Americas

Getting the Community Involved in Children’s Lives

By Nicole Duciaume, Regional Sponsorship Manager, ChildFund Americas

Nicole recently visited our Mexico office, where she met with children in ChildFund programs. This week, she is sharing highlights from her visit.

Eli

Eli, a volunteer at an after-school program.

Much of ChildFund’s work in the field depends on volunteers, who are typically community members trained to encourage healthy development in children in a variety of ways. Here’s one mother who’s doing her part in Mexico.

Eli, the mother of two girls and a third baby on the way, is a volunteer with one of our local partner organizations in the state of Oaxaca. We met her two daughters, who are among 30 wildly energetic children, ages 6 to 12, participating in the Activate (Get Active) after-school program. Eli has her hands full trying to maintain order.

The session begins with a game called “the mailman.” The children circle up outside on a basketball court, and the leader calls out, “The mailman brought a letter for a child with … a ponytail! Blue jeans! Red shirt!” The children scurry to the correct position in the circle, depending on their hairstyle or clothing. Younger children learn to identify categories through the game, and everyone burns some energy.

We then venture inside to a large room that the municipal government lends to the local partner. It’s centrally located and safe, so the children have an easily accessible space for learning, and the partner doesn’t have to put funding and effort toward construction or maintenance of a building. Inside these walls, creativity flows.

Now the children work together to create a new fairy tale, which winds up being called “Little Red Riding Hood and the Boy in the Blue Cape.”

classroom

Eli has her hands full.

Eli walks around the room asking children to provide the next line in the story, building on what the last child said. The story, intricate with details, twists and plot turns, grows and grows, and another adult volunteer writes the story on a blackboard — but with intentional spelling and grammar mistakes. After the story is finished, the children tell her how to correct the story: where an accent was missing, where a comma needed to be added, where an S needed to be changed to a Z.

As a facilitator, Eli supervises four sessions a week: two for children ages 6 to 12 like the one we saw, and two sessions for youth, age 13 and older.

These sessions are meant to be different from school, Eli says, because in class, the children have to be formal and quiet. But in these programs, they get to let their energy and creativity soar. As a facilitator, she receives a small stipend of approximately US$50 a month to help her family. But the payback is more than monetary; Eli describes the children as her friends, and she loves when they run up to her and give her big hugs when she walks through the community.

obstacle course

Children enjoy the outdoor obstacle course.

After the fairy tale session, the children have another recess outside. This time, the basketball court is turned into an obstacle course with a fabric tunnel, foam rollers, large boxes and rings. They jump, hopscotch and crawl through the course, ultimately sitting in a throne made from cushions. Then it’s time to go home.

Eli says she has a new purpose and higher confidence with the skills she has learned as a facilitator, and she feels empowered to be a leader in her community. More important, Eli says the training has helped her to be a better mother to her own children.

A Letter From Mexico

By Nicole Duciaume, Regional Sponsorship Manager, ChildFund Americas

Nicole recently visited our Mexico office, where she met with children in ChildFund programs. This week, she will be sharing highlights from her visit.

Gisela, 13, is the youngest of three siblings. Her parents sew soccer balls by hand for a living, a common profession in this rural community high in the hills of the state of Oaxaca.

It takes about 10 hours to sew one ball, which will bring 11 pesos (just a little less than US$1). With each parent making one ball per day, Gisela’s family of five must survive on less than $2 a day. Her parents’ hands are badly worn and blistered from pushing needles through the thick leather.

Though she already knows how to sew balls too, Gisela has other dreams for her future. When asked what she hopes to do one day, she replies with a coy smile that she would like to be a kindergarten teacher, not a ball maker. “I want to teach [children] to paint and about using vowels and how to write their names,” she adds.

Gisela writing

Gisela, 13, writes to her sponsor family. She often corresponds with their teenage daughter.

Gisela is shy, but she describes herself as “friendly, respectful, intelligent, honest and affectionate,” noting that “these qualities are important for any human being and that, above all, we should treat others well.” She sees these qualities in her U.S. sponsors.

