Reading habits usually develop within families. Mom and Dad read to a child at bedtime, or an older sibling shows a younger one how to sound out words, or Grandma pulls a book of fairy tales off the shelf. In some homes, though, there are no books. Even in the United States.
That’s why ChildFund started the Just Read! program in some of the most marginalized areas in the country: Native American reservations in Oklahoma and South Dakota, African American communities in Mississippi and Hispanic communities in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley. You can learn more about the project and also donate age-appropriate books on our Amazon wish list. For Father’s Day, please consider helping a family develop the reading habit.
By Christine Ennulat, Content Manager
One of my favorite things about becoming a mother was the whole new world of children’s books I staggered into — with my kids tumbling into it with me when they were little and then, before long, actually leading me through it. It brought back, again and again, waves of nostalgia for all that books had meant to me in my own childhood. My children are older now, but those days are on my mind again as I learn about how ChildFund’s Just Read! program is helping hundreds of children in some of the United States’ poorest communities find the magic of reading for pleasure.
One thing I’ve learned that I didn’t know: Reading for pleasure trumps socioeconomic status as a determinant of how well kids do in school. (The magic of reading for pleasure, indeed!)
I don’t remember much of my own early childhood experience with books. My parents came to the U.S. from Germany just a couple of years before I was born, and my main memory of any book from that time was Heinrich Hoffmann’s Der Struvvelpeter, a German collection of alarming cautionary tales that included one about a boy who refuses to cut his hair and fingernails (yikes!) and another about a boy who won’t stop sucking his thumb until one day a man wielding giant shears appears and … well.
Honestly, I couldn’t get enough of those gruesome tales. “Pleasure” probably isn’t an accurate description of what they gave me … but I’m not sure pleasure is necessarily that simple. What I can say is that I took to reading in search of similar wild thrills and imaginative flights. But even more, I was searching for myself.
As a weird, lonely kid, I recognized myself in moody Meg Murry, of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, and in Milo, the initially reluctant protagonist of Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth (after whom I named Kid #3). And always, always there was Beverly Cleary’s Ramona, and her blue-haired doll with the most beautiful name in the world, Chevrolet, and the Dawnzer, and “BOINNNG!” Oh, the courage of Ramona. I wanted to be Ramona.
Later, I would — and still do — recognize my own heart in Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s exhortation, in his Letters to a Young Poet: “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
As my own children grew, I delighted alongside them as they found their own ways down their own rabbit holes toward who they might become. My oldest fell in love with Tamora Pierce’s Alanna books, in which a girl becomes a knight in her kingdom, and her Dane books, with a heroine who converses with animals. Kid #3 couldn’t get enough of Al Perkins’ Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb, which my whole family can still shout-chant from memory to this day, and through which music grabbed hold of him for the first time. (Kid #4 now says he hated that book because, as he learned to read from it, he had to face silent Bs—“thum-BUH,” he says. He became a Calvin and Hobbes guy.)
It was magical for me to be along for this ride, vicariously experiencing their journeys through silliness, love, terror, beauty and more.
Children need these flights of the imagination, these adventures beyond their everyday circumstances. When they use their imaginations, they flex their abilities to think creatively, and that’s key to not only learning but also taking aim at what they want to accomplish in their lives.
Reading is a way toward experiencing difficult feelings in manageable ways, which prepares a child for facing difficult situations in real life. Reading is also a way toward relief of stress — which is rampant and nearly constant for families living in poverty — and a way toward a loved one’s lap.
And reading is a way toward laughter. (I am convinced that laughter has an important role in the fight against poverty.)
Years ago, my neighbor said to me, after having accomplished some crazy plumbing repair without help, “If you know how to read, you can do anything.”
I second that sentiment … and offer a tweak: If you know how to read, you can be anything.
When children read, even amid the most challenging circumstances, they really can.
You can help change a child’s life by donating to ChildFund’s Just Read! program.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
As part of our 75th anniversary blog series, we are talking with staff members about how they’ve seen ChildFund make a difference and what they hope to see us achieve in the future.
