Guatemala

Zoila: A Peer Influencer for Good in Guatemala

 By Diana Benitez, ChildFund Guatemala

 The United Nations declared Aug. 12 as International Youth Day in 1999, so ChildFund is taking this week to focus on challenges that especially affect teens and young adults, as well as celebrate young people who are showing strong leadership in the countries we serve. Today we meet Zoila, a youth who shared her story with Diana on our Communications team in Guatemala.

Zoila at home

Zoila does her chores at home in Guatemala.

“Hi, my name is Zoila. I am in the first grade of secondary school, and I’m 15. I am participating in the ChildFund Guatemala project ‘I Love Myself, I Take Care of Myself.’

“It is very important for me to learn about the risks we face as adolescents when we start having relationships, as sometimes we don’t really realize the consequences of what we do.

“Since I started participating in the project, I see a big difference. I like to help young people, especially other girls like me. At the beginning, they didn’t listen to me, but now they are more interested in these topics.

“I advise my sisters and brothers that we have to think to our future. We can do many good things, but sometimes we think of marriage as a first option, but it is not the most important because we are still very young. I am not saying that I will never get married, but it will come at the right time.”

Zoila doing homework

Zoila does her homework.

Zoila is a young girl with a positive attitude, and she’s confident that she will have a bright future. In her community, she plays a very important role, by sharing her knowledge with her peers and also with her family. Community members say that Zoila is a good example.

The “I Love Myself, I Take Care of Myself” project, supported by ChildFund Guatemala, teaches adolescents to be empowered and able to make good decisions about relationships, marriage and parenthood.

After Exchange Week, Sponsor Relations Managers Ready to Take Action

By Nicole Duciaume, Regional Sponsorship Coordinator, ChildFund Americas

In the Americas region, four of ChildFund’s sponsor relations managers visited other countries for a week to observe firsthand what their counterparts do. This post concludes our four-part series about the exchange program designed to improve the sponsorship experience. Read the series.

Our weeklong exchange program for sponsor relations managers in the Americas opened the door to in-depth conversations on policies, practices, processes, operations and cultures. Each sponsor relations manager now has an action plan to implement a promising practice gleaned during the exchange.

Here are some of their final reflections on the experience:

Mexico visit

Ana enjoyed her visit to Mexico, where she, like the other sponsor relations managers in the exchange, visited the field.

Ana Handrez, of Honduras, who visited Mexico: In the 19 years I have worked with ChildFund, this was my first time visiting another country specifically to discuss sponsorship issues and experiences. I was very surprised to see the engagement and initiatives from ChildFund Mexico’s local partner organizations. They knew their policies very well, and they were very proud to share their ideas of engaging children in sponsorship activities. It was amazing! The visit was worth every single day.

Valeria Suarez (Mexico): Ana’s visit was an enriching experience for Mexico’s office and especially for the sponsorship team. The national office and field sponsorship staff realized that even though each country has “particularities,” both share similar conditions, processes, histories and results. We enjoyed showing Ana how things are done here in Mexico, how sponsorship processes and visions have changed in the past few years, and how results have started to be achieved. We learned from her how processing times should be improved to continue enhancing the sponsorship experience, and Ana learned from us how creativity and working closely with children can provide better information for sponsors.  

Cynthie Tavernier-Jervier, of the Caribbean, who visited Guatemala: This week makes me want to continue to make the sponsorship position more and more effective. I realized again how important the part that we play in programs actually coming to fruition to meet the needs (educational, social, health) of the less fortunate of our countries. So, a wonderful thing about my job is helping to bring benefits to less fortunate children and families and making a difference.

Diana Benitez (Guatemala): The exchange is an opportunity to know in situ the sponsorship processes. I see this experience as very exciting and enriching. Although Dominica and Guatemala have very different contexts, the sponsorship processes are similar. This exchange will impact our work going forward.

Bolivia group picture

Dov (in blue shirt) was impressed with the youth involvement during his visit to Bolivia.

