By Christine Ennulat
The high school dropout is a familiar phenomenon. But an elementary school dropout? In developing countries, it’s a common problem.
“Your first-grade classroom may have 135 kids in it,” says Mary Moran, ChildFund senior specialist in Early Childhood Development. “Your second-grade classroom has 60, and by the time you get to fifth grade, you may be in a class of 10 or 12.”
ChildFund’s Stepping Stones program, in Zambia’s Mumbwa region since 2009, eases the transition between early childhood and primary school environments, helping more children stay in school.
For a child who is moving to primary school, whether from home or one of ChildFund’s Early Childhood Development (ECD) centers, the change is often a shock. A typical primary school is a teacher-centered, highly structured setting with little individual attention and few to no materials with which to work or play.
The primary school teacher usually has little training in child development or in education methods for young children. Parents may have had no school experience at all, which means no understanding of the school process or how to support their children in it.
Stepping Stones connects teachers, parents and children. Teachers from ECD classes and first-grade classes collaborate on a plan for understanding each other’s practices and expectations. Groups of children and teachers may visit classrooms, or parents may take their children individually. Teachers from both settings spend time in each other’s classrooms. They’re also trained in how to engage with parents and families.
Likewise, parents receive coaching on how to engage and interact with teachers, as well as to recognize when their children are under stress or having other difficulty. All adults work in concert on behalf of the children.
The Stepping Stones program supports children as they learn lifelong skills: resiliency, adaptation to change and how to recognize the differing expectations of people and environments. To help them, teachers are trained in social-emotional learning strategies, from understanding different learning styles to new ways to structure classrooms and schedules that help children prepare for change and provide them with a sense of control.
“We now know how to ask questions of children,” said one teacher who has participated in Stepping Stones. “I thought my role was to make sure the children know the information.” As they learned their new role as guides rather than givers of information, teachers also noted that children were more apt to both ask for help and share their enthusiasm for learning. The level of parents’ engagement was another pleasant surprise.
When the time came for a graduation ceremony to honor the transition, some of the preschool teachers literally handed the children over to the primary teachers as parents looked on. “In one case, a child told us that graduation was really important because he had his first taste of cake,” Moran laughs. “Another told us that what was so important to her was that her community gave them a book to write in, and it was the first time she had ever had a book.”
On the first day of primary school, only one of the 143 children cried. But both the teachers and the parent were prepared to support the child. It took only a handful of days for him to find his footing.
By Cynthia Price, Director of Communications
Gene Simmons is a rock star, a reality-TV celebrity and a businessman. He recently entered into a most unusual business contract.
It all began with a two-hour car ride in Zambia, with the final stretch along a bumpy dirt road, delivering Gene and his wife, Shannon, at the home of Esther, a young woman who recently lost her mother. She is being raised by her grandmother in a small house with a dirt floor and a thin metal roof. A few chickens scratch in the dirt yard.
She is excited to meet her ChildFund sponsor and has called her family together to join in greeting Gene and Shannon. Esther shows the couple where she sleeps with her sister and grandmother. She shares how she walks 6 kilometers to sell vegetables. There are days, though, when she and her family have no food. And while she loves school, she has to walk long distances to attend. But she doesn’t complain. She has a dream – she wants to be a nurse.
“So, why do you want to be a nurse?” Gene asks. Esther doesn’t hesitate: “If there were more nurses, my mother would not have passed away,” she tells him. Her mother died only last month and her father died when she was five months old.
Gene pauses and looks at Shannon, who nods in unspoken agreement. “I am a businessman,” Gene begins.” I want to make you a deal. We will pay all of your expenses for school.”
Loud chanting and cheering break out among Esther’s family members.
Gene isn’t finished, though. “You have to do well in school,” he tells her. Esther nods vigorously in agreement.
Shannon adds, “You don’t owe us anything. You don’t have to pay us back. You owe us to be a good nurse.”
