by Ron Wolfe, ChildFund Senior Business Systems Analyst
According to legend, upon Columbus’s return from Dominica in 1496, Spanish Queen Isabella asked him what the island was like. He crumpled a piece of paper, laid it on a table, and said, “Like this.”
Known as the Nature Isle of the Caribbean, Dominica is formed by towering mountains climbing through the clouds, deep gorges, often interrupted by picturesque waterfalls, and boiling lakes, heated by volcanoes that dot the landscape. With 70 percent of the island still covered by rainforest or other vegetation, Columbus would still recognize the island he so aptly described.
This week and next, staff from ChildFund International and ChildFund Honduras are in Dominica, collaborating with our colleagues in the ChildFund Caribbean office. We’re testing a new child survey tool loaded onto ultra-portable computers. This pilot project, which is funded with support from Intel, will help determine the feasibility of collecting and transmitting digital data in all of the countries where ChildFund works.
By the end of this week, our team of community mobilizers and interviewers will have spoken to approximately 300 enrolled and sponsored children. These interviews will cover a number of child status evaluation factors, including education, nutrition, emotional health and access to health services. As we gain additional knowledge of the most critical issues impacting Dominica’s children, the data will be used to guide ChildFund’s future programs here.
Earlier this week we travelled from Roseau, Dominica’s capital, to La Plaine on the Atlantic coast to interview families in surrounding communities. As if to confirm Columbus’s description of the island’s topography, the team drove for more than an hour and a half through the mountains on twisty roads and hairpin turns to reach our destination, which was only 15 miles away on a straight line. As the caravan of cars and a mini-bus filled with data collectors and support staff climbed the mountains and entered the forest, it began to pour, only reinforcing the prehistoric feel of this untouched landscape.
Arriving in La Plaine, the group split into teams and walked the village to meet with selected families. Each group carried an ultrabook computer, equipped with a data-collection program developed by ChildFund International’s IT staff. This program facilitates both online and offline (or asynchronous) data collection—a necessity while working in ChildFund communities.
We met children in their homes, their parents’ places of business or under a tree. Once the data was collected, our teams returned to the La Plaine Child Development Centre (ChildFund’s local partner in this community) and, through a wireless Internet connection, immediately transmitted all data back to ChildFund’s Richmond, Va., headquarters for analysis.
With its rugged landscape and secluded communities, Dominica provides a challenging environment to test ChildFund’s initial assessment of asynchronous technology. As the next two weeks progress, we will continue to report out on progress toward digitally linking children in our programs with the world.
Guest post by Jen Butte-Dahl, Nokero
Jennifer Butte-Dahl is the head of alliances and the Bright Future Fund at Nokero International Ltd. Nokero (short for No Kerosene) develops affordable and environmentally friendly technologies that eliminate the need for harmful and polluting fuels used for light around the world, and then partners with local organizations to reach communities who need light most.
We can learn a lot from kids. In a phrase, they keep it simple. Kids don’t talk about building innovative partnerships, or crafting collaborative alliances. Kids find other kids who have similar interests, or have something they want or need, and they make friends. They play together, they learn from one another and they bring their diversity of talents together to shape the lives they live. My niece, Kaitlyn, is seven and a budding artist. She loves drawing little girl stick figures with skirts, long hair and high heels. Her best friend Sophie has a penchant for flowers and houses. They work together and fill countless sheets of construction paper with their vivid imaginations, creating colorful works of art together that are better than anything they could ever create on their own. And decorating many a fridge!
At Nokero, we are constantly working to hold ourselves to the lessons we learn from children. “Keep it simple” is one of our core values, and it touches everything we do, from designing new products to making new friends.
Today, we’re unveiling the Nokero Ed, a small solar light with a big mission: to change the lives of kids around the world who live without electricity. At the same time, we’re launching a friendship with ChildFund International, an organization with the drive and the know-how to help us get these little lights into the hands of children around the globe who need them. Our friendship is simple: we want the same things, and we each have something to bring to the relationship.
It all began with an innovation. Steve Katsaros, Nokero’s founder and chief inventor, was visiting Kenya late last summer, and was inspired by the children he met. They were enthusiastic to learn, eager for knowledge and excited by everything new. In each village, he handed out a few solar lights and asked for their feedback. But it wasn’t necessarily their words that made the most impact. It was the groups of kids crowding around each light to read and do their homework after dark. Sometimes two or three at once, but more often five or six, or ten, or more. It was uplifting and heartbreaking all at once. There was never enough light to go around.