Dov Rosenmann, of Brazil, who visited Bolivia: This was an opportunity to reflect on our current practices and identify key areas of improvement for immediate implementation. I consider myself a beginner in sponsorship management in ChildFund, and being in Bolivia with an experienced team is, for me, a unique chance to directly ask questions and take in knowledge. On the other hand, I hope I was able to share with my Bolivian peers more about Brazil’s experience in managing sponsorship. As for what has been the best part of the exchange, for me it was seeing the youth participation at the local level and learning about Bolivia’s communication corners. Both were very inspiring and definitely an initiative to be multiplied in other countries.

Rosario Miranda (Bolivia): My expectation was to learn by comparing processes and seeing opportunities of improvement. Both national offices have similar interests and efforts toward integrated sponsorship and program activities to contribute to children’s development. Having Dov visit our national office and four local partner organizations was a wonderful educational exchange experience. We were able to compare operations and provide valuable information to improve each other’s sponsorship processes and developmental activities with children. 

Santiago Baldazo, of the United States, who hosted Ecuador: This was a great experience. Although in planning for the week, we assumed that discussing sponsorship processes when both countries were already very familiar with the procedures would be somewhat tedious.  But, while we shared the “how” of the sponsorship processes, it was very valuable for us to have the opportunity to discuss the “why” as well. 

Zoraya Albornoz (Ecuador): Staff in both offices work hard to give children the chance of better opportunities for their lives. Through this experience, I was able to better understand the way other offices work and realize the good things we have in our own operations as well as the importance of working closer to the local partners. In the daily work we lose the real perspective of our strengths and weakness. I saw that we have some things that can be improved in order to reach our goals.

Learn more about all of the countries where ChildFund works around the globe.

Sponsor Relations Exchange: Stories From Guatemala

 By Nicole Duciaume, Regional Sponsorship Coordinator, ChildFund Americas

 In the Americas region, four of ChildFund’s sponsor relations managers visited other countries for a week to observe firsthand what their counterparts do. This is the second of four posts about the exchange program. Read the series.

We asked Cynthie Tavernier-Jervier, sponsor relations manager for ChildFund Caribbean, to share some stories about her exchange experience in Guatemala: what she hoped to learn beforehand, what she encountered during the exchange, and which practices she wants to implement in her own office.

Guatemalan baby

Cynthie spent time in the field, meeting children we serve in Guatemala.

Before the exchange, Cynthie was excited about the opportunity but also concerned that she might not be able to apply many lessons at her home office, which works with children in Dominica and St. Vincent. ChildFund Caribbean has about 6,500 enrolled children spread across the two islands, whereas ChildFund Guatemala is almost three times the size, with 18,500 enrolled children.

“I expect to be dazzled and overwhelmed because of the size of the office that is hosting my visit,” Cynthie said before the trip. “I am most concerned that due to the size of my office, I will not have anything to contribute to that large office.”

But on arrival, she learned that every ChildFund office, regardless of size, language or culture, has something to share and also something to learn. Cynthie noted later that it was important “not to be intimidated since difficulties and sometimes even frustrations can be encountered by all, and solutions suiting those situations can be found and successfully applied — sometimes even done as a team.”

Cynthie spent a few days in the national office in Guatemala City, as well as two days in the field, visiting local partner organizations that work with ChildFund and, of course, interacting with the children we serve.

Along the way, Cynthie and her hosts discussed processes like sponsorship department structure and roles, orienting families to ChildFund’s programs, child enrollment, children’s letters to sponsors, communication methods, handling of monetary gifts from sponsor to child, youth communication teams and the integration of sponsorship and program activities.

In return, Cynthie gave a presentation to the entire Guatemala senior management team (including the national director and the leaders of programs, sponsorship, finance and human resources) about operations, processes and programs in ChildFund’s Caribbean office in Roseau, Dominica.

What was the most important thing Cynthie learned? Providing more child-friendly resources to the local partners to share with children as they write to their sponsors, she says, after observing how these tools make letter writing more engaging.

