By Gelina Fontaine, ChildFund Caribbean
As we conclude our 75th anniversary blog series, we are focusing on success stories of youth and alumni from ChildFund’s programs in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Europe. Today, we meet Alexia of Dominica.
So many people have dreams and don’t pursue them, but this is not so for 20-year-old Alexia. Born and raised in a little community on the outskirts of Roseau, the capital of Dominica, the talented and ambitious young woman was sponsored through ChildFund. Today, she is the first female police officer to emerge from her impoverished neighborhood.
She is the oldest of six children of a single mother who sells food items and walks long distances during the day, making money to send her children to good schools.
“I always tell my younger brothers and sisters to learn well at school and follow their dreams, because if I can do it, they can do it too,” Alexia says.
Alexia, who has a charming smile, has always appreciated her mother’s efforts and made the best of her education. She first entered the culinary field, working as a cook at a rotisserie restaurant, before deciding to go to school to become a police officer.
She currently serves on the Commonwealth of Dominica Police Force and is well respected in all parts of the island country. Alexia has worked as a patrol officer, a district officer and at the headquarters doing clerical duties. The journey continues for the young officer, and she has plans to further her studies in criminal justice so she will be better equipped to “protect and serve” her country and fellow citizens.
Alexia has inspired many young people, as well as adults, who have interacted with her; she is very polite and carries out her duty diligently. Her younger siblings all look up to her as their mentor and role model.
“I will always be grateful to the people at ChildFund,” she says. “They really encouraged me and motivated me to do well in life. They helped me with my school things, uniform and books and also helped my brothers and sisters.”
In Alexia’s spare time, she spends time with her siblings, encouraging them to take their education seriously and focus on the positives in life. She also motivates the youth in the community, reminding them that it does not matter where you are from, you can achieve your goals.
By Elena Karpenko, ChildFund Belarus
As we conclude our 75th anniversary blog series, we are focusing on success stories of youth and alumni from ChildFund’s programs in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Europe. Today, we meet Oleg of Belarus, in Eastern Europe.
Belarus’ 119,000 children with special needs, including about 30,000 with disabilities, often have problems gaining access to good education and services. They also cope with deeply ingrained social exclusion.
Oleg, a teenage boy who is affected by musculoskeletal issues, often felt like he couldn’t express himself. He wanted to show others that his life has meaning, but Oleg didn’t have the tools.
But life took a turn for the better when Oleg enrolled in a course offered by ChildFund Belarus called Leadership Without Limitations, part of a USAID-funded project, Community Services to Vulnerable Groups.
ChildFund achieved or exceeded all its annual targets, including improved capacity in 170 disability-focused organizations, more services for 535 children with disabilities, training for 257 parents and family members, incorporation of inclusive approaches in nine educational settings and other successful advocacy efforts.
Through the course, Oleg has learned how to take photos, which you see below.
His mother suggested a photography exhibit for the youth in his course, and ChildFund Belarus staff members embraced the idea. More than 120 people came to the event, which focused on organizations that help people with disabilities.
“I didn’t even think that the exhibition could change my life so much,” says Oleg. “If I hadn’t taken part in the course, I would never have come to the idea of exhibiting my photos.”
After the ChildFund event, he was invited to photograph a fashion show featuring children with disabilities, and those pictures were displayed in Oleg’s school. All of a sudden, people saw beyond Oleg’s disability: Here was a person with strength, talent and capabilities.
By Himangi Jayasundera, ChildFund Sri Lanka
As we conclude our 75th anniversary blog series, we are focusing on success stories of youth and alumni from ChildFund’s programs in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Europe. Today’s subject is Kasun, a young man who lives in Sri Lanka.
Eighteen-year-old Kasun remembers a time when he was struggling to keep his eyes open, trying to finish his schoolwork after working late at his neighborhood diner. He had only a precious few hours of sleep before waking up at 4 a.m. to prepare for the diner’s breakfast rush.
After his mother died and his father abandoned him and his two sisters, life was not easy for the Sri Lankan teen. But he continued to work hard at school and tried to earn some money by working at night.
Being sponsored through ChildFund, though, gave Kasun support and the feeling that he was not completely alone as he continued to receive assistance for his education.
“I struggled through many obstacles to sit the GCE Ordinary Level Examination,” an exam secondary-school students take in Sri Lanka, Kasun says. “When I learnt that I had not passed the exam, I was so disappointed. I thought that was the end of the road for me.”
But an opportunity to attend a Vision Camp event organized by ChildFund Sri Lanka made Kasun realize that there were other opportunities available to him and that failing his exam was not the end of the world. Gradually his disappointment turned to hope. He was drawn by the many opportunities and ideas shared at the event and became interested in taking up a career in hospitality.
