Reporting by ChildFund Ecuador
As we conclude our 75th anniversary blog series, we are focusing on success stories of youth and alumni from ChildFund’s programs in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Europe. Today we hear from Belen, an Ecuadoran teen who is sponsored through ChildFund and also enrolled in our programs.
My name is Belen, and I am 16 years old. It makes me feel very good to know that somewhere in the world there is someone who cares about me and is interested in knowing how things are in my life.
My sponsor and I are in constant communication through the letters we send and receive. I love to receive letters from my sponsor. He lives in the U.S., and despite the fact that we do not speak the same language, thanks to ChildFund, the letters are translated, which makes our communication easier.
ChildFund has given me the chance to participate in programs such as the Youth Communicators group, which has allowed me to grow as a human being through sharing experiences with other youth my age and to learn different things such as producing TV and radio programs and writing about youth topics in a local newspaper.
I also participated in summer camps in different communities, which gave me enriching life lessons because I had the opportunity to share time with young people like me and we learned new things that help us to develop our abilities. Positive things like these have helped me to progress in my life.
Thanks to my participation in ChildFund’s projects, I have learned to communicate better with my sponsor, family and friends, and I have learned about values such as respect, honesty, solidarity, punctuality, responsibility and others. I have learned to go for and build dreams, to strive for them and look toward the future.
Members of ChildFund-supported communities in Ecuador have been working nonstop during the last two weeks to complete orders for St. Valentine’s Day. It’s the peak season for flower production and exports, and we were lucky enough to be visiting Ecuador last week to see the business in action. This country, along with Colombia, is among the main flower exporters, and during these days the local industry in Ecuador estimates exports for about 4,000 metric tons to the United States and about 2,600 metric tons to Europe, approximately 30 percent of its yearly production.
Twelve years ago, the community of Santa Rosa de Patután had no running water, sewage treatment, schools or health center. However, today, after many years of projects and trial-and-error experiences, this village has transformed into a community of dynamic farmers who produce mainly roses and carnations for export to the United States, Europe and Russia.
Jose Manuel Yaule is one of the leaders behind this change. With no education other than what he calls “the university of life,” he began working for his community by building a water system with the help of ChildFund. Today, that is the local water company, a service and business totally run by the community. That was the first step toward his venture into the flower business.
He then began researching with technicians in businesses from surrounding areas and first tried with his own greenhouse as a pilot. Realizing they could actually produce high-quality carnations and roses for exporting, he replicated this model by teaching the business to the whole community.
“I remember back in 1994, seeing children here was very sad: very poor, hungry, no shoes, no school. I was thinking all the time about work opportunities for parents, who were mainly peasants without any hope and lots of alcohol problems,” Jose Manuel says. “Now I see children and I can’t even recognize them… sometimes I think they are from another town: so educated, so well-dressed, so happy and healthy!”
The flower business has indeed brought color, joy and progress to this community. Jose Manuel didn’t have an education, but his five children went to university; two of them graduated, two study music at the conservatory, and one is pursuing a degree in economics.
His dream is for everyone in this community of about 400 families to be a small business owner. Continued water supply, agricultural technical support and financing are keys to making this a reality.
To support the farmers with credit, the community also created in 2008 their own credit union, which has 780 members and assets of about US$1 million, provides loans for land, supply and machinery. The credit union works well under the management and supervision of Monica, a former sponsored girl in the community, who, after finishing university, decided to come back and work for the development of her own village.
This community keeps dreaming and growing, just as the flowers do. Farmers continue to get training and are currently working on producing new varieties of flowers and diversifying their production. Thanks to this work and the support of buyers in the United States every Valentine’s Day, more children keep playing and learning in better schools, while their mothers and fathers continue cultivating the seeds of change and progress in their community.
In Ecuador, children under 5 make up 10 percent of the total population, and 23 percent of them suffer from chronic malnutrition.
But in a small community north of Pichincha, we find Samira, a cheerful and lively 2-year-old girl who lives with her mother, Diana, and her grandparents, Maria and Miguel.
Maria and Diana participate in ChildFund’s early childhood development programs in their community. Diana has participated since she was pregnant, and when her baby girl was born, she already knew Samira needed the right kind of food. Maria tells us that Samira is the family’s “guinea pig” because they put into practice everything they have learned in raising her.
