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.

High Energy in Guatemala: Youth in Action

by ChildFund Guatemala

What happens when 185 young people full of enthusiasm and a desire to excel get together? Good things!

Image of conference logoAt 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.

Photo of youth booths at conference

Youth assembled information booths representing their ChildFund project areas.

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.

Photo of smiling youth

Ready to take action.

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.

Listen and Speak — Participate and Lead

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).

photo of Guatemalan youth

Talking with Guatemala's youth.

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.

photo 2 of Guatemalan youth

Young people share their ideas.

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:

  • “I’ve lost my shyness. I am more confident with my friends, family and people in my community.”
  •  “I got accustomed to talking. I liked being heard.”
  •  “This is the first time people are asking how to make things better — and what I want.”
  •  “I see more opportunities in life. I don’t feel left out of decisions.”
  • “I can say what I think and want and need in Spanish and in K’iche.”
  • “If you don’t speak and give opinions, you don’t learn and you get stuck in your path.”
  • “I learn about myself and I learn about others. And, most importantly, I know how to relate to others.
  • “I’ve learned the importance of listening and speaking — of participating and leading.”

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.

A Constant Quest for Quality

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.

Photo of focus group materials

Getting ready for a focus group.

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

  • involve children, youth and key stakeholders in a meaningful way
  • respond to the real needs of deprived, excluded and vulnerable children and youth in a sustainable way
  • follow sound designs that address the existing evidence base
  • reach children effectively
  • improve through continuous monitoring and results measurement
  • adapt to culture and context effectively
  • produce the intended positive outcomes for children and youth.

But how do we know all of these things are actually happening? Well, we ask.

Photo of children in group

Talking directly with children.

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.

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