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Jhumri Biswal is a beauty with a vision for the disabled

By Impuri Ngayawon Shimray and the Media team, World Vision India

Out of 46 contestants from all over India, Jhumri Biswal, age 20 from Bhubaneswar, is one the 12 shortlisted finalists for the first ever Miss India Contest for the Visually Impaired to be held at Mumbai in January 2017 by the National Association for the Blind (NAB).

Jhumri at her typewriter.

At the tender age of eight Jhumri was hit by a truck and sustained a head injury. The blow to the head lead to a breakage of an optical nerve and after a few days, Jhumri lost all sight. Once home, Jhumri was taken out of school, because she was “blind.” Jhumri was happy in the beginning because she could miss the drudgery of school, but soon realised that her classmates were moving on and were learning and experiencing new things. Blindness restricted her mobility and that affected her playtime, going out, hanging out with friends, and having fun. Sadness and depression started setting in and the feeling of being left out and always being dependent on others ate into her. Jhumri’s parents understood this and felt helpless.

A local health worker suggested Jhumri join the local school that taught blind children through Braille. This was a life-changing experience for Jhumri, because it gave her a channel to learn new things and grow. She continued to learn through the tactile writing system for two years, after which she returned to regular school to continue her education. Braille books were available for students till grade seven. But after that, she had to depend on an audio recorder and a Braille typewriter that she received from World Vision’s outreach program. Her sister would read the chapters from the book and Jhumri would make notes on the Braille typewriter. Her speed at typing also grew in these years.

With her interest in knowledge and the zest to learn more, Jhumri was motivated to participate in community activities, especially on the issues of rights of special children. She participated in World Vision India’s ‘Our Voice Assembly’, a platform for children with disabilities to come together to talk about the issues they face, learn their rights and entitlements, identify challenges; and advocate for themselves. Jhumri was part of many consultations of children with disabilities at the state and national level, where they came up with recommendations which were then sent to various political leaders. Jhumri is one of 2,300 children with disabilities that are part of ‘Our Voice Assemblies’ across 18 states in India.

Jhumri was later chosen to represent the voices of children with disabilities at the World Vision Triennial Council in Tanzania. In Tanzania, she highlighted the apathy of the current educational system towards disability — about 99% of children with disability don’t go to school because of a lack of study material, disabled-friendly spaces and trained teachers.

But these barriers did not stop Jhumri from continuing her education. She is pursuing her graduation (3rd year) at Ravenshaw University in Cuttack. In early 2016, she heard of the first ever Miss India Contest for the Visually Impaired organised by the National Association for the Blind (NAB) and wanted to participate. She believes this contest will give her a platform to share her story and show others that disabilities need not be limiting.

Jhumri is looking forward to the finals in January 2017 and while she may win or not win, she is already a winner with a vision!

Perseverance Is Her Story

By Michael Czobit | Photography by Michelle Siu

Yui near her home in Jatujak.

A soon-to-be formerly sponsored child in Thailand earns a degree despite family illnesses

Yui’s university classes started at 8 in the morning and ended at 4 in the afternoon. Work started at 6. Sometimes, her shift would be just a few hours. Other times, Yui would be at the 7-Eleven until 2 a.m. Then in the morning, back to class. Depending on the day, she’d also make the time to take her grandmother to the hospital for hemodialysis, which was needed three times a week. “I was very tired,” Yui says. “I felt discouraged, depressed, stressed. But I didn’t lose hope.”

It’s February 2015, and I’m sitting at her home in the Jatujak community in Bangkok. Yui, 21, is actually a nickname. Her first name is Pairin. She tells me how she had found ways to cope. She’d read manga (Japanese comics), talk to friends and listen to rock music. “I am happy that you are here today,” she says. “I am glad that I can tell you my story, because telling you my story also encourages me. Telling you about my hardships, my pain, is relieving.”

She no longer works at the convenience store, and a few months earlier she finished her degree in finance and banking studies. Her reaction to earning her degree is understated. “Life as usual,” she says. But don’t be mistaken: Yui was happy. I could understand her anticlimactic reaction—she had worked so hard and still, there was more to do—but I disagreed with her assessment.

Yui had recently passed on a job at a bank and was now waiting to hear back about another in the finance department at a Thai brewery. She was hopeful about her prospects. Why she wanted one job over the other came down to two factors: location and hours, both favourable at the brewery, which would allow her to continue to care for her 70-year-old grandmother, Ampai.

