Today, Feb. 21, is International Mother Language Day, so we’re looking at some of Africa’s linguistic traditions. Did you know that a child you sponsor in Africa may speak as many as five languages?
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
In July 1975, I began a training program for Peace Corps volunteers in Dakar, Senegal. The volunteers were immersed in French and Wolof in the classroom and in field settings. We practiced our bargaining language while speeding along in cars rapides — large, open vehicles painted bright blue and crammed with women, children, chickens and goats — on our way to Dakar’s open-air markets.
Speaking a mixture of Wolof and French, we sometimes saw English phrases painted lopsidedly on cars and walls: “It is forbidden to spit,” for instance.
“Spit” is one of about two dozen words common to many cultures that have remained highly stable over time, so they’re useful for understanding language dispersion. In French, to spit is cracher, and spit itself is crachat; Wolof uses tufli and tuflit. Both languages make use of onomatopoeia — the words sound like what they mean — even though English and French are members of the Indo-European cluster, and Wolof belongs to the world’s largest language family, the Niger-Congo.
As an English speaker, it was easier for me to learn French than Wolof. The U.S. Foreign Service Institute agrees. French, Portuguese and Spanish are relatively straightforward for native English speakers to learn, with their many cognates, similar alphabets and common grammatical structures. It’s tougher for us to achieve proficiency in Hindi, Vietnamese or Thai; Arabic is among the most difficult of languages for Americans.
West Africans move effortlessly between four or five languages.
Yet many of the children in ChildFund’s programs speak three or more languages fluently before the age of 15: First they learn their mother tongue, then a regional or national language — Wolof, in Senegal — and, in school, an international language like Arabic, English, French, Portuguese, Russian or Spanish.
In Senegal, I lived in a Pular-speaking district. Wolof and Pular are siblings: Tuttugol (to spit) is clearly related to tufli. My high-school students had already mastered Pular, Wolof, Arabic (the language of Islam) and French (Senegal’s official language). I taught them their fifth language: English.
English is often hard for non-native speakers to learn. Our vocabulary borrows from two sources — Romance (tricky, difficult, arduous) and Anglo-Saxon (tough, hard, thorny). Decades later, I taught English to university students in neighboring Guinea. Guineans also speak Pular, along with Malinké, Soussou and Kissi.
Just as Romance languages (French, Portuguese and Spanish) all derive from a Latin root, Malinké, Soussou and the Sierra Leonean Mende dialect belong to the same cluster as Senegalese and Gambian languages such as Mandinke, Bambara, Soninke and Serahuli. Its influence is felt in Liberia and Sierra Leone too. Niger-Congo languages blanket the West African coast, from the Sahara Desert to the River Congo.
West Africans move effortlessly between four or five languages. Not surprisingly, linguistic research suggests language itself originated there. As our African ancestors explored and settled the rest of the globe between 50,000 and 75,000 years ago, these expert language learners took their abstract communications and distinct cultures with them.
Our original mother tongue was an African language. Why not celebrate International Mother Language Day by sponsoring a child in West Africa? Explore one of the 1,500 living languages spoken by nearly a quarter of the world’s population.
Interview by Sierra Winston, ChildFund Communications Intern
In our 75-post series in honor of ChildFund’s 75th anniversary, we’ll hear from several of our national directors who oversee operations in the countries we serve in Africa, the Americas and Asia. Here, Billy Abimbilla shares some stories from his work in Sierra Leone.
How long have you worked at ChildFund?
I have been with ChildFund for the past five years. I joined ChildFund on Dec. 1, 2008, as the program director for Liberia; then I moved on to Sierra Leone as the national director in May 2011. I also acted as the regional director for West Africa for a few months recently.
What is your favorite thing about working here?
My favorite thing about ChildFund is the space that the organization offers for innovation and creativity in our support of children and their families. This has been facilitated by an enabling and inspiring leadership that recognizes and rewards efforts of the organization’s staff. Also fascinating to me are the results that our work has achieved for children and their families in making life more meaningful for them in very trying and fragile environments.
What successes have you had in your national office?
