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.
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.
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.
Reporting by Abraham Marca, ChildFund Bolivia
Born three and a half years ago to a 41-year-old mother after a risky pregnancy, Rebeca was small but still within the normal range. However, when Rebeca was 9 months old, her family learned she wasn’t developing properly.
Wiñay Mujo, ChildFund’s local partner organization in her Bolivian village, offers early childhood development evaluations to young children in the area, and Rebeca had her first at 9 months. The evaluation revealed that Rebeca didn’t have enough strength in her back, legs and arms to crawl, so Wiñay Mujo staff members showed her mother some exercises she could do at home with Rebeca to stimulate those muscles, and soon Rebeca began making her first movements around her world.
But then, just before turning 1, Rebeca suddenly began losing weight; she was diagnosed with mild acute malnutrition, so Wiñay Mujo helped her get the dietary supplements she needed. She gained weight over the next few months, but she still couldn’t walk, even at 15 months. After a new course of exercises and diet, she learned to walk, and by the time she turned 3, her growth and development were on track.
But Rebeca developed a parasite infection and suddenly lost weight again. After her successful treatment, Wiñay Mujo looked more deeply into her situation and discovered that Rebeca was spending her days in the care of a teenage aunt while her mother worked. To provide a healthier environment for the little girl, Wiñay Mujo invited the family to have her participate in ChildFund’s center-based early childhood development program in her community.
Today, Rebeca and her family are doing better, and they attend programs at Wiñay Mujo, where they learn about good nutrition and other healthy practices. Rebeca is 3 and a half. She has had all of her vaccinations, and her development is considered normal for her age.
Children in developing countries face many obstacles to healthy development. For the youngest in particular, early nutrition is especially important because it supports their ability to grow and learn — without adequate nutrition in the early years, children may never be able to recoup developmental losses. ChildFund works through local partners like Wiñay Mujo to provide the monitoring, stimulation, nutrition and learning opportunities children need to stay on track.
By Abraham Marca, ChildFund Bolivia
ChildFund’s office in Bolivia recently hosted the daughter of a sponsor, who got to meet 2-year-old Neri and her parents.
Isabel, 18, is Spanish but lives in Germany; her mother, Luisa, has sponsored Neri since July through ChildFund Deutschland, one of our Alliance partners. They sponsor five children in all, one for each member of the family. Luisa needed to stay home to care for her younger son, so Isabel went in her place to Bolivia.
“With these pictures, my mom is going to be jealous of me,” Isabel said. “She really wanted to come here.”
Neri will become a big sister in January, when her mother is expecting her second child. Her father is a truck driver, and the family lives in La Paz, one of Bolivia’s largest cities. During Isabel’s visit, they went to see Mi Teleférico, a new cable-car system, which was very exciting for Neri. It was a sunny day, and the independent little girl was happy to walk by herself.
“Neri’s dream has come true,” her mother said. “She has wanted to get in the Teleférico for months.” Then they went to a children’s park, where Neri ran and played with Isabel and her mother.
“Neri reminds me of my younger brother,” Isabel said. “She has a lot of energy and independence, and it seems she never gets tired!”
Earlier in the trip, Isabel also visited an Early Childhood Development center supported by ChildFund and run by a local partner organization, San José Las Lomas. She had the opportunity to talk to the coordinators and meet children there, and she expressed a lot of interest in their work.
When the sun was going down, the group returned to the neighborhood where Neri’s family lives, again riding Mi Teleférico and enjoying the city’s sights one last time. “This is like her Christmas gift,” Neri’s mother declared. Below, see more pictures from Isabel’s visit, including a trip to the local ECD center. If you’re a sponsor and wish to visit your child in his or her country, call our Sponsor Care team at 1-800-776-6767, between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. (ET), Monday through Thursday and 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday.
By Meg Carter, Sponsorship Communication Specialist
Every continent is home to languages, cultures, histories and beliefs dating to pre-colonial times, which we often place under the umbrella of “indigenous cultures.” In many countries, indigenous populations fall into conflict with rulling governments and majority populations, and other times, their languages and traditions gradually disappear through assimilation. Poverty and isolation are other common challenges.
