By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
This is the final in a series of blog posts with suggestions for writing to the child you’re sponsoring through ChildFund.
Older children offer us a rare opportunity to learn not only about another culture, but also of the difficulties these youth face as excluded or vulnerable members of society. Teenagers are developing critical thinking skills and opinions of their own. Your encouragement of their hopes and dreams is particularly valuable at this stage of their lives.
If you have teenage children or grandchildren of your own, consider asking them to correspond with your sponsored child. Youth share similar problems and concerns regardless of their backgrounds and can easily forge common bonds across cultures. And what better way to demonstrate the importance of giving back?
We are very excited to meet you! We are twins named Sarah and Courtney, and we live in Boston, Massachusetts. We are sophomores in high school, and this year we have an exchange teacher from Ethiopia for art class. His name is Tesfa. He has been telling us all about his life in Addis Ababa and showing us the pictures he painted of your country. It is so beautiful! We convinced our father to sponsor a girl in Ethiopia and he agreed, provided we would be the ones to write to you. No problem!
About our family, our father teaches math at the high school. He gave us a Sudoku chart to send to you. Do you have number puzzles at your school? Our mother is a works at a hair salon – she’s great at cutting and styling hair. We also have a little brother, but he’s only interested in video games.
We’re planning to go to university in Boston in a few years, but we won’t be studying math. Right now we’re busy spending our free time listening to music, dancing and texting with our friends. We love to cook, so we might open a restaurant when we graduate. Our favorite foods are pizza, fish tacos and cupcakes. Here’s a photo of us at our birthday party, eating pizza.
We hope you’ll write to us and tell us something about your family and your school. What are your favorite subjects? What do you like to eat and how do you spend your time with friends?
Sarah & Courtney Anderson
In subsequent letters, consider enclosing flat items like embroidery thread or hair ribbons (for girls), stationery sheets, poems or stories, a map of the United States and a map of the youth’s country, photographs or postcards. Other possibilities include traditional folk tales, Sudoku charts, flash cards with English vocabulary words (if the child is not an English speaker), photographs or postcards.
We hope you enjoy a fruitful and long correspondence with your sponsored child!
Reporting by ChildFund Sierra Leone
For 50 days, ChildFund is joining with numerous organizations to demonstrate support for government policies and programs that will allow women and girls to be healthy, empowered and safe — no matter where they live. Ending early and forced marriage is this week’s theme.
In 2005, at the age of 10, Kadiatu was enrolled in ChildFund’s programs serving the Daindemben Federation in her Sierra Leonean community. With support from her sponsor to pay for school fees and learning materials, Kadiatu eagerly embraced the educational opportunities available to her.
But when she reached junior secondary school, Kadiatu’s father decided to remove her from school and give her in marriage to a middle-aged man in the village. ChildFund and its local partner intervened on Kadiatu’s behalf, standing firm to ensure that her father’s decision was overturned. The marriage was cancelled, and Kadiatu continued her schooling. But her father withdrew all support. Her mother has died long ago and her stepmother showed no love to her.
Without ChildFund sponsorship and the support of Daindemben Federation, Kadiatu would have had nowhere to turn.
Today, Kadiatu, 18, is in senior secondary school preparing for the West African Senior School Certificate Examination. She credits ChildFund and Daindemben Federation for restoring her hope and believes she would have been the mother of two or three children by now had it not been for the intervention of the federation. “Daindemben has made me realize my importance and value in society,” she says.
Now she is determined to go all the way to university to study accounting. “I want Daindemben Federation and my sponsor to be proud of me. They have done so much to get me to where I am today. I don’t want to let them down,” she says. “Even my father is proud of me now,” she acknowledges. “He has regretted the action he had wanted to take then.
“I would like Daindemben Federation and my ChildFund sponsor to continue being my pillar, so that I will achieve my dream of becoming an accountant.”
Read more about ChildFund’s work to prevent early marriage.
By Jana Sillen, PROTECT Project Manager, and Ya Sainey Gaye, Communications Officer, ChildFund The Gambia
Earlier this year, ChildFund held a mid-term review of the PROTECT Project, a partnership with the government of The Gambia that focuses on prevention and response to child trafficking in The Gambia. The main partners and stakeholders in the project from government agencies, armed forces, the police, immigration and child-focused organizations attended the meeting. The group heard about two children who were in dire circumstances, but today they are in school and have stable homes. We reached out to these children to hear about how they are doing today. For their protection, we have given them pseudonyms.
A Runaway Reclaimed
Lamin, 13, was found in Jiboro, at the Senegalese-Gambian border, and was taken to a shelter by the police. He ran away from the shelter and was found again at another border post and was taken back to the shelter.
