Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Community Owns this Center

By Stephanie Kulenguski, Web Content Editor

As we bump along the red-dirt road on our way to see an Early Childhood Development program (my first program visit) my mind wanders. What I am going to see? What will the staff talk about? Will the kids want to meet me or will they shy away from me? Anticipation wells up in me and I get that butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling. I am prepared through; I have my notepad, pen and water bottle (just in case I get dehydrated from talking too much.)

I focus my attention on the surrounding scenery outside the CCF truck. We are passing through a market near Kampala, Uganda. Bright colors detail the ramshackle-booths we pass – almost neon-green plantains are EVERYWHERE, a staple in Ugandan diet, and not just individual plantains (bananas), large stalks hold at least 4 dozen of these small plantains. There are tomatoes, cassava, corn, eggplants and to my fascination – large stalks of sugarcane, we ride by a man precariously balancing his sugarcane load on the back of his bike.

The road splits and we veer to the right, I see the sign for the Gayaza Early Childhood Development Center and know we are near! The driver slows as he makes a left onto a small dirt road, I notice the cow tied up by the side of the road grazing on a patch of grass, past the cow is a long white building, we have arrived!

I am immediately greeted by many staff that usher me into the main office to discuss the program. Staff debriefed me on the ECD center, I learned that the center had been opened since 2002 and served children from infancy through age 8. Currently about 50-60 children attend this center. Some of the services they provide include:

-Training for caregivers and parents
-Growth monitoring
-Play materials and workshops on how to build toys from readily available materials
-A resting area (which is essentially a cot or bed, they do not have a nap time since children only attend the center for half-days)
-One – two meals a day at the center
-Administration of Child Development Scale

I find all this very interesting but what interests me more and becomes clear to me is that CCF does not own this program -- the community does. The community gives input on how the program should be run, what the needs of the children are and that EVERYONE (parents and caregivers) all volunteer. They help prepare breakfast and or lunch, they help attend the children during center hours and help to tend the center’s garden. The community gives the advice and feedback on how the center should be run -- it is the community’s ECD center.

After a very exciting and informative tour it is time for me to leave. When leaving I look back out the rear window, the staff waves their goodbyes but what I notice is a young girl who is cared for by her grandmother (her parents have died) standing by herself against the wall of the center -- she may be standing alone, but she is definitely not on her own, she is supported by staff, CCF, her grandmother, mothers assisting at the center and the community, they are all supporting her, standing behind her -- even when she stands by herself.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Bright Futures for Children and Youth in The Gambia

By Cynthia Price, Director of Communications

Following lunch we travel to Somita Village. The children are dressed in plaid green uniforms and greet us with several songs. They present a drama about the value of education. A father does not want his daughter to attend school but the mother begs him to allow the girl to attend so that she can have a better life. He finally agrees. The daughter jumps up and down and says, “I am happy my father lets me go to school.”

We visit several of the classrooms. The rooms are clean, bright, and cheerful. The walls are decorated with appropriate educational information. In the classrooms for the younger children, the colors are listed on the walls as are the days of the week. Blocks of paper are filled in with a specific color, showing that the children are working on learning their colors.

Several villagers are at work in the kitchen. The children eat at school because they often have to travel great distances to get there. At school children learn to eat a balanced meal. Again, they can take that knowledge home and share it with their family.
After visiting several classroom we also visit the Somita Health Center. About 100 people are treated each month on an out-patient basis.

From there we travel to Sibanor Village. The rains continue. At this point we are no longer on paved roads, but rather dirt roads that are now mud from the rains. Potholes and culverts must be avoided and the rain creates a layer that is almost as slick as ice. The driver is attentive and gets us to each of our destinations safely and without incident.

At the Sibanor Village we hear from the younger children who sing a welcoming song, “Wherever You Come From.” The older youth share their experiences with Junior Achievement. In this village 32 youth are participating. Hatab, one of the youth, says, “We are learning about disciplined money habits that we hope will continue into adulthood.”

Several commented that while they don’t have much money, they used to spend all that they had. “Now, we’re learning how to save and to budget,” one youth said.

