By Nicole Duciaume, Americas Region Sponsorship Manager
Rita’s first day as a volunteer is filled with bursting nerves, excitement, confidence and fear. At one point, she candidly admits that she wants to do a good job so that those who trained her would be proud of what she learned and how she is applying it.
She joined ChildFund recently as a guide mother in the highlands of Guatemala. Over the next several years, she will take weekly classes on diverse topics such as parenting skills, children’s learning styles, nutrition, child rights, the importance of play and many more. She will then lead weekly community-based early childhood education sessions and will be a go-to resource for other mothers in her community.
Now 21 years old, Rita got married at age 17. She explains that her father died when she was in the fourth grade, forcing her to drop out of school to work on a small farm along with her mother and six siblings. This was the only way for the family to survive. She talks about the hardships of being a mother in a part of the world where women have little opportunity for education or work.
When asked why she wanted to be a guide mother, she lights up. Her answer is simple: “A better future for my children, so that they have chances that I never had. I want them to get an education and get whatever job they want.” She goes on to explain how important it is for her to learn and be a good model for her children, saying, “I didn’t get a chance to study, so this is also my turn to learn.”
With her 1-year-old daughter, Jocelyn, wrapped to her back with a perraje, a woven shawl, Rita stands in front of 15 eager children ready to play and learn. One of them is her 4-year-old son, Sebastian. Rita leads the class of 3- to 5-year-olds through various singing and coloring exercises, which translates into language acquisition and fine motor skills development. A smile of relief spreads across Rita’s face as the class ends and she knows that this session, the first of many more to come, has been a huge success.
Through ChildFund’s guide mother program, Rita is both the student and the teacher.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
This was the second time I’ve been to Guatemala, but it was very different from my first trip, which was a vacation taken with a friend. Both times, I saw plenty of beautiful terrain, including an active volcano, lakes, foliage and mountains.
But during my ChildFund trip, I had the chance to visit places that tourists never go.
Here’s a short video I shot from the car during one drive into the highlands; it may seem bumpy, but this was hardly the worst of the roads. This one was paved, after all.
I took Dramamine every morning, just in case.
Some moments were a little scary, like when we were trying to cross this ditch being dug for a water line. But we all got in and out each day without serious difficulty, thanks to good planning by my hosts from ChildFund Guatemala’s national office and our local partner organizations in the communities. Not only did they arrange transportation and lodging, but they also spoke to families, teachers and principals so I could interview them.
The most remarkable visit was to a family’s home in Patzite. We met Cristina, the mother of six children — including a baby girl born just the week before. She didn’t even have a name yet. Despite still being in bed, Cristina welcomed us warmly. Two of her children, 8-year-old Wendy Catarina and 7-year-old Marcos, are sponsored through ChildFund.
Inside their home, which had dirt floors and mud-brick walls like many in the region, the children and their mother sat on beds and greeted us. I asked questions about water and electricity (they have running water every third day, and they have electricity, although others in the village don’t), where the baby had been born (at home, with a midwife attending), how the children liked being sponsored.
Marcos says of his sponsor, “I have a new friend.” He hopes to be a lawyer, while Wendy wishes to be a doctor. Their 12-year-old sister, Ana Loida, says she likes to write and hopes to be a teacher.
Of course, money factors into those dreams. Ana is in sixth grade, and although Cristina and her husband, who is a day laborer, would like their oldest daughter to continue to high school, the cost of uniforms and books is high. Plus, Wendy has considerable physical problems: poor eyesight, a femur that doesn’t fit right into her hip, and ear and foot issues. Medical assistance costs money, too.
“She has many difficulties,” Cristina says. “Wendy has to leave home early so she gets to school on time. She can’t run or walk fast. She also has to sit near the blackboard. She cries at night because her foot hurts.” The nearest health center is a one-hour walk from their home, and public transportation is available only on Thursday and Sunday.
