In the Field

The Freedom of Speech in Guatemala’s Highlands


This is a first-grade class at Patzite, Guatemala’s primary school, where more students stay in school than in other communities in the highlands; only 4 percent of its 150 students drop out before sixth grade. Still, a high school in town has only 60 students.  

By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

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

When ChildFund staff members travel to the field, we often hire translators, even when we have some command of the language being spoken. But in Guatemala’s highlands, I needed two translators: one who could translate Spanish to English, and a second to translate from the local language to Spanish. Often, we asked our local partner organizations to help us out.

Felipe, my Spanish-to-English translator, holds a homemade horse toy at a local home.

Felipe, my Spanish-to-English translator, holds a homemade horse toy at a local home.

It definitely made reporting interesting. A couple of people compared the process to the childhood game of Telephone, which isn’t too far from the truth. Since it was hard to get direct quotes, I relied a lot on skills of observation in Palima, Patzite and Pachichiac, mountain villages that I visited in late April.

Bumpy dirt roads, bright blue tarps draped over mud-brick house frames, the scent of greens cooking on a rustic stove, chickens and dogs running loose, the smell of rain as a storm approached — they all fed my senses. So did the peal of 4-year-old Heidi Karina’s voice as she named colors in her native tongue of Kaqchikel, part of the Mayan family of languages. She’ll learn Spanish in school, but right now, she says räx for green instead of the Spanish verde.

People in these highland villages are isolated from the rest of Guatemala, particularly the capital of Guatemala City and nearby Antigua, where schools, jobs, running water and electricity are far more accessible. Although the highlands are just a couple of hours away from the cities by car, a lack of reliable transportation and job opportunities keeps many families in poverty.

Heidi Karina, 4.

Heidi Karina, 4.

As does the language barrier. Children learn Spanish in school, but most in the highlands don’t attend past sixth grade. How many of you reading this story took high school Spanish or French? And how much of it do you remember?

Anyone hoping for a professional job in Guatemala needs to be fluent in Spanish, and I overheard one person in our party advising a young woman that she also should study English to improve her chances for a job as a social worker. Such advice seems unreachable for people who stop school in the third grade, take up farming or weaving, marry in their teens and have six or seven children to care for. Hopes may be somewhat higher for the children, but few of them progress to high school even now.

A state-maintained highway runs near the district of Quiché, which gives people there an advantage over other communities like Pachichiac, which is far from any main roads. José Mario Lopez Ixcoy, general director of ChildFund’s local partner in Quiché, says that most people there speak some Spanish, at least enough to take menial jobs in cities, although, he adds, “sometimes they feel discriminated against in the city because of their customs.” People can walk half an hour to a bus stop, where buses come twice in the morning and return from the cities twice in the afternoon. School, health care and jobs are easier to reach, as a result.

The people in Guatemala’s highlands will need many things to happen to make school more accessible: better roads, regular transportation, funding for school uniforms and other necessities.

And, according to Aura Maria, a guide mother who lives in Pachichiac, the communities also need more job opportunities, reliable electricity and financial assistance for education and health care.

I learned how to say “thank you” in Quiché, another Mayan language: Maltiox, pronounced mal-tee-osh. It took a fair amount of practice, and although I got comfortable with saying it during the visit, the word is already starting to fade from my memory a month later.

Let’s not let the same happen with children who depend on us to think of their futures.

A boy outside his classroom at Patzite's grammar school.

A boy outside his classroom at Patzite’s grammar school.


Eat the Bun First!

Sri Lanka new year

ChildFund Sri Lanka sent us this picture from the Sinhalese/Tamil New Year’s Day celebration, held in April. To celebrate, our local partner organization Abhimana in Dambulla, a town in central Sri Lanka, held a party. Here, you see children with their hands behind their backs trying to be the first one to eat a whole bun. The first to finish wins a prize!

Indian Students Ignite Their Imaginations

books, my friends

Children in Kotra, India, receive books and reading bags as part of ChildFund India’s Books, My Friends program. Photo by Jake Lyell.

By Rashmi Kulkarni, ChildFund India

Last December, ChildFund India launched a nationwide campaign called Books, My Friends to provide bags full of age-appropriate books for 115,000 children ages 6 to 14 across India. The goal of the project is to make reading fun for children while helping them improve their reading, comprehension and learning abilities. We hope to create a love of reading that continues through adulthood.