Often, Gisela receives letters from the teenage daughter of her sponsor family. Gisela has all of the family’s letters and photos safely tucked away in an envelope that she made just for this purpose. The envelope is labeled “Beautiful Details.” She has folded and refolded each letter so many times that the paper has worn thin around the crease marks. The photos are a little dog-eared at the corners, and you can see fingerprints all over the matte finish. These are Gisela’s treasures, and she keeps them well-guarded.

When Gisela’s U.S. friend was taking high school Spanish classes, she sometimes wrote in Spanish, which made Gisela smile because then she could read the letters without the usual translation from ChildFund Mexico’s national office. But since Gisela is learning some English in school, she also likes to try to read the letters in English to help her practice. Now, she can pick out words in the letters like “mother,” “father” and “blue.”

Gisela

Gisela has learned some words in English through her correspondence.

Her sponsor family wrote to Gisela about holidays in the United States like Thanksgiving, Halloween and Independence Day, as well as their daily lives: school, sports, dancing, pets and weather changes. These are all topics Gisela wrote back about as well, but sharing the traditions around Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) instead of Halloween and Mexican Independence Day in September instead of the Fourth of July. In her community, there is a rainy season and a dry season, as well as basketball, volleyball and dancing at festivals. Gisela even has her own animals to look after: chickens, pigs and two dogs.

Through ongoing communication with her sponsor family, Gisela has gained happiness, confidence and a new understanding of a different world of possibilities. For much of the time we spent together, she was reserved and quiet, but when she spoke about her sponsor family, she was all smiles.

Children’s Day in Guatemala

By Rosa Figueroa, ChildFund Guatemala

On Oct. 1 each year, the Guatemalan people celebrate Children’s Day, a holiday to promote children’s rights. Many schools have special activities for students, such as breaking piñatas, exchanging gifts and handing out candy and other food. Sometimes, to the delight of children, there are clown performances.

Here’s how children in ChildFund-supported communities plan to celebrate.

75th ChildFund logoThree hours from Guatemala City, you will find Rabinal in the Baja Verapaz region. Rabinal is a small town with friendly, lovely and sweet people, mostly of indigenous origin. Their houses are almost identical: small, sometimes with just one room, and made of adobe with a tin roof and dirt floor. Most of the families do not have access to water and electricity, and they use outdoor latrines.

In the community of Rabinal live Luciano and Rigoberto, who are both 12. Luciano lives with his parents, four brothers and five sisters, and Rigoberto’s household includes his mother, three sisters and three brothers.

Luciano chores

Luciano does some chores at home.

Luciano is an active participant in ChildFund Guatemala’s project “Let Me Tell You,” in which he draws and paints and participates in programs that improve his self-esteem and teach values, including respecting others. He loves to have fun with his friends and share stories with them. Rigoberto participates in the ChildFund project Seeds of Change, where he has learned how to save money, share with others and be a valuable part of his community. With big smiles, both children told us about how they celebrate Children’s Day in their community.

Rigoberto

Rigoberto writes a letter to his sponsor.

“This day is very special for me; it’s like my birthday,” Luciano says. “We break piñatas, and everyone is happy and laughing. I would love for every child in the communities of Guatemala to celebrate this day.”

“I know my rights … right to life, education, health, to have a family, to have fun,” Rigoberto says, “but sometimes adults do not respect them, especially when parents do not let children go to school. Children’s Day is special because we talk about our rights.”

“How do we celebrate this day? Usually we have a big event at school, the major comes and the police. All children sing the national anthem, and later we have some food and candies,” Rigoberto adds.

An Eye-Opening Visit to Honduras

By Shawn Pennington, Vice-President of Artist Management at BBR Management

Shawn is a child sponsor and the manager of the chart-topping country duo Thompson Square, who partner with ChildFund’s LIVE! program.

75th ChildFund logoI’m embarrassed to admit that my whole adult life I’ve always been “that guy” who would say things like, “Why do we send so much aid overseas? Why do all these celebrities spend so much of their time trying to help those in other countries when we have so much wrong in our own country?” For me, that all changed earlier this year when Thompson Square and I traveled to Lepaterique, Honduras, with ChildFund to visit the children whom we sponsor.

Honduras family

Shawn Pennington, Thompson Square’s manager, visits with a family in Honduras.

