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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
> 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.
by Anne Edgerton
ChildFund Disaster Management Team Leader
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.
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.
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.
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.
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