In India, we work with children who live in rural villages and urban slums, and lack of education is a big concern everywhere. Many children living in poverty can’t read at grade level and often don’t have access to books at home. In rural communities, children are often limited to textbooks printed on poor-quality paper. Many parents are barely literate, so a culture of reading has not yet taken hold. Without strong reading comprehension, children can’t excel in school.

To address this situation, ChildFund India started the Reading Improvement Program, our flagship education initiative, and the Books, My Friends campaign, which encourages students to read for pleasure.


Shreelakshmi, reading.

Shreelakshmi, a seventh-grader from the southwestern state of Karnataka, received a reading bag in December during the launch of Books, My Friends. She had a chance to meet Anil Kumble, a world-renowned cricket captain and major sports celebrity in India.

Shreelakshmi recalls the meeting fondly: “The experience of receiving books from Anil Kumble is still fresh in my mind. He and the ChildFund team spoke with us freely and inspired us to read more books. I am very grateful to ChildFund for giving me this opportunity,” she says, a smile spreading across her face.

Shreelakshmi received 17 books, and she’s already read many of them. Her favorite was Kadhakalu Maha Nagara, about a girl who had no one to read a story to her. Finally, she finds one person who starts telling stories to her daily. Slowly, other children start joining her to listen.

“I, too, like stories, and my brother also sometimes reads them to me,” Shreelakshmi says.

Since most of her neighborhood friends also have received reading bags, they enjoy reading and discussing books together.

Parents say it’s great for their children to have something constructive to do with their time, and Shreelakshmi’s teacher adds that the habit of reading appears to be taking hold, just a few months into the project.

Watch this space for another story soon about Books, My Friends and the Reading Improvement Program. 

Drawing a Line on Violence and Alcohol Abuse

Video by ChildFund Bolivia

In La Paz, Bolivia, members of the Avance Comunitario Youth Club are talking about alcohol abuse and gang violence, two serious problems in their community. In the video, one girl points to bushes where gang members hide from police lights. If you were to draw a map of your neighborhood, the way these teens did, what kinds of dangers would you draw? By creating awareness of community issues, the members of the youth club — one of several supported by ChildFund and our local partner organizations in Bolivia — are leading the way toward solutions.

The Water Story of a District in Uganda

Photos and captions by Sharon Ishimwe, ChildFund Uganda

In the Kyankwanzi District of central Uganda, clean water is now available — in some places. The pictures here show the stark differences between villages with boreholes, water tanks, tip-taps and purifiers, and those that lack these resources. ChildFund Uganda, in partnership with corporate donor Procter & Gamble and local partner organization Community Effort for Child Empowerment, has worked to provide families with access to clean water. Those affected by HIV and AIDS are in the most need. Without fresh water in or near their homes, people are at greater risk of contracting waterborne diseases and are forced to walk great distances to bring home water.

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“We Live for Our Children”: Creating Opportunity in Ethiopia

Ethiopia livelihood program

Adanech, with her 2-year-old son, Yohannes, is making a living by selling handmade textiles.

By Julien Anseau, Global Communications Manager

Adanech has never lacked ambition — just opportunity. Before ChildFund started working in her community, her family, like many others, scraped every day to make ends meet. Today, the Ethiopian mother owns a business, employs five people and is looking to grow her enterprise further. “More importantly, my children are healthy and in school,” she says.

Adanech first learned of ChildFund’s Yekokeb Berhan program a little over a year ago and signed up for training in business development and micro-enterprise. “Before, we had no money,” she says. “It was a real struggle to make just enough money to live. I had a small weaving business, and I wanted to learn how to make a success of it.” She became involved in a savings group and was able to access a small loan on favorable terms.

The PEPFAR/USAID-funded Yekokeb Berhan program has worked in Ethiopia since May 2011 to put in place a child-focused social welfare network that allows all children, including the most vulnerable, to thrive. Focusing on HIV-affected communities, Yekokeb Berhan aims to reach 500,000 highly vulnerable children throughout the country and is a collaboration among Pact, Family Health International (FHI360) and ChildFund International, along with many local partner organizations.

Adanech took out a loan of 10,000 Birr (USD $500) to get started and has not looked back since. Now, after household expenses such as rent and food, staff wages and loan repayments, Adanech and her husband, Meteke, still have 3,000 Birr (USD $150) at the end of the month that they can save or invest in the business.

“Life is so much better now,” says Meteke. “We live for our children. We can send them to school. And they are healthy.” He adds, proudly, that their 9-year-old daughter, Bizuayhue, dreams of becoming a doctor and helping the family, and that 2-year-old Yohannes is “happy running around for now.”

