Engaging students for family food security and nutrition

[Individual articles from the Winter 2017 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

As a small country with a large and rapidly growing population, Bangladesh has to make the most of its fast-disappearing agricultural land. Although the government of Bangladesh prioritizes modern and sustainable agricultural technologies to maximize crop production, many farmers’ beliefs in traditional agriculture methods, despite poor production, make them resistant to using new practices that improve production. Resistance to using improved agricultural practices that promote higher production has been a significant factor in food insufficiency and poor nutrition in rural Bangladesh, especially among land-poor farmers. This article explores how MCC Bangladesh has worked with young students to increase the adoption of new, more productive, agricultural practices.

MCC assists families experiencing poverty to increase their income from agriculture and livestock production and their access to diversified food in order to improve food security and nutrition. Encouraging farmers to shift from traditional techniques to new agricultural practices is not easy, especially among those who are older and have lower levels of formal education. MCC Bangladesh has found that young and literate farmers are generally more willing to try new techniques.

In particular, students are often willing to adopt new ideas. In Bangladesh, students are also often part of household decision-making. Despite limited financial resources, most poor families try hard to send their children to school. Families hope that, after gaining an education, their children will be able to improve the family’s financial status. For this reason, families sometimes depend on their children to make household decisions even while the children are still studying. This cultural context led MCC Bangladesh to involve students in a food security project focused on using modern agricultural techniques for improved family food security and nutrition.

Under its Research and Extension Activity Partners (REAP) project which ran from 2010 to 2016, MCC Bangladesh worked in Chattra Union, Pirganj Upazila in Rangpur district, Bangladesh. A total of 900 students in grade eight from six different secondary schools were selected as a primary participants. These students took part in the project up to grade ten. Each project year, new students were selected to join, with priority given to students from households experiencing poverty. These students received training in different agricultural technologies at school outside of regular class time, with technical support provided by MCC Bangladesh staff. The project also trained school teachers in agricultural technologies to improve their understanding of the project and to equip them to support their students.

At home, students discussed what they learned about these new technologies with their parents and other family members. When their parents expressed interest, MCC Bangladesh staff arranged for demonstrations of different agricultural technologies at their homestead. These agricultural demonstrations focused on best practices for rearing milk cows and goats, calf fattening, raising chickens, fruit tree cultivation, integrated pest management and making different types of compost for homestead gardening. Each household worked with at least two or three new techniques, with the entire family involved. MCC Bangladesh staff and the school teachers frequently visited participant students’ homes to monitor and discuss the new agricultural activities.

Students’ motivation encouraged households to focus their work on these new agricultural activities. Significant changes to nutrition occurred among the selected farm families over the project period. Families’ diversified agricultural activities provided them with more fresh vegetables of greater variety, more eggs and meat, more milk and more income from new agricultural activities like cattle rearing. With the extra income, families could afford to diversify their diets while meeting other family needs as well.

Some students have been particularly successful in generating income through the new agricultural activities. For example, one young woman in Sokhipur village received training in vegetable cultivation, cattle and goat rearing and compost production. MCC also provided her material support so that she could start raising goats and making compost. Now, besides being a respected source of agricultural knowledge in her community, she sells goats and compost to pay tuition fees for herself and her three sisters and has further expanded her family’s livelihoods by purchasing two cows.

In addition to agricultural work, the REAP project also provided peace education to targeted students and parents. These trainings, alongside other community peacebuilding work, helped ensure that conflicts that might arise from students teaching parents and encouraging new practices at home could be peaceably mediated and resolved.

Through this project, MCC Bangladesh learned that involving students in extension work to diversify agricultural activities addressed the challenge of motivating farmers to adopt new techniques. Through the work of students to improve families’ skills and capacity, parents were motivated to try modern agricultural practices, while students gained additional skills and knowledge. Ultimately, the combination of approaching parents through students and setting up demonstration plots on families’ own homesteads ensured sustainable changes to food security and nutrition due to changes in participants’ knowledge, attitude and practice.

Md. Arefur Rahaman is sector coordinator for food security and Md. Mokhlesur Rahman is program director with MCC Bangladesh.

Learn more

Quasem, M. A. “Conversion of Agricultural Land to Non-Agricultural Uses in Bangladesh: Extent and Determinants.” Bangladesh Development Studies 34/1 (2011): 59-85.

Ballantyne, Roy, Sharon Connell, and John Fien. “Students as Catalysts of Environmental Change: A Framework for Researching Intergenerational Influence through Environmental Education.” Environmental Education Research 4/3 (1998): 285-298.

Mother’s education as a predictor of child malnutrition in Nepal

[Individual articles from the Winter 2017 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Many people assume that household food insecurity is the main driving force behind childhood malnutrition and stunting. Simply put, the common assumption is that children are underweight because their families lack access to sufficient amounts of healthy food. However, a research study conducted by the Brethren in Community Welfare Society (BICWS) in the southern plains region of Nepal on the socioeconomic and cultural barriers to good nutrition found a more complicated picture. The study’s findings imply that while improving household food security may be necessary, it alone is insufficient to improve the nutritional status of children. The results suggest that malnutrition and stunting in this context are the result of interconnecting socioeconomic, educational and health-care factors. This study, alongside other research, suggests that an integrated strategy that improves the overall socioeconomic well-being of families, maternal education and knowledge of infant and young child feeding practices will be more effective and sustainable in improving the nutrition of children living in poverty.

