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.
By Cynthia Price, Director of Communications
I’ve never been a fan of carnations. I’m more of a roses and Gerber daisy girl. But then I went to Ecuador and developed new appreciation for this simple flower.
Carnations have helped transform the community of Santa Rosa de Patután, located in the province of Cotopaxi, two hours from Ecuador’s capital city, Quito.
During my visit I heard from community leaders about how their village had changed in the past decade and a half. You could say it had grown up. Fifteen years ago, Santa Rosa de Patután was a struggling community with no access to clean water or sanitation services. Adults in this isolated village had little income and few job opportunities. Alcoholism was rampant. Children were sick due to the lack of clean water and poor sanitation.
Today, though, there is much to celebrate. One of the first things ChildFund did when it began working with the community was open up access to clean water. We also helped educate children and family members about proper hygiene. Children’s health improved.
Access to water also meant that irrigation systems could be put in place to help grow crops and flowers, in particular carnations.
With the installation of irrigation systems, farmers realized that their lands could be productive. They would no longer have to travel to the cities looking for work in construction or domestic services. Seeing an opportunity for a locally based enterprise, they built greenhouses to grow carnations. A sea of red and white and pink carnations springing from the earth looks like a sunrise – absolutely breathtaking. When the carnations are harvested they are brought to buildings for processing and shipment to the United States, Europe, Russia and other countries in Latin America. Breathing in the scent is intoxicating.
At the same time that the carnations began to flourish, community members created their own credit union, with initial training and support from ChildFund. Profits generated from the sale of carnations are reinvested in projects for the community such as building better roads and creating a technology center for the children.
“It hasn’t been easy, we had to struggle a lot, and this is the result of many hours of meetings with the community to organize ourselves and make our business work,” says Nestor Moya, a community leader. “Fifteen years ago, we didn’t have water or electricity, but ChildFund gave us the foundations… and now we are entrepreneurs and administrators. We don´t have to work for anybody else.”
Hearing that success story has changed my views on carnations. I’d be delighted with a bouquet of carnations this Valentine’s Day. Beyond making my day special, those carnations would be changing the lives of the children and families who grow them with love.
That’s the sweet smell of success.
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.”