As Gene leaves the village, he reflects on the time spent with Esther. “We just met an amazing 16-year-old girl with lots of charisma, who can change the cycle, but the odds are stacked against her,” he says.
“We can help,” he notes. “And ChildFund points us in the right direction. Hopefully, she’ll become a great nurse.”
By Cynthia Price, Director of Communications
Gene and Shannon Simmons recently traveled to Zambia to visit several of the children Gene sponsors through ChildFund. The trip became the basis for the June 25 episode of their reality TV show, Gene Simmons Family Jewels.
Today is all about learning. Gene and Shannon visit Zambia’s Muchuto Basic School, loaded down with notebooks, pens, pencils and crayons. The children eagerly look through everything, giggling and smiling. Suddenly they give a robust shout, “Thank you!” The children also belt out a healthy rendition of If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap your Hands.
While at the school, Gene and Shannon meet six children they sponsor: Miyoba, Lydia, Cecilia, Isaac, Kaoma and Robam. While the couple learns about the school and explores the classrooms, the children are busily drawing pictures for their honored guests. Gene and Shannon have brought a gift for each child, and a much-needed one for Roban, whom Gene has sponsored for more than two years. Robam loves school, but he doesn’t always make it to class because he has to walk more than 3 kilometers each day, each way.
Meeting Gene and Shannon is a thrill for Robam, but, truthfully, he’s even more excited when they present him with a bicycle. He jumps on the bike and makes energetic circles around the school yard, as his classmates cheer. This bicycle is more than a vehicle for fun; it will help Robam get to school on time and complete his education.
As Gene and Sharon prepare to leave, the children come running out of their classroom and surround the couple, eager to present them with drawings they created using their new school supplies. It’s been a good morning at Muchuto Basic School.
By Cynthia Price, Director of Communications
Fourteen-year-old Edward has waited patiently most of the morning. He’s sat on bench outside his one-room home with his hands clasped in his lap, gazing eagerly down the dusty road that leads to his home. His extended family members are gathered around him.
It’s an important day because Edward is going to meet his ChildFund sponsor. In his eyes, a sponsor is like a rock star – someone whose monthly contribution enables him to attend school and have the books he needs. Little does he know that his sponsor is actually a rock star.
And then the big moment unfolds. Gene Simmons of KISS and star of Gene Simmons Family Jewels arrives with his wife, Shannon, warmly greeting Edward and his family. Gene hears the traditional Nyanja greeting of “Bwanjia,” or “How are you?” Edward breaks out into a big grin.
A gracious host, Edward shows Gene and Shannon around his home, made of mud thatch, and notes that one of his chores is to wash the dishes. He shows them where his mother cooks the food. A pot is simmering on the small fire, and Gene inquires what is in it. “Sweet potatoes,” Edward answers softly.
Edward takes Gene and Shannon down the long dusty road to the community well where he pumps water for his family to use for drinking and cooking. He points further down the road in the direction he has to walk so he can attend school. As they return to the house, sponsor and child are at ease, with Gene’s arm comfortably resting on Edward’s shoulder as if they’ve been friends for life. And in a way they have. Gene has sponsored Edward since 2006.
As the cameras roll and capture the reunion, a teary-eyed Gene has a difficult time talking. “Just be courageous,” Shannon whispers.
Edward tells Gene that he wants to be a teacher. A delighted Gene observes: “He will continue to give and raise up people.”
At the end of the visit, Edward hands his gifts to the couple. “I don’t want gifts,” Gene protests. “I want to give.” But he accepts the gifts graciously – a flag depicting Zambia’s win of the Africa Cup, a Zambia cap and a skirt for Shannon. After consulting with the interpreter, Gene turns to say thank you to Edward in his native language: “Zikomo.”
Gene and Shannon also have brought gifts, including a soccer ball, which Edward and Gene immediately put to use.
Before departing, Gene takes a moment to talk with Edward’s mother, who is raising him on her own because her husband left when Edward was 6 or 7. “Mothers are the most important people in the world,” Gene tells her, adding that she is raising “an amazing young man.”