So, the first thing Cynthie wants to do upon her return to the Caribbean is “make the correspondence fun and colorful, friendly and easier for children, so as not to make it a chore.”

As for the unexpected, Cynthie says she was surprised to learn that in Guatemala many of the programs and daily activities in the communities are carried out in indigenous languages, not Spanish.

group of Guatemalan children

During the exchange, Cynthie learned that many programs are conducted in indigenous languages.

In the field, there are many different languages spoken by the indigenous people, and some don’t speak Spanish, she says. “Some of the people wear specific cultural dress and no other, unlike in my country, where the cultural dress is worn only during certain months (or during traditional activities).

I was also surprised that children of about four or five years were working in the fields on a weekday, especially since school was in session.” So she spent time discussing how Guatemala is seeking to address child labor issues.

The exchange visit to Guatemala resulted in several professional and personal gains, Cynthie says. “Basically, this week makes me want to continue to make the sponsor relations position more and more effective.”

Tomorrow: From Ecuador to South Dakota.

In Guatemala, a Young Man Pursues a Dream

By Diana Benitez, ChildFund Guatemala

Tomorrow, June 12, is the World Day Against Child Labour, an annual event launched in 2002 by the International Labour Organization to highlight the dangers and disadvantages child laborers face.

In rural Guatemala, 18-year-old Didier works 10-hour days on a farm, and on weekends he attends high school. One day, he hopes to be a mechanic.

“I have to work daily because I need money to continue studying and also to help my family because our economic situation is not good enough. My dream is to finish high school to find a better job and to continue to college,” says Didier, a gangly youth who started working at age 15.

Didier lives with his parents, a brother and two sisters; their house has a tin roof, a cement floor and has just one bedroom. Didier’s father also works as a farmer. Didier earns only $35 a week, which goes toward school fees and his family’s survival.

Guatemalan teen studying

Didier goes to school on weekends and hopes to become a mechanic.

But a ChildFund project known as “My Chance” is helping him and other Guatemalan youths make plans for their future. Didier also has a sponsor through ChildFund.

In the My Chance program, teens meet for workshops and activities that help them create plans for vocational studies and how to become leaders in their communities, as well as learning entrepreneurial skills. ChildFund representatives and local partner organizations support the project.

Many Guatemalan children, especially in rural regions, do not attend secondary school; only a third continue their education beyond primary school. This contributes to a high level of adult illiteracy.

Next year, after he completes high school, Didier plans to study auto mechanics and to continue helping his family.

“Since I started my participation in the ChildFund project My Chance, I have other expectations for my life,” Didier says. “Now I can see that a positive change is going to happen in my future. Thanks to ChildFund and my sponsor, I am a better person, and at some point I will be a good example in my community.”

A Glimpse Into the Life of a Guatemalan Guide Mother

By Rosa Figueroa, ChildFund Guatemala

As we prepare to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, we’re spotlighting some of the amazing girls and women we’ve encountered in ChildFund-supported communities. We honor their struggles and cheer their successes.

Julia, a mother of four with a third-grade education, cooks with firewood and lives in a three-room home. Her family subsides on her husband’s $6-a-day salary as a farmer. Despite these challenges, Julia has become a community leader through ChildFund Guatemala’s Play With Me project.

The program focuses on early childhood development and involving parents more fully in the care of their children.

teacher in classroom with students

Julia helps children develop motor and cognitive skills.

“My daughter Cristel is a very active and proactive child in school,” says Julia, who lives in the region of Baja Verapaz. “I practiced early stimulation techniques. When she started going to school, it was easy for her because she is smart; her teacher congratulated me. My daughter is successful because I am a guide mother. Four years ago, I started participating in the ChildFund project. Every day, I wake up early to get my chores done at home and wait for children and their mothers here in my house. I like it because my children help me.”

young children in classroom

A classroom of happy children.

As one of 10 local guide mothers, Julia teaches parents games, exercises and songs to practice with their children that will help them develop socially, physically and mentally. Other sessions focus on prenatal care, breastfeeding and preventing illness. In 2012, parents of more than 2,700 children were involved in the program, which also focuses on children’s rights.

