For more than 60 years, Richmond-based Christian Children's Fund has been offering education, health, nutrition and other programs in an effort to meet the needs of children worldwide. It is the largest humanitarian organization with headquarters in Virginia, serving more than 4.5 million children, parents and caregivers in more than 30 countries.
Since 1998, John F. Schultz has led CCF as its president and CEO. Schultz, 57, has a Ph.D. in economic geography from Columbia University, with a specialization in international development. He also is an ordained Presbyterian minister.
How did Sept. 11 affect CCF?
We had initially provided a custom-tailored version of a booklet that we had written along with UNICEF for dealing with children in circumstances of extreme violence. They were made available to anybody who wanted to use them. [The booklet] took techniques and skills and experience CCF had gathered in places like Angola and Sierra Leone and Kosovo and applied them for use in our own country.
We settled into a neighborhood in Brooklyn [and] we brought together a whole variety of local community groups to talk among themselves about meeting the needs in the community. That has evolved into two major elements. One is working with the local school district to foster awareness and tolerance of different cultures. We've also contracted with a researcher from Columbia University, who is actually doing an assessment in the neighborhood to see what further needs can be met there. Another thing we have done is send an assessment team to Tajikistan.
Style: National Geographic recently included an article on a toy exhibit put together by Christian Children's Fund. Could you tell me more about the exhibit?
Schultz: [The exhibit has] been a very successful way of getting people in this country to understand in greater depth the lives of children around the world. It came about a year and half ago as I was visiting a CCF project in northern Kenya. I was visiting a fishing village, and what struck me as I was walking along the shore were the children playing. I saw a young boy, whose name I now know is Thomas, playing with a sailboat. He picked it up and showed it me, and it was made from a flip-flop, a few sticks, a scrap of a plastic bag and a few pieces of twine. When I showed some interest, he offered it to me as a gift.
Of course, his act of generosity was quite compelling. Then, I realized this was a wonderful way to show the individual lives of the children that they're real people with real emotions. We sent out the word to CCF programs all over the world, asking them to send us examples of toys that children play with on a daily basis. Their response was really quite overwhelming and generous. The more the toys came in, the more those looking at them realized they were really quite remarkable. People are intrigued by the toys, but they're also captivated by the very thing we were trying to get people to ask: "Who made that toy? Tell me more."
How will you be serving children in Afghanistan?
In all likelihood, there will be huge refugee and displaced persons populations. There will be groups like the International Rescue Committee and others who will do the actual setting up of refugee camps. CCF will more than likely do what we've done in other places provide safe places for children. Typically, that evolves into structured activities, which for young children will be nursery school and day care. Frequently, there is an enormous need for someone to give safe care to children, so the parents can go back to reconstructing their lives. We will be involved in some health care and immunizations, as well as trying to get educational systems and schools back to normal.
Do any of CCF's programs directly affect Richmond?
CCF has a history of some smaller programs in Richmond. We've contracted with researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University to study how we might participate more in the Richmond community. Our intention our hope is not only to be a good community citizen, but to make our services available in the Richmond community.
What are some of the trouble spots for children now?
Africa has tremendous needs. We are all conscious of the impact of HIV/AIDS on the continent. CCF has a large program in Zambia, and this past year for the first time, the number of deaths of secondary school teachers from AIDS surpassed the number of secondary school teachers that were being produced by the educational system. In many places in Africa, we are working with the survivors and with the families.
You've heard the stories of grandmothers and teen-agers who are caring for very large numbers of children. Where CCF works on the shores of Lake Victoria, in Uganda and Kenya, there are many places where the head of household is not an adult. In those areas, CCF is trying to find means of sustenance and livelihood for those left behind. There are also messages of prevention, education and trying to see what can be done to curb the spread of HIV.
With so many problems affecting children worldwide, do you ever feel overwhelmed?
I am certainly deeply moved by the circumstances that I see children living in. Many of the places I go, children not only don't have toys, they don't have shoes on their feet. I think sometimes it's very hard for Americans to even fathom there are places in the world where the majority of the population lives like this. If that were all I saw as I traveled around the world for CCF, I might get disheartened. What I see, of course, are the successes as well. I see teen-agers who are sitting in front of a computer doing what teen-agers do all around the world. I see children sitting in a safe nursery school with caring teachers. It really is as equally invigorating as it is challenging.
The exhibit of children's toys is on display in the National Geographic Explorers Hall in Washington, D.C. It will be in Richmond at the Children's Museum from Feb. 9 to April 21.
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