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 ChildFund Bolivia
Of Maria Elena’s nine children, she and her husband still have six growing under their care on the outskirts of a big city in Bolivia. All girls, their names are Angelica, Eva, Margot, Gabriela, Rosmary and Nazareth.
And then there is Regina. She belongs to them all, thanks to a contribution through ChildFund.
A few years ago, Maria Elena’s family received a cow through ChildFund’s Gifts of Love & Hope catalog. The girls named her Regina. Maria Elena says Regina was the “greatest surprise and blessing” of their lives.
The cow provided a steady supply of fresh milk for the girls during their growing years, with enough extra that Maria Elena was able to share milk with the community center each week. This helped ChildFund’s local partner organization, Lucerito, in its programs to reduce malnutrition, which is one of the main causes of child mortality in the area. Lucerito also offers after-school support activities, access to health care and skills development workshops. Several of Maria Elena’s girls participate in the programs.
When Regina has baby calves, Maria Elena and her family give them to other families, creating a chain of benefits that has extended and multiplied — literally — within the community.
This gift of love continues to yield more gifts of love, making a difference in the lives of many growing children who live in extreme poverty in Bolivia.
Please visit our online catalog and choose a special gift for a child in ChildFund’s programs.
By Abraham Marca, ChildFund Bolivia
In ChildFund Bolivia, sports are used as a tool to teach children discipline, boost their self-confidence and promote integration. These days, one game in particular seems to be on everyone’s mind — soccer.
When Davide Tibaldi, a well-known trainer at the Italian Juventus Soccer School, visited one of our local partner organizations in Oruro, Bolivia, he created quite the buzz. He shared his coaching experiences with local trainers and spent time teaching soccer techniques to children enrolled in the Niño Quirquincho Feliz Project.
“Bolivia is a country with great human value,” Tibaldi says. “Children are educated, respectful, and they want to learn. They show great enthusiasm towards sports, and that’s a strength we must work with.”
Tibaldi left Bolivia with a strong belief that children have enormous potential when given access to physical, team activities such as sports. He sees soccer as a huge motivator and promised to send study materials about the game to both children and their teachers. His contribution will mean so much to the students who participate in the program.
“I never thought this could happen to me,” says Alex, 17. “He is the coach that works with champions! It makes me feel important, respected and linked to my family. They all like soccer. We all play at home, even my mom!”
Tibaldi’s workshop taught Ruben, 13, new tactics to use in the neighborhood league he plays in after school. For Ruben, the league is a fun and positive way to spend his free time. “If you want to play soccer you must have a healthy body,” he says. “Soccer is healthy and fun and much better than hanging out with gangs or learning bad habits.”
By Patricia Toquica, Americas Region Communications Manager
“Welcome. I’m Karla and this is my house,” says a 19-year-old girl from La Paz, Bolivia, as she ushers us into her home, a one-room rental house shared by seven family members. Karla’s house, located on a small lot, is surrounded by upscale homes, something quite common in Bolivia’s urban areas.
“When I was little, we had nothing,” says Karla, adding that she’s proud of what her family has been able to achieve in recent years. “My mother used to take me and my brothers and sisters to the ChildFund center, where they would feed us and play with us.” That’s how Karla and her siblings started participating in Early Childhood Development, after-school activities and youth leadership programs that ChildFund Bolivia offers in La Paz through its local partner Avance Comunitario.
“We would go there to study after school, and we would learn a lot that helped us improve our grades. We’d then write to our sponsors about this support, so that they could learn about our life and how their money was helping us,” explains Karla who is now a civil engineering student at a public university in La Paz.
She is the second of five children: the eldest sister is currently working on her thesis in computer science and soon will be graduating from the university. Karla’s younger brother also finished high school and is studying to become a sound technician; her younger sister, will graduate next year, and the youngest siblings are in junior high.
“We were able to go to university because through the center we built our self-esteem and leadership skills,” Karla explains. “I used to be very shy [when I was young], but when I saw the professionals and other youth leaders working at the project, I wanted to become a professional like them.”