Yui’s parents separated when she was born and she has lived with her grandmother ever since. Yui’s uncle, his partner and his daughter also live at the home. But caring for Ampai, who has struggled with several illnesses, including diabetes and failing kidneys, has mostly been Yui’s responsibility. Thankfully, her uncle has a job that covers the majority of Ampai’s medical expenses.

My own grandma had hemodialysis when I was young. My family took care of her; although it was a group effort, my mom did the majority of the care. The countless appointments and worries can be overwhelming. I always admired my mom at how she carried on during those years, and I knew that what Yui had managed, caring for her grandmother while attending university and keeping a job, required extraordinary effort. But I had no doubt about her strong feelings for Ampai. “I love my grandmother very much,” she says. “I don’t want to leave her by herself.”

While Yui grew up, Ampai was the family’s breadwinner. Yui’s grandfather died soon after she was born, and to support her, Ampai worked as a street sweeper. So yes, hard work runs in the family.

Yui and her grandmother at their home.

Also while growing up, Yui became sponsored by a Canadian through World Vision’s sponsorship project in Jatujak. Before her granddaughter’s sponsorship began in March 2006, when Yui was in Grade 7, Ampai wasn’t earning enough to buy Yui’s school supplies, uniforms and books. That changed, and in more ways than just materially speaking: Yui learned. She participated in educational field trips and day camps. She took part in leadership and health workshops, including one about HIV and AIDS that, too, changed her life.

It is never easy to speak with someone about health issues, and when I share personal information about someone or her family, I always ask for permission, which Yui gave me. In 2009, Yui’s father, Ampai’s son, learned he was HIV-positive. This news scared Yui. Her knowledge about the disease was limited and her father’s status strained their relationship. Two years later, in her first year of university, Yui attended an HIV and AIDS workshop held by World Vision. It was a revelation. “When I received the training, I learned how to live normally with my father, how to spend time together,” she says. Her fear went away and their relationship improved. She says she is now close with her father and that their bond has been renewed. (World Vision has also supported Yui’s father with medical assistance.)

In all her time as a sponsored child, Yui stayed committed to her education. She desires a job so she can support her grandmother, and she dreams of paying off a school loan and buying a home that sits on non-government-owned land. Through her sponsorship, which lasted into her first year of university, Yui, participated in a bachelor’s degree project that paid for her books, uniforms and some home expenses. “I want to thank the sponsor for giving me an education,” she tells me. But I know that as much as she has received, Yui has already matched, and in many ways surpassed, it in her own efforts.

In her last years of schooling before university, Yui had taken a vocational course in accounting where she learned about the stock market, which sparked her desire to earn a banking degree. Just as she has never invested in the stock market looking for a quick buck, she earned her success with perseverance. Not easy to accomplish, and impossible not to admire.

This article originally appeared in the Autumn/Winter 2016 issue of Childview Chinese-English edition.

Support children like Yui, who deserves the opportunity to realise their dreams they never thought of. You can help turn a child’s life better and filled with so much hope by Sponsoring A Child or donate to World Vision’s Education Fund today!

Jhumri Biswal is a beauty with a vision for the disabled

By Impuri Ngayawon Shimray and the Media team, World Vision India

She is a finalist of the Miss India Contest for the Visually Impaired, 2017

Out of 46 contestants from all over India, Jhumri Biswal, age 20 from Bhubaneswar, is one the 12 shortlisted finalists for the first ever Miss India Contest for the Visually Impaired to be held at Mumbai in January 2017 by the National Association for the Blind (NAB).

At the tender age of eight Jhumri was hit by a truck and sustained a head injury. The blow to the head lead to a breakage of an optical nerve and after a few days, Jhumri lost all sight. Once home, Jhumri was taken out of school, because she was “blind.” Jhumri was happy in the beginning because she could miss the drudgery of school, but soon realised that her class mates were moving on and were learning and experiencing new things. Blindness restricted her mobility and that affected her playtime, going out, hanging out with friends, and having fun. Sadness and depression started setting in and the feeling of being left out and always being dependent on others ate into her. Jhumri’s parents understood this and felt helpless.

She believes this contest will give her a platform to share her story and show others that disabilities need not be limiting.

