Stories from the field

Stories collected by our field staff – real people with real stories.

World Vision heals a broken heart

By Mong Jimenez, Field Communication Specialist

On the day of hearts, let us discover the journey of a little girl who battled a severe heart condition. Thanks to World Vision, she was given the opportunity to heal her broken heart.

Crystal, then 7 years old, and her grandmother Dolores, who raised her since she was an infant.

It was 7 AM in Negros Occidental, Philippines. The morning sun had just emerged from behind the towering Mount Canlaon. Children with newly washed hair and bulky bags were heading to school – excitement and joy evident on their faces. One girl, however, sat idly outside her home as she watched her playmates pass by. She had been missing class for days already.

Crystal was 7 years old when we met her. A thin girl with tousled hair, she was mostly quiet. On that particular morning, she was worried because she was not able to submit her homework that was due three days ago. A run of dry cough broke her silence.

In the kitchen, Crystal’s grandmother Dolores was busy cooking scrambled eggs for breakfast but her mind was preoccupied with something else. “Crystal has been missing her classes because of her condition,” the grandmother worriedly shared. “It gets worse every day.”

Crystal has always been sickly. Her grandmother volunteered to raise and take care of her while both her parents work away from home. Her father, Ferdinand, is a security guard who earns the minimum wage each day. Her mother used to be a house helper but she stopped working to take care of Crystal’s siblings.

Crystal was accustomed to her recurring ailments. She usually went to school despite enduring a dry cough or a mild fever. But there were also days when she was forced to miss classes because of a severe flu or breathing complications.

Crystal was diagnosed with a congenital heart disease that causes many serious ailments like flu and pneumonia.

Worried about her granddaughter’s ailment, Dolores accompanied Crystal to the city hospital for a check-up. She was devastated when she learned that Crystal was diagnosed with a congenital heart disease. “According to the attending doctor, the heart disease was already present when she was born,” Dolores discussed. “It is the reason why she often got sick even when she was still an infant.”

The attending physician recommended a heart operation at the most immediate time to prevent other serious ailments to develop.

Dolores felt discouraged, knowing that a single heart operation would be too expensive for their family to afford. Crystal’s parents could not even buy a plane ticket to Manila, where the only public hospital that can offer cardiac surgery is located. Crystal’s parents were also shocked when they discovered the check-up result.

Every week that passed by was a struggle for Crystal and her family. Their accumulated savings were not enough to shoulder the heart operation and Crystal’s health got weaker significantly.

The situation seemed hopeless.

But somehow, a glimpse of hope shined upon Crystal when child-focused organization World Vision selected her as a sponsored child. She and thousands of other children in her community began benefiting from the organization’s development projects in education, health and nutrition, economic development, and disaster risk reduction. The sponsored children also became involved in regular child monitoring activities.

World Vision staff closely monitored Crystal after they learned about her condition. The organization helped shoulder her check-up and medical expenses whenever she developed a flu or a severe cough.

A World Vision Malaysia Youth Mobiliser plays with Crystal during a Philippine trip last November 2015.

On November 2015, a team from World Vision Malaysia visited Crystal’s community. They were saddened to hear about her condition during an interaction activity and left Crystal’s house full of sympathy and purpose. Crystal and her family were hopeful that help would come.

The World Vision team brought Crystal’s story to Malaysia and initiated a fundraising campaign for her heart operation. Thankfully, many supported the project and the team raised more than enough to cover Crystal’s heart procedure, including the hospital and transportation expenses. A schedule for a heart operation was set.

Crystal always carried her stuffed toy during her stay at the hospital.

On January 20 this year, Crystal, her grandmother, her father, and a World Vision Philippines staff travelled to Manila for Crystal’s heart operation.

The child, who has turned a year older, was admitted at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) in preparation for her operation. She had to undergo several laboratory tests. According to her grandmother, Crystal remained calm and silent throughout the process. She carried a stuffed toy to make herself comfortable.

The day of Crystal’s operation finally arrived. Everyone in the room hoped and prayed for positive results. At around 7 AM, Crystal was brought to the operating room with her Lola Dolores at her side.

After three long hours, the family’s prayers were finally answered. An overwhelming feeling washed over Ferdinand when he heard that the operation was a success.

Today, Crystal and her grandmother are staying in Manila so they can return conveniently to PGH for regular check-ups. Their rent is also covered by the donated money. According to Dolores, Crystal can already walk and eat properly. She has become more energetic.

“This is an answered prayer,” Dolores zealously shared. “We never thought that God would use World Vision and other generous people to help Crystal. This is the greatest help that we have ever received and we will forever be grateful to everyone who made this possible.”

Support children like Crystal, who deserves the opportunity to live healthily and to realise their dreams they never thought of. You can help turn a child’s life better and fill it with so much hope by Sponsoring A Child .

Changing the role of a father in his family

A growing and overwhelming body of evidence confirms that engaged fatherhood is good for children, good for women and good for men themselves. But many fathers don’t know it.

In the majority of Sri Lankan families, cooking, feeding, washing, cleaning and of course, bringing up children is a woman’s responsibility. The man is little involved in the lives of his wife and children. The disengagement of men in the well-being of their families often paves the way to isolation, domestic violence and abuse.

