By Nicole Duciaume, Americas Region Sponsorship Manager
The descent onto the mountainous island is one of beauty and circus spectacular. Our small propeller plane surfed the air currents tipping left, right, up, left, left, up, right, like a toddler taking his first clumsy steps while teetering on the brink of a near-certain fall. As the plane touched down, at the end of the runway was the ocean, waves relentlessly crashing into the rocky shoreline.
Leaving the airport, I was immediately reminded of why Dominica is nicknamed the Nature Island. We passed over so many beautiful rivers and brooks that feed the rainforest canopy, which engulfed the taxi as we wound our way to my hotel, my home away from home for the week ahead. This country is nothing short of breathtaking. It is the perfect destination for hikers, divers and cruise enthusiasts.
In February, I spent a week in Roseau, Dominica, where ChildFund’s Caribbean national office is located. Dominica is about 1,400 miles southeast of Florida — past Cuba, past the Dominican Republic, past Puerto Rico.
Its beauty at first hides the harsh realities of poverty affecting the most vulnerable of the island’s inhabitants, particularly children. Seaside mansions built into the cliffs are brightly colored with Caribbean hues, as they obscure the shantytowns behind them, shacks constructed with plywood and rusted metal sheets.
Here, children sleep many to a bed. Their fathers often have left the home, and their mothers barely eke out a living. Incidents of child neglect and abuse are high, while income levels are low. The cost of living is high, too. Despite the common view that the Caribbean is better off than other parts of the developing world, the harsh living conditions of children and youth in Dominica are on par with what I have seen in some of the most remote and impoverished parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America.
This is why ChildFund works here. This is why we do what we do.
Tomorrow, Nicole reports on a family from Dominica.
By Sierra Winston, ChildFund Communications Intern
Victor Koyi, ChildFund’s new regional director of East and South Africa, has been with ChildFund for 17 years, most recently as national director of Kenya. He recently answered our questions about his motivations, successes and challenges.
What is your favorite thing about working for ChildFund?
The opportunity to make a difference in the many deprived, excluded and vulnerable children around the globe that as an agency we have committed to serve is an honor beyond measure to me. So, getting to the field and seeing that in action is my favorite high point all the time.
As ChildFund celebrates its 75th anniversary, could you tell us what you think has been the most important work we’ve done in East and South Africa?
In partnership with the respective governments and local partners in six countries in East and Southern Africa (Angola, Zambia, Mozambique, Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia), we have invested time and resources to ensure that children have access to education and training.
Education and training have a significant positive impact on health, social and economic participation, equal opportunities and income and productivity. Education provides the core skills that children need in a competitive global economy and certainly for children who do not proceed to higher institutions of learning. Getting skills that help them to find a means of livelihood is a critical lifesaver.
A variety of programs in East and Southern Africa, such as the Atlas project in Zambia, have helped public school teachers improve their technical capacities to teach children and increase use of active, participatory, child-friendly, research-based classroom practices, thus improving the quality, relevance and delivery of the curriculum. The Early Childhood Development investment in Kenya and Angola has given hope to young children in Emali and Elavoko; now they have equal access to effective care and development.
The Investment in Safe Water provision in Ethiopia is enabling hundreds of households to have access to clean water, reducing waterborne diseases and allowing children to have more school time. It is not easy to isolate the most important work we have done. However, our partnership with communities, regional governments, donors and communities over the years has created a wonderful platform for children to thrive.
How have conditions changed in the past couple of decades in terms of HIV and AIDS, particularly with children?
For nearly three decades, HIV and AIDS have devastated individuals and families with the tragedy of untimely death and medical, financial and social burdens. Although children’s concerns have always been present within the great spectrum of need associated with HIV, they have to some extent been overshadowed by the very scale of the epidemic in the adult populations.
Thanks to the improved evidence and accelerated action by many development players, including ChildFund International, the story of how AIDS is affecting children is being rewritten.
Children are now central to strategies and actions to avert and address the consequences of the epidemic. It is true that infections still thrive, babies are being born with the virus and mothers are dying. Adolescents are still becoming infected, but advocacy and investment on behalf of children have had an impact, and the goal of virtual elimination of mother-to-child transmission by 2015 appears within reach.
Through its East and Southern Africa country programs and in partnership with communities and other stakeholders, ChildFund has built community capacity to address psychosocial needs of children affected by HIV, helped reduce mother-to-child transmission, and contributed to a generation of informed youths who work to eliminate biases against HIV-positive people and are aware of the dangers of risky behavior.
The combined treatment efforts and increased knowledge have significantly reduced infection rates in the region.
What motivates you in your life?
