By Rachel Ringgold, ChildFund Staff Writer
“Asked what peace is, children drew inspiration from their homes, communities and surroundings. There was maturity in their innocence. There was resonance in their honesty. Children have a lot to say about peace. It is time we listen.” – ARNEC’s “ECD & Peacebuilding” report
Since April 2014, ChildFund has been a core member of the Asia Pacific Regional Network for Early Childhood (ARNEC), a group of nongovernmental organizations and United Nations branches advocating for effective early childhood development policies and practices throughout the region. ARNEC partners have built cross-disciplinary partnerships to share their knowledge about young children, and last year, a technical working group surveyed 119 children ages 3-8 from six Asian countries about how they perceive peace.
The answers were illuminating, especially in Timor-Leste, which became independent in 2002 after many years of conflict with neighbor Indonesia. ChildFund has worked there since 1990, and there has been internal strife as recently as 2006. Of course the children who were surveyed were born after the official end of the conflicts, but the collective memories of violence are fresh in Timor-Leste’s communities.
Many children said in the survey that nature and playing feel like peace, and they strongly dislike bad words, throwing stones, stealing, fighting and hitting.
“I like mountains, trees and flowers because they give us food,” says 6-year-old Luzinha, while 5-year-old Rosalinda expresses empathy: “When people fight each other, it gives me pain.”
Many children said, “I don’t know” when they were asked what peace means to them.
During the first years of life, children’s brains develop rapidly, and their earliest experiences are foundations for everything that follows. Although these children didn’t know how to define peace, they still know how peace feels. Being in nature — seeing, smelling, hearing and touching the world around them — feels like peace. So does playing, or being with friends. Peace is less of a noun and more of a verb in these children’s vocabulary. It means actively engaging with the world and participating in happy, harmonious exchanges with the people around them. It’s the absence of violence.
So, how are we listening to these children’s voices and conveying their messages?
In October 2015, staff members from ChildFund Timor-Leste shared their findings at an ARNEC conference in Beijing, contributing to a larger discussion about peace-building and ECD across the region.
Also, our national office in Timor-Leste is incorporating peace-building ideals into its ECD curriculum, an innovative idea because of the ages of the children: five and younger. As we build this platform for peace, ARNEC members and ChildFund staffers will research its effects on children and advocate for its expansion into national education policies throughout Asia.
Children already know how peace feels. Our job, as adults, is to create space for them to practice what they know and nurture their instincts for nonviolent problem-solving, sharing and collaboration. And we can observe and learn from the youngest among us.
By Sumudu Perera, ChildFund Sri Lanka
Guns have been silenced. Instead of soldiers and guerrillas battling one another, farmers are fighting to rebuild their lives beneath the scorching sun. Land that was once overgrown and strewn with landmines is today lush with golden paddy and green crops. Life has changed for the better in the Poonakari area of Sri Lanka’s northern Kilinochchi district, which bore the brunt of a 30-year war between the Sri Lankan Armed Forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
The violence claimed thousands of lives and displaced even more from their homes. During the final stages of the war, hundreds of thousands of people caught up in the conflict were sheltered in camps. They remained there for months after the war ended in May 2009, depending on aid provided by the government, the United Nations and NGOs.
When the resettlement process started and people began moving back to their villages, they faced the dilemma of rebuilding their livelihoods. The fierce battle had severely damaged everything. Agricultural assets and livestock were devastated. The population continued to depend on assistance for the basic necessities of life. Knowing the outside aid would soon end, families were increasingly worried about food security. Most of the children were undernourished due to the inability of their parents to provide enough food.
Working with UN agencies and NGOs, the government designed a Joint Plan of Assistance for all humanitarian and resettlement efforts in Sri Lanka’s north. Aligning with this plan, ChildFund started implementing an agriculture rehabilitation project to rebuild livelihoods and ensure food security of returnees to Poonakari and neighboring Kandawalai. The project provided 1,650 small farmers with water pump sets to resume cultivation of irrigated rice paddies, other field crops and small-scale commercial vegetable cultivation.
The most vulnerable households (women-headed, high number of children and children with disabilities) were the first to receive the pumps. Local farmers also received training in crop planning, pest control and water management to effectively farm their land. ChildFund also distributed seeds and trained community mobilizers to frequently visit and connect with the farmers to provide support.
For most of the farmers, waiting on that first crop to mature was worth it—they received a good yield. In addition to providing their children and the whole family with nutritious food, the surplus crop brought a good income to the family.
Today, many families have reduced the dependency on dry rations and reached self-sufficiency through good farming practices. They have increased their income and are better able to meet needs of their families.
With savings from their successful crops, some families have started a second income-generating enterprise such as raising poultry or starting small businesses. They’re also saving the cost of buying seeds to plant next season by employing the technical knowledge received at the training on how to select and store seeds from the harvest.
Because of the increased income and reduced expenses on food items, families have increased spending on their children’s education. They are now able to send their children to schools in towns and to supplementary classes.
Pushparani is a beneficiary of the program. She lost her husband during the war, and now she and her son live with her parents. “With the support from the project, I was able to start cultivating paddy and vegetable. This was a great thing as I didn’t have a proper source of income. I earned about Rs. 69,000 (US$530) selling the harvest last time. I used it for food, to construct a well, start a small poultry farm and my child’s education. I feel that I have been highly benefited from the project.”
Peace has brought a new purpose to families in northern Sri Lanka.
Today, as people around the world celebrate the 2012 International Day of Peace, ChildFund Afghanistan’s national director, Palwasha Hassan, reflects on the importance of caring for children during wartime.
War turns everyone’s life upside down, but none more so than a child’s. At ChildFund International, we strive to create environments in Afghanistan where children can learn, play and grow. We want them to have a safe, stable, normal childhood and to grow up in communities where they can become leaders of positive, enduring change that will help bring peace and security to the country.
Children in Afghanistan currently face many issues that impact their future. The mortality rates of infants, children under 5 and mothers are among the world’s highest. Stunted growth due to malnutrition affects more than half of our children. Much of the country’s population lacks access to safe drinking water, which leads to diseases that threaten public health. Child marriage and child labor are particularly prevalent. The life expectancy in Afghanistan is 48 years, compared to 78 in the U.S. Only one in five girls aged 15-24 can read and write.
ChildFund International understands the plight of Afghan children. We are working in this country to help fight these problems so that children can have a brighter future. We’ve trained parents, community leaders and government staff to recognize child protection issues; we’ve supported community-based literacy classes for children and trained their teachers. We’ve provided children with recreational areas in which to play, and we’ve developed health services that include training health workers in how to diagnose and treat illnesses. We’ve helped returnee families rebuild their lives. All told, we have assisted more than half a million children and family members with the support they need to take greater control of their lives and their future.
While many news reports focus on war, we must not forget about the children there. It is time for them to get back on their feet and move in a positive direction. It is the children who will determine Afghanistan’s future.