BICWS operates as the service arm of the Brethren in Christ church conference in Nepal, based in the southeastern city of Biratnagar. Since many families in BICWS’ working area are rural landless households facing malnutrition, BICWS and MCC worked together to develop a food security project funded by MCC’s account at the Foods Resource Bank that included supplementary food for malnourished children as one of the project components, coupled with kitchen gardening and support for commercial vegetable and fish production.

Despite the short-term effectiveness of the supplementary food seen in many of the project participants, some malnourished children showed inadequate growth over the year of nutrition support, necessitating their re-enrollment for another year. BICWS conducted a research project in 2015 aimed at discovering the socioeconomic and cultural barriers and risk factors to healthy childhood development and recovery. The study involved in-depth interviews with participant households whose children did not recover from malnutrition and with participant households whose children recovered quickly.

The results of the study suggest that the initial hypothesis of food insecurity as the main driving force behind childhood malnutrition holds true, though only for the most extreme cases of households experiencing poverty and debt. It stands to reason that significant debt and related financial insecurity are major risk factors for childhood malnutrition. Families burdened by large debt payments have little or no financial security during periods of stressors, such as strikes, illnesses or disasters. In 2015 Nepal underwent a number of concurrent stressors, including a devastating earthquake, nationwide political unrest, strikes and an economic blockade from India. Health was one of the first things to deteriorate. Instead of a significant drop in caloric intake, affected families chose instead to drop many types of nutritious foods while keeping the amount of food consumed the same. Lack of dietary diversity contributes to malnutrition. While 80% of interviewed families stated that they normally had enough money for food, only 36% of families consumed the minimum daily nutrition requirements, showing a large gap between perceived food sufficiency and actual nutrient sufficiency.

For the non-extreme cases of malnutrition, however, the study discovered that the low level of mother’s educational attainment was connected with the incidence of malnutrition in children. That is, in families where the mother was more educated, children exhibited fast recovery. Other research projects in Nepal support this finding. This result suggests that women’s low educational attainment is linked to community malnutrition and that encouraging education is a strong potential long-term solution.

Nutrition-specific knowledge is also important. The study found that even some educated women lacked knowledge about health care, nutrition and sanitation. Lack of knowledge limited their application of good nutrition practice. However, BICWS found that educated women were more likely to take ownership of supplemental food received and to practice new nutrition skills than women with lower educational levels, despite the fact that both educated and uneducated women demonstrated low levels of nutritional knowledge before the project started. It makes sense that women’s education is likely to have an impact on family nutritional status, given the fact that in this community women normally serve as the center of the nuclear family and generally decide on and prepare daily meals. In response to these findings, BICWS has implemented a new strategy aimed at reaching three thousand households with nutritional education, equipping families (in particular women) with the knowledge of what nutritional strategies contribute to healthy development and overall well-being.

The BICWS research suggests that women’s education can be a cushion against stressors that lead to poverty and malnutrition. Women’s education and empowerment must be emphasized, especially as women in rural Nepal are often marginalized, with limited access to education and authority. Any long-term plan for community improvement should consider increasing women’s access to education as a key strategy. At the very minimum, this study suggests that nutritional education should be emphasized in any population suffering from malnutrition.

Derek Lee was on a SALT assignment with BICWS in 2015-16. Shemlal Hembrom is the program director of BICWS and General Secretary of BIC Nepal.

Learn more

Dhungana, Govinda Prasad. “Nutritional Status of Under 5 Children and Associated Factors of Kunchha Village Development Committee.” Journal of Chitwan Medical College 3/4 (January 2014): 38–42.

Osei, Akoto, Pooja Pandey, David Spiro, Jennifer Nielson, Ram Shrestha, Zaman Talukder, Victoria Quinn and Nancy Haselow “Household Food Insecurity and Nutritional Status of Children Aged 6 to 23 Months in Kailali District of Nepal.” Food and Nutrition Bulletin 31/4 (December 2010): 483–94.

Singh, G.C. Pramood, Manju Nair, Ruth B. Gruibesic and Frederick Connell. “Factors Associated with Underweight and Stunting among Children in Rural Terai of Eastern Nepal.” Asia-Pacific Journal of Public Health/Asia-Pacific Academic Consortium for Public Health 21/2 (April 2009): 144–52.

Corporal punishment and “positive discipline”

[Individual articles from the Summer 2016 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Part one (by Claire de Brun)

Multiple studies have shown that corporal punishment is injurious to students, teachers, schools and the community at large, yet many teachers fear giving it up as it is the only form of control they know. Helping teachers move toward a non-violent, positive approach to discipline is good for everyone, but takes time, hard work, determination and patience.

In 2013 we spent a year at Maphutseng Primary School in Lesotho, working with the MCC pilot project to move from corporal punishment (CP) to positive discipline (PD). We found four important ingredients that helped teachers make this shift:

  • Taking time to build trust and “walk alongside” teachers;
  • Helping teachers understand the negative effects of CP;
  • Empowering teachers with alternative strategies for responding to inappropriate student behavior and establishing a positive classroom
  • Equipping teachers with more effective instructional techniques that prevent misbehavior by engaging students more successfully in learning.

In settings where CP is widely accepted and practiced, it is imperative to establish a climate of trust and openness in order to have a meaningful conversation about change. It takes time to create trust with teachers and a safe place where issues can be discussed, change can be challenged and fears and doubts can be expressed. We worked with teachers at Maphutseng for months to develop this trust. The keys were partnering with the school, leadership and vision from the school principal and bonding with the faculty (respecting, observing and listening to them and showing an understanding of the issues in their world).

One sign that teachers feel safe is when they honestly share their struggles and failures. At one meeting a teacher shared that she had thrown her punishment stick away and had been working hard to implement PD, but one day she became very angry with her students and in frustration she stormed out of the room to find another stick. When she returned the children were singing quietly as they waited for their punishment. She was moved to tears, threw the stick to the ground and sang with her students instead.

