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Policy and Advocacy
Posted by: Margie Lauter at 3:55PM EST on July 2, 2012
Thanks in large part to the tremendous work of our advocates, the U.S. Senate passed the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act last month, co-sponsored by Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME). This is a crucial step in upholding the rights of adolescent girls around the world and a critical step in preventing the harmful practice of child marriage. Thank you for lending your voice to the tens of thousands of girls who are forced into marriage each year.
Posted by: Stephanie Chen at 2:13PM EST on June 12, 2012
In the poor Bangladeshi village of Kawabadha, a shy little girl named Morsheda recently turned five years old. At her party, Morsheda sang and danced with her friends and family and feasted on a traditional dessert made of rice and sugar. Unfortunately, Morsheda’s fifth birthday celebration was an event many children around the world will never experience.
CARE’s latest video features Morsheda’s story and how a massive-yet-innovative program called SHOUHARDO is not only helping children such as Morsheda reach their fifth birthdays but also ensuring they grow healthier, and in many cases, taller.
Over the last 50 years, child mortality has been reduced by 70 percent. However, more than 7 million children will die this year before they reach their 5th birthday. These conditions are often worsened by the chronic malnutrition and food shortages, challenges that Morsheda’s family faced. USAID has launched a public campaign called “Every Child Deserves a 5th Birthday” to help raise awareness and end these avoidable child deaths.
Morsheda is one of more than 2 million people who have benefitted from CARE's SHOUHARDO program, a partnership with USAID and the government of Bangladesh. Morsheda’s family calls her a “nutrition baby” because her mother Hanufa received nutritious food while she was pregnant until Morsheda was two years old. More importantly, Hanufa actively participated in the many health groups that enhanced her understanding of her rights as a woman and educated her on proper childcare.
To watch the full video, click here.
Posted by: Niki Clark at 10:18AM EST on November 16, 2010
At this point in my visit, exactly a week in, I’m starting to think that Kenya is sitting on a gold mine. Not literally; I know conflict over natural resources is a consistent issue for the continent. I’m talking about another type of untapped wealth. Kenya has some of the most talented people I’ve ever met.
When I attended the CARE National Conference back in May, still just a hopeful CARE employee (in May I was still interviewing, I landed my dream job in June, in November I’m writing you from Kenya), I was struck by something Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said during her keynote speech: “Talent is universal. Opportunity is not.” Something about being in Nairobi makes this statement turn on repeat in my head.
At our debriefing a few days before, along with Peninah, I meet Priest. When Auma talks about the successes of partnership within in the Sports for Social Change Network, she talks about Priest. He is, by all ways and means, the SSCN Poster Child.
Born and raised in Korogocho, a slum in Nairobi, Priest discovered boxing after being bullied by his school mates. But instead of talking about his ability to knock out his opponents, Priest focuses on the things boxing has given him you can’t see in his sprite, muscular frame. His inner strength. His confidence. His ability to walk away.
Box Girls started when, while at a boxing match, he overheard some girls behind him say they wish they could box. He turned around and told them they could. They showed up a few days later and asked Priest to train them. They wanted to be able to defend themselves in the dangerous neighborhoods and slums they called home.
What started with a few girls has turned into a few hundred. Three of Priest’s girls have gone on to represent Kenya in the Olympics. One girl, Liz, is captain of the national team. But what started as a means of self defense has evolved into a means of empowerment. The Box Girls are physically strong, even the young ones have wiry muscles, but much of their strength is of the internal type. Boxing has given them the confidence and self esteem to want more for themselves and their lives. Each practice session, like Safe Spaces, includes life skills messaging where the girls talk about important and challenging issues. And there are many of them.
When I first meet the Box Girls, they (as all Kenyans seem to do) greet me with a song and a dance. They are smiling and happy and proud of their skills. In Korogocho, they are called champs. Boys and men alike peek into the windows of the practice room, crowding to see the girls that are boxers. Wishing they were one of them. It is obviously another CARE success story. Using community leaders to create change. But later that afternoon I see firsthand why a Box Girl’s smile is such a transformation. Why CARE’s partnership with Box Girls and Priest is such a success. I visit the place where many Box Girls come from. It’s the Nairobi landfill.
