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7 experiences that inspired me this year

POSTED December 28, 2023

7 experiences that inspired me this year

Fred, our CEO, shares his best 2023 memories of seeing Children Believe in action

By Fred Witteveen, CEO, ceo@childrenbelieve.ca

Fred in Ghana

There is no question that the past few years have been particularly tough in the places where Children Believe works. While the COVID-19 lockdowns have finally ended, the global impact of the pandemic continues to linger. Conflict, climate change and the rising cost of living are all threats that put the lives and futures of children at risk.

But I have to say that the many joyful experiences of seeing the impact of our work has as left me inspired. This year I got to travel to Ghana and Ethiopia to see our program work in a number of communities.  I was really struck by how different interventions combine together to help break the barriers to education and give children choice. Whether it’s digging a well to provide clean drinking water close to school, construct hygienic gender-friendly toilets or facilitating women’s savings and loans group to increase family income, children who were previously unable to go to school are now able to learn.

Having the honour to meet some of the 1.3 million people we’ve reached has filled me with hope for continued positive change. Thanks to you, our donors, we are smashing the barriers to education so that children and youth can make the choices to seize a better tomorrow.

Allow me to share seven of my favourite moments from my journeys over this past year: 

Sarah and her students

1. Meeting Sarah, a former sponsored child who is now a teacher in Ghana. Growing up, Sarah’s family couldn’t afford the expense of keeping her in school, and as a girl, her education took a back seat to her brothers. But thanks to the belief of one Canadian sponsor she was able to stay in school and finish her education. And now she’s both a teacher and an inspiration for the young girls in her classroom. But Sarah was just one of 12 formerly sponsored children I met for dinner one night who are now teachers, doctors, scientists and engineers. We talked and I did a lot of listening and learning to these young national leaders.

Fred laughing with children from Ethiopia

2. Singing and laughing along with children in an early childhood development centre we built in Ethiopia. These learning centres for young children aged 3-5 are a lot like pre-schools in Canada and make a huge difference in kick starting a child’s education so that they can start strong. The results are undeniable, children who go to these centres consistently get top marks in primary school. They also learn a lot about things like gender equality and hygiene. I’ve never had so much fun singing about going to the toilet!

3. Connecting with Children Believe’s local partners in Ghana and representatives from other agencies like the World Food Program. We gathered to discuss how to address the growing refugee and displacement crisis across west Africa. It’s that recognition that disasters have no borders that has prompted Children Believe to expand in multiple regions and open offices in both Mali and Honduras. I was just so energized by how agencies can collaborate and rally together to have critical conversations based on trust, good will and a common goal of reaching those who need it the most.

Fred visiting a community run event in Ethiopia

4. Visiting a community run event space dedicated to sending children to school in Ethiopia. This centre was amazing! Children Believe funded the construction of the building and trained local leaders on how generate income, manage the books and grow the business. I was amazed by how well the community organizers have been managing this asset over the past five years. The program has been so successful that the number of children supported in their education has gone from dozens to hundreds and continues to grow. And what’s even better is that the community is now managing everything themselves without the need for ongoing support. Talk about sustainability!

Children Believe staff in action

5. Getting to witness Children Believe staff and partners in action. In every country we work in, our Country Office teams are a diverse group of experts with big hearts and a fierce determination to ensure equal and inclusive access for every girl and boy. I’ve never met such a dedicated group of professionals and I’m proud to say the vast majority are from the country, mostly from the communities that we serve. That’s local “know how” at work!

6. Attending the United Nations General Assembly. With Children Believe being part of the Child Fund Alliance, I joined a number of critical conversations on the global education crisis attended by Mark Suzman, CEO of the Belinda Gates Foundation and renowned economist Jeffrey Sachs amongst many others. It’s a disturbing fact that 9 out of 10 children in Sub-Saharan Africa cannot read, write or do basic mathematics at the age of 10. The depth and breadth of the challenges children continue to face is daunting, but I was bolstered by a part of the collective brain trust all working together on sustainable solutions.

7. And lastly, running my second Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon. Over 10 staff and 1 board member joined Team Believe to raise funds for the children we serve, particularly for girls education. And despite a late summer ankle injury, I was able to complete the fall run, and raise over $4,000.  I was so gratified for the interest and generosity of friends to support our cause for children. Together as a group we raised over $14,000.

These are just some of the great stories from what was a great year — and 2024 promises to be even better. A big congratulations to all the dedicated staff at Children Believe for the results our organization has achieved together and my most heartfelt gratitude to our many donors and supporters who are making all of this possible.

Fred.

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ABOUT CHILDREN BELIEVE:

Children Believe works globally to empower children to dream fearlessly, stand up for what they believe in — and be heard. For 60+ years, we’ve brought together brave young dreamers, caring supporters and partners, and unabashed idealists. Together, we’re driven by a common belief: creating access to education — inside and outside of classrooms — is the most powerful tool children can use to change their world.

About ChildFund Alliance:

A member of ChildFund Alliance, Children Believe is part of a global network of child-focused development organizations working to create opportunities for children and youth, their families and communities. ChildFund helps nearly 23-million children and their families in 70 countries overcome poverty and underlying conditions that prevent children from achieving their full potential. We work to end violence against children; provide expertise in emergencies and disasters to ease the harmful impact on children and their communities; and engage children and youth to create lasting change and elevate their voices in decisions that affect their lives.

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