By Loren Pritchett, ChildFund staff writer
In the 30 seconds it took him to watch the ChildFund commercial, Pete Olson, Formula car racer, knew he wanted to sponsor a child. The decision was quick, but he was no stranger to speed.
Fast forward more than a decade later and, today, Olson is supporting his third sponsored child and racing in the name of children in need. Behind the wheel, he is in control but admits that compassion is really what drives him.
“It’s an incredibly rewarding experience,” he says. “You can change a child’s life and give them opportunities that many of us take for granted.”
Opportunities like getting a quality education and receiving proper nutrition are among those Olson knew as a small child, adopted into a loving family. He credits his own success to his adopted parents’ support and saw sponsorship as a way to share his good fortune. He began sponsoring as a student at Boston University.
“I felt that many of us there were privileged and lucky to have the opportunities that we did,” he says. “It was a point in my life where I started to feel it was important to give something back for all that I have been so grateful to have in my life.”
Olson maintained child sponsorships while earning two degrees, a regional racing license and pursuing his passion for speed. He excelled from motorcycles to professional karting and eventually found himself racing in China – thousands of miles from U.S. tracks but only a few hundred from his sponsored child, Trang.
“She writes a lot about her schooling, which she really seems to enjoy,” he says. “That makes me very happy as I think education is something that we tend to take for granted back home. In many other countries, children don’t have the same opportunities for education.”
Trang, 11, lives in Vietnam. In some rural areas of the country, children are discouraged from attending school because their classrooms are too far away. Other areas of the region lack clean drinking water and have inadequate sanitation facilities. With Olson’s support, Trang is able to attend school regularly and benefits from the various ChildFund health and nutrition programs in her community.
With a desire to help more children like Trang, Olson now races in the Asia Formula Renault Series and does so for children in extreme poverty. The ChildFund logo that shines from the side of his red Formula car is an invitation to all of his fans – sponsor a child. And although he aspires to be the first American to win the series this year, he knows this is much bigger than winning.
“I’ve stopped keeping track of the wins,” he says. “No matter what’s going on in my own life, I know without a doubt that in another part of the world I am bringing joy and happiness to a child in need, enriching their life and providing them with opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have.”
Olson plans to visit Trang soon to learn more about her family, community and where she goes to school. In the meantime, he continues his race for children.
Are you a racing fan? Catch Pete Olson September 15-16, October 20-21 and December 8-9. Check your local listings to find out how you can watch the races. Or stay updated on Facebook or www.peteolson.com. To learn more about sponsoring a child, speed over to the ChildFund website.
Guest post by Tom Greenwood via ChildFund Australia
Thao is an only child. She lives with her parents and grandparents and attends ChildFund-supported Vi Huong preschool.
In Thao’s preschool class there are 15 children (12 boys and three girls). Altogether, there are 122 children in the preschool.
The preschool is a 2-minute walk away from her home. She likes it because she has friends there and she enjoys playing. Her favorite thing is the slide.
Thao’s mother, Yen, says: “I’m very happy because when Thao goes to school she has a chance to play with toys and meet her friends. It makes her more active and improves her knowledge. The teachers are so nice and kind. They consider the children like their own.
“I ask Thao about her day and she tells me what she ate. She says, ‘Mum, the food is really delicious!’”
Her favorite food is beansprouts and sweet rice.
When Thao grows up she wants to be a doctor so she can cure sick people.
She is one child in Vietnam who is already poised to make a difference.
Learn more about ChildFund’s operations in Vietnam and child sponsorship.
By Patricia Toquica, Americas Region Communications Manager
I’m flying from Honduras on my way home to the ChildFund Americas regional office in Panama City. The last few weeks have been full of intense traveling and inspiring experiences.
In Jamaica, while participating in the United Nations Study on Violence Against Children follow-up meeting for The Caribbean, I learned so much about what the Caricom countries are doing to fight and prevent violence against the most vulnerable in our societies: children, youth and women. By working together on awareness campaigns and advocacy efforts, nongovernment organizations (NGOs), civil society, governments and institutions—encouraged by children and youth—can raise our voices and stop violence. Raising kids with love, yet with authority and discipline and without corporal punishment, helps children grow into confident and loving adolescents, without fear and without anger or resentment.
A week later, I traveled to Guatemala, where the amazing beauty and richness of the Mayan world overwhelms your heart and your senses. So much color and vibrancy is reflected in the faces and outfits of the indigenous boys, girls and families we visited in their tiny houses hidden in the Guatemalan mountains.
