We’re thrilled and proud to hear that Procter & Gamble’s Children’s Safe Drinking Water project has delivered its 7 billionth liter of water to a family in Brazil. ChildFund has had a longtime partnership with P&G in efforts to disrupt poverty worldwide, and this project — part of P&G’s commitment to the Clinton Global Initiative to save one life an hour by 2020 — is very close to our hearts. Clean water is a necessity for children everywhere to achieve their potential.   

#TBT - A July 2012 visit to ChildFund’s programs in Zambia. We’re washing our hands at a borehole in Kafue. Don’t forget, World Water Day is coming up soon! 

#TBT - A July 2012 visit to ChildFund’s programs in Zambia. We’re washing our hands at a borehole in Kafue. Don’t forget, World Water Day is coming up soon! 

Report From Timor-Leste

image

A warm Timorese welcome at Raifun Primary School.

This week I’ve been in Timor-Leste visiting ChildFund’s programs for children. Not many people have even heard of the place. Timor-Leste is, in fact, a remote and small country in Southeast Asia. There are only a few flights daily to its capital, Dili, so it made me smile when starting our descent, the captain announced we would be delayed due to congestion on the airstrip. 

Timor-Leste celebrated its status as a new nation only 12 years ago after a bloody conflict with Indonesia. In that short time, it has made great strides, given the scale of the development and security challenges it has faced. As a result of the violence that followed the 1999 vote for independence, most of the country’s infrastructure was destroyed, the economy was devastated, and there were no functioning government institutions left. The country was essentially starting from scratch. Countries emerging from conflict can take 30 or 40 years to get to middle income levels and, as my experience in Somalia shows, many never make it, falling back into conflict. 

Timor-Leste has come a long way, although it still faces many challenges. Despite the country’s growing petroleum wealth, the country is still one of the poorest in the world. Many people still lack basic services, particularly outside the capital. Private sector development remains constrained by a poorly educated population, weak public institutions and unreliable electricity, transport and telecommunications. These factors have made it difficult for Timor-Leste to move away from its dependence on oil and create jobs for its growing population. 

But there are signs that things are improving. The number of people living below the poverty line is falling. More children are being vaccinated, and the country is on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal for reduced child mortality. More women are receiving care from skilled health workers during pregnancy and childbirth, and the number of children enrolled in school is increasing. Thousands more people have better water and sanitation services, relieving them of the back-breaking task of collecting water of dubious quality. 

ChildFund assists communities in remote areas, and no visit is complete without a long drive on a bad road. West of Dili, the coastal road twists and turns, with jungle-laden hills to the left and bronze-colored beaches to the right. Today, I am visiting Maliana, where ChildFund sponsors 1,600 children. In this poor farming community, most parents grow rice, cassava and corn, and raise pigs, cows and chicken. Children have other ambitions. They tell me they don’t want to become farmers and work in the fields; they want to study at university in Dili. 

Carlos, age 16 and sponsored through ChildFund, tells me he wants to go to university to study economics. Abaya has similar dreams. She tells me she wants to go to university in the capital, where three of her brothers are already studying, to study medicine and become a doctor. In Libania’s wooden house, I notice a computer. She says, “ChildFund provided my family with a cow a few years ago. Now we have eight cows. We recently sold one to buy a computer. It’s very important I learn how to use a computer if I am to get a good job.” 

image

A visit with Libania and her mother.

Youth unemployment is a huge issue in Timor-Leste. Many young adults drop out of school with no skills. ChildFund provides market-driven training opportunities to help youths develop vocational skills so that they can provide for their families. In Maliana, ChildFund supports carpentry training, where I meet Felipe, a confident 25-year-old. 

“I was keen to learn a new skill because I didn’t want to become a farmer like my parents,” he says. “The training gave me a way out and confidence. When I successfully completed the course last year, ChildFund gave me tools and equipment to start my own business. At first, it was tough. I had no money to buy wood. Now I employ two young people and pass on to them what I have learned. There is great demand for my skill. I make doors, beds and other furniture using local wood. I have made a profit of $1,800 in the last six months, which is a great help to my family. I hope to take on more staff in the future.” 

image

Felipe, a participant in a carpentry program.