They are five months into the program and are identifying opportunities. Their goal is to operate three businesses within the community. They are considering a gas station, herding of animals, and even a manufacturing enterprise.

Anne tells the group, “When trying to think of a business, think of what the people will buy.”

We then learn about the Water Pyramid. Sibanor is the main village in this part of The Gambia and for years there was limited healthy drinking water. Women had to wait in line at the few working wells. Then a few years ago, Ding Ding Bantaba Child and family Support Association and CCF The Gambia succeeded in getting a water project grant funded by World Bank through a Dutch organization. The system uses boreholes and rainwater collection techniques that provide up to 5,000 liters of clean water per day. It also provides distilled waters, which the villages are working to market and sell, thereby providing additional funds to the village.

This is the last program we are scheduled to visit. Throughout our visits, we have been shown great hospitality. Anne and I are both amazed and inspired by the dancing and joy of the villagers. We saw first hand how sponsorships and donations are changing the lives of the children and youth, and, ultimately, the villages. We saw children learning about how to lead healthier lives. They shared the messages with us, and we know they are sharing the messages at home where they also are changing attitudes for the better.

We heard first hand the importance of education. The youth talked about their commitment to staying in school. They also shared about the importance of learning skills that they can use throughout their lives and the importance of saving the money they earn. It’s clear that many of these youths will grow up to be leaders of the future.

Although there are obstacles to overcome, the children and youth clearly have hope and brighter futures. As Anne noted, “CCF has created a revolution in the community.”

I know we’ll be hearing more from these children and youth. I look forward to that day.

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Listening to the Voices of Youth

By Cynthia Price, Director of Communications
We are now in The Gambia. A brief plane ride (less than 30 minutes gets us to this country that is carved out of the middle of Senegal.

Although it is the rainy season, we had encountered little rain in Senegal and virtually none in Dakar. However, it’s a different story here in The Gambia. The rains are definitely upon us. At times the rain beats down so hard it is difficult to hear.

We travel to Kaira Nyining Federation, which is a short drive from the CCF Gambia National Office. By the time we arrive, the rains have stopped. The mud, however, is everywhere and we step carefully.

The rains create a good backdrop, though, for the morning’s presentation. “It is very appropriate to have so much water today,” Anne says, “because water is life and the youth are the life of the community.”

We are in the federation’s building and in the front sit the community’s leaders. In the back are the youth. One day soon, those same youth will be sitting in the front as the leaders of the community. These youth are part of the Combo East Youth and Children Development Association.

Omar Cham, a youth who is active in the association, gives an overview of the highly successful program. He shares how CCF has assisted youth in a variety of capacities, including paying for school fees or building homes.

He notes, “As youth we believe in coming together to participate in support for our health. We don’t want to be school drop-outs. We have the opportunity to go to school, which is the key to life.”

He shares how many of the youth are involved in Junior Achievement, a program new to The Gambia, but one that is used in hundreds of schools in the United States. The youth also are exposed to information technology.

The youth also are participating in the first-ever youth and children cooperative credit union in the region. Currently there are 41 members. “We’re learning to save money,” Cham says. The credit union also gives them access to loans for their own economic empowerment and development.

Cham also talks about child protection and giving children a voice to speak out and reduce risk of violence and abuse. He said activities such as quizzes, debates and drama competitions help children improve their self-confidence and esteem.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Listening to Community Grandmothers

By Cynthia Price, Director of Communications

We travel to Louly Ndia, a village with 1,147 inhabitants. We learn the history of the village health hut from the president of the health committee. He said the health hut initially was supported by a German woman. But until CCF assisted in coaching the communities, the program wasn’t working. Today it is a thriving program that offers a variety of services, including treatment for malaria and acute respiratory infections, assistance for childbirth, providing health and nutritional education and providing vaccinations.

We tour the health hut and then watch skits performed by the children. Similar to the morning’s program, the children again emphasize preventive measures against malaria and the need to visit the health hut and not rely on traditional forms of medicine. As they share their skit and songs they also share the message of how important bed nets are in the prevention of malaria. Without them, the children will get sick. “If we are sick, we can not go to school. We can not go to the field. So please get us a bed net.”