“My daughter does not get sick as other children do,” says Diana. “When the other children have had strong flu, she didn’t get it. She is a very healthy girl. She likes to eat soup. She really likes beans and corn, and she eats all kinds of fruits.”
Samira has access to this healthy diet thanks to another ChildFund-supported effort: Maria’s family garden. In her 30-square-meter plot, Maria cultivates a variety of fruits and vegetables. These form the basis of the family’s diet.
We hope to provide this opportunity to 70 more families in Pichincha through our Ecuador gardens Fund a Project. These endeavors assist communities with specific needs like treated mosquito nets or winterization kits.
With your help, the garden project will provide these families with a sustainable source of nutrition, helping to address health challenges common to this region. Each family will receive fruit and vegetable seedlings with supplies and training for growing their own gardens. Using recyclable materials and avoiding pesticides, families will create their gardens in a sustainable, safe way.
As a result, children will have better access to vitamin-rich produce, which will protect them from malnutrition and illness. And the sale of surplus fruits and vegetables will boost each family’s income by as much as $40 per month. We need about $5,000 to reach our goal to start these families on a healthier path. Please consider making a donation.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
Each Christmas, R.B. Wheeler and his wife Fran gave their grandchildren packets of information about a donation they had made in their family’s name to touch the lives of children through a ChildFund project.
For more than a dozen years, the Wheeler family gathered to consider existing project needs in various countries where ChildFund works. Then R.B., Fran and the family would pick a few projects (often involving water and education) to fund in the names of all their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Jacey Messer, one of those grandchildren, says she didn’t always take the gifts seriously when she was young, but the message her grandfather sent each holiday season eventually sank in. Her brother, Jeff Wheeler, suggested to Jacey and their sister Julie that they make a collective donation to a project this past Christmas through ChildFund. After losing both of their grandparents in the past year, the decision was very meaningful, Jeff says. Their gift will expand and equip a school in rural Ecuador where educational opportunities are very limited.
“I felt it was kind of our responsibility,” Jeff says, adding that his grandfather “knew at some point that this kind of gift would be more rewarding” than a toy or another present under the tree.
The three siblings, who are now in their 20s and 30s, live in different states and have many responsibilities. Jeff is an engineer in Seattle, and Julie is a nurse in Minnesota. Jacey, a lawyer, works for the family’s business in South Dakota and is expecting her third child. Deciding to make a contribution to a ChildFund project as a family was an effective way of making a difference, as well as honoring their grandparents, Jeff says.
Over the years, R.B. and Fran Wheeler, who lived in Lemmon, S.D., sponsored children through ChildFund. They also donated funds for schools in Uganda, Bolivia and Brazil, as well as other projects focusing on health and water needs in Kenya, Ethiopia and Zambia.
Jacey says that her grandfather was “very meticulous about studying up about where his money was going” and that he placed trust in ChildFund’s stewardship. He was very interested in providing clean water and education, ideals that he shared with his family, even when they were young. Today, Jacey says she is continuing the humanitarian tradition with her children. Her eldest child, who is 5, is “starting to get it,” she says, and Jacey, Jeff and Julie hope to continue the Christmas tradition of funding a ChildFund project.
“What made R.B. and Fran Wheeler even more exceptional is that they wanted their love for children around the world to live on not only through their own children and grandchildren, but also through their estate,” explains David Jokinen, ChildFund’s bequest administrator. “They realized that they could help the children in ChildFund’s programs and still benefit their own family after they were gone — a true win-win arrangement.”
When R.B. and Fran passed away last year, the gifts they’d planned for years ago, through their will and via a charitable trust, passed to ChildFund. Today, their generosity and faithful partnership lives on, transforming the lives of children.
“It’ll be something we’ll have to keep going for them,” Jacey says of future Wheeler generations.
You can make a gift to help children that costs you nothing now, by including ChildFund International in your estate plans.
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.
Ecuador’s youth face many challenges, including early parenthood, violence and substance abuse. ChildFund is working closely with teens in the Quito area to provide a supportive environment for candid discussions and to help youth set goals and develop leadership skills. In turn, these young people are taking action in their communities by interacting with their peers and dispensing good advice. Learn more about the youth-led Hummingbird Squads in this video produced by ChildFund Ecuador.
By Patricia Toquica, Americas Region Communications Manager
It’s World Breastfeeding Week, and ChildFund joins the World Health Organization and other groups in avidly supporting breastfeeding as a key component of early childhood development programs.