Together as a team, the Sierra Leone national office has made strides for children in the last two years, greatly increasing our program offerings and services. Our profile within the country has also increased, especially within the government and within the donor community. At all levels of government, we are known for our commitment to quality outcomes for children and having a child-centered focus. We have also helped our local partners diversify their sources of funding, rather than solely rely on ChildFund. This also has improved outcomes for children and their families.
What motivates you in life?
What motivates me in life is to see the results of the contributions you make in improving the lives of others who are less fortunate in life by no fault of their own. It is always satisfying to return to a place where you have helped people and to receive a hug — especially from children — and be most welcome. It is also my belief that no one on this earth is worthless; they may be born into circumstances that they did not help to create and when supported in the right way, they can correct their own situation and make things better for themselves.
Where did you work before ChildFund?
I have worked for ActionAid in Ghana, Tanzania and Ethiopia; DFID in Ghana; Concern Worldwide in Liberia; Oxfam in Uganda and now for ChildFund in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Senegal.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I like to watch National Geographic, National Geographic Wild and Discovery channels on TV. I also explore a lot on the Internet.
What is a quote, saying or belief that you live by?
Tony Robbins: “Identify your problems, but give your power and energy to solutions.”
Reporting by ChildFund Sierra Leone
For 50 days, ChildFund is joining with numerous organizations to demonstrate support for government policies and programs that will allow women and girls to be healthy, empowered and safe — no matter where they live. Ending early and forced marriage is this week’s theme.
In 2005, at the age of 10, Kadiatu was enrolled in ChildFund’s programs serving the Daindemben Federation in her Sierra Leonean community. With support from her sponsor to pay for school fees and learning materials, Kadiatu eagerly embraced the educational opportunities available to her.
But when she reached junior secondary school, Kadiatu’s father decided to remove her from school and give her in marriage to a middle-aged man in the village. ChildFund and its local partner intervened on Kadiatu’s behalf, standing firm to ensure that her father’s decision was overturned. The marriage was cancelled, and Kadiatu continued her schooling. But her father withdrew all support. Her mother has died long ago and her stepmother showed no love to her.
Without ChildFund sponsorship and the support of Daindemben Federation, Kadiatu would have had nowhere to turn.
Today, Kadiatu, 18, is in senior secondary school preparing for the West African Senior School Certificate Examination. She credits ChildFund and Daindemben Federation for restoring her hope and believes she would have been the mother of two or three children by now had it not been for the intervention of the federation. “Daindemben has made me realize my importance and value in society,” she says.
Now she is determined to go all the way to university to study accounting. “I want Daindemben Federation and my sponsor to be proud of me. They have done so much to get me to where I am today. I don’t want to let them down,” she says. “Even my father is proud of me now,” she acknowledges. “He has regretted the action he had wanted to take then.
“I would like Daindemben Federation and my ChildFund sponsor to continue being my pillar, so that I will achieve my dream of becoming an accountant.”
Read more about ChildFund’s work to prevent early marriage.
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communications Specialist
Tuberculosis is rare today in the United States and other developed countries, but in developing nations, it is a killer. Globally, TB has created 10 million orphans and is one of the top-three causes of death in women ages 15 to 44.
Today, March 24, we mark World TB Day by joining with the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and other international organizations to raise awareness and mobilize political and social commitment toward progress in the care and control of tuberculosis.
Caused by an airborne bacteria, TB often attacks lungs and has developed strains that are resistant to multiple drug treatments. It also strikes people with weak immune systems, particularly those infected with HIV. In the 1800s, Western Europe saw the number of tuberculosis deaths peak at nearly 25 percent, but with better medical treatment and understanding, the TB mortality rate fell by 90 percent by the 1950s.
Now, as the virus mutates and resists standard drug therapies, developing nations are experiencing the same level of risk as Europe did a century ago. This year marks the second half of WHO’s two-year campaign Stop TB in My Lifetime, a program that is significant to countries ChildFund serves in Africa and Asia.
Globally, tuberculosis is second only to AIDS as the greatest killer from a single infectious agent. At least a third of HIV-infected patients worldwide are also diagnosed with TB, and in Sub-Saharan Africa, tuberculosis is often the infection that is directly responsible for death. In fact, testing positive for tuberculosis often masks HIV-positive status, which makes proper medical treatment far more difficult than for patients who have one disease or the other.