I am fortunate to have had people in my life who helped me to navigate my way through life with some level-headedness. My parents and guardians helped to shape the value system that has influenced the person I am today. My greatest motivation is to pass on to my family, friends and peers values that contribute to making our communities a better place to live in. One of the most serious indictments against our civilization is our flagrant disregard for the welfare of our children and weaker minorities. Any effort I can make to change that — even if it is one person at a time — is my motivation in everything I do.
By Rukhsana Ayyub, ChildFund U.S. Programs National Director
The United Nations declared Aug. 12 as International Youth Day in 1999, so ChildFund is taking this week to focus on challenges that especially affect teens and young adults, as well as celebrate young people who are showing strong leadership in the countries we serve.
I am driving through some of the most rural and dilapidated towns in Mississippi. There are hardly any cars on the road; the few towns we pass by seem deserted, almost like ghost towns. This is the delta region, with child poverty rates above 50 percent among the African-American population. I spot a group of young men standing under a tree. My guide waves his hand and declares they’re “up to no good.” These young men are seen as troublemakers, getting high on drugs, getting young girls pregnant and getting into fights.
My mind flashes back to my own childhood in Pakistan. During long and hot summer afternoons, the only way we could stay outside was to go hang out under a tree. The tree provided shade, some breeze and a trunk to lean against. We would hang on the tree branches or simply sit and talk, moving slowly as the shade of the tree shifted directions with the setting sun.
“Rukhsana!” I can almost hear my mom calling me now. “Come inside, it’s time to eat.” That is how my playtime under the tree would usually end. I would kick a few rocks to show my annoyance at my mother’s call, but I would walk back home.
I wonder who is going to call these boys inside. Is there a mother waiting, a sister, a grandma, a father or someone else keeping the light on for them? Is there a plate of hot food and a warm embrace waiting, or is it a policeman waiting around the corner to arrest them? That’s what my guide tells me, that these boys are more likely to go to prison than to college. He goes on to describe for me this “pipeline to prison,” an unfortunately popular phrase used to describe this flow of youth into the Mississippi prison system.
My heart fills with sadness. When and how did the shade of the tree lose the safety, fun and comfort attached to it? Boys and young men are cherished in so many cultures around the world, considered the pride of their families, the name carriers for their tribes and the masters of their homes. Why have we given up on them here in Mississippi?
I want to call out to them to come in. I want to open a door for them.
By Erin Olsen, ChildFund Staff Writer
Last week, the United Nations released the Post-2015 Development Agenda, outlining the strategy for eliminating extreme poverty by 2030. The agenda is a continuation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), set to expire in 2015, and includes recommendations from thousands of civil society organizations, businesses, governments and everyday people from more than 120 countries. The result is what the report calls a “bold yet practical vision” for the future of development.
It was exciting to see children at the core of the Post-2015 Agenda. Among the 12 goals outlined, eight specifically target children’s issues. At the forefront: violence against children, gender discrimination, job training and education for youths and prevention of deaths among children under 5 and mothers during childbirth.
Since the declaration of the MDGs in 2000, there have been many successes, particularly for children. According to UNICEF, more children – especially girls – are now attending primary school, maternal and child deaths have declined steadily. Malnutrition in children under age 5 is lower than ever. Globally, extreme poverty has been reduced by half.
Despite the successes, there have been some shortcomings, in part because the eight defined goals were not well integrated. Effective sustainable development requires a holistic approach. For example, combating malaria doesn’t just require supplying those at risk with pesticide-treated nets and medicines; it also requires tackling the root causes of poverty, like poor infrastructure in communities and inequality.
Addressing that lack of integration is a main focus of the Post-2015 Agenda. The agenda is driven by five “transformative shifts” that will help to meet the 12 goals to end poverty. Economic growth, universality, peace, global partnering and sustainability are all essential to meeting the goals by 2030. Each goal focuses on a particular sector such as gender, water and sanitation, health, food security, education and economics. These goals integrate and overlap, and ideally the success of one goal will lead to the success of another. It will require a pretty drastic global paradigm shift, but the payoff could be huge.
ChildFund’s programs are already ahead of the curve on many of these issues, and sustainability is at the heart of ChildFund’s mission. Our integrated, sustainable approach tackles root causes of poverty and focuses on holistic programs. For example, our Early Childhood Development programs incorporate maternal and child health, early education and nutrition, as well as addressing parenting techniques and preventing violence in the home.
You can play a part in eradicating poverty and helping children in need by Sponsoring a Child, and supporting ChildFund’s efforts to provide innovated, integrated programs to help children throughout the world.
