Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Betty Makoni Wins Prestigious Awards

Life is Zimbabwe is very unstable right now. Recently, a group of non-profits that stay connected were alarmed and concerned for Betty’s safety. It is hard to tell what the situation is really like in Zimbabwe with the type of newscasts that are being broadcast in the US; they are extremely limited and brief. As we were all waiting to hear from Betty, I received this ARTICLE from a friend.

“No wonder we haven’t heard from her”, my friend said. “This is what she is dealing with”. Just when the nail biting got worse, I received another email with the subject line reading this: Re: FIVE HOURS AGO, BETTY MAKONI WON THE SWEDISH PRIZE!

So, here you go…the full press release. You can also check The World’s Children’s Prize for the Rights of the Child, for more information.

Press release:

Children’s heroes awarded 12 million children’s prizes for the rights of the child
Girls’ rights crusader Betty Makoni, Zimbabwe makes a grand slam.
Cynthia Maung, Burma, and Inderjit Khurana, India receive the children’s honorary awards.

Three strong women fighting for a better world for children and for more respect for children’s rights have been given awards by The World’s Children’s Prize for the Rights of the Child (WCPRC), which is supported by 12 million children in 25,000 schools in 85 countries.

5,2 million children all over the world, in a global vote, have selected girls’ rights crusader Betty Makoni from Zimbabwe as the recipient of this year’s Global Friends' Award. Betty Makoni receives the prize because she, after being abused herself as a child, empowers girls to demand their rights. She supports those who are exposed to abuse and protects others from assault, forced marriage, trafficking and sexual abuse.

The world's largest (in terms of how many children participate in selecting the prize laureates) and most prestigious prize for outstanding contributions to the rights of the child - The World's Children's Prize for the Rights of the Child (WCPRC) - also has another main award, the World's Children's Prize. The recipient of this award is selected by a jury of children from 15 countries, some of whom have been child soldiers, slaves on farms or in brothels, refugees or lived on the streets. Through their own life experience, they are experts in the rights of the child. The jury children, who didn’t know the result of the global vote when they made their decision, also decided to give their award to Betty Makoni.

The World’s Children’s Honorary Awards goes to Cynthia Maung, Burma and Inderjit Khurana, Indien. Cynthia Muong receives her prize because she has fought for the health and education of hundreds of thousands of refugee children for 20 years, both under the military dictatorship in Burma and in refugee camps in Thailand. Inderjit Khurana receives her prize because she has run over a hundred schools and two phone help lines for 21 years, helping the poorest, most vulnerable children who live and work on station platforms.


The WCPRC empowers children and young people all over the world so that they can make their voices heard and demand respect for their rights in accordance with the UN Child Convention. The WCPRC has quickly grown into the world's largest annual educational initiative for children on rights, democracy and global citizenship. As part of this process, the children award the world’s most respected prizes for outstanding contributions to the rights of the child.

12 million students at 25,000 schools in 85 countries participate in the WCPRC, and that number is growing constantly. 5.2 millions of those children participated in the Global Vote to determine who should receive the Global Friends’ Award 2007. An international child jury – consisting of children who are experts on the rights of the child through their own experiences as soldiers, refugees, street children or slaves in brothels or on farms – choose the recipient of the other major award, the World’s Children’s Prize.

Over 350 organizations all over the world support the WCPRC, which also collaborates with many Departments of Education and youth media projects worldwide (among them Times of India’s Newspaper in Education and Grupo Positivo’s web sites in Brazil). The prize magazine, like the website, www.childrensworld.org, is available in nine languages and is read by over 7 million young people.


The patrons of the WCPRC include Queen Silvia of Sweden, Nelson Mandela, President Xanana Gusmão of East Timor, former Executive Director of Unicef Carol Bellamy, former UN Under-Secretary-General Olara Otunnu, and Nobel Prize Winner in Economics Joseph Stiglitz.