The messages are easy to understand and it’s clear that the children do understand them. As they learn the messages they share them with their parents and siblings – it’s an easy way to change attitudes at home.

CCF President Anne Goddard asks the children to raise their hand if they sleep under a net. Almost every hand shoots up.

Then there is a session with the community’s grandmothers. The grandmothers care for children and are considered wise. They also are used to being involved with helping birth children. Now parents rely more on the health nurses with the midwives’ assistance. Still there is conflict between the traditional and the modern ways. The session lays out the controversy including how some grandmothers say tradition is inherited and therefore, should not be lost. But the reliance on tradition often means illness or death since modern practices are not followed.

An animated conversation follows. It is clear that some grandmothers have embraced the modern ways but a few still don’t believe the new ways are better.

It’s a message of hope that transcends geographic boundaries. As Anne tells the group, “I think any child would be lucky to be born in this village with so many mothers, elders, and grandmothers who care. I will remember this day a long time, and when I am a grandmother I will tell my grandchildren what I learned in this village.”

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The Long Journey is Worth It!

By Cynthia Price, Director of Communications
What a day. We left at 7 a.m. for Mbour to visit the programs. What an incredible experience, but first getting there was equally amazing.

One road leads into and out of Dakar. It is crowded (an understatement). Every inch of road is filled with cars, buses overflowing with people hanging out the back door hopping on and off in traffic, mopeds darting in between cars, and pedestrians trying to sell their wares – fruit, phone cards, windshield wiper blades, you name it.

We finally make it away from the city and about 2 hours later we are in Mbour where CCF President Anne Goddard and the rest of our group (including CCF Senegal National Director Emile Namsemon and myself are greeted. First, though, she and I climb onto a horse-drawn cart and are carried to the village. We are immediately joined by others from the village and are surrounded by horses ridden by children who have put miniature flags in the bridles. One of the flags is Senegalese and one is American.

As we draw closer we are greeted by a popular folk-welcome with Bambara women and the Sereres women of Backeme and Ndiakhate. They dance and sing and play instruments. They are dressed in traditional colorful garb. One woman plays what appears to be a bowl with shells hanging from the rim, which makes a shaker noise – almost like a tambourine. And yet she can also beat on it to sound like a drum.

The village children line up to greet us and sing a song about human rights in which they sing “down with war” and “peace for all.” They also sing a song about malaria and how it is a bad disease. They sing in French, the national language of Senegal.

We visit the project’s library, which has a large selection of books in French, including Harry Potter. The books are arranged by age and general subject matter.

The vegetable garden of the Mbambara School not only teaches the children how to grow food, it also provides food for those children who live too far away to go home for lunch.

A visit to the health hut of Gawlombukha includes a presentation of the activities carried out in the hut and their impact. Details about how everyone has received vitamin A and how midwives now help more birthing mothers at the hut rather than at home are shared.

We visit the early learning center. Children enrolled in it are able to start school at age 6; those who don’t participate have to wait until they are 7 to begin regular schooling. Then we visit the classrooms, which each have about 50 students, and there are seven classrooms. The earlier the education begins, the greater the chances of success for the children.

The children of the early learning center present a skit about pregnancy and the importance of seeing a doctor at the health hut instead of relying on traditional medicine. They also sing about malaria and TB. They sing about the symptoms (fever, achy, tired) and solutions, including treated bed nets and anti-malarial pills.

As we depart we get a bit turned around. Once we are in the village we are not traveling on roads but rather on sandy lanes or paths surrounded by fields of millet or village huts. I see no landmarks but apparently they exist – at least for the villagers. Finally we stop for directions to the main road and are directed to turn at the mango tree. Now I know what a mango looks like but I have no idea what a mango tree looks like! I keep quiet only to discover that no one else in the car was sure either, so we ask once more and finally arrived at the main road.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Learning About Micro-Finance

By Cynthia Price, Director of Communications

In the afternoon we learn about a micro-finance program that originally was begun by CCF, but is now operated independently, although CCF still serves a technical role. The Institution Mutualiste Communautaire d’Epargne et de Credit (IMCEC) is a credit union created to serve families living in the communities where CCF programs are engaged in sponsorship and child-focused development programs. Ousmane Thiongane is the executive director.