It’s a cold morning in Ecuador’s mountainous Tungurahua region, where a group of indigenous mothers and, often, fathers meets weekly in the Santa Rosa village community center. This time they’ve come to talk about an important topic for the healthy development of their infants: breastfeeding.
The ChildFund-trained guide mother shares with the group, which includes about 15 mothers, proven best practices and other information on how breastfeeding can make a world of difference for their babies.
Mothers then break into groups to discuss and reflect on key messages the guide mother shared, including “breast milk is natural and is the best for your baby; there’s no other substitute,” and “only love can exceed the benefits of breast milk.” Mothers also discuss commonly held beliefs and traditions in their village that can become obstacles to exclusive breastfeeding in the child’s first six months, as recommended. They talk about the difficulties they face when feeding their babies (the demands of work and managing household chores as well as the needs of other family members) and share ideas for overcoming those challenges.
“During the workshops and sessions we have around breastfeeding, the feedback that we get from mothers is that children are improving, and that is what we want to hear,” says Rosario, the guide mother and facilitator. Sometimes the local nurse also comes to these meetings to provide additional support and information for the parents.
Just as it is a focus in this small Ecuadorean community, breastfeeding is a key component of ChildFund’s Early Childhood Development programs targeting children from birth to 5 years old in the 30 countries where we work around the world.
“A community support network for mothers is essential,” says Magda Palacio, ChildFund’s Early Childhood Development adviser in the Americas. “The peer counseling in ChildFund is provided by guide mothers and is a cost-effective and highly productive way to reach a larger number of mothers more frequently, which directly reflects in the survival and health of children,” she says.
Peer counseling is the focus of this year’s World Breastfeeding Week, promoted by the World Health Organization under the theme: “Breastfeeding Support: Close to Mothers.” For ChildFund and other groups, this week marks another important occasion to highlight the importance of supporting mothers in their efforts to provide their infants with a healthy start in life.
During their peer-counseling sessions, the mothers in Santa Rosa, Ecuador, came up with their own list of breastfeeding benefits:
These benefits are universal for all mothers and their infants. Please help us share this vital information during World Breastfeeding Week.
By Nicole Duciaume, Regional Sponsorship Coordinator, ChildFund Americas
In the Americas region, four of ChildFund’s sponsor relations managers visited other countries for a week to observe firsthand what their counterparts do. This post concludes our four-part series about the exchange program designed to improve the sponsorship experience. Read the series.
Our weeklong exchange program for sponsor relations managers in the Americas opened the door to in-depth conversations on policies, practices, processes, operations and cultures. Each sponsor relations manager now has an action plan to implement a promising practice gleaned during the exchange.
Here are some of their final reflections on the experience:
Ana Handrez, of Honduras, who visited Mexico: In the 19 years I have worked with ChildFund, this was my first time visiting another country specifically to discuss sponsorship issues and experiences. I was very surprised to see the engagement and initiatives from ChildFund Mexico’s local partner organizations. They knew their policies very well, and they were very proud to share their ideas of engaging children in sponsorship activities. It was amazing! The visit was worth every single day.
Valeria Suarez (Mexico): Ana’s visit was an enriching experience for Mexico’s office and especially for the sponsorship team. The national office and field sponsorship staff realized that even though each country has “particularities,” both share similar conditions, processes, histories and results. We enjoyed showing Ana how things are done here in Mexico, how sponsorship processes and visions have changed in the past few years, and how results have started to be achieved. We learned from her how processing times should be improved to continue enhancing the sponsorship experience, and Ana learned from us how creativity and working closely with children can provide better information for sponsors.
Cynthie Tavernier-Jervier, of the Caribbean, who visited Guatemala: This week makes me want to continue to make the sponsorship position more and more effective. I realized again how important the part that we play in programs actually coming to fruition to meet the needs (educational, social, health) of the less fortunate of our countries. So, a wonderful thing about my job is helping to bring benefits to less fortunate children and families and making a difference.
Diana Benitez (Guatemala): The exchange is an opportunity to know in situ the sponsorship processes. I see this experience as very exciting and enriching. Although Dominica and Guatemala have very different contexts, the sponsorship processes are similar. This exchange will impact our work going forward.