Since the 1950s, ChildFund has worked in underprivileged communities in the United States, particularly with African-American, Latino and American Indian children. Today, we support projects in Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas.
Julia Campbell, program director for ChildFund’s U.S. programs, spoke with us about the commonalities and the differences between the approximately 10,000 children we serve in the U.S. and those who live in other countries. American children’s situations are typically not as dire as they are for children in developing countries, where families often confront severe hunger, a complete lack of health care, dirty water and the spread of deadly disease.
“We in the U.S. are more focused on the softer side,” Julia notes. Self-confidence, community engagement, literacy and education are emphasized here. A major issue, she adds, is a “lack of involvement by parents, who sometimes are intimidated [by their children’s schools]. Inequality of education is a huge issue in the U.S., and a large part of it is determined by race.”
In Oklahoma, ChildFund and its local partners work to bring communities together, which can be difficult when distance between homes is great; in South Dakota, where we work with Lakota children and families, our programs encourage cultural engagement and work to prevent youth suicide. In Mississippi many children and youth have family members in prison, and young people in Texas, whose parents often came from Mexico, are trying to navigate a bicultural world, Julia says.
Although the children are under some pressure to serve as English translators for their parents, “their potential is pretty much endless in this country,” she says, particularly when children and youth learn about opportunities here.
For Julia and her colleagues in the U.S., the primary questions are, “How do we define poverty and tackle lack of engagement?”
Interview by Sierra Winston, ChildFund Communications Intern
In our 75-post series in honor of ChildFund’s 75th anniversary, we’re talking with several of our national directors who oversee operations in the countries where we work in Africa, the Americas and Asia. Rukhsana Ayyub, national director for our U.S. Program, has been with ChildFund since March 2010 and is based in Memphis, Tenn.
Where did you work before ChildFund?
I worked with CARE International and was posted in Pakistan, Thailand and Bangladesh. Before that, I worked for many years in the field of addiction in New York.
What is your favorite thing about working at ChildFund?
ChildFund’s approach of making a long-term commitment to each child, knowing that change does not happen overnight.
What successes have you had in your national office?
The Area Strategic Plans developed in each of our program areas in the U.S. are a major accomplishment. We have successfully conducted the ASPs in Oklahoma, Mississippi and South Dakota and are completing one in Texas. These plans were developed through extensive community consultations, which allowed us to hear the community’s voices and their needs and aspirations for the future. Cultural and family restoration emerged as strong needs of communities in Mississippi and South Dakota.
What motivates you in life?
Throughout my life, I have admired people who do not accept injustice and inequality but are willing to make a change, not waiting for someone to come and rescue them but in their own small or big way are making an effort. I continue to seek such change- makers in my work, my circle of friends and in my selection of readings.
In my current work with ChildFund, as I travel through some of the most poverty-affected areas in the U.S., I have had the good luck of witnessing many emerging leaders among the youth and children. There is a young girl in Mississippi whose only family member was just arrested and imprisoned, yet she comes and volunteers at a program for children to teach them reading. Witnessing her strength gives me hope and motivates me.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I love to read. My work with ChildFund has expanded my understanding of some unique and special ethnic populations in United States. In my spare time, I continue to read books written by and about Native Americans and African Americans.
I am a good knitter and have been knitting shawls, hats and scarves, which I usually donate to friends, neighbors and children’s hospitals. This year I was blessed with a grandchild, Sophia, so now I am enjoying knitting for her.
Who is your role model?
It is difficult to come up with one name; I have been blessed from an early age to have been exposed to the words and examples of some very special people from around the world. At various stages in my life, I have been affected by the words and deeds of some exemplary leaders and poets: Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Rabindranath Tagore, Martin Luther King Jr., Rumi and the Dalai Lama are a few that come to mind.
And then, of course, my work allows me to see people living under very difficult circumstances and overcoming challenges and making a difference. They are role models too and give me the opportunity to learn and derive strength from them.
What is a quote, saying or belief that you live by?
Two come to mind: Let there be change in the world, and let it begin with me.