A local health worker suggested Jhumri join the local school that taught blind children through Braille. This was a life-changing experience for Jhumri, because it gave her a channel to learn new things and grow. She continued to learn through the tactile writing system for two years, after which she returned to regular school to continue her education. Braille books were available for students till grade seven. But after that, she had to depend on an audio recorder and a Braille typewriter that she received from World Vision’s outreach program. Her sister would read the chapters from the book and Jhumri would make notes on the Braille typewriter. Her speed at typing also grew in these years.

With her interest in knowledge and the zest to learn more, Jhumri was motivated to participate in community activities, especially on the issues of rights of special children. She participated in World Vision India’s “Our Voice Assembly,” a platform for children with disabilities to come together to talk about the issues they face, learn their rights and entitlements, identify challenges; and advocate for themselves. Jhumri was part of many consultations of children with disability at the state as well as national level, where they came up with recommendation, which were then sent to various political leaders. Jhumri is one of 2300 children with disabilities that are part of “Our Voice Assemblies” across 18 states in India.

Jhumri was later chosen to represent the voices of children with disability at the World Vision Triennial Council in Tanzania. In Tanzania, she highlighted the apathy of the current educational system towards disability—about 99% of children with disability don’t go to school because of lack of study material, disabled-friendly spaces and trained teachers.

But these barriers did not stop Jhumri from continuing her education. She is pursuing her graduation (3rd year) at Ravenshaw University in Cuttack. In early 2016, she heard of the first ever Miss India Contest for the Visually Impaired organised by the National Association for the Blind (NAB) and wanted to participate. She believes this contest will give her a platform to share her story and show others that disabilities need not be limiting.

Jhumri is looking forward to the finals in January 2017 and while she may win or not win, she is already a winner with a vision!

This article by World Vision India originally appeared in the Huffington Post under the following:

http://www.huffingtonpost.in/world-vision-india/jhumri-biswal-is-a-beauty-with-a-vision-for-the-disabled/?utm_hp_ref=in-

Support children like Jhumri, who deserves the opportunity to realise their dreams they never thought of. You can help turn a child’s life better and filled with so much hope by Sponsoring A Child or donate to World Vision’s Education Fund today!

How to stay aware without burning out

By Edmond Lee, Communications

Thanks to the Internet and social media, we can keep up with what’s happening in the world in an instant. Whether it’s the war in Syria, a terrorist attack or any number of world events, social issues or calamities, you can find what you need to know within seconds. This has led to an unprecedented level of awareness and activism. People don’t just know what’s going on; they’re getting involved in advocacy and social justice – online and even in the streets.

But how much awareness is too much?

The pace of news has gone from fast to frenetic. As soon as one issue is trending, it’s replaced by another. We hear about multiple events in real time; sometimes our attention spreads thin. It’s not uncommon for even ardent social activists to “burn out” or be overwhelmed. It’s impossible to care about everything.


Image from blogs.hopkinsmedicine.org

At World Vision, we encourage our sponsors, donors and advocates to care and reach out to children and communities living in poverty. But the last thing we want is for you to care to the point of total exhaustion.

Here’s how to be an engaged global citizen who takes control:

1. Pick your issues.
As we said, it’s impossible to care equally for every single issue. So, consider what you are most passionate about. Do you care deeply about education for poor children? Are you concerned about refugees? Do you want to end hunger? Pick a few issues closest to your heart and focus on them instead of spreading yourself thin.

And remember, just because someone isn’t actively supporting your cause doesn’t mean they don’t know or care!

2. Watch out for fake news!
The Internet can be a wonderful source of news. But remember that anyone can publish or say anything they want, including blatant lies. When you read a story from a source you don’t know, check other sources to make sure the story is accurate. If a story is developing, wait for more details before drawing conclusions. Try to stick to trusted, well-known sources, but also remember that everyone makes mistakes. Watch out for corrections.

People on social media often skew news stories to fit their agendas and validate their own opinions. If someone posts a controversial headline, video or snippet from an article, track down the original source and get the full context. Most of all, remember that it’s OK not to react immediately. Pause and check before you act. Haste can make you wrong.

Here are some other tips for consuming news:
• Don’t trust anonymous sources or stories that cite other news organisations as a source of information.
• Pay attention to the language used by the media. For example, ‘We are waiting for confirmation’ means that they don’t have it.
• Watch out for fake or Photoshopped images.

3. Learn to filter the voices you hear.
The Internet gives everyone a voice, but not everyone uses that voice wisely. Unfortunately, many go on the web and social media to speak cruelly or thoughtlessly, espouse dangerous viewpoints such as violent racism, or amuse themselves by behaving in ways they know will get a negative reaction from people (also known as ‘trolling’).