When considered next to the daily, and oftentimes enervating cost of kerosene fuel, solar light is clearly the economical choice. Yet even a modest upfront cost holds many families back from making the switch from toxic kerosene lamps to clean, safe and healthy solar light. So Steve set out on a mission: design for extreme affordability. Keep it simple. Remove the bells and whistles. Make a solar light that could help kids learn and would be economical enough for more families to afford. Once we had the prototype in hand, we knew we had a powerful difference-maker for children around the world. But we needed to reach them.
And this is where ChildFund comes into the story. As serendipity would have it, we saw a ChildFund billboard while standing at a bus stop in Washington, D.C. The public service ad simply stated their mission: ChildFund is dedicated to improving the lives of vulnerable children worldwide—and that is exactly what we were looking for. It really is the perfect friendship. We bring the technology; they help deploy it to the communities who need it most. ChildFund programs serve more than 13.5 million children in 31 countries around the world. The majority of those children either live in unelectrified communities, or their families cannot afford electrical power.
So now we’re working together to bring sustainable and nontoxic solar light to the millions of children around the world living without access to electricity. Together, we are illuminating lives. Funds raised through the Global Light to Learn Challenge will support ChildFund in bringing clean, healthy Nokero solar lights to schools in unelectrified communities. Students will be able to study and read after dark, by checking out a light each night (just as they would a library book). The lights will also be used in classrooms to teach students about science, technology, renewable energy and the power of the sun.
An innovative partnership? Definitely. A collaborative alliance? Sure. But at its core, simply a great friendship between two organizations that can now achieve more together than they ever could alone. Together, we are coloring the world brighter, and drawing little suns and smiley faces all over the place.
by Cynthia Price, ChildFund Director of Communications
My morning routine was thrown off a bit today.
Usually I stare at my closet deciding which pair of shoes to wear. It’s a good problem to have because it means I have a closet full of shoes.
Working for ChildFund helps me to count my blessings more frequently. Many of the children we serve in developing countries don’t have shoes. They walk barefoot and get cuts and scrapes, which often become infected. Many children get diseases from walking barefoot.
In some communities, children can’t go to school if they don’t have shoes. Or the long trek to school may simply be too far to walk barefoot.
Today at ChildFund we’re participating in One Day Without Shoes, which seeks to raise awareness about those who don’t have the luxury of shoes. We’ll spend the day at work barefoot. We’ll have activities. Employees will be invited to walk barefoot in a “Walk Box,” where they can experience how difficult it is to walk across pebbles.
When I first started talking about a day without shoes, I heard some interesting comments. “I’m not walking across the parking lot. There are stones.” Another person said, “Are you kidding? There are staples in the carpet.”
I would simply respond, “Isn’t that the point?”
We take for granted our ability to walk anywhere we want, thanks to the multiple pairs of shoes in our closets. Just for today, try going barefoot. Try following in the footsteps of their tiny feet – without shoes.
Reporting by Bernardo Florindo, ChildFund Angola
A few weeks ago, ChildFund Angola opened a new children’s resource center in the Olonjuli project area. It’s the first of its kind for the community, and cause for celebration.
A large number of community members turned out for the grand opening, which drew Angola’s vice administrator for education, local officials, Benguela National Radio and a Benguela TV station.
“The resource center is one contribution ChildFund Angola is making to help the government bring a better future to this community, especially for children,” said Benjamin Tchiyevo, ChildFund’s national director in Angola. He urged the community to take the center “with its two hands and preserve it.”
Built with funding from ChildFund Germany’s Learn and Play grant, the center features an entertainment space, computer stations and a library – all priorities for the community’s children and youth.
Through the Olonjuli project, ChildFund will lead and promote a number of center activities including story times, art and theater. The center’s entertainment corner offers games and toys, while the library encourages reading and quiet study time. Students and community members can use the computer center to access the Internet and to write and print documents.
With no other center like this in Baia-Farta, children, teachers and parents are welcoming the new opportunities for learning and creative expression that have finally come to their community.
by Jeff Ratcliffe, ChildFund Grants Compliance Coordinator
With a grant from ChildFund, Physicians for Peace, The Red Thread Promise and many local partners worked tirelessly to host the camp at Kaliko Beach several hours outside of Port-au-Prince.
Children and young adults gathered to enjoy dance, art, sports and classes on personal hygiene. What made this day camp different was that the participants were blind, deaf, amputees or paraplegic. These children and young adults, most of whom were born in Port-au-Prince, had never been in a swimming pool, let alone the ocean. Many had never had the opportunity to fly a kite, skip rope, enjoy a piece of key-lime pie or play basketball.
Late one afternoon a volunteer from the Red Thread Promise and I were helping Moise, a young adult at the camp, try to shoot a basket. The volunteer stationed herself on the right side of the court and I stationed myself on the left. Moise threw the ball. It was close, but it didn’t go in the net. Moise threw the ball again. It hit the rim.