“This project changed my life, because now I can serve my community more, and also because this is a good example for our children,” Julia says. “When they begin going to school, they look more interested. Here in the community, mothers participate because they know that this is a ChildFund project. They like it so much.”

You Made a Difference in Guatemala

By Mario Lima, National Director, ChildFund Guatemala

mother and children stand in front of rebuilt home

ChildFund Guatemala welcomes a family back home.

Last Nov. 7, Guatemala suffered a strong earthquake. Thanks to the support from ChildFund sponsors and from donors to the ChildAlert Emergency Fund, we were able to bring relief to families and children throughout the affected areas.

ChildFund Guatemala implemented a three-pronged emergency response to support children and their families in the most affected communities:

  • House repair. In our program areas, 553 houses that were damaged by the earthquake were either repaired (429 homes) or reconstructed (124 new homes).
  • Social infrastructure repair. ChildFund also repaired or restored vital social infrastructures such as schools and community-run water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) systems in 25 communities.
  • Psychosocial support. We provided psychosocial support to more than 12,500 affected children for the two months immediately following the earthquake.

According to a traditional Mayan saying: “A good planting means a great harvest.”

Thanks for your support.

Learn more about ChildFund’s programs in Guatemala and how to sponsor a child.

Returning to Joy After Guatemala’s Earthquake

By Mario Lima, ChildFund Guatemala National Director

boys at rubble pile

Children survey ruined homes.

After an event such as a major earthquake, it is very easy to see the dramatic effects of the disaster. Damaged or destroyed homes, collapsed roads, no electricity, no phones; the devastation is a silent witness of what people went through.

man and boy talk

Mario talks with Esdras.

Having experienced a major earthquake as a child, I know there is underlying damage that is not as obvious to the naked eye. The fear, anxiety and the possibility of losing your loved ones, or even your own life, is really scary. Post-traumatic stress disorder can occur after seeing or experiencing a traumatic event that involved the threat of injury or death.

In the aftermath of Guatemala’s earthquake on Nov. 7, ChildFund, through its ChildAlert Emergency Fund, began providing psychosocial support to thousands of children. Our goal was to bring happiness back to children as soon as possible.

The school year is over in Guatemala (it runs from January to October). However, after the earthquake, children are coming back to schools to play and have fun as they address their fears. A group of trained community volunteers, led by ChildFund’s team members, gather to provide children with a day full of fun and learning games.

children playing with hoops on ground

Planned activities help children regain normalcy.

mothers and children

Mothers are welcomed.

Within the space of the familiar community school, we’ve set up a series of workstations designed by a team of five psychologists from ChildFund’s local partners. The stations are designed similarly to stands at local fairs. Children walk through and spend time at each station, experiencing different moments, from telling their own stories during the earthquake, to playing musical instruments to engaging with puppets to discussing a movie to playing logic games.

The ChildFund team had a pleasant but challenging surprise, as the back-to-happiness activities took place. A large group of unanticipated participants came – mothers. They wanted to know how they could further help their children at home. So we opened a new station to teach moms how they could help their own children.

All told, ChildFund is providing psychosocial support in 25 schools reaching more than 12,000 children affected by the earthquake. All these activities have been designed with one objective in mind: kick fear out and invite happiness back!

It’s Scary When the Earth Moves

Reporting by ChildFund Guatemala

On Nov. 7, a 7.4-magnitude earthquake shook the highlands of Guatemala, hitting the communities of San Marcos, Sololá, Huehuetenango and Quetzaltenango especially hard. Thousands were injured, 44 were killed, homes crumbled and power and water services were suspended. Esdras, a 12-year-old boy, who lives in a ChildFund-supported community, recalls the day.

boy at home

Esdras recalls the earthquake

“We just saw that everything was moving around,” says Esdras, who lives with his parents and three siblings in San Andrés Chapil, part of San Marco. When the earthquake occurred, part of his house fell down.

He also recalls a small tragedy: “A hen was getting ready to lay an egg when the earthquake occurred, and she died,” Esdras says.