“I used to think that bringing up my children and doing chores at home were my wife’s responsibility,” says Christopher, 31. “My wife would get up early in the morning, cook for the family and get the children ready for pre-school and daycare before she went for work; I would sleep through all of it, wake up late and go to work. After work I would go and play sports with my friends, and if I had some money, go for booze (alcohol) as well. None of us saw anything wrong in this lifestyle.”

Christopher with his wife and family.

Christopher’s wife Vijayakala didn’t see anything wrong in it either. It was normal and she just had to bear it.

Christopher comes from a community of tea estate labourers in the Central Hills of Sri Lanka where domestic violence is the highest (72%) in the country (World Health Organisation study). In his community, women plucked tea from morning till evening in any kind of weather while men worked in the factory only till 2:00 in the afternoon. The rest of the evening most got drunk. It added to the issue of domestic violence and abuse.

“I never listened to my wife’s opinion. So even over very small matters we argued a lot. I would even beat her sometimes. I was the boss,” Christopher says, “With my daughter, it was the same. She is four and if she asked for toys I would spank her.”

When World Vision began to work among tea estate communities, domestic violence and child abuse was identified as one of the biggest issues. Domestic violence is normalised and trivialised in Sri Lankan culture and even the women themselves believe it is normal. An old Sri Lankan Proverb says, “There are three things that can be beaten: a drum, a dog, and a woman.” And another – “Don’t let the outsiders know the fire inside your house” keeps victims silent. A survey conducted by an International Organisation in 2013 revealed that 58% of women agreed that ‘a woman should tolerate violence to keep the family together.’

Bringing awareness and empowering women alone wasn’t enough to solve the issue. It was important that both men and women were brought together to contribute to the solution.

World Vision, with the support of Promundo International, introduced the MenCare Project, which is designed to promote men’s involvement as caregivers in the lives of their partners and children. The sessions cover a variety of topics such as gender equality, family life, alcoholism, financial planning and child protection and development. A special session on family enrichment helps interaction between husbands and wives and helps them solve issues and start life again.

“The sessions changed my whole perspective on marriage and family,” smiles Christopher. “I started to share the chores at home – helping children get ready in the morning and doing laundry. I don’t argue anymore at home either. I have learnt to have conversations with my wife and my children without yelling or beating. I can see that it has changed my daughter from being afraid of me to being more relaxed around me. I didn’t know that being involved in their lives could be so rewarding.”

“Before the Project I used to allocate money from my salary for booze because I thought it was my right. But now I have stopped drinking and smoking completely,” he says. “Surprisingly it gives me more stamina to work. My wife and I plan our expenses for the month and we have been able to pay off all the debt, open savings accounts for the children and even buy a gas stove.”

After work, Christopher now spends most evenings with his wife and children. “I help my daughter with her crafts or any other work she’s brought from pre-school. Then I put on some music for her to dance to. She loves to dance,” he smiles.

Similar changes are evident in every father who took part in the MenCare Project. “They have developed the habit of saving and are more involved in the lives of their children,” says A Jeyaram, the Estate Manager of Ouvahkellei Estate where Christopher lives and works. “Domestic violence has started to disappear from their homes, alcoholism and smoking has significantly gone down among the workers of our Estate and productivity has increased by 25% compared to previous years.”

An evaluation conducted among the fathers (between 25 – 40 years) who participated in the Project indicated that  69% have reduced alcohol consumption, 66% support their partners in household activities and are engaged in the lives of their children,while 72% now prepare their monthly budget with their partner.

“But this change is not always easy,” says Christopher. “Some of my friends call me a sissy for helping my wife with house chores. They don’t understand why I don’t go drinking anymore.”

However, Christopher and the others from the Project have begun to share their knowledge with others in their community, becoming activists in preventing violence against women and children; they have already begun to see the changes.

“I can see some of them changing and I see the joy in their wives and children and even neighbours,” he says, “Every father should go through the MenCare Project.”

This story was featured on wvi.org

A Father’s Love

by Ramon Lucas Jimenez, Field Communications Specialist, World Vision Philippines

How do we measure a father’s love? Is it the amount of food he sets on the table for his family? Is it the beautiful and expensive material things he gives to his children? Or is it the attention he gives to his family and the quality time he spends with his children?

For Mark, an eight-year-old boy from a rural community in the southern part of Cebu, Philippines, a father’s love can be measured by the simple things his father does for him and his older brother to make them feel loved and special.

Despite being raised in a simple home, Mark has no problem being happy and cheerful every day, because his father is always there to provide him with his basic needs.

Aside from being supported by World Vision’s child sponsorship programme, the genuine love of their father helps Mark and his older brother live a life that is full.

Each day, his father wakes him and his brother up and lets them prepare for school. While they take a bath in a makeshift bathroom in their backyard, his father prepares food for their breakfast and for their packed lunches.

Mark enjoys breakfast time because they eat together and his father always prepares his favourite meal, fried eggplant.

After breakfast, his father often walks with him to school, which is just a stone’s throw away from their house. His father sometimes waits for Mark outside his school if he is not busy attending to his small vegetable and fish farm. He also helps his sons with their assignments at night before he tucks them into bed.