Her father is an electrician and her mother, Albertina, works at home and on spare jobs cleaning houses or washing clothes. She volunteers at the Avance Comunitario Center, where she also has taken skills training classes.
“Their interest is to study and become professionals,” says Albertina, nodding at her children. “I could only make it until eighth grade, so we support them in every way we can. They are all good kids and know how it is to live in poverty. When they grow up, they will be professionals and entrepreneurs, and they’ll help others and give jobs for the ones in need.”
Reporting by ChildFund Bolivia and ChildFund Honduras
On International Youth Day, ChildFund salutes the young people in our programs worldwide who are embracing education, developing their skills and working every day to make their communities better places to live.
In Asia, Africa and the Americas, youth are taking on leadership roles, constantly inspiring us with their insights and enthusiasm.
Today we introduce you to a few of those youth in Honduras and Bolivia. Teenagers like Kevin, Wendy and Jordi who are helping ChildFund Honduras’s local partner, ADACOL, develop a strategic plan to improve conditions in their area. They are developing their public speaking skills and contributing to important community decisions.
In Bolivia, the Obispo Anaya Youth Club recently greeted ChildFund CEO Anne Lynam Goddard, eagerly sharing their achievements in ChildFund’s youth leader program. Through this program, the youth are engaged in news reporting, growing community gardens and protecting the environment in and around the city of Cochabamba.
With children and youth as our partners, we know the world will become a better place.
By Abraham Marca, Communications Officer ChildFund Bolivia
It is 5 p.m. in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. The weather is warm but pouring rain is keeping the children from playing outside after school. Instead, they look busy and seem very focused on the computer screens at the learning center run by our local partner Lucerito. The children do not mind missing playtime though because this is time well spent.
In the poorest areas of Santa Cruz, children have little access to technology. Providing various learning opportunities, ChildFund programs in the area collaborate with the Lucerito center to help children learn computer skills. The students also receive help with their homework and are given assistance by a unique but capable teacher.
When we ask where that teacher was, an 11-year-old boy quickly stands up from his desk, walks straight toward us and extends his hand. “Good afternoon. My name is Santiago and I am the teacher,” he says.
That surprises us.
Despite his youth, Santiago’s passion for technology motivated him to become more involved in his computer classes. Eager to learn, he spent extra time absorbing everything he could about computers; information he now shares with his peers. “I love machines and computers; assembling and disassembling things. I like coming here every day to teach and help other kids learn, too,” he says.
Once Santiago’s classmates discovered his skills, they began asking for his assistance. His teacher, Alvaro Peña, watched the young boy help around the classroom and immediately recognized his potential. It did not take long for him to ask Santiago to be his teaching assistant.
Now, Santiago attends Lucerito five times a week to teach child-friendly software to boys and girls from the five surrounding schools. He spends three hours a day helping his peers master Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
“I want to be a systems engineer when I grow up,” Santiago says confidently—and we know he has surely found his calling.
Reporting by ChildFund Bolivia
Snapshot of a struggling family in Bolivia: The father works on faraway farms and returns home only occasionally. The mother sells vegetables in the local market during the morning and part of the afternoon, leaving her children in the care of the eldest, who is 10. The youngest, Irene, is 5 months.
In 2006, the government of Bolivia instituted a new program, called Zero Malnutrition, with the goal of eradicating malnutrition in children under age 5. Knowing of ChildFund’s vast experience in child development, the Bolivian Ministry of Health and Sports invited ChildFund to implement a child development component through Zero Malnutrition in rural Oruro, the region where Irene’s family lives.
ChildFund’s contribution was to train “guide mothers,” volunteers who monitor and support the development of the children in their communities. ChildFund taught the guide mothers how to use our child development scale to screen children and identify specific developmental needs. They also received training in ways to work with parents to help them support their children’s development.
Maria was one of those guide mothers. She visited Irene.
“When I met Irene, I understood my mission,” she says.