Dov Rosenmann, of Brazil, who visited Bolivia: This was an opportunity to reflect on our current practices and identify key areas of improvement for immediate implementation. I consider myself a beginner in sponsorship management in ChildFund, and being in Bolivia with an experienced team is, for me, a unique chance to directly ask questions and take in knowledge. On the other hand, I hope I was able to share with my Bolivian peers more about Brazil’s experience in managing sponsorship. As for what has been the best part of the exchange, for me it was seeing the youth participation at the local level and learning about Bolivia’s communication corners. Both were very inspiring and definitely an initiative to be multiplied in other countries.
Rosario Miranda (Bolivia): My expectation was to learn by comparing processes and seeing opportunities of improvement. Both national offices have similar interests and efforts toward integrated sponsorship and program activities to contribute to children’s development. Having Dov visit our national office and four local partner organizations was a wonderful educational exchange experience. We were able to compare operations and provide valuable information to improve each other’s sponsorship processes and developmental activities with children.
Santiago Baldazo, of the United States, who hosted Ecuador: This was a great experience. Although in planning for the week, we assumed that discussing sponsorship processes when both countries were already very familiar with the procedures would be somewhat tedious. But, while we shared the “how” of the sponsorship processes, it was very valuable for us to have the opportunity to discuss the “why” as well.
Zoraya Albornoz (Ecuador): Staff in both offices work hard to give children the chance of better opportunities for their lives. Through this experience, I was able to better understand the way other offices work and realize the good things we have in our own operations as well as the importance of working closer to the local partners. In the daily work we lose the real perspective of our strengths and weakness. I saw that we have some things that can be improved in order to reach our goals.
Learn more about all of the countries where ChildFund works around the globe.
By Nicole Duciaume, Regional Sponsorship Coordinator, ChildFund Americas
In the Americas region, four of ChildFund’s sponsor relations managers visited other countries for a week to observe firsthand what their counterparts do. This is the third of four posts about the exchange program and our work to improve the sponsorship experience. Read the series.
It’s not exactly easy to have someone come to your office and watch your every move. You could feel like an exotic specimen under a microscope. But when it’s one of your own colleagues from another country who is coming to learn and share equally, it’s a little less intimidating and turns into an opportunity to grow professionally and personally.
For this exchange, Santiago Baldazo, sponsor relations manager for ChildFund’s U.S. programs, hosted Zoraya Albornoz of Ecuador. They traveled together to our South Dakota office; Santiago is based in Texas.
Through discussions with Zoraya, Santiago says he learned a great deal about how Ecuador’s team partners with local communities and partner organizations to build common understanding about goals and expectations of sponsorship and other ChildFund-supported programs. “ChildFund Ecuador has a lot of faith in its very intricate network, which helps the communities become more empowered,” Santiago says.
He is now eager to replicate some of the child-friendly forms and materials that Ecuador uses in community orientations, child enrollment and child letters to sponsors. And Zoraya learned about how the U.S. team is maximizing technology to improve response time with their area offices and local partners. She plans to discuss with her team how to use technology to be in closer contact.
Of course, along with the professional observations, there were cultural ones as well. “It was interesting to see how both countries have indigenous populations that have historically been suppressed, repressed and oppressed by others and how the populations have responded to that,” Santiago notes. “In Ecuador, it seems it has given them the opportunity to raise their concerns, their voices and their solidarity as a people.”
The exchange was a great experience, Santiago reports, filled with opportunities to learn, grow and improve practices. In fact, he notes, “Having a shadow this week felt more like having a mentor, and that is primarily due to our visitor – her experience and knowledge and her personality and support.”
Zoraya was equally appreciative: “In the daily work, we lose the real perspective of our strengths and weaknesses. I saw that we have some things that can be improved in order to reach our goals.”
Tomorrow: In their own words.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund International writer
On Earth Day and every day, ChildFund approaches its work with one overall mission in mind: helping communities become self-sufficient. That’s why we work with local partner organizations and provide training to community members wherever we go — so they’ll be able to succeed over the long term, allowing ChildFund to assist others in need.
In northern Ecuador’s Pichincha province, 200 families need a helping hand. ChildFund’s goal is to help them start and improve fruit and vegetable gardens, a program that will not only feed children but also set their families on the path to self-sufficiency. This Fund a Project, started in February, will provide vegetable and fruit seedlings, agricultural supplies and educational workshops. Our goal is to have 200 gardens in the region by August, which will directly help 750 children and 500 youth.
