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Three of us travelled to Port Moresby last week to work with our team there, building up our capacity to involve children and youth as active participants in activities that ChildFund supports. This effort is part of our commitment to working on the causes of child poverty – why it exists, how it is perpetuated from generation to generation.

Not only is participation key to overcoming poverty – that’s a good reason for focusing on it, but we also know that participation is essential to program effectiveness and sustainability. Not to mention that it is a basic, fundamental human right – for children and youth, this is spelt out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Not involving people in activities that concern them is, simply, a violation of their human rights.

So we spent two days at the ChildFund office in Port Moresby, learning from each other about how we can enhance child and youth participation through the project cycle, and learning from other ChildFund Alliance members’ experience. Importantly, we also learned from other agencies, organisations that were kind enough to come to our workshop and share their experience – Oxfam, the World Bank, World Vision, and the PNG government itself, all gave informative and inspirational presentations. Of particular interest, to me personally, was the presentation given by Ipul Powesau of the Papua New Guinea Disabled Peoples Association; here we learned about participation and the power of collective action for a particular, excluded group.

And we spent time learning the tools, attitudes and approaches we will need to build the voice and participation of the people we work with in the field – especially children and youth.

Our third day was practical. We took what we learned in the first two days of the workshop out to Laloki – where ChildFund is working with a local literacy school to support vulnerable children from Baruni waste dump and the local community – and we met with over 50 children and youth to learn about their ideas for the rehabilitation of their school, the gardens, the residence, etc.

It was an action-packed morning. After an hour spent in the hot sun connecting with the kids through soccer, rugby and singing, we started the consultation by getting their consent for working with us that day. We broke into five groups – by age and gender – and used the range of techniques that we had learned, getting input from the kids to help us finalise project preparations. The group I was in gave feedback through a focus group and also drew maps of the site – as it is, and as they would like to see it in the future. You can see the kids showing off one of their maps in the photo below.

This morning we visited Natukobenyo Boarding Primary School, one of the two girls’ boarding primary schools in the district. The school has an enrolment of 375 girls but was forced to close today because they ran out of food.

As we arrived at the school, the pupils were receiving their end-of-term reports ready to go home. From the looks on their faces, you could tell the girls, who come from all over the district, were not eager to leave because they knew the food shortage was worse at home.

When we visited the school kitchen and food store, they were empty, the last meal having been prepared and consumed earlier today. “There is nothing left here for the pupils and we cannot keep them around anymore,” said the acting head teacher Mercy Lobuin. She told us they had done their best to stretch the little food they had but now it was all over.

Mercy showed us that they have kept aside just a small amount of food for Class Eight pupils, who are preparing to sit for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education in October. These students will return to school earlier in order to prepare for the examinations. She said the little food they have might not be enough to cater for them but the school board of governors will deal with the problem at that time.

From the school, we proceeded to Lochwarengan Village, where we visited Lopeyok, a 32-year-old mother of seven children aged between 6 months and 17 years. Her husband is a herder, while Lopeyok is a charcoal burner. She also sells firewood to supplement her income. She told us that the current drought has killed all her animals and she now has to depend on charcoal selling for her livelihood.

She told us providing food for the family was a daily struggle, adding that they normally survive on one meal a day. On a bad day, she said, her family is forced to sleep hungry.

She told us the family did not have any food to eat tonight: “I know it will be very painful in the evening for them to sleep without an evening meal. But I’m happy tomorrow they will be able to get something when they go to the ECCD centre, where they will be able to be fed.” The ECCD centre is supported by ChildFund and is one of 13 in the community still providing supplementary feeding for children under five. All the other centres in the area have run out of food and closed, leaving thousands of children in danger of starvation.

We also visited Lokitaung District Hospital, where six severely malnourished children have been admitted for stabilisation. The children are also suffering from dehydration and pneumonia. The clinical officer in charge told us two children died last month because they were not referred to the hospital in time. From our observation, malnutrition levels are increasing with more children falling into the categories of moderate and severe malnutrition.