Adanech’s community of Zenebework is one of the poorest in Addis Ababa. Most residents are migrants from poor rural areas, attracted to Ethiopia’s rapidly growing capital city by better job prospects. The city dump is nearby, and families scavenge for food and anything they can resell. The HIV infection rate is among the highest in the country, and a high proportion of children grow up in broken homes.

Yet Adanech is upbeat: “Life is also changing in the community. Life can change if you are given the opportunity. People here have never been scared of hard work. From the moment they wake to the moment they sleep, people here are working. They just need the opportunity to work smarter.”

 Zenebework, Addis Ababa

“People here have never been scared of hard work. From the moment they wake to the moment they sleep, people here are working. They just need the opportunity to work smarter.”

At 28, Adanech is full of ambition. “I am looking to hire five more employees and buy a singeing machine to make more elaborate patterns on my fabrics, which I would then sell at a higher profit. The machine costs 10,500 Birr [USD $510], which is a lot.” For now, she sells her textiles at the local market, but she aspires to sell to merchants at Merkato, Africa’s largest open-air market, and in Bole, an upscale area in Addis Ababa.

“Sometimes, all people need is an opportunity,” says Meteke, 31. “Before, we did not have the money to grow our business. No one would give us a loan other than loan sharks, who asked for 100 percent interest. Now our loan repayment, including interest, is 450 Birr [USD $22] every month, which is manageable.”

Yekokeb Berhan’s livelihood support is important, says Abraham, a program officer for ChildFund’s local partner called Love for Children and Family Development Charitable Organization, which implements the program. “Giving families opportunities to earn a decent living is the most sustainable approach to helping them meet the needs of their children.”

He adds, “Ethiopia is seeing rapid economic growth, which is great. But with growth comes increasing inequality. I am proud of being part of this program, because I can see the changes in the lives of children who would otherwise have been left behind.”

Washing the Germs Away

In La Paz, Bolivia, children are learning how to wash their hands thoroughly, as you can see in this video from the field. On March 22, we celebrated World Water Day, which highlights water’s important role in health, sanitation, agriculture, industry and education. When clean water is hard or impossible to access — as it is for 748 million people worldwide, according to the United Nations — the most vulnerable among us, including infants and children, tend to get sick and lose time at school, become malnourished and even die from preventable diseases. Making water available in communities and showing families how to protect themselves from diseases are two of ChildFund’s most important goals. Learn more about how you can help.

A Mother’s Letter of Love

antonio 2

Antonio and his mother, who is reading a letter she wrote to him while she was pregnant.

By Nicole Duciaume, Americas Region Sponsorship Manager

A highlight of any trip to the field is the opportunity to cuddle and smile at chubby-cheeked babies. It always renews and refocuses ChildFund staff members from all over the world. There are few things more life-affirming than the innocence and love that spring forth in an infant’s gurgles and giggles.

But the sobering reality in rural Cochabamba, Bolivia, which a ChildFund team recently visited, is that both infant and maternal mortality rates are high. Many mothers never get to hold their babies in their arms, and some even lose their own lives, leaving their other children orphaned.

Yet there are signs of hope in Bolivia. In response to the high rates of infant and maternal mortality, the national government offers mothers small stipends to attend monthly prenatal appointments, screenings and checkups. They also offer incentives for giving birth in government treatment centers with trained health care providers.

ChildFund’s role in this effort is to offer prenatal appointments and tracking through our local partner organizations at zero cost to mothers. But, more than just checking the physical development of the babies and the vital statistics of the mothers, we also support the mother’s attachment to the baby within her — an emotional bond that, the doctor there explained, is as important as physical development.

Nicolas and his mother.

Nicolas and his mother.

That’s where a mother’s letter to her unborn child enters the picture, expressing her love, hopes, concerns and excitement in an early-pregnancy activity that ChildFund supports. Later, using life-sized dolls, mothers practice breastfeeding positions, diaper changing and infant massage. Often, they open up about other concerns in their lives.

During our visit, we met two babies born to mothers who had gone through ChildFund’s prenatal program. Nicolas is 4 months old, and Antonio is 18 months. Their mothers shared the letters they had written so many months earlier.

