By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
Laurie Tragen-Boykoff’s first glimpse of Nicky stuck in her memory: “He had the look of an old soul in his eyes.”
He was 7 years old, and Laurie and her husband had decided to sponsor him through ChildFund (then known as Christian Children’s Fund). It was nearly 25 years ago, and they were a young married couple living near Los Angeles. Nicky lived in Kafue, Zambia.
“We weren’t upper-class by any means,” Laurie recalls, but “the program pulled at my heart.” One thing she decided: She would write to her sponsored child. It was important.
At first, Nicky couldn’t write to her in English, so they corresponded through interpreters. Still, his personality shone through, Laurie says. “He was an unusually expressive child, filled with joy and appreciation.” She learned details about his everyday life, and she kept everything he sent in a manila envelope in her nightstand’s drawer.
The letters continued for eight years, as Nicky grew up and eventually was able to write to Laurie in English. During that time, she became a licensed social worker and had a son and a daughter. ChildFund later contacted Laurie to let her know that Nicky’s village was healthy and self-sustaining and that the organization would be leaving to work in a village with greater need.
Because ChildFund protects children and sponsors by monitoring all correspondence and not allowing the exchange of personal addresses, Laurie and Nicky had to say goodbye to each other, but they didn’t stop thinking about each other
As a teenager, Nicky even went to the U.S. Embassy in Zambia to see if he could contact Laurie and her family. Unfortunately, the embassy’s employees said it was too difficult to find them without more information.
Laurie, meanwhile, held on to the manila folder and thought about Nicky from time to time but never imagined she would hear from him again.
One day in 2011, though, when Laurie was making a stop at Starbucks, her daughter Megan called. She said she had received an unusual message on Facebook from a Zambian man named Nicky Mutoka.
“It was all I could do to not scream,” Laurie recalls. She gave her daughter very specific instructions about what to tell Nicky, because as a self-described technophobe, Laurie wasn’t on Facebook.
Soon enough, Laurie reconnected with Nicky through email, phone calls and even on Facebook. Nicky still lived in Zambia and had progressed a long way from childhood. He was the only one of six siblings to attend college, and he had married a woman named Ketty.
“The sponsorship, for me, meant a lot,” recalls Nicky, who is now 32. “I felt so special among my siblings because I had all my school needs taken care of. I still remember my parents never bought me a uniform, a pair of shoes or books during my primary and junior secondary school. I can’t forget about this, and my memories are still fresh even if it’s over a decade now.”
When the sponsorship ended, Nicky says he was fairly discouraged and unsure if he would complete school, but he says that his faith in God gave him courage to continue. Today, after earning a degree in business administration, he is a sales adviser for a bank.
After several months of contact, the two families took a big step; Nicky and Ketty came to California for a visit in 2012.
“California, and particularly Los Angeles, is a great and beautiful place,” Nicky says. “There is so much to learn there. I enjoyed myself, had so much fun with my lost friends and family.”
“We just seemed to get each other,” Laurie says, and friends from her synagogue and neighborhood were drawn to Nicky like a magnet. “People were absolutely blown away [by the story].” Laurie and Nicky’s friendship also served to show that sponsorship helps real people, she adds. “People were so reassured to hear that the money went where it was supposed to go.”
Today, Ketty and Nicky have a baby son whom they named for Laurie’s husband Terry, and Laurie visited them in Zambia this past spring. Both families are so happy to be reunited.
“As a young boy,” Nicky says, “I always knew these were very good people and felt strongly attached to this family.”
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
In our 75-post series in honor of ChildFund’s 75th anniversary, we’ll hear from several of our national directors who oversee operations in the countries we serve in Africa, the Americas and Asia. Uganda’s national director, Simba Machingaidze, discussed some of the issues his office is working on currently, including reducing the child mortality rate, which is high in Uganda.
What are ChildFund Uganda’s main focuses right now?
ChildFund Uganda’s main focus is holistic ECD (Early Childhood Development) including child health, nutrition, stimulation and protection.
Do you have a favorite story about a child or family who has been helped?
To many beneficiaries like Federsi, a widow aged 65 years in Kasengejje village, getting a water jar was a dream come true. Federsi lives with two of her children and five grandchildren. The family used to fetch water from the only borehole in the village, which is 6 kilometers (more than 3 miles) away from their home.
The borehole serves approximately 900 households. It took the children 3 to 4 hours every day to fetch water, and as a result, they were always late for school. Due to the long queues at the borehole, the family often fetched water from a pond shared with animals or bought some from other people who had tanks. Buying water was quite difficult for Federsi, since she has no source of income.
