Saturday, May 30, 2009

Looking Ahead

By Nguyen Thi Hong Phuong, ChildFund Vietnam
and David Hylton, Christian Children's Fund

This is the final entry in a series of blogs detailing the day in the life of Nam, an 11-year-old boy. So far Nam has gone to school and helped his mother prepare lunch. The rest of the day is a busy one as he continues to help his parents and ends the day studying.

2 p.m.
Nam follows his parents to the field, helping to weed their rice paddy. This year, they have had much rain and the crop looks promising. Nam likes to go here with his parents since he often meets his friends who have also come to help their own parents in the fields. Despite doing hard work, they play together and have fun.

7 p.m.
Nam prepares for tomorrow’s lessons. He wants to study hard to become a doctor. He remembers what his father often says: “I only finished grade 3 and I understand the disadvantage of a limited education. I will try my best to support my sons to study as long as possible. I believe they will have a brighter future.”

Nam is one of more than 18,000 children in 16 communities in the northern mountainous areas of Vietnam, where ChildFund Vietnam is working to create better lives with programs in education, water and sanitation, livelihood, health and child protection. Since beginning work in Xuan Phong, CCF and ChildFund Australia have helped to improve the physical learning environments and teaching quality in kindergarten and primary schools; increase families’ income through agricultural cultivation and livestock husbandry; deliver clean water to homes; build hygienic family toilets; construct a good-quality health clinic and train local medical staff for better health care services; and lay a foundation for better child protection.

Beyond all these achievements, we also emphasize the importance on the local children and people’s capacity for their self-sufficient future development. ChildFund Vietnam is working hard to realize the dreams of people like Nam and his family for a better future.

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Friday, May 29, 2009

Helping at Home

By Nguyen Thi Hong Phuong, ChildFund Vietnam
and David Hylton, Christian Children's Fund

This is the second in a series of blog entries detailing the day in the life of Nam, an 11-year-old boy in Vietnam. After a morning at school, Nam returns home to help out his family. His fathers offers an insight to how Christian Children’s Fund and ChildFund Australia have made a difference in their lives.

Nam returns home. His parents have just returned from field work. Nam helps his mother to prepare lunch. Sipping tea, Nam’s father, Duong, talks.

“Our life now is easier than five years ago. My family used to be suffering 4-6 months of food shortage per year,” he says. “ChildFund came and taught us to improve cultivation, lent us money from its savings and credit projects, and discussed with us how to generate and manage family income. Now, we have enough rice for food. The borrowed money is used for raising pigs. ChildFund also teaches us how to raise pigs for profit. In the past, we harvested pigs only every two years.”

Duong says the family sells pigs twice a year and makes between $100 and $150 each time.

“This year, I don’t have to borrow money because I use the profit from previous sales to invest,” he says.

What’s next: Nam continues to help his family and then closes the day off by studying.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Time for School

By Nguyen Thi Hong Phuong, ChildFund Vietnam
and David Hylton, Christian Children's Fund

This is the first in a series of blog entries detailing the day in the life of 11-year-old Nam. Nam is one of more than 18,000 children in 16 communities in the northern mountainous areas of Vietnam, where ChildFund Vietnam is working to create better lives with programs in education, water and sanitation, livelihood, health and child protection.

Christian Children’s Fund works with ChildFund Alliance partner ChildFund Australia in Vietnam. The area we work in is less than 100 miles from Hanoi, the nation's capital.

On this particular day Nam is beginning a new grade level.
6 a.m.
Nam, an 11-year-old Muong ethnic boy in Xuan Phong, wakes up early and eagerly prepares to go to school. He will have his first lessons in the sixth grade. A long session of mathematics doesn’t seem to lessen Nam’s eagerness for his new school.

“I like secondary school because I feel I am older and more independent. I have new friends, play more grown-up games, and the lessons and teachers are different,” Nam says. “I do miss my primary school, my classroom and my teachers. But if I hadn’t gone to primary school, I would not have had the chance to continue studying and would not have the opportunity for high school. Then, I would not have a job for my future.”

Primary school is free in Vietnam. However, the affordability for children’s schooling is limited in rural mountainous areas due to other shared expenditures such as school construction costs, text books, electricity, water and other fees. These contributions are a burden for poor families like Nam’s, whose monthly income is less than $30.