It was inspiring to see so much happiness and hope expressed in the children’s faces, despite the hardships of poverty and deprivation. No water, no sanitation, sometimes not even the chance to continue studying beyond third grade. Still, these children have so much future ahead, and there are so many possibilities to make it brighter if we just help, in any way we can with time, money or knowledge.
Concluding my travels in Honduras was so rewarding, amid the beautiful tropical mountains in the Santa Barbara region, where ChildFund has been working for almost 30 years. Seeing young boys and girls representing their communities in town hall meetings attended by government officials and other NGOs is the fruit of many years’ labor and investment by ChildFund in these communities.
I wish we adults could have the confidence and abilities of these youth as motivators and public speakers. Their energy and desire to change the world is so contagious and convincing that you just can’t say no! These young girls and boys know their rights, are educated and confident, have big dreams for their futures and will not take no for an answer.
While visiting the town of Colinas in Santa Barbara, I felt blessed to meet Yordi, Wendy and Kevin, three young children who come from poor villages. They have sponsors from a country far abroad who not only send resources and letters but also encourage them to keep thriving and dreaming, studying and participating. They see a bright future ahead of them, are proud of themselves and speak with passion and conviction about their dreams.
This is how I know ChildFund’s efforts are worth it. When I’m with the children I know our organization’s work, and the generosity of sponsors and donors from all over the world, really make a difference and contribute to changing lives.
By Cynthia Price, Director of Communications
Fourteen-year-old Edward has waited patiently most of the morning. He’s sat on bench outside his one-room home with his hands clasped in his lap, gazing eagerly down the dusty road that leads to his home. His extended family members are gathered around him.
It’s an important day because Edward is going to meet his ChildFund sponsor. In his eyes, a sponsor is like a rock star – someone whose monthly contribution enables him to attend school and have the books he needs. Little does he know that his sponsor is actually a rock star.
And then the big moment unfolds. Gene Simmons of KISS and star of Gene Simmons Family Jewels arrives with his wife, Shannon, warmly greeting Edward and his family. Gene hears the traditional Nyanja greeting of “Bwanjia,” or “How are you?” Edward breaks out into a big grin.
A gracious host, Edward shows Gene and Shannon around his home, made of mud thatch, and notes that one of his chores is to wash the dishes. He shows them where his mother cooks the food. A pot is simmering on the small fire, and Gene inquires what is in it. “Sweet potatoes,” Edward answers softly.
Edward takes Gene and Shannon down the long dusty road to the community well where he pumps water for his family to use for drinking and cooking. He points further down the road in the direction he has to walk so he can attend school. As they return to the house, sponsor and child are at ease, with Gene’s arm comfortably resting on Edward’s shoulder as if they’ve been friends for life. And in a way they have. Gene has sponsored Edward since 2006.
As the cameras roll and capture the reunion, a teary-eyed Gene has a difficult time talking. “Just be courageous,” Shannon whispers.
Edward tells Gene that he wants to be a teacher. A delighted Gene observes: “He will continue to give and raise up people.”
At the end of the visit, Edward hands his gifts to the couple. “I don’t want gifts,” Gene protests. “I want to give.” But he accepts the gifts graciously – a flag depicting Zambia’s win of the Africa Cup, a Zambia cap and a skirt for Shannon. After consulting with the interpreter, Gene turns to say thank you to Edward in his native language: “Zikomo.”
Gene and Shannon also have brought gifts, including a soccer ball, which Edward and Gene immediately put to use.
Before departing, Gene takes a moment to talk with Edward’s mother, who is raising him on her own because her husband left when Edward was 6 or 7. “Mothers are the most important people in the world,” Gene tells her, adding that she is raising “an amazing young man.”
As Gene leaves, Edward’s grin doesn’t fade. “I am very happy, very happy.”
And what child wouldn’t be if they could meet their sponsor?
By Cynthia Price, ChildFund Director of Communications
OMG! I’m in an African village with Gene Simmons of KISS. Yes, that KISS.
He’s an imposing man. Six-feet, two-inches, and all action. He’s here in Zambia to take action – to meet the children he has sponsored through ChildFund for years and to determine what else he can do to help.
The experience will be captured for an episode of his reality TV show, Gene Simmons Family Jewels. His wife, Shannon, helped organize the trip.
I’ve been to ChildFund programs before. I’ve seen the dirt roads. The thatched houses with no running water or electricity. The classrooms with nubby pencils and recycled newspaper as activity books. I know what we’re about to see. Gene and Shannon don’t.
“We came here with a TV show. Let’s go to Africa and visit the children. It’s a nice sound bite,” Gene says. “But what happened along the way is that real life got in the way. We’re going to do something about this.”
