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.
by Daniel Kertesz
ChildFund Web Developer
Editor’s note: This posting was updated on April 14 to make corrections to the content and caption, clarifying that the young people are members of a ChildFund Ecuador youth group enrolled in training to be community reporters. They have not yet completed the training program as previously reported.
This past week has certainly been a busy one. Following introductions with the Ecuador National Office staff, we gathered in a large meeting room to go over what is expected of everyone to ensure ChildFund Ecuador’s new Web site will launch by the specified date.
The developers of the site do not speak a lot of English (nor I, Spanish), so I’ve been spending quite a bit of time with translators. The real challenge here is to try and describe some of the technical terms the translator does not understand in a way that makes sense.
The closer we get to delivery time, the more excited we get. ChildFund’s Ecuador office has already produced an excellent Web site, and the content for the site was actually gathered by the youth in the project areas. They are enrolled in a program called “Youth Reporters,” and from the content we’ve seen so far, they are doing an excellent job.
Toward the end of the day Wednesday, we learned that members of the Ecuador office, as well as the lead on the site development were actually meeting with members of a ChildFund youth group in a room next to us. So, I scrambled back to the hotel to grab my cameras, and following a few debacles with batteries upon return, we managed to film and interview some of the youth who are enrolled in a program to become community reporters. What came as an incredible surprise was finding out that some of the reporters in training were actually once enrolled in the ChildFund sponsorship program!
We interviewed three youth about the program, how they felt about sponsorship and so forth. Following our battery of questions, we extended to them the opportunity to ask questions of us. And let me tell you, this Youth Reporters training program has most certainly paid off. At one point, one of the youth seemed to ask more questions of us than we did of him. I can’t blame anyone for their curiosity, so I was more than happy to oblige.
These young people demonstrated the success of the child sponsorship program. One had graduated from the program and had recently passed the certification test to become a professor. He is currently waiting to hear from the Ecuadorian government as to his assigned location for teaching. He’s expressed a desire to remain in the Cotopaxi area so he can be close to his community.
Today is the last day most of us in Web site development group will be together. I’ll be staying on for a few more days to visit some of the ChildFund project areas in Cotopaxi, but everyone else will be heading out the door today and tomorrow.
They’ll be leaving me in good hands though, because the staff here in Ecuador are courteous and knowledgeable, and I’m glad to get the opportunity to work so closely with them.
by Daniel Kertesz
ChildFund Web Developer
This is my first trip out of the country. I’m headed to Ecuador, which isn’t that long of a flight. However, with the three-hour layover in Atlanta and time spent in immigration (I was one of the last people to deplane), the entire day was eventually shot traveling.
I was a bit surprised as we prepared to land. I’m accustomed to U.S. airports being separated from the city, at least by a good stretch of grass or forest, but when I looked out the window and saw cars, businesses and homes streaming by as we approached the runway, my initial thought was, “Are we actually landing in the city?”
I had the luxury of being forewarned that the airport itself is located smack-dab in the middle of Quito. They weren’t kidding, yet I wasn’t exactly expecting to see cars practically beside the runway itself. All in all, it wasn’t a bad trip out here.
Since it’s Saturday, we have the day free and we decide to soak in some of the culture and see what Quito has to offer.
Merchants selling newspapers and trinkets on the side of the road were pretty commonplace, and even one person selling papers decided it was beneficial for him to remain in between the lanes of the road even though the streetlights were green. Jugglers would run out in front of stopped cars to put on a show in hopes of receiving payment for the performance.
Our first stop was the Plaza de Independencia, home to the Governor’s Palace. The plaza was packed with people milling about. Children offered to shine shoes for $1, tourists were taking their photographs with the statue located in the center while police stood watch ensuring nobody crossed the chains meant to keep people off the statue itself, and people selling various wares from food to cloth were all commonplace.