Tinh, the headmaster of Xuan Phong primary school, said: “Since we’ve had ChildFund projects, we have more children going to school. This is because of two reasons. First, the school is much better in terms of teachers’ capacity and infrastructure. We have concrete-built and well-equipped classrooms, clean water and hygienic toilets. Our teachers are trained to improve their teaching methodologies. Now, children’s families are more capable to send their children to school. ChildFund has helped increase families’ income.”

Tinh says children are provided with text books, school bags, and school uniforms, which ease the difficulties of family financial contributions for their children’s schooling.

Nam’s father Duong also recalled the time when Nam’s elder brother, Dan, went to primary school: “It was a thatched roof and bamboo walled school. The class was so poor. Children from far-off hamlets had to cross long distances to get to school. Children nowadays have better schools. Farther hamlets now have satellite schools where teachers can stay. Both children and teachers don’t have to travel daily to get the remote hamlets, which lengthens the time they are able to teach and learn.”

What’s next: Nam’s busy day continues at home as he helps his family.

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Friday, May 8, 2009

Opposite Sides – A Time to Reflect

By Jason Schwartzman,
Director of Program Development

Note: This is the final entry from Jason’s recent trip to the Philippines.

I've been in a time warp for almost two weeks, delving into CCF's past, trying to understand the challenges past generations came up against. We stopped organizing orphanages when we realized that mothers were giving up their young children to them. When we were perceived as patronizing "great white fathers," we put families more directly in control of resources and decisions.

I'm reflecting on what I've learned. One morning I called home. My 4-year-old son was about to go to bed. Before I left home, I had shown him on the globe that hangs down from the ceiling, over his bed, where I was traveling to. Somehow he understood that when I'm on the other side of the world, my morning is his night. Opposite sides.

On day five of my travels, at breakfast, over fried eggs, bread and rice, Sergio and his wife shared with me that their daughter's education was most important, and that CCF is a good organization. I had stayed overnight in their house, as a way of further understanding how CCF programs are affecting the people and community that we work with. In a little while he was going to ask for my address so we could write, which I desperately want so I can watch from a distance as his daughters grow up and so my son can feel connected to a family different than him – something to learn from.

But that gorgeous human moment needed to incorporate a blunt fact – the father told me he wanted to write in case they were met with financial hardship. He needs a safety net for his family, and I was an opportunity. What's become clear is that I focus on aspirational programming and I try my best to work with colleagues so that concepts and ideas are clear, so program staff throughout CCF can use them as a guide in developing and implementing programs.

What I've fallen short of doing is sufficiently understanding what families expect of CCF and why they seek to engage with us. Their perspective seems to be on the other side of the globe. At least in the community I visited, what they prioritize is the comfort of knowing that from time to time, they can rely on CCF to provide a form of financial assistance to their family, and they appreciate generous sponsors who will be like minded.

The people I met did not seem greedy or unaware of others in the community who might also have similar needs. Their focus was just on themselves. I, on the other side, focus on programs that over time – over 12 to 15 years – will address the root causes of poverty, that require families to come together to exercise the influence they can have.

While our programs have evolved, and our ambition has certainly evolved, our evolution is also a continual confrontation with consequences, carrying two contradictory facts in your head at the same time, searching for a resolution.

If this is the relationship with families that CCF has created, how do we move it along? How do we maintain a strong connection with families, engage them in dialogue, maintain their interest and commitment, but evolve toward an appreciation that programs are the ties that bind. That programs are the basis for our relationship? And the success or failure of those programs is what we should be talking about? We have created the relationship and perception of CCF that stared me in the eye, on a porch, Coke in hand, in Taliba, a rural community filled with proud, animated, laughing, soft, concerned faces, exemplified by Sergio, his wife and his four daughters.

I'm on my way home. Tokyo airport. Changing planes. Health workers trot down corridors in full surgical gear with goggles over their eyes. Everyone's wearing a mask. Swine flu. Very futuristic.

I'm thinking about our future. I appreciate our legacy, and I hope our values and our strategy, our heart and our mind, will guide us to an answer that our history has courageously sought. I have a few ideas of my own.

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Seeking a Balance

By Mark McPeak,
Consultant to CCF

Note: Mark helped facilitate the workshop in the Philippines. After day five of the workshop, Mark sent us this blog entry.

We’ve just returned from a field immersion that was, for most of us, a real highlight of the workshop so far. Not only was it good to reflect about CCF’s program principles with community members and partners, and colleagues, but staying for a lengthy period, including overnight, really has refreshed and grounded most of us in the vivid realities of our work.

