Reporting by Arthur Tokpah Mamy, ChildFund Guinea
Fatoumata is 13 years old and lives in Guinea. A student in Sougueta Primary School, which is supported by ChildFund, Fatoumata holds the position of minister of discrimination in her student government.
We asked her why she accepted this post.
“In my village, families do not easily accept each other. Those from the Mandingo ethnic group do not collaborate with ones from the Foula ethnic group,” she says. “Unfortunately, our parents’ bad behavior has extended even to the schools and is affecting relationships between students on campus.”
She notes that students often fight each other and that each group of students discriminates against the other.
“I want to talk about peace with my fellow students and, if possible, with our parents,” Fatoumata says.
Asked what advice she would give, Fatoumata doesn’t hesitate: “To my friends, I would say, ‘Make peace with each other because if we follow our parents’ bad ways, we will not grow to become good people.’
To the parents, I would say, ‘Help us grow and become good people in the future.’ ”
By Priscila Oliveira, ChildFund Brasil
Photographs span different languages and long distances, as a group of American and Brazilian students learned during an exchange program. In January, 12 students from Soka University in California’s Orange County traveled to Brazil to work with teens involved in ChildFund Brasil’s Photovoice project.
The group gathered in the city of Medina for a workshop. The teens and college students shared their approaches toward setting up pictures and, along the way, gained an appreciation for a different culture.
“It was an exchange where all students were engaged in teaching and learning,” says ChildFund Brasil Social Program Manager Dov Rosenmann.
The workshops took place at Medina’s Little House of Culture, another important project of ChildFund, which has worked in Brazil for 46 years. The space is meant to revive community bonds and pride in their cultural roots. Children, teens and young adults often find encouragement to pursue arts and other interests there while also gaining technological skills.
Besides participating in the Photovoice workshops, the American students also donated six digital cameras and one projector that will be used by students from the communities that participate in this project.
Photovoice was developed by ChildFund Brasil in partnership with social organizations all over the country with the goal of promoting peaceful coexistence and healthy social relationships among young people through the art of photography. Participants take pictures of daily life in their communities, many of which are lacking necessary resources.
In addition to acquiring knowledge about photography, the young people have the opportunity to express their points of view about the daily life in the community and to reflect with criticism about what they photograph. More than 300 youths have taken part in Photovoice.
The teens decide on which subjects to capture — often family relationships, local culture, nature and social themes. “The importance is to capture the elements that contain a meaningful story,” Rosenmann says.
By Priscilla Chama, ChildFund Zambia
A Zambian youth group supported by ChildFund recently won a national award for its entrepreneurial spirit. The Mukubulo youth group’s work — growing vegetables and selling them at a local market — earned them a laptop computer and a cash prize of US$654.
The Zambian government awarded the prizes on March 12, National Youth Day, as part of its first young entrepreneurs’ exhibition, “Opportunity for Youth Through Enterprise.” The Mukubulo group reached the national level after beating 15 other teams in the provincial level, winning a trophy and US$935 in cash.
The national event attracted 61 teams, including 24 international competitors from Namibia and Zimbabwe. The exhibition was aimed at encouraging young people to create their own wealth through innovation, creativity and hard work.
The Mukubulo youth group is supported by ChildFund Zambia through the Youth and Caregiver Entrepreneurship Development Project. They initially came together in 2007 as a group of 10 that grew vegetables and sold them at a local market.
Group leader Davey explained that they struggled to share the money raised from the sale of their vegetables, because their profit margins were too small.
“When we started, we did not have modern agricultural equipment, and we used to water our gardens with buckets. Thus, we did not make enough profits for us to share,” he explained.
The big breakthrough for the group came when they began receiving support from ChildFund. They were trained in organic farming and entrepreneurship skills and then were given start-up seeds.
With further support from ChildFund, the group managed to procure modern agriculture equipment and is now involved in gardening on a large scale. The size of their market presence has also grown, and they are now selling their products not only in Chongwe but also in Lusaka.
