Ending Child Marriages in Africa: Sian’s Story

Sian is a hardworking, talented and beautiful 13-year old girl. A student in Kajiado County, Kenya, she devotes herself to her studies and her family and thinks about her future.

For Sian and other children her age, especially girls, that future can be uncertain and full of anxiety. Child marriages are still a common practice in many parts of the world, including sub-Saharan Africa. Currently more than 700 million women living around the world were married before their 18th birthday. More than a third of those were married before age 15. The most dire statistics come from South Asia, with 41% of girls marrying before age 18, but West and Central Africa follow closely behind.

According to a 2014 report from UNICEF, girls who marry before they turn 18 are less likely to remain in school and more likely to experience domestic violence. Young teenage girls are more likely to die due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth than women above 20; their infants are more likely to be stillborn or die in the first month of life.

Sian with her mother
Sian with her mother

As a talented and hardworking girl, Sian would be an attractive focus for suitors. Once married, she would likely not see a classroom again, instead focusing her energies on taking care of a household. By the time she is 20, she could have 3 children or more. Hypothetically, when those children reach the same age as Sian, the cycle would continue.

The issue of child marriage is further complicated by the practice of Female Genital Mutilation, a custom that has been banned in many countries but is still practiced covertly in many communities. In early 2014, Sian’s mother started to prepare her for “Emurata,” a Maasai word for the practice. Once Sian went through the practice, her community would see her branded as a ‘mature woman,’ ready for marriage.

Research shows that FGM and child marriage profoundly and permanently harm girls, denying them their right to make their own decisions and to reach their full potential. These customs are detrimental to the girls themselves, their families and the society at large. There can also be profound long-term medical complications from the practice.

Tuesday, June 16 is the Day of the African Child, an annual event to bring awareness to issues facing young people on the continent. This year’s focus is on child marriage—on children just like Sian. The African Union has addressed the practice of child marriage and sees it as a hindrance to the development of the continent, not to mention the affect on individual girls and families. Child marriage is a complex issue that is driven by a number of factors in different societies. To turn the statistics around will take the power of many—government, communities, churches, leaders and other experts.

Supporting girls as they reach full adulthood is one of our missions at Feed the Children. One month before Sian was due to undergo Female Genital Mutilation, Sian’s mother attended a community event sponsored by Feed the Children. During this session, community members came together to discuss the effects of FGM and also to promote Alternatives Rites of Passage (ARP). This training was designed and planned in conversation with parents, community members, and local leaders to gain their confidence and enhance ownership around changing this cultural practice.

Armed and equipped with the right information, Sian’s mother sent her daughter for a one week training organized by Feed the Children on ARP. During the training, Sian and 40 other girls were empowered with information on life skills, sexual health, child rights and responsibilities, and mechanisms for reporting in case of violation. The girls developed a strong bond within the ‘ARP-movement’ as they shared their fears for the future, but rejoiced in their new knowledge and empowerment—especially once they saw the support from parents and community leaders who want to see them thrive. Through our work and the partnership of many others, Sian and her peers will be allowed to be children for a few years longer and dream big dreams for themselves.

This year’s Day of the African Child is themed “25 Years after the Adoption of the African Children’s Charter: Accelerating our Collective Efforts to End Child Marriage in Africa.” To mark this important day, let us take a moment to reflect on areas of improvement in order to save the young from getting into marriage at a time that they are barely teenagers. To end child marriages is not easy given that culture is complex. To end child marriages comes with a call for different organizations to work together as a bloc. It calls for an open discussion by stakeholders at the community, national, regional and continental levels, and coordination between them in order to accelerate the end to this practice.

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Following the one-week training, the girls went through a graduation ceremony. There was a great turnout by the parents, community leaders and government representatives. Here the girls rejoice and dance at the ceremony, champions indeed—and they can thrive even more with you in their corner. Learn more about our international development work, or browse our gift catalog for education-related items to help make the difference in the life of a child like Sian.

–Reporting by Seintje Veldhuis of Feed the Children Kenya

Food and Nutrition First: A Conversation with Matt Panos

Editor’s Note: Today we begin a series of posts highlighting some of the people who make up the Feed the Children team. We begin with part 1 of an interview with Matt Panos, Feed the Children’s Chief Development Officer.

mattTell us about your background and your role at Feed the Children.

