Listening to Youth in Guatemala

In Guatemala, ChildFund is helping vulnerable children and youth become involved in their communities. They have formed a National Youth Organization to make their voices heard. Here are just a few of the things on their minds:

Responding to Guatemala’s Vulnerable Children

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.

Tropical Storm Update from ChildFund Guatemala

Children at risk in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Agatha

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.

Identifying Best Practices for Our Work with Children

by Nicole Duciaume
ChildFund Regional Sponsorship Coordinator
Americas Regional Office

Nicole wraps up her visit to Guatemala’s Corazon de los Ninos project.

When you sponsor a child through ChildFund, not only are you changing one childhood, you’re also making a great impact on that child’s family, community and country. Sounds impossible, doesn’t it? Well, the proof comes in the annual Child Progress Report that every sponsor receives.

Updating sponsors on events of the past year.

Each ChildFund national office designs its own template, which generally includes information on how the child is developing, programs the child and family have participated in that year and additional information about community, area or national progress over the past year. The children can share some thoughts or a drawing as well.

Have you ever wondered how these reports are completed? ChildFund Guatemala alone will complete nearly 22,000 of them in the next three months. I happened to be visiting one community the day they were preparing reports. Rather than an overwhelming task, it was exciting, engaging and fun!

Corazon de los Ninos, a ChildFund partner organization located about an hour outside Guatemala City, is taking a unique approach to child reports this year. They are holding community events that celebrate children’s right to play—a fundamental tenant of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

On this particular day of report writing, children are

  • Laughing, giggling, singing, screeching, waving, jumping, running, whispering.
  • Climbing an inflatable castle, waving to their moms and friends atop their conquest, then cascading, tumbling and rolling down the slide.
  • Smiling from ear to ear, their mouths framed with ice cream smudges from nose to chin.
  • Porting colorful balloons just barely peeking over their heads as they skip from station to station (photo taken, information collected, drawing/note to sponsor).
  • Perfectly coloring their imperfect bumblebee, unidentifiable animal or house—whatever their imagination created to share with their sponsors.
  • With eyes wide open, not sure if they should believe that all of these people, games and events were created just for them.

    A fun day with ChildFund.

This mini-carnival atmosphere was exhilarating for the children, parents, organizers and spectators (I include myself in the latter category). The event wound down as the temperature began to cool and the sun began its elusive game of hide and seek behind the trees and surrounding volcanoes.

I returned, exhausted, to Guatemala City thinking that this creativity no doubt is a best practice worth documenting and sharing with other offices throughout the Americas region.

It All Began with 50 ChildFund Sponsors

by Nicole Duciaume
ChildFund Regional Sponsorship Coordinator
Americas Regional Office

Lilia, the director of Corazon de los Ninos, explains that they first applied to become a social organization 1989. ChildFund became their first partner in 1990, and sponsorship began with just 50 children, as a test.

As the years passed, the number of enrolled children grew. Today, more than 2,000 children are enrolled and participate in ChildFund programs, which also provide services to siblings, family members and others from the community.

When I asked the secret to this project’s success, Lilia mentioned that the growth was due to the increased community participation, pride and ownership of the programs. With this empowerment came the ability to look for other funding sources, resources and partners. The community had to discern the value and identify resources they had access to in order to determine which ones they still needed to create or find. By doing their homework, they could then look for partners to help support them in diversified ways.

Lilia says that the greatest resource is the attitude of the people in the community. It is their collective desire to better their lives and the lives of their children as well as their willingness to volunteer their time, resources and abilities that have allowed Corazon de los Ninos to expand services, even in difficult economic times.

Lilia meets with local mothers.

Lilia puts it simply: “Their attitude is—from those who have, to those who need.” She explains that everyone has something to offer, and together the community can build great things.

In addition to the support from ChildFund and its sponsors over the years, Corazon de los Ninos also has received funding and support from several other local and international NGOs as well as local embassies, foundations, individuals and businesses.

One partner is helping enrolled families improve or rebuild homes. Instead of relying on traditional homes made of cardboard and sugarcane, several families have entered a program that teaches participants about the importance of good construction and investing in repairs. The families pay a minimum monthly fee to participate and that fee is their contribution to the purchase of a home with solid walls, iron doors and protected windows.

Lilia also explains that when a meeting space is needed in a community, it is often the families who have participated in the construction program that volunteer their homes for the good of the community.

What started as a small organization in the shadow of Antigua’s volcanoes and tourist trade has grown into a dynamic organization able to diversify funding, negotiate partnerships, expand programs and reach more children and families.

The eager and willing community of Corazon de los Ninos was able to leverage the resources, skills and technical expertise offered by ChildFund, and then partner with other organizations and also negotiate with the local government for services.

A member of the project staff reviews child information.