The second one is in Urdu, a verse by Iqbal:
Tundiay baday mukhalif say na gabhra ai uqab.
Yeh to chalti hai tujhe uncha uranay kay liya.
Do not be afraid of the strong winds, o eagle.
The winds blow so strong so that you may fly even higher.
ChildFund could not do its work without the assistance of hundreds of local partner organizations in the communities we serve globally. Our partners work with us closely to identify local needs and implement programs to aid children, families and communities.
We are grateful for their partnership every day and their help in all emergency situations that arise — such as in communities afflicted by drought to those overwhelmed by floodwaters. Two local partners from Mississippi, one of the states where ChildFund works with children and families, recently sent us letters of congratulations on our 75th anniversary. We cannot thank them enough for their cooperation over the years as well.
A Message From Operation Shoestring, Jackson, Miss.
Happy 75th Birthday, ChildFund!
Not often in life are we able to feel that the work we have been assigned to do changes the world. It has been a pleasure to be affiliated with ChildFund, an organization that focuses on the needs and well-being of children. Even in the 21st century, the world continues to need an organization that focuses on assuring that the children it serves are not deprived of the opportunity to thrive holistically, physically and psychologically; and that helps them have what they need for the development of their full potential.
We are honored to be a part of ChildFund’s mission, which offers our poorest children guidance, support and a light to success. Can you imagine that a process that started 75 years ago is still relevant today and is still affiliating with like entities to improve the world for generations yet to come?
Operation Shoestring appreciates the opportunity to share in this work with ChildFund, since it affirms our work of teaching children and inspiring families so that we all rise together.
A Message From We Care Community Services, Vicksburg, Miss.
When I think of ChildFund (formerly Christian Children’s Fund), what I first jokingly think of is acronyms and other words … AIMES, SSIMS, FIT, PDF, NPs, photo guide, SITE, home visitors’ log, programs vs. services, enrollment reports, family cards, TUFF, ASPA and strategic directions, just to name a few.
But I also soberly look back and think about my new project affiliation form from the early ’90s (which I still have a copy of) and think about why we have this partnership and how far we have come.
This partnership aligns with We Care’s vision, values and beliefs. Our initial project description read “OUR children, the children of this community are OUR future. Your support through sponsorship activities is an investment in this community’s future.” This resonates as a truth today. Through our partnership with ChildFund, we as an affiliate have strived to offer not only quality services, but also meaningful services across this community.
We would like to take this opportunity to say “Thank You” to ChildFund as you celebrate your 75th anniversary. As you commemorate this milestone in history, remember that you have not only been a voice for children but also for many a source of survival. Without your presence and compassion, many more children still would be trapped by the hardships poverty imposes. It is because of partnerships such as ChildFund that we are successful.
With your continued support, we will continue to work on ways to make the lives of OUR children easier and healthier, without deprivation or isolation, through empowerment strategies. We know that we can only be successful if the communities that we serve, which you help to support, are thriving, healthy and successful.
With homage and congratulations,
By Rukhsana Ayyub, ChildFund U.S. Program National Director
I remember the cool morning breeze as I stepped outside on that late August day. It reminded me that fall was around the corner. After the 100-degree days we’d had in Memphis during the summer, it was a welcome relief. I was looking forward to the change of season.
Leaves on the trees were showing early signs of changing colors. Stores were advertising back-to-school sales; those who could afford it were packing the local Wal-Mart, getting ready for the start of another school year. I was pleased that many of our U.S. program’s local partner organizations across Oklahoma, Mississippi and South Dakota were holding back-to-school events and providing backpacks and school supplies for enrolled children whose families could not afford to purchase these necessities.
On that beautiful day, I called my area office in South Dakota, just a routine Monday morning check-in. Billie’s voice was quiet, not her usual excited tone. “What is it?” I asked. A 10-year-old tried to commit suicide in the Pine Ridge reservation over the weekend, she said. Although this child was not enrolled in a ChildFund program, it was a grim reminder that suicide season was approaching, Billie added.