As Gene leaves, Edward’s grin doesn’t fade. “I am very happy, very happy.”
And what child wouldn’t be if they could meet their sponsor?
By Cynthia Price, ChildFund Director of Communications
OMG! I’m in an African village with Gene Simmons of KISS. Yes, that KISS.
He’s an imposing man. Six-feet, two-inches, and all action. He’s here in Zambia to take action – to meet the children he has sponsored through ChildFund for years and to determine what else he can do to help.
The experience will be captured for an episode of his reality TV show, Gene Simmons Family Jewels. His wife, Shannon, helped organize the trip.
I’ve been to ChildFund programs before. I’ve seen the dirt roads. The thatched houses with no running water or electricity. The classrooms with nubby pencils and recycled newspaper as activity books. I know what we’re about to see. Gene and Shannon don’t.
“We came here with a TV show. Let’s go to Africa and visit the children. It’s a nice sound bite,” Gene says. “But what happened along the way is that real life got in the way. We’re going to do something about this.”
Shannon adds, “Poverty and starvation… once you see it in person, you can’t walk away.”
And they don’t. They go for total immersion. And they’ve brought gifts for the children: school supplies, soccer balls, backpacks and clothing. There’s even a bicycle for one of Gene’s sponsored children, so he doesn’t have to walk the long distance to school. Shannon gives one young woman the shoes off her feet.
As we talk about what they saw and experienced, Gene often has to pause because he’s choked up. I’ve seen KISS perform – who would ever expect Gene to be quiet? But it was a lot to take in. “Here is a wake-up call,” Gene says, after meeting Edward, one of his sponsored children. “We must do something.”
Gene and Shannon are absolutely great with the children. They spend tons of time with them. At the schools we visit, they often sing with the children and in one school, Gene plays guitar.
What’s really amazing about the visit is that Gene and Shannon don’t act like rock stars. They’re truly humbled by the experience. “It really makes you appreciate the little things,” Shannon says. “I will waste less, spend less and appreciate more.”
The trip to Africa, Gene adds, is a “stark reminder that life doesn’t treat everyone the same.”
ChildFund supporters like Gene and Shannon help change those circumstances. Although the children didn’t recognize Gene as a celebrity – even when he handed out KISS swag – he’s a rock star in their eyes because he is their ChildFund sponsor.
Reporting by ChildFund Zambia
As any small-scale farmer will tell you, it takes a lot of hard work and a fair measure of good luck to raise sufficient food to feed a family.
And if you start out with little experience, inferior soil and inadequate equipment like David did, the odds are stacked even higher against you.
“Life was really difficult for me,” David, 22, recalls. “I depended on peasant farming for a living, but due to lack of proper farming implements, my yields were usually very poor.”
David and his family usually ran out of food and had to depend on doing odd jobs within the Chitemalesa community to make ends meet.
His story took a turn for the better two years ago when a friend introduced him to the Chongwe Youth Empowerment Program (YEP) being implemented by ChildFund Zambia.
“After joining this program, my life has changed,” David says. “I have been equipped with knowledge about farming that I could never have had a chance to acquire on my own.”
As the program got under way, David was instrumental in clearing the field for the community banana plantation, planting and watering the new plants. Along the way, he learned a lot about agricultural management techniques and how he could improve his own small farm.
In addition, David became a beneficiary of ChildFund’s goat pass-along program. Several families receive a pair of goats, and as new kids are born, they pass on a young goat to another family. David received four goats, which have multiplied to 14.
After receiving the goats, David also received training in animal husbandry. ChildFund then connected David with the local Kasisi Agriculture Training Centre, where he learned how to convert goat manure into a natural fertilizer.
“The knowledge in organic farming has considerably reduced my farming expenses because I don’t entirely depend on inorganic fertilizers that are very expensive and contribute to soil degradation. I now make my own fertilizer using a simple methodology known as – tea manure,” David says.
