By Mario Lima, ChildFund Guatemala National Director
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.
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.
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!
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.
“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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
by ChildFund Guatemala
What happens when 185 young people full of enthusiasm and a desire to excel get together? Good things!
At ChildFund’s Youth Spokesperson in Action conference held last month in Guatemala, youth came from different parts of the country to make friends, share experiences and tell their stories of community involvement through a project fair. A primary purpose of the gathering was to launch a Network of National Spokespersons, representing ChildFund projects.
Can you imagine the strength and creativity of these young men and women expressing their opinions? It was amazing to see them work together, formulate their arguments and perceive that it is possible to make changes in their daily lives.
“Weaving Our Network” was the theme for the meeting, which culminated a yearlong series of individual ChildFund-supported workshops to help youth develop observation, analytical and communication skills.
On the opening Friday of the conference, the young people had a day of recreation to get acquainted, and the fun was merged with the work of assembling the fair stands, which began to take shape and color.
On Saturday, following the fair and other workshop sessions, participants received a badge certifying them as Youth Spokespersons in Action. Applause and smiles all around.
At the closing ceremony, Mario Lima, National Director of ChildFund Guatemala, urged youth to remain committed to upholding the U.N. International Convention on the Rights of the Child and to create opportunities for “listening to the voices of childhood, adolescence and youth.”
Now these inspired youth are back at work in their communities — committed to leading positive change.
by Nicole Duciaume, Regional Sponsorship Coordinator, ChildFund Americas
A small group of ChildFund staff from Bolivia, Brazil, Panama and the U.S. were in Guatemala last week acting as external consultants. Read part one.
In ChildFund’s quest for quality improvement, our team in Guatemala identified factors that both help and hinder us in our mission. Some factors are within our immediate control (how we communicate with families, communities and partners) and others are societal norms that we must confront and overcome (exclusion based on indigenous identity, history of internal conflict, and male-dominated decision-making in families).
In our conversations with partners, parents, staff and even Guatemala’s children and youth, we found two prominent components of ChildFund’s approach that promote quality programming: a strong commitment to rights-based development and an abiding respect for the indigenous people with whom we partner and work. The fact that families and communities perceive these qualities in our program design and implementation is a true measure of success.
However, the challenges remain staggering. Guatemala suffered a tragic civil war with the most recent peace accord not even 10 years old. Much of the fighting happened in the communities and areas where ChildFund is working today. A discordant history presents itself in the lives, attitudes and behaviors of community members. We encounter apprehension and fear as well as frustration and skepticism. Yet, Guatemala’s people have an indomitable pride as well as a spirit of self-reliance and self-respect that provides a rich culture and a vibrant hope for children.
Our team spoke with youth participating in Mi Chance (My Chance), an employability skills development project, and Mi Quiero, Mi Cuido (I love myself, I take care of myself), a life and interpersonal skills development project. Youth told us that they are now more accomplished in their technical skills (knowing how to cut hair, repair radios, bake bread) as well as in their interpersonal dynamics as a result of ChildFund programs.
In their own words:
Even though the Guatemala Program Quality Consultation has come to an end, ChildFund continues to listen to program participants. This is part of our strategic efforts to constantly evolve programming to address the needs of children, youth and communities.
The Guatemala national office has a five-year strategy that will transition our presence and our programming over the coming years to reach populations that are in rural, indigenous areas, with a keen focus on girls’ participation and empowerment. All of these factors position ChildFund to be a leader for children and youth in Guatemala.
by Nicole Duciaume, Regional Sponsorship Coordinator, ChildFund Americas
To some degree, we’re all looking for quality in our lives — quality in our personal relationships, in our work/life balance, in our academic or spiritual studies. We are seeking value in what we do, who we are and in the legacy we leave behind.
ChildFund takes this quest for quality out to the field and into focus group discussions with children, youth, parents, volunteers, community leaders, partner organizations and our own staff.
In a constant effort to improve the quality of our programs and our stewardship of sponsorship resources, ChildFund has defined what we believe are the essential factors to ensure program quality. We invest in programs that
But how do we know all of these things are actually happening? Well, we ask.
We ask children what they like or don’t like about our programs. We ask youth about their future goals and how ChildFund can support them. We ask parents about their awareness of resources and programs available for their children. We ask our volunteers about the way we recognize their contributions. We ask community leaders how we can best work together to create sustainable change. We ask our partners which practices and systems promote learning and skill building. And we ask ourselves which policies move us closer to our strategic vision and organizational mission.
We ask a lot of questions in the field because we ask a lot of ourselves as individuals and as an organization.
A small group of ChildFund staff from Bolivia, Brazil, Panama and the U.S. were in Guatemala last week acting as external consultants and holding multiple discussion groups in several communities and at the national office. We were on a quest for quality.
Next: Our discoveries.
It’s been a year of extremes for Guatemala. Just a few months ago, the country was in the midst of severe drought that had destroyed crops and caused many vulnerable children to suffer malnutrition. Then Tropical Storm Agatha hit in May, flooding families from their homes, washing out bridges and damaging the country’s infrastructure.
Now additional rains have brought more flooding and life-threatening landslides. Alvaro Colom, the country’s president, has characterized the situation as a “national tragedy.” The president declared a state of emergency and told citizens to stay off the nation’s highways due to the number of landslides.
ChildFund projects are affected in Estrella Del Mar, Futor De Ninos and Pequeno Paraiso. The most critical needs are food and water, clothes and medicine.
Floods have led to the use of schools and churches as temporary shelters, which is affecting school attendance in some communities. Another concern is an increase in waterborne diseases.
What has become Guatemala’s worst rainy season in years is endangering new crops, putting the country’s food supply in danger once again.
In an interview filmed prior to the flood-producing rains, Mario Lima, national director for ChildFund Guatemala reflected on ChildFund’s efforts to provide better nutrition to Guatemala’s children and their families. These efforts must now be redoubled.
To help families in Guatemala, please give to the ChildAlert Emergency Fund.
A few days after the eruption of the Pacaya volcano, which continues to spew ash and sand across Guatemala, Tropical Storm Agatha brought an even more challenging situation.
Strong rains have flooded the country, severely damaging infrastructure, washing out roads, bridges and homes. Rivers have flooded their banks and landslides have occurred throughout the country.
Patricia Alvarado, who works in the ChildFund Guatemala National Office, lives in the Sololá area, which was hard hit. “It was extremely difficult to watch families everywhere knowing not what to do, but trying to save their lives, their children and whatever they could,” she reports.
“I saw women carrying clothes wrapped up in wet sheets, men with stoves on their backs, mothers with children in their arms and nothing else. This unexpected event has affected the lives and well-being of those living here.”
In responding to the emergency, ChildFund Guatemala’s first priority is to protect the rights of the most vulnerable children and satisfy their basic necessities, Patricia notes.
The insufficiencies that children and families already suffer are now worsened by the disaster.
ChildFund Guatemala Area Coordinators are making every effort to obtain up-to-date information about the situation. Current reports note 10 affiliated families living in shelters and 1,100 affiliated families affected by the loss of harvest and animals. Some of the reported damages in homes include collapsed rooftops.
If you would like to help families in Guatemala, please give to the ChildAlert Emergency Fund.