The prize money, SEK 1 million (USD 140,000), is to be used in the recipients’ work for the rights of the child and will help some of the world's most vulnerable children. It is supported by AstraZeneca, Banco Fonder and pi.se. The WCPRC was founded by the Swedish organization Children’s World, and is a Swedish National Millennium Project.

This year’s prize ceremony will be held on Monday 16 April (2.00 pm to 3.45 pm) at Gripsholm Castle in Mariefred, where HM Queen Silvia will help the children to give out the prizes. All three final candidates will be honoured.


BETTY MAKONI, Zimbabwe, is awarded for her long struggle to empower girls in Zimbabwe, to free them from abuse and let them have the same opportunities in life as boys. Through the Girl Child Network Betty has built three safe empowerment villages for very vulnerable girls and started 500 girls' clubs with 30,000 members, mostly in rural areas and in poor townships. Betty saves girls from child labour, forced marriage, abuse, trafficking and sexual assault. She gives girls food, clothes, medical care, a home, the chance to go to school and safety. Above all, she gives girls courage and strength to demand respect for their rights. Betty and Girl Child Network speak out on behalf of girls in Zimbabwe, by constantly encouraging the government and different organisations to take care of the country's girls. Betty is often threatened because of her work.

CYNTHIA MAUNG, Burma is awarded for her near 20-year struggle on behalf of hundreds of thousands of children who live as refugees inside and outside Burma. 200,000 refugees, most of them children, receive free health care at Dr Cynthia’s Mae Tao Clinic, which also trains medics who return to their villages in Burma or to refugee camps in Thailand to work. The clinic sends hundreds of “backpack medics” to Burma. They carry medicine, train children in health and hygiene and treat 150,000 internally displaced people, many of them children. Cynthia’s clinic gives birth certificates to the many children who lack these, runs two schools and school hostels, and regularly visits 50 other refugee schools to give the children vitamins and vaccinations and gives food to malnourished children.

INDERJIT KHURANA, India, is awarded for her long struggle for the poorest and most vulnerable children’s right to education. She opened her first railway platform school 21 years ago. Today her organisation, Ruchika, runs 12 platform schools, 6 nurseries, 75 slum schools, 20 nursery schools, preventative HIV and AIDS projects, 2 “schools on wheels”, vocational training and clean water and sanitation projects in the slums. They also offer healthcare and run an ambulance service for emergencies. Ruchika has two help lines for children and women and gives school grants to gifted poor children. Inderjit believes that if the child cannot come to the school, the school has to come to the child. She and Ruchika seek to give a basic education, building up children’s self-esteem and opening the door for them to have a life free from poverty, child labour and violence.

For more information on the WCPRC and the prize candidates see:
PRESS at www.childrensworld.org, where you can also find high-res pics; Video material on request.

Contact: Magnus Bergmar, +46(0)159-129 00, +46(0)70-515 58 39 magnus.bergmar@childrensworld.org

Betty Makoni putting a stop to Zimbabwe's rapes

At the end of the summer, I am planning on going to Zimbabwe to film a documentary about Betty Makoni and the Girl Child Network. Betty is an incredible human being. I came to know Betty in March of 2007 through an introduction by my friend, Paola Gianturco. Last year, Paola and I had gone to a Global Fund for Women event in San Francisco. It was at that luncheon that she had mentioned the plight of young girls in Zimbabwe. She spoke of Africa’s traditional healers who were guiding AIDS infected men in Zimbabwe to rape virgins to cure their disease; this includes their own daughters. I was horrified, but having had tremendous luck in catching every exotic parasite when I traveled internationally, I did not even think of going to Africa.