It’s good to hear different perspectives, but be mindful of points of view that misrepresent reality and cause harm. If you’re on social media, use your blocking or muting functions judiciously when dealing with toxic or unreasonable people. It is possible to change hearts and minds, but if an interaction is going nowhere, learn to move on.

4. Get off the Internet once in a while.
On the Internet – and social media in particular – the bad that happens in the world can often be amplified, exaggerated and distorted by thousands of voices weighing in. So take a moment and step away. Get outside. Take a walk. Do something you enjoy. Have a nap.

Above all, take a moment to remember that the world can be an awful, dangerous place, but it is also filled with incredible beauty and good. Savour it.

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.

From child labourer to child rights advocate

By Klevisa Breshani, Communications Officer, World Vision Kosovo

Rafet, 14, a Roma child from Kosovo, used to think that working jobs for himself and his family, even physically demanding ones, was his duty as a child. He also thought that working was more important than going to school and earning money more important than an education. Rafet used to spend his days collecting plastics and transporting heavy loads to help his family.

His work not only robbed Rafet of his energy, it also prevented him from attending school. Participating in the awareness activities organised by the Local Initiatives for National Change (LINC), an 18-month project funded by World Vision Australia and implemented by World Vision and Health for All (a local partner) in Kosovo, helped Rafet understand his rights and change his mind. “I now help my parents around the house and go to school,” he says.

Today, not only is Rafet aware of his rights, he is also coaching many children in his community, helping them to understand their rights as well. Now, Rafet attends school regularly. His grades have improved and he is one of the most active children in the project’s initiatives. “I knew little about my rights before joining in the activities,” he recalls. “Here, I have learned that nobody should treat us violently, force us to beg on the street or work,” he says. “They [adults] have taught us so much about what we should do, and nothing about what to not to do,” he adds.

Before Refat started to attend school regularly, World Vision and the partner organisation held many awareness meetings with his parents, informing them that compulsory education is a right for every child.

Rafet walking in his neighbourhood

In the area where Rafet lives, a child was bitten by a street dog and lost his life while working to collect plastics and cans. “That made Rafet’s parents reflect,” says Orjana Demaliaj, World Vision’s LINC Project Officer. She adds: “Rafet’s father, an erector by occupation, is trying harder now to find a job  to help his family and save time for his children to attend school. Two of his oldest sons have emigrated to Germany and they are helping the family too,” she says.

Rafet is a member of one of six advocacy groups established over the past ten months in communes with the highest number of marginalised Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians. These groups typically lack information in regards to child rights and social protection services. Each group is comprised of 15 participants: children, youths as well as social protection workers and people with disabilities.

The project is focused on training groups in local advocacy techniques and strengthening them to raise their voices in order to influence child protection at the local level (with a special focus on vulnerable groups such as the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians, among others). The project is also helping members to influence implementation of social protection service policies so that they can push for enhanced social assistance schemes and reduce cases of child labour. The LINC project is working to reach 102 direct and 350 indirect beneficiaries, including children, community groups and centres for social protection workers.

After learning a lot in the training sections, Rafet is sharing his knowledge with his siblings and schoolmates in order to show them what their rights are. Rafet shares his personal experience with other children working improper jobs for their ages and motivates them to spread the knowledge gained during the training as much as possible.

“In my neighbourhood, I know many children who work. They go early in the morning and come home at night. There are many girls whose parents don’t allow them to go to school or play. Instead, they force them to work, collecting [plastics] or washing cars on the streets. I often see their parents shout at them. I think what is happening to those children is not right and I have to help them!” Rafet says.

He uses his time at school and with his acquaintances in his neighbourhood to share about child rights. “During the school break or even in the neighbourhood, my friends and I tell other children about what we have learned at the group and that we should not work, nobody should [treat] us violently or force us to beg on the streets,” Rafet says smiling.

Thanks to Rafet, his family have changed their mindsets. “My brothers and my sister rarely go to work since I told them that children under 18 should not work. Instead, they should go to school,” he says.

Recently, Rafet and his group have written a clause regarding child rights law which has been sent to the Kosovo parliament to approve. The clause says that no child should work! Instead, children should pursue compulsory education.

