Small Voices, Big Thoughts

La Paz, Bolivia

Nestor, 11, lives in La Paz, Bolivia. “I think it is important to listen to children’s voices,” he says. “Boys without love grow to be aggressive. Parents’ love is important for children. It gives them more security and self-confidence.”

Reporting by ChildFund International staff members

Today is Universal Children’s Day, when ChildFund Alliance releases its annual Small Voices, Big Dreams survey. Almost 6,000 children in 44 countries (in the Americas, Africa, Asia, Europe and Australia) answered questions about what their fears are, what they’d do if they were their country’s leader and what they consider their rights. Here are some memorable responses from children in countries where ChildFund works.

Hoan of Vietnam

Hoan, 12, of Vietnam:

Adults mistreat children who are alone. Because some children do not have anyone who cares for them and protects them, adults mistreat them. I will create a safe environment for children so they can live safely and happily. I will open a free school for orphaned children who didn’t have the opportunity to go to school before.


Teresa of Mexico

Teresa with her younger siblings.

Teresa, 12, of Mexico:

There are parents who always tell their kids that they are not capable of doing certain things, and I think that is really wrong because we feel a lot of pressure, and over time, we’ll be afraid of expressing ourselves.





Jeferino of Timor-Leste

Jeferino, 12, of Timor-Leste:

We are children. We also have the right to play, but most of the adults limit us. When we play, they come to chase us away because they are adults, and we are children. And we can’t do anything.

Agnes, 12, of Zambia:

If I become a leader, I will make sure everyone knows and protects children’s rights.

Agnes gathers maize for her family.

Agnes gathers maize for her family.


Jonathan of Mexico

Jonathan, outside his home.

Jonathan, 11, of Mexico:

I think it is really important to listen to children’s opinions because people shouldn’t make decisions for them or force them to do anything.

Postcards From Abroad

Clarita of Timor-Leste

Clarita, 17, of Timor-Leste, regularly receives postcards from her sponsor. One of the most memorable postcards she received is the one with high buildings and long bridges of the city of Melbourne, Australia.

“I like this card because it’s like a memory from my sponsor,” she says. Photo by Kim Bomi of ChildFund Timor-Leste.

Children Advocating for Safe Schools

children against violence

Members of Timor-Leste’s Children Against Violence group pose for a photo during their journey from their hometown, Maliana, to neighboring district Suai for a national child rights forum.

By Janella Nelson, ChildFund Education Technical Advisor

This blog post was originally published by the Global Campaign for Education’s United States chapter.

As many children return to school this month, it is an exciting time for parents and students. There is an assumption by many that school is a safe place, but there are children around the world, including in the United States, who will be returning to school and wondering if their school is really safe.

Children have the right to learn in a physically and emotionally safe environment that is conducive to learning. When we think about “safe environments,” there are several things we consider, but usually physical safety is at the top of our minds. Globally, children are exposed to several forms of violence in the classroom, on school grounds and on the way to or from school. They include corporal punishment, bullying, sexual gender-based violence, gangs and political unrest.

Children in Timor-Leste rehearse a skit about corporal punishment.

Members of Timor-Leste’s Children Against Violence group rehearse a skit about corporal punishment.

These forms of violence, which can be physical or psychological, can prevent children from learning and staying in school. Evidence shows that corporal punishment by educators increases dropout rates and perpetuates a cycle of violence. Bullying is linked to poor mental and physical health, school absenteeism, lower test scores and higher crime rates (bullies are four times more likely to engage in serious crime, according to a study in 28 countries published by the American Psychological Association in 2013). Sexual violence based on gender has a detrimental effect on girls’ attendance and completion of basic education, which contributes to the large gender gap in secondary school. Gang-related and political violence prevents children from even attending school, causing schools to close and teachers to resign.

ChildFund International and our partners in the ChildFund Alliance are committed to contributing to a world where every child is free from violence and exploitation. We support children in exercising their rights and work to create environments where children can not only participate as advocates against violence but also lead efforts.