Corporal punishment cannot be eliminated by simply writing it into the school policy manual. Change is born from the passionate care of adults who understand the harm CP can cause children, adults who are moved to make a commitment to non-violence toward children and to respect their dignity. Change comes from talking about the harmful effects of corporal punishment, including its crushing of students’ spirits and a stifling of students’ desire to learn. We spent a great deal of time listening to the teachers, having open discussions and presenting research on the negative effects of corporal punishment.

To be sustainable, child protection policies must be embraced by teachers and parents. Most parents and teachers want to be seen as protectors of children. Many still use CP because they do not know another way to control students. Teachers with whom we worked were open to hearing alternative ways to deal with behavior and class management, but it was a journey for educators who desired to move from a strictly authoritarian teacher model to a shepherding one.

While CP is a violent and retributive reaction to inappropriate behavior, positive discipline is a non-violent, restorative response. PD also includes positive strategies for prevention and, when used consistently and appropriately, is highly effective. It is critical in PD that educators believe that the child who behaves badly is not inherently “bad.” PD allows the
educator to focus on restorative, not retributive, goals, understand the causes behind the children’s behavior and hold students accountable for their actions with non-violent consequences rather than physical punishment.

Numerous PD alternatives to CP exist that teachers can use to restore and guide students rather than punish them (see, for example, the writings and videos of Doug Lemov and Harry Wong). PD is not only a method of responding to misbehavior—it is equally important to prevent misbehavior by establishing a positive classroom culture from the beginning. Procedures, expectations and consequences for not following the rules need to be made clear to learners. Specific praise, encouragement and affirmation are also key ingredients for positive classroom culture and are good deterrents for unacceptable behavior.

The most important lesson from our experience was that for educators to be in control of their classes they must use effective teaching methods first. When students are bored, confused or feeling incapable of learning they are more likely to misbehave, but when they are truly engaged in learning and feeling successful discipline issues are reduced.

There are of course very real challenges to effective classroom management, including large classes and a lack of books and other educational resources. Such challenges must be addressed to help teachers and students be more successful. However, even with those challenges, an intentional two-pronged strategy of implementing best-practice teaching
strategies and introducing PD techniques can create more effective classrooms in which learning can take place without CP.

When PD is implemented, it leads to a more caring classroom environment and less anger. Teachers feel more empowered with a relational, restorative approach to their students based on respect, not fear. But this change is not easy: the race to stop CP is a marathon, not a sprint, and necessitates that teachers have a safe space to discuss challenges and receive specific training in PD and encouragement for their efforts.

Part two (Me MaLintle Mantutle)

In 2011 our school, Maphutseng LECSA Primary, was identified as one of the pilot schools for the Child Friendly School (CFS) project. Pillars of the CFS project include safety, protection and psycho-social care and support. Positive discipline practice is one of the components of this pillar.

In 2013 when we desperately needed assistance, MCC nominated Claire and Harlan de Brun to spend a year at Maphutseng to introduce the strategies and methods of positive discipline in our school. The de Bruns organized meetings and school-based workshops to equip our teachers with various classroom management techniques to use in different
situations. They also visited teachers in their respective classrooms to help implement the strategies, provide guidance and encouragement and practice patience with the process.

The teachers visited other schools that already practiced positive discipline such as The Leseli Community School in Maseru and Samuel Johnson Secondary School in Zastron. Our school in Maphutseng reciprocated and hosted the principal and several teachers from the Samuel Johnson School later that year. It was during these visits that we learned from
other educators how successful they have been in administering positive disciplinary measures in their schools. We learned how records of misconduct are documented and kept for each class so that educators are able to monitor student progress and report to parents and school boards.

Thanks to MCC support, I attended a three-day parenting conference with the de Bruns. Then together we disseminated this knowledge to educators and parents in Maphutseng by conducting two all-day seminars. This training was also extended to the villagers in the seven surrounding villages in Maphutseng. The seminars helped both teachers and parents to realize how important it is for us as adults to conduct ourselves as good role models for our children. The training equipped us with skills and knowledge to nurture children so that they develop self-discipline in the long run.

We also had a large group talk with learners about the concept of a child friendly school and acceptable behavior and practices that they are expected to display in their daily studies and other activities. Claire gave reading lessons in some classes and taught composition. During her lessons she demonstrated various techniques that can be used to call learners into order. Harlan visited and modeled positive discipline and appropriate
teaching methods with math, history and reading lessons.

At two different points in time learners and teachers completed questionnaires that helped gather information to see how we teachers were progressing in implementing positive discipline measures. These surveys assisted us in identifying what issues needed to be addressed and what strategies to implement to help teachers deal with those identified areas of concern.

We work hard to promote positive discipline in our school because we have learned that corporal punishment promotes animosity between educators and learners. Learners tend to lose trust and respect for their teachers when they are disciplined with corporal punishment. Now we look at misconduct displayed by learners with a different eye. We know what steps to take when we come across such challenges. Positive discipline helps us to focus on behavior rather than on viewing the child as “bad.” We work on changing students’ behaviors to help them grow as learners.

Children who are physically and emotionally abused become abusive and stubborn in turn. They do not have self-respect and as a result they do not respect others. Children are looking up to us for their protection and if we fail to love and protect them they get frustrated and become depressed, leading to failure in their studies and their future lives. However, the change is not easy. There are still challenges for both teachers and parents, including the risk of losing hope when a child repeatedly displays unacceptable behaviors. There are times when the adults think that a stick will prepare the child to be a more responsible being. We still educate one another and encourage one another to always opt for positive discipline regardless of challenges.

