By Abraham Marca and Ana Vacas, ChildFund Bolivia
It’s common to hear older Bolivians describing adolescents and children as being in their “donkey’s age” because they can be bull-headed.
But this perception of youth is now changing in the city of Tarija in Bolivia, where eight local partners, assisted by ChildFund Bolivia, have given children and youths the opportunity to put forward their own solutions for community problems like alcoholism, garbage and poor-quality playgrounds.
“We might be small, but we can do big things” is the slogan of one of the youth clubs.
Forming Youth Clubs
This dream started with small steps. With support from ChildFund, young people created clubs by choosing their own names, designing logos and writing club constitutions with rules about honesty, punctuality, teamwork and more.
Next, the clubs participated in various educational modules, starting with leadership skills and photography. The children and youth started to identify problems and strengths in their community, often using photography. They then developed a project to address a community issue.
One of the main problems the children identified was pollution in their neighborhoods, as well as a lack of good recreational spaces. The few playgrounds were in poor condition. The youth also recognized that a lack of street lighting and persistent alcoholism made their neighborhoods more dangerous. These concerns echoed what we heard during our area strategic program with the Tarija communities.
After forming a club, the children in Guadalquivir planted 12 trees — which they bought themselves — during a clean-up campaign. In Nueva Esperanza, the club members started a campaign to prevent alcoholism and also purchased new lights for the community’s soccer field. A youth leader, studying architecture, designed a new playground and coordinated the project in Moto Mendez. One of Tarija’s rural partners had problems with the speed of traffic near a school so the children consulted the mayor. As a result, speed bumps were put in place. In the same area, the youth raised awareness among adults to use the garbage collection services that passed through the community once a week, instead of tossing trash out on the streets or burning it.
These are just a few examples of how children and youth can reach out, because as they tell us, “There are more ideas and, of course, a lot of energy.” Money is often short, so the club members have made alliances with local authorities and parents’ groups. Municipal governments have helped the children’s groups buy trees to plant in their neighborhoods.
Adults have been pleasantly surprised with the children’s drive, and now they are paying more attention to the young voices.
Guest post by Robert Patrovic
As ChildFund recognizes #GivingTuesday today, we are sharing the inspiring story of a father watching his daughter work hard – to give. Through ChildFund, Kara sponsors Mijael, a 6-year-old boy from Bolivia, and this year she raised funds to visit him.
My wife, Mary, and I have always tried to teach our children the value of their place in the world. We instilled in them a need to make the world a better place. Although we believe we’ve provided a comfortable home and life, we have always been sure not to focus on the attainment of personal possessions. There are almost no video games in our house (except for educational ones), no smartphones when they were kids, and we’ve always stressed reading, playing outside and giving.
Each of our three children, Jess, 23; Bobby, 20; and Kara, 15, is different, but they share that same value system. They have always volunteered for many causes both in and out of school. We have encouraged them to seek their dreams and have always taught them that hard work gets results. When they have truly wanted something, we have shown them paths to get it – always involving work on their part.
Kara, in particular, has always been one of the most giving people we know, even as a younger child. When, at 9 years old, she came to us with the idea of sponsoring a child, we were very encouraging (how could a parent not be?!). I helped her do the research on which organization operated the most efficiently, as she is conscientious about things like that. We decided on ChildFund. We helped supplement her monthly sponsorship payment and she did her best to keep in touch with Mijael over the years. At the time, he was 6 months old; Mijael is now 6 years old.
When she came up with the idea to actually visit Mijael, we saw this as an excellent learning opportunity and told her we would accompany her if she raised the money to go. This was in late January, a time where her schoolwork was especially heating up. Kara is a dedicated student and athlete. She played high school soccer and track and field and played for a club soccer team, as well – quite the demanding schedule.
Once Kara realized what it would take to put this trip together, she decided she wanted to invest more time, ultimately leaving the club soccer team. She used the extra time to really begin planning her big trip to Bolivia. She first placed a letter in our church’s bulletin and got a good response, which encouraged her further. She sent more letters and emails, developed budgets, researched flights, hosted fundraisers and even got some media coverage. The trip began taking on a life of its own, and Kara was at the forefront. How proud we were!
As the project grew in scope with more and more fundraisers, increased amounts of time and planning were required. At this time, Kara was given a “gift” of sorts. While playing soccer, she took a serious fall. She suffered a pretty serious concussion and broke her wrist. Kara could not participate in her normal activities. She was discouraged, understandably so, but this gave her the gift of time to spend on fundraising and planning her trip. Kara was making a hug jug of lemonade out of a large batch of lemons – a gift from God. Talk about getting inspiration from your own child!
Ultimately, Kara was successful; so successful in fact that she raised about $850 more than she planned. With the extra money she was able to provide gifts for 55 additional children and donate to two health care fundraisers in Tarija [Mijael’s community]. Although, I only went to accompany Kara, my own life was changed dramatically as well.
Kara has been, is, and continues to be a God-given gift and inspiration in our lives. I was moved by the impact that Kara had. At one point, she was honored as a Chapaca (resident of Tarija), which is an incredible tribute. In addition, the Tarija people called her a role model for their children because of her motivation to give. Imagine that, a child who comes from a wealthy country like the U.S., who is accustomed to living comfortably, being honored as a role model for children that have very little.
Kara has decided to continue to raise funds for Mijael, ChildFund Bolivia, and the various communities of Tarija. We are so proud of and inspired by our daughter.
Learn more about Kara’s trip to Bolivia.
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.