Single father

Chris, Mark’s father, has never left their village since he was born there. He is a farmer, a trade he learned from his father. He grows root crops, fruit trees and farm animals as a means of earning income.

Chris’ wife left their family. For years, Chris has singlehandedly raised his two sons with a father’s sustaining providence and a mother’s loving care.

It is also in their small village where he met a woman who eventually became his wife and the mother of his two sons. They were a complete and happy family then.

After more than 10 years of being married, Chris’s livelihood was not flourishing. Being a man who hadn’t set foot in college, his capability for supporting his family is limited to the meagre income he earns after he sells his harvests.

Hardships continued to follow, which made Chris’s wife leave for a decent-paying job in a distant city. After years of working away from her family, she never came back.

“She found another one,” shares Chris. “I wasn’t mad at her. All I thought about after I heard the news was the welfare of my children, now that they didn’t have a mother.”

Chris promised himself that he would double his efforts to provide for the needs of his two sons.

Being a loving father, Chris also makes sure that the motherly needs of his sons are attended to. He talks to them and guides them if they have problems in school; he also cooks for them and makes sure that they are nourished.

“I still want my children to feel a mother’s love. That is why I try my best to provide it to them. Sometimes when I am busy, I send them to their grandmother,” adds Chris.

World Vision helps Chris

Chris was thankful when he found out that his eldest son’s education would be sponsored by World Vision. His son is provided with school materials and timely gifts. Chris also shares the gifts with his youngest son, Mark.

“World Vision is a big help to our family, especially in my kids’ education,” says Chris.

Loving father

Indeed, Mark and his older brother are blessed to have a loving and caring father. They still visit their mother, who has already settled with a new family. But for them, their papa Chris is enough for them as their father and mother.

“Love nako si Papa kay palangga ko niya (I love my father because he takes care of me),” says Mark while sitting beside his father.

The power of a letter and prayer

By Phil Manzano, with contributions by Annila Harris

Maya beams with new light since overcoming her illness and returning to school.

Deep in the slums of New Delhi, in a gray and dusty landscape of crowded, weathered apartments, hope seemed far off for 9-year-old Maya.

Even in this impoverished setting, Maya was considered a nobody. She suffered epileptic seizures; as her mom looked on, helpless and scared, Maya’s legs and arms stiffened and her mouth foamed.  After a few epileptic episodes at school, Maya was told to stay home.

Maya feared the seizures, which would strike anytime. Her father, a labourer, and her mother scraped together what they could to buy medicine. Desperate, they took out loans and even visited a witch doctor.

But nothing seemed to slow Maya’s downward spiral. The longer she stayed away from school, the further she fell behind in her studies. The more withdrawn she became, the more she stopped caring for herself. Teased and bullied by older girls, Maya languished.

“I used to sit around and there was nothing to do,” Maya says. “I used to feel like my head was heavy all the time. I used to be with my mother most of the time. I didn’t go out much.”

Until one day, hope arrived — in the form of a letter sent 7,000 miles, from a grandmother in Spokane, Washington, who took Maya under her wing.

Kay Yoke was attending a Women of Faith conference when she came across Maya’s picture and information at a World Vision sponsorship table. Kay’s mother had recently passed away and Maya was born on the same day as her mom. Kay thought sponsoring Maya seemed like a great way to honour her memory.

About once a month, Kay sits at her dining room table to pen a letter to Maya. Kay’s granddaughter is about the same age as Maya, so she writes to her as she would her own granddaughter.

In her letters, Kay asks about Maya and her family, she asks about her health, she asks about the weather — but Kay also asks about Maya’s aspirations and dreams. She fills her letters with affirmations, encouragement, and prayers. Sometimes, she includes a small gift, like hair ribbons or a photo.

“She wrote about praying for me and my family, that she prays for my family,” Maya says. “I remember that, I felt very good and when I read that letter, I cried. Tears just came.”

Maya holds onto those letters like a lifeline. She cherishes and keeps them in a tidy bundle tied together with ribbon. Maya always writes back immediately, thanking the woman she calls “my Kay” for the prayers and gifts. One time, Maya included a gift of her own, a bracelet for Kay.

From the stoop of her apartment, above the din, Maya reads one of Kay’s letters:

Dear Maya,

I just received your beautiful letter. Thank you very much for the [bracelets]. They are beautiful and I will treasure them forever.
I show them to everyone and I tell them that my girl in India sent these to me and I love her.
I’m so happy to read that your studies are going good…I pray for you, your brothers and your mother and father every day.
Keep smiling every day, Maya. You have a wonderful smile that makes me very happy.

Love to you,
Kay

As she sits with the letter, Maya begins to weep, remembering how those simple words have changed her life.

In her heart she receives a greater gift, something stronger and more enduring: the knowledge that someone believes in her and cares for her, who tells her she is somebody.

“The prayers of my sponsor have healed me,” Maya says. “Yes, it’s because of Kay. Kay said, ‘Don’t fear. Count on God and everything will be okay.’ I listened to Kay.”

It’s been about three years since Kay found Maya. And the girl who had retreated into a shell has emerged.

