Programs

A Brief Encounter Leaves a Powerful Memory

By Federico Diaz-Albertini, ChildFund Americas Regional Program Manager

Editor’s note: As part of a training workshop, ChildFund staff members recalled a time in the lives when they made a deep connection with international development work, whether with ChildFund or another organization. Freddy kindly agreed to share his story.

It was another day in the life of an NGO worker, but this one started a little earlier than usual. The plan on this particular day was to visit rural Peruvian communities where we were in the earliest stages of starting work.

Honduras school

Freddy spends time with children at a ChildFund-supported school in Honduras.

I did not expect anything really surprising to happen during the course of the visit, since I was relatively familiar with the area and its population. We had a good preliminary assessment focused on supporting the community’s development efforts with the children. The car ride took us quickly from the paved streets of the city to the bumpy, unmaintained dirt roads of the countryside. As we climbed higher, I was once again impressed by the natural beauty of this rural area and dreamed about the potential of the region’s agricultural lands.

Of course, every one of the hundreds of bumps along the road tried to convince me that it was really more rational to be back in the city conducting a workshop that brought participants to a central location. Regardless, on we went, and the conversation with my colleagues was lively and motivational as we discussed the prospects of working in a new area that had experienced extreme levels of marginalization for as long as anyone could remember. It certainly coincided with our ideas of populations entrenched in an unending generational cycle of poverty.

Cesar, an experienced field manager, was quick to emphasize, however, that in spite of the scant support these populations had received through the years, “their sense of caring for the future had brought them progress in education and health.” That certainly made me think that a sense of independence and empowerment are always good for spurring determination and achievements.

The excitement level was quite high as we reached our destination and looked for the community leaders, who usually only believed outsiders were serious about a visit when you actually arrived. As usual, we sat patiently and waited for the community members to work their way to the small community center that they had built many years ago with their own labor and financial resources.

While waiting, a couple of us decided to walk around a little and greet the villagers. Outside one small house made of quincha, a mixture of mud and wood, there was a mother and daughter. The girl must have been about 4 or 5 years old and reminded me very much of my daughter, who was about the same age. She was rosy-cheeked, as is common in those windswept areas of the Andean region, and her hair was light colored. Whether the color of her hair was the product of malnutrition or just her natural color, we could not tell. In any case, she definitely caught our eye and took center stage during our visit.

As we stopped to talk to the mother, the little girl turned our attention her way with a song and by telling us her name, favorite games and family. She whispered to us about her older sister “who was always helping her mother around the home, while keeping her away from doing mischief.” She then spontaneously broke into a lively chorus of El pollito dice pio pio pio… .

The vibrancy of her movements and the spirit of her voice told us that we were in the presence of an extremely resilient human being whose potential was boundless. She captivated us in all sense of the word. It was a brief moment in physical time, but it left a lingering memory to contemplate for the rest of my life.

That little girl, whose name I don’t remember and to whose place I have not returned, awakened a dilemma in me with regard to life’s journey and the circumstances we experience along the way. Was she going to be able to build on her great joy for life, strength of character and intelligence, or would life in a rural, impoverished community slowly dampen the brilliance that we witnessed in her?

Since then my constant companion has been a vision in which all children are provided with equal opportunities on their walk through life, thus giving them the chance to help remake a world into one in which all girls and boys can thrive.

Good Food Doesn’t Have to Cost Much

By Martin Nanawa, ChildFund Philippines

Rosemary was sure she knew how to raise her children in a healthy way. She knew to feed them good food, and she knew to work hard so she could feed her five children well. When she could afford it, she would put meat on the table. “Rich children have meat all the time, and none of them are malnourished,” she believed.

Rosemary's family

Rosemary and her children.

Like many mothers in the Philippines, Rosemary thought expensive food was nutritious for her children. That’s why, as a washerwoman, she would accept as many wash loads as she could. But hand-washing laundry from neighbors in a largely low-income community doesn’t yield Rosemary much profit, and often, she found herself barely able to put food on the table, much less the variety that she believed was good for her children.

