Tag Archives: Africa

Village Savings and Loan Makes a Difference for a Ugandan Family

Reporting by ChildFund Uganda staff

Agnes Akello used to sell tomatoes and fish at a roadside market in Uganda. But when a Village Savings and Loan Association started in her community in 2012, she joined and later borrowed 400,000 shillings (about US$155).

“I would never have been able to access this amount of money in this village,” says the mother of four.

Agnes in Uganda

Agnes assists a customer at her stall.

Agnes used the loan to start a sorghum-selling business. She buys sorghum, a grain used for food and livestock fodder, during the harvesting season when it is plentiful and sells it at a higher price during the dry season. She also expanded her petty trade business, which she says earns her more money now than before.

The VSLA group, which started with the assistance of ChildFund Ireland’s Communities Caring for Children Programme in Agnes’ village, meets every Friday to make loans and take in money. The group’s current loan portfolio is US$1,100, and members plan to save even more.

Agnes, who has been chairperson of her 30-member VSLA group since its inception in 2012, says she is proud of the fact that she now makes a meaningful contribution to her family’s well-being. “My greatest joy is in seeing my children go to school, get good medical services, proper food and clothing, which was very difficult before, considering that my husband is only a farmer. My whole life has changed,” she says with a smile.

Survey Shows Americans Severely Underestimate Number of Child Laborers

By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

The number of children and youths who work — whether they’re paid or unpaid — is notoriously hard to pin down. Many countries have laws against employing children, but industries still continue to use child laborers despite legal and social consequences.

What number would you guess is accurate? A million? Six million? Ten?

Not even close.

Bolivian shoeshiner

A Bolivian boy shines shoes in Tarija. This photo was entered in a 2012 youth photography contest held by ChildFund Bolivia.

The estimated number of child laborers ages 5 to 14 is 150 million, according to UNICEF. But only 1 percent of 1,022 Americans in a recent survey conducted for ChildFund answered correctly; 73 percent said less than 1 million children are engaged in labor in developing countries. 

Other statistics reported in the survey, which was conducted in late June by Ipsos Public Affairs, are more encouraging; a majority of respondents say they’re willing to pay more for clothing produced without the use of child laborers, and 77 percent say they would stop purchasing clothing from labels that are found to use child labor. That’s good.

But it’s important for children all over the world — including those risking their lives in African gold mines, spending hours in the sun harvesting sugarcane in the Philippines, burning their fingers while making glass bangles at home in India or working for no money at all, as hundreds of thousands of Brazilian children do — for Americans to be more aware of the scope of the problem.

girl making bangles

An Indian girl, Sarita, makes bangles.

Almost one in six children ages 5 to 14 in developing countries are engaged in labor; aside from the potential physical hazards, these children are unlikely to complete their education. And thus the generational cycle of poverty continues. ChildFund supports many programs that assist families caught in this vicious circle by providing training for safer, more stable ways to earn income, giving assistance to children and youth to keep them in school longer and working with entire communities to discourage the employment of children.

The missing piece here is broader awareness in the United States and other prosperous countries. Child labor is a worldwide problem that touches everyone in some way, and we need to use this knowledge to engage and educate industries on how to change their practices and stop exploiting children.

ChildFund The Gambia Launches Alumni Association

 By Ya Sainey Gaye, ChildFund The Gambia

A group of 37 formerly sponsored children — now young adults — have formed an alumni association in The Gambia. They hope to increase awareness of ChildFund’s sponsorship program at a community level, as well as ChildFund-supported projects that improve education, early childhood development, health care and other needs.

Gambian alumni

The ChildFund The Gambia alumni association.

“To ChildFund The Gambia, I have to say that you have indeed restored and nurtured the hopes and aspirations of over 20,000 people in this country through your sponsorship program, which all of us here today benefited from,” said Alieu Jawo, who was elected chairperson of the alumni group. “This is indeed a divine investment.”

Alieu, who is now 35, runs a graphic design and printing company, owns a general merchandise brokerage and serves as a shareholder and director of an insurance firm.

The Gambia alumni chair

Alieu is now chairperson-elect of the alumni group.

“My inclusion into the sponsorship program brought hope and joy to me and my entire family,” Alieu said, “as it was a serious nightmare for an ordinary farmer like my dad and any other average farmer to be able to send his or her kid to high school. There were no good ones around my village or region.”

But with the help of his ChildFund sponsor, who paid his school fees above and beyond the monthly sponsorship, Alieu was able to excel at primary school and continue his education. Other alumni echoed Alieu’s story.

“I was privileged because it gave me the opportunity to continue my education,” said 30-year-old Fatou Bojang, who received shoes and medical supplies too. “That meant less worry and burden on my parents.”