“If there’s no medicine there, we get a prescription, and we have to buy medicine ourselves,” Cristina says.
Still, she adds, the children have benefited from ChildFund’s presence in the community. Cristina’s first contact was with guide mothers, local women who had received training through ChildFund. “At first, I was a little afraid because I didn’t want people to ask my children things,” she says. But her initial reservations dissipated quickly. “Marcos is happier, and so is Wendy.”
They were enrolled in ChildFund-supported programs six years ago, and both Marcos and Wendy found sponsors at the start of this year. Because only three children can be enrolled per family, Cristina plans to enroll the baby, who’s just starting to wiggle and fuss amid the blankets.
Cristina hopes for more opportunities for her children than she’s had. After finishing second grade, her father couldn’t afford to send her back to school, and Cristina had to weave cloth to sell. After a decade of working, she was married at age 18 and began having children. Today, she speaks only her local language, Quiché, although Ana, Marcos and Wendy can speak Spanish.
“After what I’ve seen,” Cristina says, “education is important. I try to make their dreams come true. Not knowing how to speak Spanish — it’s not what I want for my children.”
It’s a real struggle for many of the families I met in Guatemala’s mountains. I hope Cristina’s children and others I met can receive the help they need to continue school and have more options as young adults, whether it’s through sponsorship, grants or some other source. I also hope to return to these villages one day and see the changes for myself.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
This is the second of three articles this month about Kate’s recent trip to report on ChildFund-supported programs in Guatemala’s highlands. Read the first.
In Guatemala’s mountain villages, the sense of isolation hits pretty hard when you see a woman or girl walking on the side of a dirt road while balancing a wrapped load on her head. It’s a dusty, hard slog, and the air is noticeably thin at 6,000 feet. I was breathing hard after a short walk, just carrying my camera and a notebook.
In this sort of environment, it’s difficult to believe that any information could be carried from one village to another. And yet two villages in two different districts had tiny children making nearly identical duck masks in the same week. I was a little surprised.
Early Childhood Development programs are a common thread throughout ChildFund’s work worldwide, but because needs and resources differ, the programs often take different shapes. Here, children and (usually) mothers attend weekly or monthly events at homes with room for small chairs and tables, plus storage space for art supplies. Guide mothers teach children how to count, name colors, say the alphabet and build other skills that will help them when they enter first grade. Mothers in the community attend nutrition classes and other programs that help their children develop properly.
The week I visited, children in Palima were coloring the faces of cartoon-like ducks and cutting them out to make masks; in Pachichiac, which was at least a two-hour drive away, children used finger paints to color in their duck masks. Smiles and quacks abounded in both villages.
Seeing consistency throughout the region, even in something as small as two groups of children working on the same project at the same time, was encouraging. The region is about to receive an influx of funding thanks to the Japan Social Development Fund, which has donated $2.75 million through the World Bank to help improve the health and development of 12,200 children younger than 2 who live in Guatemala’s highlands. ChildFund will lead the project, which is expected to start later this year.
More than 13,000 parents of the children will be involved, and the four-year project will cover 100 communities in the states of Huehuetenango, Quiche, San Marcos and Totonicapan, where nine out of 10 people live in poverty. Parents will receive more training and support through a Guatemalan government program providing community health and nutrition services, which encourage breastfeeding, good hygiene and nutritious diets. Also, tutors will show parents how to stimulate children with language, numbers and other concepts, just through daily routines.
Clearly, a project of this magnitude will require great coordination among ChildFund staff members, our local partners, guide mothers and families. But the seeds of teamwork already exist in the mountains, despite the hardships. You can see it behind the duck masks.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
This is the first of three articles this month about Kate’s recent trip to report on ChildFund-supported programs in Guatemala’s highlands.
When ChildFund staff members travel to the field, we often hire translators, even when we have some command of the language being spoken. But in Guatemala’s highlands, I needed two translators: one who could translate Spanish to English, and a second to translate from the local language to Spanish. Often, we asked our local partner organizations to help us out.