As Chief Development Officer, I oversee all the annual income we receive from individual donors, volunteers, and churches. I also manage our television, radio, direct mail and digital activities, our customer relations, and monthly giving programs, including Feed America’s Children and our Child Sponsorship program.

How did you come to be a part of the organization?

I was recruited in late spring of 2012 by then-acting Chief Development Officer, Chris Cleghorn. The organization needed help with its direct response marketing program and had a goal to evaluate and rebuild our television and radio programs. I was asked to become the permanent Chief Development Officer in September of 2012 and started in the role on October 1st.

Child sponsorship is one of your areas of responsibility. Tell us about that—how it works, and what makes it distinctive from similar programs.

2014 TRIP 1441 - Guatemala (585)Child sponsorship is still the most compelling way an individual or family can give funds, communicate with a particular child in one of our support countries, and see a tangible difference in that child’s life. Even though our funding model of support is to support the whole community, the sponsor can communicate with one child and see how the child, their family and whole community benefit from their donations to sponsorship.

I’d say Feed the Children’s program is unique because we put food and nutrition first and ensure children get at least one good meal per day. Many other organizations do not include food or daily nutrition in their sponsorship program. Feed the Children understands that a child who is hungry tends to learn poorly and can have developmental disabilities because of the lack of good food and proper nutrition.

What’s one misconception about child sponsorship you’d like to correct?

The hardest message to get across to child sponsors is the money they give doesn’t go directly to their child… and that’s a good thing for the child, their family and the community. Feed the Children does community development programming, meaning we use the money to help the entire community escape poverty.

_C1Z5369_High Res.When we “pool” one sponsor’s money with other sponsors, we can fund a whole school feeding program, for example, or build a water well for the whole community, or provide sanitation so everyone benefits. Some organizations give the funds more directly to one child’s family, which means others in the community may be left out or do poorly. Community development work lifts all children out of poverty, not just the individual, and it’s been proven that a thriving community is much better for each of the individual children.

Of course, there are children all over the world who need support. But is there a region of the world where the need is particularly great at this time?

The World Bank studies tell us that nearly one billion people still live in extreme poverty, meaning they exist on less than $1.25 per day. The industrialization of China and India and poverty abatement programs like those at Feed the Children have cut extreme poverty over the past 30 years from more than 50% of the world’s population down to about 25%.

S94A6620Unfortunately, in that same period of time, the countries in Africa have had only minor improvements. Most of the poorest countries in the world are in Africa. We have a presence there now, but we want to expand our reach in Africa and improve our community development programming. We’re going to need to raise more private funds, and receive grants from the United States, Canada and the European Union if we’re going to make a difference in Africa in the near term.

You have opportunity to travel extensively in your work. Tell us about a visit you made recently and what you witnessed there.

I was in Kenya this past fall and, like many who have visited, was quite taken by the Abandoned Baby Center. It goes beyond abandoned babies and has numerous children with physical disabilities who live there as well. I’m so proud of Feed the Children’s commitment to all of the children at the Center, and the quality of life made possible by the many donors who have provided support.

To read more about Feed the Children’s child sponsorship program, click here.

You Don’t Have to Marry at 9 Years Old: Empowering Girls in Kenya

After being with Feed the Children for over two years now, you would think I would go through a day without a surprise.

But two weeks ago while I was traveling through Kenya, I learned something about our work that I didn’t know.

In the NGO world, we know that girls in school equals lasting change to communities.

Yet, for so many communities around the world, girls not in school are the norm.

2014-11-28 13.32.34But, why? We think girls drop out in the Global South because their parents can’t afford the school fees. Or we think that their parents need them to work. Yet for many girls, especially in rural communities, they drop out for other reasons.

In some parts of Kenya a practice called Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is what is keeping girls from school.

Wow. I dare say, as an American male, this is something I have rarely thought or even knew much about.

But it’s a right of passage for girls usually aged 9-12 go through to prepare them for marriage. It’s a cultural tradition that can lead to serious infections, loss of pregnancies, and sometimes death. Although the government has banned FGM, some communities still practice it in secret.

So how can we address this problem?

For a while now, Feed the Children Kenya explored this issue. How could we empower girls with knowledge of their bodies, self-confidence and give them invitation to dream big for their future?

