like a friend who helps to carry my books but never complains.
This is my first bag. Before I was given the bag, I used to carry my books and pencils in my hands. Because my hands were wet when my palms sweat, my books got spoiled. When the rain came, my books got very wet. When the road got dirty, my books got dirty.
Now I carry my school things and other things I don’t want people to see, like my lunch and any nice things. Before, if I was given new books, some bad boys would take them from me and run away. Now, nobody sees what I’ve got in my bag, and I don’t worry. Thank you for my bag!”
Jimmy, 12, and Andrew, 8, of Liberia live in an orphanage and received clothes from Life Is Good.
“I feel very happy to receive the clothes, because they bring me here without enough clothes, and I pray that ChildFund will continue to help us every year. ‘Life Is Good’ is good for us,” Jimmy said. He was brought to this orphanage from another home for orphans that was closed due to lack of funding.
“I was brought with a pair of trousers and a shirt to this orphanage,” Jimmy continued. “I am very happy with my clothes. They make me look good.’’
“I am very happy,” Andrew said. “This is not my first time getting things from ChildFund. I got TOMS shoes. I was carrying slippers to school, and then ChildFund gave shoes to us.”
Asked what they would like to do in the future, the boys had ready answers: “I want to study so that I can work for ChildFund,” replied Jimmy. “I want to become president,” Andrew said.
Timothy, 11, of Zambia, loves writing to his sponsor.
“I live in Kalundu Compound, Kafue district. I am doing grade 6 at Kalundu Basic School. My favorite subject is mathematics. I like writing.
I have a sponsor and friend at ChildFund. Her name is Jeanette. This sponsor has helped me very much for four years. She sends me money every year for my birthday and for Christmas. I use this money to buy shoes and clothes.
Because of this sponsor, I have learned to write letters. I joined the writing club in my community, and I am happy and enjoy writing. Sometimes I write to myself because I like to improve my writing. I would like to see more sponsors come and start supporting other children like me here.”
Gift, 10, of Zambia, values education.
“I’m Gift, and I’m doing my fourth grade at school. My community is made up of about 300 families; most of these people are not employed. They depend on selling vegetables at the market, and others [sell] fish. Other families are farmers.
We have a school in our community where I go and a clinic where we go when we’re sick. A few other children and I are sponsored by ChildFund.
I have a vision that one day my community will become a big city with electricity and more schools. People will also go to school and start working instead of selling vegetables to earn money.”
Reporting by Emmanuel Ford, ChildFund Liberia
Amelia, 12, is accustomed to maneuvering around her home in darkness. Everyday activities like eating, cleaning and studying her fifth-grade lessons are best completed before sunset. Like many of the children in her school, Amelia lives in Klay Town, a community with no electricity. With the help of ChildFund and Nokero, Amelia’s future looks a little brighter.
“Nokero helps me pass my lessons in school,” she says. “It can save us from burning our houses [accidents with candles or lanterns happen all too often], and I will use Nokero to walk in the dark.”
Amelia attends the Gertrude Yancy Public School, where 48 Nokero solar lights were delivered earlier this year. Teachers, students and community members celebrated the arrival of the lights, which will reduce the need for dangerous and expensive kerosene lamps and mini torch lights.
“ChildFund has built our children schools, distributed shoes to them, and now they are coming with light bulbs,” said one parent.
But it is the innovation and design of the Nokero solar lights that have brought this community joy. Nokero, short for no kerosene, is a portable, solar-powered light created for multiple uses. In Klay Town, these lights illuminate the dimly lit classrooms of Gertrude Yancy Public School. Students may also check out a light to take to their homes. By enabling evening reading and studying, Nokero solar lights are eliminating a major barrier to learning in this community—darkness.
ChildFund and Nokero will continue their partnership to bring light to other children without electricity. Designed specifically for reading, new Nokero Ed book lights will be delivered to ChildFund children in communities without power. For children like Amelia, a book light can mean the difference between passing and failing classes. She is just one among millions of children living without sufficient lighting, and she knows it.
“I want all my friends to use Nokero to study their lessons, too,” she said.
For only $6, you can help Amelia’s friends and countless other children across the globe. Visit our website to donate a light to learn.
by Christine Ennulat, ChildFund International
Liberia’s 13 years of civil war ended in 2003. Nine years later the effects of war linger. In post-conflict societies, children are the ones who suffer the most as their parents struggle to rebuild shattered homes and livelihoods. Often, children come to be viewed as burdens, or even commodities. They became at risk for exploitative child labor, domestic violence and other abuses.