“We are grateful for the support from ChildFund, and winning the first prize both at provincial and national level is a big motivation for us to work even harder and explore further business ventures,” Davey said after receiving the award.
During the presentation of the prizes to the group, Zambia’s Minister of Youth and Sport, Chishimba Kambwili, urged the group to recruit more young people.
“As a ministry in charge of the youth in this country, we would like to see the group grow from its current membership so that other young people that are not in formal employment can benefit,” he said.
By Saroj Kumar Pattnaik, ChildFund India
On International Women’s Day, we’re spotlighting some of the amazing girls and women we’ve encountered in ChildFund-supported communities. We honor their struggles and cheer their successes.
Dusk was settling over a suburban neighborhood in southern India, but Stella Leethiyal wasn’t ready to go home. The 47-year-old teacher was busy visiting shanties to meet women and educate them about good parenting — the key to a child’s successful development.
Aside from teaching women about parenting, Stella also focuses on educating them about their individual rights and convincing their male partners to understand and respect the value of the women in their households. Stella, who works as a teacher at a ChildFund-supported early childhood development (ECD) center in Chennai, India, does this out of a desire to see her fellow women become aware and empowered.
“Personally, I have seen many setbacks faced by women in my locality since my childhood,” Stella says. “I have always dreamt of a society where women and men are treated equally in all aspects of life. My association with ChildFund India has given my dream a direction, and I have tried my best to achieve this goal.”
Currently, Stella works with children whose families often migrate to find work, a population that faces serious obstacles to a full education.
Before becoming an ECD teacher in 1997, Stella was a community mobilizer for ChildFund; her prime focus was educating and empowering women. Her efforts helped convince nomadic families to send their children to school for the first time.
Stella is very happy about her work, but she is dissatisfied with the general condition of women across the country. “People say India is now a powerful country,” she says, “But how can you be powerful when one section of your population is so weak?”
According to latest U.N. Human Development report, India is ranked 129 out of 146 countries on the Gender Inequality Index. However, many people in India like Stella are working to improve the state of women and girls through education, health care, sanitation and political participation. The government also runs several programs aimed at empowering women.
In the past year, ChildFund India has reached out to more than 142,000 women and engaged them in various issues ranging from their health and sanitation to economic empowerment.
To assist women who wish to earn income, ChildFund India promotes women’s Self-Help Groups (SHGs) that manage microloans at a village level, which helps women become more self-sufficient. India has more than 5,600 such groups across the country, with 18,000 members.
ChildFund is also committed to helping youths become involved community members, and toward this goal, we support more than 700 clubs for boys and girls.
Female youth clubs, also known as Kishori Samuha, have proven to be a major success in creating an informed and confident new generation.
Durgesh, 15, is a testimony to this success. A sponsored child from Uttar Pradesh’s Firozabad district, Durgesh led a campaign against child marriage and managed to bring the number of early marriages to almost zero in her community.
As a leader of her youth club, she generated great awareness about the ill effects of child marriage and managed to gain broad community support .
“Initially, it was very difficult for us to convince parents to say no to child marriage, which has been going on in our community since ages,” says Durgesh, who is in 10th grade. “But with the support and guidance from ChildFund India program staff, we continued our campaign for months. And we finally succeeded. Parents are now not in favor of getting their young daughters married. Rather, they are sending them to schools.”
Stella and Durgesh are two of hundreds of committed individuals in India who are giving hope to women across the country. They aspire to build a new India where women are respected and allowed to lead.
By ChildFund Ethiopia staff
Gegsebo Redi, 24, lives in Silti Aynage, Ethiopia. He is a formerly sponsored child and an alumnus of the Silti Aynage Child and Family Development Association, an organization that partners with ChildFund.