There is still much to do, but Lilia explains, with a tear glistening in her eye, that she is happy “because the people are happy.” This is arguably one of the best measurements of success and a testament to the power of sponsorship through ChildFund.

The story doesn’t end here. Corazon de los Ninos will continue to grow, meet the needs of the children, youth and families and be a powerful voice for change in the community and beyond. Eventually, ChildFund will develop a transition plan to leave this small community—not because we don’t want to partner with them anymore, but because they won’t need us anymore.

We will reduce our responsibility and presence so that they can increase theirs.

This is the power of community development, and it all began with the support of 50 sponsors 20 years ago.

Positive Impacts for Children in Guatemala

by Nicole Duciaume
ChildFund Regional Sponsorship Coordinator
Americas Regional Office

Nicole’s travels to ChildFund projects continue this week, where she is blogging from Guatemala.

Nestled in the valley of the central highland volcanoes of Guatemala is the historic tourist site of Antigua. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this city is as much revered for its historic charm as it is famed for its modern-day vibrant night life, colorful markets, top-quality restaurants, upscale hotels, Spanish-language schools and beautiful vistas. It’s a must-see for any tourist traveling through Guatemala.

Antigua vistas

About 10 minutes outside Antigua, just past where the quaint cobblestone streets end and the boughs of the bougainvillea no longer peek over the private farm walls, I locate a ChildFund project called Corazon de los Ninos.

Driving down the street to the project office, you wouldn’t know that you were a few kilometers from the world-renowned tourist attraction. This neighborhood has a more utilitarian feel (pharmacy, egg stand, utility wires crisscrossing overhead).Yet, when you enter Corazon de los Ninos, you quickly realize you’ve happened on a dynamic, energy-infused hub for child well-being.

The physical center boasts space for medical, dental, psychological and laboratory consultations as well as a pharmacy. It’s also where children and families gather to write letters to their sponsors and receive training on parenting, child well-being, health and environmental safety. Each month, the center distributes food supplements such as kidney beans and sugar.

Monthly food distributions

During my tour of the facilities, the evidence of recent construction crunches under foot. Earlier this week, the community held a ceremony to place the first brick of a new second story—a level that will have a ludateca (like a library, but with educational toys for infants, children and youth to show the developmental and social importance of play), a multipurpose meeting/training room and a few offices to free up space for additional programs on the overcrowded first floor.

The first floor is also being renovated to include a full kitchen and training room to teach mothers about healthy nutrition, food preparation and caring for their children. The renovations should be complete in the next three months.

Although the expanding center is impressive in both service variety and delivery, the core of the project is outreach to children and families in neighboring communities to offer early childhood education, health and nutrition training and home improvements as needed.

Second floor expansion for project center

Lilia, the center director, shares the exciting news of just how much Corazon de los Ninos has changed for the better over the past 20 years. It’s gratifying to know that ChildFund has had a hand in this movement for children.

Making the Planet Better for Those Who Have the Least

More than 1 billion people in 190 countries are participating in activities to mark the 40th anniversary of Earth Day today and this week.

Those living with the fewest personal resources in developing nations often bear the brunt of environmental disruptions — severe drought, water scarcity, extreme flooding, erosion and food shortages.

The natural environment faces many challenges, yet it is the cumulative effect of many small efforts by individuals and organizations that adds up to larger progress to sustain the planet and its people.

Here are four positive things we’re doing through ChildFund:

> Solar panels at the Kokwa Island school in Kenya: This girl’s boarding school in the Lake Baringo community has installed four solar panels to deliver electricity to eight classrooms, two dormitories, a staff room, kitchen and dining hall. By harnessing the sun, “children are now able to have longer study periods in the evenings, between 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., and again in the early morning hours, between 5 a.m. and 6:30 a.m.,” reports Jackie Mollel of ChildFund Kenya.

> Eco-friendly stoves in Uganda: Confronting severe poverty often means thinking creatively while keeping the environment in mind. The introduction of energy-saving stoves in Uganda’s Wattuga Subcounty is creating manufacturing jobs, and it’s changing cooking practices. Families in Wattuga have typically cooked on open fires, using considerable amounts of firewood. The eco-friendly stoves hold heat, reducing the amount of wood needed to cook, and they produce less smoke than an open fire.

> Tree planting in Kenya: The widespread cutting of trees for fuel and construction is a leading cause of environmental degradation in eastern Africa. ChildFund Kenya has launched a major tree-planting initiative involving children, youth and communities in reforestation. For example, the Wamunyu Breakthrough Youth Group has started a tree nursery, growing and then selling tree seedlings. Proceeds from the tree nursery have helped fund the group’s efforts to address unemployment issues among youth through vocational skills training programs.