Healing has been slow. Liberia’s Poverty Reduction Strategy of 2008 includes a statement that speaks volumes: “A whole generation of Liberians has spent more time at war than in the classroom.”
Some years after ChildFund began work in Liberia in 2003, staff began to realize that, despite the ongoing rebuilding of Liberia’s decimated education system, young children ages 5 to 8 were not enrolling at the rate they should, and those who did were not staying in school.
In May 2010, ChildFund began a program called Participatory Research and Learning (PARLER) to identify the obstacles to school attendance in 25 communities and try to remove them. The program is funded by the Union de Banques Suisses.
The centerpiece of PARLER is training older teens to facilitate participatory exercises (e.g., fun, animated games) with 5- to 8-year-olds to learn what keeps them from school. The exercises help children identify problems in their communities, prioritize them, analyze solutions and plan for the future.
Martin Hayes, ChildFund’s child protection specialist who helped launch the program, says, “In the long run, this helps build skills and leadership of the youth.” And it inspires older children to look out for the younger ones.
What kept the younger children from school, the youth learned, included bullying and harsh corporal punishment in the classroom. Girls faced the additional obstacle of parents keeping them home to do housework or prioritizing their brothers’ educations over theirs. Some of the children also would go to the nearby Nigerian peacekeepers’ base to beg instead of going to school.
Acting as advocates for the younger children, the youth brought these concerns to special committees focused on children’s needs. ChildFund has trained adult members of the committees to respond as appropriate, whether counseling parents or calling in authorities.
By July 2011, according to an external evaluation commissioned by the Bernard Van Leer Foundation, 1,234 5- to 8-year-olds had been involved in PARLER sessions.
School enrolment in PARLER communities is moderately higher than in communities without the program, and retention also is higher. Children from PARLER communities also miss fewer school days and spend less time on household chores or jobs outside the house and more time on homework. In schools connected with the PARLER program, children suffer less corporal punishment; their parents are more likely to discipline their children verbally than physically. Children involved with PARLER even get sick less often.
The gains are modest, but they are consistent across many types of child-protection risks. Again, healing is slow. But this work is moving it forward.
These improvements flow from giving children and youth tools to improve their own lives. “We’re providing them with skills to protect themselves,” says Hayes, “but also life skills for when they get older.”
by Emmanuel Ford, ChildFund Liberia
ChildFund Liberia has received a certificate of appreciation from the Liberian Ministry of Gender and Development’s Child Protection Network.
ChildFund was recognized for its moral, technical and financial support of the work of the Senate Committee on Gender Equity and Child Development, the Child Protection Network of Liberia, the Liberia Children’s Parliament and for assistance with passage of the Children’s Act. Other organizations receiving the Certificate of Appreciation included Save the Children, Plan Liberia and a few local federations.
Following the awards ceremony, ChildFund participated in the Liberia Children’s Festival hosted by UNICEF, with support from the Embassy of Egypt. Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who attended the celebration of children’s rights, made a special plea to the nation’s youth, many of whom remain involved in gangs and violence following years of civil war in the country.
“Once you make up your minds to leave those bad things,” she said, “we, too, will be willing to help. The future is in your hands. Those of you who want to go to school, we as a government will send you to school.”
President Sirleaf also visited the information booths set up at the festival by ChildFund and other agencies providing assistance to children in Liberia. At ChildFund’s booth, the president met with George D. Toe, community services worker, who provided an overview of ChildFund’s services.
Reporting by Emmanuel Ford, ChildFund Liberia, and Marcia Roeder, ChildFund Corporate Relations Officer
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 to Liberia, where TOMS just gave new shoes to children in a ChildFund-supported community.
The west African nation of Liberia is struggling to rebuild after 14 years of civil war. Still dependent on foreign aid, Liberia has the third highest unemployment rate in the world. Infant mortality rates are also high, and many children suffer from malnutrition, which can have life-long impact.
Although the civil war ended in 2003, it took a heavy toll on the education sector. School enrollment and retention rates are low. One reason for this is that students are required to wear uniforms and shoes to school. Without shoes, they can’t attend. A lack of shoes also means children’s feet are exposed to diseases, infections and cuts.