As many know, over the last couple of years, Keifer and Shawna Thompson of Thompson Square have proudly used their celebrity voice in all forms of media, and at every show they help bring awareness and attention to ChildFund International’s efforts to help children all over the world. In 2012, we made great strides in getting more children sponsored, but at the end of the year, as we began preparing for the current tour, we really felt that we needed to take the message up a notch. The only way to do that was to go into the field ourselves and see with our own eyes what these children are dealing with.  

Due to an always insane travel schedule that Thompson Square keeps, it can be really hard to find a free week to fly around the world and back, so we chose to sponsor children in Lepaterique, which is only a two-and–a-half-hour flight from Atlanta.

What would come in the next few days would be life-changing. Cliché-sounding, I know, but it’s true. It’s one of those things that you can never really describe to someone and expect them to fully “get it” without experiencing it.

As we traveled from the city of Tegucigalpa towards Lepaterique, it became quickly apparent that we were about to see poverty that many people believe only exists in movies.

Imagine what it would be like to live in a one-room “house” with a family of five and one bed among them. The only way to bathe is a dip in a lake or a stream, the same water in which you wash your clothes, and the same water that is so polluted that you wouldn’t dare try and drink it.

Imagine being pregnant and having to spend four hours or more walking one way to get to the nearest doctor, just to wait in line and maybe not get to see the doctor (because there aren’t nearly enough of them), and thus have to turn around and walk back home. The government provides vaccinations for children but doesn’t have sufficient doctors to administer the shots.

Shawn and Danni

Shawn meets 4-year-old Danni for the first time.

My family signed up to sponsor a 4-year-old boy named Danni. Prior to the trip, I went shopping to buy Danni a few gifts. You cannot even begin to imagine how difficult it is to decide what to buy. There are so many factors that come into play. Some things seem so simple and easy to “fix” to those of us who are much more fortunate. But that is where ChildFund comes into play. They have programs in place to gradually improve the quality of life for these children and their families with a balanced approach.

The interesting thing about the people of Lepaterique is that they appear to be some of the happiest people I’ve ever met.  Even in the shadow of everything that challenges them in their daily lives, only two things matter to them – God and family. Visiting them was quite a lesson in life for all of us on the trip.  We should be ashamed of ourselves for complaining about anything!

Thompson Square in Honduras

Keifer and Shawna with children in a new computer lab in Lepaterique.

While we were there in January, an outgoing little boy at the school we visited slipped a note to Shawna that said (in Spanish) “Please help us get computers for our school so that we can learn better.” Through some great efforts from our team, we were able to work with an office supply company to get computers donated, and in July we traveled to Lepaterique once again to personally deliver them! Words cannot express the depth of gratitude that they showed us, or the feeling of knowing that our team made a dent, if only a small dent, in improving the quality of life for these children.

Keifer and Shawna were able to visit their sponsored child Emerson again while we were there, and I got to see Danni and meet his entire family! We were all sad to leave. We can honestly say that we have friends there now that look forward to seeing us as much as we do them. I hope that we will return again soon.

Addressing the Problem of School Dropouts Through Art

By ChildFund Brasil Staff

What does a perfect school look like? Lots of windows in the classroom, new desks, plenty of good books, bright colors, happy students and excellent teachers are some of the elements of a great school. Children in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, were asked to draw pictures of their dream school, which now illustrate a new book, Out of School No!, produced this summer by UNICEF with the support of ChildFund Brasil.

Ana Clara

Six-year-old Ana Clara attends the launch of the book in Belo Horizonte.

Brazil’s high rate of school dropouts is a serious problem, with only 48.7 percent of 19-year-olds having finished high school, according to a 2011 national survey. Fewer than two-thirds of 16-year-olds completed fundamental (or junior high) school, and almost a quarter of 12-year-olds had already dropped out, the report concluded.

Out of School No! tackles this issue focusing on social exclusion and how it factors into the number of students who drop out of school.  Living in poverty, having a disability, being part of a racial minority group and residing in a rural region are all risk factors for students, who sometimes are also in danger of being exploited or hurt.