Lamin’s father is a German national but left him with his mother in The Gambia. His mother died last year, which forced him and his brothers to live on the streets. He sometimes went to see his aunt in Barra to spend some time at her compound.
Social workers were able to trace his aunt in Barra and reunited Lamin with her. The aunt is pleased to look after him and is now ensuring he goes to school.
Lamin explained, “I am very happy that my auntie has enrolled me back into school, and her children are very kind to me.”
A Return to School
Fatou, 16, had completed grade 6, but her parents could not afford the fees for her new school. They decided instead to force her into marriage. She wrote to ChildFund The Gambia’s national director to explain her story and requested sponsorship to continue her education instead of having to enter into an arranged marriage.
The PROTECT Project referred the case to Sanyang Community Child Protection Committee (CCPC). The CCPC met with the Federation Board of Kaira Suu Federation, ChildFund’s local partner. The board agreed to grant Fatou sponsorship to continue her education up to the age of 24.
As a result, she lives with an acquaintance in Sukuta not far from her school. “I am very grateful to the management of PROTECT Project, the CCPC at Sanyang and my new host for helping me out in this difficult situation,” Fatou said. “I am also thankful to my parents for their understanding, and I promised them to do my utmost best in school to prove to my sponsors that I will not disappoint them.” She regularly visits her parents during breaks, and her teacher recently gave her high marks.
About the PROTECT Project
The Gambia’s PROTECT Project, a two-year program funded by the U.S. State Department, was started to develop a viable national child protection system with a focus on limiting child-trafficking on local and national levels.
About 320 law enforcement officials, social workers, district representatives and members of the Community Child Protection Communities have now received training on prevention and responses to child-trafficking and child protection issues. Before the training, some didn’t believe that trafficking existed, said Siaka K. Dibba, the project trainer.
Now more community members and government officials are more aware of the problem and are watching out for children.
Dr. Paul Dauphinais is a psychologist for Turtle Mountain Community Schools in Belcourt, N.D. He wrote this letter earlier this year after attending a tribal outreach gathering for American Indian youth, part of the work ChildFund supports in the United States. Here’s an excerpt.
I had an experience last week that was very moving and gave me great hope for the future of our youth and community. It was a Wednesday in the early evening. I was invited to go to the gym at Dunseith High School. When I arrived, there were children, youth and some of the outreach staff gathered near picnic tables. One of the tables had food that the staff had prepared. I was observing and enjoying the true friendships that the staff and youth showed. A couple of the girls then spontaneously began to serve the youth and staff. They assumed that responsibility without any adult coaxing. It was a pleasant experience.
The gathering really demonstrated to me that each person there genuinely cared for one another, making sure that everyone was served food and satisfied. The children and youth were respectful of each other and it was clearly evident that each one was welcome.
After the meal, several of the team leaders gathered youth in a large circle for the main part of the gathering, the Talking Circle. [Talking Circles are an important component of ChildFund’s cultural restoration initiatives.] The adult leader then began with an introduction of himself and his family in the language of the Anishnabe; he gave an explanation of respect in our cultural world. After this, Paco, a stuffed animal, was handed from person to person to say what respect meant to them and who and what they were respectful of in their lives.
When each youth had finished with their explanations, the rest of the circle applauded, showing respect and acknowledgement of the other person’s perspective. Each person in the circle was offered a turn. The insight that youth demonstrated in their speaking was a pleasure to hear, no matter their age. We have such great leaders-to-be who will be able to have insights into their daily lives and what it means to be Anishnabe/Mitchif. I was very proud to be a part of that group that night. [ChildFund believes that engaging children and youth in initiatives that connect them to positive Lakota values, practices and beliefs strengthens their cultural identity and their resiliency against inherent risks in their environment.]
All week, this past week, I wondered how these youth developed into such respectful and insightful beings; what is this process of growth? Who were they before they became involved with what is called Club Night? How do children mature in this manner – to become so respectful of each other and confident to speak about how one of the gifts of the grandfathers is part of their lives in the presence of others?
Club Night has been happening for many years through the leadership of Claudette McLeod and Turtle Mountain Outreach, and the staff of the Tribal JTPA, Turtle Mountain Youth & Family Center and tribal youth programs.
After the Talking Circle, the youth and staff played a group activity where there was not any bickering about rules or other negative behaviors. Everyone seemed to truly enjoy each other’s companionship, regardless of gender or age. At the end of the evening, the staff remains to assure that each youth has a ride home and that, if someone wants to talk about a concern or share a recent event, they are there.
I just wanted to jump in and be a part!
I thank the group for allowing me to be a part of the group that night.
Club Night will continue to be a part of program services and the dedicated staff will continue to be supportive to the youth. And I thank them for providing this opportunity for our youth.
With help comes hope.
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.