The international 2013 ChildFund Connect Family Film Festival launched this week, involving young filmmakers from around the world.
ChildFund Australia, with support from AUSAID, is spearheading the project to connect students in Australia with their peers in other countries. More than 700 children from Australia and from ChildFund’s programs in Brazil, Ecuador, Laos, Timor-Leste, Sri Lanka and Vietnam submitted films for the festival, exploring the theme of “family” and the role it plays in their lives. Over the next few weeks, film festival events will be held in all seven countries with the participation of the children, their families and communities.
Maria Jose de Carvalho Soares, with ChildFund Timor-Leste, explains that the project has three important aims for children:
Develop media literacy skills by creating and sharing stories with other children through film, photography, writing and cartoons.
Learn about the world by connecting with children in other countries.
Feel more confident communicating on issues that are important to them.
More than 100 students from grades 6-7 at Suai Loro Primary School in Timor-Leste have taken part in ChildFund Connect since February.
“For us, this is our first experience, and it is amazing because we’re free to express ourselves with the capabilities we have,” says Dirce, 12, a student at Suai Loro. “The one thing we like from this program is that we can choose for ourselves and make decisions about the results of our work to be published. This program also teaches and trains us on how to make good decisions and quality films that can be published to others. This is very important to us; although we’re children, our voices can also be heard by others through our work.”
ChildFund continues to actively respond to the large-scale emergency in the Philippines caused by Typhoon Haiyan just a few weeks ago. Geoffrey Petkovich, ChildFund’s regional director for Asia, reports that we are very fortunate that none of the children in our programs or staff from our local partner organizations lost their lives in the disaster.
Yet, our hearts break as we continue to remember the more than 5,000 who died as a result of this super typhoon, which may prove to be the strongest storm ever to make landfall. The destruction on the ground is unbelievable, with most homes destroyed or severely damaged in the most hard-hit communities of the central, eastern and western Visayas.
The office of ChildFund’s local partner in Ormoc was heavily damaged – its roof ripped away and offices inundated by floodwaters – but despite these massive obstacles, this team was able to work with our emergency staff to set up Child-Centered Spaces. These are safe havens for children who’ve lost their homes and their normal routines.
Response to this disaster is still in its early phase, with much work needed to be done by ChildFund and all the organizations that are working with the Philippines government on the ground. I wanted to share some of what ChildFund has been able to accomplish and our goals for the coming months.
ChildFund was the first organization to establish Child-Centered Spaces in the storm-impacted areas. We were also the first international organization to deliver food and non-food items to a number of communities initially cut off after the storm passed.
These actions are the result of the dedication and determination of our field staff on the front line working in difficult conditions, supported around the clock by ChildFund’s national office staff in Manila, our emergency management unit and our regional and headquarters staff.
We are implementing a two-phase response. Phase one, over the next three to six months, is focused on relief through the distribution of food and non-food items, the establishment of Child-Centered Spaces (CCS) to assist with child protection, support for early childhood development (ECD) and basic education and support for maternal and child health and nutrition.
In the following six to 12 months, we will focus on livelihood recovery for families and communities, strengthening community-based child protection and disaster risk management and emergency response training for these communities.
We are extremely grateful to ChildFund’s sponsors and donors who are contributing to the Philippines Relief and Recovery Fund. Your ongoing support for children and families is so critical to the massive rebuilding effort that is required to restore lives.
In the ChildFund Alliance’s fourth annual Small Voices, Big Dreams survey, a global poll that recorded the opinions of 6,500 children ages 10 to 12 in 47 countries, the young participants said what they think about violence, peace, happiness and their heroes.
Children in Zambia.
Asked what they would do if they were in charge of their country, one in three would create stronger anti-violence laws. Three in four believe violence is caused by either bad behavior, poverty or alcohol and drugs.
Here are some additional highlights from the survey results:
What does peace mean to you?
Harmony/unity – 19 percent of children from developed countries; 22 percent of children from developing countries
No war – 34 percent of children from developed countries; 19 percent of children from developing countries
No violence – 21 percent of children from developed countries; 12 percent of children from developing countries
What makes you feel safe and happy?
Family – 65 percent of children from developed countries; 50 percent of children from developing countries
Education – 5 percent of children from developed countries; 25 percent of children from developing countries
Home – 19 percent of children from developed countries; 9 percent of children from developing countries
Friends – 31 percent of children from developed countries; 14 percent of children from developing countries
What is the one thing you would do to protect children from violence?
More law/order – 33 percent of children from developed countries; 28 percent of children from developing countries
Improve education – 6 percent of children from developed countries; 17 percent of children from developing countries
Guarantee kids’ safety – 11 percent of children from developed countries; 13 percent of children from developing countries
When Haiyan struck the Philippines on Friday, Nov. 9, ChildFund staff from across the globe were in Bangkok, Thailand, as part of activities marking the 75th year of our founding. Representative staff from more than 50 countries had gathered to exchange ideas around innovations in our work for children, to discuss the changing environments in which children live and plan for how we can improve the impact of our work in the future.
We woke up Friday morning to learn that Haiyan was hitting the central area of the Philippines. We also woke up to a hotel with no electricity. Haiyan had also brought heavy rains to Bangkok, and a tree near our hotel came down in the night, taking out power lines. We started our meeting a little in the dark (figuratively and literally) and very sweaty with no air-conditioning in the 90+ humid weather.
By Saturday, reports from the Philippines started coming in. We learned Haiyan had devastated Tacloban and surrounding areas in the Visayas – where one-third of ChildFund’s project areas were located. We knew we had to respond.
REUTERS/Japan Meteorological AgencyNOAA, Courtesy of Trust.org
Immediately, our emergency response systems were set in motion. Katherine Manik, our national director for the Philippines briefed the 12 CEOs of the ChildFund Alliance, just as we were starting our semi-annual meeting. She shared an incredible satellite image of Haiyan just as it was hitting the country – the scale of the typhoon was hard to comprehend – what may turn out to be the highest winds ever recorded had just plowed through an area where 10 million people were living in homes that could not withstand such force (really, what buildings could?). The eye of Haiyan (called Yolanda in the Philippines) was clear as a bell, an ominous sign. We learned that three of ChildFund’s local partners’ operating areas were directly in the devastated areas.
