By Gabriela Ramírez, ChildFund Mexico Communications Officer, and Patricia Toquica, Americas Region Communications Manager
The beginning of November marks a special celebration in most Latin American countries: the Day of the Dead. The first two days of the month are dedicated to remembering and honoring loved ones who have passed away. These celebrations have their origins in the pre-Hispanic era and symbolize death and rebirth.
Earlier this month, we had the opportunity to celebrate this occasion with the Quechua communities while visiting ChildFund programs in Ecuador. Specifically, Nov. 1 is dedicated to honoring infants, while Nov. 2 is devoted to remembering deceased adults.
One of the most common customs is the making of altars to welcome departed spirits home. Vigils are held, and families go to cemeteries to be with the souls of the departed and to present them with offerings and flowers. Ceremonial foods include the colada morada, a spiced fruit porridge, and the guagua de pan (guagua means child in Quechua language), a bread shaped as a little child, wrapped in traditional clothing and beautifully decorated as a symbol of remembrance of those infants who passed away.
Sharing the traditional foods and customs with the mothers, children and elders in the community made us reflect on the precious lives of children and sadly reminded us of the many children who die every day, especially in developing countries due to lack of water, sanitation, food or proper care. Each day, nearly 19,000 children die before their fifth birthday. That’s almost 800 every hour, according to World Health Organization’s 2011 stats.
The celebration of the Day of the Dead – also very important in other countries where ChildFund works in the Americas including Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Bolivia – was a special opportunity to honor the many children who didn’t make it to their fifth birthday. It reaffirmed our commitment to work toward providing access to health care and nutrition, educating caregivers and creating safe environments for the growth and development of millions of children born into challenging conditions around the world.
This is our commitment. We want more children to be able to celebrate the Day of the Dead, and not just be remembered on that date.
Reporting by Zoe Hogan, ChildFund Timor-Leste
Timor-Leste has some of the highest rates of maternal and child mortality in the world. More than 5 percent of Timorese children die before their fifth birthday, in comparison to 0.4 percent and 0.8 percent of children in Australia and the U.S., respectively, according to UNICEF reports.
Through health, water and sanitation projects, ChildFund is working to save children’s lives by increasing community knowledge about the prevention and treatment of common diseases.
Last week, the Ministry of Health in Timor-Leste organized a national conference on non-communicable diseases. ChildFund was one of the conference exhibitors, setting up an educational booth about our community health programs in Timor-Leste. Staff members provided antibacterial soap, health information and hand-washing advice to conference attendees and passersby, including university students, local children, academics and dignitaries.
The exhibit caught the attention of Timor-Leste’s Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, who spent 10 minutes at ChildFund’s booth, demonstrating proper hand-washing techniques with ChildFund Timor-Leste staff.
Hosted by the Ministry of Health, ChildFund Timor-Leste, Church World Service and the World Health Organization, the conference, held in the capital city of Dili, sought to improve collaboration and strategic planning between government and NGOs in the health sector.
“People who are poor or who live in underserved communities have less access to medical care and good nutrition,” said Dr. Nelson Martins, Timor-Leste Health Minister. “They face greater environmental health hazards and are harder to reach through outreach and education efforts. So as we move forward, we understand that we must also address the social and economic factors that can put people at greater risk for chronic disease.”
Martins also visited the ChildFund booth, asking numerous questions about ChildFund Timor-Leste’s health projects in rural communities.
Throughout the conference, ChildFund staff engaged young people at the event, with competitions to test their hand-washing and fingernail-cutting techniques. In partnership with the Alola Foundation, ChildFund also ran a trivia quiz about nutrition and maternal health. Nearly 250 conference-goers participated in these fun and educational activities. Prizes included practical items like towels, nail cutters and T-shirts.