“What can each one of us do to ban the exclusion from education?” asked Maria Salete Silva, UNICEF Brasil’s education chief. “Every child can and must learn; there’s no child who can’t learn. This is a right that every child has. Because of this, the strategic agenda for Brazilian adolescents must be geared toward education and not reduction of the legal age for criminal responsibility. We have to discuss the construction of schools and not prisons. Without guaranteeing education, we won’t guarantee anything else.”

Children and teens enrolled in ChildFund programs read poetry, showed paintings and performed music at a launch party for the book, which was held at ChildFund Brasil’s office in Belo Horizonte.

Luiz

Luiz and his design, which appears in the book.

“I participate in Oficina do Saber [an art workshop], where I learn to draw and do graffiti art,” said Luiz, a 12-year-old sponsored child, who attends programs held by ChildFund Brasil’s local partner organization, Gedam.

“I found it very important to participate in the book. Seeing my drawing in the book means a lot to me,” he added. “When I was younger, I never thought I could do such a thing like that, which can change the world. The world is too violent, and with the picture I drew, I’m sure the world can change school for better. That’s why I drew it, to change the world and schools for better. Drawing is the thing I like the most.”

Happy Anniversary, ChildFund Brasil!

By ChildFund Brasil Staff

Just as ChildFund is celebrating its 75th year, ChildFund Brasil also marked 47 years of operations in the country. Staff members celebrated on Aug. 30 with a visit to ChildFund programs in Belo Horizonte, spending time with some of the children they help support.

75th ChildFund logo“ChildFund Brasil completed 47 years of expertise and commitment to build a better Brazil,” said ChildFund Brasil’s board president, Valseni Braga. “There is much to celebrate with the numerous social programs and poverty-reduction strategies that positively impact the lives of children, adolescents, young people and their families. Everything that has been built so far would not have happened without the support of sponsors, partners, donors, volunteers, supporters and suppliers.”

ChildFund Brasil

A visit with ChildFund-supported children in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

In 1966, ChildFund arrived in Brazil. Many of the children helped in our early days there are now adults who are happy and fulfilled because they had better opportunities. But much remains to be done. More than 8 million children and youths live below the poverty line in Brazil. ChildFund Brasil assists more than 188,000 people, 108,000 of whom are children and youth.

Key to its efforts is ChildFund Brasil’s partnership with more than 60 social organizations, which work in more than 800 urban and rural communities.

“There are many challenges,” Braga noted, “but confidence in our work and hope to witness real change drives us to continue with our dream.”

Help ChildFund Respond Swiftly in the Wake of an Emergency

By Kate Andrews, ChildFund staff writer

In late August, about a month’s worth of rain fell within a couple of days in Manila, causing massive flooding in communities where ChildFund Philippines works. Some of the families of enrolled children were displaced temporarily, and many are now cleaning and repairing their homes.

girl in JakartaTyphoons are a common occurrence in the Philippines, and it’s important for communities to be prepared. That’s where ChildFund’s Emergency Action Fund enters the equation. With your contribution, we’ll be able to respond to emergencies faster, bringing aid and protection to children within hours and days of a disaster.

Although we’ve come to expect seasonal flooding in some regions of the world, often a crisis can occur without warning, such as the 2012 earthquake in Guatemala. ChildFund’s many years of experience in the field helps us assess needs, coordinate projects and deliver resources that assist families in dire need. We also have strong partnerships with local governments and other relief organizations.

More than 200 million people are affected by natural disasters each year, and 7.6 million are displaced by conflict or persecution. By making a donation to the Emergency Action Fund, you’ll help us assist children who need immediate help. Here is what the fund will help us do:

Enable ChildFund to mobilize teams of specialists within hours of when a disaster strikes.

Supply food, clean water, blankets, shelter and other emergency aid to children and families as quickly as possible.

Repair and restore homes, schools and vital social infrastructure such as water, sanitation and hygiene systems to prevent disease.

Provide Child-Centered Spaces and psychosocial support to help children cope and recover confidence after an emergency.

boy in BrazilIn the months after a disaster, ChildFund will remain in the affected communities, doing some of the most important long-term work: helping children regain a feeling of safety and self-esteem. Help these children and their families by making a gift to the Emergency Action Fund.

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.

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.

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.

The Mama Effect

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