Despite the overall decline worldwide in incidences of TB and the development of rapid diagnostics, the combination of HIV and TB and its accompanying challenges have kept Africa from being on track to halve its tuberculosis deaths by 2015, a WHO goal.
WHO estimates that 500,000 children were newly infected in 2011, and 64,000 died. Tuberculosis is particularly difficult to diagnose in children; current TB tests are largely inaccurate for children.
Poor communities and vulnerable populations also suffer disproportionately from TB. At highest risk are young adults, infants, diabetics, smokers, those infected with HIV, people who are malnourished and anyone living in crowded or unclean conditions — such as refugees and others displaced by a natural disaster, political oppression or civil unrest.
Because TB threatens the well-being of children where we work, ChildFund supports local government initiatives and public messaging. Here are some facts about ChildFund-supported countries and their exposure to TB:
Sierra Leone has the world’s highest prevalence and mortality rates; tuberculosis incidence there is one and a half times as high as in the second-ranked country, and Sierra Leone’s mortality rate is almost twice as high.
Cambodia ranks fifth for prevalence and Timor-Leste eighth, but both countries tie for fifth-highest mortality rate because Cambodia has an edge in successful treatment.
Joining those three nations as very-high-incidence countries are The Gambia, Liberia, Mozambique, the Philippines and Zambia.
Areas of high prevalence include Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Guinea, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Thailand, Uganda and Vietnam. Uganda, where TB and HIV infection forms a lethal combination, has a treatment success rate of only 71 percent. Ethiopia and Guinea also have lower-than-average success rates: 83 percent and 80 percent, respectively.
The story isn’t entirely bleak, though. Some countries have made impressive progress. Between 1995 and 2011, 85 percent of all new infections and 69 percent of relapsing cases were successfully treated. And between 1990 and 2011, the overall mortality rate fell by 41 percent.
However, every year funding falls $3 billion short of WHO’s goal to make quality care accessible regardless of gender, age, type of disease, social setting or ability to pay. International assistance is especially critical for the 35 countries designated as low-income — including Afghanistan, Cambodia, Ethiopia, The Gambia, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mozambique and Uganda. Of these, The Gambia, Guinea and Sierra Leone are not currently among the top 50 recipients of Official Development Assistance.
Please join us in taking action to end the burden of tuberculosis in the lifetimes of the children we serve. When you sponsor a child or make a donation to Children’s Greatest Needs, you’ll be helping to ensure that children in our programs live healthier lives.
Reporting by ChildFund staff in Kenya, Sierra Leone and Uganda
As we celebrate the Day of the Girl, ChildFund recognizes three young women who were empowered through programs that emphasized the importance of girls. In their youth, they were given opportunities to learn, grow and prosper. Today, we celebrate their accomplishments.
Wotay, 25, grew up in northern Sierra Leone. Despite the poor conditions of her community, she managed to finish both primary and secondary school. Wotay is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in accounting at Njala University.
In her youth, Wotay was always one of few girls to speak out on the problem of teenage pregnancy (often due to rape and incest) and other child abuse issues in her region.
Now, during her visits home, she continues to advocate and help children in her community, offering them advice and assisting them with writing letters to their sponsors. She also volunteers with ChildFund community partners and is an active public speaker. Although she has an interest in finance, Wotay is currently devoting much of her attention to youth development.
In Caroline’s family, school is viewed as being only for boys. As a result, it was difficult for her to access education as a young girl. It was also a common practice for girls to be circumcised. But a local school administrator was instrumental in preventing Caroline’s circumcision and also guided her to ChildFund’s Psychological Support and Care (PSS) trainings where Caroline gained key insights into the rights of women and children. That knowledge has given her drive and courage to pursue her academic goals.
Although now 20, Caroline is a thriving high school student in Kimalel Day Secondary School in Kenya’s Marigat District. She shares her experiences with other youth who are struggling to get an education. She has been instrumental in encouraging other girls to go to school and helping them understand their rights. Recently, her ideas around inclusion of girls were used to help ChildFund and its local partners map strategy for future community programs. Caroline’s efforts have also contributed to a noticeable reduction in regressive cultural practices in her community where education for girls is not highly valued.
When she finishes her education, she hopes to be a teacher and a community facilitator.
