By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
Getting ready to watch the games in Rio? I sure am. To mark this special occasion, I’ve got a few pictures from my side-trip to southern Brazil (see below, in the slideshow), which followed a wonderful visit to ChildFund’s programs in northeastern Brazil. One of my favorite moments was meeting Maria Antônia, whom we featured last year on the blog. She’s the girl who spoke about violence against children at a side-event organized by ChildFund and other international nongovernmental organizations at the United Nations headquarters in New York City in March 2015.
One of my hopes was to meet Maria Antônia in person while visiting her hometown, Crato, to find out what she had done in the year after her trip to New York. With the help of my ChildFund Brazil colleagues and our local partner staff, she and I were able to meet. She’s now about to turn 16, and as you’ll read, she’s doing well in and outside of school. No surprise there. Maria Antônia is a young woman destined for great things.
Maria Angelina, María Beatriz and María Fatima are triplets who live in Ecuador‘s Carchi Province and participate in their community’s social and financial project, which is supported by ChildFund. Through this program, they have begun raising and selling chickens. The sisters say they’re saving money for university, so they can one day find professional work and help support their family. Ecuadorean youth ages 13 to 18 receive financial training through the Aflateen program, and explore concepts such as self-esteem, their rights, gender issues, drug abuse prevention, the environment and job-seeking skills.
Reporting by Abraham Marca, ChildFund Bolivia
Raquel, 19, is a young leader in her Bolivian community. We asked her to tell us about her sponsorship experience, what she’s up to now and her career plans.
How would you describe your friendship with your sponsor?
I have a beautiful relationship with my sponsor. She tells me about her country and sends me pictures with beautiful landscapes, places where she goes with her family. She also tells me about her daily life and how she worries about me and my family. I love when she sends postcards.
What have you learned from your sponsor?
My sponsor is consistent about writing; we keep in touch often, and we know what is going on in each other’s lives. I learned a lot about the value of friendship with her. I think she is my best friend because she has taught me a lot about other places, about respect for the family. Her letters are written in a simple way but tell me a lot. I know she thinks about me all the time.
Tell me about the new activity you’re doing now.
The local partner in my community started a silversmith training program, and I was curious about how to work with silver and make a ring myself. The day I made my first ring, I was very happy and proud. I continued making other small pieces of jewelry, first during my free time, and now I am part of a small association.
Now that you have learned this skill, do you have future plans?
I would like to own a business, making jewelry with my own style. I would also like to teach other youth to make rings, earrings and many more things. Of course, I would also like to learn more about this art.
I understand you are the association’s president. How do you feel about holding this position?
Well, all of my friends and partners elected me. They told me I am a responsible, dynamic and good friend, and they trusted me.
Now we run our association by ourselves. All of us are youth, and we learn something new every day. I know this is a big responsibility. All of us want to strengthen our small association.
What is your biggest challenge and biggest triumph?
My biggest challenge is to find the time to keep up with this new responsibility and stay on time. We want to build our own brand — not only a logo but an identity. We would like to be known in Oruro and throughout Bolivia.
My main satisfaction is to see us grow as people, both as silversmiths and as friends. Being at the silversmith workshop is fun. We all are friends and take care each other.
Video by ChildFund Bolivia
In La Paz, Bolivia, members of the Avance Comunitario Youth Club are talking about alcohol abuse and gang violence, two serious problems in their community. In the video, one girl points to bushes where gang members hide from police lights. If you were to draw a map of your neighborhood, the way these teens did, what kinds of dangers would you draw? By creating awareness of community issues, the members of the youth club — one of several supported by ChildFund and our local partner organizations in Bolivia — are leading the way toward solutions.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer, with photos by Carlos Gonzalez, ChildFund Guatemala
Last month, ChildFund’s Board of Directors and members of our executive team traveled to Guatemala, where they spent time in the field visiting ChildFund-supported projects and sponsored children, many of whom live in tiny homes carved into the sides of steep mountains.
“It’s part of the journey, finding out how everybody lives,” said Scott Lemler, ChildFund’s vice president of information technology. “They literally are farming on the side of a mountain.”
Scott joined other members of ChildFund’s executive team this week to report back on the trip to Guatemala at our International Office in Richmond, Va., for a Lunch & Learn session. Every couple of years, the board travels to a different country to see our work firsthand. Some of the most interesting stories this time came from the group’s visits to youth projects, which promote job training, entrepreneurship and an understanding of their rights.
Jim Tuite, vice president of finance and operations/CFO, met Gerber, who is attending school and supporting his five younger siblings by making and selling doughnuts. Gerber, whom Jim called the “Doughnut King,” is part of the ChildFund-supported My Chance program, which helps youth — many of whom have recently graduated from high school — create business plans and build their skills to run successful enterprises.