Gegsebo completed high school in 2006. He was an outstanding student and scored straight A’s. But Gegsebo’s family couldn’t afford the next step in his education — attending university preparatory classes away from home. They couldn’t cover the cost of his transportation or his living expenses.
“I had no chance,” Gegsebo recalls, “except missing the opportunity of the pre-university course and looking for other options around my village.” Recognizing Gegsebo’s potential, ChildFund’s local partner offered financial assistance to cover housing and living expenses while he attended classes. “They encouraged me to continue my education and to join the university. I have no words to thank them for enabling me to reach my current position.”
He has now completed studies at Hawasa University, earning a degree in rural development offered in cooperation with the Ethiopian government’s agriculture department. Today, Gegsebo is employed at Silti Aynage’s agriculture office and earns a salary that also allows him to also support his brother, who is still in school.
“I would like to thank the association for helping me to improve my life,” Gegsebo says. “They were helping me by being my family in many ways. In the future, I want to support children either by my profession or financially. I would also like to continue my education since our country is expecting much from young people like me.”
By ChildFund Belarus staff
Eighteen-year-old Vlad was born with cerebral palsy. His speech is unclear, and he cannot handle a pen or use a computer keyboard. And, yet, Vlad is a brilliant student.
Teachers educated Vlad at his Belarus home. Though the boy couldn’t write, he easily solved math problems in his head. By the age of 15, he had read many literature classics and could easily cite quotes by Dumas or analyze Dostoyevsky’s and Tolstoy’s works.
Vlad dreamed about becoming a lawyer who advocates for the rights of people with disabilities. But he faced a serious roadblock: Belarus’ system of entrance exams to its universities does not consider the special needs of a person with disabilities. The examination must be written, and parents are not allowed to be in a classroom during the exam. Personal assistants to help with writing or reading are typically unavailable.
In a quest to get their son admitted to college, Vlad’s parents petitioned several universities to allow him special assistance to take entrance exams, but they were turned down by most. In 2012, Vera, a vice rector at Baranovichi University, received training in inclusive education, a program conducted by ChildFund through the USAID-funded project Community Services to Vulnerable Groups.
Before the training program, Vera, like many other Belorussian educators, believed that children with communication problems also suffered from cognitive disability, often a misconception. But at the training, Vera was deeply impressed by the examples of academic achievements and talents that American children with disabilities have developed through proper support and teaching.
As a result, Vera decided to change the rigid entrance procedure at her university. She shared her new knowledge with her colleagues and obtained their full support. A special team was arranged to provide Vlad with adequate assistance during the testing process.
At the exams, Vlad gave his answers verbally, and a faculty member wrote it down. This minor adjustment allowed Vlad to pass the tests.
“The results inspired all of my colleagues,” Vera says. “The rector of our university and the members of the state educational board that inspected the exams applauded. Vlad showed brilliant results! He got the highest scores among all the applicants. We are very proud that the boy will become our student. Vlad is very persistent, and there is no doubt he will became a successful advocate for the rights of people with disabilities.”
Because of widespread media coverage, Vlad’s story became known all over Belarus and was praised by the minister of education, who said that 2013 will bring reforms to the entrance examination process at all Belarussian universities.
At Vera’s university, she has continued advocacy efforts by designing a course on inclusive education for students in preschool education. The course was recently approved by the Ministry of Education for university curriculums all over the country.
Read yesterday’s post about a Belorussian girl reunited with her father.
By Cynthia Price, Director of Communications
As a child, I loved receiving mail – yes, the kind with stamps. I had several international pen pals, and my friends sent postcards when they took vacations, even if it was simply to the shore. I also subscribed to magazines and book clubs, so I eagerly anticipated the arrival of the mail carrier.
Today, most people communicate by text and email. Those who sponsor a child, though, know the wonderful feeling when a letter arrives with an international postmark and stamp. It means a letter has arrived from their sponsored child.
