By Flavia Lanuedoc, ChildFund Caribbean
Flavia Lanuedoc works as a sponsor relations officer for one of ChildFund’s local partner organizations in Dominica. She lives in Boetica, a village that was cut off from help after flooding from Tropical Storm Erika in late August. Despite spending her whole life in the area, Flavia had never seen anything approaching a disaster of this magnitude. Here’s part one of her story. We’ll post the second part tomorrow.
The early hours of Aug. 27 had brought with it torrential rains, so I peeped outside to survey what damage had been done. To my disbelief, the yard of the house where I had lived all my life had turned into a raging river.
As I turned from the window, I saw that water and mud were rushing in through the other door. I screamed and ran to wake up my children. Within a split second, water was gushing into the house, bringing with it thick mud. It soon became obvious that our efforts to prevent the water from entering were futile. We gave up, and our focus now turned to saving the items that were at floor level.
Soon, seven men barged into our yard. Every community has “village champions” who carry out search-and-rescue efforts, even if they have little or no training.
These men were bearing news of hope as well as horror. Their tidings still resonate as if it was yesterday: “Give thanks, all of you. Say praises to the Lord, because if that road in the corner did not break, all of you would be dead.” And without even pausing, they entered the house and began assisting us. It took all of us over an hour to clear the mud from inside the house and then pour buckets of water to clean it off. They quickly moved on in search of another family in trouble.
After the rain ceased, it was time to survey the village. I was amazed at the devastation. We were blocked from the nearby village of Delices, on the southern end, and the main bridge on the northern end linking us to the rest of the island was gone. There was rubble and debris all over. We were trapped in the village without water, electricity and means of communication.
Dominica has been identified as the island in the Caribbean with the highest number of cell phones per capita, but that meant little for our village and our ability to reach the outside world at a time when it mattered most. Going from one village to another was dangerous, as one had to go through huge mudslides, boulders and rocks. Before long, a villager discovered one little spot with cell reception, and it became the meeting place where villagers would gather to contact their loved ones and transact business via phone. Those from the neighboring village who were cut off by a landslide braved the dangerous journey to that little spot to communicate with the outside world as well.
With no electricity in the village, it was hard to keep phones charged. But as luck would have it, a shopkeeper had a small generator, so villagers were able to recharge their cell phones there. Meanwhile, the owner of the village shop had to begin rationing his stock to ensure that everyone was able to have some food and drinking water.
The days that followed were hard on my children. My 17-year-old son refused to sleep in the bedroom and chose rather to sleep on a chair so he could keep an eye on the door to see if water was again coming in.
Tomorrow, making contact with the outside world.
As you may recall, we met a ChildFund alumnus from The Gambia, Momodou Bah, this summer when he was a Mandela Washington Fellow, an honor bestowed annually by the White House on 500 young African leaders. After going to Washington, D.C., for the fellows’ week-long summit — and meeting President Obama — he and his sister went to Boston to meet Momodou’s sponsor, Debbie Gautreau. It was a very special meeting, and you can read all about it. Today, Momodou is back in The Gambia, employing the ideas he learned during his stay in Richmond, Virginia, and Washington, and Debbie hopes to visit him next time in Africa!
By Agueda Barreto, ChildFund Brasil
Six-year-old Guilherme was born in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, in a neighborhood that has seen significant criminal activity. He’s a lively and curious child, full of energy, and his life has improved a great deal since his mother enrolled him in ChildFund’s programs.
Guilherme and his younger brother, 4-year-old Gabriel, participate in activities at ChildFund’s local partner GEDAM. He and his brother no longer have to stay at home as much or at someone else’s house while their mother works. They can be children! Today, Guilherme’s writing a letter to his ChildFund sponsor with his mother, Fabiana, helping him.
“I’m writing the second letter to my sponsor, and my mom is helping me, so the letter can be beautiful,” Guilherme says. “I love to write to him, and I’m happy when I get news as well. Here at the organization, what I like to do most is judo, play soccer, jump rope, read books, dance, paint and color.”
By ChildFund Vietnam Staff (first used on ChildFund Australia’s blog)
Bui Thi Nhu grew up in a remote village in Hoa Binh, a rural province in northern Vietnam. Her parents were both farmers who worked hard to provide for the now 28-year-old Nhu and her two siblings.
“I was born into a poor family,” Nhu remembers. “Like many other people living in the same village, we relied on agricultural activities for our living. Life was difficult, and the local economy was weak. I still remember the image of my parents working and sweating in the paddy fields on hot summer days.”
When Nhu was 13, she was sponsored through ChildFund by an Australian sponsor, Brendan, and his family. Nhu felt like she had another person watching over her. “I was very motivated by my sponsor through our letter exchange,” she says. “From my perspective, the most important benefit of being an enrolled child was the huge encouragement I received that encouraged me to strive for my future.”