Suicide season. Whoever came up with such a horrific, unnatural name, I wonder. But then I recalled the even more unnatural fact that it’s the large number of teens and children taking their lives that give Native American communities the highest suicide rates in the country. America is known the world over as the land of hope and opportunity. However, on the reservations, we have children who are not excited for the start of a new school year, Christmas or another birthday. They are choosing instead to end their lives.
Community consultations conducted by ChildFund on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation revealed high incidences of alcohol and other substance abuse, depression and feelings of hopelessness in households, along with a disconnection from cultural values and beliefs.
To counter these negative factors, ChildFund supports programs that promote children’s social skills and emotional health. We also encourage families and other community members to protect and nurture their children by preserving traditional Lakota values. After all, this is a culture that considers children sacred and gives them beautiful names like Little Big Thunder, Little Arrow and Blue Robin, connecting them to nature.
Our programs in Lakota communities include information on suicide prevention and support resources for both parents and children. However, each new suicide or attempt is a reminder of the enormity of the problem and the work that still lies ahead.
ChildFund seeks to empower children and bring families closer together. On that August day – and every day – I voice my wish for every Lakota mother: Hold on tight to your child. To the children and youth, I say: Give life a chance; embrace the new school year waiting for you, Thanksgiving, the first snow of the winter.
And to my colleagues hurt by witnessing this trauma, and the responsibility it carries: Don’t give up hope. Seasons change, and even this dreaded season will pass. Our work for these children continues.
By Rukhsana Ayyub, ChildFund U.S. Programs National Director
The United Nations declared Aug. 12 as International Youth Day in 1999, so ChildFund is taking this week to focus on challenges that especially affect teens and young adults, as well as celebrate young people who are showing strong leadership in the countries we serve.
I am driving through some of the most rural and dilapidated towns in Mississippi. There are hardly any cars on the road; the few towns we pass by seem deserted, almost like ghost towns. This is the delta region, with child poverty rates above 50 percent among the African-American population. I spot a group of young men standing under a tree. My guide waves his hand and declares they’re “up to no good.” These young men are seen as troublemakers, getting high on drugs, getting young girls pregnant and getting into fights.
My mind flashes back to my own childhood in Pakistan. During long and hot summer afternoons, the only way we could stay outside was to go hang out under a tree. The tree provided shade, some breeze and a trunk to lean against. We would hang on the tree branches or simply sit and talk, moving slowly as the shade of the tree shifted directions with the setting sun.
“Rukhsana!” I can almost hear my mom calling me now. “Come inside, it’s time to eat.” That is how my playtime under the tree would usually end. I would kick a few rocks to show my annoyance at my mother’s call, but I would walk back home.
I wonder who is going to call these boys inside. Is there a mother waiting, a sister, a grandma, a father or someone else keeping the light on for them? Is there a plate of hot food and a warm embrace waiting, or is it a policeman waiting around the corner to arrest them? That’s what my guide tells me, that these boys are more likely to go to prison than to college. He goes on to describe for me this “pipeline to prison,” an unfortunately popular phrase used to describe this flow of youth into the Mississippi prison system.
My heart fills with sadness. When and how did the shade of the tree lose the safety, fun and comfort attached to it? Boys and young men are cherished in so many cultures around the world, considered the pride of their families, the name carriers for their tribes and the masters of their homes. Why have we given up on them here in Mississippi?
I want to call out to them to come in. I want to open a door for them.
By Nicole Duciaume, Regional Sponsorship Coordinator, ChildFund Americas
In the Americas region, four of ChildFund’s sponsor relations managers visited other countries for a week to observe firsthand what their counterparts do. This post concludes our four-part series about the exchange program designed to improve the sponsorship experience. Read the series.
Our weeklong exchange program for sponsor relations managers in the Americas opened the door to in-depth conversations on policies, practices, processes, operations and cultures. Each sponsor relations manager now has an action plan to implement a promising practice gleaned during the exchange.