This was our answer: Feed the Children Kenya birthed the first ever retreat for 30 girls this past November in partnership with AIC Church, Lumbwa.

The retreat included workshops to help the girls know that the traditional way of life in the village is not the only option for them.

It just so happened that the Friday afternoon graduation ceremony coincided with my trip to Kenya. I couldn’t wait to meet these brave girls!

When we arrived at the church hosting the graduation, sounds of joyous singing by the girls and their mothers filled the space.

Girls laughed with sashes around their bodies, “I am a champion!” Mothers danced alongside them to welcome us. And a father who told me, “Thank you, Feed the Children for helping me empower my girls.”

I learned that often it is the mothers in the community that are most resistant to change. The fathers usually want FGM to stop.

Then, before an audience of 50, one girl spoke boldly on behalf of her graduation class, calling upon the governmentof Kenya and the county leadership to implement the law.

In response, I told the girls how proud I was of them. I told them they were beautiful. It shocked me that the crowd erupted in applause when a staffer translated my words. Maybe they aren’t used to ever hearing such encouragement?

2014-11-28 14.03.19Later, my wife, Elizabeth and I passed out certificates to each girl.

I learned that for all of the girls this was the only time they’d ever had a piece of paper with their name on it! Imagine that. Something that happens to me everyday that I take for granted!

As the festivities concluded the girls processed out of the church in song. Joy leapt from the dirt road as their sandals pounded in unity.

2014-11-28 14.28.14A Feed the Children staffer, Duncan who worked alongside the retreat all week leaned over to tell me, “You should have seen the girls on the first day. They were shy and withdrawn. Now, look at them! They’ve got hope.”

I’m so happy to tell you that this retreat is only the first of many to come. Plans are already underway for more gatherings like this in 2015. At Feed the Children, want girls like these to dream of unimaginable futures and to keep having reasons to dance with joy!

Feed the Children CEO Cooks Thanksgiving Dinner at Kenyan Orphanage

Yesterday, in Nairobi, Kenya the kids of the Dagoretti Children Center gathered for their first ever American Thanksgiving dinner.

It was an especially celebratory occasion because Kevin Hagan, President and CEO of Feed the Children helped to cook the meal along with his wife Elizabeth.

Kevin and Elizabeth spent the days leading up to the big dinner carefully planning the meal with the kitchen staff of the Center. Then, yesterday morning they worked tirelessly with the kitchen team to prepare the feast, side by side. Wearing special Feed the Children aprons and hats; they cooked and cooked and cooked.

When asked, Kevin said he wanted spend the holidays in Kenya because, “The kids at the Center are so very important to me. They’re the heart of our mission. I need them to know that their Feed the Children family loves them.”

Over 50 children and staff gathered around adjoined tables for this great feast.

IMG_3812The menu consisted of the traditional fare –turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and stuffing along with a few other side dishes more familiar to the Kenyan children likecooked carrots, garden peas and leeks. The children liked the sweet potatoes and turkey the best.

For dessert, the children enjoyed cupcakes with ice cream, a rare treat, while the adults savored on apple crumble and peach cobbler.

Before dinner began, Elizabeth offered a thanksgiving prayer and many of the children shared what they were thankful for –“Life!” “Feed the Children!,” and “Our visitors to Kenya!”

IMG_2418Kevin carved the turkey and explained the history of American Thanksgiving and why it is important to give thanks.

After dinner, the staff choir shared several songs with the group, which included “Count Your Many Blessings” and some traditional Swahili songs about giving thanks as well.

Several of the older children performed a skit about thankfulness, inviting the audience to join in.

IMG_8366Seintje Veldhuis, Regional Director of African programs, who also helped to organize the event said, “This was a very happy day for the children and the staff. We gave thanks to all be together.”

The Thanksgiving festivities concluded with a song in Swahili about how “Goodness had come to Dagoretti” on this very special day. The staff, children and choir danced their way out of the Dining hall. Each leaving the dinner with a smile on their face!

IMG_0223If you would like to know more about how to support programs like this one in Kenya, check out our gift catalog.