What happens when you send your letter to your child? It’s not as simple as putting the letter in the mail and it being delivered by a mail carrier on the other end. The letters arrive at a central point — usually the ChildFund office in the child’s country. The letters then need to be delivered to communities, which can be miles apart.
On a recent trip to Ecuador, my coworkers and I met with several youth who help deliver the sponsor letters within their communities. Catarina, who is 15, says she delivers between 10 and 12 letters each week within her community.
“It’s fun,” she said. “I like delivering the letters and making others smile.” She says the letters come from around the world, and she enjoys seeing all of postmarks from the different countries.
After the letters are delivered, Catarina says the child who receives it will write a reply. Depending on the age of the child, Catarina and others will help guide the child. They’ll suggest topics to cover, such as writing about their favorite school subjects or talking about their siblings.
Catarina also is sponsored and she loves receiving letters from her sponsor, too.
It’s good to know that a simple letter can bring so much joy.
By Abraham Marca and Ana Vacas, ChildFund Bolivia
It’s common to hear older Bolivians describing adolescents and children as being in their “donkey’s age” because they can be bull-headed.
But this perception of youth is now changing in the city of Tarija in Bolivia, where eight local partners, assisted by ChildFund Bolivia, have given children and youths the opportunity to put forward their own solutions for community problems like alcoholism, garbage and poor-quality playgrounds.
“We might be small, but we can do big things” is the slogan of one of the youth clubs.
Forming Youth Clubs
This dream started with small steps. With support from ChildFund, young people created clubs by choosing their own names, designing logos and writing club constitutions with rules about honesty, punctuality, teamwork and more.
Next, the clubs participated in various educational modules, starting with leadership skills and photography. The children and youth started to identify problems and strengths in their community, often using photography. They then developed a project to address a community issue.
One of the main problems the children identified was pollution in their neighborhoods, as well as a lack of good recreational spaces. The few playgrounds were in poor condition. The youth also recognized that a lack of street lighting and persistent alcoholism made their neighborhoods more dangerous. These concerns echoed what we heard during our area strategic program with the Tarija communities.
After forming a club, the children in Guadalquivir planted 12 trees — which they bought themselves — during a clean-up campaign. In Nueva Esperanza, the club members started a campaign to prevent alcoholism and also purchased new lights for the community’s soccer field. A youth leader, studying architecture, designed a new playground and coordinated the project in Moto Mendez. One of Tarija’s rural partners had problems with the speed of traffic near a school so the children consulted the mayor. As a result, speed bumps were put in place. In the same area, the youth raised awareness among adults to use the garbage collection services that passed through the community once a week, instead of tossing trash out on the streets or burning it.
These are just a few examples of how children and youth can reach out, because as they tell us, “There are more ideas and, of course, a lot of energy.” Money is often short, so the club members have made alliances with local authorities and parents’ groups. Municipal governments have helped the children’s groups buy trees to plant in their neighborhoods.
Adults have been pleasantly surprised with the children’s drive, and now they are paying more attention to the young voices.
By Mauricio Bianco, ChildFund Brasil
Mauricio Bianco, marketing and fundraising manager for ChildFund Brasil, recently traveled to Ecuador. Today, he shares his impressions in the first of a two-part series.
On this trip, I had the opportunity to visit communities where ChildFund Ecuador develops social programs for children and their families. The first experience of the day was to visit young people between 15 and 17 years old in the city of Ambato, the capital of the province of Tungurahua (Ecuador’s third-largest city, three hours south of Quito).
Four years ago, 40 young people began meeting every week to discuss issues that are important to them. Often, adults don’t give them the opportunity to be heard.
Weekly, these young people publish their news in a column for the local newspaper and record a 20-minute program at a radio station in town. They discuss such important matters as self-esteem, peer pressure, school interests, puberty, teenage pregnancy and other topics, completely without taboos. Often, parents have difficulty broaching such topics with their children, so the young people give voice to these issues, their wishes and values, seeking the common good and trying to improve the living conditions in their communities.