Shannon adds, “Poverty and starvation… once you see it in person, you can’t walk away.”
And they don’t. They go for total immersion. And they’ve brought gifts for the children: school supplies, soccer balls, backpacks and clothing. There’s even a bicycle for one of Gene’s sponsored children, so he doesn’t have to walk the long distance to school. Shannon gives one young woman the shoes off her feet.
As we talk about what they saw and experienced, Gene often has to pause because he’s choked up. I’ve seen KISS perform – who would ever expect Gene to be quiet? But it was a lot to take in. “Here is a wake-up call,” Gene says, after meeting Edward, one of his sponsored children. “We must do something.”
Gene and Shannon are absolutely great with the children. They spend tons of time with them. At the schools we visit, they often sing with the children and in one school, Gene plays guitar.
What’s really amazing about the visit is that Gene and Shannon don’t act like rock stars. They’re truly humbled by the experience. “It really makes you appreciate the little things,” Shannon says. “I will waste less, spend less and appreciate more.”
The trip to Africa, Gene adds, is a “stark reminder that life doesn’t treat everyone the same.”
ChildFund supporters like Gene and Shannon help change those circumstances. Although the children didn’t recognize Gene as a celebrity – even when he handed out KISS swag – he’s a rock star in their eyes because he is their ChildFund sponsor.
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 Isam Ghanim, ChildFund Executive Vice President, Programs
As ChildFund prepares to celebrate the Day of the African Child on June 16, we recognize the sacrifice of the children who lost their lives in the uprising in Soweto, South Africa, in 1976. On that day, 10,000 students marched in protest of South Africa’s requirement that children be educated in English and Afrikaans rather than their native languages. Hundreds died and thousands were injured as security forces charged the peaceful demonstrators.
The Day of the African Child reminds us of a child’s right to use their voice to express aspirations, concerns and perspectives about their current situation and the future.
ChildFund applauds the African Union’s continued attention to children and encourage all governments and development circles to put children at the center of their policy and practice. Africa has made excellent strides to support the well-being of children, but significant effort is needed to sustain the gains and fill the gaps in access to health assistance, education and protection of children.
For more than 70 years, ChildFund has focused on the well-being of children. In cooperation with the ChildFund Alliance, we work in 59 countries and have succeeded in mobilizing billions of dollars in programs to support children. We see the celebration of the Day of the African Child as a chance to continue that support.
In collaboration with our partners and the African Union, ChildFund is bringing children from Angola, Kenya, The Gambia and Ethiopia to participate in events taking place June 14-16 in Addis Ababa. These children represent the millions of children and families in 11 countries receiving support from ChildFund in Africa. Their participation fills us with joy and reminds us of our responsibility to all children.
The theme of this year’s Day of the African Child—“The Rights of Children with Disabilities: The Duty to Protect, Respect, Promote and Fulfill”—is also an important focus for ChildFund. We have worked hard for many years to support environments conducive for children with disabilities. Our goal is to assist in all children’s healthy transition from infancy to childhood and beyond. ChildFund believes that being disabled cannot and shall not be a barrier to success in life, and we are committed to promoting, respecting and protecting children’s rights across Africa and the world at large.
By Zitu Fernandes, ChildFund Timor-Leste
For most of us, drinking a glass of water is a simple undertaking. Yet for women like Estela in Timor-Leste, it can take the better part of a day to fetch and prepare water to drink.
Estela lives in Maliana, a remote town near Timor-Leste’s border with Indonesia. Every morning, Estela walks about a kilometer [0.62 miles] from her house to the river to collect water. “In the rainy season, the water in the river is very dirty.… Then in the dry season we sometimes can’t find water in the river,” she says. “We must dig a little bit into the bank of the river in the early morning to get water.”
Once Estela collects the water, she filters it for four to five hours. She then collects wood to build a fire on which to boil the filtered water. Finally, sometime in the afternoon, the water Estela collected in the morning will be ready to use for drinking and cooking. Even then, she admits, “sometimes, we can’t filter it enough.”
When her children get sick, Estela worries that it’s because of the water. “For many years we have lived in Maliana…and the water we use is dirty. We never get clean water,” she says.
On the whole, water quality is steadily improving in Timor-Leste. In 2009, 66 percent of the population had access to an improved water source, compared with 48 percent in 2001. However, there are still many people, usually women and children, who spend hours each day trying to source clean drinking water.