On the positive side, for the past several years, we had been preparing for such a disaster, as typhoons occur frequently in the Philippines. All of our local communities had been trained in disaster risk reduction – how to reduce your vulnerability to a natural disaster. In addition, they had all been trained in disaster management, including the international SPHERE standards for emergency response.
Several ChildFund staff prepared to leave for the Philippines immediately, including one vice president, who volunteered to join the team to help support our communications. Once in the Philippines, members of the emergency response team were deployed from Manila with enough supplies to support themselves and their work for a week.
Due to the severity of the storm, the number of people impacted and ChildFund’s extensive experience in the area of the world, we have established the Philippines Relief and Recovery Fund. In addition to responding to urgent needs of children and families, we are committing to helping with the long term and equally critical recovery period. The ChildFund Alliance has set a goal of raising $10 million, with $4 million for emergency assistance to children now and $6 million for longer term recovery – helping families rebuild their lives. This is the largest disaster response ChildFund has mounted since the 2004 Asian tsunami response.
Children are wandering the decimated streets.
As we continued our meetings in Bangkok, CEOs from around the ChildFund Alliance sprang into action, reaching out to supporters for help. Leaders from ChildFund New Zealand, Australia and other countries would stop me in the hallways to advise that they had just had a commitment for $100,000 or $200,000. In the U.S., ChildFund also launched a major appeal online and began reaching out to donors who sponsored children in the Philippines. The immediate support from around the world was gratifying.
In the days that followed, we learned that our community training had paid off – all of the children enrolled in ChildFund programs and our staff were accounted for! Although many lost their homes and their livelihoods, they were alive. I also learned that ChildFund was acknowledged by UNICEF as the first NGO to get a Child-Centered Space (a structured and safe place to care for children while their parents are busy restarting their lives) up and running.
ChildFund has set up Child-Centered Spaces as safe havens for children.
We still have a long way to attain our $10 million goal, but we are committed to supporting children and families in the Philippines. If you want to help, please donate to our Philippines Relief and Recovery Fund. Thank you!
This post originally appeared on ChildFund International’s blog as part of our organization’s 75th anniversary celebration, reflecting on our history and our future direction.
“Nothing ever lasts forever,” the old saying goes. I find this applies to all kinds of things in life. So, as we celebrate ChildFund’s 75th year, I am mindful that not all nonprofits and for-profit companies have longevity. I’ve read that the lifespan of successful companies is shrinking – the typical company in existence today will be out of business in 15 years.
Since the recession started six years ago, I know of several nonprofits that have had to close their doors. Some closed due to financial and other problems. Others took a very positive step and merged with similar organizations to more effectively deliver on their missions. None closed because their mission had been achieved.
ChildFund International is still thriving after 75 years. I give a lot of the credit to our founder, Dr. J. Calvitt Clarke. He was a man of vision, with a passion for helping children living in poverty. A strategic thinker, Clarke was often described as having a “knack for fundraising.” At the age of 51, he founded an organization that was built to last.
Most people would be surprised to learn that Dr. Clarke established our organization to help children in China, now a world superpower with an economy envied by many. China pulled (and pushed) 680 million people out of poverty from 1981 to 2010, and has reduced its extreme-poverty rate from 84 percent to 10 percent, according to the Economist.
But the China of 1938 was very different than today. The country was devastated after the second Sino-Japanese war; famine, atrocities and bombings had destroyed the lives of millions. Children, being the most vulnerable, suffered the most. An estimated 1 to 2 million children died from1937 to 1940 in China.
Compelled to fight for children’s survival, Dr. Clarke believed that warm-hearted, generous Americans would help. So he established what was then known as China’s Children Fund. Within six months of start-up, the organization raised enough funds to send its first support to China – $2,000. Within a year, $13,000 was sent to the KuKong Orphanage to help care for children.
Even the onset of World War II did not stop CCF and Dr. Clarke from continuing the mission. By the final year of the war in 1945 – a mere eight years after the organization began – CCF sent the amazing sum of $372,217 to China to help children in the areas not occupied by Japan.
In 1949, when the Communists came to power, CCF was forced to abruptly leave the country and end its assistance to the 5,113 Chinese children it was caring for in dozens of orphanages. The fate of most of those children was never known. But, amazingly, 300 children managed to walk 60 miles, crossing the border into Hong Kong, then under British rule, where they eventually went to live in a new orphanage CCF established.
Just as China is different today than in the 1930s and ’40s, ChildFund is different in many respects from the days of China’s Children Fund. We have grown to be a $250 million organization that helps 18.1 million children and family members in 30 countries around the globe. We’re also a member of the ChildFund Alliance, 12 liked-minded organizations working together to expand our reach to more countries.
Our collective commitment to helping children remains as passionate as ever. But because nothing lasts forever, I never take for granted that ChildFund will continue for another 75 years. The decisions we make today will impact the ChildFund of tomorrow. We must continue to evolve as an organization, meeting the needs of children in a rapidly changing and complex world.
Maybe one thing does last forever – the warm-hearted generosity of people who help children living in poverty. That part of our shared humanity is truly enduring.
In a couple of days I will be traveling to Thailand. ChildFund’s Asia regional office is in Bangkok, and I have a series of meetings and appointments lined up for my 10 days in the country.
Whenever a bunch of people get together who travel a lot for work, you always hear fascinating stories. Toss in international travel, and the stories can get even more interesting. A friend told me once he was stuck on a plane for three days over Christmas. His original destination closed its borders without warning because the country was changing its currency. His flight returned to its point of origin, but that country wouldn’t let the plane land. So, they flew on to a third country and landed, but passengers could not leave the arrivals terminal because they had no visas to enter that country. What a mess!
I remember once on a long flight a grandmother sat next to me and pulled out a big photo album from her bag. She started telling me her life story – one picture at a time. After listening politely for a while, I explained I was tired and needed to sleep (which was true). Even though I put on an eye mask and head phones and covered up with the blanket, she continued talking to me (for hours) touching my elbow every once in a while to make a point.