Walking through the streets of the old city, you could smell the fresh herbs packed in huge burlap sacks and soups cooking on portable stoves set outside the doors of shops. You could hear the sounds of the various musicians strolling the sidewalks. Ancient (by several hundred years) cathedrals loomed above us as we continued our trek; we entered one. I was in awe. The walls were adorned with gold and old faded paintings while the ceilings seemed to stretch up to the sky itself. The place was huge.
Upon exiting the cathedral, we could see the statue of the Winged Virgin off in the distance. From our understanding, that’s one of the best places to catch the view of the city from above, so that was our final stop of the day. Atop the statue, we could see from one corner of Quito to the other. The city wrapped around the edges of a mountain and disappeared from view, so I’m not quite sure how much further it went on. Storm clouds began rolling in at this point, so we called it a day and returned to the hotel.
On Sunday we took off and headed out to a soccer game. Being a fan of watching soccer on television, but not following any team (much less attending a game in person), catching the game between Liga and Barcelona was nothing short of amazing. There is a strong rivalry between these two teams, strong enough in fact to warrant plenty of security, including riot police.
Whenever any player on a team flopped, fell or was legitimately injured, fans from the stadium launched rolls of toilet paper, receipt paper or just plain trash out into the field itself. Periodically, someone on the sidelines would rush out to clear off the garbage, but after a while it appeared as though they gave up. Neither team scored a point, but throughout the entire game, a steady thumping of drums was audible and fans of both sides loudly sang chants for their team. It was truly an enjoyable experience, and one that I’d like to have again.
Tomorrow we begin our work, which involves collaborating with youth in the community on a Web site.
Our final stop on the 31-countries-in-31-days tour is Ecuador, where children have been given an outlet to express themselves while making a difference in the community. It’s been a whirlwind trip around the globe in October. Thanks for joining us.
By Virginia Sowers
The voices of children and youth are telling vivid stories of Ecuador’s Cotopaxi Province in a new pilot web site initiative now in development by ChildFund International and its offices in the Americas Region and Ecuador.
“The idea for this project is to explore creative and innovative ways to share information with sponsors and engage them in our work,” explains Mike Raikovitz, director of Sponsorship at ChildFund. “Our goal was to better share what we’re doing in the field.”
The concept for the web site originated at a ChildFund Alliance meeting last year to facilitate a strategic goal of cohesively sharing and accessing information in each area where ChildFund works. Alliance members envisioned that the web site would spotlight children, featuring video and content they developed.
“When we met with the Ecuador office last year, we set up the challenge of building a web site that contained descriptive information about ChildFund and ChildFund Alliance programs, yet developed in a way that engages children and youth,” says Raikovitz. “What’s interesting about this initiative is that it’s real information about the work ChildFund is doing in communities. It will allow sponsors to see how their money is being used, and better understand our programming and priorities that help children thrive in the Cotopaxi area.”
ChildFund Ecuador, which was already working with youth to do community reporting and radio spots, accepted the challenge. “It was a natural extension to add this new component,” says Raikovitz.
Through the web site, children are using their training in multimedia technology to capture stories about their community and integrate video, photographs and music. ChildFund is training community mobilizers to help the children develop web content.
Given this outlet to share their voices and their perspectives, youth in the Cotopaxi area are bubbling with ideas and energy. They’ve already produced a number of videos, including the story of a long-dreamed-about reservoir for the community, and how fresh water is improving sanitation for families and aiding the environment. They’re also documenting the success stories of individuals aided by ChildFund Ecuador.
Once the web site is up and running, it will likely be a model for other regions and countries to consider. In Ecuador, the expectation is that children and youth will maintain the web site, keeping it continually refreshed with new information, program updates and child and youth contributions.
There’s no shortage of stories to tell
For more information on Ecuador, click here.
More on Ecuador
Population: 13.7 million
ChildFund beneficiaries: More than 264,000 children and families
Did You Know?: The province contains the Cotopaxi volcano, an intermittently active volcano, with a summit height of 19,388 feet.