It definitely made reporting interesting. A couple of people compared the process to the childhood game of Telephone, which isn’t too far from the truth. Since it was hard to get direct quotes, I relied a lot on skills of observation in Palima, Patzite and Pachichiac, mountain villages that I visited in late April.
Bumpy dirt roads, bright blue tarps draped over mud-brick house frames, the scent of greens cooking on a rustic stove, chickens and dogs running loose, the smell of rain as a storm approached — they all fed my senses. So did the peal of 4-year-old Heidi Karina’s voice as she named colors in her native tongue of Kaqchikel, part of the Mayan family of languages. She’ll learn Spanish in school, but right now, she says räx for green instead of the Spanish verde.
People in these highland villages are isolated from the rest of Guatemala, particularly the capital of Guatemala City and nearby Antigua, where schools, jobs, running water and electricity are far more accessible. Although the highlands are just a couple of hours away from the cities by car, a lack of reliable transportation and job opportunities keeps many families in poverty.
As does the language barrier. Children learn Spanish in school, but most in the highlands don’t attend past sixth grade. How many of you reading this story took high school Spanish or French? And how much of it do you remember?
Anyone hoping for a professional job in Guatemala needs to be fluent in Spanish, and I overheard one person in our party advising a young woman that she also should study English to improve her chances for a job as a social worker. Such advice seems unreachable for people who stop school in the third grade, take up farming or weaving, marry in their teens and have six or seven children to care for. Hopes may be somewhat higher for the children, but few of them progress to high school even now.
A state-maintained highway runs near the district of Quiché, which gives people there an advantage over other communities like Pachichiac, which is far from any main roads. José Mario Lopez Ixcoy, general director of ChildFund’s local partner in Quiché, says that most people there speak some Spanish, at least enough to take menial jobs in cities, although, he adds, “sometimes they feel discriminated against in the city because of their customs.” People can walk half an hour to a bus stop, where buses come twice in the morning and return from the cities twice in the afternoon. School, health care and jobs are easier to reach, as a result.
The people in Guatemala’s highlands will need many things to happen to make school more accessible: better roads, regular transportation, funding for school uniforms and other necessities.
And, according to Aura Maria, a guide mother who lives in Pachichiac, the communities also need more job opportunities, reliable electricity and financial assistance for education and health care.
I learned how to say “thank you” in Quiché, another Mayan language: Maltiox, pronounced mal-tee-osh. It took a fair amount of practice, and although I got comfortable with saying it during the visit, the word is already starting to fade from my memory a month later.
Let’s not let the same happen with children who depend on us to think of their futures.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer, with photos by Carlos Gonzalez, ChildFund Guatemala
Last month, ChildFund’s Board of Directors and members of our executive team traveled to Guatemala, where they spent time in the field visiting ChildFund-supported projects and sponsored children, many of whom live in tiny homes carved into the sides of steep mountains.
“It’s part of the journey, finding out how everybody lives,” said Scott Lemler, ChildFund’s vice president of information technology. “They literally are farming on the side of a mountain.”
Scott joined other members of ChildFund’s executive team this week to report back on the trip to Guatemala at our International Office in Richmond, Va., for a Lunch & Learn session. Every couple of years, the board travels to a different country to see our work firsthand. Some of the most interesting stories this time came from the group’s visits to youth projects, which promote job training, entrepreneurship and an understanding of their rights.
Jim Tuite, vice president of finance and operations/CFO, met Alfonso, who is attending school and supporting his five younger siblings by making and selling doughnuts. Alfonso, whom Jim called the “Doughnut King,” is part of the ChildFund-supported My Chance program, which helps youth — many of whom have recently graduated from high school — create business plans and build their skills to run successful enterprises.