“I am afraid of another earthquake,” he adds. “I felt every earthquake since the first day. When the strong earthquake hit, my mother and I were here inside the house. We just saw that everything was moving around. I was worried for my family, because there was no phone signal, no water and no power. Many houses near mine fell down, too,” he says.

Boy in kitchen

Esdras in his damaged home.

Because he loves to draw, Esdras dreams of becoming a designer of houses and other buildings. Lately, he’s been drawing objects moving as he thinks about the earthquake and its aftershocks. “I wish that we do not have more earthquakes. They say in the news that there have been almost 200 aftershocks since Nov. 7, and I’m very afraid,” he says.

To support victims of the earthquake like Esdras, ChildFund Guatemala has committed up to US$250,000 to help rebuild the houses of 550 families who lost their homes. In addition, ChildFund plans to provide psychosocial support to more than 12,500 affected children in the Guatemalan states of Sololá, Quetzaltenango and San Marcos.

Post-traumatic stress is one of the most devastating impacts of an earthquake on children. By providing emotional support and safe places to gather and play, ChildFund helps children cope with post-traumatic stress, address their fears and recover the confidence needed to go on with their daily lives.

To assist children like Esdras and their families get back on their feet and rebuild their houses, please consider a donation to the ChildAlert Emergency Fund.

The Day of the Dead: An Opportunity to Honor Children Who Didn’t See Their Fifth Birthday

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.

Bread shaped as a child

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.

Three Countries, One Goal: Happier Children!

By Patricia Toquica, Americas Region Communications Manager

I’m flying from Honduras on my way home to the ChildFund Americas regional office in Panama City. The last few weeks have been full of intense traveling and inspiring experiences.

In Jamaica, while participating in the United Nations Study on Violence Against Children follow-up meeting for The Caribbean, I learned so much about what the Caricom countries are doing to fight and prevent violence against the most vulnerable in our societies: children, youth and women. By working together on awareness campaigns and advocacy efforts, nongovernment organizations (NGOs), civil society, governments and institutions—encouraged by children and youth—can raise our voices and stop violence. Raising kids with love, yet with authority and discipline and without corporal punishment, helps children grow into confident and loving adolescents, without fear and without anger or resentment.

smiling children

A group of indigenous children in Guatemala.

A week later, I traveled to Guatemala, where the amazing beauty and richness of the Mayan world overwhelms your heart and your senses. So much color and vibrancy is reflected in the faces and outfits of the indigenous boys, girls and families we visited in their tiny houses hidden in the Guatemalan mountains.

It was inspiring to see so much happiness and hope expressed in the children’s faces, despite the hardships of poverty and deprivation. No water, no sanitation, sometimes not even the chance to continue studying beyond third grade. Still, these children have so much future ahead, and there are so many possibilities to make it brighter if we just help, in any way we can with time, money or knowledge.

Concluding my travels in Honduras was so rewarding, amid the beautiful tropical mountains in the Santa Barbara region, where ChildFund has been working for almost 30 years. Seeing young boys and girls representing their communities in town hall meetings attended by government officials and other NGOs is the fruit of many years’ labor and investment by ChildFund in these communities.

I wish we adults could have the confidence and abilities of these youth as motivators and public speakers. Their energy and desire to change the world is so contagious and convincing that you just can’t say no! These young girls and boys know their rights, are educated and confident, have big dreams for their futures and will not take no for an answer.

Youth presenter

Youth presenter, Wendy, discusses issues in her community.

While visiting the town of Colinas in Santa Barbara, I felt blessed to meet Yordi, Wendy and Kevin, three young children who come from poor villages. They have sponsors from a country far abroad who not only send resources and letters but also encourage them to keep thriving and dreaming, studying and participating. They see a bright future ahead of them, are proud of themselves and speak with passion and conviction about their dreams.

This is how I know ChildFund’s efforts are worth it. When I’m with the children I know our organization’s work, and the generosity of sponsors and donors from all over the world, really make a difference and contribute to changing lives.

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