In Tunubibi village (literally “barbecued goat”), it looks like everyone has turned up for my visit. I’m here to inaugurate a new early childhood development center. In Timor-Leste, only one in 10 children has access to pre-primary education, and improving access and quality of early years development is one of ChildFund’s priorities in the country. As I cut the ribbon and open the new center, I am happy to see the bright classrooms, with running water and clean toilets. We are providing teacher training, educational materials, desks and chairs (produced by the youth carpenters!). 

I also distribute shoes to excited children. The shoes were provided by TOMS Shoes, with whom ChildFund partners. TOMS’ One for One™ program gives a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair of shoes sold. And TOMS plans to send shoes for the children not just one time but repeatedly, as they grow. Today the children can barely contain their excitement as I fit shoes on their feet. “I go to school barefoot,” one child told me. “My friends will not laugh at me anymore.”

“I like my new shoes. I like the black color,” another child exclaimed. “Thanks to TOMS, I got a new pair of shoes.”

image

Trying on shoes.

Parents also voiced their appreciation. “ChildFund is doing a lot for our children. This will help retain our children in schools and fewer children will suffer from foot disease. Most parents are unable to buy a pair of shoes for their children,” one parent told us.

ChildFund is doing some great work in Timor-Leste, and I was happy to visit for the first time and see our programs. For such a young country, it has already made great strides. 

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.

‘Polygamy Is Illegal; Sign on the Dotted Line’

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. 

image

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!

image

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.

Where Have All Your Resolutions Gone?

With just two weeks into the New Year, how well are you doing with keeping your new year’s resolutions? How is the diet going? Has your personal vice (chocolate, potato chips, ice cream, Big Macs, pizzas, you name it) become a long-distance friend, or is it still your daily buddy? What about that exercising? Does your car know the way to the gym, or are your sneakers still gathering dust in the corner of your closet? Are your charge cards getting bored, or are they still hot to the touch? Has your husband/wife, mom/dad, sister/brother, son/daughter, best friend, work colleague or long lost soulmate noticed a change in your attitude/temper/attentiveness or acts of kindness?

Do you think New Year’s resolutions are a luxury that only those who have enough to live on can make? Meaning, do you think people living in poverty make new year’s resolutions as well? 

To be honest, I never thought about that question before. As president of ChildFund, I travel a lot for my job and get to meet and talk with children and young people living in poverty in the 30 countries where we work. I ask them lots of questions, but I never ask them if they make new year’s resolutions. So I really don’t really know the answer. But I do ask them if they have dreams for the future.

Miguel, 9, of Guatemala, hopes to be a doctor.

The vast majority of kids I talk to do have dreams — they want to make a better life for themselves than the one into which they were born. Sometimes I think one of the most important parts of ChildFund’s work is building a child’s self-esteem and self-confidence — helping them believe that they deserve something better in life and, if they work at it, they can achieve it. The other part of our work, of course, is providing them the health, education and skill-building programs they need to achieve that better life.  

Archana of India received a bicycle from ChildFund to ride to school.

So, a lot of resolutions might not have been developed as the minutes ticked down to midnight on Dec. 31 in the slums of Nairobi or the mountains of Bolivia or in the struggling newest country of Timor-Leste, but there are millions of children and young people who are determined to get out of poverty and make a better life for themselves.

That brings me back to your new year’s resolutions. It’s not too late to cut back on your personal food vice, get out those sneakers, cut up that credit card or do an unexpected kindness for your mom (as a mom, that is my favorite resolution). It’s also not too late to start making a difference in the life of someone else, including a child that might not make resolutions but does create big dreams. Think about it.

[Self-confession on my own resolutions — my food vices are (temporarily) under control, but the gym membership is still under-utilized.]