Childhood

The Swiss Pavillion Expo 2017 Astana is committed to the SDGs. From 13 to 27 July, it develops several activities in order to raise awareness about the challenges of building a better future for the next generations.

Horyou CEO and founder, Yonathan Parienti, with Swiss Pavilion visitors (Photo Swiss pavilion)
Horyou CEO and founder, Yonathan Parienti, with Swiss Pavilion visitors (Photo Swiss pavilion)

The Swiss pavilion, organized by Presence Switzerland, showcases the Confederation as an innovative country with an interactive and surprising exhibition on the issues of energy efficiency, renewable energies and global water management. As part of the Swiss Pavillion, the Swissnex Lab is dedicated to thematic immersion and networking, in order to facilitate bilateral cooperation and academic exchange between Switzerland and Kazakhstan.

One of the activities, Perception Change Project, includes a temporary installation with a wheel of fortune that introduces sustainable development, a Human Library involving innovators and presenting a talk on Education and Innovation with experts and changemakers.

Horyou Team attended an event on Education & Innovation on July 18, 2017, and had the opportunity to hear unique stories from speakers invited by the Perception Change Project in cooperation with partner organizations, notably the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the Kazakhstan Institute of Standardization and Certification, the UNICEF Kazakhstan and its Liaison Office in Geneva, the University of Geneva, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), and the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS). «Horyou Team was excited to see the commitment of the Swiss Pavilion to promoting the sustainable development goals in Astana. We share the same resolve to shape better times to come, and SIGEF 2017 in Kazakhstan will be our initiative during EXPO2017 to support that momentum of awareness and implementation», said Yonathan Parienti, founder and CEO of Horyou.

Horyou team visits the Swiss Pavillion at EXPO2017 in Kazakhstan
Horyou team visits the Swiss Pavillion at EXPO2017 in Kazakhstan

The event was followed by a project called “Human Books”, whereby people shared their stories with the public, creating empathy by touching on topics such as climate change and education in emergency situations and refugee camps. One of the touching stories was Isaac Mustopulo’s, a 15-year old student from Kazakhstan who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and, despite all odds, has finished 8th grade at a local school in Taraz where he excels academically and is actively involved in extracurricular activities. He is an advocate for inclusion and is working on a project that would introduce tutors to public schools for students with disabilities.

“Sustainable Development Goals are not only the UN’s or governments’ business, we all have a role to play in achieving them. The topics related to the SDGs and the work of organisations in Geneva and elsewhere can be illustrated in a playful manner and through storytelling. We are delighted to be a part of Expo 2017 Astana”, said the Head of Project, Aziyadé Poltier-Mutal.

More than 700 people visited the Swiss Pavilion on its first day
More than 700 people visited the Swiss Pavilion on its first day

Finally, the Education & Innovation Talk session opened a dialogue between several thought leaders. Ms Tatiana Aderikhina from the Education and Child Protection at UNICEF shared how an equity–focused and inclusive approach starting from early childhood education can have positive impact toward social inclusion and reduce the numbers of unschooled children. Mr Zhasulan Kenzhegalyiev, a specialist from the International Cooperation Department of the Unified Government Fund of Normative outlined how Astana is leading the way in SmartCities and how this can benefit both the population and the overall sustainability efficiency. Prof Barbara Moser-Mercer, from the University of Geneva, a specialist in higher education in emergency and crises situations, expressed how connected learning builds the knowledge and skills needed to adapt, and how that could prove to be a key factor in the development of higher education for people victims of conflict situations within refugees camps. Ms Ekaterina Perfilyeva, editor in chief of the Open School of Sustainable Development, shared how through volunteering to support facilitation of translation and sharing of knowledge and meaningful information we could advocate a better understanding and implementation of sustainability principles with the Youth.

The overall discussion from the panelists with the audience, outlined the fact that there are numerous synergies and initiatives that could support the achievement of SDG 4, related to Education.

Horyou is the Social Network for Social Good, which connects, supports and promotes social initiatives, entrepreneurs, and citizens who help the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals to build a more harmonious and inclusive world. We invite you to Be the Change, Be Horyou!

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Britta Holmberg is project director for The World Childhood Foundation. Located in Germany, Brazil, Sweden and the USA, the foundation’s goal is to prevent exploitation and abuse of Children. Over 100 projects across the world are implemented and supported by the foundation because every child has the right to safety, happiness, playfulness and curiosity in life. Mrs. Holmberg is involved in various projects worldwide; here she tells us about some of the success stories, and what to dream, inspire and act means in changing a child’s world one project at a time. — by Amma Aburam

Have you always wanted to be an advocate for Children’s rights? How did it come about?