“One girl sells handicrafts,” Jim said. “One guy was developing modern Guatemalan linens for women.” Still others have started a bakery, an organic taco stand and an imported skin cream business. Many of the families the team met rely on multiple jobs to make a livelihood, much as economists encourage investors to diversify their portfolios, Jim noted. That way, if one income stream ends, a family has a backup source of money.
Cheri Dahl, interim vice president of global philanthropy and communications, met Alex, a young man who has been sponsored since 2003. He’s also a participant in My Chance, and he sells traditional medicinal herbs, a hot commodity in the region, where it’s difficult to get health care. Along with Cheri were board members who work in marketing and lead businesses in the United States, and one asked if Alex had a printed business plan.
“He brought out a business plan that would rival anything any of us have ever done,” Cheri told the Lunch & Learn group. Aside from his herbal business, Alex teaches middle school and is getting ready to attend college.
ChildFund President & CEO Anne Goddard noted that despite the successes the group saw in Guatemala, extreme poverty still keeps many people from achieving their full potential and provides a powerful reason to emigrate, a risky proposition. In October 2014, about 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product came from immigrants sending money home, often from the United States.
“The immigrant is somebody who is admired,” Anne said; she even saw a statue honoring immigrants during the trip. Aside from financial issues, violence in the home and streets is a major reason many Guatemalans wish to leave the country, she added.
Despite such challenges, the Guatemalans who met the board members and executives often expressed pride in their communities and wished to make life better there. A mother of three children, two of whom are sponsored through ChildFund, asked Cheri to deliver a message to our U.S. audience: “Can you get more sponsors?”
Learn more about Guatemala, and consider sponsoring a child there.
Reporting from ChildFund Mexico
Last month, the city of Puebla, Mexico, hosted the Sixth World Congress on the Rights of Children and Adolescents, a complex event focusing on child protection, freedom from violence, environmental problems and educational opportunities. Three young men from the Huehuetla area and two young women from Caxhuacan who are enrolled in ChildFund’s programs in Puebla attended the conference, along with ChildFund Mexico representatives.
The three-day program focused on these issues: the right to live free from violence, the Internet as a human right, child migration and the right to family life. The conference, which met for the first time outside of Geneva, Switzerland, coincided with the 25th anniversary of the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Mexican officials, including the national director of the Family Development Agency, Laura Vargas Carrillo, and Puebla’s governor, joined Kirsten Sandberg, president of the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child.
“We have a date with history, but above all with future generations, thinking tall, looking far and acting soon,” said Puebla Gov. Rafael Moreno Valle at the opening of the conference.
Teens attended workshops and discussions, and they shared some of their thoughts with ChildFund in writing.
An excerpt from 16-year-old Guadalupe’s journal:
“One of the activities in which I participated was about violence, which we debated and discussed, bringing up things we have done and experienced.
“Then a rapper told us how rap shouldn’t be associated with crime but used as a means of expression. We visited the Atoyac River outside Puebla, and we heard the story about Atoyac and its creation and pollution. We learned about the percentage of salt water and fresh water and how much water they use to make clothing. It made us think about how we waste water in unnecessary ways.”
All the participants were affected by an unexpected event, when a woman was ejected from the congress. She was the mother of a 13-year-old boy who was killed in July when a rubber bullet fired by a Puebla police officer hit him in the head during a protest gathering. The case has been heavily covered in the Mexican news, and when the woman was removed from the meeting, some delegations walked out in protest.
“When I arrived at the meeting, some adolescents had started a rally with banners on stage, due to the case,” wrote Ricardo Calleja Calderon, who served as a chaperone for the ChildFund youths. He added that the teens involved in the rally were respectful but also pressed authorities for answers and for mutual respect.
“This conference was very useful for the young people,” Ricardo wrote, “primarily to strengthen their spirit of cooperation.” It is still challenging for teens to express their feelings, and more work is needed to encourage dialogue and good decisions based on their knowledge of their rights, he added.
“We want to do more for children and teens,” Guadalupe concluded, “because if we know our rights, the injustices in Mexico will stop.”
By Esperanza Soto Aburto, ChildFund Mexico
At the age of 12, Jesus — or Chucho, as he’s known to friends — was part of the Organization Hñañhu Batsi, a community group in Mexico. He played soccer and was part of a team that won a regional tournament.
Today, as an adult, he has worked with teens who belong to the same organization, a local partner with ChildFund Mexico.