ChildFund The Gambia hosted the forum to formally launch the alumni association in Bwiam. Participants received a briefing on ChildFund’s organizational structure, a refresher on its mission and overviews of ChildFund’s five-year strategic plan and The Gambia’s strategic plan.

Equipped with a better understanding of ChildFund’s operations in The Gambia, the group drafted a constitution and nominated candidates for an executive board. Then the members cast votes.

Fatou and child

Fatou, a former sponsored child, is now a mother, senior researcher and a part-time college lecturer.

Staff from ChildFund’s national office challenged the participants to continue to make time for the alumni association, to work in their communities and to assist ChildFund as partners to promote child development and protection. The alumni, who well recall what sponsorship means to them, expressed optimism for the future.

“My enrollment in ChildFund sponsorship program really did contribute to what I am today,” noted Demba Sowe, 37. “I am now a father of five and an interpreter at the judiciary of The Gambia.”

Hardships in Zambia’s School System

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.

Zambian children with mothers

John and Gracious, pictured with their mothers.

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.

Zambian community leaders at school

Community leaders meet at a new school.

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.

The Isolation and Hardships of Refugees

By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist

What would you take if you were forced to flee your home?

Imagine you’re one of 44 million refugees around the world. With little or no warning, you must leave your home under threat of persecution, conflict or violence. Look around. Everywhere, people are running from all that’s familiar: Nearly one in two refugees is a child; two in five are women. In a single moment, people can lose everything.

Ivory Coast refugees

Children from war-torn Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) stayed at a refugee camp in Liberia in 2011.

In the chaos of war and conflict, children often end up unaccompanied, alone or left behind to experience events no child should ever see — all without the protection of family or the routine of school. Life in exile averages 17 years, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). If you had time to find only one thing to carry with you, what would it be?

Today, on World Refugee Day, we ask you to walk in solidarity beside those children who are still in transit.

Resettlement, Integration, Return

Consider Liberia. Last year the UNHCR completed repatriation of more than 155,000 Liberians scattered throughout West Africa — 23 years after the start of the civil war. ChildFund works in Liberia and also in The Gambia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, where Liberian refugees found shelter while the conflict in their country raged from 1989 to 2003.

Even when violence ends and peace and stability are restored, returning home may not be easy. In 2011, when I was teaching at Guinea’s national polytechnic university several of my young colleagues were Liberian refugees. They no longer spoke English — their native country’s official language — having received their entire education in Guinea’s French-speaking schools.

As the U.N. resettled and integrated the final 724 Liberians who had lived in Guinea, uprisings in neighboring Mali spiraled out of control. Displaced Malians scurried to safety in Senegal and Guinea — the same sanctuaries coveted by those escaping Côte d’Ivoire’s (Ivory Coast) election violence in 2011, as well as those fleeing the 2012 military coup in Guinea-Bissau.

Joining Mali on the International Rescue Committee’s (IRC) list of current hot spots are Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Where do refugees from these conflicts first seek asylum? They cross the borders into ChildFund countries Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. 

During 2007, I worked in Busia, a border town split between Uganda and Kenya. Refugees — mainly Somalis, Sudanese and Congolese — comprised 20 percent of Busia’s population on the Uganda side. By the end of that year, election violence in Kenya drove hundreds of thousands across the border at Busia, creating a humanitarian crisis in Uganda. A bitter irony of conflict and disaster in the developing world is that neighboring countries are the least equipped to support an influx of refugees.

Indonesia refugee camp

These children from Indonesia had to abandon their homes after a volcano erupted in 2010.

The IRC, which resettles more refugees and asylum seekers outside their native lands than any other organization worldwide, maintains a permanent watch list of four countries. Of these, ChildFund works in three: Sri Lanka, Indonesia and the Philippines. The IRC considers Sri Lanka vulnerable because of prolonged ethnic conflicts, while Indonesia and the Philippines experience nearly constant and unprecedented natural disasters.

ChildFund believes that a single family torn apart by war or natural disaster is one too many. We invest in disaster preparedness training in the countries we serve. Please take a minute to help us reduce the number of child refugees through a contribution to our emergency fund, ChildAlert.

Before joining ChildFund in 2012, Meg served in the Peace Corps’ health and education programs in Senegal, Uganda and Guinea. Between posts, she designed short-term projects for children and youth in Thailand and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. And stateside, she tutored two young girls whose family sought political asylum here from Iraq.

Children Urge African Leaders to Take Action

We could not be prouder of the children from ChildFund programs who participated in last week’s Day of the African Child events held at the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Facing many challenges, including harmful social and cultural practices across the continent, these children urged the African Union, its member states and partners to take a stand to protect children and allow them to become educated, healthy and fulfilled adults.

group of African children

Children from several countries gathered at the African Union headquarters for the Day of the African Child.