About a year later, Paola invited me to meet her at the International Women’s Day 2007 event presented by IDEX at the World Affairs Council in San Francisco, featuring Betty Makoni. When I called IDEX for a ticket, Sarah Dotlich, who is the Africa Program Director, answered the phone. Less than a week later and the morning of Betty’s speaking event, I found myself sitting across from Betty Makoni and Sara. Wow. It happened so fast. Betty stood with this big hug smile and lots of black hair, pulled together in a pony tail. I could feel her determination, and she was so genuine in her passion and beliefs. We shared our childhood stories and talked about sharing her story with the world. I gave her my short film on child-sexual abuse, "Flashcards" and she held it to her chest. The act of clutching those materials to her chest was so endearing to me! She actually valued a film and curriculum that helped educated people on abuse, something that has not been my experience in the United States. I suggested I ship the materials to Zimbabwe so that she did not have to carry them with her. She said no. She did not want them out of her hands.

That night, she was introduced at the World Affairs Council event by Walter Turner, who is a professor of History and Ethnic Studies at the College of Marin and Chair of the Department. He is also the President of the Board of Directors for Global Exchange. As these two individuals engaged in conversation and I listened to Betty talk, I started to weep. I don’t know what made me cry, as I am a public speaker and I talk about my own sexual abuse as a child to large audiences often. I even co-authored a book called, “This Is Not The Life I Ordered”, which talks about my abuse. Here I was being reduced to a puddle by her fierce protectiveness of the girls and her absolute conviction. She didn’t get caught up in the feminist bullshit that many of us do in the United States. “Women have a voice” she says as a matter of fact, “and I am going to die using it if I have to”.

Since Betty has gone home, we have been coordinating the details and logistics for the trip and documentary. I have recently asked her to start sharing her daily stories so that I can share them with others. I get notes from her when she has electricity. Last week she wrote me from her computer in the dark. Here is what she wrote:

“Today, I am out to help in the burial of a ten year old girl. She died today of HIV and AIDS as a result of rape. Her body has been lying in the home for 6 hours because due to poverty they could not afford the funds to hire a truck to take the body away. I arrive there at 10 pm and give some help. Tomorrow the uncle buries her and what pain I have to see such innocence lost. I will pay my courtesy call to the girl and try to make her a decent burial and eternal rest. Then this Sunday in Rural Mutasa, we will go to a village where a church leader allegedly raped 7 girls and he is behind bars. Two of them were herding cattle and one girl took her torn clothes with blood stains and this must have traumatized a lot of people-it is so sad.

I will be back on Monday and pass through the Girls Empowerment Village and meet rape survivors you will all meet when you come.

I will email about my experiences and what I would have seen. This is part of what I enjoy doing, being in the remote parts of the country listening to many stories and offering help wherever I can. That way I heal. I just leave my home without anywhere specific to go.”

This is the beginnings of an amazing story that needs to be told. Help us do that.

You can send a donation to the Girl Child Network through FreshWater Haven.

Please make your check out to: FreshWater Haven
Mail to:
455 Old La Honda Road
Woodside, CA 94062

More to come…

Monday, July 9, 2007

Video on Betty Makoni and Zimbabwe

Story of survival and hope: Girl Child Network & Betty

A vital source of support for the girls and women of Zimbabwe has been the Girl Child Network (GCN), which was founded by Betty Makoni. With over 350 chapters and a membership of over 25,000 girls, ages 0-18, this non-profit organization supports young girls who are victims of abuse by offering career resources, mentorship programs, and classes that build self-esteem. It provides a venue for girls to discuss strategies for confronting the violence in their society. GCN has also built two villages entirely devoted to creating a safe haven for girls to realize their full potential.

The voice of these girls needs to be heard. SILENT BRAVERY will help expose their voices and make a change in the lives of the women of Africa. Through creating global awareness of these issues through thought-provoking media showcasing these stories and supporting brave organizations like Girl Child Network (GCN), many girls and women will fight back against their abuse, become independent, and work to create better lives for themselves.

Abuse of Young Children in Zimbabwe (Africa)

SILENT BRAVERY exposes an issue that continues to be ignored: the rape and sexual abuse against women of Zimbabwe. In 2002, a 9-month old girl was raped. In 2003, a two-week old girl was raped and died from the trauma. These are only two of thousands of incidents of violence and child abuse that occur in Africa every year.