Standing with Children Affected by HIV

Today is Unite for Children, Unite Against AIDS Day. Begun in 2005 by UNICEF, this global campaign shows others what HIV/ AIDS does to the innocent children born into the disease, and how to minimize and prevent that harm.

The World Health Organization states that “HIV/AIDS remains one of the world’s most significant public health challenges, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.” The latest report published in 2013 says that 35 million people are living with HIV around the world, and of those, approximately 3.2 million are kids.

Some of the children in our programs are living with HIV, either because their own status is positive or because one or both of their parents are HIV positive. Today, we unite with those children, and with our colleagues around the world, against HIV/AIDS.

A significant proportion of those we see living with HIV live in Kenya. Our health officers work hard to end the spread of HIV especially among mothers and children in this East African nation, where at least 200,000 children are currently living with HIV. The disease has orphaned another estimated 100,000 under the age of 17. (Source)

Abandoned Babies Center

Many of the children admitted into our Abandoned Babies and Children Center in Nairobi come from families ravaged by HIV, and many carry the virus in their own bodies.

We often take in very sick children abandoned at our doorstep or referred to us by the police. We provide medical care, protection, and proper nutrition and even the most hopelessly sick of these kids begin to grow.

One of the boys living in the ABC Center was abandoned by his family when he was around 9 years old because they learned he was HIV positive. Today he’s ten and thriving under the care of Feed the Children staff. He goes to school and plays soccer with his new friends. We hope one day to reunite him with his family.

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Livelihood Projects

Being HIV positive in Kenya carries a nearly-insurmountable stigma, especially for women and mothers who often can’t find jobs to support their families. When their parents can’t provide life’s basic necessities, children lose that trademark of childhood – dreams for the future. Their hope is devoured by hunger and the desperate struggle to find the next small meal. They can’t attend school without money to pay the school fees, nor can they get any medical attention when they get sick.

Feed the Children’s Livelihood projects in Kenya focus on equipping women who are living with HIV/AIDS with skills and income-earning activities. To date, we’re working with 15 groups of approximately 25 women each from different slums in Nairobi.

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In these groups, women learn and then teach each other valuable skills like making soap, working with tie-dye, crafting jewelry, and making purses. They sell their products to visitors in the Feed the Children office in Nairobi. We ship many of these items to our retail store in Oklahoma City. The ladies also have the option to sell the products on their own in tourist areas.

One of the women positively glowed as she talked about how her life has changed since she joined the group. “When we were trained, I liked the beadwork the best. When we sold the items, I was very happy to receive money, and I decided to invest in beadwork. Now I make bangles, Christmas cards, Easter cards, necklaces with different designs and so many beautiful things. With my acquired skills, I don’t have a problem at all getting food like I used to.”

When you support our international programs, including child sponsorship, you help sustain these Care Groups as they equip mothers to provide for their own children. Empowering women ensures that their children thrive.

This work is changing lives, both of children and their parents who are affected by HIV.

“Feed the Children has actually healed me . . . I was so down, hopeless and just didn’t know what to do with my life. I was hiding from the world because of my status. I really want to thank Feed the Children for the skills training that they imparted to me and other ladies in a similar situation.”

Unite with children against HIV/AIDS .

In our gift catalog, you can give care for one of our abandoned babies in Kenya for a year.

Choose handwashing, choose health — Global Handwashing Day 2014

Today marks Global Handwashing Day. Begun in 2008 by The Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing with Soap (PPPHW) with support from the United Nations, today over 200 million people in 100 different countries will commemorate the day with educational celebrations. Their goals are to:

  • Foster and support a global culture of handwashing with soap
  • Shine a spotlight on the state of handwashing in every country
  • Raise awareness about the benefits of handwashing with soap

Kenya - girls washing hands

Every year, 1.7 million children do not live to celebrate their 5th birthday because of the devastating affects of diarrhea and pneumonia.  Handwashing with soap is among the most effective and inexpensive ways to prevent diarrheal diseases and pneumonia.  This simple behavior can save lives, cutting deaths from diarrhea by almost one-half and deaths from acute respiratory infections by nearly one-quarter.

Feed the Children is happy to join in these celebrations throughout the world so that even more kids can reach their 5th birthday and beyond!

These are some of our plans for celebration in Africa.

Kenya

In Kajiado County, Feed the Children will partner with teachers and school administrators at Kajiado Township Primary School in Kajiado County to talk to the children about the use of soap.