In such water-stressed communities, a 2,000-liter tank like that constructed near Federsi’s home saves children the burden of walking long distances to fetch water while parents and caregivers are relieved of worrying about their children getting abused on their way to and from the distant water sources.
What challenges and goals do you have in the future?
Our goal is to enhance the capacity of our local partners to sustainably deliver programs that help solve their communities’ day-to-day problems. However, our biggest challenges include resources to cope with the ever-growing needs of a country with high population growth, and inadequate functional government systems.
How is ChildFund Uganda helping expectant mothers to sustain their own health and their child’s?
ChildFund Uganda has focused on increasing skilled birth attendance and quality postnatal care. This has been promoted through child health days, outreach clinics to underserved areas and through the Village Health Teams. In the last year, ChildFund Uganda constructed and commissioned two maternity wards in underserved districts. Expectant mothers received mama (delivery) kits, which are an incentive for the mothers to go for postnatal checkups and to deliver at health centers instead of going to traditional birth attendants. ChildFund has also worked with the district health offices with supervision from the Ministry of Health to support skills improvement programs for health workers to manage maternal and neonatal health issues better. This has been through mentorship as well as in-service training.
Tell us about ChildFund Uganda’s ongoing work to reduce child mortality?
Some of the goals include reducing household poverty as a compounding factor through the livelihoods programs, enhancing mothers’ knowledge and skills on prevention and management of common childhood illnesses as well as nutrition, reduction of HIV and AIDS infections in children through the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS programs, and strengthening the district level health systems to assess and respond to child and maternal health problems in the districts.
The unmet needs are mostly in the areas of nutrition, HIV and AIDS, district health systems’ financing and human resources for health. Our major limitation is funding; we would definitely like to be in a position to do more.
Reporting by Tenagne Mekonnen, ChildFund Africa Communications Manager, with Priscilla Chama, ChildFund Zambia
Seveliya, 13, represented Zambia at the Day of the African Child conference this past spring in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (scroll down at the link above to watch her speech). She recently talked to us about her hero book, an autobiographical work that she created at the ChildFund-supported resource center in Kafue, a town in Zambia’s Lusaka province. Hero books let children describe the challenges they face and set goals for the future — in a sense, making themselves the heroes of their own lives.
To boost this feeling of self-confidence, other children write supportive comments in the books for their friends. Here is Seveliya’s experience, in her own words:
My hero book: That is me, my guide, my dream and my future! It is my discipline. My hero book is all about me, my family, friends, the future.
The resource center at the Kafue Child District Agency shaped my life. It is a place where I share with my peers and do different activities to tackle life’s struggles! It is where we come together to know ourselves, fight for our rights and educate our community about children’s rights.
The resource center helped me to express myself through the hero book, which helped me to reflect. It shaped my character; before my hero book, I always felt that I am always right, and everyone else is wrong. I fought with family, siblings, friends, just because I thought I am the only one who is right!
But the hero book helped me to accommodate family, friends, siblings and the community. Now I have confidence to say that my dreams will come true. Now I have a plan to be an architect 10 years from now, and 20 years from now I will be having my own business, which will help me open an orphanage and provide support. I will be there for my future!
I know I am tomorrow’s leader! It is clear, no more fear.
By Tenagne Mekonnen, Africa Regional Communication Manager
The road to education is hard, rocky and bumpy in Zambia. There are overcrowded classrooms, a shortage of materials, long walks to school and often not enough food.
Flocks of children, age 8 and older, walk more than a mile each way to school every day, sometimes without having eaten breakfast. Some have no shoes, and their school may not have fresh water when they get there. Access to education is the right of every child, but poverty creates many obstacles to school attendance in Zambia and other countries that ChildFund serves.
ChildFund strives to make the journey to school easier by working with the Zambian government to build standardized facilities that include libraries, labs, restrooms and learning materials. Sometimes we help provide shoes and uniforms too.
John and Gracious, two Zambian children, say they are happy just to be in school, even though it’s sometimes difficult to walk there. Their mothers now work for a small business that allows Gracious, 11, and John, 9, to attend school. They hope one day that there will be a school in their own community or a means of transportation other than their own feet.
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.
Reporting by ChildFund Liberia and ChildFund Zambia
Ever wonder how much gifts and sponsorships matter to children who live in extreme poverty? Staff members of ChildFund Liberia and ChildFund Zambia recently gathered some first-person reactions from children who have benefited from the generosity of sponsors and companies who donate goods through ChildFund’s gifts-in-kind program.
Jessica, age 12, of Liberia received a Life Is Good tote bag through ChildFund’s relationship with Good360, the nonprofit leader in product philanthropy.