The cause of these rapes is shocking: men with HIV/AIDS believe that they will be cured if they have sex with a virgin; the younger and more “pure” the girl, the better their chances of ridding themselves of their disease. The source of these beliefs has been through traditional healers and some Zimbabwean governments. Because virginity is the desired state for marriageable young girls, religious sects and schools perform virginity tests and inadvertently identify potential victims for perpetrators.

Additionally, due to the absence of male figures, women are responsible for collecting the water for their families. However, their clean water resources are minimal and they must often walk long distances to obtain clean water. It is during these long treks that girls are exposed to sexual predators. Most rapes result in the girls contracting HIV/AIDS because of the high percentage of HIV/AIDS in Africa. The girls then bring the virus back to their village, resulting in a further spread of the virus.

Tapestries of Hope: Silent Bravery by Fresh Water Spigot

"Tapestries of Hope" is a series of ‘documentary stories’ of various people and situations in Africa that independently are strong and striking, but taken as a whole are even more vital and important. The content will weave together three major issues that affect many if not all of the countries of Africa – the water crisis, AIDS and Malaria, and violence against children. These stories are to be filmed independently through a variety of interviews in various locations in Africa, and then woven together via film, the web, and other media to communicate discussion and compassion about important global issues.

SILENT BRAVERY is the first installment of this series and will capture the stories of Young Chldren in Africa. It will also bring to light the inspiring stories of Betty Makoni and women of the Girl Child Network in bringing hope to the women in that region.

The film is being independently produced by Fresh Water Spigot, a Michealene Cristini Risley film production company.

The three general story themes to be filmed are:

  • Silent Bravery (The Abuse of Young Children in Africa)
  • The Water Crisis in Africa
  • The AIDS and Malaria Crisis in Africa
Silent Bravery (The Abuse of Young Children).
Abuse of children is rampant in Africa in a variety of forms. AIDS ties closely to this issue/story as well. Interviews/filming that will showcase this issue include:
    • We will show the African government’s view of virginity as a cure for AIDS.
    • Betty Makoni and the Girl Child Network (GCN) We will explore the formation of the GCN. (how they are affecting the government, how they are outing rapists, and domestic Violence Law)
    • Global Development (Bridge Building)
    • The influx of workers who pay children for sex. This causes the spread of AIDS, the rape of children and child pregnancies.
The Water Crisis
One in six people in the world does not have access to safe drinking water. The average American uses 176 gallons of water per day. Many people in developing nations struggle to find two to four gallons. Many of us take out water for granted, but in other countries, unsafe water causes diseases like diarrhea, which kills more than 2.2 million people each year. That is the equivalent to 20 jumbo jets crashing every day. Every 19 seconds a child dies from unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation and 80% of all sickness in the world is attributable to unsafe water and a lack of basic sanitation. One toilet flush is equal to the amount of water a person in the developing world uses all day to wash, clean, cook, or drink.

More than half of the population of Africa does not have access to clean and safe water. A person can survive a month without food, but only three days without water. The water crisis truly is a crisis and the story needs to be told in order for a solution to be found.

Interviews/filming that will showcase this issue include:

    • The Bridge Crossing – The Bridge to Zambezi
    • The Water Problem ( The distance a child must travel to get water and the vulnerability of children enroute to water.

AIDS and Malaria
Every 13 seconds someone dies from Malaria, a treatable disease. If you combine global death from AIDS, measles, cancer, leprosy and TB it is still less than the death from malaria. 90% of those dying from malaria are under 5 years old.
    • Interviews/filming that will showcase this issue include:
      • Global Development (Bridge Building) - which addresses the issue of water and its effects
      • Zimbabwe AIDS misinformation and the epidemic as a whole
      • The mosquito netting business which is hindering the eradication of malaria
      • The research of Louie Greeff, a South African who created the Food Against Diseases Fund (FAD) which is geared towards eradicating Malaria through the use of natural waste products (banana pulp)