By Elena Karpenko, ChildFund Belarus
As we conclude our 75th anniversary blog series, we are focusing on success stories of youth and alumni from ChildFund’s programs in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Europe. Today, we meet Oleg of Belarus, in Eastern Europe.
Belarus’ 119,000 children with special needs, including about 30,000 with disabilities, often have problems gaining access to good education and services. They also cope with deeply ingrained social exclusion.
Oleg, a teenage boy who is affected by musculoskeletal issues, often felt like he couldn’t express himself. He wanted to show others that his life has meaning, but Oleg didn’t have the tools.
But life took a turn for the better when Oleg enrolled in a course offered by ChildFund Belarus called Leadership Without Limitations, part of a USAID-funded project, Community Services to Vulnerable Groups.
ChildFund achieved or exceeded all its annual targets, including improved capacity in 170 disability-focused organizations, more services for 535 children with disabilities, training for 257 parents and family members, incorporation of inclusive approaches in nine educational settings and other successful advocacy efforts.
Through the course, Oleg has learned how to take photos, which you see below.
His mother suggested a photography exhibit for the youth in his course, and ChildFund Belarus staff members embraced the idea. More than 120 people came to the event, which focused on organizations that help people with disabilities.
“I didn’t even think that the exhibition could change my life so much,” says Oleg. “If I hadn’t taken part in the course, I would never have come to the idea of exhibiting my photos.”
After the ChildFund event, he was invited to photograph a fashion show featuring children with disabilities, and those pictures were displayed in Oleg’s school. All of a sudden, people saw beyond Oleg’s disability: Here was a person with strength, talent and capabilities.
A long wait at a community clinic led to an international photography award for a Brazilian boy who is sponsored through ChildFund.
Caio, who is 15, participates in ChildFund Brasil’s project Photovoice, which provides cameras and photography training to youth. He submitted photos to a contest held by the World Health Organization last year that was open to teens from ages 14 to 19.
“Teacher Daniel spoke to our class about the contest and nobody took it very seriously. I had an appointment that same week at the community clinic,” Caio says. “I took the camera and tried to entertain myself. While waiting, I photographed a few things I felt good about and things that made me very upset, such as a woman in a wheelchair who was in pain and waited for a long time.”
Caio’s photos were among 450 pictures produced by 77 teens in 33 countries. Five professional photographers, as well as a young doctor, chose the top 10 photos, and Caio was the only Brazilian selected. The other winners are from Argentina, India, Malawi, Pakistan, Philippines, Slovenia, Ukraine and the United States.
The teens, including Caio, won the opportunity to be contributing photographers for the WHO’s Health for the World Adolescents report, set to be published in May. The new photos, dealing with health care and teens, will also become part of the WHO’s digital library and in future publications, and each teen will receive a $1,000 stipend for their work.
“I really like the Photovoice project and learned many things about photographs,” Caio says. “I began to see that a picture can speak. We can shoot and show everyone what we like and don’t like through the image produced. I made many friends, too.”
Caio’s been sponsored for 12 years, and besides the Photovoice project, he participates in a computer course and sports activities held by ChildFund Brasil’s local partner organization, Child’s Search for New Life – Gcriva.
When Caio started going to ChildFund-supported programs, he was a shy boy who had difficulty communicating and writing. But today he is becoming more confident and feeling more support. With the opportunity to speak out, he has developed better communication skills and interacts more with his peers.
“When I was younger, I wrote a letter to my sponsor couple, and I thought that sponsorship was only that: writing letters,” Caio says. “As I grew older, I began to participate in the sports activities, computer classes and now the photography course. Sponsorship is good, because if it were not for our sponsors we would not have that.”
Reporting by Luza Marinho, ChildFund Brasil
Spring fashion week in Minas Gerais, Brazil, took on an added dimension this year with the much-anticipated release of a T-shirt designed by Victor Dzenk. Proceeds from sales of the shirt will benefit children in ChildFund programs.
More than 200 journalists, designers and fashion followers turned out to preview the noted Brazilian designer’s 2013 summer collection. The show included the release of the special T-shirt. Internationally known for his avant-garde prints, Dzenk is also focused on social responsibility.
“Last year in Rio de Janeiro, we created a T-shirt for the breast cancer foundation with a pink bow. It was beautiful and a great success! We want to repeat [that success] working with children from ChildFund Brasil,” he said. “ChildFund Brasil is a serious and respected organization. It is very gratifying to add beauty and an art project.”
Celebrities such as fashion consultant Gloria Kalil and members of the national and world press became acquainted with ChildFund’s mission, while snapping up the designer shirts. Fashion model and blogger Cris Guerra shared with the audience her experience of nearly 10 years as a ChildFund sponsor. Her stories about Fernando, her sponsored child, touched everyone.
The event also featured a special exhibit of photos taken by photographer Luíza Villarroel and students in the ChildFund-supported Photovoice project. A few days before the fashion show, the students had the incredible opportunity of photographing Guerra—sporting the Dzenk T-shirt—in their own community of Sierra Cluster.
Seeming unaffected by the glamor of the moment, the student photographers lost no time in determining the shots they needed and then capturing street scenes with Cris as their focal point.
The Photovoice project teaches children and youth how to use photos, videos and other communication techniques to express their views and their voices. The 2012 workshops are focusing on social identity as revealed through self-portraits and portraits of community residents—capturing life histories, recording the daily life of students and exchanging “looks” and experiences.
Discover more about ChildFund’s work in Brazil.
This year’s photographic theme, “Inclusive Foundations for Early Childhood: Working Together to Reach the Unreached,” sought to spotlight good care practices within the region.
Photographer Nic Dunlop captured the winning images of children thriving in ChildFund’s Leopa Day Care Center in Timor Leste and a community health center in West Jakarta, Indonesia.
The photos will be featured on the ARNEC website and widely distributed via ARNEC’s 2011 calendar.
Here’s a sneak peek at ChildFund’s winning photos.