By Virginia Sowers, ChildFund Content Manager
Across the United States, organizations and citizens are coming together over the next 50 days to ask foreign policy leaders in Washington, D.C., to take concrete actions that will improve the lives of girls and women worldwide.
ChildFund is joining with a coalition, which includes the International Women’s Health Coalition, Half the Sky, Girls Not Brides and many others, to champion the rights of women and girls – a key focus area of former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton during the past four years.
The 50 days coalition is voicing its support for continued leadership by newly appointed Secretary of State John Kerry and other U.S. agencies to advance progress in U.S. foreign policy efforts on the following issues:
In ChildFund’s program areas across Africa, Asia and the Americas, we are making progress on many of these issues and improving the lives of women and children. In Kenya and Guinea, for example, we are working to make parents aware of the importance of education for girls, and we are succeeding in placing more young women in the classroom. In Mozambique, we are helping mothers obtain birth certificates for children who lack them – a key document for attending school, gaining employment and participating in elections. We are also launching efforts in Senegal, Dominica, Liberia and Indonesia to combat gender violence by assessing its prevalence and trends, researching root causes and supporting community mechanisms to both prevent violence and protect victims from further harm.
During the next 10 weeks, ChildFund will be participating in social media campaigns around each of the eight focal areas. During this time, Twitter and Facebook users are encouraged to post and share messages to help raise awareness (official hashtags are #usa4women and #usa4girls) and advocate for specific policy actions by the U.S. government that will help women and girls to be healthy, empowered, educated, and safe—no matter where they live.
By Patricia Toquica, Americas Region Communications Manager
School sponsorship is a new initiative of ChildFund Brasil to reach children in the most remote areas of the Amazon forest and improve their educational opportunities.
Raimundo and Tomé are the local teachers in Tres Unidas, a small community located along the banks of the Amazon River, three hours by boat from the Brazilian city of Manaos. This community is part of the Kambeba indigenous group, one of hundreds of ethnic groups that live in the Amazon forest, a vast green territory more than twice the size of Texas.
Elementary schools in remote areas of the Amazon lack basic infrastructure, such as proper roofs, desks and even bathrooms. “Sometimes children take their lessons outside, under the shade of a tree, because it gets very hot during the day in the classroom, not to mention during the rainy season,” explains Tomé.
Most of the classes are multi-grade with an average of 30 students, ages 4 to 12 years. The children’s age differences make it difficult for teachers to follow up on programs and individual progress. “We divide the board into four parts and the children into four groups according to their ages; we work with them in separate activities, depending on the topic,” says Raimundo.
Still, every single child in this little village of palm-thatched huts housing about 20 families goes to school every day and looks forward to learning.
The ChildFund school sponsorship program in Brazil is a new initiative developed in partnership with the Sustainable Amazon Foundation (Fundação Amazonas Sustentável – FAS). ChildFund seeks to improve school infrastructure and access to quality education for school-age children in isolated communities deep in the Amazon forest. Launched in September 2012, the program also aims to raise children’s awareness of the importance of sustainable use of their resources, so that they can become “true guardians of the forest.”
For Raimundo, who is also the Tres Unidas school director, educating children in his community is about delivering formal curriculum and also focusing on indigenous culture. It’s important that the children learn about traditional history, rituals, language and medicine.
He notes that indigenous schools in Brazil typically have inferior infrastructure and learning materials. As part of their partnership strategy for the school sponsorship program, ChildFund Brasil and FAS are working to reduce the cost of delivering educational services to remote areas. “We don’t want to replace government but facilitate development,” says Virgilio Viana, director of FAS.
Thus, ChildFund and FAS are partnering with municipalities. For example, the municipality is covering the cost of providing teachers, and ChildFund and FAS, with the help of the community, are building or improving schools and also supporting teachers with additional training and teaching tools.
The School Sponsorship program is already piloting in the Sustainable Development Reserves of Juma and Uatumã, supporting 20 schools and nearly 300 students. In the long term, ChildFund Brasil’s goal, with the support of sponsors and donors, is to have a presence in eight natural reserves and reach children in more than 500 communities in the Amazon.
By Kate Nare, ChildFund Marketing Specialist
“Please, don’t forget about us. Please, go back and tell the world about us here in Carchi.”
As I reflect on my recent trip to Ecuador with ChildFund, these words cycle in my mind. Spoken through tears with conviction and emotion, each mother we met pleaded with us to share their stories with the rest of the world. So, here goes.
The sun was barely rising on a Tuesday morning when our group set out in a bus from Ecuador’s capital, Quito, to visit communities in Carchi. This region of Ecuador borders Columbia, and ChildFund has been helping communities here since 1984.
