By Cynthia Price, Director of Communications
As a child, I loved receiving mail – yes, the kind with stamps. I had several international pen pals, and my friends sent postcards when they took vacations, even if it was simply to the shore. I also subscribed to magazines and book clubs, so I eagerly anticipated the arrival of the mail carrier.
Today, most people communicate by text and email. Those who sponsor a child, though, know the wonderful feeling when a letter arrives with an international postmark and stamp. It means a letter has arrived from their sponsored child.
What happens when you send your letter to your child? It’s not as simple as putting the letter in the mail and it being delivered by a mail carrier on the other end. The letters arrive at a central point — usually the ChildFund office in the child’s country. The letters then need to be delivered to communities, which can be miles apart.
On a recent trip to Ecuador, my coworkers and I met with several youth who help deliver the sponsor letters within their communities. Catarina, who is 15, says she delivers between 10 and 12 letters each week within her community.
“It’s fun,” she said. “I like delivering the letters and making others smile.” She says the letters come from around the world, and she enjoys seeing all of postmarks from the different countries.
After the letters are delivered, Catarina says the child who receives it will write a reply. Depending on the age of the child, Catarina and others will help guide the child. They’ll suggest topics to cover, such as writing about their favorite school subjects or talking about their siblings.
Catarina also is sponsored and she loves receiving letters from her sponsor, too.
It’s good to know that a simple letter can bring so much joy.
By Lylli Moya, ChildFund Honduras
In the Ecuadoran province of Cotopaxi, residents of Santa Rosa de Patutan are excited to be graduating from ChildFund in 2013. “If ChildFund leaves tomorrow, nothing bad will happen because the community is empowered. The organizational structure is strengthened and is working along with the government,” says Nestor Moya, a representative of the community’s water and sanitation board.
ChildFund has been in this area of Ecuador since 1984. Nestor remembers that “before ChildFund, the houses were made of straw; there was only one school, no water and no electricity in the community.” Now the village has these services, and there are schools and parks for the children. “ChildFund is the only NGO that has provided unconditional support to the community without asking for anything in return. Everything is for the well-being of the children,” Nestor says.
“This is truly a moment to celebrate,” says Nicole Duciaume, regional sponsorship coordinator for ChildFund Americas. “This community is self-reliant, self-sufficient and able to care for the well-being of its children for this and future generations. Our work here is done; sponsorship transformed this community.”
Currently, parents are organized into six associations, which form the Federation of Community Development of Cotopaxi (FEDECOX). The federation has been officially organized since October 2005 and is ChildFund’s main strategic partner in this region of Ecuador. Through FEDECOX, ChildFund has installed a water and sanitation system, and the citizens’ usage fees are returned to the community.
ChildFund’s approach is to empower communities, so they can be independent and self-sustaining while creating the environments children need to thrive.
Nestor is optimistic that the community will continue to grow with everything it has learned. He says, “ChildFund has set a good example and taught us to administer the money transparently.”
By Mauricio Bianco, ChildFund Brasil
Mauricio Bianco, marketing and fundraising manager for ChildFund Brasil, recently traveled to Ecuador. Today, he shares his impressions in the second of a two-part series. See part one.
After visiting with teenagers in ChildFund programs who produce a newspaper column and a radio show, we traveled to the community of Misquilli, an indigenous community of Quechua origin. We visited an Early Child Development (ECD) center built and maintained by ChildFund Ecuador with child sponsorship resources and government funding. The center serves children under 5.
Many activities strengthen the emotional bond between children and caregivers, and many mothers in the ECD program receive guidance on the importance of breastfeeding. That advice is delivered by “madres-guias” (mother-guides) who visit mothers in the community weekly to discuss health, hygiene and nutrition of young children.
Toward the end of the day we traveled to the province of Cotopaxi, bookended at one side by a snowy hill and the other, a volcano.
We went straight to the community of Patutan, which lies about 10 km (6 miles) from the highway leading to Quito. We talked with leaders of six local associations that have partnered with ChildFund since 1995, supporting the work of ChildFund Ecuador, the national government and local social organizations.
Some communities from the federation are “graduating,” meaning that they will no longer rely on funding from ChildFund Ecuador.
These communities now have numerous entrepreneurs who started businesses selling flowers, tomatoes, chickens and pigs. The federation of community groups has a credit union that was formed in 2000 with US$120 and now handles more than US$600,000 in loans to local producers (with interest of 18 percent per year). Carnations and roses are exported to the United States, Europe, Russia and parts of Latin America.
