child development

The Day of the Dead: An Opportunity to Honor Children Who Didn’t See Their Fifth Birthday

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.

Bread shaped as a child

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.

New Insights on the Critical Role of Early Childhood Development

by Mary Moran, ChildFund Senior Program Specialist, Early Childhood Development

Young girl countingEarlier this week, I was at World Bank headquarters for the launch of the new Lancet series on early childhood development as a global concern. These studies follow up on new evidence about the impact of early childhood development programs and the risks young children face in their development. They also highlight what things give children some form of protection even when they live in environments of extreme poverty, face high rates of malnutrition or lack stimulation.

Recent evidence demonstrates significant risk for young children’s development when

  • their mothers are depressed
  • they live in families where someone has HIV or they are infected themselves
  • they have had multiple bouts of malaria
  • they are exposed to violence of any type — within their families, in their communities, or their country is in conflict
  • they have inadequate developmental stimulation
  • their growth prenatally has not been adequate
  • they live in institutions.

However, children are protected when

  • they have good interaction with their caregivers (parents)
  • their mothers have more education
  • they are breastfed
  • their physical and social environments offer them good stimulation.

children making craftsChildFund’s Early Childhood Development programs address these risks and protective features through:

  • parenting education and support programs
  • caregiver-child interaction groups and home-based services targeted toward building strong relationships
  • integrated programs for young children living in HIV-affected environments
  • enhanced nutrition and health programs that promote breastfeeding while supporting good interaction and feeding relationships
  • play groups and preschools
  • successful community deinstitutionalization programs and supporting government-sponsored foster care and adoption systems
  • identification of children at developmental risk through screening with our innovative child development scale
  • malaria and HIV prevention
  • promoting family mental health
  • adult education
  • promoting girls education and reducing gender discrimination
  • aid to marginalized groups to be included in all programs and community life.

For additional reading, you’ll find the article series, on the website of the Consultative Group on Early Childhood Care and Development (ChildFund is an active member of this group).

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