By Kate Nare, ChildFund Marketing Specialist
“Please, don’t forget about us. Please, go back and tell the world about us here in Carchi.”
As I reflect on my recent trip to Ecuador with ChildFund, these words cycle in my mind. Spoken through tears with conviction and emotion, each mother we met pleaded with us to share their stories with the rest of the world. So, here goes.
The sun was barely rising on a Tuesday morning when our group set out in a bus from Ecuador’s capital, Quito, to visit communities in Carchi. This region of Ecuador borders Columbia, and ChildFund has been helping communities here since 1984.
We had been preparing for this trip for months, knowing that we would meet the mothers and children whose lives are being transformed through ChildFund’s Early Childhood Development program (ECD), which strives to holistically help children ages 0-5 to ensure they reach their full potential.
Surrounding us throughout our drive were crisp blue skies and undulating bright green mountains, speckled with colorful houses. When we think of poverty it’s easy to envision urban slums fraught with trash heaps and filthy alleyways. The view here was much different. It’s easy to think, “It’s beautiful! I could live here!” But I quickly learned that the beauty of the land masks the underlying poverty, discrimination, lack of opportunities and exclusion that the people who have lived here for centuries continue to face.
This fact became apparent as soon as we met Monica.
After four hours of jostling along bumpy dirt roads, steadily climbing up steep mountain sides, we came to a sudden halt. We were instructed by Mauricio, our guide and a ChildFund Ecuador staff member, that we would be visiting a home in the community.
We walked down a dirt path and were greeted by Monica and her 4-year-old son, Daniel. Fields of corn and wild flowers skirted her property. A scruffy stray dog rubbed against my leg, eager for a pet. Monica led us to her home, which had a corrugated tin roof, cinderblock walls and three rooms. We followed her into the living room and took seats in a semi-circle, eager to hear her story.
Monica is 41 and has four children, ages 18, 11, 6 and 4. She told us how her husband abandoned her and left her to care for the children on her own. Every day she works in the fields to make a living for her family and her father, whom she takes care of as well. As Monica shared these details, her voice broke and she began to cry. She said there were times in the past when she would come home from a long day, stressed and tired, and she would take this out on her children by beating them. The youngest, Daniel, whom she holds affectionately in her lap as she talks, became fearful and withdrawn at that time.
Recognizing that she needed support, Monica signed up when she heard that ChildFund, in partnership with a local partner, was training mothers in the ECD program. Soon Monica was attending meetings and learning the full benefits of ECD: a caring and loving household, proper nutrition and health care and stimulation and learning opportunities for young children. She came to realize how the abuse she inflicted on her children was harmful to their healthy development. After going through a 10-month training program, Monica became a certified trainer, known as a “Mamita.”
Hugging Daniel even tighter, Monica said she wants to use her experience to teach and support other mothers in the community so their children will be able to grow up healthy and empowered. In these excluded communities where ChildFund works, 18 percent of women are married by the age of 15. Forty-percent of women are married by 18 years old.
She shared how she wants to pursue her dream of finishing high school and becoming a teacher. And she smiled as she shared that Daniel is now playful, cheerful and likes to go to school. “All is worthwhile for the happiness and welfare of my children,” she said.
We met many other Mamitas during our trip. Strong, empowered and dignified, they are each creating a ripple effect in their communities as they train other mothers to love and care for their children. Yes, they still face daily struggles. But their efforts on behalf of their children will bring more opportunities for
the community as a whole as their children grow up healthy, educated, and full of ideas to improve their lives. Monica and the 1,200 other Mamitas in Carchi are living proof of this transformation.
I now have a picture of Monica on my desk to remind me of her story, and why we do what we do here at ChildFund. I will never forget the Mamitas I met in Ecuador who are committed to a better future for their children.
By Rosa Figueroa, ChildFund Guatemala
As we prepare to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, we’re spotlighting some of the amazing girls and women we’ve encountered in ChildFund-supported communities. We honor their struggles and cheer their successes.
Julia, a mother of four with a third-grade education, cooks with firewood and lives in a three-room home. Her family subsides on her husband’s $6-a-day salary as a farmer. Despite these challenges, Julia has become a community leader through ChildFund Guatemala’s Play With Me project.