Of course, this workshop is all about connecting our hearts, heads and hands to advance CCF’s core outcomes. Together we are building our capabilities to translate principles and values into meaningful action for children and youth – a risk-taking, leadership ethic. So, essentially, this workshop is about building a foundation for our programs – through personal and organizational change and transformation.

Dola Mohapatra, Asia Regional director, asked me to introduce day three, and I think he hoped that I would reinforce that overall theme of change. I wrestled with preparing to meet Dola’s challenge, but really appreciated the opportunity to think about this for myself.

The center of my reflection can be represented by one of the slides – shown here:
I prefaced this by talking about the unstable times we are living in, and how old ways of thinking and reliance on those above us to make decisions on our behalf will no longer be of use in this new reality.

We need to seek a balance, where we can translate programming principles into meaningful action. Too much confusion is obviously unproductive; and where there is a need for clarification, we must seek this out, as managers and leaders within the organization. And in our new reality, it will be unrealistic to expect perfect clarity. The world is changing too fast to ever expect to be perfectly clear about what is going on.

Therefore, rather than yearning for complete clarity, it’s more important to build our skills in creating adaptive, dynamic responses to the unstable, nonlinear times we live in, in the framework of the clear principles and values contained in CCF’s Global Strategy and Core Program.

I think that participants appreciated the reflections. But the poet captured the spirit of our workshop better than I ever could, when he said: “Wanderer, there is no road; the road is made by walking.” I’m honored to be walking this road, in this workshop, with such committed and passionate professionals.

Coming soon: Jason Schwartzman returns with his final blog post about his Philippines’ experience.

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Thursday, May 7, 2009

Sleepless in Taliba

By Jason Schwartzman,
Director of Program Development

Note: This is the eighth entry from Jason’s trip to the Philippines.

My brother is a journalist, and he's sleeping on the sofa of an unemployed family living in the Midwest on an assignment to profile one family's plight in order to comprehend the economic meltdown impacting all of our American lives. In a brotherly coincidence, I'm sleeping on a wooden bed, under mosquito netting, the lone portable fan in the house sweeping over me, in my host family's home, in an effort to understand how CCF's programs are affecting a community that we are working with.

Having grown up in a city, I thought roosters crowed at the break of day, but I've learned that actually, here in a rural village in the Philippines, they crow all night long. I'm thinking about the family who is so graciously hosting me, and I realize that they see me personally as a potential source of economic support, and they appreciate CCF for already being such a support. They are not selfish, but their interest is with their own, and more specifically, with the education of the four girls that range from 5 to 14 years old. That's what they want, and if I were them, I'd want the same.

But I'm not them. I work in the Global Program Group at CCF, and we exist to develop programs that reach large groups of children, the intent of which is to address the conditions that lead to poverty. We focus on health and nutrition, early childhood development, schools and the quality of their education, on providing leadership opportunities for young people, and helping them transition into adult roles and responsibilities. I'm accustomed to thinking about groups and what happens to those groups over time.

Are children as a group becoming healthier and more prepared for school? Are children learning how to read and are they developing a curiosity about the world around them? Do they approach life with ambition and hope for the future? To accomplish these things, we strive to invest in programs that support all children in a community. It seems odd to say this, but I'm more focused on groups than the individuals, but here, on this cool evening, the individuals have invited me into their home and told me what they want.

Can newborn children in this rural village face a brighter future as a result of CCF's programs? I thought back to the afternoon when one of the village leaders, the Baranguay Captain, told me that what is needed is good leaders. I reached for my cell phone, working even here, and texted my brother to see if he was feeling optimistic.

Coming soon: Before Jason delivers his reflection on his Philippines’ trip, a workshop facilitator offers his thoughts about building a foundation for our programs.

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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Overnight Lessons in the Philippines

By Jason Schwartzman,
Director of Program Development

Note: This is Jason’s seventh entry from his recent trip to the Philippines.

Having spent the day talking with different groups in this small community in the Philippines, I met the family that would be hosting me for the night. This was part of the week-long workshop to reflect on CCF’s programs. The mom and her four daughters picked me up at the local school in the late afternoon, and escorted me about a quarter mile to their home where I met the husband.

They live in a concrete, one-story home with a front room that is partitioned so that there are two bedrooms. The back room is the kitchen with room for the family to sit down and eat. The kitchen has running cold water, and the mom cooked using an electric wok. The father pointed to a corner that looked like a large closet. He let me know that's where the "comfort room" is, which he later referred to as the CR. It was a simple bathroom with a non-flushing toilet and a cold water tap.