“One girl sells handicrafts,” Jim said. “One guy was developing modern Guatemalan linens for women.” Still others have started a bakery, an organic taco stand and an imported skin cream business. Many of the families the team met rely on multiple jobs to make a livelihood, much as economists encourage investors to diversify their portfolios, Jim noted. That way, if one income stream ends, a family has a backup source of money.
Cheri Dahl, interim vice president of global philanthropy and communications, met Alex, a young man who has been sponsored since 2003. He’s also a participant in My Chance, and he sells traditional medicinal herbs, a hot commodity in the region, where it’s difficult to get health care. Along with Cheri were board members who work in marketing and lead businesses in the United States, and one asked if Alex had a printed business plan.
“He brought out a business plan that would rival anything any of us have ever done,” Cheri told the Lunch & Learn group. Aside from his herbal business, Alex teaches middle school and is getting ready to attend college.
ChildFund President & CEO Anne Goddard noted that despite the successes the group saw in Guatemala, extreme poverty still keeps many people from achieving their full potential and provides a powerful reason to emigrate, a risky proposition. In October 2014, about 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product came from immigrants sending money home, often from the United States.
“The immigrant is somebody who is admired,” Anne said; she even saw a statue honoring immigrants during the trip. Aside from financial issues, violence in the home and streets is a major reason many Guatemalans wish to leave the country, she added.
Despite such challenges, the Guatemalans who met the board members and executives often expressed pride in their communities and wished to make life better there. A mother of three children, two of whom are sponsored through ChildFund, asked Cheri to deliver a message to our U.S. audience: “Can you get more sponsors?”
Learn more about Guatemala, and consider sponsoring a child there.
Reporting by ChildFund Guatemala
Michael Kurtzman and his sister, Nancy Hernandez, came to Guatemala to visit Lilian, his sponsored child. This was his second visit; the first was in 2009. Lilian is 15 now, and she’d like to become a teacher. “I feel very happy sharing with my sponsor,” she says. “Thank you for his visit, and thank you so much for all the supplies he bought for me today. I am very glad to meet him again. God bless him.”
Michael visited the central highlands project Let Me Tell You (to increase children’s literacy, self-expression and research skills) and spent time with 80 children. During his visit, the children were making masks of their favorite animals.
“I know children need help; children can make a better world,” Michael says. “I see Lilian is a little shy, but she looks happier now. She and her family are in a better situation than before, when I came the first time.
“My commitment is to continue my sponsorship; also, I want Lilian to keep studying, and I will help her. I really want her to finish her education, because it is very important for her future.”
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 meet Rosa, a former sponsored child from the rural state of Jalapa in Guatemala and the youngest of six siblings. Today, she works for a local partner organization affiliated with ChildFund Guatemala. Here is her story in her own words.
Reporting by ChildFund Guatemala
One of my dreams was to work for the organization that helped me when I really needed it. Now, I’m working for ChildFund, and I want to share with you my own story!
My name is Rosa (people call me Rosy). At the age of 7, I started participating in the ChildFund projects through our local partner organization, Cactus. Nutritional, educational and health programs were implemented in the region where I was sponsored. I participated in the programs for 17 years, and it was the best experience!
The program that I participated in when I was 7 was the nutritional one, because in my community there were many children with malnutrition problems. At the same age, I started attending primary school; six years later, I started elementary school.
When I was 16, I was supposed to start going to secondary school. But it was a really hard time because my father did not allow me to study; he said that girls have to stay at home doing chores and have to get married to serve their husbands. Also, transportation was another problem. There were no buses, and school was so far away from my home, so the only option to continue studying was to move to another state. Too much for my overprotective parents!
So, people from the ChildFund project offered me a scholarship and helped me convince my parents to let me study. After long talks, my parents agreed with me. I lived with one of my relatives; they offered me a bedroom and enough food.
I was able to graduate, and I became the first girl to graduate as a teacher in my community.