The program focuses on early childhood development and involving parents more fully in the care of their children.
“My daughter Cristel is a very active and proactive child in school,” says Julia, who lives in the region of Baja Verapaz. “I practiced early stimulation techniques. When she started going to school, it was easy for her because she is smart; her teacher congratulated me. My daughter is successful because I am a guide mother. Four years ago, I started participating in the ChildFund project. Every day, I wake up early to get my chores done at home and wait for children and their mothers here in my house. I like it because my children help me.”
As one of 10 local guide mothers, Julia teaches parents games, exercises and songs to practice with their children that will help them develop socially, physically and mentally. Other sessions focus on prenatal care, breastfeeding and preventing illness. In 2012, parents of more than 2,700 children were involved in the program, which also focuses on children’s rights.
“This project changed my life, because now I can serve my community more, and also because this is a good example for our children,” Julia says. “When they begin going to school, they look more interested. Here in the community, mothers participate because they know that this is a ChildFund project. They like it so much.”
By Saroj Pattnaik, ChildFund India
Pavithra is just 9 years old. She is considered old enough to take care of her 3-year-old sister and 5-year-old brother. But her responsibilities at home in Chennai, India, kept her from attending school regularly for the past two years.
As a result, she was behind a grade level. Pavithra even had trouble with the Tamil alphabet. Writing sentences and doing basic math — tasks that were hard for her — fueled her dislike of school.
Things started to turn around for Pavithra after a new teacher who received training from ChildFund started working with her and other delayed learners more than two hours a day.
“I first approached Pavithra’s parents not to force her to take care of her siblings,” says Krishnaveni, her teacher. “Finally we managed to convince her parents, who agreed to send the younger daughter to an Early Childhood Development center and the other children to school regularly.”
“As part of our special quality improvement program, we used activity-based methods to develop Pavithra’s interest in studies. Slowly she started catching up, and now she is at par with other children,” adds Sham Begum, junior headmistress of the school.
“Earlier, I was afraid of coming to school, as I was not able to say anything when teachers were asking questions,” Pavithra says. “Now, I can answer everything. I have now many friends here, and I don’t want to miss school one single day.”
Started in 2011, ChildFund India’s Enhanced Education Quality Improvement Program (EQuIP) reaches more than 10,000 children in 100 primary and middle schools in parts of Chennai, the capital of the southwestern state of Tamil Nadu.
Besides providing infrastructure and other essential learning equipment, this program specially focuses on helping children who are delayed learners.
The project has four goals:
• improving the physical environment to make it more conducive to learning
• promoting a participatory learning environment
• increasing community involvement
• creating awareness of education’s importance among all stakeholders.
Nine-year-old Vinodini had many of the same challenges as Pavithra. Although her parents never forced her to work at home, the family often migrated to other places in search of work, so she fell behind in her education.
She has some knowledge of the Tamil alphabet but was very poor in mathematics. But within months of Krishnaveni’s arrival at the school, Vinodini was able to read, write and comprehend concepts effectively. Now she is one of the top students in her class.
“I was in class four, but my teachers were saying I was no better than a class-one student. But now I can read, write and even remember rhymes easily. My father is very happy for me now,” Vinodini says.
“We had no hope that our daughter would be able to study as her level of understanding was very poor,” says her father, Ravi, a construction worker. “Now I am very happy that she has improved a lot, and all credits go to the new teacher.”
According to Krishnaveni, there were 19 children who were behind pace in their learning when she came to the school in June 2012. Within six months, 10 of them had caught up with their peers. “We are now working hard on the rest, and we believe they will also be up to speed very soon,” she adds.
Only about 1 in 5 children in Indonesia have access to a pre-primary education program. In the remote highlands of Central Java, ChildFund is working hand in hand with communities to refurbish Early Childhood Development centers and also train teachers and parents to nourish children in their critical early years of development.
