youth

Addressing the Problem of School Dropouts Through Art

By ChildFund Brasil Staff

What does a perfect school look like? Lots of windows in the classroom, new desks, plenty of good books, bright colors, happy students and excellent teachers are some of the elements of a great school. Children in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, were asked to draw pictures of their dream school, which now illustrate a new book, Out of School No!, produced this summer by UNICEF with the support of ChildFund Brasil.

Ana Clara

Six-year-old Ana Clara attends the launch of the book in Belo Horizonte.

Brazil’s high rate of school dropouts is a serious problem, with only 48.7 percent of 19-year-olds having finished high school, according to a 2011 national survey. Fewer than two-thirds of 16-year-olds completed fundamental (or junior high) school, and almost a quarter of 12-year-olds had already dropped out, the report concluded.

Out of School No! tackles this issue focusing on social exclusion and how it factors into the number of students who drop out of school.  Living in poverty, having a disability, being part of a racial minority group and residing in a rural region are all risk factors for students, who sometimes are also in danger of being exploited or hurt.

“What can each one of us do to ban the exclusion from education?” asked Maria Salete Silva, UNICEF Brasil’s education chief. “Every child can and must learn; there’s no child who can’t learn. This is a right that every child has. Because of this, the strategic agenda for Brazilian adolescents must be geared toward education and not reduction of the legal age for criminal responsibility. We have to discuss the construction of schools and not prisons. Without guaranteeing education, we won’t guarantee anything else.”

Children and teens enrolled in ChildFund programs read poetry, showed paintings and performed music at a launch party for the book, which was held at ChildFund Brasil’s office in Belo Horizonte.

Luiz

Luiz and his design, which appears in the book.

“I participate in Oficina do Saber [an art workshop], where I learn to draw and do graffiti art,” said Luiz, a 12-year-old sponsored child, who attends programs held by ChildFund Brasil’s local partner organization, Gedam.

“I found it very important to participate in the book. Seeing my drawing in the book means a lot to me,” he added. “When I was younger, I never thought I could do such a thing like that, which can change the world. The world is too violent, and with the picture I drew, I’m sure the world can change school for better. That’s why I drew it, to change the world and schools for better. Drawing is the thing I like the most.”

Literacy Plays Critical Role in the Fight Against Poverty

By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist

When you were young, did your parents read you bedtime stories?

One summer my youngest sister lived with me. She was 18, between high school and college. My daughter was 6. Every night, I read the two of them bedtime stories. Together, we finished the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit and the entire Chronicles of Narnia.

Sept. 8 is International Literacy Day, a time to recognize how crucial literacy is to social development, along with the intrinsic benefits of reading and writing.

mother and children reading

This family in Timor-Leste participated in a family literacy program supported by ChildFund.

Children in developing countries often don’t share the experience of bedtime reading. At night, when families sit together in the darkness, parents sometimes tell stories — folk tales or oral history about ancient gods and kings, proud empires and illustrious ancestors. But many of these adults are illiterate, and books are scarce in their countries. Electricity, if it exists at all, is unreliable. On the equator, days are short. The sun rises at 6 a.m. and sets at 6 p.m. every day, regardless of the season.

In some countries where ChildFund works, there are no bookstores or public libraries; lack of demand results in no supply. Whatever reading material is available is far too expensive for all except the very wealthy. In the end, there is no culture of reading.

Even school classrooms often lack textbooks. Teachers lecture from hand-written notebooks — signed and stamped by the government ministry. They write on the chalkboard, and children copy into their own notebooks. Transcription errors handed down over the years create some misconceptions.  

Research shows that, during story time, children bond with their parents, learning to read by matching the colorful pictures in their books to the storyline. Children also learn to think critically by observing the characters’ behavior. Bedtime stories begin a lifetime of reading.

Literacy is a fundamental human right. According to UNESCO, it’s the foundation for lifelong learning. It transforms lives, empowering people to improve their health, education and income. Without literacy, social and human development stalls.

girl reading

Ishara enjoys a moment with a book in Sri Lanka.