“I was so happy the day ChildFund Sri Lanka offered me training in the hotel trade,” Kasun says. He enrolled in a fully paid four-month vocational training program at Swiss Lanka Hotel School. “I finally felt that my life had a purpose,” he says.
While taking the course Kasun also began working as a trainee at South Beach Resort in the beach town of Galle. Upon successfully completing the course, Kasun now works at South Beach Resort as an assistant cook.
“The guidance I received was timely and invaluable, and I feel that I have chosen a vocation that I enjoy and in which I can succeed,” he says, smiling.
Reporting by Sagita Adeswyi and Ivan Tagor, ChildFund Indonesia
In recent weeks, two volcanoes have erupted in Indonesia, displacing thousands: Mt. Sinabung, in North Sumatra, and Mt. Kelud, in East Java. Although ChildFund doesn’t offer programs in either of the affected areas, we’re nearby and ready to help as needed.
Most of the more than 5,000 families displaced by Mt. Kelud have returned to their homes, and the government has provided them with cleaning and roofing materials. However, manpower and knowhow have been in short supply.
Enter 45 ChildFund volunteers from Boyolali, in Central Java — 30 adults and 15 youth — who helped families clean their houses and fix their roofs, finishing six or seven houses each day. Three midwives traveled with the group to provide basic health care as needed for both families and the volunteers.
A long wait at a community clinic led to an international photography award for a Brazilian boy who is sponsored through ChildFund.
Caio, who is 15, participates in ChildFund Brasil’s project Photovoice, which provides cameras and photography training to youth. He submitted photos to a contest held by the World Health Organization last year that was open to teens from ages 14 to 19.
“Teacher Daniel spoke to our class about the contest and nobody took it very seriously. I had an appointment that same week at the community clinic,” Caio says. “I took the camera and tried to entertain myself. While waiting, I photographed a few things I felt good about and things that made me very upset, such as a woman in a wheelchair who was in pain and waited for a long time.”
Caio’s photos were among 450 pictures produced by 77 teens in 33 countries. Five professional photographers, as well as a young doctor, chose the top 10 photos, and Caio was the only Brazilian selected. The other winners are from Argentina, India, Malawi, Pakistan, Philippines, Slovenia, Ukraine and the United States.
The teens, including Caio, won the opportunity to be contributing photographers for the WHO’s Health for the World Adolescents report, set to be published in May. The new photos, dealing with health care and teens, will also become part of the WHO’s digital library and in future publications, and each teen will receive a $1,000 stipend for their work.
“I really like the Photovoice project and learned many things about photographs,” Caio says. “I began to see that a picture can speak. We can shoot and show everyone what we like and don’t like through the image produced. I made many friends, too.”
Caio’s been sponsored for 12 years, and besides the Photovoice project, he participates in a computer course and sports activities held by ChildFund Brasil’s local partner organization, Child’s Search for New Life – Gcriva.
When Caio started going to ChildFund-supported programs, he was a shy boy who had difficulty communicating and writing. But today he is becoming more confident and feeling more support. With the opportunity to speak out, he has developed better communication skills and interacts more with his peers.
“When I was younger, I wrote a letter to my sponsor couple, and I thought that sponsorship was only that: writing letters,” Caio says. “As I grew older, I began to participate in the sports activities, computer classes and now the photography course. Sponsorship is good, because if it were not for our sponsors we would not have that.”
Who would ever think that something as simple as bananas could provide opportunities to break the cycle of poverty? In the village of Chongwe in Zambia, a banana plantation has become a symbol of hope.
The teens and young adults in Chongwe are among a booming sector of the population known as the “youth bulge,” which is concentrated especially in the developing world. Outnumbering adults disproportionately, these youth (ages 15 to 25) face an extraordinarily tight job market.
With support from ChildFund, the village of Chongwe is defying the odds. By bringing the community together and offering resources and education, ChildFund has helped the youth of Chongwe transform a growing problem into lasting change. Through its Youth Empowerment Program, ChildFund challenged these young people to envision a collaborative effort that would mobilize their skills and create a long-term opportunity for employment.
The program applied ChildFund’s Youth Employment Model, which is designed specifically to prepare young people to enter the workforce. The model takes participants through a five-part process: a market survey (to ensure job training is demand-driven), technical skills training and production support, basic business skills training, life skills training and ongoing mentoring.
Through these activities, the youth in Chongwe realized that their community offered a perfect environment for agriculture, and they suggested trying to establish a banana plantation. Soon, the idea moved toward becoming a reality.
A ChildFund grant paid for seeds and a state-of-the-art, solar-powered irrigation system. A local chief donated land, and the Ministry of Agriculture taught the young participants how to grow bananas and maintain their equipment. A fertilizer company provided the training to farm the plantation.
