Early Childhood Development

Cooperation Amid Isolation in Guatemala’s Highlands

ECD in Guatemala

Mothers and children in Pachichiac, Guatemala, color in masks during an Early Childhood Development program. 

By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

This is the second of three articles this month about Kate’s recent trip to report on ChildFund-supported programs in Guatemala’s highlands. Read the first.

In Guatemala’s mountain villages, the sense of isolation hits pretty hard when you see a woman or girl walking on the side of a dirt road while balancing a wrapped load on her head. It’s a dusty, hard slog, and the air is noticeably thin at 6,000 feet. I was breathing hard after a short walk, just carrying my camera and a notebook.

Guatemala child

A boy in Palima wears his mask upside down.

In this sort of environment, it’s difficult to believe that any information could be carried from one village to another. And yet two villages in two different districts had tiny children making nearly identical duck masks in the same week. I was a little surprised.

Early Childhood Development programs are a common thread throughout ChildFund’s work worldwide, but because needs and resources differ, the programs often take different shapes. Here, children and (usually) mothers attend weekly or monthly events at homes with room for small chairs and tables, plus storage space for art supplies. Guide mothers teach children how to count, name colors, say the alphabet and build other skills that will help them when they enter first grade. Mothers in the community attend nutrition classes and other programs that help their children develop properly.

sisters in Guatemala

Sisters Maria Esmeralda, 8, and Hilda Esperanza, 6, make masks in Palima.

The week I visited, children in Palima were coloring the faces of cartoon-like ducks and cutting them out to make masks; in Pachichiac, which was at least a two-hour drive away, children used finger paints to color in their duck masks. Smiles and quacks abounded in both villages.

Seeing consistency throughout the region, even in something as small as two groups of children working on the same project at the same time, was encouraging. The region is about to receive an influx of funding thanks to the Japan Social Development Fund, which has donated $2.75 million through the World Bank to help improve the health and development of 12,200 children younger than 2 who live in Guatemala’s highlands. ChildFund will lead the project, which is expected to start later this year.

More than 13,000 parents of the children will be involved, and the four-year project will cover 100 communities in the states of Huehuetenango, Quiche, San Marcos and Totonicapan, where nine out of 10 people live in poverty. Parents will receive more training and support through a Guatemalan government program providing community health and nutrition services, which encourage breastfeeding, good hygiene and nutritious diets. Also, tutors will show parents how to stimulate children with language, numbers and other concepts, just through daily routines.

Clearly, a project of this magnitude will require great coordination among ChildFund staff members, our local partners, guide mothers and families. But the seeds of teamwork already exist in the mountains, despite the hardships. You can see it behind the duck masks.

Dewi, Setting Her Son on a Healthy Path

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Ricky, 3, and his mom, Dewi, stand by a chart in their home that helps them track his development and growth.

By Nikita Haritos, ChildFund Indonesia 

Three-year-old Ricky lives with his mother and father in South Sumatra, Indonesia, in a one-bedroom house, where the three share a bed under a mosquito net. Despite his humble home, Ricky has a collection of toys in a dedicated play area — and a mother who is learning about how he can develop to fulfill his potential.

“Ricky loves playing with his toy trucks and cars, but he is most happy when his older cousins come over to play,” says Dewi, his mother. “They spend hours together running around the yard.”

Ricky’s father is a mechanic at the local motorbike repair shop. Dewi stays at home and looks after Ricky, and she also participates in a parenting program developed by the government and available in her community through ChildFund’s local partner organization, LPM Sriwijaya. The organization’s staff members are working to expand the program to more families in the region.

An example of the activities I do with Ricky is to have him practice opening buttons, which will help him to develop his motor skills.

In workshops led by professionals, mothers learn how to manage childhood illnesses as well as practice better sanitation and hygiene at home. They also learn about the development of cognitive, social, emotional and motor skills, which are just as important as physical growth during a child’s early years.

Trainers show mothers how to play with their children and promote abilities that will help the young ones achieve their goals later. They also try to change some of the misconceptions and attitudes that cause problems within the community’s families.

“An example of the activities I do with Ricky is to have him practice opening buttons, which will help him to develop his motor skills,” Dewi explains. “We learned about the importance of breastfeeding. Many mothers, including myself, did not realize how nutritious it is for our children.”