By Saroj Kumar Pattnaik, ChildFund India
For Manju Sharma, 37, life once was structured around taking care of her two children and doing daily household chores. Until a few years ago, she had little idea of the world outside her home in the Firozabad district in northern India. But since she began working at an Early Childhood Development (ECD) center supported by ChildFund India, her definition of life has changed. Now she is a self-assured and respected woman in her community.
Initially, Manju was nervous about accepting a job outside the home. Staying away from her children and husband for more than six hours a day was a challenge, but she accepted an offer to work with the ECD program in 2007 because of her passion for helping children living in poverty.
“It was not a very smooth start for me, but my affection for small kids helped to overcome my fears gradually,” Manju recalls. “Soon I was able to strike a chord among the children, and they started loving my presence.”
Manju received basic training on maintaining good hygiene among the center’s 35 children ages 2 to 5.
“I also took training on how to monitor growth of the children attending the ECD center,” she explains. “Now, I am fully aware about the issue of malnutrition and often lead educational sessions for mothers, giving them tips about how they can take proper care of their children’s health.”
She adds, “People now know me as Manju Didi [sister], and I love the respect they shower on me.”
For 26-year-old Avdhesh Jadaun, a teacher at an ECD center in the nearby Andand Nagar locality, teaching was a passion she had held since childhood.
Avdhesh, who has a master’s degree in psychology, has a desire to see all children in her locality receive an education and grow up to be self-sufficient young adults — a goal that ChildFund also wishes to achieve.
“Since my school days, I wanted to work for poor children, especially helping them complete their basic education. Now, ChildFund gave me the opportunity to fulfill my dream, and I am very happy,” Avdhesh says.
ChildFund India’s local program manager Bikrant Mishra says, “Avdhesh and Manju are two of our most committed staffers who not only take care of the ECD centers but also actively participate in our maternal and child health-related activities.”
ChildFund currently runs nine ECD centers in Firozabad. More than 600 children up to age 5 are cared for in these centers. Mothers and pregnant women are also given important training on pre- and postnatal health care that includes immunization, breastfeeding, nutritional food intake and regular check-ups.
“And these teachers often act as health workers in their own capacities and help us deliver better service among the communities,” Mishra adds.
Although Manju and Avdhesh are paid modest salaries for their hard work, they are satisfied when they see the children play, sing and dance happily around them.
“The children are so sincere; often their gratitude is enough,” Avdhesh explains.
Manju says, “The satisfaction I draw from working with these innocent children is incomparable. It’s priceless.”
By Martin Nanawa, ChildFund Philippines
In this small agricultural village in Eastern Luzon, children below schooling age don’t own closed-toe shoes. In many low-income communities across the Philippines, pragmatism leads children to wear flip-flops, which are relatively inexpensive and remarkably durable. Even when their parents can afford a pair of shoes, children still go about their casual business in flip-flops, preserving their shoes for school, church or other formal occasions.
Many young people in this village, much like other parts of the country, will own their first pair of shoes only when they begin school, where shoes are part of the uniform.
Nonetheless, on the porch of a small home in this village, children younger than 5 learn to tie their shoes long before they ever own any. These children attend a home-based Early Childhood Development (ECD) program ChildFund supports in areas unreached by government day care centers. Home-based ECD sites like this are known as Supervised Neighborhood Play (SNP) centers, staffed by local volunteers. They are not professional day care workers or educators, but ChildFund trains them to be effective and innovative.
Innovate is just what Mabeth did. The SNP volunteer started with rolls of colored paper, felt markers and all the creativity she could pool together to make her front porch a learning environment for children. She hung paper cut-outs illustrating animals and objects that correspond to letters in the alphabet. In place of printed charts describing parts of the body, Mabeth’s front porch has hand-drawn illustrations. Mobiles hang from the ceiling describing different emotions children experience, such as happy, sad, and scared.
One cardboard box stores all the children’s shoes — shoes made from paper. They have a double-layer of colored paper for a sole and a loop of paper on top. Colored string is used for laces. “Poor children [in this neighborhood] often don’t have shoes, and I feel it’s important they learn to tie their laces like other children do,” Mabeth says.