Aug. 9 is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, a day to recognize and honor these ancient cultures. Let’s take a look at Bolivia, one of the countries where ChildFund works. The Quechua and Aymara proudly trace their origins to the Incan Empire. Nearly three out of four Bolivians belong to one of 37 native peoples. The country’s population speaks 42 languages, and two extinct languages also have been discovered.
Many of Bolivia’s indigenous groups believe in reciprocity, particularly in nature. According to their traditions, when people fail to live in harmony with their environment, their bodies weaken, their spiritual well-being decreases, and the crops they depend on start to fail. The country’s diversity extends to its crafts, music and cuisine.
Bolivian women weave cloth by hand on wooden looms, using hand-spun and hand-dyed fibers. They produce rugged cloth in distinctive colors with wild cotton, twisted together with agave or wool from the family’s herd of alpaca, llama or other animals.
Some regional textile patterns date back more than 1,000 years, featuring Incan designs. Images of stone carvings at temples grace everyday apparel: ponchos, bolsas and bolsitas (large and small drawstring bags), chumpi or ch’uspa (hand-woven belts or bags), unku (tunics), monedero (purses), and ch’ullo (knitted caps).
In the evenings, people play flutes fashioned from aquatic reeds, creating a fusion of Incan chants and Spanish dance tunes. Traditional musicians favor pan pipes and quena (a flute with notched ends), accompanied by the charango, a small, 10-stringed instrument resembling a ukulele.
Along with corn, potatoes and beans, quinoa — a grain rich in vitamins and minerals — forms the basis of Bolivia’s indigenous diets. Known as the lost crop of the Incas, quinoa is traditionally prepared in soups, stews, sweet or savory fritters and spiced drinks.
Below is a simple recipe for p’isque, the Quechuan word for stew.
P’isque de Quinoa (serves 6-8)
1 cup water
1 cup broth (chicken or vegetable)
1 cup quinoa
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup julienned onion
1 cup peeled, chopped tomato
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 cup milk
1 cup soft mild cheese, shredded
Combine water, broth and quinoa in a saucepan; bring to a boil, then cook over medium heat about 15 minutes, until the liquid is completely absorbed.
In a separate pan, sauté onion in butter until soft, stir in chopped tomato and cumin and cook to a sauce. Reduce heat. Add quinoa and milk. Stir in cheese. When the stew reaches the boiling point again, add the eggs and continue stirring until fully cooked.
Serve with boiled potatoes and/or chunks of roasted chicken.
By Abraham Marca, ChildFund Bolivia
Every day, Yobana wakes up ready to go to school, dresses by herself and has breakfast with her four older brothers. You may think this is quite normal, but not for 6-year-old Yobana, who had serious problems with her spine, left kidney and left shoulder.
However, good news came in the form of the support of her sponsor, Joan Elizabeth, and ChildFund Bolivia. Yobana has recuperated from medical procedures addressing her physical issues.
In 2011, doctors discovered a problem with her left kidney; the case was immediately treated, and Yobana was under observation for the following year. Her troubles continued with difficulties using her left arm, and doctors realized her spine and left shoulder were malformed. Surgery was the only answer. Joan Elizabeth offered support during the procedure and recovery; she and ChildFund Bolivia’s national office covered the costs of surgery and medication.
In order to get the best surgery possible, ChildFund Bolivia and Yobana’s family — with the help of Dr. Ovidio Aliaga, an orthopedic surgeon — researched their options; Yobana’s surgery took place in October 2013. The surgery proved a success, only physiotherapy was needed to make Yobana’s left arm perfect. After her last checkup, Dr. Aliaga said, “She is doing terrific! She can now dress by herself.”
It was a great pleasure to know Yobana, who is now happier. She helps her mother at home, and she also participates in ChildFund’s campaign against violence. Yobana also feels more confident at school.