We had been preparing for this trip for months, knowing that we would meet the mothers and children whose lives are being transformed through ChildFund’s Early Childhood Development program (ECD), which strives to holistically help children ages 0-5 to ensure they reach their full potential.
Surrounding us throughout our drive were crisp blue skies and undulating bright green mountains, speckled with colorful houses. When we think of poverty it’s easy to envision urban slums fraught with trash heaps and filthy alleyways. The view here was much different. It’s easy to think, “It’s beautiful! I could live here!” But I quickly learned that the beauty of the land masks the underlying poverty, discrimination, lack of opportunities and exclusion that the people who have lived here for centuries continue to face.
This fact became apparent as soon as we met Monica.
After four hours of jostling along bumpy dirt roads, steadily climbing up steep mountain sides, we came to a sudden halt. We were instructed by Mauricio, our guide and a ChildFund Ecuador staff member, that we would be visiting a home in the community.
We walked down a dirt path and were greeted by Monica and her 4-year-old son, Daniel. Fields of corn and wild flowers skirted her property. A scruffy stray dog rubbed against my leg, eager for a pet. Monica led us to her home, which had a corrugated tin roof, cinderblock walls and three rooms. We followed her into the living room and took seats in a semi-circle, eager to hear her story.
Monica is 41 and has four children, ages 18, 11, 6 and 4. She told us how her husband abandoned her and left her to care for the children on her own. Every day she works in the fields to make a living for her family and her father, whom she takes care of as well. As Monica shared these details, her voice broke and she began to cry. She said there were times in the past when she would come home from a long day, stressed and tired, and she would take this out on her children by beating them. The youngest, Daniel, whom she holds affectionately in her lap as she talks, became fearful and withdrawn at that time.
Recognizing that she needed support, Monica signed up when she heard that ChildFund, in partnership with a local partner, was training mothers in the ECD program. Soon Monica was attending meetings and learning the full benefits of ECD: a caring and loving household, proper nutrition and health care and stimulation and learning opportunities for young children. She came to realize how the abuse she inflicted on her children was harmful to their healthy development. After going through a 10-month training program, Monica became a certified trainer, known as a “Mamita.”
Hugging Daniel even tighter, Monica said she wants to use her experience to teach and support other mothers in the community so their children will be able to grow up healthy and empowered. In these excluded communities where ChildFund works, 18 percent of women are married by the age of 15. Forty-percent of women are married by 18 years old.
She shared how she wants to pursue her dream of finishing high school and becoming a teacher. And she smiled as she shared that Daniel is now playful, cheerful and likes to go to school. “All is worthwhile for the happiness and welfare of my children,” she said.
We met many other Mamitas during our trip. Strong, empowered and dignified, they are each creating a ripple effect in their communities as they train other mothers to love and care for their children. Yes, they still face daily struggles. But their efforts on behalf of their children will bring more opportunities for
the community as a whole as their children grow up healthy, educated, and full of ideas to improve their lives. Monica and the 1,200 other Mamitas in Carchi are living proof of this transformation.
I now have a picture of Monica on my desk to remind me of her story, and why we do what we do here at ChildFund. I will never forget the Mamitas I met in Ecuador who are committed to a better future for their children.
By Sharon Ishimwe, ChildFund Uganda
As we prepare to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, our posts for the remainder of the week are dedicated to the amazing girls and women we’ve encountered in ChildFund-supported communities. We honor their struggles and cheer their successes.
Without an education, Ugandan mother Justine could only dream of being employed. Her family of five depended entirely on her husband’s income from driving people on his motorcycle. And yet, his income was too low to cover all their needs: food, medical care, clothing, housing and the children’s education.
When Justine heard about ChildFund in 2007, she enrolled her daughter, who soon received a sponsor. For Justine’s family, this was the beginning of a new life.
An opportunity arose through ChildFund and a local partner organization for Justine to learn how to make clothes. “I knew it was my opportunity to acquire a skill that would get me out of my helplessness,” she says. After the training, Justine received sewing machines, which have helped her family’s income.
The mother of three now makes a living by sewing sweaters and school uniforms that she sells in her shop, as well as training other women to sew.
“In the beginning, I made the sweaters and sold them from my house, but I had very few buyers,” she recalls. “So I was determined to save and get a shop by the roadside, which has enabled me to sell more.”
The income from her shop has helped Justine’s family pay school fees and also have enough money left over for a plot of land and construction materials to build their own house. Justine has also helped her husband buy two more motorbikes, which he rents to other drivers and has increased the family’s income. She is the chairperson of the local home visitors committee, a program that sends volunteers to the homes of ChildFund-enrolled children to make sure they are healthy, studying and happy. As chairperson, Justine mobilizes and leads the team.