She has returned to school and attends the local World Vision tuition center regularly. The once listless, fearful girl now writes and studies Hindi, English, and science. She even attended Life School Training Development classes where she learned about child rights, hygiene, and the ill effects of alcohol and tobacco.  She’s taking care of herself and has found her voice, speaking at World Vision youth events.

“It’s so good to hear that,” Kay says from her home in Spokane. She was not fully aware of how deep an impact her letters have had on Maya. “It really inspires me to do even more.”

As much as Maya anticipates her letters, Kay says she also looks forwards to letters from Maya. Maya’s photo is on Kay’s fridge and when the grandchildren come over she shares the latest letters from Maya with them.

“She’s part of our family,” Kay says. “My whole family knows who Maya is.”

“To me it is just amazing, she’s on the other side of the world and we have a connection.”

And it all started with a letter and a prayer.

This story was featured in an issue of World Vision Magazine.

How one mother’s determination helped her daughter go to university

What unites parents around the world is their dreams for their children – and just what they’re willing to do to see them fulfilled. In some places, that’s harder than most.

When Nozipho was born, her mother Mariah was on her own, a single mum with five other children to take care of.

That was in 1988. Due to a scarcity of transport in her part of Swaziland, Mariah had to give birth at home; there was no one to help her. Despite the difficulties, Mariah decided to call her last born Nozipho – meaning gift.

Mariah and her daughter Nozipho

Nozipho was a sweet little girl from the very beginning and everybody in the family loved her. She was very smart in school, topping other students year after year.

Amidst the hardship, Mariah was determined that her children should remain in school, even though there were times when the family went to sleep without eating food for days.

To cope, Mariah started farming, assisted by her six children who would weed and take care of the cotton plants until harvest time. With the money she received, Mariah made sure that there was food in the house, the children had clothes and their school fees were paid.

Nozipho and two of her siblings were also sponsored by World Vision which assisted the family – without the presence of World Vision in her community, Mariah would have struggled to keep her daughter in secondary school.

Nozipho certainly made the most of the opportunity. After graduating high school in 2004, Nozipho was accepted into university, where she embarked on a journalism and mass communications diploma. The Swazi government awarded her a scholarship for her three years of study. Now, Nozipho was able to support her mother.

During her first year at the university, Nozipho gave Mariah some of her government allowance to help buy wiring material for electricity installation. “It has been my wish to have electricity at home,” says Nozipho. Later, she was also able to give her mother money to plant maize so she could produce enough food for the family, as well as a 10,000 litre water tank.

Over the years, Mariah has benefited from various World Vision projects, using them to increase her skills – and help the local community. She remembers being taught how to make water harvesters using one bag of cement to help cope with times of low rainfall, a common problem in her area. With the skill she acquired, Mariah even assisted her neighbours and other people from other community to build water harvesters.

“I am always grateful to World Vision for the assistance that my family received over the years,” she says. As well as food rations and basics for the children, Mariah received a goat and fruit trees. In fact, the trees are doing so well, says Mariah that “every year they give fruits in abundance and we even sell some to our neighbours.”

Since Nozipho finished her post-secondary education, she has been working for a construction firm. With her salary, she is assisting her mother to take care of her six grandchildren who were left orphans after two of her children died.

As Nozipho looks to the future, she hopes to start her own consultancy firm. She is grateful to be able to take care of her ageing mother and her grandchildren.

This story was featured on worldvision.com.au

His sister’s keeper: Protecting kids from child sacrifice

by Kari Costanza

When my son, Nick was 6, he began taking a school bus to his babysitter’s house after school. Thinking of Nick walking a block down the hill to Barb’s house frightened me. Until then, he’d walked everywhere with his dad and me, usually holding our hands.

“Nick,” I told him sternly, “When you get off that bus, you cross the street and run to Barb’s house. Do not look right. Do not look left. Do not talk to anyone you see on the way. Just run.”

Those first few days Nick took the bus, I’d leave work and sneak up behind in my car just to make sure Nick followed directions. He did. He looked neither right nor left and ran like the dickens. My worries abated.

Those memories flooded back yesterday when I met 9-year-old David in Uganda. David and his family live in what’s referred to as the “heart of witchcraft” in Uganda.

Witchcraft is in plain sight here in Buikwe, a district east of the capital city, Kampala. Behind many homes are tin- or thatched-roofed huts. Inside are the tools of witchcraft—animal carcasses, shells from nearby Lake Victoria, and doves cooing softly, awaiting slaughter.

Like many in this lakeside community, David’s father, Paul, was a fisherman. His mother worked in gardens, often leaving her children home alone. Two years ago, David and his little sister, Sharon, were brushing their teeth under a coffee plant in the front yard. That’s when the strangers approached.

“Two men came here and started calling us,” says David. “I told Sharon to run. I ran.” He points down a path that leads to more homes. Sharon, a toddler, could not keep up. The men captured her, pressing chloroform to her face to silence her cries.

9-year-old David and his 4-year-old sister Sharon. (Photo: Jon Warren/World Vision)

Child sacrifice is an abomination. Abductors are middlemen between people desperate—for money, to bear children, or to rid their bodies of disease. Witchdoctors convince them that only a child’s body part, such as the head, the fingers, or the private parts, mixed with traditional medicine, will cure the problem. Ritual demands that the parts be removed while the child is still alive and conscious.