Dewi is helping to ensure that Ricky will eat healthy food now and in the future; she recently started a veggie garden in their yard, where she grows corn, tomato and papaya. She has just planted spinach seeds, too.

Ricky’s favorite food is soup made from katuk, a green, leafy vegetable found in the tropics as well as Dewi’s garden. She cooks the soup over an open fire on the floor of her kitchen.

ChildFund and the local partner have also provided Dewi and other families with child development cards, posters that let parents track important benchmarks like crawling, walking, playing and speaking.

“It is reassuring to know that I am able to check for myself whether Ricky is developing properly,” Dewi says, “and so far we haven’t had any concerns. The program has been so important in reassuring me that Ricky is growing up into a smart young boy. It would be great if all mothers could be part of the program, too.”

Nikita Haritos is a student at Australia’s Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and is enrolled in the Australian Consortium for In-Country Indonesian Studies, or ACICIS. She worked as an intern for ChildFund Indonesia earlier this year.

A Mobilizing Force for Healthy Children

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Community mobilizer Lucia Rosa (in blue shirt on front row) with mothers she’s training in Ecuador’s Imbabura province.

Interview by Veronica Travez, ChildFund Ecuador

Lucia Rosa works as a community mobilizer for an Early Childhood Development program supported by ChildFund and our local partner FOCI, in Ecuador’s Imbabura province. Lucia serves as the link between our local partner and people in her community, and she invites mothers, fathers and other caregivers to learn methods that will help their children develop skills they need to achieve success later in their lives. We asked Lucia, a mother of two children, ages 9 and 13, about her experiences.

I got married when I was 25 years old, and I was at university studying — as a distance-learning student — to become a lawyer. When my children were born, I had to abandon my studies and devote myself to their upbringing and care. In my free time, I also helped my husband in farming.

One day, I met a community mobilizer who told me about a program for girls and boys under 5 that was being implemented by ChildFund and FOCI in my community. At the time, I had resumed my studies at a university in the province where I live, but I changed my career to become a preschool teacher. Because the ChildFund program had a lot to do with my career plans, I found it very interesting, and I began to attend the weekly meetings.

Lucia (left) graduated from ChildFund's training program in 10 months.

Lucia (left) graduated from ChildFund’s training program in 10 months.

In my community, I helped form a group of mothers who had children under 5 years of age, where I passed on the information I learned in the training sessions. Since I had no children younger than 5, the other mothers appointed me workshop leader and gave me the opportunity to share with the group and to get more experience working with parents and children.

I always had my husband’s support throughout this process. On the days I had training sessions or workshops, I did the housework ahead of time, and then I could go out, feeling content.

After completing the training process, which lasted about 10 months, I now realize how much I have learned: for example, how important it is for children to develop according to their age, and how a good diet and living in a peaceful household contribute to their development. Children grow up safe and happy if they live in a home where there is no abuse among family members.

At the end of last year, I had the opportunity to apply to be a FOCI community mobilizer, and I won the job. I am now part of this organization that gives me the opportunity to serve my community. I finished my preschool teacher studies, and I am very happy because my family lives in harmony. My husband and I learned that to devote time and love to our children helps them grow up healthier and happier.

Steering Children Toward Success

Children learning activities in Leopa  ECD CenterDrawingSingingPlaying

Josefa teaches her ECD students about transportation.

By Silvia Ximenes, ChildFund Timor-Leste

It’s never too early to learn this lesson: “You need to study to get more knowledge and skills,” Josefa tells the children — ages 5 and younger — in the Early Childhood Development center in Leopa, a coastal community in Timor-Leste.

Josefa has taught since 2007 at this ECD center, which is supported by ChildFund and Timor-Leste’s Ministry of Education. Her duty is to make sure her children are learning effectively and to build their confidence in a safe and comfortable environment. ChildFund, working with Timor-Leste’s education ministry, holds training sessions for teachers on education methodology, and we also provided Josefa’s center with furniture, toys, teaching materials and healthy food for the children, including milk and green beans.

The children play before class starts and then come to attention after giving their teacher a warm greeting hello.

Josefa takes down a book and asks the children, “What do you see in this book?” Today’s topic is transportation.

The children respond with various answers: “It’s a car. That’s a plane. It’s a horse. It’s a boat!”

“All are the correct answers,” Josefa says. “Do you know how these means of transportation work?”