“ChildFund’s impact on my life is more than just my financial independence,” Justine says. “ChildFund has given me a confidence I would never have known. I can now comfortably speak before many people. I’m also able to relate to people better and with ease, which wasn’t the case before. Most of all, I now share ideas with my husband, which has enabled my family’s progress.”
By Meg Carter, Sponsorship Communications Specialist
In 2007, the United Nations declared Feb. 20 World Day of Social Justice, formally recognizing centuries of civic- and faith-based movements aimed at improving the lives of the oppressed.
In the 1840s, the Jesuit theologian Luigi Taparelli, influenced by the 13th-century writings of Thomas Aquinas (who himself studied the philosophy of an ancient Greek named Aristotle) coined the phrase social justice.
Although the concept of social justice is not new, its impact on U.S. foreign policy and foreign aid became more prominent in the second half of the 20th century. ChildFund didn’t wait for formal theories of development assistance. This fall we will celebrate 75 years of social justice in action, beginning with the aiding of war orphans in China and extending our circle of care to vulnerable children in 31 countries throughout the world.
According to the U.N., the pursuit of social justice is at the core of human development. Social justice promotes gender equality and the rights of indigenous peoples and migrants. It removes barriers of gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion, culture and disability. It eradicates poverty, promotes full employment and supports opportunity for all people, particularly when accomplished with an eye to sustainability.
ChildFund’s dual focus addresses exactly those social justice concerns that have troubled philosophers for millennia. Through the one-to-one relationships between sponsors and children living in poverty, we discover our own – and each other’s – human dignity. Internal motivations – the dreams that urge a child to achieve more than anyone thought possible – form one side of the success equation. External changes in the child’s environment shape the other.
Sponsorship contributions provide for the fundamental health and education needs of sponsored children. And because no child succeeds alone, sponsor support also improves the conditions of entire communities. Sponsors make it possible for all children to thrive in their own cultures and contexts by identifying and removing the barriers that threaten their security – be it access to safe water, proper nutrition, sanitation, medical care or education.
Additionally, ChildFund’s programs build life skills among youth and behavior change among adults. We educate children to prepare for a future as responsible adult leaders, rather than handing out short-term fixes that offer them little hope of transcending institutionalized poverty.
How will you celebrate Social Justice Day? We’d love to hear from you.
By Cynthia Price, Director of Communications
I’ve never been a fan of carnations. I’m more of a roses and Gerber daisy girl. But then I went to Ecuador and developed new appreciation for this simple flower.
Carnations have helped transform the community of Santa Rosa de Patután, located in the province of Cotopaxi, two hours from Ecuador’s capital city, Quito.
During my visit I heard from community leaders about how their village had changed in the past decade and a half. You could say it had grown up. Fifteen years ago, Santa Rosa de Patután was a struggling community with no access to clean water or sanitation services. Adults in this isolated village had little income and few job opportunities. Alcoholism was rampant. Children were sick due to the lack of clean water and poor sanitation.
Today, though, there is much to celebrate. One of the first things ChildFund did when it began working with the community was open up access to clean water. We also helped educate children and family members about proper hygiene. Children’s health improved.
Access to water also meant that irrigation systems could be put in place to help grow crops and flowers, in particular carnations.
With the installation of irrigation systems, farmers realized that their lands could be productive. They would no longer have to travel to the cities looking for work in construction or domestic services. Seeing an opportunity for a locally based enterprise, they built greenhouses to grow carnations. A sea of red and white and pink carnations springing from the earth looks like a sunrise – absolutely breathtaking. When the carnations are harvested they are brought to buildings for processing and shipment to the United States, Europe, Russia and other countries in Latin America. Breathing in the scent is intoxicating.
At the same time that the carnations began to flourish, community members created their own credit union, with initial training and support from ChildFund. Profits generated from the sale of carnations are reinvested in projects for the community such as building better roads and creating a technology center for the children.
“It hasn’t been easy, we had to struggle a lot, and this is the result of many hours of meetings with the community to organize ourselves and make our business work,” says Nestor Moya, a community leader. “Fifteen years ago, we didn’t have water or electricity, but ChildFund gave us the foundations… and now we are entrepreneurs and administrators. We don´t have to work for anybody else.”
Hearing that success story has changed my views on carnations. I’d be delighted with a bouquet of carnations this Valentine’s Day. Beyond making my day special, those carnations would be changing the lives of the children and families who grow them with love.
That’s the sweet smell of success.