Claire de Brun taught school in the United States and Lesotho for thirty years and served with MCC in Lesotho.
Me MaLintle Mantutle is principal of the LEC Maphutseng Primary School, which was awarded Child Friendly status under her leadership.

Learn more:

Lemov, Doug. Teach Like a Champion 2.0: 62 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to
College. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2014.

Wong, Harry K. The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher. Mountain View, CA: Harry K. Wong Publications, 2009.

Grounding protection in the local context

[Individual articles from the Summer 2016 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Child protection efforts must be shaped according to the unique challenges and opportunities of specific contexts. Eastern Europe provides many examples of how contextual realities can both facilitate and hinder the process of accompanying partners in implementing their own child protection policies. In Eastern Europe, the history of communism and socialism has left a legacy of legal frameworks, local regulations and social institutions which govern child protection policies and practices. In this context, one would imagine that these laws and institutions should facilitate the quick and simple adoption of child protection initiatives; however, this very history of imperialism complicates these efforts due community distrust of authorities and top-down policies. A history of authoritarian governance requires MCC to encourage community-driven processes for the adoption of child protection policies.

Most of the places MCC works in Eastern Europe have been the borderlands—areas conquered, claimed and held by many vast foreign empires. These empires have imported and enforced laws and regulations without fully incorporating them into the local culture, traditions or norms. As a result, the peoples of Eastern Europe can view cooperating with the ruling authority as a betrayal to one’s family, neighbors and broader community.

Another challenge is a relatively narrow understanding of protection: many authorities see protection as simply taking children out of harm’s way, without considering the value of prevention, education or sensitization. This may be partly due to lack of knowledge: for example, government departments of social work and police may not know about different types of abuse, especially emotional and psychological abuse. Another factor is simply a lack of resources in the face of many pressing social problems.

Finally, many places in Eastern Europe are dealing with the relatively new transition from a socialist and communist past. This new reality has stripped the well-ordered social organization of the past and left room for corruption, exploitation, unemployment and the erosion of social services and stability. As a result, apathy and conflict have increased. In light of these challenges, MCC East Europe has been conscious of not imposing our agenda from the outside, by allowing for flexibility and grace. At the same time, MCC has also been clear that child protection is a priority that we expect our partners to pursue.

Working at child protection with partners begins with a series of conversations that take into account different norms and values and different understandings about how those values can be expressed. For example, one common norm in Eastern Europe is that corporal punishment is an appropriate and expected way to discipline children. Some MCC partners are connected to churches that interpret Proverbs 13:24—“Those who spare the rod hate their children, but those who love them are diligent to discipline them” (NRSV)—to reinforce the idea that corporal punishment is required.

While some partners in the region support the use of corporal punishment within certain guidelines, others denounce this form of discipline. The partners who explicitly avoid it have procedures in place for selecting staff, clear guidelines of defining acceptable and inappropriate behavior and have instituted relevant training for staff. These partners emphasize how important it was for them to generate their own procedures and guidelines
and caution that standards imposed from outside funders would not be successful in sensitizing people to make a change.

Keeping in mind sensitivity to the local context, there are two possible, though non-exclusive, ways MCC’s partners can participate in effecting social change to establish meaningful protections within their societies. The first way is to integrate with strong local campaigns that include widespread sensitization involving training for police, social workers,teachers, clergy, politicians, parents and children about their role and
responsibilities in this system. This model builds upon work done over the past decades in North America. It is not something one person or small group alone can fully implement, but there are some indications that Ukraine may be starting to engage in this sort of process with some assistance from the United Nations.

Another possible approach builds upon the work done by some of MCC’s peacebuilding partners, who work subversively to provoke social change when public leaders and society at large are not already on board. These partners work on empowering individuals to be engaged citizens who question social problems of nationalism and ethnic division. A similar approach could also be used to increase protections for children, by working with adults and children to explore their values and find ways of interacting in more peaceful ways. This model sees protection not as avoidance of abuse but as building up individuals and communities: not as policing laws, but as empowering strong local people. This model runs counter to the authoritarian past in which a population’s role was to wait for solutions to come down from the top. It is a challenging model, but is also arguably an approach that leads to longer-term, more lasting solutions.

Krystan Pawlikowski is co-representative for MCC East Europe.

School-based, village-oriented child protection

[Individual articles from the Summer 2016 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

The mass economic migration from rural to urban areas in Cambodia requires urgent action on child protection policies in rural schools. Through their practice and outreach, rural schools can also play a critical role in facilitating broader community-wide efforts to protect children.

A variety of push-and-pull factors continue to catalyze widespread migration from Cambodia’s poorest rural provinces, affecting over one-quarter of the country’s population, or approximately 3.5 million people (Hing, Lun, et al, 2). A large portion of these migrants come from rural Prey Veng province, where MCC supports a number of
education programs. Villagers in one district estimate that 70% of the local workforce has headed to the country’s capital, Phnom Penh, or to Thailand for higher-wage, manual labor jobs. Moreover, approximately 20% of these children are being raised by elderly family members (Zimmer and Van Natta, 21). The resulting trend, where migratory parents “leave behind” children under 18, heightens children’s vulnerability, as villages
are stripped of the very adults that hold the community together.

When MCC first began conversations about child protection with twopartner schools in the district, MCC’s assumption was that the policies would govern school activities carried out on school grounds, with the design, input and monitoring performed by school staff. However, when the first facilitation meeting was proposed to school principals, both
suggested inviting anyone interested from the community to the first meeting. The school administration’s assumption was that everyone would have a stake in child protection policies and an interest in children’s welfare—even if the policies would technically only be for the schools.