Another time I was on a flight from Kenya with a stopover in Sudan. A woman and her young daughter got on in Khartoum and sat next to me. It was quickly obvious they had never been on a plane before, so I helped them store their stuff and figure out the seat belts. They were very surprised when the drinks cart came – and that the drinks were free! So, they pulled out the food they had brought with them – a whole container of boiled eggs – and offered me one. Impressed with their hospitality and how much they were enjoying their first flight, I joined the picnic. Soon we were peeling boiled eggs and making a big communal pile of shells. Then the daughter shifted her position, accidentally kicked the tray table and the shells went flying. I remember being so impressed with the mom; she just laughed at her daughter and started making a new pile of shells.
One of my favorite flight stories was from a friend who was on a domestic flight in the Philippines that carried both people and goods; the seats were simply moved around as needed to accommodate passengers or freight. When the flight hit some turbulence, my friend grabbed hold of the seat in front of him, only to find that it had not been completely bolted down. The seat came flying out of position, knocking some boxes over in the process. Very quickly the small plane was filled with the chirping of baby chicks escaping from the boxes and running up and down the aisle!
So my favorite answer to the question, “How was your flight?” is uneventful. Let’s hope that’s what I say when I arrive in Bangkok next week, 24+ hours after leaving home.
Usually at just the right moment in a busy week, I’ll hear a story or see a photo of a child in ChildFund’s programs that brightens my day and reaffirms the value of child sponsorship and its role in transforming lives. I’ll let Alvaro tell you in his own words.
My name is Alvaro and I am 14 years old. I live in Ecuador in a beautiful community surrounded by mountains. Even though my sponsor lives so far away, it has been a wonderful experience to be in touch with her since she began to sponsor me.
Through her letters and the photos of her family’s celebrations like birthdays, Christmas and some other festivities, I could meet all her family, especially her youngest son. I’ve learned about the culture not only from her country but also from the beautiful places she visited.
We communicate through letters all the time. I like to know about her and her family life. I also love to share with her my life and my family’s. Her advice gives me strength to go forward.
A Country Without Any Government – Good for Children?
Our government is getting back to work after more than two weeks of budget stalemate. One underlying cause of the impasse is the widely different views held by many on the more-government-versus-less-government debate.Whenever I hear that discussed in the news, I always think of Somalia – a country that had no government for more than 20 years.
I lived and worked in Somalia for three years during the mid-1980s. Being cynical, you can say those were the good years for the country, although we didn’t know it at the time. Actually, it was one of the toughest places I ever lived in my almost 20 years in developing countries before joining ChildFund. True, it was a peaceful time. Mohamed Siad Barre, the dictator in power, kept all political opposition under tight control. I remember one of my staff telling me about his visit home to his family’s village – and witnessing public hangings.
But the tight government control didn’t ensure public safety (as it did in some countries I’ve lived). Although violent crime was rare, petty crime was rampant. My house was broken into a few times. What made it a tough place to live was the combination of a poor infrastructure (roads were bad, electricity undependable and health services pathetic) and a disastrous informal economy based on the nomadic rearing of livestock. There was little to buy in the country – even if you had the money.
At that time, a Somali child never came home and asked her mom what was for dinner. Meals were always the same – spaghetti (southern Somalia was a former Italian colony), with a small spoonful of meatless tomato sauce and a banana. Expats working with NGOs bought a lot of the food we needed for our families from a catalogue company in Denmark. Deliveries arrived by ship three times a year. You really needed to plan in advance!
If Somalia was a tough place to live in the 1980s, image what it is like today – one year after the first permanent central government was formed following two decades of fighting. In those intervening lawless years, the country became famous not for its livestock but for its terrorists and pirates, the latter gaining publicity in the recently released movie, Captain Phillips, which chronicles the takeover of a U.S ship by Somali pirates.
The Human Development Index ranks countries based on the development of their people, using criteria such as life expectancy and education. But some countries are too chaotic to even survey. Somalia is one of them. If it was ranked, I’m sure it would be in last place. Although this debate about small versus big government will continue in the U.S., I know that the alternative of having no government at all damages the most vulnerable among us – children.
In Somalia, the prevalence of underweight children under 5 years of age has increased dramatically, from 18 percent in 1997, to 26 percent in 1999, to 36.5 percent in 2006, according to U.N. and UNICEF statistics. Somalia’s children also have stunting rates consistently above 20 percent, according to the World Health Organization. Stunting is a key indicator of endemic poverty and chronic hunger.
For the last 20 years, Somalis have had to endure strife, hunger and suffering. I’m sure there are still many mothers who would be thrilled to again make a meal of pasta, sauce and banana for their families – and many children who would be glad to eat it. A functioning government can help protect these children.
On International Day for Eradication of Poverty, the United Nations General Assembly asks us to imagine a world without discrimination. For those of us who live in developed countries, our experience with, and perspective on, discrimination is likely quite different from those who live in extreme poverty. That’s why we must – as the U.N. advocates – recognize people living in poverty as critical partners for fighting the developmental challenges we face worldwide.
Involving children and families in creating solutions to the problems they face is a key tenet of ChildFund’s mission. We know that when people are engaged in the act of change, then that change is much more likely to be sustained over time.
ChildFund works to bring about change and promote equality on many levels, but here’s one child-focused example I wanted to share from the APHIAplus (AIDS, Population and Health Integrated Assistance Plus) program in Kenya. Funded by USAID, this program is implemented through a partnership among ChildFund, Pathfinder International, Cooperative League of the USA, Population Services International and the Network of AIDS Researchers of Eastern and Southern Africa.
A little earlier this year, the project partners put on an art and photo exhibition aimed at helping children and youth imagine a better world. Called Nipe Nafasi’ – a Swahili word meaning “give me a chance” – the exhibition invited children to submit art and photos illustrating issues that affect them in their daily lives.
Weslyne, 13, entered a photo he took of the Dandora dumpsite, which is close to his home. Covering 30 acres, this overflowing dumpsite takes in about 850 tons of solid waste generated daily by Nairobi’s 3.5 million inhabitants. It’s the largest dumpsite in Africa, and was declared full 40 years ago.