Improving growing efficiencies in Guatemala

> Growing food locally in Guatemala: A collaboration between ChildFund and the Family Parents Association of Kajih-Jel of Tecpan, Guatemala, is producing a bounty of tomatoes through efficient growing techniques. Bypassing costly traditional greenhouse structures, ChildFund and Family Parents Association opted for an alternative method known as the “macro tunnel.” Shallow dirt canals are dug into the soil to use as walkways, and slopes between the canals act as elevated planting beds. The tunnels are then covered with a tarp in the same dome-style fashion as larger greenhouses. Not only are the tunnels more cost efficient in technique, they also yield a better harvest for tomatoes based on climate and weather conditions.

As you mark Earth Day this year, consider an eco-friendly donation through ChildFund’s spring catalog or our Fund a Project program. You’ll be planting seeds that bear lifelong fruit.

ChildFund Responds to Guatemala Drought

by Anne Edgerton
ChildFund Disaster Management Team Leader

Anne with children.

Guatemala is experiencing the beginning of a nutritional emergency caused by drought in the country’s eastern region, known as the coredor seco — the dry corridor.

The lack of rainfall caused some Guatemalans to lose their entire harvest for 2009. The loss will have a year-long impact on these agricultural communities, as each family normally stores its harvest until the next rainy season. They depend on their crops to provide food for all family members.

This crisis is predicted to increase in gravity this month. In the coming months, affected families will not only lack their own food stores, the poorest community members will be unable to purchase food, as prices spike during a drought.

In Guatemala, the agricultural sector accounts for one-fourth of national GDP. The drought has already generated a high local unemployment rate, eliminating subsistence agriculture as a form of employment.

A Guatemalan (former sponsored child) surveys the dry countryside.

Given all of these deteriorating conditions, malnutrition is already present in children under age five in some communities. In response, ChildFund Guatemala is redirecting funds in affected communities to address this crisis. We will be providing nutritional supplementary food to the most vulnerable children in ChildFund communities. In addition, we will be working with parents on the use of kitchen gardens and orchards and providing education on nutritional health. By introducing alternative resources and skills, we aim to help children and families better cope with this crisis.

In the eastern areas where ChildFund works, there are no other international partners. ChildFund will use current community-based monitoring systems and will increase coordination with Guatemala’s Ministry of Health as a means of strengthening community management of malnutrition.

To donate to the ChildAlert emergency fund, click here.

Listening to Guatemala’s Vulnerable Children

By Anne Edgerton
Disaster Management Team Leader

Guatemala is a cool, mountainous country with one of the largest — if not the largest capital cities in Central America. Yet, as I traveled to one of the rural areas where ChildFund has worked for many years, it is more than anything else a trip back in time. Once you leave behind the Pan-American Highway, there are fewer vehicles as you reach these higher mountainous destinations. 31 in 31

Despite our steep ascent into Huehuetenango, a municipality where ChildFund has worked for many years, we actually still looked up to a peak known locally as “El Mirador,” the highest point in Guatemala. The climate in these areas is gentle, even at such high altitudes, but eking out an existence from farming is tough work. The sparse rains over the past few years have not helped matters, and crops tend to be mostly subsistence — beans and high-altitude corn.

Many of the children lucky enough to go to school must walk huge distances, sometimes all downhill one way, all uphill on the return. Government health clinics make the rounds to a central village only one day per month. We are currently working with ChildFund Guatemala staff, local partner Nueva Esperanza, international partner International Medical Corps and children and youth themselves to discover the issues they are most concerned about.


Children in the Huehuetenango region are eager to change their futures.

Initial learnings from both adults and youth reveal that the lack of activities and opportunities weighs most on their minds. These factors, combined with violence in their homes and hopelessness, seem to be some of the influences driving youth into gang activity. Focus group and interview work with these children has revealed that younger teenagers have many unaddressed problems that are likely direct contributors to their engagement in violence and conflict in their teen years and beyond.

ChildFund is working with its partners and the children to address these issues through programming requested by the children themselves. We are attempting to address some of the violence issues through the formation of groups, activities and places to play.

Children are suggesting to our researchers that they would like to see and contribute to the education of their parents on how to raise children. They also want more talking groups. Our interviews were the first time for many to talk with adults about these issues, and they expressed a strong desire for more sharing opportunities, combined with education, counseling and advice-giving. Girls in particular asked for girl-only talking groups, where they could share experiences and give each other advice.

We are working now to create more opportunities for expression among Guatemala’s children.

For more information about our work in Guatemala, click here.

More on Guatemala
Population: 12.7 million
ChildFund beneficiaries: Nearly 250,000 children and families
Did You Know?: More than half of Guatemalans are descendants of indigenous Mayan peoples. The peace accords signed in December 1996 provide for the translation of some official documents and voting materials into several indigenous languages.

What’s next: Fighting malaria with star power in Senegal

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