Approximately 10% of each village was in attendance at the first meetings. School committee members and village chiefs attended, along with students’ aunts, uncles and grandparents, but in line with demographic trends, very few parents were in attendance. Most attendees came with young children—magnifying the point that they are the only adults left to provide supervision. When prompted to discuss child safety concerns, these
guardians expressed a number of anxieties, including transporting children to distant clinics when sick, lack of supervision when commuting to school and difficulty following-up with school lessons and homework.

The dialogue made it clear that a reliable child protection policy, one derived from and carried out by the entirety of the child-supervising stakeholders in the village, would be the only effective means of ensuring that children were adequately protected. But was such a community-wide effort possible? At a basic policy level, MCC is focused on ensuring that its partner schools have child protection policies and procedures in place. Yet, as these community meetings made clear, a child protection strategy limited solely to school grounds falls short of community hopes for ensuring children’s safety. In the wake of these community meetings, MCC is working with these village schools in developing child protection strategies with rules, regulations and preventative measures applicable
to all persons and activities on school premises, while also crafting child welfare reporting procedures that would include a mandate to inform and urge action from community stakeholders.

It will take time to bring this school-based, village-oriented child protection policy into reality, as questions remain about where exactly Cambodian village schools start and end. The fluidity of the schools’ jurisdiction cannot be overstated, and is exacerbated by the presence of snack vendors, villagers’ grazing cows and leased-out rice fields all within
the perimeter of the school grounds.

Child protection efforts in the village are moving forward in order to assist parents who have migrated to find work. By showing up en masse to discuss child protection concerns, extended family networks in the village have made it clear they want support in reducing the risks faced by the villages’ children and youth. The push to develop school-based child protection policies has sparked a broader conversation about how to ensure children’s well-being throughout the community.

Vincent Stange is education program facilitator for MCC in Cambodia.

Learn more:

Hing, Vutha, Lun, Pide and Phann, Dalis. The Impacts of Adult Migration on Children’s
Well-being: The Case of Cambodia. Phnom Penh: Cambodia Development Resource Institute (CDRI), 2014. Available at: http://www.cdri.org.kh/webdata/download/otherpapers/Migration%20and%20child%20well-being_CDRI.pdf

Zimmer, Zachary and Van Natta, Meredith. Migration and Left-Behind Households in
Rural Cambodia: Structure and Socioeconomic Conditions. Phnom Penh, Cambodia: UNFPA and National Institute of Statistics, 2015. Available at: http://countryoffice.unfpa.org/cambodia/drive/rationandLeftBehindHouseholds-Final.pdf

Derks, Annuska. Khmer Women on the Move: Exploring Work and Life in Urban Cambodia. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2008.


Whole-school confrontation of child sexual abuse in Kenya

[Individual articles from the Summer 2016 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

As many as 30% of Kenyan children have experienced sexual abuse, much of it in school (Violence against Children in Kenya). Too often, victims are blamed while perpetrators go free. Confronting this culture of impunity requires mobilization of the whole school community. One Kenyan primary school succeeded in engaging broad stakeholder collaboration to address a pattern of sexual abuse. In response, the school extended its
child protection network and improved school governance.

Initially, the head teacher was isolated in his attempts to address the situation. After receiving complaints about the sexual abuse of girls by three new teachers, he investigated and reported the cases to his administrative superior and the school’s board of management. They took no action. Family members and police were suborned by the
offending teachers, who also intimidated another colleague involved in the investigations. One abused girl was transferred to a distant school by her family with financial support from an accused teacher. Another girl’s mother asked the school to drop the investigation after the accused teacher persuaded her it would only “stress” her daughter during exams. A third girl, who with her mother’s support had rejected the teachers’ advances, was repeatedly told in class that she and her mother were prostitutes. Other children reported bringing money or drugs to the same teachers to avoid beatings. Letters suspending them were countermanded by the school’s administrator. When the head teacher brought their cases to the board of management, the chair determined they were misbehaving to gain money and influence. Afraid of losing teachers, the board decided to appease them. The board duly voted to increase the teachers’ salaries and appointed them to leadership positions.

Blocked at every level, the head teacher was at a loss until an MCC worker witnessed a girl flee the school office after a beating. Dissatisfied with the responses of the administrator and chair of the board, she approached the head teacher. He summarized the situation of sexual abuse and violence. Recognizing that the problem required whole-community intervention, the MCC worker urged the head teacher to call parents and church and board
members to meet with school leadership that afternoon. (The meeting was stormed by armed bandits who were never apprehended.) She also informed her MCC supervisors.

The next day, the MCC Kenya Representative and a member of its advisory board met with church authorities. The pastor of the school’s founding church then called together school leadership and asked for the immediate dismissal of the offending teachers. He led a restructuring of the board and a review of its policy documents. The head teacher advertised for new teachers and conducted background checks on qualified applicants. After they were hired by the new board, the whole staff reviewed school practices of restorative discipline and active nonviolence. A parents’ meeting was held to explain the firing of the teachers, which met with strong approval.

Some of the abused girls were no longer in the school. The head teacher coordinated support for a remaining girl who was found pregnant, including medical care and family counseling so the girl could stay in school. Teachers and pupils were counseled to treat her like any other student and protect her from ridicule. She sat for the school-leaving exam at the end of the year and won a place in secondary school.