In Timor-Leste, ChildFund’s Children Against Violence program has prioritized the push for a legal framework prohibiting violence against children in schools, as well as community-based awareness activities. Students have created Child Advocacy Groups, which have conducted research on violence against children; group members have used this research to advocate for a national policy forbidding corporal punishment in school. A cadre of young advocates has grown out of the groups, and they promote the protection of children’s rights, as well as the education of teachers and parents about positive discipline practices.

Students, parents and teachers need to work together to tackle all types of violence in schools, and one essential step is to provide support to children so they can raise their voices about this issue and make schools truly safe.

Playing With What They Have

Photos from ChildFund’s offices in Bolivia, Brazil, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Mexico and Timor-Leste 

In the lobby of ChildFund’s international headquarters, we don’t have your typical office décor. Instead, we have a sparsely furnished Kenyan classroom, a world map mural with paper dolls holding hands, and homemade toys collected from around the world. A lot of the toys are made with what some people might call trash: used plastic bottles, twine and bits of rubber and metal. But the toys themselves are not junk and are often prized by the children who made and played with them.

In these pictures below, you’ll see the ingenuity and creativity of children who play with what they have — animals, traditional games and toys made from available materials.

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Steering Children Toward Success

Children learning activities in Leopa  ECD CenterDrawingSingingPlaying

Josefa teaches her ECD students about transportation.

By Silvia Ximenes, ChildFund Timor-Leste

It’s never too early to learn this lesson: “You need to study to get more knowledge and skills,” Josefa tells the children — ages 5 and younger — in the Early Childhood Development center in Leopa, a coastal community in Timor-Leste.

Josefa has taught since 2007 at this ECD center, which is supported by ChildFund and Timor-Leste’s Ministry of Education. Her duty is to make sure her children are learning effectively and to build their confidence in a safe and comfortable environment. ChildFund, working with Timor-Leste’s education ministry, holds training sessions for teachers on education methodology, and we also provided Josefa’s center with furniture, toys, teaching materials and healthy food for the children, including milk and green beans.

The children play before class starts and then come to attention after giving their teacher a warm greeting hello.

Josefa takes down a book and asks the children, “What do you see in this book?” Today’s topic is transportation.

The children respond with various answers: “It’s a car. That’s a plane. It’s a horse. It’s a boat!”

“All are the correct answers,” Josefa says. “Do you know how these means of transportation work?”

Adi of Timor-Leste

Adi on the playground

Adi, a 4-year-old boy with a confident and loud voice, replies, “A car runs on the road! A plane is in the air! Horses carry things!”To liven up the class, Josefa asks the children to stand and sing: “I’d like to ride pleasant transport!” Adi and his friends burst out in a chorus.

A few minutes later, Josefa distributes paper and crayons, bringing the children back to a calmer state. “Now, let’s draw your favorite means of transportation: a car, a plane, a horse or boat,” Josefa says.

Adi and his friends begin to sketch. Adi’s favorite activity is drawing. “I’m drawing five motorbikes, because I like to ride a motorbike,” he says with pride. “I want to become a police officer who rides a motorbike and arrests people who are involved in a crime.”

Josefa takes this opening to let her students know what such a dream will require: “If you want to drive or want to become a skilled driver of any kind of transport, then you need to study hard, to get better knowledge and skills on how to drive properly.”

Adi walks to the ECD center every day. His parents, Januario and Terezinha, both work as subsistence farmers, growing the food their family needs to survive. They have a second son, 2-year-old Felis. In Timor-Leste, about 95 percent of food grown — mainly corn and rice — is produced by subsistence farming.

On his 15-minute trek home that afternoon, perhaps he hums, “I like to ride pleasant transport!” And perhaps the seed his teacher planted is growing in Leopa’s sea breezes.

Establishing a Firm Foundation in Fatumeta

Timor-Leste early childhood development

Abrigu, 5, counts the letters of the alphabet with the help of his teacher, Fernanda.