Along a busy commercial street, a tent is erected in front of the office. Under the tent more than 50 people are gathered, mostly women, several of whom will be given loans.

The loans enable the individuals to improve their lives because they are able to start a business and, ultimately, earn income. The program also includes a health insurance component, which provides peace of mind for the participants.

CCF President Anne Goddard hands out the checks to the individuals, immediately brightening the day of the recipients. "I hope the loans make your time, energy, and income better – for you, for your husband, and for your children," Anne says.

One woman is using the loan to start a shoe business. Another is opening a fabric shop. Fatou Thiam is excited to receive the loan. "I’ve always had to rely on myself." She used to sell fabrics but became ill and was no longer able to work. Now that she is healthy, the loan will help her to get started in business again.

"This makes my life better," she said.

She looks forward to the day when she no longer needs a loan. "That will be when I have a big cash flow," she said with a smile. For now, she can use the loan to buy fabric for her shop.

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Traveling to Senegal and The Gambia

By Cynthia Price, Director of Communications
My name is Cynthia Price and I am the new Director of Communications for CCF. One of my first assignments is to travel to Africa to see first hand CCF's programs. This is my first trip to Africa and I am looking forward to the experience. On this trip I am visiting two countries in West Africa – Senegal and The Gambia. I’m adjusting to the French language, the heat and humidity and the time zone difference. Everyone with whom I have met is friendly and helpful, which has made the trip easy. I arrived a few days in advance of CCF President Anne Goddard. On our first day together we met with the CCF Senegal National Office. Anne shared how she understands the challenges of operating a national office since she previously ran one.

We are both looking forward to traveling to the field to see CCF programs at work. As Anne notes, "I understand the challenges of children in poor areas. But there is a common theme in any culture – and that is that parents want their children to have a better life. "

She adds, "Childhood is a one-time opportunity. Children need the confidence that they can take charge of their lives. That gives us a big responsibility. They deserve the very best that we can do. Change has to come from the inside, from people who feel empowered and confident. If we can help nurture the next generation who feel empowered, that’s what excites me."

It’s a strong message and one that I will see repeated in the programs that we visit. The youth are empowered and are making a difference. But before we visit programs, we first meet with Madam Awaw Ndiaye of the Ministry of Family, National Solidarity, Women Entrepreneurship and Micro-Finance. What a title!

Somehow government buildings, no matter what city they are in, all look alike. The difference here is that the women walking through the hall are dressed traditionally and the bright colors of their clothing stand in strong contrast to the stark, institutional walls.

Mrs. Awa Ndiaye was appointed minister June 19, 2007. Before that she was the private secretary of Moustapha Niasse, former Minister of Foreign Affairs under President Abdou Diouf. She later joined the consulate of Senegal in the United States before being appointed as President Wade’s adviser in culture and education.

She cleared her calendar for the CCF visit and spent about an hour with our group. The minister talked about her mission, which is the protection of children. But it comes down to having the money and the means to do something. Considerable time was spent discussing children who live on the street. The minister emphasized the need for children centers or safe shelters. “The children are the main priority,” the minister said.

Many families do not have money to keep their children in school. The actual education may be free, but uniforms, books, and materials all cost the family, many of whom can’t afford those fees. This concerns the minister.

The conversation also turned to food security. The minister said it is an issue. “It is very difficult.” She said there is not money to address the problem. And the country does not have the rainfalls to guarantee crops. “We want to help people to have something to eat.” She said a few weeks ago the government bought $10 million worth of rice to distribute, “but the need is so great, it’s nothing.”

