The Gift of Being Together

Children from South Africa, Amahle and Siyanda,

Amahle and Siyanda, like many children, find great joy in the simplest things. For Amahle, a 12-year-old girl, it’s playing netball with her team at school. For 8-year-old Siyanda, it’s riding his scooter through their neighborhood.

And no matter what they’re doing, Amahle and Siyanda find their greatest joy in being together. Amahle looks after Siyanda, and Siyanda looks up to Amahle. They are each other’s family.

Their relationship—and the simple moments they spend together—are what make childhood special.

Children, Amahle and Siyanda, playing in the yard
Amahle and Siyanda playing in the yard. (2021)

But in many ways, Amahle and Siyanda are not like other children. Their chance at a happy and safe childhood is at risk. In April of this year, the siblings became orphans when their mom died of cancer.

Now, they’re vulnerable to the many challenges orphans face worldwide. We know that the childhood years are some of the most formative of a person’s lifeand Amahle and Siyanda are right in the middle of those years. The decisions they make (and the ones made for them) will shape their personalities, wellbeing, and future permanently.

Children, Amahle and Siyanda, with a CERI staff member
CERI staff, Siphesihle, visiting Amahle and Siyanda (2021)

When the siblings’ mother passed away, her dying wish was for her children to be placed in an orphanage. For a mother in her situation, it seemed like the only option. But if Amahle and Siyanda had been placed in an orphanage as their mother had requested, there was not promise they could stay together.

Beyond the risk of separation, orphanages in South Africa don’t always provide the best care for children, according to Siphesihle Khumalo, Program Director and Social Worker with CERI South Africa. Institutional care can’t always meet the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of children in the same way a parent or a family does.

The aunt of Amahle and Siyanda
Amahle and Siyanda's aunt. (2021)

When CERI began working with Amahle and Siyanda, we were dedicated to giving them the best childhood possible. In this case, that meant finding a family for them to live with. After working closely with child protective services as well as a local community worker, we discovered that Amahle and Siyanda had a living aunt who could take them in. Together, Amahle and Siyanda’s care team decided the best situation would be to place the kids in foster care with their aunt and only living family member.

It wasn’t a perfect solution. Often in cases of orphanhood, the solutions are imperfect. But Amahle and Siyanda now have a chance to grow up with a loving caregiver within their own family—and they get to stay together.

Children, Amahle and Siyanda, with their aunt
Amahle and Siyanda with their aunt and CERI staff (2021)

We believe every childhood is valuable, and a child’s future should never be taken lightly. The story of Amahle and Siyanda is an example of how we can rally together and protect the joy and safety of childhood.

For now, Amahle and Siyanda live in a loving home together with their aunt, with whom they have a wonderful relationship. Amahle and Siyanda were given a second chance at childhood and the gift of being together—but there are millions of other children who are waiting for that same opportunity.

Can you give today so more kids can grow in a loving family?

You are the solution.

More Than an Education

Rukhsana with her son

When girls receive an education, an entire society benefits. But barriers like poverty, teen pregnancy, and child labor may keep about 20 million girls from attending school, according to data from the Right to Education Forum.

We recently met a young girl named Rukhsana whose dream is to go to school and give back to her community. She has faced many challenges in her journey, but she hasn’t given up. And because of you, she is now well on her way to her dreams. 

This is Rukhsana’s story of hope.

In 2017, Rukhsana and her family were forced to flee their home country of Myanmar because of genocide. While they were living in a refugee settlement in Bangladesh, Rukhsana began to share with her family her hopes for her future: most importantly, that she could finish high school, attend college, and work in a job that gives back to her community.

Rukhsana studying
Ruksana learning at a CERI community center in India. (2021)

In Rukhsana’s culture, however, girls are expected to get married—not pursue an education.

Soon, Rukhsana’s brother, who was living in India, heard of Rukhsana’s hopes. He promised her that, if she traveled to India to live with him, he would help her go to school.

So, at 15 years old, Rukhsana packed up her belongings, left her family, and traveled to India to follow her dreams. But three days after arriving in India, her brother arranged her marriage without her consent.

For many young girls just like Rukhsana, marriage and childbirth happen at a very young age. And often, without the young girl’s consent. Also, many schools will not permit a girl who is pregnant to go to school. 

Rukhsana receiving counseling from CERI staff
Rukshana receiving counseling from CERI staff. (2021)

Rukhsana and her new husband made a home in a refugee settlement in India, where Rukhsana soon gave birth to a son. Their living conditions were poor, and they often lacked adequate shelter or food. Rukhsana’s family lacked some of the most basic things, and she began experiencing depression and anxiety. Her hopes of an education seemed farther away than ever.

When our team connected with Rukhsana, we helped with food, clothing, and counseling sessions to help with her anxiety and depression. When Rukhsana had appendicitis and had to have surgery, donations like yours helped cover her medical bills. As we worked with Rukhsana, we learned of her ambitions of going to school and getting a job she could be proud of.

Rukhsana with her husband and son
Rukshana enjoying family time with her husband and son. (2021)

Rukhsana did not speak any Hindi or English at the time—India’s two primary languages. We helped her find the right language classes. We then worked with the local school system to enroll Rukshana in 9th grade. We are thrilled to share that she has recently completed grade 10.

“When I came to CERI, I got new hope and courage,” Rukhsana said. “I got the opportunity to get an education.”

Rukhsana now volunteers with CERI in India, where she mentors students, helping them navigate online learning. She also volunteers as a paralegal with a local organization that advocates for women who experience domestic violence.

Rukhsana's son playing ball
Rukhshans's son playing at a CERI community center in India. (2021)

Rukhsana is well on her way to fulfilling her dreams. But for her, education is about more than personal fulfillment.

“I want to become a Human Rights Activist after completing my education,” Rukhsana said. “I want my son to get a good education… I want to set an example. I will work for the betterment of my community and raise awareness about women’s rights.”

As a refugee and a young wife and mother, Rukhsana didn’t get to experience many of the simple joys of childhood. For her, education is one path toward changing the story. But she can’t achieve her dreams alone.

Do you want to help Rukhsana finish the story?

You are the solution.