As a child, Nhu dreamed of treating the sick. Today she is turning that dream into a reality. After graduating from a medical college in 2008, she now works as a health-care worker in the community where she grew up.
I want to express my deepest appreciation to my sponsors. They made me what I am today.
“I feel proud of what I can do as a health officer,” Nhu says. “I love to give treatment to children and take care of them. Children are the most vulnerable and need proper care. This is my passion.”
Nhu has watched her community in Hoa Binh transform over the past 20 years, when ChildFund began its work there. “Sponsorship has made community development programs possible,” she says. “There have been big positive changes in our communities. Schools have been rebuilt with sufficient facilities so children have better access to basic education. Today, 100 percent of the children in my community are able to go to school and receive a good education.
“With ChildFund’s support, many roads were reconstructed using concrete. This has made traveling more convenient. Canal systems have been improved to enhance agricultural production. Clean water supply systems and sanitation facilities have also been constructed.”
As if her job as a health worker didn’t keep her busy enough, Nhu also has also worked with ChildFund Vietnam as a sponsor relations volunteer for the past five years. It is her role to deliver letters from sponsors to the children in her area and help them write letters back, as well as encourage all of the children to get involved in ChildFund-supported activities.
“To me, volunteering for ChildFund is very meaningful since I can make a significant contribution to child development,” Nhu says. “I see this volunteer job as a way that I can help other children to enjoy the same opportunities I had when I was small.”
Although she has aged out of sponsorship, Nhu continues to feel motivated by her friends in Australia. “I want to express my deepest appreciation to my sponsors,” she says. “Thanks to them, I received a good education and had the will to strive for success in my study and my work. They made me what I am today. As a grown-up, I am trying to devote my little effort to help the local community and children, just as my sponsor helped me before.”
You can learn more about ChildFund’s work in Vietnam over the past 20 years and read about sponsor and race car driver Pete Olson’s efforts to help a community in Hanoi.
Photos from IREX and Momodou Bah
This week, Momodou Bah, a former sponsored child from The Gambia, took part in the Young African Leaders Initiative summit in Washington, D.C. He and 499 other Mandela Washington Fellows, chosen from a field of 50,000 applicants to represent Sub-Saharan African countries, met President Obama in a town hall meeting and discussed important issues faced by Africans, including the empowerment of women and girls, addressing HIV and AIDS, making educational opportunities available to more people and building their nations’ economies.
Read more about the fellowship program at Virginia Commonwealth University and what the president challenged the Fellows to do as they prepare to return home in coming weeks. Also, stay tuned for a second blog post soon about Momodou’s experiences at the summit and his meeting with his sponsor in Boston.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
It’s a rare and special treat to meet a former sponsored child in person. Many ChildFund alumni live in their home countries, often a long way from the United States.
Momodou Bah, a 30-year-old man who grew up in our programs in The Gambia, showed up one day this summer at our headquarters in Richmond, Virginia. Word quickly spread, and we were all excited to meet him — especially when we learned that he had won a Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, a prestigious honor the White House bestows on a few hundred African men and women each year.
Momodou is The Gambia’s youngest elected ward councilor, a position similar to a county supervisor, which he’s held since age 22, soon after he aged out of ChildFund’s sponsorship. On the council, Momodou represents eight villages, including the one where he grew up as one of seven children in a poor household.
As a Mandela Washington Fellow chosen from a field of 50,000 applicants, Momodou is among 25 women and men between the ages of 25 and 35 who are taking immersive courses in political and civic leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. The six weeks of classes (as well as meetings with Virginia’s governor and other government officials) culminate in a three-day summit in August in Washington, D.C., with the rest of the fellows, who are spread across the country at different universities. They’ll get to meet President Obama, too.
“We learn how things really operate in the government, in the courts, in the police departments — and how to build better institutions,” Momodou explains.
We plan to check back in with him after he meets the president, but we wanted to share his remarkable story — and the fact that he has reconnected with his sponsor.
“It was my life’s dream to get an education,” he says. “My parents are subsistence farmers of groundnuts, rice and millet for family consumption.” Momodou has two elder sisters, one of whom lives and attends college in Washington, and four younger brothers. He also has two sons, who are living in his family’s home while he attends the fellowship classes here.
When Momodou was in second grade, he was sponsored by Debbie Gautreau, who lives in Massachusetts.
As his sponsorship began bringing him letters and photos, as well as support to help his family pay school fees, he says, “I thought first, the world is full of good people.” He attended a primary school built by Catholic missionaries in 1949 and was one of the youngest students there — and considered one of the smartest, he says with a laugh. Momodou’s educational background has helped him in his current position as a ward councilor, representing people who speak four different dialects: Fula, Mandinka, Jola and Wolof.