When asked about priorities, she said, “When you are in an undeveloped country everything is an issue.” Some of the priorities include the role of women, food security and child protection.
“Every day when I wake up I say, ‘What can I do?’ ”

The minister added, “One success story is not enough.” But Anne provided encouragement adding: “Small drops together make a difference.” In Senegal many of those small drops are adding up and CCF is now helping more than 100,000 children. All together these small successes will make a difference.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Visiting Programs in Mexico

By Michelle Barte, interactive communications manager for CCF

This morning we started out early on our drive from Mexico City to the small town of Santa Maria Tetitla where CCF program Niños Unidos de Tetitla is located. I traveled with assistant Pilar Garcia and program coordinator Pedro Hernandez from Fondo para Niños de México. It was a very bumpy, yet interesting ride up into the more mountainous region two hours outside Mexico City.

Once we arrived, we were greeted by the friendly staff who showed me around the area. First I saw an early childhood development class with new mothers and their babies. The mothers worked with the babies and small exercise balls to increase movement, flexibility and coordination. The babies also played with toys and interacted with the other children, which is supposed to help the babies with healthy socialization. Lastly, soft classical music was played and the mothers massaged the babies to comfort them and promote good circulation. The mothers were taught valuable skills they could practice at home with their children.

As we walked out, some of the older children were gathered at tables outside under a tent with paper, colored pencils, scissors and glue. I discovered that the children were learning all about the environment, recycling and the value of taking care of our earth. I was very happy to know they were learning about such a critically important topic in today’s times.

Next, I saw the community garden. Both the adults and the children were taught the skills of gardening. The community garden was all organic and contained lettuce, zucchini and other vegetables.

The next stop was to watch a computer presentation put together by some of the children. The staff put out some coffee and cookies for us while we watched an amazing PowerPoint presentation about a park the children had planned. It was very well done and while it was in Spanish, the children and staff were very patient as I received translation for the various slides. I was impressed the children were learning about computers, which I knew would be a valuable skill for them and for their futures.

We then ventured to another area of the building to see the medical and dental facilities. I was told that a dentist and a doctor come periodically to see and treat patients. Though the equipment was old, it was comforting to know the children and community had access to medical care even in this remote area.

The group then sat down to a lunch of warm tortillas with ham and cheese. We topped it with a delicious and spicy avocado chili sauce. It was a great opportunity to get to know the staff. They got to practice some English with me and I practiced some of my Spanish.

After lunch, Pedro had a meeting with the staff so we had an opportunity to walk around the small town outside of the program area. We walked past a few corn farms and then down some of the streets that were dotted with colorful shops and small homes. I was able to take some amazing photographs of the area and its people.

Once we returned, we said our goodbyes to the staff and headed back on the bumpy road back to Mexico City. It was truly a memorable journey and a great experience to see CCF’s good work in action.

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Thursday, August 7, 2008

CCF Makes Commitment to Support Youth in the 2010 International AIDS Conference

By Sarah A. Roush, program associate for CCF

A major theme of the International AIDS Conference has been engaging young people meaningfully in programs and policy. There is a large youth presence at the conference with a special youth program designed to help young people maximize their engagement at the conference and a youth pavilion designated as a place for youth to network. At the youth pavilion individuals are urged to make a commitment to engage youth meaningfully in their organization at the youth commitments desk. This concept was introduced at the 2006 conference in Toronto, where more than 350 commitments were collected from high profile officials, as well as NGOs and other individuals. Commitments are meant to be a concrete, time bound goal that youth force members will follow up on over the course of the year.

I was extremely proud, as a young person myself, to make a commitment on behalf of CCF today. I pledged that:

Christian Children’s Fund commits to supporting at least four child and youth leaders (from the 31 African, Asian, North and South American countries in which we work) to attend and actively participate in the 2010 International AIDS Conference in Vienna, Austria. Youth will be selected through a participatory process that is youth led and managed.

This stands as a statement of CCF’s deep commitment to developing young leaders in the community where we work, as well as a reminder that we must ensure that youth themselves are actively involved in planning their roles at events such as the International AIDS Conference. Over the next two years, the HIV team will plan CCF’s strategic engagement at the 2010 International AIDS Conference, which will include a robust role for the youth that join our delegation.

