Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

Travelling along the bumpy dirt road out to the villages of Siraro district in Ethiopia, the first thing you notice is how beautiful the landscape is – rolling fields dotted with grass-roofed mud huts, pairs of oxen moving slowly side by side ploughing fields and passing donkeys transporting bundles of firewood and jerry cans of water.

This is one of Ethiopia’s most drought-prone areas, yet there has been some rain in the weeks before our visit so it’s greener than I expect. I’m also surprised at how peaceful it is – just like being in the countryside at home.

The other massive challenge here is the changing weather patterns. In Siraro, families are struggling to survive in a vicious cycle of flood and drought. Drought once came every 10 years, now it’s more like every one to two years. When the rains do come, they are erratic or too late. This is causing havoc for farming communities who survive on what they grow – when nothing grows, people don’t survive.

This is why ChildFund has been providing emergency food aid, water and medical care in Siraro, as part of our response to last year’s drought across the Horn of Africa. While the situation has stabilised, ChildFund’s support continues to ensure children are nourished and cared for during this critical time in their development. Rations of Famix (a nutritious porridge mix) and edible oil are being distributed to the most vulnerable families on a monthly basis.

However, while food aid supports you to survive, it can’t save your assets or livelihood. Longer-term solutions, such as drilling wells, installing rainwater cisterns, constructing grain storage tanks, diversifying people’s skills and incomes, and encouraging a savings culture, are also necessary to reduce the impact of future droughts. With ChildFund supporting all of these activities in Siraro, I left feeling hopeful that things are heading in the right direction.

“My goal is to become a leader of this nation,” says 13-year-old Benditu from Aileu, Timor-Leste. As an avid student in Year 6 at primary school, Benditu is lucky. His parents understand the importance of education – not only for Benditu’s future, but for the future of Timor-Leste.

“My dad and mum want me to go to school. If I do not go to school then they are angry with me,” says Benditu. “They also buy shoes, school books and clothes that I need for school.”

Raising awareness of the importance of education, particularly among parents, is a major challenge in Timor-Leste. Without personal experiences of the transformative power of education – in Aileu district, over 50 per cent of people have no formal education – many parents do not understand the opportunities that going to school can bring to their children. Instead of going to school, many children work alongside their parents to farm, fetch water and collect wood. This is why improving education in Timor-Leste must start with engaging parents to support their children’s education.

As a member of the Timor-Leste Coalition for Education, ChildFund recently participated in Global Action Week. Awareness-raising events were held in Aileu and Ermera districts and attended by hundreds of students, teachers, parents and representatives from government, NGOs, the US embassy and UNICEF. Speeches, marches and music were followed with question and answer sessions between local communities and education specialists.

The focus of this year’s Global Action Week was early childhood care and development (ECCD). ChildFund Timor-Leste is currently supporting 80 ECCD centres, some of which are home-based, across the country. A key focus of the ECCD program is to build the capacity of Parents and Teachers Associations so they can advocate and take pride in their community ECCD centres. Alongside engaged parents and teachers, centres supported by ChildFund are currently preparing over 3,000 Timorese children for a successful future at school.

Events like Global Action Week are vital in influencing community perceptions of the importance of education. As 12-year-old student Derina said: “We are all here at this event so that parents can influence us so that we all go to school. Parents should send their children to school because their children will be the future of this country.”