“I went to school with children from these communities,” he says, explaining how he came to understand and speak all four dialects.
ChildFund still impacts his life in many ways. Momodou served for three years as board chairman for a group of local partner organizations that work with ChildFund in his community, and both ChildFund International and ChildFund Deutschland (our Alliance partner in Germany) have contributed assistance. In Momodou’s ward, there is a water and sanitation project that has delivered clean water to the population of 600. His boys, ages 5 and 6, have attended our Early Childhood Development programs too.
“They’ve learned to say the alphabet and name animals and objects,” he says proudly.
Debbie, who spoke with Momodou over the phone, said that she is thrilled to reconnect with him after 12 years. When they last were in touch, he was entering an information technology program post-high school, with plans for a career in the field.
“I feel like he’s my third son,” Debbie says. “Some of my friends and family remember when I sponsored him. He was very ambitious. School was very important. He seemed like he was going places.”
She was 28 when she first sponsored Momodou, near his current age, and Debbie says she has saved all of his letters and his first picture. They hope to meet while he’s in the U.S. this summer.
“He made me cry,” Debbie says, recalling their first phone conversation. “He’s just so kind and appreciative of my help.”
And true to form, Momodou continues to have great ambitions for himself and his country.
“I wish to continue on my political career to the highest level possible,” he says, perhaps as a national legislator or even The Gambia’s president. “My sons are expecting their father to come back a different person.”
Stay tuned for a second story in August, after Momodou takes part in the Mandela Washington Fellows’ summit and meets President Obama — and hopefully, and possibly even better, his former sponsor, Debbie.
By Raphael Opira
Raphael, a logistics officer for a Dutch aid agency in Uganda, wrote this article about his experience being sponsored as a child and later meeting his sponsor in Sydney, Australia. The story was first published on ChildFund Australia’s blog.
Life was simply so challenging before I was sponsored. I am one of 15 children. My father made just $50 a month to support us, so it was very hard for my family to pay school fees for us all. The difficulties were compounded by Uganda’s 23-year civil war. When I was introduced to ChildFund, it was a turning point in my life.
When I was a child, we lived in a refugee camp. Outside it was unsafe, but it was also not safe inside the camp, as the enemy forces would sometimes come in and raid us for food, or to kill or steal children.
I lived with my family in a makeshift home in the camp from the late 1990s until 2006. When we moved to the camp, the focus moved from education to security. During this time, many children couldn’t go to school. We also could not put on lights to study at night because the enemy would find you.
When I was 12 and attending school again, I was sponsored. The biggest benefit of being a sponsored child for me was that I didn’t have to worry about school fees anymore. Instead, I could concentrate on my studies.
Sponsorship pulled me from nowhere to being able to have a good life in Uganda. It was like a bridge; if that bridge had not been there, I would not have been able to get to the other side.
Even as a child, I knew that education was most important, because if I am educated, all the rest will come. Before my last year of primary school, a friend and I spoke to the ChildFund officer and said we wanted to be transferred to a better school. He assisted us with the application. Our parents didn’t come with us, and the school was afraid we wouldn’t be able to pay our fees. We told them, “It’s OK, we are with ChildFund,” and it was OK. I turned out to be one of their best students.
Raphael was accepted into one of the top high schools in his district. He then went on to complete an undergraduate degree, and he has recently finished postgraduate studies. He now works as a logistics officer for a Dutch aid agency.
ChildFund was my launch pad. If I had not been sponsored, I think I would be a peasant farmer or doing odd jobs.
Sponsorship may not translate directly to a successful career, but it does provide the environment and the resources you need to succeed. After that, it is our responsibility to make the most of the opportunity. For me, it was the beginning of a very bright future. I’ve spent most of my time so far at school, and I am going up from here.
I am now married with three boys. My children will go to the best schools in the district, but I don’t want to have any more children because I want to be able to support other children and make an impact in their lives.
My goal for my life is to ensure that people succeed through me.
I am now part of the ChildFund Alumni Association. We are a group of 300 successful formerly sponsored children who are reaching out to the next generation of Ugandan children. We are teachers, university lecturers, social workers and lawyers. I am in procurement and transport.
After reconnecting with Michael Coorey, a former teacher in Australia whose students sponsored Raphael through ChildFund Australia, Raphael made the long journey from Uganda to Sydney to meet him in person this year.
When the time came to meet Michael, it was something that cannot be described. It could just be felt. It was a moment in life that nobody can imagine to be true. It is a very good feeling for someone who has been sponsored through ChildFund for this to happen.
When I first started to think about a way of conveying my heartfelt thanks to my sponsors, the first thing that came into my thoughts was to name my last born in tribute to him. That is why my 4-year-old son is called Emmanuel Coorey. To actually meet Michael in person was unexpected but definitely a dream come true!