He explains that the process involves filling a 50 kg polythene bag with goat manure, securing the bag with a strong rope and immersing it in a large drum of water for two weeks. Every day, David shakes the bag to ensure thorough mixing. After two weeks, David removes the bag from the drum, which now contains a strong natural fertilizer. The tea is diluted with water on a 1:1 ratio to reduce the concentration level. David then applies one cup of tea to each plant.
“Using this tea manure, I managed to produce 50 bags of maize this growing season,” David says. “I’m planning to sell the maize to the co-operative here in Chongwe.” Pleased by this year’s success, David is eager to pass along his newfound knowledge to his neighbors. “I have started training other members of the community in making the manure so that household food security can increase in Chitemalesa,” he says with a smile
Now, David has his eyes set on starting his own banana plantation. No one doubts he will succeed.
by Virginia Sowers, ChildFund Community Manager
It’s World Malaria Day. But instead of launching into a litany of statistics, I’ll just share one hard fact: a child is dying this very minute—every minute—from this disease. And that just shouldn’t be.
Malaria is preventable. Malaria is treatable.
“In the past 10 years, increased investment in malaria prevention and control has saved more than a million lives,” says Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization. “This is a tremendous achievement. But we are still far from achieving universal access to life-saving malaria interventions.”
So you may be asking, “What can I do as just one person?”
Buy an insecticide-treated mosquito net from ChildFund’s Gifts of Love & Hope for a child who doesn’t have one. And then ask your friends on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and YouTube to buy one, too. You may inspire a movement. At the very least, you’ll raise awareness.
A mosquito net costs $11. And you could be helping a child like 5-year-old Francis from Uganda.
Or, taking a worry off the shoulders of a mother like Margaret, who lives in Zambia.
Just for today, World Malaria Day, I invite you to take a swing at the statistics. Use your social media clout to knock back malaria one child at a time.
by Priscilla Chama, ChildFund Zambia
Over the course of January’s 31 days, we’re making a blog stop in each country where we serve children, thanks to the generous support of our sponsors and donors. Today, we meet Matildah, a youth with disabilities, who realized her dream of competing in an athletic competition.
“I felt so grateful, humbled and honored to be crowned with a gold medal for best athlete of the year, contrary to what many people think about us, the disabled,” says Matildah, a 15-year-old Zambian. “That moment made me realize that I can do all that the so-called able, normal people can do, and I hope to do better than this next time,” she says.
Orphaned at an early age, Matildah is one of several hundred children with special needs who are benefiting from ChildFund Zambia’s Special Education Needs (SEN) project in Luangwa district, with support from ChildFund New Zealand. Luangwa has more than 300 children with special needs, who initially had no access to education. ChildFund Zambia has constructed classrooms, dormitories and teacher housing to create a positive learning environment for children. It’s made a world of difference for Matildah and her classmates, who are increasingly confident of their abilities.
A strong runner, Matildah was an eager participant in Zambia’s 2011 provincial athletics competition open to children with special needs from Lusaka, Luangwa and Kafue districts. The competition was held at the Olympic Youth Development Center in Lusaka.
“I love athletics but had no platform to showcase my talent. That is why I am so grateful that the organizers arranged a competition in which children with various disabilities like me could participate,” she says.
Matildah outclassed other competitors and placed first in both the 50- and 100-meter events. She beams with excitement as she recalls the experience of the competition and interacting with fellow athletes.
“Most of us were given an opportunity to travel outside Luangwa for the first time since we were born,” she notes. “As you know children like us are always kept indoors, but this is now changing because of the school for children with special needs,” she explains.
Matildah admits that just a few years ago she had no hope of ever getting an education. According to her grandmother, Matildah’s cognitive difficulties since birth meant she could not be enrolled in a regular classroom.
Her big breakthrough came when ChildFund introduced the SEN project, and Matilda was one of the first children registered. Matildah now attends school at Mwavi Basic, where she is enrolled in the special education unit and is in the second level.