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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Talking about AIDS and Children

By Sarah A. Roush, program associate for CCF

Today’s speech at the International AIDS Conference was given by Dr. Linda Richter, executive director of Child, Youth, Family and Social Development at the Human Sciences Research Council. As Linda noted to thunderous applause, this was the first time that a plenary speech at the International AIDS Conference had ever addressed the needs of children affected by AIDS.

Dr. Richter began by demonstrating the ways in which children have been left behind in the response to the global AIDS epidemic. Last year, 370,000 children were infected with HIV and 250,000 died from HIV-related illnesses. Only 10 percent of the 2 million children currently living with HIV are on anti-retroviral therapy. Additionally, more than 12 million children lost one or more parents to AIDS in 2007.

She went on to discuss the problems related to focusing only on providing services to children rather than focusing on support to strengthen the ability for families and communities to care for vulnerable children. About 60 percent of children in southern Africa live in poverty, but as of 2007 only 15 percent of households supporting orphans and vulnerable children receive aid. In fact, families assume 90 percent of the cost associated with caring for children affected by HIV. For already vulnerable families this means that there is less money available for food, health care and education.

Because families are the most influential support for children and adolescents, Dr. Richter urged the global community to place greater emphasis on family-focused prevention, treatment and care and to develop comprehensive and integrated family-centered services. She closed the session by noting that “all children, including those affected by HIV and AIDS, are best cared for in functional families with basic income security, access to health care and education and support from kin and community.”

These words resonate deeply for me, because CCF has long been a proponent of family-based interventions, recognizing the critical role that families play in the healthy development of children. CCF will continue play an active role in carrying forward this dialogue around the needs of vulnerable children and communities affected by AIDS.

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Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Meeting Former Sponsored Child Misozi

By Sarah A. Roush, program associate for CCF

One of the most energizing events that I attended this week was “Addressing the Gap: Commitments, Funding and Youth Engagement.” In this session, a panel of youth and adult allies discussed the advances that have been made to meaningfully engage youth in HIV programs and at the International AIDS Conference, as well as ways to improve efforts to reach out to young people.

Contributing to the panel was Misozi, a young women who is active in CCF’s programs in Zambia. Misozi is 20 and has been a sponsored child since 1999. She is currently the outgoing president of the Children’s Committee of Kafue Central Project and the spokesperson for the Global Movement for Children. Misozi used this opportunity at the panel to speak about the cultural barriers to youth participation and the need for education and skills training to ensure that youth voices are heard.

She spoke from personal experience, describing successful campaigns that she and the Children’s Committee have carried out, such as engaging with police and traditional leaders to improve enforcement of laws against child sexual abuse. As president of the committee, Misozi oversees efforts to assist vulnerable children in Zambia through outreach and education on issues such as child rights.

Misozi told me about how she benefited from these programs when she first joined the Committee in 2005. She had a difficult time after her parents’ divorce when she was 10, and experienced neglect and mistreatment at home. CCF supported her with school fees, books and tutoring, but it wasn’t until she was trained on child rights through the committee that she was able to open up and talk about her situation with her peers. The committee provided a safe space for her to express herself, and as president she has worked to ensure that other children and youth have access to this supportive environment as well.

Today, Misozi is working as a researcher on the well being of children in Kafue District with Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative and continues to engage with the Children’s Committee. She plans on holding workshops for children, youth and CCF staff on the information that she gained at the International AIDS Conference. She hopes to start attending college next year, studying community development.

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Monday, August 4, 2008

CCF Staff Attends International AIDS Conference in Mexico City

Sarah A. Roush, Program Associate for CCF

Today was the first full day of the International AIDS Conference in Mexico City. Held every two years in a different international location, the conference is the space where more than 20,000 individuals and groups engaged in HIV/AIDS work, including CCF, come together for a week of information exchange, networking and activism.

Outside of the main conference building is the Global Village which is an informal space where activists put on performances and groups, such as youth and people living with HIV/AIDS, have networking zones. Throughout the Global Village, volunteers hand out colorful fliers for different events going on during the week. In the Global Village and at the main conference, groups present innovative new programs for combating AIDS.