Coming to Sydney was such a special time for me.
I went to the school that sponsored me to meet their students. Speaking to them was a very big achievement for me. Interestingly, other teachers who were involved in my sponsorship were still there, and they were wonderful to meet. It was great that they, too, could see the impact they have had on me.
Read Michael Coorey’s observations about sponsoring Raphael and watch Raphael’s message on video, below.
In several of Mozambique’s communities where ChildFund works, our local partners hosted birthday parties for children who may never have celebrated their birthdays before. This was possible thanks to a recent campaign by ChildFund International that asked sponsors and other supporters to send birthday cards to children who don’t have sponsors, and more than 1,000 of you responded! By having cake, games and other treats, the unsponsored children didn’t feel left out of the fun. Enjoy the pictures from these celebrations in Zavala, Zandamela and Maputo, where hundreds of children have received birthday cards. If you’re interested in sponsoring a child in Mozambique, here’s more information.
This week, we’ve had quite a conversation going on our Facebook page, hearing from sponsors about why they chose to sponsor children. Some have been doing it for decades! Read their reasons and even add your own. If you’re thinking about sponsoring a child, find out (much) more on our website.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
This was the second time I’ve been to Guatemala, but it was very different from my first trip, which was a vacation taken with a friend. Both times, I saw plenty of beautiful terrain, including an active volcano, lakes, foliage and mountains.
But during my ChildFund trip, I had the chance to visit places that tourists never go.
Here’s a short video I shot from the car during one drive into the highlands; it may seem bumpy, but this was hardly the worst of the roads. This one was paved, after all.
I took Dramamine every morning, just in case.
Some moments were a little scary, like when we were trying to cross this ditch being dug for a water line. But we all got in and out each day without serious difficulty, thanks to good planning by my hosts from ChildFund Guatemala’s national office and our local partner organizations in the communities. Not only did they arrange transportation and lodging, but they also spoke to families, teachers and principals so I could interview them.
The most remarkable visit was to a family’s home in Patzite. We met Cristina, the mother of six children — including a baby girl born just the week before. She didn’t even have a name yet. Despite still being in bed, Cristina welcomed us warmly. Two of her children, 8-year-old Wendy Catarina and 7-year-old Marcos, are sponsored through ChildFund.
Inside their home, which had dirt floors and mud-brick walls like many in the region, the children and their mother sat on beds and greeted us. I asked questions about water and electricity (they have running water every third day, and they have electricity, although others in the village don’t), where the baby had been born (at home, with a midwife attending), how the children liked being sponsored.
Marcos says of his sponsor, “I have a new friend.” He hopes to be a lawyer, while Wendy wishes to be a doctor. Their 12-year-old sister, Ana Loida, says she likes to write and hopes to be a teacher.
Of course, money factors into those dreams. Ana is in sixth grade, and although Cristina and her husband, who is a day laborer, would like their oldest daughter to continue to high school, the cost of uniforms and books is high. Plus, Wendy has considerable physical problems: poor eyesight, a femur that doesn’t fit right into her hip, and ear and foot issues. Medical assistance costs money, too.
“She has many difficulties,” Cristina says. “Wendy has to leave home early so she gets to school on time. She can’t run or walk fast. She also has to sit near the blackboard. She cries at night because her foot hurts.” The nearest health center is a one-hour walk from their home, and public transportation is available only on Thursday and Sunday.
“If there’s no medicine there, we get a prescription, and we have to buy medicine ourselves,” Cristina says.
Still, she adds, the children have benefited from ChildFund’s presence in the community. Cristina’s first contact was with guide mothers, local women who had received training through ChildFund. “At first, I was a little afraid because I didn’t want people to ask my children things,” she says. But her initial reservations dissipated quickly. “Marcos is happier, and so is Wendy.”
They were enrolled in ChildFund-supported programs six years ago, and both Marcos and Wendy found sponsors at the start of this year. Because only three children can be enrolled per family, Cristina plans to enroll the baby, who’s just starting to wiggle and fuss amid the blankets.
Cristina hopes for more opportunities for her children than she’s had. After finishing second grade, her father couldn’t afford to send her back to school, and Cristina had to weave cloth to sell. After a decade of working, she was married at age 18 and began having children. Today, she speaks only her local language, Quiché, although Ana, Marcos and Wendy can speak Spanish.
“After what I’ve seen,” Cristina says, “education is important. I try to make their dreams come true. Not knowing how to speak Spanish — it’s not what I want for my children.”
It’s a real struggle for many of the families I met in Guatemala’s mountains. I hope Cristina’s children and others I met can receive the help they need to continue school and have more options as young adults, whether it’s through sponsorship, grants or some other source. I also hope to return to these villages one day and see the changes for myself.