On the day we met David, we learned that 6-year-old Trevor was being buried in a nearby community. Trevor had gone missing the previous Friday. His body was found yesterday without his tongue or genitals. Trevor’s mom is a widow.

Abductors prey on vulnerable families, like Trevor’s, waiting until the child is alone to abduct them. Trevor was buried next to his father. As the grieving relatives departed, family friends leveled the cement over his small grave, encasing him in earth. Trevor was the second child in this area to be sacrificed this year.

World Vision’s Amber Alert-style program is taking on child sacrifice in Uganda. The program is ingenious in the way it has created a radical partnership between leaders of all faiths, law enforcement, local government, child protection committees, and traditional healers.

This diverse group has reached out with the message that stopping child sacrifice is everyone’s responsibility. Faith leaders have created a radio program that airs messages about child sacrifice, good parenting, and taking care of one’s neighbors. Betty Nandawula, a Catholic, and Umar Mukisa, a Muslim, co-host a live call-in program about family relationships, taking on topics such as domestic violence and parenting. The traditional healers have started their own radio program, trying to protect children and to ferret out the witchdoctors who kill them.

When a child is abducted, the community is ready. Villagers are taught to intervene, and, if that doesn’t work, to sound the alarm. Seventy-three villages are equipped with drums that beat out a special rhythm and megaphones that carry the sound across the miles. Motorcycles block off exit routes and logs are laid across pathways to stop the abductors.

The Amber Alert program uses drums to alert the community when a child goes missing. (Photo: Jon Warren/World Vision)

It works. Eight children have been saved this year from child sacrifice. When they were abducted, the community responded. Villagers began combing the green fields, searching for the children. The abductors, apparently frightened, dumped the children and fled.

That’s what happened to Sharon. When her brother, David, saw the men, he was afraid. He ran until he found a man with a cell phone. It was his neighbor, Chiwa.

“Chiwa knew what to do,” says Mary Nakibuka of the child protection committee. “He informed other members,” she says. “Another child protection committee member heard David screaming. He made a phone call to get the message on the megaphone. It said, ‘[Paul] Buka’s child has been abducted.’ Motorcycles blocked the highways. Because the megaphone was heard by the abductors, they dropped her.”

Sharon is safe. She’s 4 now. Family life has changed. Today the children go everywhere with their parents. Their father, Paul, no longer fishes but farms so that he can stay at home.

I asked David why he ran away from the men. He responded that his mother told him not to talk to strangers. I asked Mary later about David. “Why did he run? Do children know about child sacrifice?” She nodded. David knew exactly what could have happened.

Remembering how Nick would run from the bus stop to the babysitter’s home, and how I used to spy on him, made me consider the lengths parents go to protect their children. World Vision goes to the same efforts, helping parents in Uganda protect their children through the Amber Alert.

The project continues to expand. Next, it will create or strengthen youth clubs, teaching children to protect themselves against child sacrifice. The project will work with parents to provide safe spaces for their children to go while they work.

Honest communication is critical to changing social norms. Traditional healers will be encouraged to talk about their skills and denounce fake healers, who prey on children. Faith leaders, both Christian and Muslim, will help lead the efforts to stop this criminal act. The Amber Alert system will spread—being replicated in more communities.

It is too late for Trevor, whose mother will grieve for her lifetime, but the work World Vision is doing in Uganda will save other children—girls like Sharon whose life was saved by her brother and a community that knew exactly what to do.

This story was originally featured on blog.worldvision.org

Syria’s children – how conflict can harm brain development

By Alison Schafer
Senior Programme Advisor
Mental Health & Psychosocial Support
World Vision International

The Syria conflict has been raging for over six years. In times of war, children are among the most vulnerable groups. Even though most will survive the conflict physically, the immediate and long-term well-being of children remains a serious concern for humanitarian organisations, like World Vision.

Conflict situations commonly expose children to extremely stressful and terrifying events. World Vision has heard from children who have escaped Syria, speak about both witnessing and being victims of violence; losing parents and loved ones; and being displaced.

Children also tell us about the daily challenges they face living with those who love them, who are themselves dealing with personal experiences of war and displacement and unable to be as supportive or loving as they once were. These ongoing stresses can have strong and lasting effects on children’s socio-emotional well-being and their growing brains.

And a vast number of children have been impacted by this crisis: more than four million children in need in Syria, and more than one million child refugees now living in Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt and Jordan.

Research suggests that the physical consequences of conflict on a child’s brain development can have adverse and marked consequences – with the potential for permanent changes to the brain’s architecture. Without adequate intervention and the presence of protective and caring relationships, Syria’s war could have a lasting impact on children’s learning abilities, memory, social interactions, stress and fear responses, and the ability to control emotions. The experiences of Syria’s war-affected children could lead to a generation of children experiencing long-term mental health, social and economic problems.


“My grandchildren have never had a beautiful day in their lives,” says the grandmother of Fatima, 4. “The older girls barely talk, and when other children cry, they curl up with their hands to their ears and rock.” Photo by Jon Warren

Click here for more information on how to help these children cope with stress.