These teens also are passing on what they have learned to others who are even younger, so they also have the opportunity to make a positive impact in their communities.
I enjoyed talking with Shirley, 16, who had terrific insight into her role in society and young people’s ability to change the society in which they live. In Ecuador, often only the adults have strong voices, but this is changing. These young people are really making a difference in several neighborhoods in the city of Ambato. It’s a pleasure to see the empowerment that is going on.
Guest post by Robert Patrovic
As ChildFund recognizes #GivingTuesday today, we are sharing the inspiring story of a father watching his daughter work hard – to give. Through ChildFund, Kara sponsors Mijael, a 6-year-old boy from Bolivia, and this year she raised funds to visit him.
My wife, Mary, and I have always tried to teach our children the value of their place in the world. We instilled in them a need to make the world a better place. Although we believe we’ve provided a comfortable home and life, we have always been sure not to focus on the attainment of personal possessions. There are almost no video games in our house (except for educational ones), no smartphones when they were kids, and we’ve always stressed reading, playing outside and giving.
Each of our three children, Jess, 23; Bobby, 20; and Kara, 15, is different, but they share that same value system. They have always volunteered for many causes both in and out of school. We have encouraged them to seek their dreams and have always taught them that hard work gets results. When they have truly wanted something, we have shown them paths to get it – always involving work on their part.
Kara, in particular, has always been one of the most giving people we know, even as a younger child. When, at 9 years old, she came to us with the idea of sponsoring a child, we were very encouraging (how could a parent not be?!). I helped her do the research on which organization operated the most efficiently, as she is conscientious about things like that. We decided on ChildFund. We helped supplement her monthly sponsorship payment and she did her best to keep in touch with Mijael over the years. At the time, he was 6 months old; Mijael is now 6 years old.
When she came up with the idea to actually visit Mijael, we saw this as an excellent learning opportunity and told her we would accompany her if she raised the money to go. This was in late January, a time where her schoolwork was especially heating up. Kara is a dedicated student and athlete. She played high school soccer and track and field and played for a club soccer team, as well – quite the demanding schedule.
Once Kara realized what it would take to put this trip together, she decided she wanted to invest more time, ultimately leaving the club soccer team. She used the extra time to really begin planning her big trip to Bolivia. She first placed a letter in our church’s bulletin and got a good response, which encouraged her further. She sent more letters and emails, developed budgets, researched flights, hosted fundraisers and even got some media coverage. The trip began taking on a life of its own, and Kara was at the forefront. How proud we were!
As the project grew in scope with more and more fundraisers, increased amounts of time and planning were required. At this time, Kara was given a “gift” of sorts. While playing soccer, she took a serious fall. She suffered a pretty serious concussion and broke her wrist. Kara could not participate in her normal activities. She was discouraged, understandably so, but this gave her the gift of time to spend on fundraising and planning her trip. Kara was making a hug jug of lemonade out of a large batch of lemons – a gift from God. Talk about getting inspiration from your own child!
Ultimately, Kara was successful; so successful in fact that she raised about $850 more than she planned. With the extra money she was able to provide gifts for 55 additional children and donate to two health care fundraisers in Tarija [Mijael’s community]. Although, I only went to accompany Kara, my own life was changed dramatically as well.
Kara has been, is, and continues to be a God-given gift and inspiration in our lives. I was moved by the impact that Kara had. At one point, she was honored as a Chapaca (resident of Tarija), which is an incredible tribute. In addition, the Tarija people called her a role model for their children because of her motivation to give. Imagine that, a child who comes from a wealthy country like the U.S., who is accustomed to living comfortably, being honored as a role model for children that have very little.
Kara has decided to continue to raise funds for Mijael, ChildFund Bolivia, and the various communities of Tarija. We are so proud of and inspired by our daughter.
Learn more about Kara’s trip to Bolivia.