by Christine Ennulat, ChildFund Writer
I’ve been writing for ChildFund for a year now. One thing I’ve heard again and again from colleagues and other people I interview for articles is that going out into the field is the best way to really understand ChildFund’s work.
My mind still swirls with all I learned there. Certain moments light up, though — times when the importance of what we’re doing in the field really hit home for me. It happened whenever I encountered young people who have grown up in ChildFund’s programs and are giving back.
Merlissa is just one example. She volunteers in her village as a ChildFund-trained “guide mother,” which means, basically, that she visits young children in their homes and plays with them. But it’s more accurate to say that she works with them, because the activities Merlissa brings are specially designed to stimulate young children’s development and prepare them for preschool.
In each session, depending on her charge’s age, Merlissa might have the child manipulate small objects, identify pictures in a book, walk a straight line and show she can feed herself and follow instructions (“Put the green car on the lower level of the table and the purple ball on top …”).
On this particular day, in the small, dimly lit main room of one family’s home, she’s working with a 3-year-old boy named Milton, who performs all tasks with dispatch. “He’s very advanced for his age,” Merlissa says. Milton strides up and down a length of string Merlissa has laid on the floor, then waits for his next instructions with a steady, wide-eyed gaze.
Looking on are a boy and girl, older siblings of another boy who will work with Merlissa later (but who’s too shy to do so while I’m present!). These two, I’m told, are both first in their classes at school, and their mother credits it to their work with a guide mother.
After she finishes with Milton, Merlissa begins work with his 4-month-old baby sister. Not a happy camper — she has a little fever — but soon she’s distracted by the shiny paper Merlissa crinkles just out of view, inviting her to turn toward the sparkle and follow it with her eyes, just as a baby her age should.
Afterward, we ask Merlissa whether her own children are in school. She tells us she has none — that she’s 21, that she grew up in ChildFund’s programs in the village and that she enjoys giving back.
And now it’s time for her to continue doing so, with the other little boy who has waited through Milton’s session. I walk into the sunshine, smiling at what ChildFund sets into motion for so many young people — who pass it along to their young neighbors.