UNESCO’s theme for International Literacy Day 2013 is Literacies for the 21st Century. In the United States, elementary school children learn computer-literacy skills, which are considered critical to success in modern society. Yet most of my 19-year-old information technology students in Guinea had never seen a computer.

Our measures for literacy in developing countries are limited to basic book-literacy. In Afghanistan, only 12 percent of youth attend secondary school. Of all of the countries we serve, Ethiopia has the lowest youth literacy rate — 63 percent for males and 47 percent for females. Only 16 percent of Ethiopian youths attend secondary school.

In many African countries, achieving literacy in their country’s official language (English, French, Spanish, Arabic or Portuguese) doesn’t occur until secondary school. Elementary school children are mostly taught in their local languages. They may not be able to write letters to their sponsors without assistance.

Please help us build awareness on International Day of Literacy with a donation of storybooks, a scholarship for a girl, or bicycles to help young girls attend school safely.

Making Friendships and Forging Change in Bolivia

By Abraham Marca, ChildFund Bolivia

Tarija youth

Youth from Tarija, who demonstrated the chacarera dance, with ChildFund staffer Ana Vacas.

Youth from five regions of Bolivia met recently for a national conference in La Paz organized by ChildFund, where they tackled some serious topics over three days. For most of the teens, this was their first time in La Paz, a big city with many cultural opportunities.  

The main objective of this meeting was for the youth to share experiences about what they had been doing in their civic-minded local clubs, both what worked well and what needed improvement.

During the three days, the teens participated in a variety of activities ranging from discussing the impact of violence, how to instill peace and talking about ways their voices could be heard in their communities, especially in decision-making processes.

Bolivian youth

The participants wrote their bad feelings on paper, which they put in a blender. Here, they’re making recycled paper out of the shreds.

For Evert, 15, from the rural region of Cochabamba, a highlight was a discussion of violence and discrimination. “This was so interesting that we continued talking about it even during lunch!”

Duveiza, 15, of Santa Cruz, told us, “I enjoyed sharing with youth from different places, sharing opinions. One thing I like is that all of them love sports and not drugs. I realized that violent behavior doesn’t work, and dialogue is the best way.”

Together the participants created a logo that represents all ChildFund-supported youth clubs in Bolivia. It will be used in official documents and other promotional materials at a national level.

Of course, the three days were not all about work. Everyone got to explore the city, see a 3D movie, watch a contemporary dance performance in the national theater and participate in dance classes.

movies in La Paz

Movie night!

For many of the teens, this was their first time doing all of these things.

Best of all, the conference resulted in strong friendships, and of course, they have made plans to meet again.

Zoila: A Peer Influencer for Good in Guatemala

 By Diana Benitez, ChildFund Guatemala

 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. Today we meet Zoila, a youth who shared her story with Diana on our Communications team in Guatemala.

Zoila at home

Zoila does her chores at home in Guatemala.

“Hi, my name is Zoila. I am in the first grade of secondary school, and I’m 15. I am participating in the ChildFund Guatemala project ‘I Love Myself, I Take Care of Myself.’

“It is very important for me to learn about the risks we face as adolescents when we start having relationships, as sometimes we don’t really realize the consequences of what we do.

“Since I started participating in the project, I see a big difference. I like to help young people, especially other girls like me. At the beginning, they didn’t listen to me, but now they are more interested in these topics.

“I advise my sisters and brothers that we have to think to our future. We can do many good things, but sometimes we think of marriage as a first option, but it is not the most important because we are still very young. I am not saying that I will never get married, but it will come at the right time.”

Zoila doing homework

Zoila does her homework.

Zoila is a young girl with a positive attitude, and she’s confident that she will have a bright future. In her community, she plays a very important role, by sharing her knowledge with her peers and also with her family. Community members say that Zoila is a good example.

The “I Love Myself, I Take Care of Myself” project, supported by ChildFund Guatemala, teaches adolescents to be empowered and able to make good decisions about relationships, marriage and parenthood.

Boys Under a Tree

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.

shade treeI 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.