The result is a flourishing farm of more than 1,500 banana trees and residual employment opportunities for the youth.
Since the program began in 2010, many youth in Chongwe have become prospering entrepreneurs. They have learned to run a business and follow how bananas fit into the larger world economy, daily checking commodity prices. Some of the boys and girls who care for the banana plantation are laying foundations for other businesses, like one young man who started a vegetable garden and parlayed it into a grocery business.
What began as a challenge has become an opportunity. The Chongwe youth are a testament to the kind of change that can happen when potential is tapped and resources allow it to flourish.
Atiqua Hashem, director of legal services for ChildFund, recently spoke to a group of her colleagues about Vlad, an 18-year-old boy in ChildFund’s Belarus programs, who dreams of becoming a lawyer and has overcome significant disabilities to attend university. Touched by Vlad’s story, she shared the letter of advice she wrote to him.
Vlad, yesterday the president and CEO of ChildFund told us about a boy in Uganda, who once dreamed about being a lawyer just like you. She told us that today that the little boy from Uganda is a lawyer who argues cases before Uganda’s highest court. So hold on to your dream.
I am a lawyer. I work at ChildFund and my colleagues from all over the world have come together to share ideas and challenge each other to figure out what we can all do to better support your dreams and the dreams of children like you.
My colleagues are passionate. They all want to do the best job they can to support you. I have the privilege of working alongside them every day to help figure out how we can implement ideas.
You know, when you are a lawyer, your colleagues rarely come to you with good news. They usually come to you when things are difficult. Here is what I want you to know. I have seen my colleagues sometimes despair; I have seen my colleagues shed tears. They feel deep disappointment when they feel they are not delivering on their promise of supporting you.
Because they feel their responsibility so deeply, Vlad, I want you to know that I expect a few years from now, the ChildFund president will stand up once more and say, “There was once a boy from Belarus who dreamed of becoming a lawyer so he could advocate for the rights of people with disabilities. Recently, he wrote to tell us he has just won an important case before the highest court in Belarus.”
Vlad, I join my colleagues at ChildFund, my fellow lawyers from the bar in Uganda, my legal colleagues from the bar of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and members of the international bar association in saying, we have our eyes on your journey and we are here to cheer you on, and when your dream comes true, we will be there to welcome you when you take your place in the international fellowship of lawyers.
Following Atiqua’s presentation, she met with Irina Mironova, ChildFund’s national director in Belarus, who plans to reach out to Vlad and share Atiqua’s letter.
Today, as we mark International Day for Disaster Reduction, ChildFund is renewing its commitment to helping children, especially those with disabilities, prepare for and respond to natural disasters.
In communities already stressed by poverty, a typhoon, an earthquake or flooding from heavy rains can quickly break down family and community structures, leaving children at high risk of injury, disease and exploitation.
Protecting vulnerable populations including children and persons with disabilities is a primary component of ChildFund’s disaster risk reduction program, or DRR. The DRR process helps communities identify internal and external hazards with potential impact on children and families who live there. We drill down further to identify what makes those communities vulnerable to the hazards. Our trained staff then guide community members — adults and children — through the process of developing their capacity to overcome those vulnerabilities.
The effects of natural disasters are far-reaching. In a 47-country survey of more than 6,000 children, ages 10 to 12, last year, ChildFund found that nearly one in three had experienced catastrophes such as drought, flood or fires.
The U.N. International Day for Disaster Reduction is a global observance that seeks to raise awareness about the importance of helping people and communities become better equipped to withstand natural disasters. This year’s theme, “Living with Disability and Disasters,” highlights how people with disabilities – especially those living in extreme poverty – are among the most excluded in society and face acute vulnerability during disasters.
“Inclusive disaster risk management is about working together at all levels to minimize the vulnerability of those who will be most impacted by a disaster, and that includes people with disabilities,” says Steve Stirling, executive vice president of ChildFund. “I was a sponsored child with a disability myself, but I did have access to health care and education and was safe,” he says. “We want to ensure the same for all the children we serve.”
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
Today we celebrate the second International Day of the Girl Child, declared by the United Nations General Assembly to recognize girls’ rights. In 2012, the day focused on ending child marriage, and this year’s theme is related: Innovating for Girls’ Education.
Years ago, when I began working in the developing world, I thought I knew the reasons behind girls’ early marriage and lack of education. But the longer I lived there, the more I discovered complexity and nuance. We still struggle to end child marriage and educate girls.
Imagine for a moment you’re a teenaged girl living in a developing country.
Your name means beautiful.
