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Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

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Getting an education during the COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for many children and young people around the world. Learning has been disrupted and moving to online learning has been extremely challenging.

Eleven-year-old Odi attends a local primary school in Central Province, Papua New Guinea. She is one of the top students in her class, and with support from ChildFund Papua New Guinea, she has been able to continue her education during widespread lockdowns.

ChildFund is working with World Vision to ensure that children like Odi can continue to improve their literacy skills and access a digital library of age-appropriate reading materials.

When lockdowns started, Odi missed her friends and school when her classes were suspended. With support from her parents, Chris and Konai, Odi continued reading, doing home assignments and other school activities at home.

“Because Odi was interested in school, we didn’t face too many difficulties in getting her to do her schoolwork at home. She was always looking for materials to read during her free time. And we supported her by buying newspapers and downloading reading apps so that she could read,” said Chris.

Odi’s parents described her as a very eager student, who had shown her love for reading at a very young age. Her love for reading was fostered when her primary school joined the Together for Education Project, and she could access a digital library using digital spark library kits supplied by Library for All.

“I really enjoy reading, and I look forward to reading on the tablets every day because it has so many books in it, and I can just sit at my desk and read anything I want with just a tap of a finger,” said Odi.

The digital spark kits contain 40 tablets, and each tablet has a collection of over 500 books. This meant that schools without libraries could access books and children and young people could improve their literacy skills through reading.

Odi’s parents believe that reading and literacy create a foundation for their children’s education, and they are very happy that Odi has access to more than 500 books in the digital library.

“Students who are struggling now have access to these books on the tablets and it has improved a lot of students reading and when children read better, they are bound to perform better in school because now they will be able to understand all the other subjects better,” said one teacher at Odi’s school.

The Together for Education project is a World Vision project that is run in partnership with ChildFund, CIMC, Library for All, University of Canberra, and is funded by the PNG-Australia Partnership Fund.

During the summers of her childhood in Sydney, Carla remembers the children in her neighbourhood and at school having an abundance of strawberries to eat. At home, her mum would make sure she and her three older siblings would have at least a strawberry each so they wouldn’t feel left out.

“We lived in an affluent area so the other kids’ families could afford heaps of strawberries, whereas we couldn’t,” Carla says.

Her parents started a life in Australia with “little to nothing” after fleeing civil war in Lebanon in the 1980s, says Carla, who is now 28 years old. After finding temporary refuge in the United States, they eventually settled in Australia, where they worked long hours, and fought through language and cultural barriers, to raise Carla, her sister and her two brothers (pictured above).

“We didn’t have a lot of money,” Carla says. “When we were kids, there was a lot of things we could not afford. My parents always worked really hard to make sure we didn’t miss out, and it was always instilled in us to enjoy what we have.”

Carla says her parents and the challenges of her childhood taught her the values of respect, hard work, perseverance, and gratitude. Her parents took the opportunities they had living in Australia, and were determined to create a better life for themselves and their children.

Carla’s older siblings are now pursuing their dreams: her oldest brother works in law enforcement, her other brother is a graphic designer and runs his own business, and her sister is a nurse. The past several years Carla has worked in the events industry. “We didn’t come from a lot but, in our own right, we now play a big part in our society,” Carla says.

From ChildFund supporter to employee

Today, Carla is helping to give children in need the opportunities she and her family were lucky to have had.

She has been a child sponsor with ChildFund Australia over the past six years, helping children access essentials such as health care, education and protection. In 2021 she joined ChildFund’s supporter relations team in Sydney as an employee.

“Giving back is ingrained in me,” Carla says. “It’s something I’m passionate about, and it’s been enriched by my parents and what they’ve taught me.

Carla with a photo of her sponsored child. Carla sponsored children through ChildFund Australia for six years before joining the organisation as an employee in 2021. “Being involved with a charity and giving back has opened my eyes.”

“I am lucky to have been born and to live in Australia. I’ve been able to take the opportunities I’ve been given and experienced, and to grow a lot.

“Child sponsorship is my way of giving back and to help create opportunities for someone else.

“It doesn’t matter where you come from, if you have the opportunities and take them, then there is the ability to get to where you want to go.”

Carla hopes her sponsored child, eight-year-old Alviena, from the Philippines, grows up to be independent. “I hope she will be able to be educated, earn a living, start a family, and achieve whatever she puts her mind to.”

Supporting an international charity like ChildFund, and learning about the problems that many children living in poverty face, has helped broaden Carla’s views of the world and put issues, such as the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia, into perspective.

“Being involved with a charity and giving back has opened my eyes,” Carla says. “We were worried about the number of COVID cases in Australia, but families overseas couldn’t even get vaccines or proper health care.

“If you’re in the position where you can give – even if it’s a tiny bit of money – why wouldn’t you? If the day comes when you need support, hopefully someone will do the same in return.”