It is a common misconception that young children do not understand stressful or violent events and so are not as affected as adults. But their young minds process much more than is often credited.  World Vision has often observed this in children affected by crises: their developmental milestones can be delayed, their capacity for higher education attainment is jeopordised and their behaviour, emotional attachments and social environments are also impacted. Most often, crises induce severe and chronic stress among children.

Research shows that “toxic stress” – when the stress response system is activated over a prolonged period without the buffering presence of protective and caring relationships – leads to elevated levels of the cortisol stress hormones in the brain. This impacts the brain’s hippocampus and leads to children having learning difficulties, problems with short-term memory and difficulty controlling emotions.

Humanitarian organisations often see children exhibiting limited concentration, behavioural and emotional self-control in the remedial, recreation or education programmes they provide for children and adolescents.

During early childhood, the neural circuits of a child’s brain for responding to stress are particularly vulnerable to prolonged and elevated cortisol levels.  This can have permanent effects on a person’s ability to regulate stress and fear responses later in life and means they are more likely to develop anxiety, depression and a range of other mental, emotional and behavioural disorders. The long-term impacts aren’t limited to the brain. Research also shows a strong correlation between exposure to adverse childhood experiences and higher rates of heart, liver and lung disease in adulthood.

This evidence highlights the need for humanitarian agencies to go beyond delivering food, water and shelter and ensuring a child’s physical safety. Displaced children living in refugee camps, or in isolation from host communities, commonly face boredom, social exclusion and lack of stimulating activities or opportunities for play. On the surface, this may seem a minor concern. However, a lack of adequate stimulation can also be linked to significant neurological shifts in the developing brain.

In childhood, only the neurons and neural pathways that get used are strengthened in the brain, whereas those that are not used die out. The brain is like a muscle. It requires frequent repetitive use and stimulation – through environmental cues, relationships with family, social engagement and education. Neglect and under-stimulation of children affected by conflict can lead to severe impairments in the cognitive, physical and psychosocial development of the child, creating a lasting legacy of war.

This can lead to emotional, cognitive, and behavioural disorders, anxiety and depression, emotional and interpersonal difficulties, and significant learning difficulties.

World Vision prioritises setting up Child Friendly Spaces – safe places where children can play, learn, make friends, develop routines and be monitored for behavioural and emotional issues. The spaces are up and running in Lebanon and are hosting Syrian children.

Our research on Child Friendly Spaces for refugee children living in Ethiopia and Uganda found children participating in such programmes showed more sustained and consistent mental, social and emotional well-being than those refugee children who did not have such opportunities. The research highlights the importance of these spaces in minimizing long-term damage for children.

Children will then only have to deal with tolerable levels of stress – levels that don’t lead to lasting effects on the developing brain.

World Vision is responding to the Syria crisis. In addition to water, health and cash programmes, World Vision aims to scale up its children’s programming. In Lebanon and Jordan we are working to establish or delivering: child and adolescent friendly spaces for recreation and psychosocial support, remedial education initiatives, and maternal and child health programmes that can promote children’s support with their caregivers.

It takes a world to end violence against children! Click here to learn more about the fears and dreams of the Syrian children.

Archery allows sponsored child to take aim in right direction

By Somluck Khamsaen
World Vision Thailand

archer
Following the death of both her parents, Preaw found comfort in an unlikely source — a bow and arrow.

Preaw’s father died when she was 8; her mother passed away soon after. By then, Preaw was a World Vision sponsored child in her community in Thailand.

Preaw and her younger sister went to live with their uncle. When she was in sixth grade, a cousin introduced her to the sport of archery.

“Archery requires concentration and accuracy,” says Preaw, now 21. “I like archery because it helps me in my concentration.”

The thrill of hitting a target dead on became Preaw’s mission. As she continued her education, she practiced consistently in her extra time.

Preaw started to win local competitions and was selected to attend regional events. As she continued to excel, she traveled internationally, and her Canadian sponsor helped pay for contest entry fees.

In 2007, Preaw represented Thailand in the 24th Southeast Asian Games, where she won a bronze medal in recurve archery at a shooting distance of 70 meters. Next came the World Archery and Para Archery Championships in 2011 — and she’s not done yet.

“I’m not skillful yet. I still have much training to do,” says Preaw.

Her commitment to her sport is equaled to her commitment to her education. She loves to study and is not willing to miss school even for one day. Now a third-year student at Rattanabundit University in Bangkok, Praew is majoring in science and technology.

When there are no classes, she teaches archery to children interested in her sport, earning money for personal expenses and to contribute to her younger sister’s plans to attend nursing school.

“World Vision has given me love and support all along, advice in my studies and for my family,” Preaw says. “I really can’t imagine what my life would be like without [her sponsor] and World Vision.”

Click here to sponsor a child today!

Syria refugee crisis: Facts you need to know

Updated January 31, 2017
by World Vision US Staff

The Syria civil war, now in its sixth year, is “a slaughterhouse, a complete meltdown of humanity, the apex of horror,” U.N. emergency relief coordinator Stephen O’Brien told the U.N. Security Council Jan. 26. The war has killed hundreds of thousands of people and forced more than 11 million from their homes. In many cases, children caught up in this crisis have fared the worst, losing parents or friends to the violence, suffering physical and psychological trauma, or falling years behind in school.