One such program being promoted in the Global Village is “Hairdressers Against AIDS,” a global program created by L’Oreal in which hairdressers working in partner salons are sensitized and given a basic education on HIV issues. In participating salons around the world, hairdressers can then engage interested clients in basic discussions about HIV prevention. More than 1 million hairdressers working in 400,000 salons in 22 countries have been trained through this program. To promote the program, “Hairdressers Against AIDS” were offering free hairstyles at the conference… naturally, I volunteered immediately!

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Sunday, August 3, 2008

CCF Youth Speak at Symposium on AIDS

By Sarah A. Roush, program associate for Christian Children's Fund

On Aug. 1-2, I participated in the “Children and AIDS: Action Now, Action How” Symposium being held in Mexico City prior to the International AIDS Conference. The Symposium was attended by 530 delegates and 170 presenters from more than 70 countries. Attendees included program managers and staff, HIV advocates, policymakers and government officials, academics and researchers. The event provided a forum for discussion between individuals working on issues of children and AIDS at all levels, with the shared goal of pushing the agenda to improve programs for young people.

CCF was represented at the panel “Including Children and Youth in Community-Level Advocacy”. William Fleming (HIV/AIDS Program Specialist) moderated and two CCF youth spoke about their experiences and leadership on HIV youth programs in their communities.

Carmen is 17, and is a CCF sponsored youth living in Honduras. Juan is 21 and lives in Mexico. After their presentation and the crowds of individuals eager to speak with them had drifted away, I sat down with Carmen and Juan to discuss their work with CCF.

How did you decide to get involved in youth HIV work?
Juan: When I was in high school, I found out that two of my relatives were infected with HIV. I started doing research on it and was inspired to start doing work for prevention.
Carmen: My friends and I knew that the rate of HIV infected children in Honduras was very high, and we wanted to help. After doing research, we formed a group of CCF-sponsored youth to do prevention work. Now we’ve expanded to also include youth that aren’t affiliated with CCF.

Tell me about an achievement in your work that you’re proudest of.
Juan: My most outstanding achievement was advocating with youth Human Rights Promoters for Women’s Rights on International Women’s Day. We presented musical theater during festivals on the topic of Gender Based Violence. This effort reached communities as far as two hours away –- it was a very big achievement to spread our message so far.
Carmen: Among our youth group in Honduras, there used to be discrimination over income, religion, etc… but since we’ve been working for a common cause, we’ve been talking more and we’re one team. This is a great achievement.

Have you experienced a change in adults’ opinions of youth in your communities since you’ve started this work?
Carmen: Yes! Because they see the work that we’re doing, adults know youth aren’t just focused on irrelevant things. Through our meetings and representation, they know we youth are working on important issues.
Juan: At first adults in my community thought I was lazy –- that I was just hanging around, not studying… since I’ve started this work, they’ve become very supportive.
Carmen: Yes, parents prevented youth from participating in our training before but now they encourage their children to join.

How have you personally changed through your work? What are your future goals?
Carmen: I’m a much more open and sociable person now –- I’m a very secure person. My dream is to keep working with children. I want to be a teacher and not just teach math or grammar, but also values and how to be proactive on issues like HIV.
Juan: I am a shy person, and before I had trouble speaking in front of groups. Now I know I can contribute more because I have gained confidence through my work; I can speak publicly, I am here at an international conference. I also have the satisfaction of having made a difference with the youth in my country. I am inspired to keep working on these issues.

What have you gained from your participation in this symposium?
Carmen: I learned a lot, and was very proud to present at an international conference and receive such good comments. I was also excited because I’d never been to Mexico before!
Juan: I learned so much about global efforts working with youth on HIV, it has been overwhelming. I made a lot of contacts and the opportunity to be invited was an honor.

What else can Non-Governmental Organizations do to support youth in efforts like yours?
Carmen: Information access, economic resources, and other methodologies for working with young people.
Juan: She stole everything I was going to say! In addition to these things, providing spaces for youth to come together and express themselves.

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