“I want to finish school and become a teacher for children with special needs,”
Matildah says. For now, she loves going to school and also gardening. And, of course, there’s running.
Guest post by Russell and Daiza Smith, Reston, Va.
We had the privilege of helping support Regina in Zambia through ChildFund in the 1990s. This past winter, my wife and I were planning a business trip to Lusaka, Zambia, and we wondered if it might be possible to find Regina, now that 12 years had passed. We knew she had originally lived in a small town, but we thought she had moved to Lusaka when she left the ChildFund program at age 18.
We contacted the ChildFund office in Lusaka. The personnel there advised us that it would be difficult to find Regina. They would try to locate her, but we shouldn’t get our hopes up.
It had been such a rewarding experience to help support Regina between 1991 and 1999. The first we saw of her was a black and white photo; she was age 11 and wearing a little torn dress. She had this look on her face like she might have an attitude (or didn’t want to have her picture made). We would exchange letters and pictures from time to time, and gradually her look softened.
One year, we wanted to do something special; so we sent some extra money, which was enough to get a bicycle for her and some goats for her family. We came to love Regina almost like a member of our family. When she got to the end of the ChildFund program, we provided funds for her to enter a one-year program to learn a profession. We understood she had entered school in Lusaka in 1999, and there the news ended.
We were happy to hear from ChildFund in January that they had located Regina. In February we traveled to Lusaka to give a seminar. ChildFund scheduled a meeting and sent a van to pick us up at the hotel. We didn’t know what to expect. Would Regina be living in some desperate and unsafe circumstances? Would she be held down by a low standard of living or health problems? Would she even remember us?
We were escorted by Violet Mwansa of ChildFund and her driver on a trip to the neighborhood compound where Regina was living on the outskirts of Lusaka. She had walked a quarter mile down the road to meet us and took us to her home and into her living room. It was pretty unbelievable to meet Regina, and it was gratifying to see she had made a successful and happy life for herself. The neighborhood was a safe place with children playing outside. Her small house was a well-constructed residence with comfortable furniture. She had three of the most beautiful children we have seen, ages about one to 14. Her husband, a driver for a church group called “The Brothers,” was obviously a solid person, a good father and a good provider.
We were just overwhelmed with happiness when we saw how well Regina had done in her family, her husband and her life. In the brief 45 minutes we were together, there were a lot of hugs and some tears.
Regina said she thought we had just forgotten her after she left the ChildFund program. We would never forget her. And we were relieved to see what a happy person she is and what a good life she has made for herself.
by Jeff Ratcliffe, ChildFund Grants Compliance Coordinator
I spent last week in Lusaka, providing Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) training to 12 staff from ChildFund Zambia and our partner organizations.
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.
At the Lusaka training session, our staff and partners were especially eager to learn how child-led disaster risk reduction could be applied at the community level.
The training had perhaps seemed a bit abstract until the ChildFund group watched a film that featured children in Nepal talking about what was important to them and how they felt climate change had led to more natural disasters that were impacting their futures.
One Lusaka participant said she had not realized the full extent of hardships that floods and landslides cause people in other countries. Community-level disasters that were spoken of in Nepal also occur in Zambia, and children in both countries have been forced to cope with these calamities and their aftermaths. Nepalese children have played a vital role in introducing community-level response plans. For example, children in one Nepalese community needed to cross a river to go to school. During disaster risk response training, the children identified the crossing as a hazard and worked with adults to have a bridge built.
Inspired by the children’s active roles in Nepal, the Lusaka group began mapping out plans to guide Zambian communities in taking initiative and developing community disaster response plans. They zeroed in on ways to communicate effectively with children and engage them in community action.
When news came of the earthquake in Japan and subsequent tsunami, the team’s work took on an increased level of urgency and meaning. Japan, a nation accustomed to frequent earthquakes, has highly developed action plans. Their citizens are well educated in disaster risk reduction and have community-level disaster risk reduction plans.
Our ChildFund team in Zambia now has a better understanding of the life-saving benefits of disaster preparedness.