Here is a little bit about the conflict, its effect on families, and how World Vision is helping them.

Syrian refugee crisis explained: Fast facts
– 13.5 million people in Syria need humanitarian assistance due to a violent civil war that began in 2011.
– 4.9 million Syrians are refugees, and 6.1 million are displaced within Syria; half of those affected are children.
– Children affected by the Syrian conflict are at risk of becoming ill, malnourished, abused, or exploited. Millions have been forced to quit school. View these photos to see life through
the eyes of Syrian refugee children.
– Most Syrian refugees remain in the Middle East, in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt; slightly more than 10 percent of the refugees have fled to Europe.
– Peace negotiations continue despite a fraying and piecemeal ceasefire.

Children under siege in Aleppo
“The children of Syria have experienced more hardship, devastation, and violence than any child should have to in a thousand lifetimes,” says Dr. Christine Latif, World Vision’s response manager for Turkey and northern Syria.

World Vision staff say the situation in Aleppo city is the most dire they have ever seen it. Health supplies and clean water are urgently needed. Aid hasn’t reached the city since mid-July.

“Civilians have been continually in harm’s way, caught in the cross-fire and changing front lines.  Civilian infrastructure has been targeted, leading to mass civilian casualties, including women and children,” says Angela Huddleston, program manager for the World Vision’s Syria response.

World Vision is helping about 100,000 people fleeing recent violence in Aleppo with:
– Clean water and sanitation services
– Primary and mobile health clinic support
– Women and young child centers
– Support for a women and children’s hospital with equipment and supplies

Help children and families fleeing violence in Syria. Donate Now

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Shy and fearful, Mohamed, 2, seldom ventures from his family’s tent without holding tightly to his cousin Malak’s hand. Both his parents died in Syria. For the past five months, he’s lived with 13 aunts, uncles, and cousins in a homemade tent in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. (©2016 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren)

World Vision’s work in Syria

– Food assistance
– Primary healthcare in health facilities and mobile clinics
– Medical and nutritional aid for women and children
– Baby care kits for displaced families
– Water and sanitation services
– Child protection outreach to communities
– Psychosocial care and play for children

Why are Syrians leaving their homes?
Violence: Since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, as many as 386,000 people have been killed, including nearly 14,000 children, says the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The war has become more deadly since foreign powers joined the conflict.
Collapsed infrastructure: Within Syria, 95 percent of people lack adequate healthcare, 70 percent lack regular access to clean water. Half the children are out of school. The economy is shattered and four-fifths of the population lives in poverty.
Children in danger and distress: Syrian children — the nation’s hope for a better future — have lost loved ones, suffered injuries, missed years of schooling, and witnessed unspeakable violence and brutality. Warring parties forcibly recruit children to serve as fighters, human shields, and in support roles, according to the U.S. State Department.

Most refugees from Syria are still in the region. They’ve fled violence and sought refuge in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt. Around 10% are taking the dangerous journey to Europe.

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Most refugees from Syria are still in the region. They’ve fled violence and sought refuge in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt. Around 10 percent are taking the dangerous journey to Europe. (©2016 World Vision)

How does the war in Syria affect children?
Read about how the war is affecting Syria’s children in a special report from World Vision magazine, “Syria Crisis and the Scars of War.
– Children are susceptible to malnutrition and diseases brought on by poor sanitation, including diarrheal diseases like cholera. Cold weather increases the risk of pneumonia and
other respiratory infections.
– Many refugee children have to work to support their families. Often they labor in dangerous or demeaning circumstances for little pay.
– Children are more vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation in unfamiliar and overcrowded conditions. Without adequate income to support their families and fearful of their
daughters being molested, parents — especially single mothers — may opt to arrange marriage for girls, some as young as 13.
– Between 2 million and 3 million Syrian children are not attending school. The U.N. children’s agency says the war reversed 10 years of progress in education for Syrian children.

What are the refugees’ greatest needs?
– Syrians fleeing conflict need all the basics to sustain their lives: food, clothing, health assistance, shelter, and household and hygiene items.
– They need reliable supplies of clean water, as well as sanitation facilities.
– Children need a safe environment and a chance to play and go to school.
– Adults need employment options in case of long-term displacement.
– Prayer: Learn how you can pray for Syrian refugees. Join with others as we pray for refugees.
– Compassion: Read this article in Christianity Today by World Vision President Rich Stearns about treating refugees with the compassion of Christ.

SyAli
Ali, 13 sells tissues on the Damascus highway so his family can pay rent. Ali works to support the family and doesn’t attend school. He tries to be a tough guy, but sometimes he cries when people on the street say ugly things to him.  (©2016 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren)

How is World Vision helping refugees and others affected by the Syrian refugee crisis?
Since the Syria crisis began in 2011, World Vision has helped more than 2 million people in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq. Learn more about how World Vision responds to emergencies with short-term relief and long-term recovery.
Syria: Food aid, health assistance, hygiene support, baby care kits, water and sanitation, shelter repair kits, and winterization supplies.
Iraq: Food aid, health services, water and sanitation, baby kits, stoves and other winter supplies; for children: education and recreation, programming for life skills, peace building, and resilience.
Jordan and Lebanon: Personal and household supplies, clean water and sanitation, education and recreation, Child-Friendly Spaces and child protection training for adults, winter kits, and psychosocial support for children.