More than 400 families are involved in the flower industry. The Patutan community leaders eloquently discussed sustainability, transparency, income generation, empowerment, water sanitation, family farming, marketing and foreign trade. It was amazing and gave me a sense that things really can be fixed!
All of the community leaders, including women, seem fully aware of their rights in society and are increasingly improving their communities through sustainable growth. Next year, ChildFund Ecuador will end the subsidy for more than 25,000 people in these communities after providing a great deal of training in education, health and community participation.
By Mauricio Bianco, ChildFund Brasil
Mauricio Bianco, marketing and fundraising manager for ChildFund Brasil, recently traveled to Ecuador. Today, he shares his impressions in the first of a two-part series.
On this trip, I had the opportunity to visit communities where ChildFund Ecuador develops social programs for children and their families. The first experience of the day was to visit young people between 15 and 17 years old in the city of Ambato, the capital of the province of Tungurahua (Ecuador’s third-largest city, three hours south of Quito).
Four years ago, 40 young people began meeting every week to discuss issues that are important to them. Often, adults don’t give them the opportunity to be heard.
Weekly, these young people publish their news in a column for the local newspaper and record a 20-minute program at a radio station in town. They discuss such important matters as self-esteem, peer pressure, school interests, puberty, teenage pregnancy and other topics, completely without taboos. Often, parents have difficulty broaching such topics with their children, so the young people give voice to these issues, their wishes and values, seeking the common good and trying to improve the living conditions in their communities.
These teens also are passing on what they have learned to others who are even younger, so they also have the opportunity to make a positive impact in their communities.
I enjoyed talking with Shirley, 16, who had terrific insight into her role in society and young people’s ability to change the society in which they live. In Ecuador, often only the adults have strong voices, but this is changing. These young people are really making a difference in several neighborhoods in the city of Ambato. It’s a pleasure to see the empowerment that is going on.
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.
By Virginia Sowers, ChildFund Community Manager
For the past few years, the ChildFund Alliance (a 12-member organization that includes ChildFund International) has been asking children to tell us what they would do if they were president or the leader of their country. As you can imagine, 11- to 12-year-olds have some definite ideas.
As U.S. voters go to the polls today to elect the next president of the United States, we wanted to share with you some very good ideas for changing the world offered up by children who have a lot of important things to say when asked.
If I Were President…
To help these children and others like them achieve their dreams, and maybe one day grow up to be president, consider sponsoring a child.
By Graeme Thompson, ChildFund Americas Regional Program Coordinator
Is saving even possible in rural, poor communities? That was a question a lot of people asked when the Aflateen program began in ChildFund’s Honduras and Ecuador operations last year. The answer, from the youth themselves, has been a resounding and, perhaps surprising to some, “yes.”
Aflateen is a global methodology for introducing social and financial education to youth, ages 14 to 24, and the program is a follow-on from the popular Aflatoun, which reaches children ages 7 to 13. ChildFund offices in Ecuador and Honduras had been working with Aflatoun, so they agreed to pilot the new Aflateen program in 2011.
“It’s an issue we’ve never had before,” recalled one youth participant attending a workshop in Santa Barbara, Honduras. “We’re not taught about these things in school.”
“I learned to spend my money on what was really useful and not just to waste it,” said another participant.
In one activity, youth participants each fill out a chart, identifying money they can earn in a month and what they think they can save. Then they write down the cost of something they want – new shoes, a phone, a month at university. The chart then helps them easily see how much time they will need to save for that item. Saving is difficult, but the youth discover that even very high-cost items are reachable with a good savings plan.
In Honduras, 30 youth went through the program, spending three hours in class every other Saturday. They were led by five of their peers, who studied the teaching guide and revised the activities to suit the local context. The program includes modules on personal exploration, rights and responsibilities, savings and spending. As a capstone, the youth design, implement and, if necessary, raise money for a small community project.
In Ecuador, youth participated in a high-school-based version of the program. Additionally, a radio broadcast version reached hundreds of youth who live in outlying areas. Beyond financial topics, the radio program introduced themes like first relationships, personal self-image and friendships. The show also offered a hotline number so that youth could call in and ask questions.
Youth like the Aflateen program because it’s highly participatory and is tuned to their local experiences and realities. Given the success of the pilots, both Honduras and Ecuador are expanding their programs in the coming year.
By Patricia Toquica, Americas Region Communications Manager
In the cold mountains of Ecuador, a group of young preschoolers eagerly await another visitor to their Child Center for Good Living (Centro Infantil del Buen Vivir) in the remote town of Santa Rosa in Tungurahua province.
