Here’s a dispatch from my visit to Timor-Leste. Top: Early Childhood Development center tutors in Leopa. Lower left: Carpentry students raise their hands, indicating that they did not get to finish school. Lower right: The school-based group Children Against Violence sings a song advocating children’s rights at the inauguration of Tunubibi ECD center. Next stop: The Philippines.
#GuardianCam this week: Mark Tran is in Cebu & Tacloban in the Philippines, which bore the brunt of typhoon Haiyan leaving 8,000 dead or missing. He sends this update:
Gomercino Sayong has been a coconut farmer for 29 years and lives in Camote village near Tacloban city. Typhoon Haiyan destroyed his 1,200 trees on the hillside behind his house. “For coconut farmers it’s back to zero,” he said
Food aid arriving in Ormoc City in the Philippines.
In a couple of weeks, I will be traveling to the Philippines to see firsthand ChildFund’s programs to help children and communities recover from the terrible typhoon that devastated that country in November last year. I am not a stranger to disaster response, having been involved in many emergencies during my career.
In the early 1980s, I was stationed in Somalia, involved in efforts to support 1 million Ethiopians who had fled the drought in their homeland, looking for food and water in Somalia. I clearly remember taking my newborn son with me to the reception camp near the border, where the Ethiopian refugees received their first food after walking over semi-arid land for days and weeks while seeking help. I remember the embarrassment I felt having such a healthy baby in comparison to the emaciated children I met.
In the mid-1980s in Bangladesh, a “flood of the decade” hit the country, and I was tasked with coordinating the emergency response for my organization. I visited a school by boat, which literally floated through the front door of the school. Although the first floor was flooded, the upper two floors provided dry but extremely crowded living quarters for thousands of families. The expression “the size of a postage stamp” could have been invented there, considering the few square feet each family had and the total lack of privacy. I remember thinking that as crazy as it seemed, children would be conceived there – such crowding made the space insecure for women, and sexual assaults would surely occur.
Fast track to the Rwanda genocide in the mid-90s. As the chaos started, Rwandans started fleeing any way they could, and foreigners were evacuating the country, going by convoy across the border into Kenya. I had visited the country one month earlier but was back in the U.S. when the mass killings began. I was trying to arrange for our staff to leave, but our country director refused, as we had some staff members out in the field, and he wouldn’t leave until he was sure they had reached safety. Getting a U.S. flag for his car and some gasoline from the Embassy, he drove through the chaos to rescue them, redefining the word “hero” for me. At the same time, I was on the phone to his parents in California, trying to explain what he was doing during this horrific bloodbath.
In the late ’90s, I worked in what was for me a very strange emergency. NATO had just started bombing Kosovo, and thousands of Kosovars fled the fighting and crossed into Macedonia. Refugee camps were quickly set up. But these weren’t the refugees I was used to dealing with elsewhere – these were middle-class folks who suddenly found themselves without a home. In the camps, we were giving out disposable diapers and bottles of water. Diabetes was a bigger problem than malnutrition. I remember a woman asking for a nail file! But life is always miserable in a camp, despite everyone’s best efforts. With physical health not being such a huge problem as usual, the depression was so much more obvious on everyone’s faces.
Our response in Palo and Talosa, two hard-hit Philippines communities.
I wonder what my memories will be from my upcoming trip to the Philippines. Stay tuned for some blog posts and pictures that I will post about ChildFund’s work.
Caio, a 15-year-old boy who takes part in ChildFund Brasil’s Photovoice program, is one of 10 teens who won the World Health Organization’s photo contest. Caio’s now taking pictures for a May report on adolescent health. Click here to see some of Caio’s winning photos.
I will soon be celebrating my 33rd wedding anniversary, or as my husband likes to say, our 65th anniversary. You see, my husband and I were married twice — once in Kenya, where we met while I was a Peace Corps volunteer, and seven months later in the United States, surrounded by our family and friends at my church. Although we celebrate both anniversaries each year (that’s how we reach the number 65), the January anniversary is always special. It is not only our legal wedding date, but it holds such unique memories.
On our wedding day.
In January 1981, we married in a civil ceremony at the attorney general’s building in Nairobi. My memory of the very short ceremony was the presiding official telling us, in essence, “Polygamy is illegal; now, please sign on the dotted line.” My marriage certificate identifies me as a “spinster,” something I had a hard time swallowing with my “woman’s libber” mindset at the time.
After the ceremony, we went off to the Hilton hotel for some sandwiches with a few friends to celebrate. (Remember, volunteers live on very little money.) When we reminisce about the day, my husband always likes to remind me how I spent the morning writing up a report about a nutrition survey while he was off buying flowers and renting a car to take us to the ceremony. It’s proof, he says, that he is more of a romantic than I am!
The “romantic” Andrew buying flowers in Nairobi.
Although that first wedding day was somewhat unconventional, it was without doubt a joyous event for me. I was marrying the man I loved. What I have learned through my work at ChildFund is that not all marriages are such joyful occasions. Each year 14 million girls under the age of 18 are forced into early marriages, which leave them vulnerable to many risks, including domestic abuse, illness and dying during childbirth. Even if their husbands are not abusive, young married girls rarely get the chance to complete their educations or attain economic independence, which negatively affects the whole family.
In The Gambia, ChildFund and one of our local partner organizations helped a 15-year-old girl named Ramatoulie avoid a marriage to an older man. “My father said he didn’t have any money to pay for school,” Ramatoulie told a ChildFund staff member. “The teachers and the local community organization said they would support me.” Ramatoulie is now living in a safe home and remains in school today, unmarried. She also belongs to a club called Speak Out! that gives boys and girls the skills they need to deal with obstacles facing them in their educations.
To end, I want to share with you the secret I’ve learned to a long and happy marriage: Marry someone who shares your values. Over the lifetime of a marriage, many things will change, and many challenges will occur. But if you and your spouse share similar values — something more important than shared interests, friends, backgrounds or even religion — and draw on those values when making life decisions, then you will have a greater chance of having that long and happy marriage everyone desires.
Reflecting the differences in the range of responses from around the world, 90 percent of the children in Cambodia believe that alcohol is the chief cause of violence against children in their country.
Children are very honest about what they see around them; they have an incredible gift for insight, even into the not-so-obvious. Read more in my HuffPost about our Small Voices, Big Dreams survey.