ChildFund established a “Supervised Neighborhood Play” (SNP) site in her community in 2011, which taught community members about early childhood development — emphasizing nutrition, activities and parenting methods that help infants and toddlers develop healthy cognitive, emotional, social and physical skills. In Rosemary’s village, her sister’s front porch was the SNP center. She did not need much convincing to enroll her youngest three children.

But her excitement about this opportunity soon turned to shock when she learned that her children were malnourished. All three were underweight, Rosemary discovered at a weight and growth monitoring session.

children eating

Today, Rosemary’s children eat nutritious meals.

But Rosemary’s anxious questions were answered by the SNP volunteers, who were trained by ChildFund. She learned that she didn’t need to attempt to feed her children food that she couldn’t afford. In fact, the most nutritious food she could give her children was relatively inexpensive and widely available: moringa leaves, okra, squash, water spinach and string beans. These vegetables easily grow in the Philippines and are the prime ingredients or additives in many simple dishes.

Rosemary was thrilled to have this information.

backyard garden

A backyard vegetable garden provides healthy food for the family.

“I was excited to try the nutritious dishes I learned to prepare at SNP parenting sessions,” she says. And instead of buying vegetables at the market, the SNP program helped her start her own backyard vegetable plot by providing her with the seedlings she needed. Meanwhile, her children were also given vitamin supplements to hasten their recovery. Growing her own vegetables helps Rosemary defray food expenses, allowing her to better support her elder two sons in school.

Enrolling her children in home-based ECD services has proved pivotal to Rosemary’s family.

“My children are learning, and staying healthy,” she says. “I’m excited to see them growing taller.”

Making Friendships and Forging Change in Bolivia

By Abraham Marca, ChildFund Bolivia

Tarija youth

Youth from Tarija, who demonstrated the chacarera dance, with ChildFund staffer Ana Vacas.

Youth from five regions of Bolivia met recently for a national conference in La Paz organized by ChildFund, where they tackled some serious topics over three days. For most of the teens, this was their first time in La Paz, a big city with many cultural opportunities.  

The main objective of this meeting was for the youth to share experiences about what they had been doing in their civic-minded local clubs, both what worked well and what needed improvement.

During the three days, the teens participated in a variety of activities ranging from discussing the impact of violence, how to instill peace and talking about ways their voices could be heard in their communities, especially in decision-making processes.

Bolivian youth

The participants wrote their bad feelings on paper, which they put in a blender. Here, they’re making recycled paper out of the shreds.

For Evert, 15, from the rural region of Cochabamba, a highlight was a discussion of violence and discrimination. “This was so interesting that we continued talking about it even during lunch!”

Duveiza, 15, of Santa Cruz, told us, “I enjoyed sharing with youth from different places, sharing opinions. One thing I like is that all of them love sports and not drugs. I realized that violent behavior doesn’t work, and dialogue is the best way.”

Together the participants created a logo that represents all ChildFund-supported youth clubs in Bolivia. It will be used in official documents and other promotional materials at a national level.

Of course, the three days were not all about work. Everyone got to explore the city, see a 3D movie, watch a contemporary dance performance in the national theater and participate in dance classes.

movies in La Paz

Movie night!

For many of the teens, this was their first time doing all of these things.

Best of all, the conference resulted in strong friendships, and of course, they have made plans to meet again.

Happy and Hopeful in Rural Timor-Leste

By Jose Felix and Natasha Cleary, ChildFund Timor-Leste

“I like to come to the center because I want to play and learn. Mostly I like to play,” 5-year-old Roni says of the early childhood development (ECD) center he’s attended for two years in rural Timor-Leste.

Timor-Leste boy

Roni at his ECD center in Timor-Leste.

At Roni’s age, access to appropriate play, stimulation and social interaction is crucial to his lifelong development and success. At home, his favorite activity is playing with his neighbor. He also helps his mother and father with some simple chores. However, the government of Timor-Leste reports that only one in 10 children have access to pre-primary educational services that help ensure they develop socially, mentally and physically.

To address that challenge, ChildFund helped establish the Chauluturo ECD Center in the rural Lautem District, which Roni attends. For seven years, the center has provided a safe and supportive environment,as well as trained teachers and high-quality learning resources. “In the school, I feel good because I have a lot of friends,” says Roni, who wants to be a soldier when he is older.