Earlier this month, ChildFund and TOMS delivered new shoes to three Liberian communities. The shoes were provided by TOMS. Its One for One™ program gives a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair of shoes sold. And TOMS plans to send shoes for the children not just one time but repeatedly, as they grow.
The day was truly amazing! As ChildFund and TOMS staff approached our first destination for shoe distribution – Bopolu Central High School – we could barely contain our excitement.
Children were lined up as far as the eye could see. Local education officers and representatives from the Liberian government were waiting for us to express their appreciation. After a few speeches and a whole lot of thank-you’s, we began the fun part – fitting shoes on the feet of eager children.
“I use to wear sandals to school,” one child told us. “My friends will not laugh at me again.”
With their old shoes in hand and new ones on their feet, children at Bopolu public school did an impromptu “TOMS Walk” in their TOMS shoes.
“I like my shoes. I also like the black color,” another child exclaimed. “I used to wear slippers to school. Thanks to TOMS, I got a new pair of shoes.”
Parents also voiced their appreciation. “ChildFund is doing a lot for our children. This will help retain our children in schools. Most parents are unable to buy a pair of shoes for their children,” one parent told us.
Another parent remembered that ChildFund’s President Anne Goddard visited Liberia in February 2011 to inaugurate the school built by ChildFund. “Now they have come with TOMS shoes,” he noted.
“This is a boost to our efforts in working with the children of Liberia,” said Oliver Fallah, a ChildFund staff member based in Bopolu, a community in Gbarpolu County. “It will help to increase the retention of children in schools. Having shoes from TOMS will also reduce the number of foot diseases children suffer from,” he pointed out. “The children sometimes walk to farms, schools and even on playgrounds barefooted. Parents with four, five and six children are unable to pay for copybooks [school workbooks], not to mention a pair of shoes. TOMS came at the right time to the right place.”
Discover more about ChildFund’s programs in Liberia.
by Anne Lynam Goddard, ChildFund President and CEO
If ever there was a country ChildFund needed to be in, Liberia is it. Following a brutal 13-year period of civil war that made children into soldiers and destroyed the social fabric of society, Liberia signed a peace treaty in 2003, beginning a long journey of restoration.
Having just returned from a visit to this resilient nation, I found positive signs of progress. In the capital, Monrovia, the story is a hopeful one. Everyone I spoke with believes the country is getting better. People are moving with purpose. They are working to rebuild. They say the most important thing they have is peace.
ChildFund arrived in Liberia two months after the treaty was signed. In those early days, our work focused on reintegrating child soldiers back into their communities. After years of civil war, societal rules fall away — rape and violence against women and children are just accepted as the norm. A generation grows up not knowing any different.
We played a major role in reintegration, and were recognized by UNICEF as number one in child-protection work because of our training of school authorities and police and military leaders — sensitizing them to gender issues and child-protection issues. The Liberian Ministry of Defense now has a child-protection unit. The government now has a Ministry of Gender and Development.
Although ChildFund has finished its reintegration work, Liberia still ranks at 162, just seven from the bottom, on the U.N. Human Development Index, a comparative measure of a country’s life expectancy, literacy and living conditions.
Women and children’s issues are top of mind for Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia’s president — the first woman leader of an African nation. When I met with the president during my visit, she acknowledged significant progress in the attitude of children — just through the look of hope and inspiration seen on their faces. The president has visited ChildFund’s early childhood care and development Center in Bopolu — and contributed to fencing around the center to improve safety for children.
The ECD center is managed by the Gbonkuma Women’s Group, whose members are also recipients of small loans to start income-generating businesses. Leader Ma Fatu told me that ChildFund Liberia has shifted the lives of many women and children who had no means of improving their lives to self-sustainable levels in their communities. Now this group’s mantra is “Women! Don’t sit there; do something positive!
I also visited a livelihood project in the Blamacee community near Monrovia. ChildFund Liberia, with the support of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, has built houses for former Sierra Leoneans, who after almost 20 years of refugee status, are now integrating into Liberian society. We’ve also helped them obtain small plots of land for gardening, which provides a source of food and income.
In Liberia, women are a major driver of positive change. Women are enthusiastic about contributing. There is a feeling of hope; it’s a fragile sense of hope, but it’s palpable.
Join Anne on International Women’s Day for a chat on Facebook, March 8.
Post your questions related to Liberia and women’s issues on ChildFund’s Facebook wall beginning at 12 noon EST, and Anne will respond live from 12:15 – 12:45 p.m.