Weslyne and his family have to live daily with the stench and the filth. Birds, pigs and people thrive in the dumpsite, scavenging the heaps of rubbish for food and materials like scrap metal and polythene bottles and bags that can be sold. Weslyne explains that the dumpsite also attracts children and youth who would rather scavenge than go to school. His photo shows a young boy drinking water from a bottle found at the site.
Just by taking this photo, Weslyne has found a way to speak out for change. On International Day for Eradication of Poverty and every day, we must listen.
Kenya’s First Lady Margaret Kenyatta, who was recently named as Children’s Ambassador, attended the art exhibition.
I can’t stop thinking of my visit to ChildFund’s programs in Sierra Leone last month. As is always the case when I travel, the faces of the children and youth I met keep popping into my head. Yet, one stop we made left a lasting impression. And that was the office of Salone Microfinance Trust, or SMT, a microfinance institution that ChildFund started in 2003 – 10 years ago.
One of the things we talk a lot about in the world of international development is sustainability – do the good results and programs that NGOs and others produce last over time? It’s a legitimate and complicated question. Yet, sometimes it is hard to quantify results – making it difficult to measure if they are sustained. Other times, the resources (people and money) are not available to go back and see what’s happening years after our programs were initiated.
But in the case of SMT in Sierra Leone, I can proudly say that the work ChildFund started a decade ago – assisting with the integration of the thousands of ex-combatants after the country’s long and painful civil war by providing them access to credit to start new businesses and new lives – has not only been sustained, it is also thriving.
From a humble beginning, the SMT of today now caters to the needs of 8,000 clients through its eight branch offices and 61 staff. For the last six years, it has returned a profit and its assets stand at $2 million! In addition, the SMT has met external standards, twice receiving a positive rating from a European microfinance rating agency.
And their loans have made huge differences in the lives of their clients. When I visited the SMT office, the staff shared with me the story of Yanku Sesay, a double hand amputee, whose story is almost too painful to hear. The civil war reached his village in 1998, when the rebels caught him, cut off both his hands and left him to die. Today, Yanku is married, with four children and lives in a permanent camp for refugees. He is still plagued by what happened to him, but he has also been able to build a life for himself and his family through the eight loans he has received from SMT. He is a pepper trader and a landlord (although it pained him to have to hire others to build his house). Yanku’s hard work and SMT’s assistance made this new life possible.
SMT continues to grow and has big plans for the future. Just recently at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, I met the president of Kiva, the NGO that facilitates small loans to micro-entrepreneurs via the Internet. SMT partners with Kiva to access credit, and Kiva’s president was full of praise for SMT’s work. After my visit to Sierra Leone, I know why.
Has the work ChildFund started a decade ago been sustained? The answer is undoubtedly yes. ChildFund also continues to guide SMT’s work, holding two seats on its board.
Guess what else I discovered during my visit? SMT also has a social responsibility strategy. Last year they provided 20 educational scholarships to students in the communities they serve.
Anytime that we can expose children in ChildFund programs to creative pursuits, it’s a magical moment. Last month in Puebla, Mexico, children enrolled in the Tizaac Community Organization attended the Symphonic Music Wind Band meeting.
Children had the opportunity to interact with various musicians from 40 municipalities in the state of Puebla. David Perez Olmedo, director of the Puebla Symphony, and well-known composer Arturo Márquez attended the event.
Approximately 300 children in ChildFund programs participate in the band, which put on a great concluding show for an audience of more than 1,000 people.
ChildFund Mexico promotes this type of activities through our local community organizations. Our goal is to provide children with opportunities to express themselves, while exploring their culture, music, traditions and languages. In turn, children develop a greater appreciation of their heritage and acquire knowledge and skills that prepare them to become agents of change in their own communities.
Financial and Social Literacy Programs for Belarusian Children
Last week, ChildFund Belarus, with the support of the Aflatoun International Secretariat, hosted a roundtable discussion on the financial and social education needs of children in the Republic of Belarus, where ChildFund has worked since 1993.
ChildFund specialists, representatives of Aflatoun International Secretariat (the Netherlands), National Institute of Education, National Bank of the Republic of Belarus, Association of Belarusian Banks, representatives of retraining institutes, NGOs and educational institutions attended the meeting held in Minsk.
Participants turned their attention to national priorities that call for development of financial and social literacy programs for children and improving financial literacy of the overall population.
Aflatoun, an international program that provides social and financial education for children from 6 to 18 years old, has worked well in other ChildFund-supported communities in Africa, Asia and the Americas.
Attendees at the Belarus meeting agreed to form a working group with the goal of bringing the Aflatoun program to children in Belarus. It’s an important step in preparing these children to succeed in life.
Throughout our 75-year history, a legacy that traces back to caring for displaced orphans after the second Sino-Japanese War, our focus at ChildFund International has been on improving the lives of countless children throughout the developing world.
Target 5 of the Millennium Development Goals contains dual objectives: (1) reduce by three quarters the maternal mortality rate; and (2) achieve universal access to reproductive health. Progress has been made toward the first goal, but there is much more to do in order to move forward in achieving the second. ChildFund works toward achieving both goals. Read more in my HuffPost.
The use of chemical weapons on innocent civilians, including children, in Syria dominates the news these days. An international debate is occurring – what should be the U.S. and other governments’ response be to such a blatant disregard for both human life and the Geneva Convention?
This takes me back to 1999 and NATO’s 77-day bombing campaign of Yugoslavia, triggered by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic’s ethnic cleansings of Kosovar Albanians. More than 700,000 Kosovars fled their country in the spring of that year, many to neighboring Macedonia where I was sent to assist in the emergency response for thousands of families.
Having worked in many humanitarian emergencies in Africa and Asia, I thought I knew what to expect in the Macedonia refugee camps. But the situation proved much different for me and for the international humanitarian community as a whole. We were used to emergencies caused by natural disasters (floods, droughts) or war in poor developing countries. In such places, there isn’t much of a middle class. As the wealthy usually can care for themselves, it would be the poorest populations that ended up in refugee camps, typically established in remote areas of resource-poor countries.