An Ethiopian Girl Gets Closer to Her Dream

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.

Reporting by ChildFund Ethiopia

Mekdes, an 18-year-old girl from Ethiopia, received a one-year scholarship in March 2012 through ChildFund and our Twitter followers to mark International Women’s Day. We checked back with her in July 2013 to see how she was doing. 

“I trained in hair dressing for six months and graduated in September 2012,” Mekdes reports. “I started working in one hair salon in our village four months ago, earning a monthly salary of 600 birr [approximately US$32] that enabled me to fulfill our basic needs and cover the medical cost for my grandmom, who has asthma. I have also bought a cell phone for myself and also started to fulfill my needs, such as clothing and shoes.”

Mekdes of Ethiopia

Mekdes has graduated from a cosmetology program and is now working toward having her own business.

Mekdes was chosen as a scholarship recipient for a Twitter campaign ChildFund launched in honor of International Women’s Day. She had encountered many hardships, having lost her father at a young age; her mother couldn’t take care of Mekdes on her own. She also had to drop out of secondary school despite having good grades after her grandmother lost her job. When we met her last year, Mekdes had to work as a hairdresser and a day laborer, but today she has the hope of one day owning her own business.

She has passionate feelings about International Women’s Day because it demonstrates that all women have the potential to be productive and involved in community development. Mekdes also explained that since women are vulnerable in many ways and are sometimes affected more by poverty, the need for supporting them in their pursuits is important.

“In the future, I have a plan to get further training in a boys’ beauty salon, and I have a plan to open my own beauty salon,” Mekdes says. “After fulfilling the income need, which is a priority for us to survive, I will continue my education. I would like to thank ChildFund for helping me to be successful in my life.”

A Mexican Youth: ‘ChildFund Is My Family’

By Gabriela Ramirez Hernandez, ChildFund Mexico

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.

Chucho started life with many challenges, growing up in an impoverished community in Michoacan, Mexico. His father died when he was only 2, and his mother passed away from cancer when he was 11. Fortunately, his aunt took him in and he also became more engaged with ChildFund programs. 

Today, Chucho, whose given name is Jesús, is 21 years old. He is a dance instructor, gives workshops on environmental education, studies marketing at college and volunteers for environmental causes.

Chucho began his affiliation with ChildFund México at the age of 6. He started by being involved in skills development programs, and as he grew older, he participated in sporting events, celebrations, reading programs and after-school tutoring.

As time passed, Chucho realized that he was changing on the inside. He was less introverted, he was able to speak in public without embarrassment, and he felt more confident.

Mexican youth

Chucho is a leader in his community, teaching dance lessons and working to improve the environment.

After completing elementary school, he began practicing oratory, participating in competitions and winning first place several times. “What I wanted the most was to show my family that every effort has good results,” he says. Chucho also discovered his passion: dancing.  

But life was still complicated, because he had no money to continue studying. At the age of 14 he decided to enter the National Council for Educational Development (CONAFE) and started working as a teacher’s aide in his community.

“I worked very hard in order to convince the children to participate in various competitions, to organize contests with other schools, and they always won something,” Chucho says. “I wanted to share with them one of the most important things I had learned in ChildFund Mexico: that everything is possible if you work hard for it.”

At the age of 15, Chucho received recognition from the council as the top teachers’ aide. His ChildFund sponsor, who still supports him today, expressed her pride in him too.

Then one day, Chucho received a proposal to become the youth leader of the local partner organization, Valle Verde, which works with ChildFund México. He accepted without hesitation and began to organize all kinds of events, recognizing that young people need support and motivation.  

As he entered high school, Chucho chose to do community service for an organization called Biocinosis, which focuses on environmental education. Another organization, Reforestemos Mexico, invited Chucho to join in reforestation and recycling programs, further building his knowledge.

In 2012, Chucho received the Youth Merit Award of Michoacán. This is an award given to young people who are great leaders in different fields. He received the award from the governor of Michoacán, and Chucho was on the radio and television news. 

Clearly, Chucho has the potential to achieve many more goals as an adult.