On that first evaluation, Maria found that Irene had diarrhea, an acute respiratory infection, acute malnutrition, anemia and visible signs of emaciation, and that she was under both height and weight for her age.
Trained to recognize danger signs, Maria reported the case to the local health center, and staff from there soon performed a field visit. They provided Irene’s mother with medicine as well as an orientation on how to treat Irene.
Maria also evaluated Irene’s development and found she was not progressing in all areas as she should.
Within a year, after continued visits from Maria and with appropriate care, Irene was a healthy 18-month-old. She was still small for her age, but her weight was appropriate for her size. She also had caught up with her peers in three of five developmental areas.
Maria says the work is hard, but when she sees families in her community who have so little, she’s inspired to give her best efforts to teaching them what she’s learned about how to keep children on track and healthy.
Reporting by ChildFund Bolivia
Being a child in Bolivia can be extremely challenging. Six of every 10 children have unmet basic needs, and half of the nation’s youth population live in poverty. Life is even harder for indigenous children, who are often marginalized and do not have easy access to education and health services due to geographic, cultural and economic barriers.
One of those children is Marielena, an 8-year-old who lives in rural Bolivia with her mother and three siblings: Juan Jose, 10; David, 4; and Jonas,18 months. Their house is made of mud adobe blocks and consists of two rooms – a bedroom and a kitchen. They have no indoor plumbing, and for fresh water they rely on a water tanker that drives by the community every two days to fill water tanks for $1.
Marielena is a small girl who weighs less than average for her age. She is prone to develop frequent eye, respiratory and skin illnesses, especially since the family lives near a dump and there is no sewage or clean water system for their community. With no hospitals or clinics nearby, it has been difficult for Marielena to receive treatment.
Education is another challenge in Bolivia, where only 30 percent of children are in school. Marielena is fortunate to attend first grade; however, she struggles with basic concepts, as she never had the opportunity to attend preschool or kindergarten.
The situation for Marielena is changing for the better now that she’s enrolled in ChildFund’s programs and has a sponsor. With ChildFund’s support, Marielena now receives basic medical attention as well after-school support to improve her performance in the classroom. Additionally, ChildFund and its local partners are providing the family with educational training on child nutrition and guidelines for overall health and hygiene that will help prevent illness.
Marielena’s mother remains the only income generator in the household. She makes a living by selling hotdogs and fries from a salchipapa cart, which was provided to her through ChildFund’s Gifts of Love and Hope catalog. Because she cannot work full-time and also care for her children, the family’s situation remains fragile; yet, day by day, their outlook is improving.
This is one example of how ChildFund, which began operations in Bolivia in 1980, is coming alongside families who are working to lift themselves out of poverty in a sustainable way.
by Monica Planas, Regional Communications Manager, ChildFund Americas
During a recent visit to Bolivia, I met an amazing group of ChildFund youth group leaders from the Obispo Anaya Educational Unit in Cochabamba.
From the moment we met, it was impossible not to sense their positive vibe and energizing personalities.
Like many other developing countries, Bolivia is demographically young, with more than 44 percent of the population (4.1million) under age 17. One of ChildFund’s top priorities in Bolivia is helping this young population organize in a constructive way and explore the issues that affect them each day. Issues like violence, addiction, discrimination and a polluted environment are top concerns.
Through leadership clubs like the one in Cochabamba, youth are discovering peer-support networks and developing leadership skills to help themselves and their communities.
I wanted to hear how the youth group began and why it caught on with these young men and women. “At first,” explains Juan Elvis, 15, “I was a bit curious. On different occasions I saw the group having so much fun I decided to try it out. In my community, youth spend their time on the streets chatting or spending money playing video games — nothing productive. This free time sometimes leads to bad habits like alcoholism and gangs.”
So I asked him what he has learned since joining the group.
“Since the beginning,” Juan Elvis tells me, “we’ve been taught that leaders need to be physically, mentally and spiritually prepared. This is why we live following and practicing a group of principles that help reflect the ways of leaders. Individually, we have our favorites or feel identified with some of them more than others. For example, my favorite is ‘If we were seeds and landed on rocks instead of fertile soil, we will bloom.’ This means we should never quit, never give up or feel defeated, no matter what happens. We are convinced that no matter the circumstances, our preparation will allow us to overcome any difficulty we might encounter.”
