Interview with Yaikah Joof – Country Director, ChildFund Senegal
Philanthropy is in our DNA. Ustawi aims to integrate charity in all our efforts, and our launch campaign to press and influencers has included a donation to ChildFund International. Here, in an interview with Yaikah Joof who is the Country Director of ChildFund Senegal, she sheds light on the mission of ChildFund International and how the partnership with Ustawi helps their efforts on the ground.
What can you tell me about the mission of ChildFund International?
ChildFund International is an international NGO based out of the United States. It's a child-focused organization and operates in about 25 countries globally where we identify children that are vulnerable, excluded, or poor and we connect them with sponsors all over the world. These sponsors contribute monthly and then we take these funds and use them to implement projects in communities where these children that are sponsored live. So not only are we working to improve the wellbeing of the child individually but also his or her family, and their communities. Sponsorship is one source of funding for us. We also have funding through grants and grants could be from the United States government as in with USAID and other types of funding also can come through the European Union and the World Bank. However, sponsorship funds are our most stable source of funding.
In the Africa region, we operate in nine countries. We operate in four countries in the West Africa region, which is Senegal, Gambia, Guinea Conakry, and Sierra Leone, and in the Eastern Southern Africa area, we are in Kenya and Uganda in Zambia and Ethiopia. And then we also have Mozambique on that side. We also have what we call the ChildFund Alliance and there we have members from other countries like Denmark, France, Korea, and Spain. We are also in Asia and Latin America.
In what ways do you sponsor a child? Do you provide education or living expenses for example?
I truly believe in saying "teaching someone how to fish" because that way you make a sustainable long-term impact. In order to make lasting improvements, we consolidate the funds that we receive through sponsorship and use them to implement projects in different sectors and areas. We implement projects around education, health, and nutrition, child protection, livelihoods, and subsistence. We intervene in all these different sectors, but we try as much as possible to avoid doing direct fund distribution because we see that that's not sustainable. We create projects around the child, and we can also create projects around the caregiver or the communities. When a child from a particular community is sponsored, that child becomes an ambassador for that community. As a sponsor, you contributing to this child and in this child's name.
In implementing those projects, a key thing is that we must ensure that the sponsored child is benefiting from that project. If it's an education project, for example, we need to make sure that the sponsored child in that community is the ambassador for that community. We make sure that that child is benefiting from that project and can write a letter to their sponsor to talk about how he or she benefits.
What does your partnership with Ustawi do for your mission?
I was particularly delighted about the partnership with Ustawi because it is a cosmetics brand for skincare and self-care that sources ingredients directly from Africa and so Ustawi is looking to give back to the African continent. In our partnership with Ustawi, there's potential for funds and contributions to go towards children's education: ensuring children's access to school, ensuring that children stay in school, and perhaps even more specifically, girls' education.
Here in Senegal, we work very much in dealing with the challenges around early marriage. With early marriage, you have a girl at 13 years of age being married off so obviously, she drops out of school. We also have challenges around education on menstrual health and hygiene. And the way the culture is set up, a child gets married off at 13 and within a year, she is expected to have a baby. That child is obviously too young and too underdeveloped to be able to handle the pregnancy.
On menstrual health and hygiene, there's a huge problem around communication. It's such a taboo subject culturally, that when the girls are seeing their menstruation or their periods, they stay home. They stay at home because the schools are not adaptive to them being able to take care of themselves, the toilets are either not functioning or not separated from the boys. These girls stay home from school about a week every month. That means the girls are losing about a week of school every month and that adds up.
We currently have a pilot project in one of our regions around menstrual health and hygiene, where we're working with the decentralized education department in 10 schools to be able to refurbish the toilets and make sure that the girls have their side and the boys have their side, and that the girls feel comfortable when they have their periods to school, and they still have my space where they can take care of themselves. Then we are also looking to take it a step further to see how we can work with the girls, to help them manufacture reusable menstrual towels using local materials and that's sustainable because they can wash them and reuse them.
At the end of the day, ChildFund International is an organization that is looking out for the wellbeing of the child. Both the girl and the boy. For girls in particular we are looking to make sure they stay in school and don't miss out on lessons which could lead them to drop out or repeat a year. So, our partnership with Ustawi would be focused on projects like this because I think that's a big gap we have, and I'm trying strategically to make sure that we do a little bit more there, and any bits of additional funding will help.
At Ustawi when we say to a partner or customer that “We’ve made a donation to ChildFund on your behalf” what exactly does that do, what direct effects does that donation have on your mission?
If Ustawi says "we've made a contribution on your behalf to ChildFund" you can be assured that that money donated by Ustawi is going to be used to implement projects on the ground in Senegal in the different regions within Senegal where we intervene. Right now, we're in six different regions in Senegal. So, we will use that money to implement projects that are going to help advance the wellbeing of the children in those communities and ensure that they grow up to be productive members of their communities and to society as a whole. Some of those projects would be increasing access to education for girls, child protection, and working with local authorities to delay the age for marriage. It could also be used to empower a mother of a child by giving her access to loans and financial training which empowers her to undertake income-generating activities.
How can people help and support the ChildFund foundation and mission?
There are several ways. You can access our website www.childfund.org and make a donation through the site. We also have children listed on our site that are eligible to be sponsored. So, you can sign up and sponsor a child. The monthly contribution you make is going to come to the country and we will implement projects based on the gaps and the needs identified on the ground. Another way is to work with our fundraising or philanthropy teams at our headquarters in Richmond and we can identify a project a need on the ground for you to sponsor. That's another thing I oversee as well. I identify a need in the ground and develop a project with my program team and we can send it to our philanthropy and/or fundraising teams in our headquarters and say, "this is a gap or need that needs to be met and we need funds for it". They take that proposal and link us up with potential donors. When you contribute either by donating or you donate towards implementing a project on the ground in a particular domain, always know that your contribution would help ensure the wellbeing of the child.