A letter to Nicolas: Dear son, I anxiously await you as my third child, even though I am afraid of the moment when I will give you life. But don’t worry. I will give you everything of me so that everything will be OK, my little love, and I will meet you with all of the same excitement as your older brothers. I only ask the almighty God that you are healthy and strong, because you are the light in our lives and we are all very happy to have you, my baby. Come and fill our home with love. More than anything, your dad will jump for joy when he sees you and has you in his arms.

A letter to Antonio: With much love for the baby that I am anxiously waiting to arrive, so I can know you in person and feel your little body. I hope it will be a great moment when I have you in my arms because I will fill you with kisses.

Learning About Life in Guatemala’s Mountains

A Guatemalan family
A Guatemalan family in their home.

By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer, with photos by Carlos Gonzalez, ChildFund Guatemala

Last month, ChildFund’s Board of Directors and members of our executive team traveled to Guatemala, where they spent time in the field visiting ChildFund-supported projects and sponsored children, many of whom live in tiny homes carved into the sides of steep mountains.

“It’s part of the journey, finding out how everybody lives,” said Scott Lemler, ChildFund’s vice president of information technology. “They literally are farming on the side of a mountain.”

Scott joined other members of ChildFund’s executive team this week to report back on the trip to Guatemala at our International Office in Richmond, Va., for a Lunch & Learn session. Every couple of years, the board travels to a different country to see our work firsthand. Some of the most interesting stories this time came from the group’s visits to youth projects, which promote job training, entrepreneurship and an understanding of their rights.

Jim Tuite, vice president of finance and operations/CFO, met Alfonso, who is attending school and supporting his five younger siblings by making and selling doughnuts. Alfonso, whom Jim called the “Doughnut King,” is part of the ChildFund-supported My Chance program, which helps youth — many of whom have recently graduated from high school — create business plans and build their skills to run successful enterprises.

“One girl sells handicrafts,” Jim said. “One guy was developing modern Guatemalan linens for women.” Still others have started a bakery, an organic taco stand and an imported skin cream business. Many of the families the team met rely on multiple jobs to make a livelihood, much as economists encourage investors to diversify their portfolios, Jim noted. That way, if one income stream ends, a family has a backup source of money.

Cheri Dahl, interim vice president of global philanthropy and communications, met Alex, a young man who has been sponsored since 2003. He’s also a participant in My Chance, and he sells traditional medicinal herbs, a hot commodity in the region, where it’s difficult to get health care. Along with Cheri were board members who work in marketing and lead businesses in the United States, and one asked if Alex had a printed business plan.

“He brought out a business plan that would rival anything any of us have ever done,” Cheri told the Lunch & Learn group. Aside from his herbal business, Alex teaches middle school and is getting ready to attend college.

ChildFund President & CEO Anne Goddard noted that despite the successes the group saw in Guatemala, extreme poverty still keeps many people from achieving their full potential and provides a powerful reason to emigrate, a risky proposition. In October 2014, about 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product came from immigrants sending money home, often from the United States.

“The immigrant is somebody who is admired,” Anne said; she even saw a statue honoring immigrants during the trip. Aside from financial issues, violence in the home and streets is a major reason many Guatemalans wish to leave the country, she added.

Despite such challenges, the Guatemalans who met the board members and executives often expressed pride in their communities and wished to make life better there. A mother of three children, two of whom are sponsored through ChildFund, asked Cheri to deliver a message to our U.S. audience: “Can you get more sponsors?”

Learn more about Guatemala, and consider sponsoring a child there.

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Indian Cricket Captain Makes a Pitch for Reading

India book bagsChildren in Karnataka, India, receive book bags from ChildFund filled with age-appropriate — and fun — books to encourage reading for enjoyment. Photo by Jake Lyell.

Reporting by ChildFund India

Last month, former Indian cricket team captain Anil Kumble helped launch a reading campaign with ChildFund India, presenting tote bags filled with books to children in Karnataka, a state in southwestern India. Each bag contained books appropriate for different ages, from 6 to 14, and the program aims to provide books to nearly 115,000 underserved students in 14 Indian states this year, with more to come in the next three years. ChildFund India also has plans to set up 30 community libraries throughout the country.

“If you want to get more knowledge, it is important to read books,” Kumble said. “A culture of reading picked up at this age will continue forever.” The campaign focuses on providing access to literature, creating a supportive environment and removing barriers to reading. To address poor electricity in rural areas, families will receive solar-powered lamps with chargers that can also be used for cell phones and flashlights.

By giving children the opportunity to own books other than school textbooks, it is hoped the “Books, My Friends” program will inspire them to become lifelong readers for fun and enjoyment.

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