With the new board’s support, the head teacher contacted the government’s local Children’s Officer. She began visiting the school once a week to counsel teachers and students on child protection. She also brought in local organizations to conduct programs on children’s rights and safety. Teachers and parents were also trained to discuss sexuality with children. A locked concern box was installed and opened regularly by a team of teachers, resulting in early detection of problems and a sense of being heard. In developing its new three-year plan, the school set a goal of “Strong, whole-community school leadership [that] collaborates to protect children from harm.”

Through engagement with senior leadership and conveying a sense of urgency, MCC played an important role in confronting a pattern of abuse. But the wisdom and will to transform the situation came from within the community. The school has since developed stronger internal communication and effective collaboration with local child protection
agencies. Greater trust has led to the creation of a written financial policy and representatives from the whole community are involved in designing the school’s child protection policy. Successfully confronting sexual abuse fostered this new sense of ownership and teamwork. Now that the school operates as a whole community, it can act more effectively to protect its children.

Benard Okumu is head teacher at an MCC partner school in Kenya. Jodi Mikalachki is education coordinator and advisor for MCC in Kenya.

Learn more:

Kenya: A Community-Based Approach to School Development. Aga Khan Development Network. 2015.

“A Whole-School Approach.” Kids Matter. https://www.kidsmatter.edu.au/primary/awhole-school-approach

Ruto, Sarah Jerop. “Sexual Abuse of School Age Children: Evidence from Kenya.” Journal
of International Cooperation in Education 12 (2009): 177-192.

Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN). Sex Abuse in Kenyan Schools. 2011.

Violence against Children in Kenya: Findings from a 2010 National Survey. Summary
Report on the Prevalence of Sexual, Physical and Emotional Violence, Context of Sexual
Violence, and Health and Behavioral Consequences of Violence Experienced in Childhood. Nairobi, Kenya:United Nations Children’s Fund Kenya Country Office, Division of Violence Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, 2012.

Protecting children within faith communities

[Individual articles from the Summer 2016 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Humans need safety. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, safety is even more important than our needs for belonging, esteem and self actualization and second only to our most basic physical needs (i.e. food, water, shelter). Just as children feel safe during thunderstorms when caring parents are nearby, so children should feel safe at church, surrounded by adults who care about them, value them and listen to them. Leaders want
their organizations to be safe. At a most basic level, this includes following codes and policies, but safety is not always straightforward. Safety is subjective. Depending on personal characteristics like age, gender and life experiences, what feels safe for one person may not feel safe for another.

When people feel unsafe they often feel powerless. They may withdraw, be paralyzed or fight back. Conversely, when people feel safe they can be curious, learn and grow—attributes that we especially want to foster in our children and youth. Pastors, teachers and leaders in churches and other faith communities need to invest time and resources into making children and youth feel safe. It takes intentionality to ensure basic child-proofing for young children, relational safety for school-age children (i.e. bullying
prevention) and child abuse prevention for children and youth of all ages.

Many faith community members would like to think that child abuse does not happen and that even if it does, it certainly does not happen here. They may be blinded by the feeling of “family” in the community. However, statistics show that nearly all abused children were abused by someone they knew, quite often a parent. So the excuse that “churches are like families” and therefore we do not need to follow child protection practices does not hold up. Child abuse most often occurs within relationships. In fact, over 90% of victims know their offenders. An offender may be a parent, sibling, cousin, teacher or neighbor. While we do not want to be suspicious of everyone, we do need to keep our eyes and hearts open to all the ways that children and youth may be vulnerable.

Dove’s Nest’s offers faith communities across North America training, strategies and resources for writing, adopting and implementing child protection policies. A culture of child protection includes many components. Based on age and role, training is required on the types, risks and effects of abuse and neglect. Organizations need to look at their facilities and consider how to keep children and youth safe, e.g., windows in doors, first aid kits, safe storage of sharp objects and chemicals. Faith communities need to establish procedures to prevent opportunities for two people to be alone, especially when one of those persons is older and in a position of authority. Churches need concrete plans for responding to concerns about possible abuse. Everyone working with children should be
trained on how to report child abuse to local authorities.

Dove’s Nest recommends that churches run background checks on all personnel who work with children and youth. Church leaders certainly do not want to invite someone to work with their children and youth and then find out too late that if they had only run a background check, they could have prevented a child from being hurt. While legal background checks are important, they are not perfect (and not available everywhere). So it is also important to screen all staff and volunteers in other ways. A formal or informal reference check with previous churches or employers can tell a lot about individuals, especially if they had interactions with children and youth in those places. Those doing the screening can ask former churches or employers about what roles the persons being screened had with children and youth; how children, youth and families responded to them; and under what circumstances they left. Like the background check, such measures are not enough to guarantee safety, but they are important pieces to the overall plan.

Resistance to child protection practices is common, especially when it comes to background checks. Education goes a long way in helping faith community members understand why these practices are important. It can be helpful to explain that church leaders cannot start deciding who they will and will not screen based on subjective criteria or stereotypes. Everyone needs to be screened. Another useful approach is to liken child protection practices to seat belts in cars—they were not used 40 years ago, but now they are known to save lives.

Once hired, it is important to keep a watchful eye over how staff and volunteers interact with children. Are they effective in building healthy relationships with children? Do they have healthy adult relationships to meet their own needs? Do they willingly follow child protection guidelines? Above all, churches should prioritize listening to children and their parents. Churches need to take any concerns about blurred boundaries or what may look like grooming behaviors very seriously.

Dove’s Nest frequently consults with churches on how to respond to possible abuse and how to balance protection and inclusion when someone is present who has or may have offended in the past. Take, for example, a recent account from a Mennonite pastor: A new attendee to a church had an interaction with two elementary school-age girls that raised yellow flags. He approached them and asked to shake hands. One of the girls refused, saying that he was a stranger. He replied that he was not a stranger, but a member of their church. Then he reached out and tickled her. This violated the church’s child protection policy, which states that children should not be touched without their expressed permission and that touch with children should be handled with care.