This is where your help comes in; our goal is to raise $42,600 by August. Children in this region of Ecuador sometimes suffer from undernutrition, and families often don’t make enough income to cover basic needs. A thriving home garden will provide families with a diverse supply of vegetables and fruit — instead of just corn, the most common regional crop — and give them the chance to sell the excess crops, increasing the family’s income by an estimated 30 percent.
With greater income, children will have more educational opportunities, and parents will be able to provide the basics: health care, clothing and bedding. In northern Ecuador, a garden represents hope and independence.
Will you help fund this project?
By Kate Nare, ChildFund Marketing Specialist
“Please, don’t forget about us. Please, go back and tell the world about us here in Carchi.”
As I reflect on my recent trip to Ecuador with ChildFund, these words cycle in my mind. Spoken through tears with conviction and emotion, each mother we met pleaded with us to share their stories with the rest of the world. So, here goes.
The sun was barely rising on a Tuesday morning when our group set out in a bus from Ecuador’s capital, Quito, to visit communities in Carchi. This region of Ecuador borders Columbia, and ChildFund has been helping communities here since 1984.
We had been preparing for this trip for months, knowing that we would meet the mothers and children whose lives are being transformed through ChildFund’s Early Childhood Development program (ECD), which strives to holistically help children ages 0-5 to ensure they reach their full potential.
Surrounding us throughout our drive were crisp blue skies and undulating bright green mountains, speckled with colorful houses. When we think of poverty it’s easy to envision urban slums fraught with trash heaps and filthy alleyways. The view here was much different. It’s easy to think, “It’s beautiful! I could live here!” But I quickly learned that the beauty of the land masks the underlying poverty, discrimination, lack of opportunities and exclusion that the people who have lived here for centuries continue to face.
This fact became apparent as soon as we met Monica.
After four hours of jostling along bumpy dirt roads, steadily climbing up steep mountain sides, we came to a sudden halt. We were instructed by Mauricio, our guide and a ChildFund Ecuador staff member, that we would be visiting a home in the community.
We walked down a dirt path and were greeted by Monica and her 4-year-old son, Daniel. Fields of corn and wild flowers skirted her property. A scruffy stray dog rubbed against my leg, eager for a pet. Monica led us to her home, which had a corrugated tin roof, cinderblock walls and three rooms. We followed her into the living room and took seats in a semi-circle, eager to hear her story.
Monica is 41 and has four children, ages 18, 11, 6 and 4. She told us how her husband abandoned her and left her to care for the children on her own. Every day she works in the fields to make a living for her family and her father, whom she takes care of as well. As Monica shared these details, her voice broke and she began to cry. She said there were times in the past when she would come home from a long day, stressed and tired, and she would take this out on her children by beating them. The youngest, Daniel, whom she holds affectionately in her lap as she talks, became fearful and withdrawn at that time.
Recognizing that she needed support, Monica signed up when she heard that ChildFund, in partnership with a local partner, was training mothers in the ECD program. Soon Monica was attending meetings and learning the full benefits of ECD: a caring and loving household, proper nutrition and health care and stimulation and learning opportunities for young children. She came to realize how the abuse she inflicted on her children was harmful to their healthy development. After going through a 10-month training program, Monica became a certified trainer, known as a “Mamita.”
Hugging Daniel even tighter, Monica said she wants to use her experience to teach and support other mothers in the community so their children will be able to grow up healthy and empowered. In these excluded communities where ChildFund works, 18 percent of women are married by the age of 15. Forty-percent of women are married by 18 years old.
She shared how she wants to pursue her dream of finishing high school and becoming a teacher. And she smiled as she shared that Daniel is now playful, cheerful and likes to go to school. “All is worthwhile for the happiness and welfare of my children,” she said.
We met many other Mamitas during our trip. Strong, empowered and dignified, they are each creating a ripple effect in their communities as they train other mothers to love and care for their children. Yes, they still face daily struggles. But their efforts on behalf of their children will bring more opportunities for
the community as a whole as their children grow up healthy, educated, and full of ideas to improve their lives. Monica and the 1,200 other Mamitas in Carchi are living proof of this transformation.
I now have a picture of Monica on my desk to remind me of her story, and why we do what we do here at ChildFund. I will never forget the Mamitas I met in Ecuador who are committed to a better future for their children.