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.
by Cheri Dahl, ChildFund Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs
We sway hard to the right as the bus navigates the hairpin turn in the road as we travel south to the highlands outside of Quito, Ecuador.
Today the ChildFund Board of Directors is visiting the Alpamalag de Acurios community in the rural Cotopaxi province. Parents tell us that ChildFund sponsorship has had great impact on the quality of education here. At the Miguel de Cervante School, elementary students provide a tour and tell us about positive improvements to the school, organized with assistance from ChildFund.
My favorite is a “dream corner” furnished with comfortable bean bags just right for reading. The dream corner makes reading fun, students exclaim. Parents share that teacher training and improvements to the curriculum are resulting in their children’s academic success. In fact, the principal reports that this school has been recognized by the government for students’ excellent test scores.
We also meet with eighth-grade students who demonstrate computer and welding skills that are attributable to expanded courses made possible with ChildFund’s support.
Rocio, age 14, shows us how she crafts beautiful shapes out of iron and then welds them to make tables, window screens and even doors. She acknowledges that she loves mastering a skill often dominated by males.
Her teacher, Mr. Rivera, notes that students who master the craft of shaping and welding wrought iron can make a good living.
As I say good-bye, Rocio and her classmate Elsa pose for a photo and ask that I share with ChildFund sponsors the good things that are happening at their school.
by Cheri Dahl, ChildFund Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs
A few splashes of rain hit the windshield. As I look out the window, the tip of Cotopaxi, the highest active volcano in the world, is obscured by clouds as we travel to Patutan to meet with the families of Camino a la Esperanza Association, ChildFund’s local partner.
I am here in Ecuador with members of our board of directors who are reviewing programs and hearing directly from children, youth and family members about the benefits they have received through ChildFund sponsorship.
The parents are excited to share their community’s story of transformation. They start with a huge red map, showing us how the area has been grouped into small clusters of families with a community member assigned to track needs, concerns and risks of that group of families. They point out community risk sites on the map — a house where a mean dog is a threat to children, the home of a recent widow, who is especially vulnerable, and a dangerous, abandoned well. The map is a tool — a kind of safety net for ensuring risks are known and addressed.
As we discuss the map, the parents share that only a few years ago, unemployment was high in this area and children were abandoning school. Many in the community felt hopeless; others began leaving Patutan for opportunities in the city. In response, ChildFund led the community through a process of identifying the greatest risks to children and developing a plan for addressing those risks.
One of the greatest needs was improved access to clean water. Women were traveling as much as 6 kilometers (more than 3 miles) to get water that might meet their needs for two days. Collecting water ruled their day, and the chore fell primarily to girls, often interfering with school attendance.
ChildFund worked with the community, organizing members to partner with the local municipality to bring a water tank to Patutan. The result — high on a hill with the beautiful Andes in the background — is a water tank and treatment facility run by a volunteer water council.
Water is now pumped directly into the homes of 600-plus Patutan families, saving time, keeping girls in school and uniting the community around the management and maintenance of the water facility.
As we leave the water tank site and continue our community visit, we learn that ChildFund’s assistance with small loans is another source of community employment and stability. With modest loans, families have started a variety of successful small businesses.
We stop to visit one — a hothouse where carnations are grown for sale and export. Workers show us how they are grown, clipped and packaged for market. We meet a family whose prospects have greatly improved through their small flower business. They tell us of their plans and hopes to expand.
As we listen, we are drawn to the many colors and varieties of carnations they have grown. We buy 10 bunches to boost today’s sales.
Just as we’re leaving, a huge rainbow appears in the sky.
Guest post by Fernando, a youth from Ecuador
I am a young Ecuadorian involved in the projects executed by Federation of Community Organizations of Imbabura, which are sponsored and funded by ChildFund Ecuador.
One of the Federation projects is “Productive Initiatives,” which helps young people develop skills and prepare for the future. We have learned to make bracelets and rings using different materials. We are growing the program to involve more youth and even teach these skills to our families, as a way to earn extra income.
We are planning an open house in one of the most important universities of the area, where we will have the opportunity to show and sell our products.
It is important to mention that with the opportunity given to us to participate in projects like this, many of us, and especially me, have paid for our studies.
We hope in the future to put our knowledge in practice and make this a big business, which hires employees.
by Frances Correa, ChildFund Communications Assistant
It was while browsing through pictures of children from South America, that I just could not take it anymore. After five months of creating videos for ChildFund, I have heard and seen dozens of heart-wrenching stories of deprived, excluded and vulnerable children all over the world.
Looking at the faces of those children and hearing their stories every day, I could no longer just sit by in my cubicle and watch it happen. I have completed some 15 videos of children, and nearly every one makes me choke up. So, I decided to finally sponsor a child.
Having graduated from college just a week ago, my budget is fairly limited. Nonetheless, $28 a month seems like nothing after seeing how far that money goes to forever improving the lives of needy children.
As a native Spanish speaker, I wanted to sponsor a child in a Spanish-speaking country so that I could relate to her and correspond with her in her own language.
So I took the elevator down to ChildFund’s Donor Services and signed up to be the sponsor of 11-year-old Josseline Elena living in the Carchi area of Ecuador. Josseline lives in a house that her family is currently borrowing. The house is made of brick walls, a mud-tiled roof and cement flooring. She lives there with her parents and three siblings.
According to her background brief, her father supports the family with a meager income of $100 a month. Although the cost of living in Ecuador is little compared to the U.S., this salary is not enough to support a Ecuadoran family of six. Her mother is a housewife, busy caring for her home and children.
Josseline helps her mother to wash the clothes. She enjoys hopscotch. Her favorite subjects in school are computation and English. The description praised her as intelligent, extroverted, generous, friendly, affectionate, pretty and smart.
As I finished the paperwork, Russell (the Donor Services team member helping me) handed me a colorful plastic noisemaker and said, “Now you have to do this.” Although I was a bit apprehensive, I grabbed the clapper and shook it. Clapping immediately came from every corner of the office. Apparently, this is the way they celebrate new sponsorships in Donor Services.
I can now do my work with a little more peace of mind, knowing that because of my small monthly sacrifice, Josseline will enjoy a better life. That’ll put a smile on anyone’s face.