By the time a girl joins the Box Girls, Priest has made sure she is no longer living in what they call “the dump.” But many of them started there. During our debrief with CARE staff, after a few references, I interrupted Priest to ask, “What do you mean, the dump?” He told me, “A dump. Like a garbage dump.” Even when he told me that, there was something in me that felt like he was making it up. It couldn’t be that bad. Even in a country that struggles with poverty as much as Kenya, I was positive no one could actually live in a garbage dump. What kind of place would let that happen? Live in a dump, eat from a dump? I wasn’t sure if it was the time change or what, but sometimes during my conversations with people I became convinced that this was all a big movie. That some crazy director decided to write a horror film about poverty and so he made up a big scene about living in a landfill. I was positive it couldn’t be that bad.
It was worse.
Hamilton is a young, friendly guy. He’s incredibly articulate and smart. I would have never guessed that he grew up in a landfill. When he was a kid, he ate there, occasionally finding pieces of scrap metal to sell. When leaving the area, you can see stalls selling various scavenged item. One stall sold dirty, used underwear, obviously pulled from the garbage. Hamilton was needed to show us around, to point out to us where the Box Girls came from. Like many of the slums in Nairobi, political tensions are real, and if you go without an insider, you can face real danger. We didn’t even actually go to the dump, just stood on the edge. The glimpse I got was enough to turn my stomach.
Like Priest and Peninah, Hamilton got out. And then turned right back around. He’s now working at the Korogocho dump, encouraging kids through his soccer program. He’s a partner with the Sports for Social Change network. His program has been such a success that he actually took Kenya to the Homeless World Cup with some of the adults from his area as coach. They came in fifth place out of 48 teams. They were the top team in Africa. Seeing the glint in his eyes as he shares his story, his passion is tangible. He cares for these kids more than anything. He just wants them to have a chance at opportunity. A chance for something more.
While Priest and Auma are talking with the journalist, my role becomes crowd control. The dump kids start to swarm the cameras, fascinated by foreigners. So that the interview goes smoothly, I distract them back to me, taking their picture, showing them their faces. Their shy demeanors are immediately dropped and I am in the middle of a massive embrace. One little girl wearing a dirty Barbie t-shirt wraps her tiny arms around my legs and doesn’t let go for nearly an hour. These are the children Hamilton works with. Part of me is heartbroken; one kid is knawing on a computer chip he found on the ground. They are playing in garbage. They are barefeet and filthy. I will later develop a nasty cold after spending hours hugging them and wiping their faces. They are walking germ factories. But the other part of me is filled with joy. They are beautiful; such typical kids. Crowding me to get my attention. Laughing and prodding and poking each other. They could be from anywhere. They are smart and bright and smiling. I am blessed to meet them. I feel light inside, like they are emitting some sort of physical joy that is transferred to me. I am crouched down so I am at their height. When my knees start to cramp and I stand to shake out the knots in my legs, I’m brought back. I’m standing in the midst of a garbage pile. And these children call it their home.
The images that I see today will remain with me forever. How is this okay? “Talent is universal. Opportunity is not.” I am convinced more than ever that the work that CARE is doing, investing in people like Priest and Hamilton, investing in organizations like Box Girls and Safe Spaces, is critical. Kenya is jam packed with talent, with bright, smart girls and boys that could be on the path to careers as astrophysicists, teachers, world class athletes. What they lack is the opportunity. CARE is giving them that.
I will not forget these faces. I will not forget their stories. I know even more now than ever how critical the work and people of CARE are. And I will tell others.
I go home, covered in dirt, in a smell that won’t wash off. Today is a day that I will look back and say, “That is the day I was changed forever.”