Basic logistics are always the biggest challenge. The first priorities are always water, food, shelter and health services. For example, water is usually trucked in and refugees collect their rations in plastic jerry cans. The food that is distributed typically mirrors the local diet – cereals (like wheat or maize), pulses (legumes), oil and salt – are common.
But in the Macedonian camps, we faced something very different – middle-class refugees in the center of Europe. Overall they were healthy, educated people. Many had been bussed or driven to the border to escape Kosovo. Although the priorities were the same – water, food, shelter and health care – how we responded to those priorities and the individual needs people had were very different.
What amazed me first was that we were distributing bottled water. After all, we were in Europe, and, logistically, it was easiest to buy and distribute water in plastic bottles. My second surprise was distributing disposable diapers. Africa’s poor can’t afford disposable diapers, but middle-class Europeans can – and the babies needed them. Health needs were also different. I remember being at the health care center one evening, where diseases like diabetes – not malnutrition – were being treated, and a teenage girl asked if we had a nail file.
Don’t get the wrong impression – despite our best efforts, refugee camps are always horrible places to live. In Macedonia, strangers crammed together in large tents that housed four or five families. We struggled to set up enough toilets and keep them clean – women and children would cry at times when they had to use them. But what remains strongest in my memory is the deep depression I saw in the faces of the Kosovar refugees.
During that crisis, 90 percent of Kosovars were forced to leave their homes and their future was bleak and uncertain. Who wouldn’t be depressed? And then it struck me – all the poor and malnourished refugees whom I had worked with before in Africa and Asia were also depressed. I just couldn’t immediately detect the depression because their physical needs were so overwhelming and drew our attention first.
Thankfully, the international humanitarian community and ChildFund have learned from emergencies like Kosovo and so many other conflicts and natural disasters that have occurred through the years. Addressing the psychosocial needs of children and adults is now a critical component of our comprehensive emergency response.
Although no one ever wants an emergency to happen, the reality is that crisis situations arise often, putting children and their families at risk. ChildFund is deepening its ability to respond to all the needs of children during an emergency. Even a short stay in a refugee camp can have a long-term impact on the growth and development of a child. We have to minimize any negative impact as much as is possible. As I always say, childhood is a one-time opportunity.
Do you have just a minute to help? The ChildFund Alliance (the global coalition formed by ChildFund International and 11 affiliates) is a finalist in the MY World People’s Choice Award, sponsored by the United Nations MY World Global Survey. The survey asks people to identify changes that would make the world a better place.
The ChildFund Alliance created a child-friendly version of the survey and conducted more than 50 interviews with children, providing data to the U.N. Our efforts to include children’s voices in global decision-making earned the award nomination.
Because this is a people’s choice prize, we would greatly appreciate your vote! Please take a moment to vote for the ChildFund Alliance, and then share this post with your friends. Voting closes at midnight EDT on Sept. 17, and the winner will be announced at an event in New York on Sept. 25.
It’s been a great week visiting ChildFund programs in Sierra Leone. So I wanted to share a few photos of the wonderful children, community members and staff I’ve met.
In Binkolo, which is part of ChildFund’s Bombali district program area, I talked with these students who are preparing for the West Africa Senior Secondary School Certificate Examinations. They’re holding up scientific calculators donated through ChildFund.
I also had the opportunity to meet with the paramount chief (community leader) of the Safroko Chiefdom. We sat down and talked with children, youth, mothers, fathers and other community members to discuss how ChildFund programs are working for them.
And no visit to the field would be complete without spending time with the energetic youngsters we serve through our early childhood development programs. This program is in Kamabai.
I’m in Sierra Leone this week, visiting our national office in this West African nation, working with staff and spending time with children and youth in ChildFund program areas.
Meeting with ChildFund staff.
Sierra Leone’s maternal and infant mortality rate is among the world’s highest because of malnutrition and lack of access to health care. Although ChildFund has had operations in Sierra Leone since 1985, some of our most important work has occurred in the last decade as we’ve provided programs for children and families recovering from the 10-year civil war that ended in 2002.
ChildFund is guiding a variety of community-based programs focused on child health and child protection, education, youth employment, agriculture and micro-finance. So I welcomed the opportunity earlier this week to meet with Sierra Leone’s President, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, and the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Dr. Samura Kamara, to discuss the many urgent and ongoing needs of children in this country.
Meeting with the Minister of Finance and Economic Development
At our meeting, Dr. Kamar announced the launch of a new national development plan called the Agenda for Prosperity and commended ChildFund for its work to meet the needs of children. In addition to meeting the nutritional and educational needs of children, he also spoke of the equally important soft side of development — restoring the confidence and dignity of children.
That conversation continued when ChildFund Sierra Leone’s National Director Billy Abimbilla and I met with President Koroma, who expressed support for ChildFund’s ongoing work to provide educational and job training opportunities for youth.
"We will continue with such engagements in the Agenda for Prosperity so as to address the issue of teenage pregnancy, and we will always support you in accessing funding as government looks forward to having a permanent structure to address youth employment issues,” President Koroma said.
As U.S. children head back to school this week, Rosa Figueroa on our ChildFund Guatemala staff shared this story. It caused me to reflect on just how important education is to children in ChildFund’s programs.
Miguelito, who lives in the Quiché indigenous area of Guatemala, is 9 years old. He lives with his parents María, 26, and Francisco, 27, who earn their living by weaving traditional clothes and selling them at markets. Miguelito has three sisters Jessica, 4, Leslie, 3, and Sucely, 2. They share a small adobe house, and, like everyone else in their small community, they subsist on greens, beans and rice.
The community has a small health center and one school.
Now in his third year of primary school, Miguelito’s grades are great. He likes language class best, but writing and drawing are close seconds. His love for learning began with his participation in ChildFund Guatemala’s ECD project, Play With Me. Now that he’s school age, he shines in the Let Me Tell You program, where children improve their self-expression and confidence through games, theater and other activities.
“I like to paint, write and to participate in different activities. One of my dreams is to study really hard to become a doctor to help people in my community and to support my family,” says Miguelito. “When I finish my homework from school I help my father carry wood from the field to our house; we use it to cook. Sometimes I play soccer, I love to do this!”