Moise continued to attempt to make a basket, and each time it just didn’t go in the net. The volunteer and I would chase the ball and bring it back to Moise. Time passed from late afternoon to early evening. We both asked Moise if he wanted to continue trying to make the basket. He said he did. We reminded him that it was getting near dinner time. He still wanted to try to make a basket. He would not give up.
If Moise was not willing to give up, at the risk of missing dinner and the evening social activities, then the two of us would not give up either. Making the basket was important.
I’m really not certain how many times we chased the basketball. It may have been 125 or 200, but Moise finally did make that basket. And when we all gathered for the social activities after dinner, Moise shared with other campers his experience of not giving up.
His perseverance was humbling.
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 with Missions in Action to ChildFund’s programs Kenya.
More than 400 people perished when fire erupted in a large urban slum in Nairobi, Kenya, in September 2011. The fire added an extra layer of hardship to an already difficult living environment.
Alex Boylan, the host of the web reality series Missions in Action (MIA), travels to the Mukuru community to check in with children and families who are recovering from the fire. Many children like Steven are receiving assistance from ChildFund programs made possible through sponsorship support.
Watch the video on MIAtv.
Reporting by ChildFund Mexico
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 spend time with children and youth in Mexico.
Although Mexico boasts the 12th largest of the world’s economies, the country’s income disparity keeps millions below the poverty level. Where ChildFund works, predominantly in the southern part of the country, only 6 percent of people have sufficient income to support their families.
Since ChildFund began operations in Mexico in 1955, much of our work has focused on safe water, health care and malnutrition. In addition, we’ve worked to improve educational opportunities for children.
Let’s listen in as children and youth in ChildFund Mexico programs share insights into their daily lives and their dreams.
My name is Edwin, I’m 9 years old and I’m in fourth grade elementary school in Tepelmeme (state of Oaxaca). Every day I go to school; I like to study and want to be a doctor to give financial aid to my family and get help for my friends and all of those children who are sick. I like to help others and I’d like to have my own medical clinic and a football team.
I am Nadia and I am 12. I live with my parents and I like my community because I go to the games and church. I like so much the traditions. At home I help my mother to wash dishes, and I wash my own clothes. I like school, I’m in sixth grade elementary school, and I want to keep studying to become a physical education teacher.
I’m Gloria. I like to live in my community; what I don’t like is violence, robbers and pollution. I study in fourth grade elementary school and go to the shelter in the community where I eat. The fruit I like most is the strawberry. At home I do housework. I wash dishes, make the bed and keep the clothes. When I grow up I’d like to become a singer and people will recognize me, that’s why I have to be prepared and practice a lot.
Hello! My name is Leonel. I attend to the Tizaac program of ChildFund Mexico and have a sponsor who writes and I write back. From when I was a baby, my parents give me encouragement to move forward in life. The [ChildFund] program helps my education and gives me values to be better child and citizen. During the year, I weigh and measure to check if I’m healthy. And what I like most are the football tournaments and the computation classes because they teach me to use programs, and I create images, posters and my most beautiful works of the school. I want to be a lawyer and defend good people.
My name is Emma and I’m 15 years old and in high school. I belong to Tizaac ChildFund Mexico Program since I was younger. I like to participate in the workshops with psychologists because they have helped me to be stronger and understand better the important things in life. In ChildFund Mexico’s program I have received so many supports like a bed, and ecological oven for my home and some birthday and Christmas presents. I dream about going to college, graduating in psychology and then going back to work in my community. In the future, I’d like to work and serve in the community organization to help those children as I was helped.
My name is Brando. I study in the third grade of junior high school in my community. My passion is music. From an early age I wanted to learn to play the trombone. Now through the Tizaac program of ChildFund Mexico, I have registered with the centro de estudios de banda. Children from different communities who took classes in music come together in the ensemble. I’m very happy because in CECAMBA they gave us new instruments to learn. I’m now learning to play the trombone, and I’m also taking vocational training. My dream is to study for a great degree but never leave the music.
Reporting and video by ChildFund Guatemala
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 are inspired by the enthusiasm and commitment of youth leaders in ChildFund Guatemala’s programs.
As a country, Guatemala is struggling to recover from a long history of internal strife. Although civil society is improving, years of conflict have exacted a price on the young, who are often overlooked and unprotected. An estimated 657,000 boys and girls do not attend school in this country because of a lack of access or because of the cultural acceptance of child labor. Children of Mayan descent are more apt to serve as child laborers. In fact, Guatemala ranks the third highest in child labor statistics among Latin America and Caribbean countries.