How about you? I ask Daysi, who is also 15. “My favorite” she says, “is [that] we’re all different, but at the same time, exactly the same. In my experience here, that specific principle has allowed us all to work toward common goals.”
She explains that the youth coordinate the Communications Corners for younger children, with supervision from ChildFund’s sponsorship coordinator. The youth hold weekly meetings to plan activities they will implement with children, including creativity workshops to teach younger children how to write more colorful and detailed letters to their sponsors.
“We organize and lead lots of things around here, so you might think it’s difficult to come to an agreement,” Daysi continues. “Well, it isn’t. We’re all entitled to our opinions and ideas. We share and discuss, and following this principle has allowed us to reach important decisions and accomplish great things.”
“Very true” agrees Juan Javier, 15, “We’ve accomplished a lot and seen great changes. When I arrived at the center I was shy and quiet, I didn’t know much. After the trainings I’ve received I’m now much more secure and a great spokesperson. This has also allowed me to do better in school,” he says.
He adds that his relationships with his parents and teachers have also improved. “At first our opinions were not valid. Now adults see us in a different way, as allies in important decision making. We’re seen as important supporters,” he explains.
At the ChildFund office, Juan Javier likes to help out in the Communications Corners. “I support younger children when they write to their sponsors. I share with them techniques on how to be more creative and original with their letters.”
In addition, he and other youth leaders have embraced more challenging roles. “Only last year we were presenting to an important group of executives who wanted us to form part of a social responsibility project,” Juan Javier says.
The youth presented a sustainable gardening project at the company’s booth at the international fair, presenting visitors with an explanation of the project and its contribution to the environment.
After talking with these exuberant youth, I’m extremely excited by their level of motivation and leadership skills. They already show so much potential and promise to do great things.
by Jason Schwartzman, ChildFund Team Leader for Child & Youth Involvement
In preparation for ChildFund’s Youth Program Summit in India, we’ve been talking to youth around the world, trying to get inside their heads to understand how they see the future unfolding, starting with their inner circle of friends.
We ask them to think of and actually draw a “friend” — a peer, a relative, a neighbor — someone they know well. We encourage them to be realistic. In five years, what do they really think their friend’s life situation will be? Not what they hope, but what they predict. We give them drawing materials, a quiet space, and we see what happens.
Often they are optimistic, like this drawing from a young Native American woman in the United States, who says her friend will be, “outgoing, energetic, and a great person to be around. She’s really bright and understanding. There is never a dull moment when you’re with her. She’s just a true friend.”
Sometimes they are quite sad, as illustrated by this prediction by a young woman in Sierra Leone, “Mary is the name of my friend. She is 16 years old. Mary is crying because she is carrying a heavy load. She is a girl. Mary is presently in the street. In five year’s time, Mary will be dropped out from school. She will be a failure in life.”
Sometimes young people are hopeful and romantic, as this future scenario envisioned by a young man in Bolivia, “Arturo is 19 years old and completed school and a lawyer’s course. He now has a fixed job and has a girlfriend called Katerin who is a teacher. The two love each other a lot and they get on really well. They like to go on walks. They are expecting Arturo’s baby.”
In other instances they predict that a friend’s situation could be transformed, as in this drawing by a young man in The Gambia. He writes: “My friend’s name is Abas. He is 13 years old. He is a male. In 5 years times, I am seeing my friend as someone who will not prosper in future because he don’t study at home. These might lead him to fail his exam. I think he may get involve in drug abuse, he can be in jail, or physically weak or die. If he change his mind and study hard and be punctual in school, he can be at the University or may even be sponsor by the president to go and read for further studies. He can therefore contribute to the nation development and build up a good family in future.”
In the next blog, we’ll take a look at the resources young people say they need to be successful.