Children get handwashing lessons in the Dagoretti Center, Kenya

Children get handwashing lessons in the Dagoretti Center, Kenya

In Turkana County, Feed the Children will join partner at Lorugum sub-county headquarters to mark the day with handwashing demonstrations while in Nairobi County, personnel from government ministries and our staff will visit six schools under the school meals program to provide similar lessons on handwashing.

Our staff that serves at the Dagoretti Children Centre (DCC) in Nairobi will hear a presentation from our on-site nurses. The nurses will share tips with the childcare workers, not only for handwashing, but also how to prevent the Ebola virus.

If you would like to invest in educating more people about preventing Ebola, learn more here.

Malawi

In the Rumphi district in the northern region of Malawi, the district Council and other partners will join Feed the Children to commemorate the day through a Global Sanitation FUND project. Feed the Children is also contributing financial resources toward the events.

An outdoor handwashing station in Uganda

The Global Sanitation FUND project in Malawi is one of many that teaches children and families about the benefits of handwashing all year, not just on one day. In every one of the 847 communities we support in this country, we have installed handwashing stations and toilets. We are teaching the value of cleanliness and have installed handwashing facilities outside each of the toilets so that children learn from a young age the value of washing their hands.

Eliya washes his hands after using the toilet at his parents’ home in Central Malawi. Image Credit FEED THE CHILDREN/AMOS GUMULIRA, October 9, 2014
Eliya washes his hands after using the toilet at his parents’ home in Central Malawi. Image Credit FEED THE CHILDREN/AMOS GUMULIRA, October 9, 2014

Another way we make sure everyone learns how to wash their hands properly is through our Care Groups, a model originally developed in Mozambique by another organization and pioneered by our Chief Program Officer and others. Through Care Groups, the average improvement in handwashing behavior increases twice as fast as it does with any other approach.

The Care Groups model helps communities take on some of the responsibility for lifting themselves out of poverty, empowering people to contribute their own time and resources to the work. In this model, we work with communities to form a “Neighbor Circle” of 12 households, each of which selects a member to be their “Care Group Volunteer.” All of the Care Group Volunteers meet regularly for training from Feed the Children, and then in turn pass along the training to other households in their Neighbor Circle. In a Care Group program that one of our staff members supported, malnutrition dropped by 38% in less than two years and child deaths dropped 29%!

Kenya - boy shows clean hands after washing

Through these Care Groups we have educated communities on the importance of hand washing with soap at all critical times, including before and after eating or serving food, after changing a baby’s diaper, and after handling food.

We have seen an improvement in handwashing behavior in most of the communities we are working with. Handwashing with soap is still a challenge in some communities, but with repetitive teaching, we are making great progress and fewer kids are getting sick.

Happy Global Handwashing Day, everyone!

 

Hoodies That Change the World

A Guest Post by James Williams

Who says a person is too young to make a difference? James Williams came to partner with us several months ago after a life-changing trip to Kenya while a college student. Afterwards he started his own company called udu. We asked him to share with our readers his story with hopes that it might inspire you to support his work and/or put feet to your dreams of changing the world!

The idea for udu began when a college friend brought me a gift from Kenya several years ago – a hoodie. It peaked my interest. Not only did the crazy colors and patterns make it a great product, but it was a piece of clothing that created a connection between me and the craft maker on the other side of the world.

A couple months later, I met Dr. Tony Ahlstrom of Feed the Children. Dr. Ahlstrom told me about all of the incredible work being done around the world and specifically about the impact they were having in Kenya.

I thought carefully about the connection between these two experiences.

After digging a little deeper, I discovered a widespread entrepreneurial spirit among the Kenyan people. The hooded shirt my friend had brought me served as an example, but the fact that no one else could buy one, no matter how desirable it was, served as a testament to the economic limitations those self-starters faced.

Eager to test my schooling in a real world setting, I set out to start a company centered on the mission to alleviate those limitations.

While studying abroad in Spain the next summer, I continued to develop my plan for how I would actually do this. This was my plan:

Step one: I bought a plane ticket to Nairobi without knowing a soul there and having no real plan of what to do once I got there. I would have four days in Kenya to figure out how to get this thing rolling.