At the beginning of each school year, your brothers move to the district capital to board with distant relatives. While they learn math, chemistry and physics, you pound rice in a mortar and pestle, cook meals over a three-stone fire, and tend the family’s garden, goats and chickens. Each week on market day you harvest avocados and mangoes to sell in the open-air market, bartering for whatever you can’t grow — rice, flour and oil.
You carry water home from the river in a basin on top of your head, moving slowly to avoid spilling the precious liquid. In sunny weather, you wash laundry by hand, laying clothes out on bushes to dry.
Each day, you gather branches from the forest, carrying them tied in a bundle on your head. At home you chop the wood into equal lengths to feed between the stones of your cooking fire.
In the evenings you prepare snacks to peddle in the streets: grilled peanuts, popcorn and ginger juice. Hearing the generator at the local bar shut off, you stack bowls of your mother’s specialties on your head and hurry to meet the village men as they celebrate the latest soccer match. You offer fried plantains, sweet potatoes and cassava, crisp with fragrant peanut oil.
This month, you turned 15. Soon, you expect to marry a man at least twice your age. Within another year, you’ll carry your first baby on your back. You hope your husband will allow you to return to school or learn a trade.
Long ago, your older brothers passed their high-school leaving exams. The eldest studies engineering at university. The second graduated from teacher-training college, and the third works at a nearby government office — one of the few salaried occupations in your country.
Your parents rejoice in their sons’ academic success; it brings your family a measure of economic security — an excellent return on investment. Your family will prosper.
You and your older sister completed primary school with certificates of merit, exceeding your community’s expectations. Your family speaks of you with pride. Your domestic skills attracted the attention of respectable families in the village, and your father now has several alliances to consider. Whomever he chooses as your husband will pay a substantial dowry.
Had you stayed in school, your marriage options would be fewer. An educated girl sparks no interest among village men. After a certain age, a girl cannot marry and enjoy the security of a husband. Your mother argued for you to leave school — like your sister before you — to prepare for marriage. Your father sadly agreed.
You are his favorite, the child he carried, running for miles to a hospital, as you convulsed with malaria. An old man now, he fears he can no longer protect you.
You will be beautiful on your wedding day.
By Nicole Duciaume, Regional Sponsorship Manager, ChildFund Americas
Nicole recently visited our Mexico office, where she met with children in ChildFund programs. This week, she will be sharing highlights from her visit.
Gisela, 13, is the youngest of three siblings. Her parents sew soccer balls by hand for a living, a common profession in this rural community high in the hills of the state of Oaxaca.
It takes about 10 hours to sew one ball, which will bring 11 pesos (just a little less than US$1). With each parent making one ball per day, Gisela’s family of five must survive on less than $2 a day. Her parents’ hands are badly worn and blistered from pushing needles through the thick leather.
Though she already knows how to sew balls too, Gisela has other dreams for her future. When asked what she hopes to do one day, she replies with a coy smile that she would like to be a kindergarten teacher, not a ball maker. “I want to teach [children] to paint and about using vowels and how to write their names,” she adds.
Gisela is shy, but she describes herself as “friendly, respectful, intelligent, honest and affectionate,” noting that “these qualities are important for any human being and that, above all, we should treat others well.” She sees these qualities in her U.S. sponsors.
Often, Gisela receives letters from the teenage daughter of her sponsor family. Gisela has all of the family’s letters and photos safely tucked away in an envelope that she made just for this purpose. The envelope is labeled “Beautiful Details.” She has folded and refolded each letter so many times that the paper has worn thin around the crease marks. The photos are a little dog-eared at the corners, and you can see fingerprints all over the matte finish. These are Gisela’s treasures, and she keeps them well-guarded.
When Gisela’s U.S. friend was taking high school Spanish classes, she sometimes wrote in Spanish, which made Gisela smile because then she could read the letters without the usual translation from ChildFund Mexico’s national office. But since Gisela is learning some English in school, she also likes to try to read the letters in English to help her practice. Now, she can pick out words in the letters like “mother,” “father” and “blue.”
Her sponsor family wrote to Gisela about holidays in the United States like Thanksgiving, Halloween and Independence Day, as well as their daily lives: school, sports, dancing, pets and weather changes. These are all topics Gisela wrote back about as well, but sharing the traditions around Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) instead of Halloween and Mexican Independence Day in September instead of the Fourth of July. In her community, there is a rainy season and a dry season, as well as basketball, volleyball and dancing at festivals. Gisela even has her own animals to look after: chickens, pigs and two dogs.
Through ongoing communication with her sponsor family, Gisela has gained happiness, confidence and a new understanding of a different world of possibilities. For much of the time we spent together, she was reserved and quiet, but when she spoke about her sponsor family, she was all smiles.