The children have grown used to guests, as government officials regularly cite this center as a successful model for early child development programs. The center was specially designed with children’s welfare in mind and built and managed as a joint effort by the government, the local community and ChildFund.
The Child Centers for Good Living are part of Ecuador’s National Plan of Good Living (Plan Nacional del Buen Vivir), a policy to recognize child development as an integral child right. By 2015, Ecuador aims to enroll 75 percent of its children in child development programs.
In Santa Rosa, the previous child development center was in bad condition, in terms of infrastructure and services. The community signed an agreement with the provincial branch of the Ministry of Social and Economic Inclusion (Ministerio de Inclusión Social y Económica-MIES) and ChildFund Ecuador to together build and administer a new center under the highest standards of quality and efficiency.
“We built this center up from the very first stone to the very last nail,” says Blanca Chiza, coordinator of Cactu—ChildFund’s local partner organization. The local community association contributed the land and the labor; the government and ChildFund provided financial and technical assistance, equipment and trained staff to run the center.
Currently, 26 children (newborns to age 5) now learn, rest, eat and play in a well-equipped center. “The community is thankful, as the facilities we had before were in terrible condition,” says Viviana Vargas, center coordinator. “The mothers of our town can now work, having the peace of mind that their children are well taken care of.”
The center has rest areas where toddlers can take their naps; bathrooms with basins and toilets made to their size; rooms for music, playing, and exploring, as well as a fully equipped cafeteria.
“The key to our success is the model where we teachers work together with parents, communities, government and ChildFund,” says Viviana. “At the ECD center, we meet our neighbors; we help and support each other.”
Guest post by Erika, a youth in ChildFund Ecuador’s programs
My experiences of having a sponsor are many. My sponsor’s name is Pascale, and he has been my sponsor since I was very little.
One of the nicest experiences is to write and send him letters because I can tell him everything, such as what kind of music I like, my favorite sport, what I like to eat and also about my family and what I do with them.
In each letter I send, I thank him for his support of ChildFund since with the money he contributes, that helps [our youth programs] do all the planned activities in all areas of Ecuador. I especially thank him because with his support we can do activities that benefit boys and girls.
What I like the most about writing letters is the happiness I feel to know my sponsor is going to read them though he lives very far away. I also like because I know I have an unconditional friend from another country, who will also tell me many things of his life, his favorite activities and how his country is.
Anyway, having a sponsor is simply unexplainable because as I said before, it is a friend from far away that at the same time is very close.
In the Quito area, we have the youth association called “Association Quito Youth,” and I am part of the board this year. This association is formed by youth groups of all communities affiliated with ChildFund. Among the activities we do are working with children’s clubs, which are formed by children affiliated with ChildFund. This work consists of teaching them about their rights and duties through entertainment techniques, which we also learn from the youth technician for the area. I love these activities because I like to help children in my community and be a good model for them. This has also helped me become more sociable and perform better in front of the public.
Other activity I carry out in the youth group is to organize the sport and cultural events for children once a year as well as to organize the sport and cultural event for youth. The main objective is to consolidate ourselves as an association and promote participation in our project by other youth. During school vacations, we—with the community’s support—organize summer camps. Last year we had the support of Quito Municipality technicians, who trained us on the activities we carried out with children during the camp.
I have many dreams and aspirations: the first one is to finish my education and continue it by going to college. I want to study social communications to become a great TV presenter or a reporter.
I would love to travel to other countries to fulfill another dream of mine, which is to become a great actress and show that in my country there is much talent that needs to be discovered. I would like to go to Mexico too and fulfill a promise, which is to take my parents to the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
Currently, my nearest aspiration is to pass the tests for entering into college, so I am studying very hard. I know I will achieve all of this working hard, and with dedication in all activities and dreams I have.
To celebrate the New Year, we’re taking you on a tour of all 31 countries where ChildFund works. Over the course of January’s 31 days, we’ll make a blog stop in each country where we serve children, thanks to the generous support of our sponsors and donors. So whether you’re helping ChildFund build playgrounds in Afghanistan, provide drought aid in Kenya and Ethiopia or sponsoring a child in the United States, we hope you’ll make new discoveries about our work around the globe.
Today, we visit Ecuador, where ChildFund is helping communities in the Cotopaxi Province organize reforestation projects to protect water sources and avoid droughts. Youth in our Cotopaxi programs created this video to demonstrate the reforestation efforts.
Discover more about Ecuador and how to sponsor a child in this country.