Step two: I emailed Dr. Ahlstrom telling him I would be visiting Kenya and asking if he would put me in touch with the Feed the Children staff there. He graciously entertained my request and introduced me to Seintje, the regional director of African programs.

Step Three: I traveled to Kenya to begin work!

When I arrived, my first meeting was with Jude, a friend of a friend who lived in Nairobi. Jude showed me all around Nairobi and helped me begin looking for tailors like the one who had made my hoodie. We also checked out fabrics and talked business with some local dealers. Then we visited Jude’s neighborhood, Dandora. Here we found a plethora of local tailors and fashion entrepreneurs.

Eventually we came upon George. George has lost the use of his legs and lives and works from his shop in Dandora. He was excited by the opportunity I presented and agreed to make samples of the hoodie for me to take back to the US. With my samples now in progress, Jude and I made our way to Feed the Children to share what I’d already learned.

I showed the Feed the Children staff in Nairobi my hoodie and asked if any of the women who are a part of their tailoring program might be able to make something like it. They said yes, and I told them I would buy all the hoodies the women made. The next day I headed home with 14 sample hoodies and a partner in Feed the Children that would prove to be invaluable.

1239038_724565524240463_438334915_nAfter the trip and a few months of product development over weekly Skype meetings with Feed the Children staff back in Nairobi, I created a company called udu, named for the traditional African drum because I have learned that with any experience like this, you don’t always know exactly where you are headed and that’s ok- you just learn to keep following the beat.

Today, things are going great with udu. In addition to George, we employ four tailors who are Feed the Children beneficiaries and have recently joined forces with some other Kenyan entrepreneurs to explore new products and opportunities.

Thanks James, for showing us all that we can be the change we want to see in the world!  Want to learn more about udu? Connect with them on Facebook

Feeding Minds: How We Are Ending the Cycle of Poverty

This is the third in a four-part series introducing you to our proactive, sustainable approach to ending poverty and improving lives. Our Four Pillars—Food & Nutrition, Health & WaterEducation, and Livelihoods—comprise an 8- to 10-year, integrated program that equips and empowers impoverished families and communities to achieve self-sufficiency.

Today we’ll take a look at the Education pillar, where we work toward positive, lasting change by providing children with educational opportunity and support.

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If you were to take a tentative step into the fetid streets of the Kibera slum of Kenya, the first thing you might notice is the stench—one million people packed into one square mile without plumbing will do that. You’d notice poverty streaked into every face. You’d notice children scavenging; you’d notice babies languishing.

But what you might not notice—not right away, though it’s there—is the hope slowly growing. Because tucked into a cluster of tiny ramshackle building is Spurgeons Academy.

Feeding children in body and mind

Throughout the world, about 215 million children have to work—some of them full-time—to help their families make it through the day. They can’t attend school because it’s more important that they find food or sell scraps or haul water. Food and water are the most basic human needs, and every other need, no matter how important, falls by the wayside when people don’t have them.

Children living in poverty don’t get proper nutrition. Children who are poorly nourished can’t make education a priority. Children who lack education remain living in poverty. And on it goes.

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So Feed the Children breaks into this cycle to come alongside families who desperately need a way out. We run programs at schools in impoverished areas around the world, like the Kibera slum, to regularly provide nutritious meals to 350,000 children who might otherwise go an entire day without eating. We provide school materials like backpacks and uniforms. We pay for teachers if none are available in a community. And if a school doesn’t already exist in the area, or if it’s in disrepair, we build a new one—and this is often the only place a community has access to clean drinking water and sanitation.

The food and clean water they can count on getting at school is a strong incentive for attending—and while they’re there to get their most basic needs met, they get an education too.

Educating parents to raise healthy kids

Providing education for children is an important part of our work—and so is providing education for their parents. By teaching the adults in impoverished communities good health, nutrition, and sanitation practices, we equip them to improve the quality of life for their whole family.

In the Pueblo Nuevo community of Nicaragua, we recently held a comprehensive two-day training on nutrition and preventative health. Nineteen women learned about the food chart; the relationships among health, nutrition, and education; signs of malnutrition, including measurement of children; hygiene in food handling; and personal hygiene.

