Interview by Veronica Travez, ChildFund Ecuador
Lucia Rosa works as a community mobilizer for an Early Childhood Development program supported by ChildFund and our local partner FOCI, in Ecuador’s Imbabura province. Lucia serves as the link between our local partner and people in her community, and she invites mothers, fathers and other caregivers to learn methods that will help their children develop skills they need to achieve success later in their lives. We asked Lucia, a mother of two children, ages 9 and 13, about her experiences.
I got married when I was 25 years old, and I was at university studying — as a distance-learning student — to become a lawyer. When my children were born, I had to abandon my studies and devote myself to their upbringing and care. In my free time, I also helped my husband in farming.
One day, I met a community mobilizer who told me about a program for girls and boys under 5 that was being implemented by ChildFund and FOCI in my community. At the time, I had resumed my studies at a university in the province where I live, but I changed my career to become a preschool teacher. Because the ChildFund program had a lot to do with my career plans, I found it very interesting, and I began to attend the weekly meetings.
In my community, I helped form a group of mothers who had children under 5 years of age, where I passed on the information I learned in the training sessions. Since I had no children younger than 5, the other mothers appointed me workshop leader and gave me the opportunity to share with the group and to get more experience working with parents and children.
I always had my husband’s support throughout this process. On the days I had training sessions or workshops, I did the housework ahead of time, and then I could go out, feeling content.
After completing the training process, which lasted about 10 months, I now realize how much I have learned: for example, how important it is for children to develop according to their age, and how a good diet and living in a peaceful household contribute to their development. Children grow up safe and happy if they live in a home where there is no abuse among family members.
At the end of last year, I had the opportunity to apply to be a FOCI community mobilizer, and I won the job. I am now part of this organization that gives me the opportunity to serve my community. I finished my preschool teacher studies, and I am very happy because my family lives in harmony. My husband and I learned that to devote time and love to our children helps them grow up healthier and happier.
By Veronica Travez, ChildFund Ecuador
Paul and Robinson are two smart and happy brothers, 13 and 11 years old respectively. They’ve gone through hardships in their lives but still have a great deal of hope and enthusiasm for the future.
Because their mother died from health problems when they were very young, the boys live with their grandparents, Martha and Victor, in a community about 15 minutes from San Gabriel, Ecuador. In this largely agricultural area, most locals work as laborers on potato, bean or corn plantations and earn an average salary of $10 a day. Martha, 73, divides her days between farm work and caring for the boys and her husband. The family raises guinea pigs and chickens for additional income.
Paul and Robinson are enrolled in ChildFund’s Aflatoun and Aflateen community clubs, which offer children and youth educational workshops about saving money, spending responsibly and their rights. Martha attends family workshops that have helped her understand the importance of school and extracurricular activities like sports and cultural events.
Three years ago, the boys received sponsors, whose support has been very important to the family. On one occasion, Paul’s sponsor sent him $100, which he used to buy a bed, a mattress and a cabinet for storing his clothes.
“I feel very grateful that they support my little ones without having met them,” Martha says. “I always ask God to give the sponsors his holy blessings and to always take care of them, wherever they may be.”
Reporting by ChildFund Ecuador
According to Ecuador’s last census, 44 percent of the country’s mothers had their first children between the ages of 15 and 19. For many of these women, becoming mothers meant an end to their formal educations. In Ecuador and other countries around the world, though, women are learning — and sharing — important information about raising children, eating healthy diets and making an income. Here are the words of Evelin, a young mother from Ecuador whose life changed after going through training supported by ChildFund.
My name is Evelin. I am 20 years old, and I have two beautiful daughters who are my reason for living. Naomi Marisol is 4, and Emily Lizet is 3 years old.
When I was 16 years old, I was pregnant, so Segundo, my husband, and I decided to move and begin our lives as a family. He is 32 years old, and he works as a day laborer at a farm close to our house in Imbabura Province.
With the arrivals of my little girls, my life completely changed. I had to leave my studies and assume my new responsibilities in my home with my girls and my husband.
One day while I was in the community store, I met a neighbor who told me that ChildFund was carrying out workshops for the mothers of children under 5 years old and that she was participating. She told me that it was a wonderful experience because she was learning about stimulation, nutrition and some other things.
This sounded very interesting to me, so I decided to talk with my husband and ask him to let me participate in this training. At first, he said no, but I argued that this could be a good opportunity for me to learn new things that could help me to keep my family healthy. And besides, I would share with other mothers and would not feel so lonely at home, so he agreed.