For me, the interest and awareness about children’s rights has developed step-by-step. My first contact with children in vulnerable situations was when I worked at summer camps for children from the Chernobyl area, some of whom were living in institutions because of their hearing deficiencies. I remember visiting an institution in Belarus where deaf children were supposed to practice “hearing” and how so much of their education was led by teachers who did not know sign- language. Visits at several orphanages in Eastern Europe in the nineties made it very clear to me that these children were deprived of their childhood and that better options needed to be developed.

What are some of the key ongoing projects at the World Childhood Foundation? What is their impact?

Childhood supports around 100 projects around the world, all of which are important for the communities where they are implemented. I am especially proud when we take a risk and fund something that we believe in but where we cannot know from the start how it will turn out. There are many key projects that have had an impact also on national level, for example a program for HIV-positive mothers in Russia which led to a complete change in approach from the local authorities that could give the mothers better support and information which resulted in less children being abandoned at birth. We are also supporting a cluster of programs in Siem Rep in Cambodia that together not only can identify children who have been sexually abused at an early stage but also provide them and their families with qualified support. We have funded a number of parenting programs in South Africa, which have given thousands of children a safer and more loving childhood but also contributed to shed the light on locally developed low-cost programs.

Play is an integral part of the projects the World Childhood Foundation supports
Play is an integral part of the projects the World Childhood Foundation supports

What are your best/favorite success stories of the impact the foundation has had on the lives of children?

There are so many stories! Childhood has a very close contact with the partners that we support on the ground and we visit each project twice a year. We often meet with beneficiaries as well and each of them has their unique story. One meeting that made a strong impression on me was with a number of fathers in South Africa whose sons participated in a program for high-risk youth – who were on the edge of being removed from their families and/or expelled from school. Part of the program is working with the parents and making an effort to find at least one positive father-figure for the boys. The way these fathers described the transformation from being a distant, quite authoritarian father to one that actually starts to listen to their child and show affection and how much the loving relationship with their child now means to them was such a wonderful experience – not the least since absent and violent father are one of the key problems in South Africa – and loving, present fathers one of the key factors for change. There are also so many stories of resilience. I remember one 15 year old girl in Thailand that used to work on the streets – begging and scavenging – to support her uncle and aunt that she lived with as well as her siblings. With help from our partner organization she could return to school, the aunt got help to start a small business and the girl was now receiving vocational training to contribute to the family’s income. She had such dignity and strength despite a very difficult situation.

What in your opinion are the three building blocks in implementing children’s rights within communities?

One is simply to see and treat children as human beings! That might seem evident but in my experience it is far from being the case. In so many situations we treat children as a separate category that we do not listen to or scream at or humiliate in a way that we would never do with adults. Number two is being humble, starting with trying to understand the challenges and possibilities in each community – not thinking that we can come in from the outside and provide the solutions. Support the local capacity and local solutions. Number three is skipping the idea of quick fixes. Change takes time. If you want to get to the roots of problems, you will need to have a holistic approach and long-term perspective.

Early childhood development project in South Africa
Early childhood development project in South Africa

What are some of the challenges you face while working for Children’s rights and how do you address them?

One challenge that we struggle with is well-meaning people who want to “rescue” children, often with a charity approach that puts the helper in focus rather than the child or the family they claim they want to help. I am so sad to see that so much resources, energy and personal investments are spent on the wrong types of projects that sometimes are even harmful to children. One example is orphanage tourism and volunteerism where children are turned into tourist attractions and are easy targets for people who want to exploit them. Since people love funding orphanages it means that in some areas that is the only option available for poor families who cannot afford to put their child in school. Skewed funding leads to children being separated from the families that would actually be able to take care of them if some support was available that did not require that the child is placed in an orphanage. There are plenty of good intentions related to children at risk – but if you do not combine that with knowledge you will at best not contribute to any sustainable change but at worst actually make the situation worse.

Where do you see yourself in the next 5 to 10 years? Any ideals?

I have a wonderful job and am happy to continue doing what I am doing for quite some time. If I get tired of travelling as much as I do I would love to focus on research and maybe evaluations of programs.

What does our mantra Dream, Act and Inspire mean to you personally and professionally?

For me, the mantra Dream, Act and Inspire means that we all have an important role to play to raise awareness about children’s rights and that we need to step up and do things that we might not really dare to do, but need to do anyway.

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