“I know how they feel and I don’t wish to see any child working in poor conditions. Even though children are little, they should be respected and protected from adults!” he states.

Rafet wants to become a doctor when he grows up and heal the ill, especially children.

This story was adapted from an article at wvi.org

Mamita says no to child marriage

By Barun Bajracharya, Content Manager, World Vision International Nepal

18-year-old Mamita is from Lamjung in the western region of Nepal. Her mother fixed her marriage when she was 15.

 

18-year-old Mamita dreams of becoming a nurse and helping the marginalised. Mamita lived with her family of six in Lamjung. Her father was working as a labourer in Saudi Arabia. Due to a lack of good employment opportunities in Nepal, it is common for people with limited or no educational qualifications to go to the Middle East and other countries to work as labourers.

But at the age of 15, Mamita confronted the biggest obstacle of her life, a decision that would alter her future.

A marriage proposal came knocking on Mamita’s family door. Thinking they had found a good match, her relatives brought a marriage proposal intended for her sister. The climate of festivities quickly turned to one of panic when her sister eloped, leaving the family in a compromising position. The news of the elopement had started marring the image of the family within their community. Something needed to be done to save the family from losing respect.

Societal ridicule and an inability to provide for her children drove her mother, Nirmala, to arrive at a precarious decision. Fearing the possibility of her other daughter following in the footsteps of her sister, Nirmala offered 15-year-old Mamita as a substitute bride. Oblivious to the adverse consequences of child marriage, uneducated Nirmala followed the traditional custom, thinking it was perfectly normal to offer Mamita as a fair alternate option.

According to the 2014 UNICEF report, Ending Child Marriage, almost half of all child brides worldwide live in South Asia. Nepal is one of the 10 countries with the highest prevalence of child marriage. 52% of women aged 20 to 49 years were married or in union before ages 15 and 18.

Nirmala left no room for discussion on the matter and expected Mamita to graciously accept the marriage proposal. Crippled with fear, Mamita could not say anything to her mother but within her heart she knew that she did not want to marry early. Knowing that the situation was beyond her, she sought help from the members of her school’s child club, which was supported by World Vision.

“When I first heard about the news of my marriage I could not comprehend what was happening. I knew that I was too young for marriage and I wanted to study further and become a nurse. I was just 15. It made me sad and depressed and out of fear I could not say anything to my mother.”

“I knew there was a child club in my school and they worked on child protection issues. I thought they might be able to help me, counsel me and find a way out. That was my only hope. I was desperate to get any help,” says Mamita.

Despite the fear brewing within her, Mamita took the bold step of reaching out for that help. She approached the children’s club and talked to them about her predicament. After getting the assurance that all measures would be taken to protect her rights as a child, Mamita sighed a sigh of relief. The children’s club sought the support of local authorities and attempted to counsel Mamita’s mother on the issue of child marriage. Mamita had finally found her ray of hope.

As part of an awareness programme, school child clubs receive an orientation from World Vision on child protection issues, such as child marriage, child labour, and child abuse.

School child clubs also work for school issues such as cleanliness, attendance, studies, extracurricular activities, awareness programmes, street dramas and more. They learn that child marriage is illegal and that boys and girls are not mature enough to get married before the age of 20. The child club members are also trained by World Vision on who to contact when child protection issues are raised.

They first contact concerned authorities such as the District Child Welfare Board and the Village Child Protection and Promotion Committee to report a proposed child marriage. The child club members also directly talk with the authorities, coordinating a fixed time and date to meet the family of the proposed bride or groom and advise them.

This story was first featured on wvi.org

 

A mother’s story: Being positive about HIV

By Elayna Fernandez

She kept saying “I’m so grateful,” and she couldn’t stop smiling. I was instantly inspired by her sense of pride and the light that radiated through her beautiful brown eyes.

I think it is no accident that her name, Milagros, means “miracles.” That’s what you experience in her presence.

I couldn’t help but stare at her and just soak it all in. She is a loving mom, an entrepreneur, and an inspiration to many.

A smiling Milagros at home.

By now you may be wondering: who is this woman and what makes her so happy? I’ll answer the second question with a simple word I’m a big fan of: perspective.

In Philippians 4:11, we read this statement from Paul: “for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”

I find this verse exquisitely brilliant.

To refresh your memory, Paul was in a yucky state that not everyone would be content to be in. He wrote this verse from prison. Now, I don’t know Paul personally and didn’t read this in the original language, but I can assure you I’ve learned a powerful lesson from this very short sentence: you may not necessarily be grateful for the prisons in your life, but you can choose to be grateful for whatever else is happening, while in the prison, through the power of perspective.