When I began as a participant in ChildFund’s Early Childhood Development program, the trainer mother introduced me to the rest of the group, and since then I have felt comfortable and enjoyed the meetings very much. Despite my home chores, I always did my best to not miss any classes during the 10 months that the process lasted.
During this time, I realized that I had been doing some things the wrong way. I had a bad temper, was very rude with my daughters and my husband, and I was not sociable because I spent all day at home. So, I was isolated from the rest of the people in the community. I also was afraid to speak in public. I was very shy.
Since I participated in the program, though, a lot of things have changed. I learned how to prepare healthy and nutritious food for my family. Since starting our family garden, I have been contributing to the family livelihood because I save money by not buying vegetables and fruits in the market. I am more sociable too, and now I am more involved and interested in the community. My older daughter goes to the community’s child care center, and I was designated president. Now, I feel valued and self-confident, and I know that if I express what I feel, people will listen to me.
By Veronica Travez, ChildFund Ecuador
Daniela is 15 years old, and she and her two brothers are albino. Albinism is a rare genetic condition characterized by the absence or reduction of melanin in the skin, eyes and/or hair.
Daniela’s family lives in the northwestern area of the province of Pichincha in Ecuador, a region that’s subtropical and humid. Her home is made of wood, which helps protect the family from high temperatures, humidity and insects.
Vicente, her father, is a farmer, and Jessica, her mother, is a seamstress. With the help of Daniela’s sponsor, Susan, the family was able to obtain a loan to buy sewing machines and have installed a textile workshop in their home. This business allows them to share quality time with their children while supporting them financially.
Albinism causes difficulties for Daniela and her brothers. Because melanin is necessary for the development of the eyes, the siblings have experienced problems with their vision. However, Daniela’s sponsor has sent money that covers vision treatment, so the siblings’ sight has improved.
“Thanks to the support of my sponsor, I have excelled economically, in my health and in my studies,” Daniela says, “and I was able to be trained as a young leader.”
Daniela also participates in a ChildFund-supported community program for school-aged girls and boys, where they receive social and financial education, as well as learning about their rights, responsibilities, self-esteem, saving money and frugal spending.
Jessica is a trainer in the program, and she notes that she too has learned a lot throughout the process. “I have met new friends; I learned to respect and care for my peers with disabilities. At school we performed a skit about people with disabilities, teaching children not to discriminate against them.“
By Nicole Duciaume, Americas Region Sponsorship Manager
Driving along a packed-down dirt road in Ecuador, we crossed a wood-plank bridge and saw some elderly grandmothers washing clothes by hand in the stream. An enrolled child lived nearby, and we could go speak with the family if we wanted. I jumped out of the car in record time and made my way over to the grandmothers, who greeted us with hearty smiles and soapy waves.
We talked with the mother about her children’s health and development, as well about ChildFund’s programs and what has changed in their lives in the year and a half since we started working in this community. The mother talked about the hopes and dreams she has for her children, and we talked about their ongoing needs and struggles as a family. During the conversation, she not only allowed us into her home but also invited us to take photos.
The two-room house has walls made of plywood and split reeds, leaving gaps where rain and insects come in, plus a tin roof and a bare concrete floor. The kitchen has a simple stove and water from a well. The other room has two beds, one for the parents and the other shared by three children.
Outside, there’s a wooden chicken coop next to a latrine constructed with leftover slats of wood, metal sheets and a plastic banner. Next to the home is the stream where families wash their clothes and often bathe. Here is a collage of some of our pictures:
By Verónica Travez, ChildFund Ecuador
Families are crucial to ChildFund’s early childhood development programs, a fact that ChildFund Ecuador recently celebrated in three cities where children and youth are served.
ChildFund invited children, families, community members and local government and school officials in Latacunga, Imbabura and San Miguel de los Bancos to hear how participants in ECD programs have improved and changed their lives.
“I learned many new things,” said Fatima, a mother and a workshop leader. “I learned how to care for my 2-year-old daughter, how to grow healthy food and how to treat her with love and stimulate her appropriately. I learned that to guide our children, we must not mistreat them. Participating in workshops has helped me as a mother, as a wife and as a leader. The knowledge that ChildFund leaves in us is an excellent experience.”
The event was part of ChildFund’s ongoing 75th anniversary celebration worldwide, an opportunity not only to have fun but also to educate community members about the differences children and their families have seen in their lives.
Anthony, a 12-year-old boy from the city of Latacunga, congratulated and thanked ChildFund for its “unconditional support” to his family and especially to his community. Ecuador’s central and local governments have launched a national project to improve child care and child development, and ChildFund is committed to these goals as well, benefiting children and families across the country.
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.