Posted by: Niki Clark at 10:56AM EST on November 11, 2010
By the end of my first week in Kenya, I have truly settled in. I am no longer waking up at 3 am. My sense of time has synced with the rest of the country. I’ve learned the currency exchange and a few key words in Swahili. When in Siaya, my skin color attracted attention; in Nairobi I blend in a bit more. After years of reading up on Africa, my hosts are impressed with my knowledge of their country. The concierge confuses me for an American tour guide. I feel at home.
Nairobi is an incredibly diverse city. Nearly three million people call it home and they come from all over the world. Nairobi, like the rest of Kenya, is also full of contradictions. The park across from the hotel I am staying in is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen, green and lush and full of various types of plants and foliage. People picnic there in the day, taking in the incredible panorama of the city skyline. At night, however, it is a place of violence and danger. It’s almost as if Nairobi is a sort of Jekyll and Hyde. At night, the entire city is transformed into a different entity altogether.
After a debriefing at the CARE office on the days ahead, I am chomping at the bit to see our Sports for Social Change (SSCN) programs. Led by technical advisor Dr. Auma Obama, CARE’s SSCN uses the convening power of sports to engage impoverished youth with each other and their communities. It’s a pretty simple concept with some pretty powerful results.
Through sports, CARE is teaching important life skills in a structured setting. Similar to the Village Savings and Loan model, the camaraderie formed through sports teams makes sharing and discussing often difficult and private issues with others easier. And as anyone that can remember their growing years can attest, having a support network is critical. At the same time, physical activity is proven to build self-esteem and confidence. Girls in sports learn how to effectively communicate, negotiate, the list goes on and on. CARE has seen firsthand that the positive change that happens in a girl participating in sports is often passed on to her family, her neighborhood and her larger community. The ripple effect at its best.
The SSCN Network, formed in 2007, is a coalition of CARE partner organizations that all take this same approach to girls’ empowerment. The partner organization on today’s agenda was Safe Spaces. At the core, it means an equation that roughly translates to “Basketball Team Environment + CARE Empowerment Approach = Strong Girls.” But Safe Spaces has other factors playing into it, which makes its success even more incredible.
Take Mamu for example. Mamu is a typical 17 year old girl. She’s feisty and talkative and is constantly laughing and gossiping with her friends. She wants to be a broadcast journalist which means she’s fascinated with the cameraman’s equipment and constantly asking him questions. (I’m here escorting a media crew to see CARE programs). But Mamu was engaged to be married at 13; with six kids at home, her father couldn’t afford to turn down a nice dowry. She grew up, and still lives, in the slum. In fact, I am shocked when I hear one of the girls refer to the area where the basketball court is as “where the middle class live.” They all live deep in the slum and come in to the Eastlands area to play basketball. To my naïve eyes, it looks like we’re in a slum now. I’ll later see how worse it can get.
Mamu’s past is a tough subject for her still. She cries when she talks about it. All she wanted was an education so she had to leave home to avoid getting married. That didn’t happen and she joined Safe Spaces. Now’s she’s a senior leader, coaching and mentoring younger girls both on and off the court. It’s through Safe Spaces that she realized she's powerful as a girl; that she can be more than just "the kitchen or the mother."
I met girl after girl like Mamu. Florence, who wanted to be a mechanic so as to follow in her father’s footsteps (She’s now doing it!). Dorcas, who escaped from domestic violence. Girls that were trapped, had no path for the future but who are now going after their goals.
One of the most remarkable girls I met was the girl, now woman, who started Safe Spaces, Peninah Nthenya. Peninah is quiet and fades in the background, preferring for her girls to run their own program. She grew up in the slums of Nairobi, but like many of CARE’s partners and staff, once she got out, she turned right back around to help the community she had left behind. Since founding Safe Spaces in early 2008, Peninah has mentored hundred of young girls using basketball, yoga, and dance as a means to talk about various issues that affect young females in the slum. Although I had the great honor of meeting her during our debrief at CARE’s offices, she was not there the day NBC visited her program. Her funding was in jeopardy and she had to take a last minute flight to Canada to convince donors the program was worth investing in.