Chauluturo is a community of about 1,200 people who survive mainly by subsistence farming. It sits about 143 miles from Timor-Leste’s capital, Dili, but the village is a five-hour journey by car from Dili because of poor roads and rugged terrain. Due to its isolation, Chauluturo hasn’t always had the resources to support an ECD center.

Timor-Leste ECD

Roni (center) and his friends at the ECD center.

ChildFund currently supports 76 ECD centers throughout the country, putting more than 3,300 children under the age of 5 on the pathway to reaching their full potential. The ECD program, which began in Timor-Leste in 2006, focuses on building awareness of children’s developmental needs among parents and center coordinators. Many parents from Chauluturo have received training to help them better understand their roles and responsibilities and how they can contribute to a child-friendly learning environment.

“I know this project will help the community, because before, the children didn’t have a center, and they just stayed home,” says the volunteer ECD coordinator, Sonya da Silva Ximenes, who receives ongoing training through ChildFund. “I am happy and hopeful about the current project. I learn a lot from the trainer, and I feel that the project is very good quality.”

Zoila: A Peer Influencer for Good in Guatemala

 By Diana Benitez, ChildFund Guatemala

 The United Nations declared Aug. 12 as International Youth Day in 1999, so ChildFund is taking this week to focus on challenges that especially affect teens and young adults, as well as celebrate young people who are showing strong leadership in the countries we serve. Today we meet Zoila, a youth who shared her story with Diana on our Communications team in Guatemala.

Zoila at home

Zoila does her chores at home in Guatemala.

“Hi, my name is Zoila. I am in the first grade of secondary school, and I’m 15. I am participating in the ChildFund Guatemala project ‘I Love Myself, I Take Care of Myself.’

“It is very important for me to learn about the risks we face as adolescents when we start having relationships, as sometimes we don’t really realize the consequences of what we do.

“Since I started participating in the project, I see a big difference. I like to help young people, especially other girls like me. At the beginning, they didn’t listen to me, but now they are more interested in these topics.

“I advise my sisters and brothers that we have to think to our future. We can do many good things, but sometimes we think of marriage as a first option, but it is not the most important because we are still very young. I am not saying that I will never get married, but it will come at the right time.”

Zoila doing homework

Zoila does her homework.

Zoila is a young girl with a positive attitude, and she’s confident that she will have a bright future. In her community, she plays a very important role, by sharing her knowledge with her peers and also with her family. Community members say that Zoila is a good example.

The “I Love Myself, I Take Care of Myself” project, supported by ChildFund Guatemala, teaches adolescents to be empowered and able to make good decisions about relationships, marriage and parenthood.

Boys Under a Tree

By Rukhsana Ayyub, ChildFund U.S. Programs National Director 

The United Nations declared Aug. 12 as International Youth Day in 1999, so ChildFund is taking this week to focus on challenges that especially affect teens and young adults, as well as celebrate young people who are showing strong leadership in the countries we serve.

shade treeI am driving through some of the most rural and dilapidated towns in Mississippi. There are hardly any cars on the road; the few towns we pass by seem deserted, almost like ghost towns. This is the delta region, with child poverty rates above 50 percent among the African-American population. I spot a group of young men standing under a tree. My guide waves his hand and declares they’re “up to no good.” These young men are seen as troublemakers, getting high on drugs, getting young girls pregnant and getting into fights.

My mind flashes back to my own childhood in Pakistan. During long and hot summer afternoons, the only way we could stay outside was to go hang out under a tree. The tree provided shade, some breeze and a trunk to lean against. We would hang on the tree branches or simply sit and talk, moving slowly as the shade of the tree shifted directions with the setting sun.

“Rukhsana!” I can almost hear my mom calling me now. “Come inside, it’s time to eat.” That is how my playtime under the tree would usually end. I would kick a few rocks to show my annoyance at my mother’s call, but I would walk back home.

I wonder who is going to call these boys inside. Is there a mother waiting, a sister, a grandma, a father or someone else keeping the light on for them? Is there a plate of hot food and a warm embrace waiting, or is it a policeman waiting around the corner to arrest them? That’s what my guide tells me, that these boys are more likely to go to prison than to college. He goes on to describe for me this “pipeline to prison,” an unfortunately popular phrase used to describe this flow of youth into the Mississippi prison system.