Adi of Timor-Leste

Adi on the playground

Adi, a 4-year-old boy with a confident and loud voice, replies, “A car runs on the road! A plane is in the air! Horses carry things!”To liven up the class, Josefa asks the children to stand and sing: “I’d like to ride pleasant transport!” Adi and his friends burst out in a chorus.

A few minutes later, Josefa distributes paper and crayons, bringing the children back to a calmer state. “Now, let’s draw your favorite means of transportation: a car, a plane, a horse or boat,” Josefa says.

Adi and his friends begin to sketch. Adi’s favorite activity is drawing. “I’m drawing five motorbikes, because I like to ride a motorbike,” he says with pride. “I want to become a police officer who rides a motorbike and arrests people who are involved in a crime.”

Josefa takes this opening to let her students know what such a dream will require: “If you want to drive or want to become a skilled driver of any kind of transport, then you need to study hard, to get better knowledge and skills on how to drive properly.”

Adi walks to the ECD center every day. His parents, Januario and Terezinha, both work as subsistence farmers, growing the food their family needs to survive. They have a second son, 2-year-old Felis. In Timor-Leste, about 95 percent of food grown — mainly corn and rice — is produced by subsistence farming.

On his 15-minute trek home that afternoon, perhaps he hums, “I like to ride pleasant transport!” And perhaps the seed his teacher planted is growing in Leopa’s sea breezes.

ROAR Go the Lions and Tigers

India Early Childhood Development

Ashok demonstrates a tiger’s roar in his ECD center in the Raigad district of India’s Maharashtra state.

By Saroj Pattnaik for ChildFund India

Pictures often communicate information more efficiently than words do (hence the famous adage), and that holds true in a small classroom in western India, where children are discovering the alphabet, animals, fruits and vegetables through paintings and pictures.

“Earlier, I could not tell the difference between a cabbage and a cauliflower. Now, I know all the fruits and vegetables that we eat,” says 4-year-old Vaishnavi, one of the 30 children enrolled in an Early Childhood Development (ECD) center in the Raigad district of Maharashtra state, where ChildFund works in 43 rural villages. “Cauliflower is my favorite vegetable, and it contains many vitamins,” she adds.

Vaishnavi’s best friend, Ashok, is more interested in animals, particularly lions. He explains that the lion is the king of the jungle. “You know, a lion won’t kill other animals if it is not hungry,” the preschooler says, recalling a story that his teacher told them the other day.

Shanta Ghatge, a tutor, leads children in acting out a story at an Indian ECD center.

Shanta Ghatge, a tutor, leads children in acting out a story at an Indian ECD center.

According to Dr. Virendra Kulkarni, program manager of PRIDE India, ChildFund’s local partner organization in this area, young children explore visual art with both a creative and a scientific eye.

“Through art, they not only identify objects and concepts clearly, they try to explore everything related to them,” he explains. “Wall paintings are one of the best ways to make children know many things through visual expression. Our role is to provide them with materials and inspiration, then to stand back and let them go.”

Shanta Ghatge, a tutor at the ECD center, agrees: “Wall paintings, posters and other wall decorations not only make the classrooms look great, but they also make learning easy for children and remind them of concepts.

“We cannot just talk all the time in class,” she adds. “Children need to be stimulated in their learning, and we need such wall paintings, posters and other teaching aids to make their learning interesting.”

Ghatge, who has been an ECD teacher in the area for more than 20 years, says she follows a curriculum adopted by ChildFund to teach the preschoolers, and their routine includes examining paintings, writing, singing, storytelling, drawing and painting.

“Although the children like almost all the activities, the most favorite for them has been creating their own art,” Ghatge says. “I often give out drawing sheets and watercolors to them and ask them to make some art. They just love this activity.”

Children need to be stimulated in their learning, and we need such wall paintings, posters and other teaching aids to make their learning interesting.

Research has shown that participating in art, music and storytelling activities helps children develop language, mathematics and social skills. “These essential activities can help the young brain develop to its fullest capacity,” Dr. Kulkarni says. “In all our ECD centers, we use learning methods that are recognized as best practices for preschoolers.

“One of them is using rhythm to help children develop patterning abilities and make relationships between the rhythm, beat and words,” he explains. “There are a lot of local language rhymes that teachers use to improve children’s patterning ability, while toys and other aids are used to improve their motor skills.”