After playing some hoops and facilitating a life skills session on the court, Mamu and the senior leaders headed to Safe Dishes. Since a career as a professional athlete may not be a sustainable dream for many of the girls, they formed a small café where they could supplement their income and learn skills they could apply in the service industry in Nairobi when they’re older. It’s a very simple building, lacking the décor of Western cafes. But the food is good, the service is great and the sense of community is really strong once you walk through the doors.
Cooling off with a Fanta, I got a chance to talk with a number of Safe Spaces participants. They all love basketball and light up when you ask about it. And oddly enough, the majority of the girls are Boston Celtics fans. I’m still trying to figure out the connection. But what they really get from it, one girl tells me, is a self of self worth. Sometimes just having one person believe in you is all you need to believe in yourself. And there’s definitely more than one.
As we wrap up our day and head back to the hotel, I think how lucky I am. Lucky to have been able to meet such incredibly strong and smart women. Lucky to work for an organization that believes so much in the power of a girl. Lucky to have the opportunities that I have had and to be able to see CARE’s programming on the ground. But most of all lucky, and humbled, to have the great responsibility to carry these girls’ stories back home. I hope I don’t let them down.
Posted by: Niki Clark at 10:35AM EST on November 11, 2010
I wake up my second day in Kisumu, feeling slightly like time and space have become somehow irrelevant. I’m seven hours ahead of everyone I know and love (soon to be eight due to Daylight Savings), sleeping under a mosquito net and feeling the creepy crawly tug of jetlag grabbing at my heels. And as I soon find out, Kenyans have their own sense of time and space all together. A 10-minute drive takes 45, an 8 am pickup means give or take an hour, a mile could actually be five. You get what I mean. It’s all extremely well intentioned however, and actually fits perfectly in with their “Hakuna Matata” attitude, so I quickly adjust, accepting that Kenya works on its own operating system.
Our first stop is an hour drive outside the city. We pass the equator along the way, oddly enough sponsored by the local Lions club. Everything in Kenya is branded. Coca Cola, Bic, Safaricom. I see it on security gates, cars, housing complexes in the city, tin stalls in the rural areas. In so many ways, it seems everything is for sale.
We pull up to the Malanga Health Center and are greeted by the two nurses that manage the center, Paul Malawa and Alice Nangumba. There is a sense of pride with which they show me their modest facilities, describing in detail the purpose of each room. What interests me the most is the way they compare and contrast everything as before CARE and after CARE. And it’s not in a “Somebody’s-here-from-CARE-we-should-talk-them-up-type-of-way.” Like their sense of time (or lack thereof), Kenyans also are known for their frankness.
The results are tangible. Mosquito nets for the maternity recovery ward. Medical equipment that helps the staff determine PMTCT risks (prevention of mother to child transmission). Clean water systems to replace the rusted tank that sits in the front yard, the previous source of water. New maternal delivery beds (previously mothers had to give birth on wooden benches). Even chairs for patients and a clock for the nurses to determine the timing between contractions. CARE’s contributions seem to be everywhere.
But the thing that I hear again and again, is what CARE has given that can’t be seen. CARE has built capacity. Capacity is one of those words, that as a member of the communications team, we try not to use. Media view it as to “wonky,” the public gets confused by it. But the truth is whatever you call it, capacity building is what we do. And it’s what we do best. We’re not handing out fish; we’re teaching people how to fish. Capacity building is the entire approach behind CARE’s work: educating and investing in the community leaders and practitioners that are on the ground really making the changes. It’s strengthening competencies so that Paul and Alice can be more effective in their work. It’s job training, education, utilizing community networks and resources. And it’s serving as a true partner to the Malanga Health Center. “There has been no particular NGO that has been around consistently in this facility,” Alice told me. “It’s only CARE.”
We walk over to the Comprehensive Care Unit. We pass a rusted bicycle, aka the old emergency obstetrics transport vehicle. Easel paper covers the walls remind clients of the pillars of safe motherhood, the top ten diseases. We pass a chalkboard that serves as the mortality record. In June of this year, there were 2 births and 8 deaths, two of which were under five.