Children at this SNP site may not yet own closed-toe shoes, but the innovation of ChildFund volunteers helps make sure they have many opportunities for development early in their childhood.
By Melissa Bonotto, ChildFund Ireland
Machava, a 32-year-old community leader, has been working with children for 10 years. He first started talking with village children under a tree close to his house. Then, ChildFund Mozambique built a resource center close by in 2009, and Machava had the chance to use it for his daily meeting with pupils. He also teaches adult education and is a student himself. He had to stop his studies during the Mozambican Civil War, but he is delighted to tell us that he managed to go back to school. He will complete the final year in secondary school next year.
As part of the Communities Caring for Children Programme (CCCP) launched last week by ChildFund Ireland and ChildFund Mozambique, this resource center has been adapted to become an early childhood development center. Flush toilets and basins with running water have been installed at children’s level and the center has been made more child-friendly. Zaza, a talented local artist painted colorful and animated pictures on the walls. A small playground is in the works, as is training for center facilitators.
Machava remembers the time he didn’t have any of this. “Children used to sit on the ground. We didn’t have a blackboard or chalk. Also, they were exposed to bad people. Now they are safe and secure in the center.” He teaches subjects such as Portuguese and math, but he acknowledges that the children´s favorite activities are dancing and singing.
Currently, 85 children are enrolled: 50 girls and 35 boys, age 3 to 6 years old. Children stay in the resource centre from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Parents who can afford it make a monthly contribution of 10 meticais (less than 35 cents in U.S. currency). Those who are enrolled in ChildFund’s sponsorship program receive a school bag containing a notebook, two pencils and a sharpener.
When we went to the center, we brought some toys, games, books and activities to share with the children. The children were fascinated with bubbles, Irish stickers and pop-up books. We had the chance to tell a story and we also listened to stories told by the children. Maria, a young girl, told a story about “a boy who was friends with a monkey. One day the boy said he wanted to steal something, but the monkey said he should not do it because it was not nice!”
We watched them singing and dancing enthusiastically and animatedly. Just as Machava said, they love it!
Through the CCCP program, ChildFund seeks three primary outcomes for children:
• improve the quality of the services related to ECD
• strengthen community structures
• develop a culture of learning.
Four additional ECD centers are planned in Gondola before 2015, funded by ChildFund and Irish Aid.
By Patricia Toquica, Americas Region Communications Manager
In the cold mountains of Ecuador, a group of young preschoolers eagerly await another visitor to their Child Center for Good Living (Centro Infantil del Buen Vivir) in the remote town of Santa Rosa in Tungurahua province.
The children have grown used to guests, as government officials regularly cite this center as a successful model for early child development programs. The center was specially designed with children’s welfare in mind and built and managed as a joint effort by the government, the local community and ChildFund.
The Child Centers for Good Living are part of Ecuador’s National Plan of Good Living (Plan Nacional del Buen Vivir), a policy to recognize child development as an integral child right. By 2015, Ecuador aims to enroll 75 percent of its children in child development programs.
In Santa Rosa, the previous child development center was in bad condition, in terms of infrastructure and services. The community signed an agreement with the provincial branch of the Ministry of Social and Economic Inclusion (Ministerio de Inclusión Social y Económica-MIES) and ChildFund Ecuador to together build and administer a new center under the highest standards of quality and efficiency.
“We built this center up from the very first stone to the very last nail,” says Blanca Chiza, coordinator of Cactu—ChildFund’s local partner organization. The local community association contributed the land and the labor; the government and ChildFund provided financial and technical assistance, equipment and trained staff to run the center.
Currently, 26 children (newborns to age 5) now learn, rest, eat and play in a well-equipped center. “The community is thankful, as the facilities we had before were in terrible condition,” says Viviana Vargas, center coordinator. “The mothers of our town can now work, having the peace of mind that their children are well taken care of.”
The center has rest areas where toddlers can take their naps; bathrooms with basins and toilets made to their size; rooms for music, playing, and exploring, as well as a fully equipped cafeteria.
“The key to our success is the model where we teachers work together with parents, communities, government and ChildFund,” says Viviana. “At the ECD center, we meet our neighbors; we help and support each other.”