It was a cloudy Sunday morning in La Paz, Bolivia, and at 6 a.m., all you wanted to do was to stay in bed with hot chocolate and watch TV. But that Sunday, Dec. 8, we had something special in mind, and we had to wake up early and start moving.
We were not just running for ourselves but were running to promote the campaign, too.
Four staff members from ChildFund Bolivia’s office — Katerina Poppe, Ana Vacas, Fernando Arduz and I — and our pal HyeWon Lee from ChildFund Korea ran 21 kilometers (13.1 miles, or a half-marathon) that day. Aside from the pursuit of good fitness, our goal was to share awareness of the “Free From Violence” campaign, a global advocacy campaign by ChildFund Alliance asking governments to ensure that children are free from violence and exploitation.
“It was a very exciting, tiring but fruitful experience,” HyeWon notes. “We had a long, hard run of 21 kilometers ahead of us, but it felt really nice to be with the co-workers, one next to each other, cheering each other on and sharing the exciting moment together.
“We were wearing ChildFund T-shirts with the phrase ´Libre de violencia´ [Free from Violence] printed on the back, and this short phrase really made our running much more meaningful. We were not just running for ourselves but were running to promote the campaign, too. It made it much harder to give up, and as a result, we all met at the finish line.”
Ana also shared her thoughts: “I have run quite a few races before but never for a specific cause. However, this time was different. The race took on a whole new meaning for me; I was no longer there as another participant just hoping to cross the finish line but as someone who was actively participating in efforts to create a world where children are free from violence.”
Katerina added: “To be part of this competition was a wonderful experience for me because I believe in this cause. I believe that we all together can do something to raise our voices and share our commitment to fight violence against children, especially girls.”
That Sunday will be in our memories forever; if we can overcome this challenge, others in life can be defeated with an effort.
This gallery contains 6 photos.
By Abraham Marca, ChildFund Bolivia; Priscila Oliveira, ChildFund Brasil; Rosa Figueroa, ChildFund Guatemala
Season’s greetings arrive from Bolivia, Brazil and Guatemala, as children share their Christmas traditions. Over the course of the year, they have received great encouragement, love and hope from our sponsors and donors. All of us at ChildFund are thankful for your generosity and kindness!
Quema del diablo (burning of the devil), processions, posadas, firecrackers, eating tamales and drinking ponche (a traditional fruit drink) are traditions that people in the communities we serve in Guatemala practice before Christmas. “Feliz Navidad” means Happy Christmas, and the majority of the celebration happens the afternoon and evening of Dec. 24. Christmas is a very special day. Children share with the family and have fun, even when the economic situation is not good.
Yuri is 12 years old; she lives in the central highlands of Guatemala. At home, Yuri and her mother make tamales and ponche for Christmas. She has a tree in the back of her house, and she likes to decorate it for the season. “I would like every child to enjoy and celebrate Christmas as I do,” Yuri says.
“Hi, my name is Floridalma, I’m 12 years old, and I love Christmas because I participated in the posadas, traditional processions that start nine days before Christmas. The group sings traditional songs at various homes. For the season my family and I eat tamales and ponche.”
Eight-year-old Leticia, a sponsored child: “This Christmas I think will be very good, because my uncles come to visit us and will bring me gifts, like dolls and clothes. I do not believe that Santa Claus exists, but I know that Dec. 25 was the day that the baby Jesus was born. I see Santa Claus only when I step in front of stores, never asked him for any gifts, but I want to get a bike.”
Six-year-old Joao: “I’m in the first year of basic school. I like studying, but I also like the vacations because it’s when Christmas comes. My father’s name is Geraldo, and my mother’s is Maria. I have two sisters, Sara and Nilma. I love Christmas; it’s a day of receiving gifts. I stare at the lights of the shops. I love lights flashing. On Christmas Eve my mother does supper, because we are a simple family. Before Christmas Day, a friend of my mother sends Christmas gifts by mail. I have won a basket with a boat, a game of little pieces to assemble and a [remote] control car. On Christmas Eve, I like to go to sleep early to wake up early to see if Santa left something for me. I love Christmas!”