After a couple of years, someone from ChildFund’s local partner Cactus called me to ask me if I was interested in working with them, and I said yes, of course. It was like a dream! So, I started working for Cactus and ChildFund as a sponsorship assistant doing many administrative chores.
Also, I worked as a program coordinator, and now I am working as a technician in the project Let Me Tell You, to increase children’s literacy, self-expression and research skills.
I have been working here for 17 years, and I am very happy working with children. I had a dream a few years ago, and now I am doing what I love to do.
ChildFund has been working for 75 years in the world, and working here means a lot to me. Serving the new generation is awesome! When I was sponsored, I received so much love, and it changed my attitude. Now I am returning all of these gifts to my children in the communities, and I like to see how children are changing their attitudes and aspirations, by reminding them that dreams can come true with perseverance and effort.
Now I am 41, and I have two children, Andrea Isabel and Julio Fernando, 5 and 12 years old. My two children are my inspiration, I love and am really proud of my parents, I have a family that always supported me and a job that I love! What else I could I ask for?
We asked Lloyd McCormick, ChildFund’s director of youth programs, to tell us his favorite story from the field. He travels many weeks out of the year to our programs around the world.
I was in Guatemala a few years ago assisting the Americas regional office, national office and the local partner organization in conducting a community consultation in a rural village in the mountains, a very beautiful place. It was held over two days, and during one of the first sessions, I started to interact with a boy about 10 or 11 years old. I don’t speak Spanish, so he was listening to me speak English to others around me that knew English. He was very intrigued by me speaking English, as were some other kids his age who were in the same session. After a bit, he started to address me in an imitation of what he thought English sounded like. It was actually just gibberish, but I immediately responded to him as if I understood exactly what he was saying. We then just got into a rhythm of a conversation with hand gestures, tones, and laughter — as if two old friends were having a great conversation.
The kids around him were flabbergasted that he seemed to know English and that we were having this conversation. The adults around us that knew English and Spanish just let us continue our “drama” and confirming that the other kids were so impressed their friend could speak English so fluently. After some time, we both just finally burst out in full laughter, and the gig was up. From that point on during the rest of the stay in the village, whenever this boy and I would run into each other, we would start our “English” conversation where we left off the last time, just enjoying a laugh and some simple fun. The whole thing continues to remind me how we can truly connect with children in different and simple ways.
This gallery contains 6 photos.
By Abraham Marca, ChildFund Bolivia; Priscila Oliveira, ChildFund Brasil; Rosa Figueroa, ChildFund Guatemala
Season’s greetings arrive from Bolivia, Brazil and Guatemala, as children share their Christmas traditions. Over the course of the year, they have received great encouragement, love and hope from our sponsors and donors. All of us at ChildFund are thankful for your generosity and kindness!
Quema del diablo (burning of the devil), processions, posadas, firecrackers, eating tamales and drinking ponche (a traditional fruit drink) are traditions that people in the communities we serve in Guatemala practice before Christmas. “Feliz Navidad” means Happy Christmas, and the majority of the celebration happens the afternoon and evening of Dec. 24. Christmas is a very special day. Children share with the family and have fun, even when the economic situation is not good.
Yuri is 12 years old; she lives in the central highlands of Guatemala. At home, Yuri and her mother make tamales and ponche for Christmas. She has a tree in the back of her house, and she likes to decorate it for the season. “I would like every child to enjoy and celebrate Christmas as I do,” Yuri says.
“Hi, my name is Floridalma, I’m 12 years old, and I love Christmas because I participated in the posadas, traditional processions that start nine days before Christmas. The group sings traditional songs at various homes. For the season my family and I eat tamales and ponche.”
Eight-year-old Leticia, a sponsored child: “This Christmas I think will be very good, because my uncles come to visit us and will bring me gifts, like dolls and clothes. I do not believe that Santa Claus exists, but I know that Dec. 25 was the day that the baby Jesus was born. I see Santa Claus only when I step in front of stores, never asked him for any gifts, but I want to get a bike.”