María, Miguelito’s mother, is pleased with her son’s progress and spirit. “My child was very shy years ago, but now he likes to talk with other people. At school he is doing well, he likes to participate more. I can see that there is a change, the self-esteem activities have helped him.”
When breastfeeding is in decline and before a resurgence it sends a message at odds with what new mothers within the developing world should be hearing, and that is this: beyond any other preventive measures, breastfeeding infants under 2-years-old has the greatest impact on a child’s health and survival.
Just got a report that construction of a new health center is breaking ground in the Zavala district of Mozambique. ChildFund is helping guide a newly formed commission comprising eight community members from Chitondo, Gune, Canda and Mazivela.
The commission’s primary role is to mobilize community members to help with the construction process and support the health center once it’s complete.
It will be a great step forward to have a new health center to provide basic and preventive care for children in these communities, where diseases like polio are still a threat.
As we celebrate International Youth Day, I want to introduce you to Benjamín, who has become a true leader for his community in Guatemala where ChildFund provides services.
Benjamín is 18 years old and is a volunteer fireman in his tiny rural town in Guatemala.
For several years Benjamín has been involved in the Active Youth program supported by ChildFund Guatemala, where girls and boys learn to develop leadership, self-confidence and other life skills. This brings them closer to achieving their dreams.
“One of the things that I enjoy the most is helping people in my way — that’s why I decided to become a volunteer fireman,” Benjamín explains. “I feel very satisfied, because being a fireman is not easy and there are many risks. But that doesn’t matter when I know that I’m going to help and save others.”
For Benjamín, leadership is an important part of his life because of what he has learned in the Active Youth project and in his job as fireman.
“Leadership means dedication, time, love, strength, charisma and service. I am a good example for my community because now I can teach others how to make a difference and share with them the sense of responsibility,” Benjamín says.
To support moms in ensuring their children get a healthy start in life, ChildFund’s early childhood development programs around the world emphasize the importance of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of an infant’s life.
This week, as we rally to support mothers who breastfeed their children, I wanted to share a neat graphic from World Breastfeeding Week.org that illustrates the potential influences on a mother’s decision to breastfeed and to have a positive breastfeeding experience.
The circles of support are Family and Social Network, Healthcare, Workplace and Employment, Government/ Legislation and Response to Crisis or Emergency—all surrounding women in the center circle.
ChildFund India Staff Save Six Children From Being Trafficked
Last week in Udaipur, India, two members of ChildFund’s staff in India were able to thwart a child trafficking situation they spotted while commuting home from the office. One of the employees coordinates ChildFund India’s anti-trafficking project in Udaipur, so he read the signs quickly. The pair ultimately coordinated with local authorities to rescue the children. Read more on ChildFund’s website.
I wanted to remind you of the ongoing ChildFund Alliance campaign to put child protection into the global spotlight.
In 2000, governments and the United Nations created the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), global priorities for reducing poverty worldwide by 2015. That date is almost here, and world leaders are now considering what the post-2015 agenda should be. We have an important issue to raise in that conversation. Although the MDGs have led to much progress, there’s one critical need the goals did not address: child protection.
We believe a focus on child protection can foster a global mindset that prioritizes and protects children. If children grow up in an environment where that is true, they will value their own children the same way.
Join us in letting governments and the U.N. know that we believe child protection is key to ending poverty. Please add your name to the Freedom From Violence and Exploitation petition.
It takes just seconds. The most life-changing acts often do.
As a new college graduate many years ago, I wanted to make a contribution to the community where I was then living (Worcester, Mass.). So I chose to become a big sister with Big Brothers Big Sisters and was matched with an 8-year-old girl, who came from a low-income family. She lived with both parents and several siblings; I guess her parents thought she could benefit from having a little more individual attention.
Sally (not her real name) and I usually got together every weekend and did something fun like baking cookies at my house or going swimming. We had a good time together. Yet, I learned quickly that Sally also expected me to buy her things when we went places. Maybe Sally assumed I had a lot of money, or maybe she was a little spoiled, but I was only one year out of college and paying back my school loans. So when a big traveling fair came to town one weekend, I thought it would a great opportunity to teach Sally a lesson about money.
After buying our tickets and going through the front gates, Sally was really excited when she saw all the rides, games and souvenirs for sale – and she wanted to do everything at once. So I gave her a set amount for the afternoon. She could spend it on anything, but once the money was gone, there would be no more. Sally quickly got into the swing of things, asking me how much everything cost. She spent the afternoon posing questions before she spent anything, if I do A, B or C, how much will I have left? Or which costs more: X or Y? Or how much more does a large drink cost than a small drink – you get the picture.
I was pretty pleased with how the day went, but I hadn’t realized how unusual my economic lesson was for Sally until it came time to go home. Late afternoon had finally arrived and we were both pretty tired from walking around. As the exit gates came into view, I suggested to Sally it was probably time to go home. She looked down at the last few coins in her hand, looked up at me and asked with all sincerity: “How much does it cost to get out?”
Sally ended up teaching me a lesson that day: Never think you really understand someone else’s life experience. Sally wasn’t spoiled. Her family just could never afford to take her anyplace. She never had any money to make decisions about and, therefore, hadn’t had the opportunity to learn about money.
In several of the developing countries where ChildFund works, we partner with an organization called Aflatoun to offer a financial literacy program that helps children learn about the value of money and how to manage it. In additional to financial education, the Aflatoun curriculum addresses social issues, helping children learn about themselves and their rights as children.
While traveling to visit our programs overseas, I have heard some rave reviews about the program. In some instances, grammar school children are becoming small-scale entrepreneurs, saving enough money to help pay their own school fees. The amounts saved are small, of course, but these young people are learning an essential life skill. When you think about it, the less money you have, the more important it is to manage it well as you have little room to make mistakes.
Sally probably has kids of her own by now. I don’t know if my economic lesson made any difference in her life. I only know that our relationship, which lasted a few years, made an impact on mine.