The pastor later learned the man has a history of sexual misconduct with an adult, but no legal record of misconduct with children. The pastor took this seriously and met with the man to tell him what he learned about his past, and asked him to sign a formal covenant with the church, stating that he will not have physical contact with children, will abide by the child protection policy and will not be alone with children in the congregation. It also included the provision that the pastor would inform the parents of elementary school children in the congregation about the covenant in a parents’ meeting. The man signed it and has been attending—although not regularly. When he attends, he respects the boundaries, the pastor said.

Once churches have a child protection policy in place, they need to implement and follow it, and follow it consistently. Dove’s Nest offers a checklist of things to consider when writing a child protection policy, along with many concrete examples (http://dovesnest.net/policies). The organization also offers Circle of Grace, a Christian safe environment curriculum for preschool through high school students, along with trainings on the curriculum. My book, Let the Children Come: Preparing Faith Communities to Face Child Abuse and Neglect (Herald Press, 2010), is also useful for individual or group study. Another helpful book for individuals and churches looking to deepen their understanding of abuse in faith communities is Carolyn Holderread Heggen’s Sexual Abuse in Christian Homes and Churches (Herald Press, 1993). Churches can and must surround our children and youth with safe environments and relationships and offer them the respect, love, justice and dignity they deserve as children of God. Efforts at child protection will reap a harvest of joy, wholeness and health for many years and generations
to come.

Jeanette Harder is board president and co-founder of Dove’s Nest and professor at the Grace Abbott School of Social Work, University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Learn more:

Dove’s Nest: http://dovesnest.net

Circle of Grace (2013). The Archdiocese of Omaha, Omaha, NE. Retrieved from http://dovesnest.net/circleofgrace

Let the Children Come: Preparing Faith Communities to End Child Abuse and
Neglect. http://dovesnest.net/letthechildrencome

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: http://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html

Harder, Jeanette. Let the Children Come: Preparing Faith Communities to End Child
Abuse and Neglect. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2010.

Harder, Jeanette and Haynie, Kristina. “Child Protection Practices in Mennonite Church
USA Congregations.” Journal of Social Service Research 38(2012): 248-259.

Holderread Heggen, Carolyn. Sexual Abuse in Christian Homes and Churches. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1993; reprinted Eugene, OR:Wipf & Stock, 2006.

O’Neill, Erin Olsen; Huckins, Stephanie; Gabel, Jodi; and Harder, Jeanette. “Prevention
of Child Abuse and Neglect through Church and Social Service Collaboration.” Social
Work & Christianity. 37: 381–406.

Child protection (Summer 2016)

[Individual articles from this issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full Summer 2016 issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Child protection is defined by UNICEF as preventing and responding to violence, exploitation and abuse against children. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, signed 25 years ago and ratified by more countries than any other human rights treaty in history (all countries except Somalia and the United States), provides a common legal and ethical international framework for protecting children.

In 2013, MCC’s boards joined this international movement by approving a protection of children and youth policy framework, which aims to ensure the safety of all children and youth who interact with MCC program. In addition to giving directives for MCC’s own child protection policy, the framework calls for all partner organizations who implement MCC-supported projects with direct participants under the age of 18 to develop their own policies and procedures to ensure that children and youth are safe from abuse while participating in partner initiatives. MCC assumes that partner organizations share the goal of protecting children, even if they do not yet have formal child protection policies and procedures in place. MCC is committed to supporting partners as they formalize such policies and procedures, while recognizing that robust child protection is a long-term process that engages communities and is grounded in specific contexts.

Recent research into the long-term effects of childhood abuse has only increased the urgency for child protection work. One of the most significant findings is the long-term effects of child abuse on neurological development. Child abuse at a young age impairs brain development, with lasting implications, including increased likelihood of abusive behavior later in life, criminal activities, substance abuse and negative health outcomes, including heart disease, liver disease, diabetes and depression. These individual effects translate into long-term societal costs related to physical and mental health care, domestic violence, criminal activity and strain on education systems.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in collaboration with Kaiser Permanente on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) represents one of the largest investigations of childhood abuse and later-life health and well-being. A TED-talk by Nadine Burke Harris powerfully presents these findings and makes a moving, impassioned plea to confront childhood trauma and to support prevention and treatment efforts. The ACE study analyzes the impact of childhood abuse and other adverse childhood experiences which is summarized in the graphic below.

Child protection graphic

Many factors—at individual, family and community levels—increase the risk of child abuse. At the same time, protective factors can buffer children from abuse. Strengthening protective factors is just as important as reducing risk factors. The CDC identifies one potential protective factor as “communities that take responsibility for preventing abuse.” MCC’s current focus on working with partners to develop child protection policies is aimed at helping communities take this responsibility, with the belief that these efforts can help prevent abuse and can help children who experience abuse to be resilient. This issue of Intersections captures some of the lessons MCC and its partners have learned in this long-term process of ensuring the protection of all children who participate in MCC-supported programs.

Lynn Longenecker is MCC education coordinator.