Reporting from Brian Jonson and Patricia Mouamar, World Vision communications staff in Lebanon and Jordan, and Chris Huber, Kathryn Reid, and Denise C. Koenig from World Vision U.S.

Help children and families fleeing the violence in Syria

Saved from early marriage by a goat

By Laura Reinhardt

Newly married, Saviour Dene had a big problem. Her new husband would not accept her daughter from a previous relationship as his child.

He told Saviour that he’d married her, but not her daughter.

Saviour did not know what to do so she talked to World Vision community development worker, Seth Siamugande.

“If I had power, I would swallow my daughter so she is no longer there,” Saviour told Seth. “It’s a big burden.”

Seth knew exactly what to do. He took the little girl, Modester, under his wing. That was 2007. Today Modester is 18 and still Seth’s favorite.

“She is one of the children that I have on my heart,” he says. “That child has gone through tough moments.”

I am their mother
Children living in rural areas in southern Zambia face a thorny path. Education isn’t a given. Nor is food. Being an orphan limits access to these even more.

Modester considers herself a single orphan — meaning she has one living parent —though Seth says she rarely sees her mother anymore. Now Modester lives with her 80-year-old grandmother, Noria.

In addition to being rejected by her family, Modester faced hunger. Sometimes she ate only one meal a day. She envied neighbors who had three meals. Sometimes when they had nothing, Modester would go into the bush to find wild okra, which fills up empty bellies, but doesn’t offer much nutritional value.

Grandmother Noria is raising Modester’s cousin, Evelyn, along with two mentally and physically disabled grandchildren—Sydney and Junior. It’s too much for such an elderly woman so Modester has assumed a lot of the parenting responsibilities for her younger cousins. A girl who grew up practically motherless now has three charges of her own.

“I am their mother,” she says, now that Noria has left to care for a sick relative leaving the younger children in Modester’s care.

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Modester and Evelyn holding a baby goat.

“She helps us with the preparation of our food. Also she draws water for us,” says 9-year-old Evelyn. Modester spends time helping Evelyn with her homework.

Modester says, “I encourage her to go to school and study. Sometimes I get a piece of paper and we do a bit of solving mathematics.”

Evelyn wants to be a teacher. She looks up to her cousin. She appreciates the hard work the teen does for herself and her cousins, but she also admires Modester’s education.

It’s an education made possible partially by the gift of a goat.

Goats: A gift that lasts
What a difference a single goat makes. It’s offered her a path forward toward higher education. “Without the goats, I might have been married,” she says.

In the Sinazongwe Area Development Program, World Vision offered a gift of a goat to orphans or especially vulnerable children. Modester qualified and when she was in the second grade, she received that gift.  It didn’t take long for that single goat to reproduce. Her herd expanded to 12 goats.

As the goats multiplied, so did Modester’s hopes.

“Goats gave me hope because I started to dream of who I wanted to be and I have seen that dream come to pass,” says Modester. Her dreams include being a nurse because she likes helping others.

Modester sold a few goats at a time, always being careful to keep a couple of the animals in reserve for emergencies. Some went to pay people to work in their fields so the family had enough food to eat. Some went toward clothing for the children in the family. Some paid for her education needs.

Goats are part of the equation and child sponsorship is another. Modester appreciates how supportive the staff has been, especially Seth. They’ve provided for both the family’s physical needs as well as her education. Seth is always there with advice about things like school and boys and sometimes even a little pocket money,

“World Vision staff kept encouraging me to work hard in school and to remain focused,” she says.

And focus she did. Modester just completed university-level exams. The results were astounding. Modester, a girl whose family threw her away, is one of the top students in all of Zambia. That’s very unusual for a youth from a small, rural community.

Faith strengthened by World Vision
The staff also nurtures the spiritual growth of all the children in the project. Seth started a Good News Club and Bible study for the sponsored children when he came to Sinazongwe ADP. Through Seth, Modester learned more about God’s love for her and her faith grew.

She now has a father who will never abandon her.

She always goes to God with her needs. She knows that He answers prayers because: “Whenever I prayed asking God for something, it happened and among those whom God used to respond to my needs is World Vision and the staff.”

Her faith and prayers are being put to the test as she prepares for university. These school costs are too great even with the assistance of the goats.  So she hopes for either a scholarship or someone to help pay for the university fees.

A university degree will bring her closer to her dream — one that goes beyond becoming a nurse.

“I think when I have enough money I [will] think of helping orphans,” says Modester. “That’s important because I’ve felt what being an orphan is. It’s very hard.”

But things that are difficult won’t stop this determined young lady — not with Seth, a herd of goats, and the love of a faithful Father leading her on.

They can do anything; they just need a believer.

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Story courtesy of World Vision US.