Ghatge points out that the children also have fun in the classroom. “Amidst all this noise, we certainly know one thing: These children are learning while enjoying their childhoods.”

Establishing a Firm Foundation in Fatumeta

Timor-Leste early childhood development

Abrigu, 5, counts the letters of the alphabet with the help of his teacher, Fernanda.

By Silvia Ximenes, ChildFund Timor-Leste

Fernanda, who works in an Early Childhood Development (ECD) center in Fatumeta, Timor-Leste, often begins class by asking the children questions.

“What do people usually use to communicate with each other?”

Most of the children confidently say, “A telephone.”

“Is there anything other than a telephone?” Fernanda asks.

The class becomes quiet. Five-year-old Abrigu and his friends are searching for the answer. Fernanda gives the children a clue: “Something that we watch the news or a movie with — what do you call it?”

“A television!” the children say simultaneously.

Abrigu and his father

Abrigu and his father, Agusto.

After hearing their answers, Fernanda explains today’s topic to the children: different means of communication. She talks about telephones, televisions, newspapers and radio.

The Fatumeta ECD center started in 2008 with support from ChildFund. In her class of 27 children, Fernanda uses methods and techniques she learned in ChildFund’s training programs. By providing the children with various types of games and learning activities, she hopes to help them learn important skills while also expressing their creativity.

As part of today’s lesson, Abrigu carefully writes the letters of the alphabet on a large chalkboard. Afterward, Fernanda asks children to count the letters — combining learning about the alphabet with counting exercises, which will enhance the children’s overall comprehension.

ChildFund, along with local partner organization Moris Foun, supplies the center with books, paper and pencils, as well as education training for the staff members. ChildFund’s goal is to support children so they can complete their studies and become confident, educated adults who can help their communities improve.

Abrigu’s father, Agusto, came with him to the center today. A farmer and dad of seven, Agusto is aware of the importance of education for his children’s future. He says that one of Abrigu’s sisters has also gone through the ECD program. She is now in the second grade  and is doing well, Agusto proudly reports. “She is confident in her learning and is progressing well because she had the opportunity to develop her knowledge in the very beginning through the ECD center.”

Early Childhood Development Programming on Wheels

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The mobile Supervised Neighborhood Play vehicle visits a remote village in the Philippines. Photo by Jobeth Jerao.

Reporting by ChildFund Philippines

Some of the villages we serve are very remote, and it’s impossible to establish Early Childhood Development (ECD) centers in them. In the Philippines, four barangays (the Filipino term for small villages or neighborhoods) in the municipality of Pili are situated too far from established ECD centers, so ChildFund and its local partner organization are bringing in a mobile unit to serve children under 5 and their families.

The Mobile Supervised Neighborhood Play initiative, which began its pilot phase last fall, provides the materials, modules and learning tools found in ChildFund’s home-based ECD programs and packs them in a mini-cab that can travel to remote communities.

Four trained volunteers conduct two-hour sessions twice a day, three times a week in the four barangays, helping train parents and other caregivers, as well as people who could one day start ECD programs locally. This pilot project is just the most recent way that ChildFund is supporting healthy development of children younger than 5.

“Where there are government day care centers, ChildFund helps equip the day care worker,” says Corazon Obra, program officer for ChildFund Philippines. “In communities remote from day care centers, ChildFund helps set up Supervised Neighborhood Play, our home-based model. Mobile SNP takes this idea further, literally delivering quality Early Childhood Development services to remote communities.”

 

Rebeca’s First Steps

Rebeca Three-year-old Rebeca had challenges learning to crawl and walk, but today she’s developing normally.

Reporting by Abraham Marca, ChildFund Bolivia

Born three and a half years ago to a 41-year-old mother after a risky pregnancy, Rebeca was small but still within the normal range. However, when Rebeca was 9 months old, her family learned she wasn’t developing properly.

Wiñay Mujo, ChildFund’s local partner organization in her Bolivian village, offers early childhood development evaluations to young children in the area, and Rebeca had her first at 9 months. The evaluation revealed that Rebeca didn’t have enough strength in her back, legs and arms to crawl, so Wiñay Mujo staff members showed her mother some exercises she could do at home with Rebeca to stimulate those muscles, and soon Rebeca began making her first movements around her world.