The Police Detective
Growing up in poverty, Christine, 24, was a shy and unhappy little girl who didn’t believe she was good enough to succeed. She often kept quiet and listened to other children speak – she thought they knew better and therefore had more right to be heard. That was before she was sponsored through ChildFund Uganda.
Fast forward a few years, and Christine is a confident, assertive, determined and independent police detective in the crime intelligence division. Christine describes ChildFund as the “miracle that changed her life.” She recalls the letters, greeting cards and gifts from her sponsor Hansen that helped motivate and encourage her to do her best.
When she became of age, Christine assumed responsibility for helping other children like her. She assisted with letter writing and contributed to programs for children in her impoverished community. Those experiences helped shape the leadership skills she uses in her current job.
Christine attributes her communications skills and the ability to love and give to her time with ChildFund Uganda. ”I am able to stand all challenges at work because of the trainings I was involved in,” she says. “I stand for what I believe in. I am not afraid; I am assertive and I know my rights!”
Christine hopes to continue giving back to her community by empowering children and wants to sponsor a child in the future.
By Abu Bakarr Conteh, ChildFund Sierra Leone
As part of ongoing efforts to tackle unemployment in Sierra Leone, some 3,000 youth have started an intensive 12-month training program supported by ChildFund.
Years of civil war in Sierra Leone have robbed thousands of children and youth of a complete education. With few opportunities for employment, this generation of youth has been languishing in their villages with very little to offer and dim prospects for the future.
ChildFund, with funding from the World Bank, is rolling out the Youth Employment and Support Project (YESP) in five districts including the capital city of Freetown. And young people are eagerly enrolling in carpentry, masonry, auto mechanics and welding, among other vocational programs.
After completing the YESP training, the youth expect to improve their prospects of getting jobs.
“My dream is to become one of the best female auto mechanics in the country, so I can work for the big companies,” says 18-year-old Mamadi, who has been on the street and suffered exploitation.
Musa, who was struck with polio, is seeking to add value to his life. “I will become self-employed and be able to provide for my family once I complete the training,” he says.
In a country where unemployment remains a huge challenge across the population, these youth are highly spirited and determined to carve their own destinies.
by Abu Bakarr Conteh, ChildFund Sierra Leone
The project is being implemented in partnership with Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Finance and Economic Development and the National Youth Commission, with funding from the World Bank. Some 3,000 youth with low levels of education will receive skills training over the next two years to improve their prospects for employment.
ChildFund is working with a variety of training institutions in Freetown, Bo, Makeni, Kenema and Koidu cities to implement YESP. “We expect that about 60 percent of the trained youth will find employment at a living wage in the private sector or will be self-employed entrepreneurs after the training,” says Billy Abimbilla, national director in Sierra Leone.
Hundreds of young men and women who meet the criteria of being 14 to 25 years of age with little formal education are already queuing up at ChildFund’s area offices to register for the program.
Reporting by ChildFund Sierra Leone
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. In Sierra Leone, children are discovering new opportunities through education and sponsor support.
Located on Africa’s west coast, Sierra Leone is still recovering from a 10-year civil war that ended in 2002. Tens of thousands of lives were lost and about a third of the population was displaced.
Sierra Leone’s maternal and infant mortality rate is among the world’s highest because of malnutrition and lack of access to health care. It’s also one of the world’s poorest countries, with almost three out of four people living on less than the equivalent of $2 a day.
ChildFund began work in Sierra Leone in 1985, and today is one of the leading child development agencies in the country, with a strong focus on child protection, psychosocial support and skills building for children and youth.
Nearly 60 percent of Sierra Leone’s school-age children do not attend school. ChildFund has worked closely with local partners to educate community members on the value of education for their children and the long-term benefits of nurturing and protecting the next generation.
Child sponsorship has played a critical role in not only providing desperately needed services to Sierra Leone’s children but also helping them experience the joys of childhood. Sponsors’ cards, letters and words of encouragement are just what these children need right now.
by Jason Schwartzman, ChildFund Team Leader for Child & Youth Involvement
In preparation for ChildFund’s Youth Program Summit in India, we’ve been talking to youth around the world, trying to get inside their heads to understand how they see the future unfolding, starting with their inner circle of friends.