Children from Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, The Gambia, Kenya, Mozambique and Zambia attended the event. Below is the platform the children adopted and presented:

AU member states:

a)     To ratify and domesticate all international and regional treaties relevant to the protection of children from harmful social and cultural practices.

b)     To harmonize national laws with other international and regional standards on the prevention and protection of children from harmful social and cultural practices, in particular Article 21 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.

c)     To openly condemn practices that harm the physical and mental integrity of children.

d)     To provide free and high-quality health services for children affected by harmful social and cultural practices, and expand social-protection and child-rights systems to increase access to integrated quality services to children.

e)     To establish data systems reflecting age and gender disaggregated data on the nature and magnitude of these practices.

f)       To put in place mechanisms and institutions, including a national strategy, policy and plan of action, for the implementation, enforcement, monitoring and reporting, along with financial and human resources.

g)     To submit a report within three months to the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) on the implementation of activities organized during the 2013 Day of the African Child.

Zambian girl

Seveliya, 13, of Zambia, spoke during the conference.

AU member states in collaboration with partners (regional economic communities, parliaments, UN agencies, international and regional organizations, the media):

a)     To advocate and promote the total elimination and abandonment of harmful social and cultural practices in Africa through awareness and social mobilization to change attitudes and influence behavior.

b)     To support the strengthening of the social workforce and social protection mechanisms so as to deliver effective quality social services for affected children, especially young girls, as well as provide love and care to affected children.

c)     To support meaningful participation and representation of children, families and communities, including children with disabilities and other vulnerable groups, in efforts to combat harmful social and cultural practices.

d)     To ensure African governments take children’s issues seriously, provide them with a voice to speak on their own, as well as respect their views and ideas of children.

e)     To strengthen collaboration with various stakeholders, such as the parliaments, media, schools, institutions of higher learning, traditional and religious leaders, civil society organizations, children and youth, as agents of positive change.

f)       To strengthen cross-border and cross-regional cooperation so as to protect children from the impact of harmful practices.

g)     To facilitate quality education to all children and provide integrated life skills to affected children, especially young adolescent boys and girls.

h)     To conduct research to inform national policy and action on the elimination of harmful practices.

Partners:

a)     To monitor progress and the accountability of governments in the implementation of standards for the protection of children.

b)     To organize advocacy campaigns and youth-led actions to eliminate harmful social and cultural practices.

c)     To provide financial resources and technical assistance targeting comprehensive and inter-agency programs and strategies that address the needs and priorities of children subjected to harmful social and cultural practices.

Adopted on Friday, 14th June 2013, at the African Union Commission Headquarters, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Children’s Rights in the Spotlight on Day of the African Child

By Tenagne Mekonnen, ChildFund Africa Regional Communications Manager

Here in Africa, it is a crucial time for focusing on the rights of children in Africa, as we prepare for the Day of the African Child on June 16. 

This annual event, supported by member countries of the African Union, commemorates the day in 1976 when hundreds of schoolchildren were killed in Soweto, South Africa, while participating in a nonviolent protest against an inferior and discriminatory educational system and for the right to be taught in their own language.

The day also draws attention to the need to improve the condition and well-being of children across the African continent. This year’s theme is “Eliminating Harmful and Social Practices Against Children: Our Responsibility.”

“The event should remind us all of our duty, as citizens of Africa and as friends, to promote the rights of the child on the continent,” said Jumbe Sebunya, ChildFund regional director for East and Southern Africa. “In Africa today there is some progress achieved for children in the areas of education, gender equity, HIV, AIDS and others.” Yet, with children making up a significant portion of the world population (in some countries more than  50 percent),  Sebunya said that governments, civil society organizations  and other key development partners must keep children’s well-being and rights central to any and all sustainable development efforts in Africa.

African children arriving

Children supported by ChildFund arrive in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for the Day of the African Child celebration.

ChildFund marks the Day of the African Child at all levels, using the occasion as an opportunity for children to speak out about the importance of children’s rights.

ChildFund’s Africa regional office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, is excited to welcome children’s delegations from our programs in Mozambique, Zambia, Kenya, The Gambia and Ethiopia this week. Children and youth events celebrating the Day of the African Child took place June 14 in the African Union’s headquarters, the same place where national leaders make decisions for the continent.

The young delegates led the conference, engaging in intergenerational dialogue and weaving in arts, poems and music. It was their day, and they wanted to make sure that everyone heard their message.

In addition, I am working with ChildFund’s national office in Mozambique on its own Day of the African Child celebration. Mozambique’s government is one of many African countries that have not yet submitted a report about children’s rights to the African Union.

ChildFund (in cooperation with Plan International, another child-focused organization) is sending a group of experts to Mozambique this week to make a special request of the government that the report be submitted. We are working to keep children’s rights in the spotlight.

Below is a video of Seveliya, a 13-year-old girl from Zambia, speaking at the African Union as part of the Day of the African Child celebration: