Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

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Twenty-five years ago, ChildFund began its work in Vietnam; implementing child-focused development programs in the remote district of Ky Son, located in the country’s mountainous northern region.

Working in partnership with just four communes, home to around 200 children and families struggling with high levels of deprivation, ChildFund Vietnam focused its efforts on improving access to basic – and essential – needs.

Our earliest initiatives in these rural villages sought to reduce widespread child malnutrition; increase access to healthcare, safe water and sanitation; generate new livelihood opportunities for the low-income families; and improve the startling low school attendance rates.

Access to quality education has always been a pillar of ChildFund Vietnam’s programming. In a region of significant ethnic diversity, and where few children speak Vietnamese at home, it is vital that children and young people be given the opportunity to learn, and to overcome potential language barriers which can prevent them from accessing opportunities in the future.

Creating child-friendly, supportive, and engaging learning environments was key. Our team successfully worked in partnership with education staff, local authorities, parents, and young people to achieve this.

Today, teacher training programs, classroom and playground construction, new educational resources, and the creation of School Boards of Management mean that in Ky Son district 100 per cent of children now complete their primary education. This is a remarkable achievement.

Since those early days, ChildFund Vietnam has expanded its reach in the north of the country, and today works in 36 communes, in 12 districts, across three rural provinces – Hoa Binh, Cao Bang, Bac Kan – as well as the urban Hanoi Municipality.

In the last year alone, our projects reached almost 90,000 individuals, around half of whom were children and young people.

As the world for children has changed, so have ChildFund’s initiatives. We are now responding to the new threats to children’s wellbeing, with a focus on keep children safe from harm. This supports global efforts to progress target 16.2 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: to end all forms of violence against children.

Increasing, and affordable, internet availability is increasing children’s exposure to online abuse and exploitation. ChildFund’s Swipe Safe program is supporting young people to take advantage of digital technologies, while also ensuring they can take active steps to keep safe online.

Building safer environments is also a feature of our new partnership with the Vietnam Government’s Department of Child Affairs and Microsoft. Together, we have launched a new child protection application, which can be used by young people to report incidents of abuse and seek support.

ChildFund Pass It Back, a unique sport for development program, is giving young people in rural areas the opportunity to learn valuable life skills through organised community sport. With a focus on inclusion, over half of all players and coaches are girls and young women.

In the early 2000s, I spent several years working and living in Vietnam with my own daughter. It holds a special place in both of our hearts, and I am incredibly proud of our staff who show such dedication and commitment to changing the lives of vulnerable children.

Our achievements in Vietnam are also due to the strong collaboration with the Vietnamese government, civil society groups, individual and institutional donors, and the communities and the young people at the centre of our mission.

Together we are stronger. And together, we will continue to ensure more children in Vietnam can say: “I am safe. I am educated. I contribute. I have a future.”

The COVID-19 crisis has prompted an urgent expansion of ChildFund Papua New Guinea’s 1-Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain (715-08000), a tele-counselling service providing support to people experiencing sexual and gender-based violence in Papua New Guinea (PNG).

Established five years ago in response to PNG’s endemic levels of family violence, the national freephone helpline offers callers help on issues ranging from crisis counselling and safety planning to suicide intervention and referral to support services.

In 2019, Helpline staff responded to more than 23,000 calls.

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, additional counsellors and information officers have been recruited and trained, allowing the service to operate across two shifts, with plans to expand the hours until later at night.

This will ensure the helpline has the capacity to respond to a rise in GBV incidents, spurred by lockdown measures and increased economic uncertainty within families.

Margaret Sheehan, CEO of ChildFund Australia, says: “The expanded Helpline services will give it a broader role and wider reach: not only will it be providing counselling for those experiencing domestic violence, but also vital health advice around COVID-19 and referring callers to national health services where necessary.”

The helpline now offers additional support to children and adolescents experiencing prolonged distress, in recognition of the secondary impacts that the pandemic may have on their psychological wellbeing.

Margaret Sheehan adds: “Communities in PNG already experience high rates of family violence, and the COVID-19 pandemic can exacerbate these tensions.

“The psychological stress on families is enormous, with many parents losing work and facing an uncertain future. Sadly, this may result in more children both experiencing or witnessing abuse in their homes.”

The Helpline service is being promoted nationally in PNG using SMS blasts and radio announcements to ensure that people can seek help.

Bridgette Thorold, country director of ChildFund PNG says: “ChildFund and FSVAC are committed to driving change and will continue to implement programs and services which address the causes of violence; build the capacity of our legal system and strengthen the services available to survivors.

“We all have a part to play in building a safer community for the women and children of Papua New Guinea, and in upholding their right to live free from all forms of violence.”

For anyone experiencing or witnessing family violence, the 1 Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain offers immediate tele-counselling and referral services across the country. Call freephone 7150-8000.

The 1-Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain is a partnership between ChildFund and CIMC (FSVAC) and is supported by the New Zealand Aid Programme. The expansion of services in 2020 has been made possible thanks to UNICEF and UN Women.