Rebeca and mother

Rebeca and her mother.

But then, just before turning 1, Rebeca suddenly began losing weight; she was diagnosed with mild acute malnutrition, so Wiñay Mujo helped her get the dietary supplements she needed. She gained weight over the next few months, but she still couldn’t walk, even at 15 months. After a new course of exercises and diet, she learned to walk, and by the time she turned 3, her growth and development were on track.

But Rebeca developed a parasite infection and suddenly lost weight again. After her successful treatment, Wiñay Mujo looked more deeply into her situation and discovered that Rebeca was spending her days in the care of a teenage aunt while her mother worked. To provide a healthier environment for the little girl, Wiñay Mujo invited the family to have her participate in ChildFund’s center-based early childhood development program in her community.

Today, Rebeca and her family are doing better, and they attend programs at Wiñay Mujo, where they learn about good nutrition and other healthy practices. Rebeca is 3 and a half. She has had all of her vaccinations, and her development is considered normal for her age.

Children in developing countries face many obstacles to healthy development. For the youngest in particular, early nutrition is especially important because it supports their ability to grow and learn — without adequate nutrition in the early years, children may never be able to recoup developmental losses. ChildFund works through local partners like Wiñay Mujo to provide the monitoring, stimulation, nutrition and learning opportunities children need to stay on track.

Evelin, Coming Out of Her Shell

Evelin and her daughters

Evelin and her daughters, Naomi (left) and Emily.

Reporting by ChildFund Ecuador

According to Ecuador’s last census, 44 percent of the country’s mothers had their first children between the ages of 15 and 19. For many of these women, becoming mothers meant an end to their formal educations. In Ecuador and other countries around the world, though, women are learning — and sharing — important information about raising children, eating healthy diets and making an income. Here are the words of Evelin, a young mother from Ecuador whose life changed after going through training supported by ChildFund.

My name is Evelin. I am 20 years old, and I have two beautiful daughters who are my reason for living. Naomi Marisol is 4, and Emily Lizet is 3 years old.

When I was 16 years old, I was pregnant, so Segundo, my husband, and I decided to move and begin our lives as a family. He is 32 years old, and he works as a day laborer at a farm close to our house in Imbabura Province.

With the arrivals of my little girls, my life completely changed. I had to leave my studies and assume my new responsibilities in my home with my girls and my husband.

Evelin in her family garden

Evelin grows fruits and vegetables in her family garden.

One day while I was in the community store, I met a neighbor who told me that ChildFund was carrying out workshops for the mothers of children under 5 years old and that she was participating. She told me that it was a wonderful experience because she was learning about stimulation, nutrition and some other things.

This sounded very interesting to me, so I decided to talk with my husband and ask him to let me participate in this training. At first, he said no, but I argued that this could be a good opportunity for me to learn new things that could help me to keep my family healthy. And besides, I would share with other mothers and would not feel so lonely at home, so he agreed.

When I began as a participant in ChildFund’s Early Childhood Development program, the trainer mother introduced me to the rest of the group, and since then I have felt comfortable and enjoyed the meetings very much. Despite my home chores, I always did my best to not miss any classes during the 10 months that the process lasted.

During this time, I realized that I had been doing some things the wrong way. I had a bad temper, was very rude with my daughters and my husband, and I was not sociable because I spent all day at home. So, I was isolated from the rest of the people in the community. I also was afraid to speak in public. I was very shy.

Since I participated in the program, though, a lot of things have changed. I learned how to prepare healthy and nutritious food for my family. Since starting our family garden, I have been contributing to the family livelihood because I save money by not buying vegetables and fruits in the market. I am more sociable too, and now I am more involved and interested in the community. My older daughter goes to the community’s child care center, and I was designated president. Now, I feel valued and self-confident, and I know that if I express what I feel, people will listen to me.

Early Childhood Development: Spotlight on Honduras

One of ChildFund’s signature programs is Early Childhood Development, which focuses on children’s first five years. It’s the most important time in a person’s life, determining what a child will accomplish in school, in his or her career and what these children will pass on to their own children. Before turning 5, a child’s motor skills, problem-solving ability, language and self-control are all well-defined. ECD centers help give children who are living in poverty a better chance to reach their potential. In Honduras, ChildFund’s Lylli Moya took some photos at two ECD centers so you can see what happens inside.

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