Here are some of their final reflections on the experience:
Ana Handrez, of Honduras, who visited Mexico: In the 19 years I have worked with ChildFund, this was my first time visiting another country specifically to discuss sponsorship issues and experiences. I was very surprised to see the engagement and initiatives from ChildFund Mexico’s local partner organizations. They knew their policies very well, and they were very proud to share their ideas of engaging children in sponsorship activities. It was amazing! The visit was worth every single day.
Valeria Suarez (Mexico): Ana’s visit was an enriching experience for Mexico’s office and especially for the sponsorship team. The national office and field sponsorship staff realized that even though each country has “particularities,” both share similar conditions, processes, histories and results. We enjoyed showing Ana how things are done here in Mexico, how sponsorship processes and visions have changed in the past few years, and how results have started to be achieved. We learned from her how processing times should be improved to continue enhancing the sponsorship experience, and Ana learned from us how creativity and working closely with children can provide better information for sponsors.
Cynthie Tavernier-Jervier, of the Caribbean, who visited Guatemala: This week makes me want to continue to make the sponsorship position more and more effective. I realized again how important the part that we play in programs actually coming to fruition to meet the needs (educational, social, health) of the less fortunate of our countries. So, a wonderful thing about my job is helping to bring benefits to less fortunate children and families and making a difference.
Diana Benitez (Guatemala): The exchange is an opportunity to know in situ the sponsorship processes. I see this experience as very exciting and enriching. Although Dominica and Guatemala have very different contexts, the sponsorship processes are similar. This exchange will impact our work going forward.
Dov Rosenmann, of Brazil, who visited Bolivia: This was an opportunity to reflect on our current practices and identify key areas of improvement for immediate implementation. I consider myself a beginner in sponsorship management in ChildFund, and being in Bolivia with an experienced team is, for me, a unique chance to directly ask questions and take in knowledge. On the other hand, I hope I was able to share with my Bolivian peers more about Brazil’s experience in managing sponsorship. As for what has been the best part of the exchange, for me it was seeing the youth participation at the local level and learning about Bolivia’s communication corners. Both were very inspiring and definitely an initiative to be multiplied in other countries.
Rosario Miranda (Bolivia): My expectation was to learn by comparing processes and seeing opportunities of improvement. Both national offices have similar interests and efforts toward integrated sponsorship and program activities to contribute to children’s development. Having Dov visit our national office and four local partner organizations was a wonderful educational exchange experience. We were able to compare operations and provide valuable information to improve each other’s sponsorship processes and developmental activities with children.
Santiago Baldazo, of the United States, who hosted Ecuador: This was a great experience. Although in planning for the week, we assumed that discussing sponsorship processes when both countries were already very familiar with the procedures would be somewhat tedious. But, while we shared the “how” of the sponsorship processes, it was very valuable for us to have the opportunity to discuss the “why” as well.
Zoraya Albornoz (Ecuador): Staff in both offices work hard to give children the chance of better opportunities for their lives. Through this experience, I was able to better understand the way other offices work and realize the good things we have in our own operations as well as the importance of working closer to the local partners. In the daily work we lose the real perspective of our strengths and weakness. I saw that we have some things that can be improved in order to reach our goals.
Learn more about all of the countries where ChildFund works around the globe.
By Nicole Duciaume, Regional Sponsorship Coordinator, ChildFund Americas
In the Americas region, four of ChildFund’s sponsor relations managers visited other countries for a week to observe firsthand what their counterparts do. This is the third of four posts about the exchange program and our work to improve the sponsorship experience. Read the series.
It’s not exactly easy to have someone come to your office and watch your every move. You could feel like an exotic specimen under a microscope. But when it’s one of your own colleagues from another country who is coming to learn and share equally, it’s a little less intimidating and turns into an opportunity to grow professionally and personally.
For this exchange, Santiago Baldazo, sponsor relations manager for ChildFund’s U.S. programs, hosted Zoraya Albornoz of Ecuador. They traveled together to our South Dakota office; Santiago is based in Texas.
Through discussions with Zoraya, Santiago says he learned a great deal about how Ecuador’s team partners with local communities and partner organizations to build common understanding about goals and expectations of sponsorship and other ChildFund-supported programs. “ChildFund Ecuador has a lot of faith in its very intricate network, which helps the communities become more empowered,” Santiago says.
