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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
By Abraham Marca, ChildFund Bolivia
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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 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.
By Rukhsana Ayyub, ChildFund U.S. Programs National Director
The United Nations declared Aug. 12 as International Youth Day in 1999, so ChildFund is taking this week to focus on challenges that especially affect teens and young adults, as well as celebrate young people who are showing strong leadership in the countries we serve.
I am driving through some of the most rural and dilapidated towns in Mississippi. There are hardly any cars on the road; the few towns we pass by seem deserted, almost like ghost towns. This is the delta region, with child poverty rates above 50 percent among the African-American population. I spot a group of young men standing under a tree. My guide waves his hand and declares they’re “up to no good.” These young men are seen as troublemakers, getting high on drugs, getting young girls pregnant and getting into fights.
My mind flashes back to my own childhood in Pakistan. During long and hot summer afternoons, the only way we could stay outside was to go hang out under a tree. The tree provided shade, some breeze and a trunk to lean against. We would hang on the tree branches or simply sit and talk, moving slowly as the shade of the tree shifted directions with the setting sun.
“Rukhsana!” I can almost hear my mom calling me now. “Come inside, it’s time to eat.” That is how my playtime under the tree would usually end. I would kick a few rocks to show my annoyance at my mother’s call, but I would walk back home.
I wonder who is going to call these boys inside. Is there a mother waiting, a sister, a grandma, a father or someone else keeping the light on for them? Is there a plate of hot food and a warm embrace waiting, or is it a policeman waiting around the corner to arrest them? That’s what my guide tells me, that these boys are more likely to go to prison than to college. He goes on to describe for me this “pipeline to prison,” an unfortunately popular phrase used to describe this flow of youth into the Mississippi prison system.
My heart fills with sadness. When and how did the shade of the tree lose the safety, fun and comfort attached to it? Boys and young men are cherished in so many cultures around the world, considered the pride of their families, the name carriers for their tribes and the masters of their homes. Why have we given up on them here in Mississippi?
I want to call out to them to come in. I want to open a door for them.