As we continue to sensitize families about the long-term damage that child labor holds for their children, we as consumers can do more to insist on transparency and reform among those who are hiring these children in the first place.
A renewed focus on child labor is long overdue. Read more in my Huffington Post this week.
Excited about ChildFund’s work with children and youth in Guinea last month. We conducted focus group discussions at a youth center ChildFund supports in Dabola. Twenty children (ages 11 to 18) from different communities, schools and ethnic backgrounds participated. This activity was held to get boys and girls talking openly about some of the harsh realities they face. Participants were able to express their feelings, ask questions to confirm their understanding of violence and exploitation and to share their individual experiences.
The youth also were invited to recommend possible actions that will help abate violence and exploitation of children in their communities. I truly believe positive and lasting change starts with children and youth.
As I wrap up my trip to Guatemala, I wanted to tell you about yet another remarkable young woman I met this week who is benefitting from ChildFund programs.
María, 19, is one of 80 girls currently participating in the Strong Families program, a new initiative ChildFund Guatemala is leading with the financial support of UNICEF, the Pan American Health Organization and the World Health Organization.
This program engages teens and builds their awareness of how key decisions impact their lives. The goal is to strengthen relationships among children, youth and their parents and open up honest dialogue around tough topics such as parents’ use of harsh discipline at home, teen pregnancy and early marriage, which is still negatively impacting young girls in Guatemala’s rural indigenous communities. With education and more conversations among peers and families, we’re gradually seeing positive changes for children and youth.
These cultural shifts are being achieved by involving mothers, young girls and community leaders in four municipalities in the Guatemalan provinces of Huehuetenango and Totonicapán.
As María, the oldest of eight siblings, explains: “When I first started participating in this program, I did not have the confidence to talk to my parents about my dreams or what I wanted to do in my life. My father didn’t want me to attend because he said that I was coming only to find a husband. Now they understand that I’m not interested in marrying very young; I have dreams for my life, I want to keep studying, go to university and become an anthropologist.”
Having the support of community leaders like Pedro is critical to the program’s success. “I’m proud and thankful that these dialogues among young girls and their parents are happening, that they all know more now about their rights. This is a positive change,” he says.
“We have learned to motivate our children and recognize their achievements at school and at home,” says Rosa, one of the mothers. “When children receive motivation they open up and share, and we can understand each other better,” she adds.
The Strong Families initiative is already having a positive impact on many young girls. Voices that were not being heard now have a say in decisions that will affect them for the rest of their lives.
Earlier this week, Marcela, 17, who lives in a small village five hours from Guatemala City, opened the door of her home to us. She had a special story to share, as she comes from a community where girls used to marry as young as age 14. Many times the marriages were arranged by parents, or the girls were seeking to escape negligence, poverty or violence at home. Some were pregnant.
Marcela’s path has been different. She started participating in ChildFund programs at the age of 13. “Now, I can say that ChildFund changed my life in many ways,” she says. “I learned about my rights, responsibilities and obligations. I know that both men and women have the same rights and none is better than the other. Also, now I know about my rights as a girl and about my value as a woman that is worth so much and is so special that not even a millionaire would be able to pay for it,” she asserts.
It’s that confidence that gave her the courage to avoid early marriage. “My parents wanted me to get married when I was 14. The family of a neighboring boy came to ask for me, but I didn’t want to [marry] and didn’t know what to do,” she says.
“Look at me,” she exclaims. “I’m very young and skinny, and I started thinking in one year from now I will have children, and I’m not ready. I knew my rights and that no one would be able to force me, and I didn’t accept because I wanted a different future for me and my family. I talked to my parents and told them that I was not prepared, and I really wanted to continue studying and later get married.
“It was not easy,” says Marcela, with tears in her eyes, “but I thank my parents, because at the end, they were able to listen and understood my decision.”
The eldest of four siblings, Marcela is in her third year of secondary school. She says one of her goals is to continue studying and go to college, something that is not very common for girls her age in Guatemala’s rural, indigenous communities.
Marcela´s mother, María, tells us that the ChildFund-supported youth projects in her community have been good for her daughter. “Before, Marcela was a shy girl and she did not like to talk to people. Now, I am also participating as a guide mother, teaching other mothers about how to better raise their children, early stimulation for the little ones, how to play with them and to have a better communication with the elder ones,” says María.
María says she did not know anything about children’s rights when she got married at age 14. At that time she didn’t have another option, as women in her community were not even able to talk in public. Seeing Marcela develop confidence and complete her education is a great source of happiness for María. Marcela is even teaching her mother how to write and read.
“I am proud of myself,” Marcela says, “and I can see how things are changing.” In fact, Marcela has become a role model for other girls in her community. She advocates for girls to continue with their education and delay marriage until they are ready.
Marcela is a good indicator of how aspects of the Guatemalan culture are changing for the better. It’s fantastic to see entire communities break from patterns and traditions that are harmful to children, such as early or forced marriage.
“ChildFund projects for youth and adolescents are making a big difference and promoting social change in our communities,” says Mario Lima, ChildFund’s national director in Guatemala. The programs focus on youth empowerment and children’s rights.
Marcela is actively participating in the Youth Speakers in Action project, which equips adolescents and youth to become leaders in their communities.
Marcela tells me that she wants to continue studying to become a medical doctor. She knows that it is an expensive and a tough career. Yet, I’m confident that Marcela’s dream will become true.
I just met two great children, Gabriela and Gerson, 10 and 8, respectively. These two stood up in front of about 100 people and presented on ChildFund Guatemala’s “I Learn” project, during a special event held in the city of Quetzaltenango.
The “I Learn” project helps children succeed in school by focusing on “improving critical thinking and logic, math and communications skills through reading and writing” explains Julio Tuy, ChildFund manager of the K’iché area, one of the most impoverished areas of Guatemala.
School dropout is a big challenge in this country with great economic disparity. Children sometimes fall behind in learning because they face financial and logistical challenges that keep them from school. Many struggle to work and attend school at the same time. Children in rural areas typically travel long distances to school, and their families simply don’t have the financial resources to support them.