“I was looking for the kids to bring out their character, and teaching them teamwork,” Chucho says. But it was also important for him to open a business, making good on what he calls his “Mexican Dream,” which has special significance since he immigrated to the United States when he was 15, returning later.
With other young people in his community, Chucho began to figure out what the needs of the community were, and there were no bakeries.
That’s how the Nheki Bakery was born; nheki means “me too” in Chucho’s native language, Hñañhu.
“At first I wanted to name the bakery ‘I undertake,’ ” Chucho says, “but there is no translation of this word to Hñañhu, so I named it Nheki: ‘I want, I can, me too!’ ”
They started making doughnuts, biscuits, bread, buns and other pastries, sweetening them with agave honey produced in the community. The yeast and jams also are made locally.
The bakery has been open for almost a year, and Chucho and his colleagues are considering opening more bakeries in the region. ChildFund Mexico is now a trading partner, buying bread from the Nheki Bakery for children enrolled in the Early Childhood Development programs. Chucho realized that there is work to do in his community, and with a lot of effort and sweat, there’s always a chance to create opportunities.
Reporting by ChildFund Kenya
Children enrolled in ChildFund’s programs near Nairobi participated in an art exhibition featuring photos and paintings they made, often depicting their surroundings.
Weslyne, who is 13, shows a photo he took of the Dandora dump near his home. Covering an area of 30 acres, the dump accepts about 850 tons of solid waste generated daily by the 3.5 million inhabitants of the city of Nairobi, Kenya. The dump, which is the largest in Africa,was once a quarry that the City Council of Nairobi sought to use temporarily. But it still exists, 40 years later, despite having been declared full.
Residents have to live with the stench, trash and dirt. Waste pickers pounce on trash once it is offloaded by incoming trucks. Birds, pigs and people scavenge heaps of rubbish for food, scrap metal, polythene bottles and bags, which are often sold. Weslyne explains that the dump also attracts children and youth who would rather scavenge than go to school. His photo shows a boy drinking water from a bottle that was probably scavenged from the trash.
Dennis, 14, also lives in Dandora. He explains that many children in his school smoke. Because of lack of parental guidance and peer pressure, boys will begin to start smoking to “fit in, be cool and be adultlike.”
Regina, 14, comes from Mukuru’s fuata nyayo (the Swahili term for outskirts). Mukuru is a slum on the eastern side of Nairobi. It is one of the largest slums in the city, with a population of around 700,000. Mukuru is sub-divided into eight villages and is located in the middle of the main industrial area of the city, bordering the Nairobi River. It is characterized by congestion, narrow alleys, poor drainage, lack of sanitary facilities and open sewers. Regina explains that her photo shows children walking alone and dangerously close to the edge of the river.
By Sagita Adesywi, ChildFund Indonesia
In 2012, ChildFund launched a program called Shine a Light in four countries — Dominica, Indonesia, Liberia and Senegal — thanks in large part to a major gift from a concerned donor. The project’s goal is to raise awareness of gender-based violence, assist child survivors of sexual abuse and help communities develop child-protective systems and responses. In four blog posts, we’ll learn about the progress made in these countries; today we focus on Indonesia.
“I was a dropout by my second year of junior high school. I didn’t like the school, the other students and the teachers. They said I was naughty, and I was bullied too,” says Chandra, a 16-year-old boy from Semarang, Central Java, Indonesia. “Paulus, the director of KOMPASS, ChildFund’s local partner organization in Semarang, invited me to join the Child Forum and to get back into school. Now I am catching up my education through the informal school and actively involved at the Child Forum. If I hadn’t joined the Child Forum, I would only be a dropout and a motorcycle club hotshot.”
As a member of the Child Forum, Chandra participated in a recent workshop on gender-based violence, part of the Shine a Light project. In an effort to prevent and respond to gender-based violence against children, ChildFund has worked through local partners to educate youth on the issue of violence between intimate partners — a growing problem in Indonesia. The participants in turn serve as peer educators in their communities.
“At the gender-based violence training, we learned about gender and violence, focusing on children and young girls,” says Irma, 18, one of the youth facilitators. “After the training, we held group discussions to get to know what the issues are among us.”
More and more, young people are experiencing violence in dating relationships, not just marriages. These programs are showing Indonesian youth how to manage these relationships in safe and healthy ways, preventing violence before it starts.
The youth facilitators led group discussions with 80 children and youth from several schools. The groups were divided by age: 10-12, 13-17 and 18-24.
Not everyone is comfortable talking these sensitive issues, Chandra explains. “We played some games to lighten the atmosphere, so they could feel more relaxed.”