The Care Unit is packed with visitors. Noah, the only paid counselor on staff, says he sometimes sees up to 50 clients a day, usually on the days the Anti-Retroviral Therapy medicines arrive. Trained volunteers known as peer educators spend much of their day helping other clients. As clients themselves, they are too well aware of the health challenges that face their community. Paul tells me about how common “deserters” are. Deserters are clients that find out their status and then disappear; the stigma of having HIV is too high. Peer educators track them down, trying their best to convince them that taking their medicine is best for both their own health as well as preventing the spread of the disease to their partners. Sometimes they succeed. Sometimes they don’t. It’s a tough conversation to have. I will learn at my next stop how CARE is using some exceptionally creative ways to approach such a challenging subject.
Our next stop is just a few miles down the road. It’s a program I’ve wanted to see for some time. Kenyans are a people meant for performance. It’s not uncommon to hear singing while walking down the streets; meetings are often started with a dance and a song. So it only makes sense that when talking about some of these more complicated issues—family planning, domestic violence—Kenyans would choose to express themselves through drama. The Participatory Education Theater group uses an interactive style of theatre to engage its audiences in critical discussions. And it seems to be working.
A group of 40 or 50 people has gathered at the local Chief’s homestead, waiting for the performance to begin. Men, women and children alike are sitting in the grass, laughing with their neighbors, catching up since they’ve last met. Several of the women are members of the House of Nannies, a CARE group that supports caretakers of HIV/AIDS orphans. One such caretaker walks over with a curious boy named Obama. There are lots of Obamas here. And lots of Clintons, Rhoda of CARE Siaya tells me. Kenyans tend to name their children after important visitors. If I’m lucky and I meet a woman who gives birth in the next week or so, there may be a “Niki” running around too.
After awhile the performance begins. It’s all in Kiswahili so CARE staff lean over occasionally to translate. The first performance is on balancing religious beliefs and family planning. A mother approaches her husband with her very sick child. She wants to go to the hospital. The father refuses, saying they will pray. The child later dies and a fight ensues. During the course of the performance, the audience jumps in with suggestions, both men and women expressing their views on what the parents should do. A deeply religious people, Kenyans often have a hard time reconciling where prayer needs to be accompanied with medical interventions. Performances like these allow the community to discuss and accept that such interventions don’t have to go against their religious beliefs.
After the performance, a CARE staffer facilitates a discussion. Some of the opinions expressed are long-held, deep-rooted. It’s amazing to be able to witness such frank dialogue between men and women. Other performances address the rights of children and birth spacing. The dialogue goes on and on. Auscar, who facilitates several of the discussions, tells me they have to cut off the dialogue at some point. They could sit and discuss these issues for hours. People are truly engaged. I may not speak Kiswahili, but the animated hand gestures, the facial expressions and the back and forth conversations are proof enough for me. This is a forum for conversation that is working.
It starts to rain and five or six of us crowd in the CARE truck for a debrief. Kenyans love the debrief. How do you feel? What did you think? What could we have done better? They are innately curious and we spend an hour or so discussing a range of topics. They are open and honest and I finally get to ask some of the questions that are still lingering from my car ride with Refa. And they ask me questions back. It’s an intimate exchange and I feel like I have learned immensely in my short time with them.
As Refa prepares to drive me to the airport, Rhoda pulls out a small gift from the Siaya office. It’s a beautiful traditional wrap that Kenyan women wear. Along with the CARE logo, it reads the slogan of the Village Savings and Loans Group, “Grow Together.” I am deeply touched and give each of my new friends a sincere and heartfelt hug. I have experienced so much, and my trip has just begun. I can’t wait to see what else awaits me.
Posted by: Anne Bernier at 7:23PM EST on August 13, 2010
This blog was originally written by Anne Bernier, a former CARE Face-to-Face Recruiter in the DC area, and Eva Baker. Both are students at the College of William and Mary and wrote this blog while working at AidData. The original post is here.