Well, back to Milagros. She’s not in prison per se, but for over six years, she’s found herself in a condition she never thought she’d be in. I was in awe of Milagros as she told her story: she had a near-death experience while giving birth to her son Genesis, and she thought she almost lost him. Whew! The tales of the past can be an emotional experience for both the storyteller and the story hearer.

But, wait. Behind Milagros’s perfect smile, sparkly eyes, and passionate gratitude, and beyond her survival is the condition that is very much present right now, as you read, and will continue to be present in her life: she’s positive … HIV positive.

So you asked, who is this woman? Well, yeah, I assumed you asked. And here’s my heartfelt answer: she’s a brave single mother of seven kids, living with HIV in a stigma-filled community, providing for her family by selling homemade bread at the local market. She’s also the go-to person for anyone who is diagnosed with HIV, because she’s turned her pain into a passion to help others understand that they can lead a healthy, meaningful life despite the disease.

Why is Milagros so grateful? I can’t possibly recall all the reasons. I was too caught up in the moment, and too in love with her kids, and it’s been a long day. She had a long list. I’m serious.

Do you have a long gratitude list? Is it so long that it would overwhelm people? Especially people that seem to have more than you do?

While you think on that (I did for a long while today while riding the bus around some impoverished communities in the Dominican Republic), let me share what I remember:

  • She’s grateful to God because she can be alive to raise her kids.
  • She’s grateful because she can be a loving, caring mom.
  • She’s grateful because she has had the support of World Vision (Vision Mundial, in Spanish), through her son’s birth, her diagnosis, and the roller coaster of emotions and challenges that come with it.

World Vision is the organisation that invited me to live this incredible experience in my homeland. Most of her kids are sponsored through World Vision, they provided her with small business training, and they even built her house for her.

Perspective is how you view something. It has a Latin root meaning look through or “perceive.” It means going broader and going deeper, to find the good in every condition we may find ourselves in.

Perspective can help us find JOY in the JOurneY.

You may find pain, poverty, and pestilence along the way, but if—when—you take a closer look, you will see HOPE, JOY, and LOVE shining bright.

Perspective doesn’t get you out of prison, yet it arms you with the awareness that, though it may sound or seem unreasonable, there’s actually a way out.

What actions can you take to help someone? Sponsoring a child may sound like too easy or little of a solution. RM65 may sound like too crazy of a “price.” [Insert your perspective] And you may be sceptical about it. And I would be, too.

Except that I’m not.

Meeting Milagros’ children today reminded me vividly of my own childhood. Things like safe drinking water, proper nutrition, basic sanitation, decent clothing, access to healthcare, and good education were often considered a luxury. And sometimes being poor also meant feeling judged and lonely, and suffering the anxiety of lack and apparent doom.

Milagros with her four sons at their home.

Meeting Milagros’ children, and other children that are sponsored through World Vision, also reminded my heart of what child sponsorship can make possible. One of my siblings had a sponsor in the USA, and that afforded a different set of possibilities for that child, while improving the situation and condition for our family as a whole.

And for Milagros? Her positive story is possible today because her children were part of World Vision’s sponsorship program. Their staff make regular visits to every family involved in those programs, and when they do they evaluate each family’s situation and needs. That’s how they discovered her condition in the first place.

When I was packing for my Dominican Republic trip as a World Vision Blogger, I found an old fortune from a few months ago. It read: Your happy heart will bring joy and peace to those in need.”

That is my prayer. Is it yours? If like me, you pray for a world in which children can break free from the prison of deprivation, where they have access to safe drinking water, nutritious food, empowering education, protective clothing, quality healthcare, and secure shelter, and the chance at a brighter future, I invite you to explore child sponsorship and take compassionate action.

I am living proof that your gift can bless a child, a family, and a community at large.

And as I think of Milagros’ gratitude and joy, I wouldn’t want to mislead you. These don’t just come from perspective. She’s become a mentor and an instrument of hope. She’s an inspiration to her six natural children, and an angel to the little one she rescued when his mom died from giving birth.

She’s an example to me of how perspective makes you positive in any circumstance therewith. She’s also a testament that God blesses a cheerful giver, and a grateful receiver who gives back.

This story was featured on worldvision.org