By Silvia Ximenes, ChildFund Timor-Leste

Fernanda, who works in an Early Childhood Development (ECD) center in Fatumeta, Timor-Leste, often begins class by asking the children questions.

“What do people usually use to communicate with each other?”

Most of the children confidently say, “A telephone.”

“Is there anything other than a telephone?” Fernanda asks.

The class becomes quiet. Five-year-old Abrigu and his friends are searching for the answer. Fernanda gives the children a clue: “Something that we watch the news or a movie with — what do you call it?”

“A television!” the children say simultaneously.

Abrigu and his father

Abrigu and his father, Agusto.

After hearing their answers, Fernanda explains today’s topic to the children: different means of communication. She talks about telephones, televisions, newspapers and radio.

The Fatumeta ECD center started in 2008 with support from ChildFund. In her class of 27 children, Fernanda uses methods and techniques she learned in ChildFund’s training programs. By providing the children with various types of games and learning activities, she hopes to help them learn important skills while also expressing their creativity.

As part of today’s lesson, Abrigu carefully writes the letters of the alphabet on a large chalkboard. Afterward, Fernanda asks children to count the letters — combining learning about the alphabet with counting exercises, which will enhance the children’s overall comprehension.

ChildFund, along with local partner organization Moris Foun, supplies the center with books, paper and pencils, as well as education training for the staff members. ChildFund’s goal is to support children so they can complete their studies and become confident, educated adults who can help their communities improve.

Abrigu’s father, Agusto, came with him to the center today. A farmer and dad of seven, Agusto is aware of the importance of education for his children’s future. He says that one of Abrigu’s sisters has also gone through the ECD program. She is now in the second grade  and is doing well, Agusto proudly reports. “She is confident in her learning and is progressing well because she had the opportunity to develop her knowledge in the very beginning through the ECD center.”

Goats Contribute to a Brighter Future

Fernanda and her goat

Fernanda and her family’s goat.

By Silvia Ximenes, ChildFund Timor-Leste

Nine-year-old Fernanda’s family tends a garden in Manatuto, Timor-Leste, with corn, long beans, bananas and cassava that feed Fernanda and her four siblings, with enough left over to sell and make a small income. Now, they have a goat too, which they received earlier this year.

“We don’t have a rice field, as most people do, but only a small plot of land for vegetables,” says Fernando, Fernanda’s father. “We only do farming in which the production is very low and not enough to sustain family needs. We really wanted to do some other things in order to support family’s income, like buy goats, but we have no money. So we are lucky and happy to receive the goat.”

Fernando’s family is one of 10 families who received a goat this past spring. Fernanda and her siblings enjoy taking care of the 10 goats, which are kept in the same field. “After school I pull out the goats, feed and give them drink and let them eat the grass,” says Fernanda, who wants to become a teacher.

“Once our goat has multiplied, then I will sell some to buy my children’s school materials — such as books, pens, uniforms, et cetera,” says Fernando.  “Moreover, we will also have some for family consumption.”

It is quite rare for families in Manatuto to include meat in their meals, as it is too expensive and in limited supply. “We can only eat goat’s meat when there is a cultural event or ceremony, which probably happens about two to five times a year,” Fernando says.

“With respect and happiness, I want to thank the donors who provide us goats,” he adds. “We will take care of them.”

Fernando hopes his children will have a promising future. “I want them to have a good education and later to have a job, so they can have a better life. I will keep supporting them with my own efforts to help them realize their dreams.”

How Climate Change Affects Timor-Leste

By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist

When I grew up near Lake Erie in Ohio, I lived on the north coast; or, taking a Canadian perspective, the south shore. As an adult, I moved to England’s south coast, then the west coast of Africa, and finally, the east and west coasts of North America.

family farm in Timor-Leste

Most of Timor-Leste’s residents are subsistence farmers, growing crops for their families to live on.

Water attracts people. It’s no coincidence that oceans, blood and amniotic fluid all share the same concentration of salt.