My heart fills with sadness. When and how did the shade of the tree lose the safety, fun and comfort attached to it? Boys and young men are cherished in so many cultures around the world, considered the pride of their families, the name carriers for their tribes and the masters of their homes. Why have we given up on them here in Mississippi?

I want to call out to them to come in. I want to open a door for them.

A Mexican Youth: ‘ChildFund Is My Family’

By Gabriela Ramirez Hernandez, ChildFund Mexico

The United Nations declared Aug. 12 as International Youth Day in 1999, so ChildFund is taking this week to focus on challenges that especially affect teens and young adults, as well as celebrate young people who are showing strong leadership in the countries we serve.

Chucho started life with many challenges, growing up in an impoverished community in Michoacan, Mexico. His father died when he was only 2, and his mother passed away from cancer when he was 11. Fortunately, his aunt took him in and he also became more engaged with ChildFund programs. 

Today, Chucho, whose given name is Jesús, is 21 years old. He is a dance instructor, gives workshops on environmental education, studies marketing at college and volunteers for environmental causes.

Chucho began his affiliation with ChildFund México at the age of 6. He started by being involved in skills development programs, and as he grew older, he participated in sporting events, celebrations, reading programs and after-school tutoring.

As time passed, Chucho realized that he was changing on the inside. He was less introverted, he was able to speak in public without embarrassment, and he felt more confident.

Mexican youth

Chucho is a leader in his community, teaching dance lessons and working to improve the environment.

After completing elementary school, he began practicing oratory, participating in competitions and winning first place several times. “What I wanted the most was to show my family that every effort has good results,” he says. Chucho also discovered his passion: dancing.  

But life was still complicated, because he had no money to continue studying. At the age of 14 he decided to enter the National Council for Educational Development (CONAFE) and started working as a teacher’s aide in his community.

“I worked very hard in order to convince the children to participate in various competitions, to organize contests with other schools, and they always won something,” Chucho says. “I wanted to share with them one of the most important things I had learned in ChildFund Mexico: that everything is possible if you work hard for it.”

At the age of 15, Chucho received recognition from the council as the top teachers’ aide. His ChildFund sponsor, who still supports him today, expressed her pride in him too.

Then one day, Chucho received a proposal to become the youth leader of the local partner organization, Valle Verde, which works with ChildFund México. He accepted without hesitation and began to organize all kinds of events, recognizing that young people need support and motivation.  

As he entered high school, Chucho chose to do community service for an organization called Biocinosis, which focuses on environmental education. Another organization, Reforestemos Mexico, invited Chucho to join in reforestation and recycling programs, further building his knowledge.

In 2012, Chucho received the Youth Merit Award of Michoacán. This is an award given to young people who are great leaders in different fields. He received the award from the governor of Michoacán, and Chucho was on the radio and television news. 

Clearly, Chucho has the potential to achieve many more goals as an adult.

“All the things I have done and what I am today is thanks to ChildFund Mexico,” he says. “They taught me so many things, and they took care of me when my parents died. They are my family. Now I want to continue working with young people so we can improve our community together.”

In Ecuador, ‘Hummingbirds’ Take Flight

The United Nations declared Aug. 12 as International Youth Day in 1999, so ChildFund is taking this week to focus on challenges that especially affect teens and young adults, as well as celebrate young people who are showing strong leadership in the countries we serve.

Ecuador’s youth face many challenges, including early parenthood, violence and substance abuse. ChildFund is working closely with teens in the Quito area to provide a supportive environment for candid discussions and to help youth set goals and develop leadership skills. In turn, these young people are taking action in their communities by interacting with their peers and dispensing good advice. Learn more about the youth-led Hummingbird Squads in this video produced by ChildFund Ecuador.

Seveliya’s Hero Book

Reporting by Tenagne Mekonnen, ChildFund Africa Communications Manager, with Priscilla Chama, ChildFund Zambia

Zambian girl

Seveliya at the Day of the African Child conference.