We ask them to think of and actually draw a “friend” — a peer, a relative, a neighbor — someone they know well. We encourage them to be realistic. In five years, what do they really think their friend’s life situation will be? Not what they hope, but what they predict. We give them drawing materials, a quiet space, and we see what happens.
Often they are optimistic, like this drawing from a young Native American woman in the United States, who says her friend will be, “outgoing, energetic, and a great person to be around. She’s really bright and understanding. There is never a dull moment when you’re with her. She’s just a true friend.”
Sometimes they are quite sad, as illustrated by this prediction by a young woman in Sierra Leone, “Mary is the name of my friend. She is 16 years old. Mary is crying because she is carrying a heavy load. She is a girl. Mary is presently in the street. In five year’s time, Mary will be dropped out from school. She will be a failure in life.”
Sometimes young people are hopeful and romantic, as this future scenario envisioned by a young man in Bolivia, “Arturo is 19 years old and completed school and a lawyer’s course. He now has a fixed job and has a girlfriend called Katerin who is a teacher. The two love each other a lot and they get on really well. They like to go on walks. They are expecting Arturo’s baby.”
In other instances they predict that a friend’s situation could be transformed, as in this drawing by a young man in The Gambia. He writes: “My friend’s name is Abas. He is 13 years old. He is a male. In 5 years times, I am seeing my friend as someone who will not prosper in future because he don’t study at home. These might lead him to fail his exam. I think he may get involve in drug abuse, he can be in jail, or physically weak or die. If he change his mind and study hard and be punctual in school, he can be at the University or may even be sponsor by the president to go and read for further studies. He can therefore contribute to the nation development and build up a good family in future.”
In the next blog, we’ll take a look at the resources young people say they need to be successful.
by Cynthia Price, ChildFund Director of Communications
I know — you’re wondering what this has to do with ChildFund. But hold on. It’s actually what Mick asks his readers to do several times during the book, including the chapter “A Sponsor for Alimany,” that brings the message home.
Yep, Mick is a ChildFund sponsor and a major donor. And it’s an important part of his life. As he tells me during a phone conversation, “Writing about the match gives me an excuse to write other chapters that often don’t have anything to do with wrestling.”
Even more notable is that Mick agreed to divide the proceeds from the advance of the book equally between ChildFund and RAINN (another group he supports).
“I know how valuable the sponsorships are in ChildFund’s projects around the world. I just feel that if I talk about them in public, others will realize how easy it is to make a difference,” he says. “I can reach people who can completely understand that others around the world have it much worse than they do.”
His engaging style in Countdown to Lockdown draws you in and makes you want to read more. But what if you aren’t a wrestling fan? Mick’s got you covered. He developed a handy “wrestle-meter” to gauge the wrestling content of chapters that are not “Lockdown”-specific. In the chapter about his sponsored child, Mick’s wrestle-meter is set low and reads, “Skip it if you like, but we’ll no longer be friends.”
It’s in that chapter that Mick shares how he came to sponsor Alimany, a young boy in Sierra Leone. His visit to Alimany’s village marked the first sponsor visit in 16 years, since before the civil war started in 1992. Mick also has funded five schools in Sierra Leone to help with the rebuilding.
“It seemed very natural to write a chapter about my trip to Sierra Leone,” he says.
It was also in his travels to this African nation that he attended a “sealing the past, facing the future” meeting of women who were the victims of rape in Sierra Leone’s civil war. “It really opened my eyes to the oppression that women face in so many parts of the world. And it opened my eyes to how prevalent rape and sexual assault are right here in the U.S.,” he writes.
That led to his connection with RAINN (Rape Abuse and Incest National Network), which Tori Amos helped found.
Through his work with ChildFund, Mick says, he realized “it really might be better to give than to receive.”
Reflecting on the lives of his sponsored children, he writes, “I’ve come to think of those three or four Bombali villages all lying along that stretch of horrible road as my little corner of the world to nurture and care for. A small dot on life’s map where I can make a visible difference. Where a little compassion and a little more money can go such a long way.”
In his book Mick asks readers to contact ChildFund and specifically ask to sponsor a child from the Bombali area in Sierra Leone. “I know I wrote of this little dot on the map as my corner of the world to nurture and care for — but maybe some of you could nurture it with me.”
Now that’s a challenge worth tackling.