Worldwide, three out of five people live in coastal areas, and 50 million call tiny islands home. Although Small Island Developing States (known as SIDS) produce less than 1 percent of global greenhouse gas, their inhabitants suffer most from climate change. Of the 51 countries classified as SIDS, 12 are also among the least developed — including Timor-Leste, where ChildFund works. It gained its independence from Indonesia in 2002.

More than half of Timor-Leste’s population lives in poverty. The United Nations predicts its population will triple to 3 million by 2050, and the country faces a temperature increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius (3.4 degrees Fahrenheit) over that time, according to a 2012 report from the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

We must account for climate change as we address poverty, simply because of its impact on the availability of water and food.

About two in three Timorese people already suffer from food insecurity; half of Timor-Leste’s population is under age 15, and malnutrition affects half of the children under age 5. In Timor-Leste, the hungry season lasts from October through February — until maize, the primary crop, is ready for harvest.

Although 85 percent of Timorese practice subsistence agriculture, the country cannot meet its nutritional needs, partly because insects, fungi and rodents ruin a third of the harvest during storage. Crops suited to the Timorese climate — such as rice, maize, wheat, barley, arrowroot, cassava, sweet potato, potato, cowpeas, red beans, peanuts and coconuts — provide acceptable caloric intake but insufficient protein. For its population to survive, Timor-Leste imports food and exports coffee.

Pedro and his chicken

A gift of chickens can help children get the nutrition they need to develop into healthy adults.

So, what happens if Timor-Leste gets hotter and more crowded? Interactions between carbon dioxide (CO2), temperature and water are complex. The so-called “CO2 fertilization effect” benefits certain crops, such as rice, sweet potatoes and peanuts. Others, however, experience harm, especially maize and cassava. Too much carbon dioxide causes cassava leaves, an excellent source of protein, to become toxic.

Warmer temperatures cause crops to mature faster but at reduced yields. Peanut harvests, for example, could shrink by one-fifth. Warmth also favors pests, so incidence of insect damage and fungal diseases will increase. And farming requires rainfall at crucial stages. If Timor-Leste doesn’t receive enough — or gets too much — rain, the crops currently cultivated there may no longer thrive.

Coffee beans are especially vulnerable to heat, and if they don’t adjust to higher temperatures, farmers will move their plants up the central mountain, increasing deforestation and soil erosion.

Climate change also puts Timor-Leste at greater risk of floods, landslides, cyclones and drought — disasters that already affect the country. Grain yields decreased by 30 percent in 2007, due to a drought caused by El Niño, a disruption in the Pacific Ocean related to unusually warm temperatures. Climate models indicate a high likelihood of another El Niño event in 2014.

Climate change is a serious concern around the world, and it often seems like too great a problem for one person. But if each one of us does our part, we can make a difference; you can help improve the diets and incomes of families in Timor-Leste by making a gift of goats, cows or chickens.

A Timor-Leste Community Eradicating Malaria

By Silvia Ximenes and Natasha Cleary, ChildFund Timor-Leste

April 25 is World Malaria Day, a time to recognize the toll this disease takes on many people worldwide, particularly children under the age of 5.

Jose and grandson

Jose and his grandson, who now sleeps under a medicated bed net.

It’s mid-morning off tropical Timor-Leste’s coast, in the mountains of Liquica district. The wet season is coming to an end, so the trees and scrub are still green, and fruit and vegetables are abundant. But the wet season also creates an abundance of mosquitos.

Elderly patriarch Jose Dias lives in one of the only houses in his village that’s made of concrete; most are made of bamboo and palm leaves. Despite its stronger foundations, the house lacks window coverings and fly screens, like all houses here, and it is full of mosquitos. They swarm as Jose speaks about protecting his growing family from malaria.

“My family received two bed nets from ChildFund, and the volunteer also gave us information about how to use them properly and why we need to use them,” he says. “Giving information with nets is important, because some people didn’t know what they were for and used them to catch fish or protect their trees from pests.”

But there are no bed nets in Jose’s garden. While his adult children are working in the fields harvesting vegetables, Jose stays at home with his infant grandson, who sleeps under a net, protected from the mosquitos.