“All the things I have done and what I am today is thanks to ChildFund Mexico,” he says. “They taught me so many things, and they took care of me when my parents died. They are my family. Now I want to continue working with young people so we can improve our community together.”

In Ecuador, ‘Hummingbirds’ Take Flight

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.

Ecuador’s youth face many challenges, including early parenthood, violence and substance abuse. ChildFund is working closely with teens in the Quito area to provide a supportive environment for candid discussions and to help youth set goals and develop leadership skills. In turn, these young people are taking action in their communities by interacting with their peers and dispensing good advice. Learn more about the youth-led Hummingbird Squads in this video produced by ChildFund Ecuador.

Seveliya’s Hero Book

Reporting by Tenagne Mekonnen, ChildFund Africa Communications Manager, with Priscilla Chama, ChildFund Zambia

Zambian girl

Seveliya at the Day of the African Child conference.

Seveliya, 13, represented Zambia at the Day of the African Child conference this past spring in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (scroll down at the link above to watch her speech). She recently talked to us about her hero book, an autobiographical work that she created at the ChildFund-supported resource center in Kafue, a town in Zambia’s Lusaka province. Hero books let children describe the challenges they face and set goals for the future — in a sense, making themselves the heroes of their own lives.

To boost this feeling of self-confidence, other children write supportive comments in the books for their friends. Here is Seveliya’s experience, in her own words:

My hero book: That is me, my guide, my dream and my future! It is my discipline. My hero book is all about me, my family, friends, the future.

Zambia hero book

Seveliya talks about what it has meant to her to create her hero book.

The resource center at the Kafue Child District Agency shaped my life. It is a place where I share with my peers and do different activities to tackle life’s struggles! It is where we come together to know ourselves, fight for our rights and educate our community about children’s rights.

The resource center helped me to express myself through the hero book, which helped me to reflect. It shaped my character; before my hero book, I always felt that I am always right, and everyone else is wrong. I fought with family, siblings, friends, just because I thought I am the only one who is right!  

But the hero book helped me to accommodate family, friends, siblings and the community.  Now I have confidence to say that my dreams will come true. Now I have a plan to be an architect 10 years from now, and 20 years from now I will be having my own business, which will help me open an orphanage and provide support. I will be there for my future!

I know I am tomorrow’s leader! It is clear, no more fear.

 

Extending a Hand to Six Mexican Communities

 Reporting by ChildFund Mexico

ChildFund Mexico

ChildFund staff members with a group of youth in the community of La Mira, Mexico.

ChildFund Mexico is teaming up with ArcelorMittal Mexico, a multinational steel manufacturer, to improve conditions for children in six communities in Michoacán, Mexico.

The new community-development project, launched in late June, will directly benefit 1,300 Mexican children and reach more than 7,000 people in the town of Lázaro Cárdenas over the next nine years. The project’s main purpose is to develop sustainable improvements in education, health, nutrition and livelihoods.

children in Mexico

ChildFund Mexico staffers talk to children about what they think their community, Lázaro Cárdenas, needs.


ChildFund has worked in Mexico for 40 years, and this project continues our tradition of empowering communities to become self-sufficient. Residents of the six affected neighborhoods participated in a study last year to help ChildFund identify urgent needs and challenges.

With funding from ArcelorMittal, a new community center has been established, as well as four smaller meeting points in other areas, giving children and adults places to discuss their communities’ needs. The goal is for residents to take the lead in evolving their groups into independent community organizations over the next several years.

“Through the Integral Community Development Project of Lázaro Cárdenas, we look to promote the well-being and socio-economic growth of the communities where one of our main operations is located,” said Felicidad Cristóbal, global director of the ArcelorMittal Foundation, the company’s social investment arm. “ArcelorMittal is one of the main companies in Mexico with a long-term strategy for corporate social responsibility supporting self-sustainable development processes. That’s why we value the partnership we have established,” says Virginia Vargas, ChildFund’s national director in Mexico.

national director

Virginia Vargas, ChildFund Mexico national director.

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