“I attend the Christian Revival School in Konia, Zorzor District, Lofa County. I am in the fourth grade, and I am happy going to school. I carry my bag every morning to school. Other students who don’t have it call me ‘Life’s Good Girl.’ I like the bag … the drawing is funny. It is like a friend who helps to carry my books but never complains.
This is my first bag. Before I was given the bag, I used to carry my books and pencils in my hands. Because my hands were wet when my palms sweat, my books got spoiled. When the rain came, my books got very wet. When the road got dirty, my books got dirty.
Now I carry my school things and other things I don’t want people to see, like my lunch and any nice things. Before, if I was given new books, some bad boys would take them from me and run away. Now, nobody sees what I’ve got in my bag, and I don’t worry. Thank you for my bag!”
Jimmy, 12, and Andrew, 8, of Liberia live in an orphanage and received clothes from Life Is Good.
“I feel very happy to receive the clothes, because they bring me here without enough clothes, and I pray that ChildFund will continue to help us every year. ‘Life Is Good’ is good for us,” Jimmy said. He was brought to this orphanage from another home for orphans that was closed due to lack of funding.
“I was brought with a pair of trousers and a shirt to this orphanage,” Jimmy continued. “I am very happy with my clothes. They make me look good.’’
“I am very happy,” Andrew said. “This is not my first time getting things from ChildFund. I got TOMS shoes. I was carrying slippers to school, and then ChildFund gave shoes to us.”
Asked what they would like to do in the future, the boys had ready answers: “I want to study so that I can work for ChildFund,” replied Jimmy. “I want to become president,” Andrew said.
Timothy, 11, of Zambia, loves writing to his sponsor.
“I live in Kalundu Compound, Kafue district. I am doing grade 6 at Kalundu Basic School. My favorite subject is mathematics. I like writing.
I have a sponsor and friend at ChildFund. Her name is Jeanette. This sponsor has helped me very much for four years. She sends me money every year for my birthday and for Christmas. I use this money to buy shoes and clothes.
Because of this sponsor, I have learned to write letters. I joined the writing club in my community, and I am happy and enjoy writing. Sometimes I write to myself because I like to improve my writing. I would like to see more sponsors come and start supporting other children like me here.”
Gift, 10, of Zambia, values education.
“I’m Gift, and I’m doing my fourth grade at school. My community is made up of about 300 families; most of these people are not employed. They depend on selling vegetables at the market, and others [sell] fish. Other families are farmers.
We have a school in our community where I go and a clinic where we go when we’re sick. A few other children and I are sponsored by ChildFund.
I have a vision that one day my community will become a big city with electricity and more schools. People will also go to school and start working instead of selling vegetables to earn money.”
Jake Lyell, photojournalist and videographer, provides a behind-the-scenes view as he travels to southern Africa to document the needs of the people of Zambia and report on the successes of ChildFund projects in the area. Enjoy the video.
Reporting by ChildFund Zambia
She owns her own tailoring shop and makes student uniforms for the local school. Jacqueline also has regular clients in the Mpanshya community for whom she makes clothes.
But how did Jacqueline manage to own a shop of her own at such a young age?
“Life was really hard for me before I learned about the ChildFund livelihood programs,” she explains. “I failed to continue school after grade nine, as my parents could no longer afford to pay my tuition fees and other school requirements.”
After dropping out of school, Jacqueline started spending most of her time doing odd jobs at people’s farms to help her family earn a living. But the jobs were poorly paid, and Jacqueline’s family continued to struggle.
“I joined my mother as she did odd jobs, but we never made enough to make ends meet. It was very hard and sometimes we went to bed without eating anything,” Jacqueline recalls.
Her life took a turn for the better when a friend invited her to a youth meeting organized by ChildFund in Mpanshya. After that meeting, she began attending trainings in entrepreneurship, life skills and basic accounting, among others.
After being trained in tailoring and clothing design, Jacqueline and other youth received sewing machines. “I was in the group business for three years and after sharing the profits, I decided to buy my own sewing machine and do my own business on the side, she explains.
As her business grew, Jacqueline decided to leave the group and set up her own shop at the local market. Immediately, she was approached by the local school who later gave her a contract to start making uniforms.
Today her business has grown, and Jacqueline has now taken on the responsibility of helping send her siblings to school.
“I’m very happy now that I can help my parents send my younger siblings to school,” Jacqueline says, “and I will forever remain grateful to ChildFund for empowering me with tailoring skills.”
You can help empower other girls like Jacqueline by sending them a gift from ChildFund’s Gifts of Love & Hope Catalog.
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.”