Interview by Saroj Pattnaik, ChildFund India
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 hear from Manisha, a 17-year-old girl from India who has been sponsored through ChildFund since 2005.
I belong to a poor and humble family. I am studying in 12th grade, and my younger brother is in 7th grade. My father works as a supervisor in a glass manufacturing factory in Firozabad. He used to be the sole breadwinner for our family, but now my mother also adds to our family’s earnings by working with UNICEF as a community mobilizer. Both my parents are working hard to give us a decent life. We are now a happy family, and I love my parents the most.
But a few years ago, our family was not what it is today. My father was struggling to meet our basic needs. There have been times when my mother had to sleep with an empty stomach, as there was not enough food for all of us. Just to add to our family income, we all started making bangles at home.
I never liked that work of welding the ends of bangles together with the help of a gas stove. We used to sit for hours, welding and coloring the bangles in a very unpleasant atmosphere. Though I was going to school, I had to sit with my parents in sorting or coloring the bangles soon after returning home. I was unable to give much time to my studies. Both my mother and father were having health issues because of the smoke they were exposed to during the day-long bangle work. Even I had developed chest pains and was admitted to hospital several times. But we had no other option then but continuing this unhealthy work.
But things started to change when I became associated with ChidFund. I was enrolled in the Disha Children’s Program and also got a sponsor in 2005. Not only did I start getting the benefits of being a sponsored child, but our entire family benefited. Soon, my mother joined a self-help group promoted by the organization. Slowly, we reduced the bangle-making work at home, with my mother attending parenting sessions and supporting ChildFund field staff in encouraging other women to adopt best child-care practices.
In 2010, my mother was selected as a community mobilizer with UNICEF India because of the training she received through ChildFund. Then, we completely stopped bangle-making at home, and my father joined a glass factory as a supervisor. It’s purely our family’s association with ChildFund that helped bring in these changes.
As a sponsored child, I am very active in all program activities conducted in our town. Earlier, I was a member of a ChildFund-supported children’s club. Now I am an active member of a youth club. We have been participating in various training programs designed to develop our skills and leadership qualities.
I was very quiet and shy as a child, but ChildFund’s activities have truly helped me to open up and express my thoughts clearly. I am now an educated and confident girl. I am well aware of my rights as well as my responsibilities. Now, I have a vision for my life – to become a doctor and serve the deprived and marginalized communities that don’t have access to quality health service even today.
Reporting by ChildFund Ecuador
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 hear from Belen, an Ecuadoran teen who is sponsored through ChildFund and also enrolled in our programs.
My name is Belen, and I am 16 years old. It makes me feel very good to know that somewhere in the world there is someone who cares about me and is interested in knowing how things are in my life.
My sponsor and I are in constant communication through the letters we send and receive. I love to receive letters from my sponsor. He lives in the U.S., and despite the fact that we do not speak the same language, thanks to ChildFund, the letters are translated, which makes our communication easier.
ChildFund has given me the chance to participate in programs such as the Youth Communicators group, which has allowed me to grow as a human being through sharing experiences with other youth my age and to learn different things such as producing TV and radio programs and writing about youth topics in a local newspaper.
I also participated in summer camps in different communities, which gave me enriching life lessons because I had the opportunity to share time with young people like me and we learned new things that help us to develop our abilities. Positive things like these have helped me to progress in my life.
Thanks to my participation in ChildFund’s projects, I have learned to communicate better with my sponsor, family and friends, and I have learned about values such as respect, honesty, solidarity, punctuality, responsibility and others. I have learned to go for and build dreams, to strive for them and look toward the future.
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.”