While in Morocco this summer, Anne heard a lot about the government’s recent work to improve the status of women. In early 2004, the Moroccan Parliament overhauled the Moudawana, or Moroccan Family Code, giving women greater rights. The new family code removed provisions requiring women to obey their husbands and restricted polygamy. The reforms changed inheritance laws, allowed women freer access to employment and education, permitted Moroccan nationality to pass to children through either men or women, and empowered women to initiate divorce.
As Research Assistants for AidData, we wondered how Morocco’s donors would react to the domestic changes. As Nick Kristof has written, aid to women can have dramatic development effects.Did gender-related aid increase after 2004, perhaps to complement the reforms or as a “reward”? Or, did progress in the domestic legal code cause donors to shift aid away from women’s projects into other areas? For a quick comparison we keyword searched Morocco’s aid for the terms “gender,” “women,” “female,” and “girls” to flag projects with a significant women’s component in addition to those with women as the priority purpose. While the method isn’t perfect, as a first cut, we established a replicable and reliable sample of projects that would allow us to establish variation in allocation over time.
From the data we learned that despite a net increase in total aid to Morocco from 1999-2008, gender- related projects received around 1% of total aid both before and after the 2004 reforms. So, while gender- related aid did increase from $10,698,525 in 1999 to $16,307,016 in 2008 (and the number of projects went from 12 to 71 per year), we don’t see a dramatic change in allocation priorities by Morocco’s donors in either direction. This surprised us—donors had been clamoring for these reforms for years; but when they were passed we observe no obvious response on the part of these donors. This outcome is dissimilar to that noted by Chris Marcoux in the environmental issue area where change in aid is related to change in the domestic institutions of the recipient country.
But while there has been no major shift toward gender-related aid relative to other sectors in Morocco’s aid portfolio, perhaps donors became more targeted in the gender aid they were giving by focusing more directly on women’s rights, rather than traditional development activities thought to benefit women disproportionately. Thus, in our continuing quest to find a donor “response” to the reforms, we instead looked at the composition of projects within gender-related aid:
American project and this Spanish project. The real story lies in aid to women’s empowerment groups, civil society organizations, and gender-related rural development. From 2005-2008, projects in these sectors accounted for $70,873,272 of the total $108,723,601 in gender related aid, with Spain and the International Fund for Agricultural Development as the largest donors.
This shift from education and business to civil society projects is similar to the United Nations Development Fund for Women’s strategy. UNIFEM proposes to politically empower women by increasing political representation and mobilization and improving domestic legislation and its implementation. Domestic and international efforts in Morocco could also be viewed within the larger movement to raise women’s status as a critical component of economic development, as noted by Isobel Coleman in Foreign Affairs.
But these descriptive statistics say little about the actual results for women in Morocco. Other countries and women’s rights groups lauded Morocco for its reforms, but despite instances of progress, change has been slow. In particular, many women’s NGOs despair spotty implementation by conservative judges and the national government. To track the reforms’ results, we used Womanstats to look up the UNDP’s Gender-related Development Index (GDI), which uses literacy, school enrollment, life expectancy, and income levels to calculate the social and economic disparity between men and women. A high GDI shows a higher level of achievement for both men and women and higher gender equality.
Since 2003, Morocco’s GDI has risen steadily, although its rank has bounced around from 100, to 95, to 111. So while the achievement levels of Moroccan women have increased since the Moudawana reforms, Morocco has stayed roughly in the same place relative to the rest of the countries in the world. Although we found that donors reacted to the reforms in 2004, it was in a more nuanced way than we expected, given their sweeping changes. Whether that was appropriate will have to be debated elsewhere.
Posted by: Niki Clark at 10:20PM EST on July 14, 2010
I was the typical 10-year-old girl growing up in southern Louisiana. I liked riding my bike around the neighborhood, playing with schoolmates, teasing my younger sister who clung unto everything me and my friends did. Boys, and in particular marriage, was not something I spent my time thinking about. Ever.
But for more than sixty million girls under the age of 18 around the world, marriage is not only something that they think about, it's something that they live with. And for many, it's nothing short of a death sentence.... (more)