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.

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.

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