In Tarija, according to our sponsorship team member Victoria Glody, there is a dance called trenzada, and the celebration starts two weeks before Christmas Eve, when children dance and sing carols (known in Spanish as villancicos) with small drums and flutes to “Niño Manuelito” — that’s what baby Jesus is called by children in Bolivia. During the trenzada, people dance around the streets on their way to the town’s main square; once they get there, everybody enjoys hot chocolate and a special type of bread, or buñuelos, which is basically fried pumpkin dough.
Cochabamba rural areas have a different and harder reality, reports Alain, a coordinator with one of ChildFund’s local partner organizations. Although children expect toys and gifts, their parents can’t afford them, but they have figured out smart ways to make wooden or clay toys. They also make clay nativity scenes to celebrate Christmas Eve at home. Children also dress as the old wise men or shepherds, with a cape and beard made of cotton and go out singing “Niño Manuelito” at their neighbors’ homes, and in return they get bread or fruit. For Christmas Day, it’s traditional to have breakfast with hot chocolate and “buñuelos” too. Parents and grandparents gather together at home as a big family.
In El Alto, 6-year-old Viviana says: “On Christmas day I take a walk with my family, I play with my little cousin, and that night we have hot chocolate and Christmas cake. I like that day because there is more joy at home.”
By Hyewon Lee, ChildFund Korea Field Officer in Bolivia
Today is World Toilet Day, which aims to create awareness of the problems stemming from poor sanitation in countries worldwide. One in three people — 2.5 billion — do not have a clean, private toilet, including those in many countries where ChildFund works. Today’s post spotlights progress in a Bolivian community.
Children in the municipality of Sapahaqui, Bolivia, once used 1-meter-deep holes as their toilets at school. Often, they preferred to go outside instead of visiting the dirty, smelly restrooms. Other schools didn’t even have indoor facilities.
Families also didn’t always wash their hands after going to the bathroom, mainly because water is very scarce and valuable; most people had no water sources other than small streams and springs. Some communities were lucky to be near water, but other families had to go a long way to fetch it. When they did get water, it was just enough for washing clothes, cooking and watering the fruit trees, which are their main income source. Many families knew that basic sanitation habits were important to maintaining good health, but it was a luxury most just couldn’t afford.
As a result of the lack of basic sanitation infrastructure and hygiene habits, the infant mortality rate was 68 deaths per 1,000 infants in 2010 in the municipality of Sapahaqui, according to Bolivia’s national statistics office. Diarrhea and other diseases related to poor hygiene were causes of many childhood deaths.
However, we’re seeing changes in Sapahaqui nowadays.
“This is how you wash your hands,” exclaims 10-year-old Eliana as she proudly demonstrates cleaning from palms to fingers to nails. (Watch the video below for an example of how children have learned proper hand-washing techniques.) ChildFund Bolivia staff members now oversee hand-washing centers in almost every school in Sapahaqui, teaching children about good hygiene habits and providing sanitation kits.
Schoolchildren now wash their hands at least once a day at school, with clean water provided through the SODIS method, which purifies water by hanging plastic bottles in the sun for several hours. Since it is so much easier to get access to clean water, children and families in Sapahaqui are now able to use water to practice basic sanitation habits, even in the harsh dry seasons when it barely rains and the streams dry out.
With the help and participation of community members and the local government, we also have built or improved the school bathrooms. A teacher from the community Saca Saca says, “Children are so happy about the new bathrooms that they just don’t want to come out from there. I can already notice that hand-washing corners and new bathrooms are affecting children’s health, because less and less of them catch cold and have fleas.”
ChildFund Bolivia will continue this water and basic sanitation project here until 2015. Our goal is that fewer children will suffer from diseases that can be easily prevented by practicing basic sanitation habits, and that families will have a better, cleaner and safer living environment in Sapahaqui.
By Abraham Marca, ChildFund Bolivia
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.
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.
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.