He is now eager to replicate some of the child-friendly forms and materials that Ecuador uses in community orientations, child enrollment and child letters to sponsors. And Zoraya learned about how the U.S. team is maximizing technology to improve response time with their area offices and local partners. She plans to discuss with her team how to use technology to be in closer contact.
Of course, along with the professional observations, there were cultural ones as well. “It was interesting to see how both countries have indigenous populations that have historically been suppressed, repressed and oppressed by others and how the populations have responded to that,” Santiago notes. “In Ecuador, it seems it has given them the opportunity to raise their concerns, their voices and their solidarity as a people.”
The exchange was a great experience, Santiago reports, filled with opportunities to learn, grow and improve practices. In fact, he notes, “Having a shadow this week felt more like having a mentor, and that is primarily due to our visitor – her experience and knowledge and her personality and support.”
Zoraya was equally appreciative: “In the daily work, we lose the real perspective of our strengths and weaknesses. I saw that we have some things that can be improved in order to reach our goals.”
Tomorrow: In their own words.
Dr. Paul Dauphinais is a psychologist for Turtle Mountain Community Schools in Belcourt, N.D. He wrote this letter earlier this year after attending a tribal outreach gathering for American Indian youth, part of the work ChildFund supports in the United States. Here’s an excerpt.
I had an experience last week that was very moving and gave me great hope for the future of our youth and community. It was a Wednesday in the early evening. I was invited to go to the gym at Dunseith High School. When I arrived, there were children, youth and some of the outreach staff gathered near picnic tables. One of the tables had food that the staff had prepared. I was observing and enjoying the true friendships that the staff and youth showed. A couple of the girls then spontaneously began to serve the youth and staff. They assumed that responsibility without any adult coaxing. It was a pleasant experience.
The gathering really demonstrated to me that each person there genuinely cared for one another, making sure that everyone was served food and satisfied. The children and youth were respectful of each other and it was clearly evident that each one was welcome.
After the meal, several of the team leaders gathered youth in a large circle for the main part of the gathering, the Talking Circle. [Talking Circles are an important component of ChildFund’s cultural restoration initiatives.] The adult leader then began with an introduction of himself and his family in the language of the Anishnabe; he gave an explanation of respect in our cultural world. After this, Paco, a stuffed animal, was handed from person to person to say what respect meant to them and who and what they were respectful of in their lives.
When each youth had finished with their explanations, the rest of the circle applauded, showing respect and acknowledgement of the other person’s perspective. Each person in the circle was offered a turn. The insight that youth demonstrated in their speaking was a pleasure to hear, no matter their age. We have such great leaders-to-be who will be able to have insights into their daily lives and what it means to be Anishnabe/Mitchif. I was very proud to be a part of that group that night. [ChildFund believes that engaging children and youth in initiatives that connect them to positive Lakota values, practices and beliefs strengthens their cultural identity and their resiliency against inherent risks in their environment.]
All week, this past week, I wondered how these youth developed into such respectful and insightful beings; what is this process of growth? Who were they before they became involved with what is called Club Night? How do children mature in this manner – to become so respectful of each other and confident to speak about how one of the gifts of the grandfathers is part of their lives in the presence of others?
Club Night has been happening for many years through the leadership of Claudette McLeod and Turtle Mountain Outreach, and the staff of the Tribal JTPA, Turtle Mountain Youth & Family Center and tribal youth programs.
After the Talking Circle, the youth and staff played a group activity where there was not any bickering about rules or other negative behaviors. Everyone seemed to truly enjoy each other’s companionship, regardless of gender or age. At the end of the evening, the staff remains to assure that each youth has a ride home and that, if someone wants to talk about a concern or share a recent event, they are there.
I just wanted to jump in and be a part!
I thank the group for allowing me to be a part of the group that night.
Club Night will continue to be a part of program services and the dedicated staff will continue to be supportive to the youth. And I thank them for providing this opportunity for our youth.
With help comes hope.