Since the weather is warm in this part of the Philippines, there were latticed openings in the wall as windows; in the bedrooms these had curtains. A tin roof was overhead, and when there was a late afternoon downpour, it was quite noisy like we were living in a tin drum. Their home is simple and humble, but pleasant. They were extremely gracious and hospitable, and this made me feel very comfortable.

The house is on a small plot of land, well shaded by palm and mango trees. A small structure in the rear housed a few pigs and 11 one-month-old cute white piglets. This is their way of making an income. They also had a walk-in cage where they bring up Love Birds, who were tweeting away and were a bit mesmerizing. On either side are neighbors, and the back is where the dense brush and tall bamboo trees arch toward the sky and provide shelter from the heat of the day.

The father and I sat on their front porch and chatted. He grew up in the area, but in search of work left for Saudi Arabia for five years, eventually returning home when the company he worked for lost its contract to service the airport. Upon his return, his uncle set him up on a date and he took a young lady to a festival, and they eventually married. Two days after the wedding, he left for a year, again for work, in a factory in Taiwan. His wife continued to live with her family. When he returned, they built their house and, as he said, started to build a life together.

We talked about many things – the economic downturn and how it affected him and his prospects and the fact that I feel just like him – that my wife and I got married at an older age, and had a child when most families stop having children. We talked about the terrorist situation in the very southern part of the Philippines, and what happened in New York on Sept. 11, 2001, where I was living at the time.

He talked about the struggle to support the education of his four daughters, and I spoke of what I expected to be a similar struggle as my 4-year-old gets older. This is our commonality. In my next blog entry, I'll share what I think separates us.

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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A 'Power Walk' to Understand Poverty

By Martin Hayes,
Child Protection Specialist for CCF

Note: Martin traveled with Jason Schwartzman to the Philippines recently for a workshop to discuss CCF’s programming. Martin is one of the workshop facilitators.

Christian Children’s Fund’s new core programs are tried and tested methods to assist with children’s successful transition through the life cycle. Through the support of the core program interventions, communities and families will be better equipped to ensure most children will achieve their life-stage milestones that will help their transition to healthy and productive adulthood.

However, many children have significant obstacles for this successful transition. Children who live in environments that do not protect them from abuse, exploitation or neglect are often prevented from healthy development. For effective and meaningful change that would promote children’s healthy development, our core programs will be adapted to address the root causes of child development obstacles.

Often there is an assumption that collective poverty is the primary root cause of the obstacles. We often treat communities as if they are homogeneous units with common interests – poverty reduction. While poverty is a significant problem for many in the community, unequal access to resources is often overlooked. A deeper understanding and informed and nuanced approach to power dynamics and asymmetrical relationships in communities is necessary to address the root causes of these obstacles.

To drive home this point, we've developed an exercise for the workshop called the "Power Walk," which helps participants to understand the power dynamics within communities. Participants were lined up in an equal row facing forward. Privately each participant was given a different community character description (e.g. a businessman with a wife and two children, a young orphaned boy living with an aunt and uncle and cousins, a domestic servant girl, a single female school teacher, etc.). Participants were then asked to take one step forward if their character could answer “yes” to any of the following statements or to stand still if they could not answer affirmatively:

* You’ve eaten breakfast this morning.
* You can receive medical treatment when needed.
* You can walk through the community free from harassment or violence.
* Your ideas are listened to by others in the community related to decision-making.

After the questions were all posed, participants who were once side-by-side were spread out across the room. Participants then revealed their characters’ identities and discussed what happened during the exercise and how this mirrored life in a community. Participants discussed power differentials and children’s vs. adults’ experiences related to poverty.

The exercise was well received by participants. Many commented that the “Power Walk” was a practical method of provoking thought and discussion around power dynamics in communities and children’s experiences related to deprivation, exclusion and vulnerability.

Our point? Poverty does not treat all people equally; by further understanding the differences between families within otherwise poor communities we can truly identify families that are more vulnerable than others. It is these families that CCF especially seeks to work with.

Coming soon: Jason Schwartzman’s blogging continues as his seventh post details a night with a family in the Philippines.

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Monday, May 4, 2009

Immersing Ourselves in the Community

By Jason Schwartzman,
Director of Program Development

Note: This is the sixth entry from Jason’s trip to the Philippines.

At 7:30 a.m., our group set out for the Taliba community where we would spend the day; each of us would then spend overnight with a host family. Our group represents Sri Lanka, India, Timor L'Este, Indonesia, the Philippines and the United States. Joining us were a number of young people from the area, who gently but firmly led us through the day.