The women were enthusiastic about the training and are eager not only to get more, but to pass it along. They recognize that this kind of education has tremendous ability to further the hard work they’re already doing in their community to improve their children’s health and give them a better future.

Kids can’t thrive when their families are trapped in poverty. Education is the key to breaking them out of the cycle. If we want to improve their lives, we have to help them get an education. And we do.

With school walls separating them from the slum, the children are insulated for the day. Most of them are orphaned or have only one parent—and that parent is either gravely ill or struggling to support the family with odd jobs for meager pay. There is no doubt life in Kibera is beyond difficult.

But this morning they chatted and laughed over their hot bowls and fresh cups, and now they’re engaged in the lesson—fed in body, mind, and spirit. When Spurgeons Academy opened in 2000, a handful of children attended, but with the assurance of a meal every day, now over 400 come.

Inside these walls, they have hope—and it shows.

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Finding Hope Together: In Celebration of World Autism Day

How many of us are raising or know a child with autism? Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is a brain disorder that is characterized by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. It is estimated by the Centers for Disease Control that 1 out of every 68 children worldwide is affected.

Though the diagnostic numbers of this condition with a wide spectrum of effects are on the rise, parents who have a child with autism in the United States often face a difficult and lonely parenting journey. These parents are overwhelmed long before the diagnosis, but learning that a child has autism only adds to that feeling. Many parents describe themselves as depressed, frustrated, and worn out to the point of having nothing left by their child’s patterns of unpredictable behavior.

For parents of autistic children in Africa, the challenges are even greater. In African nations like Kenya, raising a child with any special needs brings a huge stigma with it. Many people in this part of the world believe that parents did something wrong or are some how cursed if their child’s physical or emotional state is anything less than perfect.

This means that parents with autistic children, just like parents of children with other disabilities, quickly become outcasts—with few resources offered by their community leaders to help raise their child or children. They have few places to turn to for life-giving support.

Feed the Children–Kenya loves children with disabilities. We adamantly oppose such prejudice and want parents of children, no matter their child’s challenges, to have the resources they need to parent well.

In celebration of World Autism Day on April 2, Feed the Children’s Dagoretti Children Centre (DCC) hosted an event in Nairobi for parents and caregivers of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

More than twenty parents who have autistic children traveled from the surrounding communities to attend the event facilitated by Feed the Children staff and by Stephen Muga, the rehabilitation coordinator.  Parents came with their autistic children and shared with one another the challenges they were facing.

“These mothers and fathers are not only parents, but they are therapists, psychologists, mentors,” Stephen said. “Their work never ends!”

DSCN2544Feed the Children–Kenya hoped that the workshop would help break down barriers and improve both acceptance and awareness of the disorder by educating and empowering parents to work with their children. The workshop presented parents and caregivers with valuable strategies to help them create a calmer and more conducive home environment for their children.

Some of the parents confessed to being confused on how to handle their child.

“What do I do when my child does not respond to my directions?” one mother asked.

Stephen took the parents through the signs that indicate a child has autism and at the end of the day, parents and caregivers had learned to identify triggers of unwanted behavior, structure situations to prevent avoidable behavioral problems, communicate clearly, encourage cooperation through the child’s interest and choose the right diet for the child.

Parents had the opportunity to interact closely with their children through different activities such as arranging letters to form words, arranging shapes (most of the children were drawn to circular objects), and inserting string through beads to make traditional necklaces.

The message of the workshop was simple: what autistic children need most are parents who accept their children, create a support group, and cultivate an autism-friendly environment at home. With these factors, the child will thrive.

DSCN2583By the end of the activity-packed day, all of the parents had decided to form ongoing support groups to share their experiences and encourage other parents who were skeptical of talking about their autistic children. The group chose the mission statement, “Together we are strong!

Feed the Children–Kenya was so happy to facilitate this workshop!

Love Notes Delivered

In February, we asked you to help us share our love with the children of our orphanages notes of love and support in response to our blog post, “Love Does Not Conquer All.”

Your response was overwhelming and wonderful!

We received so many notes of kindness and support for the children in our care.

Recently, we were able to personally deliver many of your messages to our children’s center in Nairobi, Kenya. Soon we will do the same for the children we serve in Honduras.

We believe the joy on the faces of these photos speak for themselves. Thanks again for helping us love the children so well!

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