“Children who have fallen behind decide to drop out of school because they feel ashamed of being in a class with younger children who are learning faster,” adds Tuy. Through the “I Learn” project, ChildFund is helping ensure that children master critical basics and stay on track for their grade levels. This initiative is currently reaching more than 8,600 children around the country in 57 schools.
ChildFund has been able to expand the program across Guatemala, working through Ministry of Education alliances to incorporate the methodology into the curriculum. It’s a remarkable achievement. Even more impressive is seeing the skills that these interactive projects are developing in children, and how we are incorporating local cultural elements and materials into the learning process.
Gabriela and Gerson have clearly gained strong communication skills, as they spent a lot of time asking me questions and sharing their achievements and dreams. Both children proudly showed me medals they had won in mathematics and spelling contests in their province.
“When I grow up, I want to continue studying and be a president like you,” says Gabriela. (No, I didn’t prompt her!) Gerson wants to join the army to “help people, and be able to save them from thieves and bandits.”
Great children! I’m looking forward to meeting more as my Guatemalan journey continues this week.
This week I am in Guatemala to visit ChildFund’s programs and meet with children and families. Renowned for its good weather year-round, Guatemala is a beautiful country, rich with Mayan heritage and cultural diversity.
Yet, the people of Guatemala have endured a history of unrest, including an internal conflict that lasted 36 years, resulting in the deaths of more than 200,000 people and the displacement of more than 1 million citizens. Guatemala’s rural majority faces more than just the challenges of a post-conflict society. The rural economy relies almost entirely on natural resources, which are being quickly depleted.
This week, I’ll be meeting with our national office staff and the local partner organizations with which ChildFund collaborates to provide services for children. Together, we are tackling some big challenges in the country including severe malnutrition, violence against children, early marriage and teen pregnancy.
I’m looking forward to reviewing our progress and gaining greater understanding of how we can build even stronger communities that protect children.
For most Americans, the highlight of every summer – besides their own vacations – is the Fourth of July. It’s the perfect time to get together with family and friends, have a great barbecue and take the kids to see fantastic fireworks (which many parents will admit they themselves enjoy).
Before joining ChildFund International, I celebrated almost 20 U.S. Independence Days in developing countries. When you are far away from home, the celebrations take on a special meaning. The American community usually organizes a daylong event of food, games and music – often held at the American school where all our children attend. The American Ambassador is always on hand, and he (yes, it was always a he for me) reads the president’s Fourth of July message – something that most Americans probably don’t pay much attention to back home in the States. But being far from home, it always brought a tear to my eye.
One year in Indonesia, we organized something special – a parade of states. We divided into home state groups, with one person holding a state sign, and then marched into the school grounds to start off the day’s festivities. I was always amazed how many states were represented.
The countries where I lived also had their own versions of independence or national day celebrations, which citizens rightfully celebrated with pride. I guess most countries on earth (not every, but most) have at one time or other in their history been under the domination of a foreign power. Gaining sovereignty is one type of independence.
The other type of independence – the one I have spent my life working on – is independence from poverty. Many children are born into poverty – they inherit it at birth. But unlike political independence where all citizens of a country can gain freedom simultaneously, independence from poverty is fought for and earned one person at a time.
The children with whom ChildFund works came into poverty through their parents. It is not something that they chose, and the depth and overwhelming nature of this poverty is something that many Americans, I believe, have a hard time fully comprehending. According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty and every year, 3.5 million children die from undernutrition.
As we work with communities and also focus on individual children, ChildFund’s goal is for each child in our care to grow up healthy, educated and with opportunities to contribute. We want them to break the bonds of generational poverty, so their own children will inherit opportunity. With the help of many supporters, ChildFund is getting the job done – one child at a time.
Imagine one day the countries of the world celebrating “Independence From Poverty” day. I hope I’m around to join in the celebration.
President Obama is wrapping up his trip to Africa, which included a visit to Senegal last week. Although my own visit to ChildFund’s programs in Senegal a few years ago did not get the same kind of press coverage that the president’s did (actually, it had no press coverage at all!), it was still a memorable trip.
ChildFund has been working in Senegal since 1985, offering many programs to improve the lives of vulnerable children. We are placing major emphasis on extending basic health care services for mothers and children living in remote, rural areas. Working in partnership with USAID and other community development organizations, ChildFund is supporting establishment of more than 2,000 fully functional health huts and 1,717 outreach sites in Senegal, while helping develop a national community health policy. At the end of this five-year project, ChildFund will have assisted more than 9 million Senegalese people in 71 districts.
My trip was focused on those rural communities, meeting with children, parents and community leaders and touring the health huts we helped establish to provide those much-needed basic health services like vaccinations, treatment of diarrhea and malaria and other lifesaving interventions.
Although I prefer to arrive quietly in a village and have a low-key visit, it was not to be in the villages I visited in Senegal. Once they heard the president of ChildFund was visiting, an elaborate and warm welcome was planned. However, Mother Nature didn’t cooperate on that day. The welcoming speeches had just begun in the local schoolyard when the skies opened up and it started to pour. Hundreds of people made a mad dash for the school buildings and crowded into whatever dry space they could find. The welcoming ceremony continued as best as it could in the crowded space; it was a little chaotic, but spirits were high, with lots of singing and laughter.
Of course, just as things were wrapping up, the sun came out. As I made my way out through the crowded and drenched schoolyard, trying as much as possible to avoid the mud, I was stopped by a big mud puddle, too big to jump over. Suddenly a traditional band with four or five players appeared on the opposite side of the puddle. Obviously disappointed that their performance had been cancelled due to the rain, they seized the opportunity of finding me still on the grounds and began to play.
What stands out most in my mind from that day was one of the dancers. As he was getting into the music, he glanced down at the enormous mud puddle, shrugged his shoulders slightly (as if to say, “whatever”) and flipped over – dancing to the music on his hands in the middle of the muddy water. Hand dancing was obviously a big part of their act, and he was determined not to let a little mud stop the show!
I don’t know what will stick in President Obama’s mind after his trip to Senegal. For me, in addition to my “mud dancer,” it is the warmth of the Senegalese people and the determination of the families I met to bring up happy and healthy children. ChildFund is proud to be their partner.