Six-year-old Joao: “I’m in the first year of basic school. I like studying, but I also like the vacations because it’s when Christmas comes. My father’s name is Geraldo, and my mother’s is Maria. I have two sisters, Sara and Nilma. I love Christmas; it’s a day of receiving gifts. I stare at the lights of the shops. I love lights flashing. On Christmas Eve my mother does supper, because we are a simple family. Before Christmas Day, a friend of my mother sends Christmas gifts by mail. I have won a basket with a boat, a game of little pieces to assemble and a [remote] control car. On Christmas Eve, I like to go to sleep early to wake up early to see if Santa left something for me. I love Christmas!”
In Tarija, according to our sponsorship team member Victoria Glody, there is a dance called trenzada, and the celebration starts two weeks before Christmas Eve, when children dance and sing carols (known in Spanish as villancicos) with small drums and flutes to “Niño Manuelito” — that’s what baby Jesus is called by children in Bolivia. During the trenzada, people dance around the streets on their way to the town’s main square; once they get there, everybody enjoys hot chocolate and a special type of bread, or buñuelos, which is basically fried pumpkin dough.
Cochabamba rural areas have a different and harder reality, reports Alain, a coordinator with one of ChildFund’s local partner organizations. Although children expect toys and gifts, their parents can’t afford them, but they have figured out smart ways to make wooden or clay toys. They also make clay nativity scenes to celebrate Christmas Eve at home. Children also dress as the old wise men or shepherds, with a cape and beard made of cotton and go out singing “Niño Manuelito” at their neighbors’ homes, and in return they get bread or fruit. For Christmas Day, it’s traditional to have breakfast with hot chocolate and “buñuelos” too. Parents and grandparents gather together at home as a big family.
In El Alto, 6-year-old Viviana says: “On Christmas day I take a walk with my family, I play with my little cousin, and that night we have hot chocolate and Christmas cake. I like that day because there is more joy at home.”
Ingrid Janeth became a sponsored child when she was 7, and today, as an adult, she works with children in her Guatemala community. In today’s guest post, she shares the impact that her sponsor had on her life.
About 22 years ago, a magic story started. I say “magic” because I never thought that a person would change my life! My story took place in a rural, poor, indigenous community in Guatemala; I was 7 when my life started changing. My name is Ingrid Janeth, and now I am 29.
When I turned 7, my mom told me that I had a new friend who lived so far away from my home; she lived in Pennsylvania. I remember the first letter I received. It had some stickers on it and a photo from my sponsor and her two children. She wrote to me about the United States, the American culture, their most traditional foods, places they visit for vacations, how they celebrate Independence Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. That was all new to me, and I learned a lot from her.
My sponsor was always really sweet; she taught me how important it was to share with my family, how important it was for me to study and to have a career. She also supported me economically when I was studying and I couldn’t buy my uniforms, shoes or books.
It was a really good experience, two families knowing each other, even though my sponsor´s family was in another country. But the communication was always constant. The best thing I got from my sponsor is her friendship, and I keep all her letters and photos in a special place.
If I had my sponsor in front of me, I would like to say, “Thank you so much for sharing your time; thank you for all your support; thank you for your letters and pictures. Thank you, because now I am different, and I have a bright future.”
Now I am a teacher, and I have a special commitment to work for my community, especially with girls and youths. I am a technician in the ChildFund Guatemala project “I Love Myself, I Take Care of Myself” and work with the Association Renacimiento, ChildFund’s local partner organization in Guatemala. This project specifically works to help youth improve their self-esteem, build healthy relationships with their families, peers and communities and provide guidance on health.
My intention, now that I am working with children, is to teach them how to change their lives and how to have a better life and future. From my own experience, I have confidence in the great potential of the youth in my communities.
My plans are to continue working with children; also, I want to finish my studies in college to become an environmental engineer and find a place where I can both work with children and contribute to creating a better planet.