“I was the facilitator for the 18-to-24 group,” says Irma. “The physical and emotional abuses are also considered as normal for them. They didn’t realize that when they tease or make fun of someone, it could hurt the other person. In the training, I learned that we may also be the person who did the violence toward others without even realizing it.”
Helping children and youth learn about safe and healthy dating practices involves establishing good communication between partners, understanding gender equality and stereotypes, creating boundaries, expressing feelings and perceiving signs of possible dating violence, among other lessons.
Stefanie facilitated the 13-to-17 group. “I found some of them have experienced violence in dating because they were afraid to say no,” she says. “They are afraid of losing their boyfriends. They don’t know to whom to share. They need someone they can trust.”
The physical and emotional abuses are also considered as normal for them. They didn’t realize that when they tease or make fun of someone, it could hurt the other person.
She remembers a girl who was raped and became pregnant, which caused her to drop out of school. “The Community Development Agency of Semarang contacted the Child Forum to ask our opinions on that case. Through the discussion, we found out that students were sharing sexual content on mobile phones at school. We then held a sharing session with the students at the school on violence against children and on reproductive health.”
The facilitators have learned that peer involvement makes students listen more closely than to adults dictating rules.
“When the information is delivered by their own friends, it is more easily accepted and understood,” Irma says. “When it is delivered by older people, the kids tend to be quiet.”
Through the Child Forum, ChildFund also provides leadership training for youth to encourage and support them to be the leaders and role models among their peers. With youth facilitators in the students’ communities, more young people will hopefully feel more comfortable seeking the help they need.
“If I hadn’t joined the Child Forum, I would still be the quiet and shy girl, only focus on academic lessons,” Irma says. “I wouldn’t have any broad ideas about the issues that affect children. Now, since I have joined many activities at the Child Forum, I know more! I was really idolizing Stefanie. I think she is really cool. She knows and shares many things to other children, like the issues of gender-based violence.”
Reporting by Tenagne Mekonnen, Africa Regional Communications Manager
In 1976, thousands of black school children took to the streets of Soweto, South Africa. In a march stretching more than half a mile, they protested the inferior quality of their education and demanded their right to be taught in their own language. Hundreds of young boys and girls were shot down by security forces. In the two weeks of protest that followed, more than 100 people were killed and more than 1,000 were injured.
To honor the memory of those killed and the courage of all those who marched, the Day of the African Child has been celebrated on June 16 since 1991, when it was first initiated by the Organization of African Unity (now known as the African Union). ChildFund takes part in the day, which draws attention to the lives of African children today. This year’s theme was A Child-Friendly, Quality, Free and Compulsory Education for All Children in Africa.
Below, we offer excerpts of speeches given by four young women enrolled in ChildFund Ethiopia’s programs, who spoke to the African Union in Addis Ababa on June 16.
Eden, age 16.
“Governments have the ability to give quality, free and compulsory education for all children in Africa by having a meeting with all African leaders and discuss the issues about what things can be done to create a better education system and prepare training for all African teachers.”
Helen, age 14.
“Even though formal schooling is important, this is not enough. Our families are the people that we see when we first open our eyes. And we learn a lot of things from them and most importantly from the society. If a child is to be educated, then the contribution of families, society and friends is very important. This is because they build us in a very faithful, good manner. This is what we are looking forward to, and I believe we are on our way.”
Aziza, age 15.
“Once upon a time, there were two young ladies. They were best friends, and they grew up in the same place. One of the girls has an interest to learn and study. Even when she was a child, she always asked questions. She loves asking and knowing different things. Even though the girl always wants to learn, her mother doesn’t have enough money to send her to school. So, because of their economic status, she spent her time helping her mom.
“The other girl never wants to go to school. She hates to study, but her family was rich. Even though she went to school, when she visits her smart friend, she brings her homework for her to do.
“When they grew up, both didn’t have happy endings. The rich girl has an unhappy ending because she didn’t study, and she was not strong. What about the smart girl? She was a smart, intelligent and hard-working girl, but she had an unhappy life because she didn’t have opportunities to learn. How did I know about the girl? Because she was my mother!
“She supports me, although she doesn’t have much money; she makes sure to buy me school materials and other essential things. By her strong heart, I haven’t any inferiority. Rather, I always worked hard to be an intelligent and smart girl, but the secret behind me is my dearest mother.”
Bemnet, age 14.
“Disabled children are not being educated; they might not be in a position to fight for their right to be educated. We need to fight for their right and give them educational materials. To give disabled children an education, government and family have a main role. If we provide a free and quality education for children, they can easily get self-confidence and a good education, which enables them to be successful and responsible citizens.”