Seveliya, 13, represented Zambia at the Day of the African Child conference this past spring in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (scroll down at the link above to watch her speech). She recently talked to us about her hero book, an autobiographical work that she created at the ChildFund-supported resource center in Kafue, a town in Zambia’s Lusaka province. Hero books let children describe the challenges they face and set goals for the future — in a sense, making themselves the heroes of their own lives.

To boost this feeling of self-confidence, other children write supportive comments in the books for their friends. Here is Seveliya’s experience, in her own words:

My hero book: That is me, my guide, my dream and my future! It is my discipline. My hero book is all about me, my family, friends, the future.

Zambia hero book

Seveliya talks about what it has meant to her to create her hero book.

The resource center at the Kafue Child District Agency shaped my life. It is a place where I share with my peers and do different activities to tackle life’s struggles! It is where we come together to know ourselves, fight for our rights and educate our community about children’s rights.

The resource center helped me to express myself through the hero book, which helped me to reflect. It shaped my character; before my hero book, I always felt that I am always right, and everyone else is wrong. I fought with family, siblings, friends, just because I thought I am the only one who is right!  

But the hero book helped me to accommodate family, friends, siblings and the community.  Now I have confidence to say that my dreams will come true. Now I have a plan to be an architect 10 years from now, and 20 years from now I will be having my own business, which will help me open an orphanage and provide support. I will be there for my future!

I know I am tomorrow’s leader! It is clear, no more fear.

 

‘Only Love Can Exceed the Benefits of Breastfeeding’

 By Patricia Toquica, Americas Region Communications Manager

It’s World Breastfeeding Week, and ChildFund joins the World Health Organization and other groups in avidly supporting breastfeeding as a key component of early childhood development programs.

Ecuadorean mother and child

Mothers in Ecuador participate in peer-counseling sessions about healthy practices, including breastfeeding for the first six months of their children’s lives.

It’s a cold morning in Ecuador’s mountainous Tungurahua region, where a group of indigenous mothers and, often, fathers meets weekly in the Santa Rosa village community center. This time they’ve come to talk about an important topic for the healthy development of their infants: breastfeeding.

The ChildFund-trained guide mother shares with the group, which includes about 15 mothers, proven best practices and other information on how breastfeeding can make a world of difference for their babies.

breastfeeding information

This card reads, “Only love exceeds the benefits of breast milk.”

Mothers then break into groups to discuss and reflect on key messages the guide mother shared, including “breast milk is natural and is the best for your baby; there’s no other substitute,” and “only love can exceed the benefits of breast milk.” Mothers also discuss commonly held beliefs and traditions in their village that can become obstacles to exclusive breastfeeding in the child’s first six months, as recommended. They talk about the difficulties they face when feeding their babies (the demands of work and managing household chores as well as the needs of other family members) and share ideas for overcoming those challenges.

“During the workshops and sessions we have around breastfeeding, the feedback that we get from mothers is that children are improving, and that is what we want to hear,” says Rosario, the guide mother and facilitator. Sometimes the local nurse also comes to these meetings to provide additional support and information for the parents.

Just as it is a focus in this small Ecuadorean community, breastfeeding is a key component of ChildFund’s Early Childhood Development programs targeting children from birth to 5 years old in the 30 countries where we work around the world.

Ecuadorean mothers

Mothers in Ecuador work in support groups to encourage and educate others on the importance of breastfeeding.

“A community support network for mothers is essential,” says Magda Palacio, ChildFund’s Early Childhood Development adviser in the Americas. “The peer counseling in ChildFund is provided by guide mothers and is a cost-effective and highly productive way to reach a larger number of mothers more frequently, which directly reflects in the survival and health of children,” she says.

Peer counseling is the focus of this year’s World Breastfeeding Week, promoted by the World Health Organization under the theme: “Breastfeeding Support: Close to Mothers.” For ChildFund and other groups, this week marks another important occasion to highlight the importance of supporting mothers in their efforts to provide their infants with a healthy start in life.

During their peer-counseling sessions, the mothers in Santa Rosa, Ecuador, came up with their own list of breastfeeding benefits:

  • Protects babies from diseases.
  • Helps in their mental development.
  • It’s natural and is free.
  • It is always available.

These benefits are universal for all mothers and their infants. Please help us share this vital information during World Breastfeeding Week.

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