Learn more:

CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study
http://www. cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/about.html

TED Talk — Nadine Burke Harris http://www. youtube.com/watch?v=95ovIJ3dsNk

Child Abuse and Neglect: Risk and Protective Factors http://www. www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/childmaltreatment/riskprotectivefactors.html

UNICEF and Convention on the Rights of the Child http://www.unicef.org/crc/

Child Welfare Information Gateway: Long-Term Consequences of Child Abuse
and Neglect http://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/long_term_consequences.pdf

Child Welfare Information Gateway: Risk and Protective Factors for Child Abuse and
Neglect http://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/riskprotectivefactors.pdf

Child Welfare Information Gateway: Protective Factors Approaches in Child Welfare


Peace through education in Kigali

Like other countries in the African Great Lakes region, Rwanda has a dual identity when it comes to conflict. On the one hand, the country has known many forms of conflict and violence. On the other hand, however, Rwandans are deeply invested in the search for solutions to the violent conflicts that have torn apart their country.

Violent post-colonial ethnic conflicts in Rwanda began in 1959, followed by other outbursts in 1965 and 1973. This violence culminated in the 1994 genocide, in which the vast majority of victims were Tutsi. After the 1994 genocide, the new Rwandan government began efforts to rebuild a peaceful society. Government leaders started practical initiatives to strengthen national unity, such as: initiatives for restorative justice (whose practitioners were called Abunzi, or “the restorers”); the repatriation of Rwandan refugees from different countries; the institution of national commissions for peace, unity, reconciliation and the fight against genocide; and peacebuilding lessons in public schools.

Amidst these initiatives promoting peace in Rwanda, the Evangelical Friends Church of Rwanda, with the help of MCC and Change Agents for Peace International (CAPI), established the Friends Peace House (FPH) in 2000. With a strong history of leading peace trainings and uniting people across dividing lines, Friends Peace House, like the country of Rwanda as a whole, now finds itself shifting more towards development projects. Peace and development are not unrelated. The French proverb “pas de pain, pas de paix” (“without bread there is no peace”) illustrates the link between poverty and peace; likewise, without peace there can be no sustainable development.

As part of our peace and development programming, Friends Peace House runs a vocational training center called Mwana Nshuti (“child, my friend”). Commenting on the context of the village where he teaches, one of the Mwana Nshuti instructors remarks that “In my service I have seen that youth lack peace because of joblessness, not war only.” In the past in Rwanda a large amount of violence was committed by unemployed and
uneducated youth in gangs and militias who were easily manipulated to see other ethnic groups as targets for expressing their economic frustration and anger at the discrimination they had endured. Through Mwana Nshuti, Friends Peace House seeks to give value and practical skills to disadvantaged youth, encouraging them to think for themselves so that they are not vulnerable to this kind of manipulation.

The Mwana Nshuti program first began as a response by the Evangelical Friends Church to the large number of orphans (many of whose parents had been killed in the 1994 Rwanda genocide) living around a garbage dump in the Kicukiro neighborhood of Kigali. These children were often called mayibobo (a derogatory term for street children) and were marginalized from society. The name Mwana Nshuti is a deliberate act of honoring the youth, telling street children that “you are not mayibobo, you are mwana nshuti—a child who is my friend”.

Today’s Rwanda is being shaped by a new generation: none of today’s youth saw the genocide firsthand, yet they and other Rwandans live with the genocide’s aftereffects. In 2014 the Rwandan government ran another campaign called Ndi Umunyarwanda (“I am Rwandan”) to reinforce the message that we are all citizens and we choose not to discriminate along ethnic lines. In a recent Mwana Nshuti social studies class, teachers asked students to discuss in groups whether they would marry someone from a different ethnic group. Most students answered yes, because love is more important and we don’t value those distinctions, but some acknowledged it could be difficult for their parents’ generation to accept.

Throughout our lives we are educated by many different people, such as our parents, teachers, pastors and friends. In Mwana Nshuti the teachers seek to be good role models who create an atmosphere of inclusion and trust. As part of these efforts, Mwana Nshuti offered the Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) trauma healing training, a program developed by a Rwandan and a Burundian, for its students. This three day training explored the causes and consequences of trauma, loss, grief and mourning, examining what kind of society Rwandans want to see and how they can help create it.

Feedback from an anonymous evaluation survey of students suggests the impact of the initiative. One student shared that “this training helped me discover the grief which was in me.” Another reported that “I appreciated the lessons because they helped me to move from where I was (in grief) and now I am feeling OK.” Still another participant shared that the training “helped rebuild me and also to live peacefully with others wherever I am.” After students complete their practical training at Mwana Nshuti in hairdressing, mechanics or tailoring, FPH tries to place them in co-operatives and train them to work together and do their own projects for development and peace. Mwana Nshuti includes training in entrepreneurship, peaceful conflict resolution and trauma healing and encourages the transfer of this knowledge to the households of origin. The teachers also visit the students at home to get to know them, their situation and their extended families better. On one visit we were looking at an English reader with one student’s five-year-old neighbor who was also visiting. The book contained a picture of one person chasing someone else with a stick. The girl looked up and said, “I saw a movie where people were beating each other with machetes.” We asked her, “Is that good or bad? What do you do when you have a problem?” Her attention had already wriggled away to another picture on the page, but there will be one day when she will learn more of her country’s history and have to grapple with these kinds of questions. The country is moving on and deliberately teaching its youth to be peacemakers on a national and local level. If peace is built by youth, the country can hope for a sustainable peace.

Mwana Nshuti is an MCC Global Family education project. 

Antoine Samvura is the Program Coordinator at Friends Peace House, an organization of the Evangelical Friends Church in Kigali, Rwanda, that works with at-risk youth. Teresa Edge was a participant in MCC’s Serving and Learning Together (SALT) program. For the last two years, she has served as Program Assistant at Friends Peace House.

For more, check out the Summer issue of Intersections on Conflict, Reconciliation and Partnership in Africa’s Great Lakes Region.