Community health volunteers trained through ChildFund have visited his home and hold group education sessions in his community, raising awareness of disease prevention, like how and why to use nets, and advocating the use of local health clinics.  Last year, ChildFund distributed 950 insecticide-treated nets in Liquica district.

Jakson's home

Jakson at his home, which has gaps that allow in mosquitos.

Up the hill from Jose’s house is 7-year-old Jakson’s bamboo and palm leaf house. Jakson contracted malaria a few years ago, before his family started using nets. “When I had malaria, I just stayed at home sleeping. I couldn’t go to school or play with my friends,” he says. “Jakson had a fever and headache,” explains his mother, Agostinha. “I knew that I had to quickly take him to the health post to get medication and treatment. Juleta [a volunteer] had already informed my family and the community.

“If I lost a child due to sickness, life could never be the same again,” Agostinha continues.

She has four children who are 7 and younger, and they now all sleep under bed nets provided by ChildFund. Children younger than 5 are at increased risk of rapid progression of malaria, as well as more severe mutations and a higher likelihood of death, according to the World Health Organization.

But there is hope. Through interventions like distribution of bed nets and increasing community awareness, malaria has almost been eradicated in Liquica. Last year, ChildFund distributed 950 insecticide-treated bed nets in Liquica district.

“In 2006, 220 of every 1,000 people who took a blood test had malaria,” says Pedro Paulo Gomes, director of the Liquica District Health Service. “Nowadays it is less than two. The dramatic decrease has been achieved through successful interventions like training [of health staff], bed net distribution and behavior-change information provided to the community.”

Gomes adds that the Ministry of Health has a good working relationship with ChildFund. “We work in partnership to train health staff and volunteers on community health education.”

Pedro Paulo Gomes

Pedro Paulo Gomes, director of the Liquica District Health Service.

Juleta, a community health volunteer

Juleta, a community health volunteer, with a group of local children.

Strong Friendships Begin With Sponsorship

By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

Henry and Judi Ferstl began sponsoring two 5-year-old Brazilian children, Jovino and Suely, through ChildFund (then Christian Children’s Fund) in 1981. Henry was a dairy farmer living 45 miles west of Madison, Wisc., where he still lives. He hadn’t been to Brazil before, but he was curious about other cultures, and helping children appealed to him and his wife.

75th ChildFund logo“They’re so grateful to have somebody care about them,” he says. As the years passed and their sponsored children aged out of the program, the Ferstls kept sponsoring; they have helped 10 children in all, and in the past decade, they took on two more sponsorships. Today, they assist four children and write letters every two months on average. The Ferstls’ son is continuing the tradition by sponsoring a child in Timor-Leste.

“I’m a big gardener,” Henry says. Just sharing ordinary details about weather or the vegetables he grows in the garden are interesting to the children. “The kids are amazed,” he notes, especially when he sends a picture of snow or, say, a moving truck in the neighborhood.

Wisconsin to Brazil

A 2004 visit to Brazil (from left): Lidiane, Henry Ferstl, Neidiane and Judi Ferstl.

Henry says that he likes sponsoring through ChildFund because he knows where his donations go, and his assistance contributes toward children’s dreams.

“One girl wrote one time, ‘When I grow up, I’m going to sponsor a child, just like you sponsored me,’ ” Henry says.

Lidiane has a special place in the Ferstls’ heart; they started sponsoring her in 1995, and she’d aged out in 2006, but they maintain contact today, often through email. Lidiane attended college and started a clothing business in Brazil. She and her husband now have a daughter, and the Ferstls had the honor of choosing her name, Emily.

“She’s just a wonderful young woman,” Henry says of Lidiane. “It’s one of the great satisfactions. I learn as much or more as the children do. And that’s probably how it should be.”

2009 in Brazil

As the years continued, the Ferstls remained in contact with Neidiane (left) and Lidiane (second from left), as well as taking on new sponsorships, including Marielly (center). In 2009, they visited Brazil a second time.

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