Our group was breaking out of our hotel meeting room where we had been discussing our common challenges in living up to a set of programming principles, such as reaching vulnerable families through programs that support the positive development of children, by marrying a community's felt "ownership" over "their" programs for "their" children with the best program designs that the technical research and literature has to offer.

I was anxious to meet the family who would be taking me into their home, and I was wondering what their home looked like – where would I sleep; what food would they serve; would they like me; would I like them? But first, we had the day to talk to many different people and learn about what is important to them. Here are some of those people.

This is a parent volunteer. She hosted one of my colleagues at her home that night. She said that her 9-year-old boy spends too much time with friends and not enough time on school studies – that's the biggest challenge he faces. She had a great laugh.

Here's a member of the Baganguay Council – a village level leadership committee. He served in the Gulf War. There was an incident with an explosion and as a result, he's now hard of hearing. He felt that the biggest challenge facing a teenager these days is the declining economy.

This is a grandmother with her daughter's 2-year-old son. The daughter was working on this morning. She was very concerned that her grandson to become educated and not face the hardships that she faced growing up.

This mother's son is almost 2 years old. Her biggest concern is that he suffers from fevers regularly, and she's not sure why. Just talking about it was very emotional and visible as she teared up during our conversation.

This mother was very concerned for her daughter because she's 4 years old and is not yet talking. She has a hearing problem.

This dad is with his mother and his 1-year-old son. They all looked very much alike! He wants his baby to get a good education and have good health.

This is the local village leader, known as the Baranguay Captain, and he heads up the Baranguay Council. He's 79 years old, and liked to crack jokes. When I asked him what the biggest challenge a baby boy being born these days would face in his life, he told me it was "good leadership." The boy will need to have good leaders.

I nodded. Very true.

Coming soon: Spending the night with a family in the Philippines, plus a post from another CCF staff member attending the workshop.

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Friday, May 1, 2009

Asking the Tough Questions

By Jason Schwartzman,
Director of Program Development

Note: This is the fifth entry from Jason’s trip to the Philippines.

In my last blog entry, I shared a few quotes from a retired colleague who was reflecting on how Christian Children's Fund learned over time the importance of working with families as a group, to organize them so they could do for themselves. That colleague's name is Jim Hostetler, and there he is in the photo (middle of the bottom row). This is from the 1970s in Guatemala with National Office staff.

One of the boldest efforts to learn and reflect on CCF's work came from the third president of CCF – Verent Mills. In a prior blog I shared a photo of him in his younger days with a group of young children in China who were orphans. Here he is a number of years later:

That same young man ended up being president of CCF from 1970 to 1981. You'd think that a guy who had been working in the same organization for all those years would know pretty much everything there was to know, but what was one of the first initiatives he undertook in his new job?

"We were saying we were helping these children, and I wanted to know exactly how we were helping them," he said at the time. "Was it true we were preparing the children to be better citizens in their communities, as we claimed in our literature? If it wasn't true, then we were wasting the sponsors' money." To answer this question, Mills in 1972 hired Dr. Charles G. Chakerian, a social scientist from the University of Chicago.

"[Chakerian] prompted a lot of consciousness-raising at CCF about its purpose. Their message was that you can’t effectively help a child apart from the context of his or her family, community and nation. That context includes the whole pattern of economic and social development. It isn’t just a simplistic thing: help the child."

For example, one of the Chakerian’s recommendations stated that it would be more effective if CCF focused on carefully selected countries or areas of countries, rather than trying to do a little all over the map. The choice of a location came to depend on whether by being there we could influence social and economic development as well as the immediate well-being of the sponsored children.

"Dr. Chakerian helped CCF realize how important it was to critically assess the types of programs being supported. In the past, such analysis was lacking: to some degree, good intentions on the part of those running specific programs were thought to be enough to ensure that good results would follow."

Asking tough questions and challenging ourselves is the struggle we tackle in the middle of this workshop. Are we reaching deprived, excluded and vulnerable children through our programs? Are the programs the right ones, and what evidence do we have that they are? Are our partnerships with communities maturing over time?

Today we break out of the meeting room and spend the day in a nearby community where each of us will have a host family who we will stay the night with. We hope that this immersion in a community will give us some new insights. I better go pack – I don't want to be late once again. Actually, there's little danger of that. I fall asleep early, and am wide awake by 3 a.m. One of the "pleasures" of being in a different time zone!

Coming soon: Meet the community.

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