ChildFund Timor-Leste has been working with communities in Maliana and surrounding villages to build long-lasting water and sanitation systems. In the last eight months alone, 42 toilets have been built in the district with the active participation of community members. In addition, ChildFund has rehabilitated and upgraded one school water supply system, benefiting more than 400 schoolchildren. ChildFund Timor-Leste has also held hygiene promotion sessions attended by around 400 schoolchildren and community members.
Now, ChildFund is planning the next phase of its water and sanitation program, which will include establishing water access in Estela’s village. Each new water system will save many women and children hours of work each day, while also improving their health. “We hope someday that we will have clean water in our village, the same as people in other villages… [that] we are not alone,” says Estela.
Reporting by Zoe Hogan, ChildFund Timor-Leste
Timor-Leste has some of the highest rates of maternal and child mortality in the world. More than 5 percent of Timorese children die before their fifth birthday, in comparison to 0.4 percent and 0.8 percent of children in Australia and the U.S., respectively, according to UNICEF reports.
Through health, water and sanitation projects, ChildFund is working to save children’s lives by increasing community knowledge about the prevention and treatment of common diseases.
Last week, the Ministry of Health in Timor-Leste organized a national conference on non-communicable diseases. ChildFund was one of the conference exhibitors, setting up an educational booth about our community health programs in Timor-Leste. Staff members provided antibacterial soap, health information and hand-washing advice to conference attendees and passersby, including university students, local children, academics and dignitaries.
The exhibit caught the attention of Timor-Leste’s Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, who spent 10 minutes at ChildFund’s booth, demonstrating proper hand-washing techniques with ChildFund Timor-Leste staff.
Hosted by the Ministry of Health, ChildFund Timor-Leste, Church World Service and the World Health Organization, the conference, held in the capital city of Dili, sought to improve collaboration and strategic planning between government and NGOs in the health sector.
“People who are poor or who live in underserved communities have less access to medical care and good nutrition,” said Dr. Nelson Martins, Timor-Leste Health Minister. “They face greater environmental health hazards and are harder to reach through outreach and education efforts. So as we move forward, we understand that we must also address the social and economic factors that can put people at greater risk for chronic disease.”
Martins also visited the ChildFund booth, asking numerous questions about ChildFund Timor-Leste’s health projects in rural communities.
Throughout the conference, ChildFund staff engaged young people at the event, with competitions to test their hand-washing and fingernail-cutting techniques. In partnership with the Alola Foundation, ChildFund also ran a trivia quiz about nutrition and maternal health. Nearly 250 conference-goers participated in these fun and educational activities. Prizes included practical items like towels, nail cutters and T-shirts.
Today is a day for champions—a day to call on global leaders to commit to ensuring all children have enough food to eat, no matter where they are born in the world.
Nearly 200 million children are chronically malnourished and suffer from lifelong, often irreversible, physical and cognitive damage as a result. Malnutrition also contributes to 35 percent of all deaths of children under the age of 5 annually, and roughly 20 percent of all maternal deaths.
Malnutrition is not just a result of poverty—it is also a cause.
As ChildFund’s CEO Anne Lynam Goddard often points out: Childhood is a one-time opportunity. We have one chance to get it right, especially when it comes to nutrition during the 1,000-day window that starts with a mother’s pregnancy and continues until a child is 2 years old.
Experts agree—nutrition delivers the biggest bang for the buck when investing in future generations. A panel of Nobel laureate economists known as the Copenhagen Consensus recently concluded that fighting malnutrition in young children should be the top investment priority for policymakers. The payoff is huge: $1 in invested in nutrition generates as much as $138 in better health and increased productivity.
Investing in improved nutrition can
At ChildFund, we emphasize growth promotion until the child is 3 years old. Helping ensure the health and security of infants is a critical component of our work with children throughout their life stages. Healthy infants are more likely to become educated and confident children, who, in turn, grow into skilled and involved youth. When children have a healthy start in life, they have a greater opportunity to break the bonds of poverty.
We fully support the Scaling Up Nutrition roadmap that is guiding the international aid community’s efforts to combat undernutrition.
Today on Capitol Hill, ChildFund is joining hands with other international development organizations, members of Congress, government leaders, civil society groups and private industry to call for action on child nutrition issues at the G8 Summit taking place this weekend at Camp David in Washington, D.C.
We call on leaders in the U.S. administration, Congress and G8 delegations to join us in support of improved nutrition globally, particularly for women and children in the 1,000 days from pregnancy to a child’s second birthday.
Our objectives are straightforward:
Now is the time for global leaders to reaffirm their commitment to confronting the challenges of hunger, poverty and disease by accelerating efforts to improve nutrition, particularly for women and children.
Will you join us and be a champion for change?