ChildFund Guatemala is working to be an agent of social change, delivering programs and services that protect and promote children’s rights. A number of programs are aimed at youth, who too often are caught up in violence and drug trafficking. As ChildFund and its local partner organizations have helped youth develop leadership and life skills, the youth, in turn, have become advocates for change.
Last year, ChildFund Guatemala convened a Youth Spokesperson in Action conference, bringing together young people from ChildFund’s project areas across the country. The youth received training, exchanged experiences and ideas and developed leadership skills that will benefit their home communities.
The conference was groundbreaking for most of the young attendees. Watch the video to see Guatemala’s youth in action.
Reporting by ChildFund Bolivia
Being a child in Bolivia can be extremely challenging. Six of every 10 children have unmet basic needs, and half of the nation’s youth population live in poverty. Life is even harder for indigenous children, who are often marginalized and do not have easy access to education and health services due to geographic, cultural and economic barriers.
One of those children is Marielena, an 8-year-old who lives in rural Bolivia with her mother and three siblings: Juan Jose, 10; David, 4; and Jonas,18 months. Their house is made of mud adobe blocks and consists of two rooms – a bedroom and a kitchen. They have no indoor plumbing, and for fresh water they rely on a water tanker that drives by the community every two days to fill water tanks for $1.
Marielena is a small girl who weighs less than average for her age. She is prone to develop frequent eye, respiratory and skin illnesses, especially since the family lives near a dump and there is no sewage or clean water system for their community. With no hospitals or clinics nearby, it has been difficult for Marielena to receive treatment.
Education is another challenge in Bolivia, where only 30 percent of children are in school. Marielena is fortunate to attend first grade; however, she struggles with basic concepts, as she never had the opportunity to attend preschool or kindergarten.
The situation for Marielena is changing for the better now that she’s enrolled in ChildFund’s programs and has a sponsor. With ChildFund’s support, Marielena now receives basic medical attention as well after-school support to improve her performance in the classroom. Additionally, ChildFund and its local partners are providing the family with educational training on child nutrition and guidelines for overall health and hygiene that will help prevent illness.
Marielena’s mother remains the only income generator in the household. She makes a living by selling hotdogs and fries from a salchipapa cart, which was provided to her through ChildFund’s Gifts of Love and Hope catalog. Because she cannot work full-time and also care for her children, the family’s situation remains fragile; yet, day by day, their outlook is improving.
This is one example of how ChildFund, which began operations in Bolivia in 1980, is coming alongside families who are working to lift themselves out of poverty in a sustainable way.
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 listen in on the dreams expressed by a youth in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
“If he succeeded in doing it, why not me?” asks 15-year-old Frehiwot, her face serious. “I believe nothing is impossible as long as one decides to do it.”
It’s an expansive dream for a child growing up in the slums of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. But her dream is not without precedent.
Frehiwot dreams of becoming like Kitaw Ejigu. “Kitaw was a famous astronomer,” she explains. “He worked hard in school, went abroad through a state scholarship to pursue higher education, completed his degree and became a great person in the world. I will study hard, and when I get scholarship to enter university, I will study and become famous, too.”
While it is true that sometimes unbelievable things can happen, it is even harder to imagine when you look at the living standard in the Arada slum, where Frehiwot lives with her parents and two siblings in a mud-and-wood house covered by a rusted metal roof. The family uses an open, overfull mud latrine, right next to their house. Big green flies from there buzz outside their door and through the living space. The family’s water comes from a public well.
Frehiwot is fortunate, however, to be enrolled with ChildFund Ethiopia, through which she regularly receives school supplies. She will soon enter grade 10.
“I like school,” she says. “For me, school is everything, the place where one can be prepared to become the person he or she dreams of becoming in the future. I will even say that school is like my parents, because when I am educated and start to work in a country other than my own, what I have learned from school will take care of me like my own parents do, and even better. The government often provides scholarships to good students to do further studies, and I think that is a good opportunity. So all I need to do is to study hard and make good grades.”
Frehiwot’s highest grades are in her favorite subjects, physics and mathematics. She is also a member of the school media and science clubs, and she enjoys participating in school debates.
When asked how she would advise other children of her age about school given the chance, Frehiwot pauses, then speaks gravely. “I will tell them that school is a good place to be, and that if they want to be great people they should go to school and take their lessons seriously,” she says. “I will also tell them that if one is not educated, he or she is like a domestic animal. They obey anything the owner orders, whether good or not. So if you are not educated, you can be used by educated people any kind of way, for better or for worse. You are not able to read anything written against you.”
After a long silence and a deep breath, she concludes, in a soft voice, “My only hope is that I will secure a government scholarship and accommodation at the university. Otherwise I have nowhere to turn to for help.”