Reporting by ChildFund International staff members
Today is Universal Children’s Day, when ChildFund Alliance releases its annual Small Voices, Big Dreams survey. Almost 6,000 children in 44 countries (in the Americas, Africa, Asia, Europe and Australia) answered questions about what their fears are, what they’d do if they were their country’s leader and what they consider their rights. Here are some memorable responses from children in countries where ChildFund works.
Hoan, 12, of Vietnam:
Teresa, 12, of Mexico:
Jeferino, 12, of Timor-Leste:
Agnes, 12, of Zambia:
Jonathan, 11, of Mexico:
Reporting by Paloma Gonzalez, ChildFund Mexico
Maria Elena (above) was enrolled in ChildFund’s programs in Mexico when she was an infant, and at age 2, she was sponsored by an American man, Hugh. Through the next 20 years, he wrote letters and sent financial gifts that her family used for clothes, shoes and food. Today, she holds a college degree in biology. Here are her words about corresponding with her sponsor.
Since I was an infant when I was assigned my sponsor, I wasn’t able to respond to his first letters, and my sisters wrote the answers for me! As time went by, I was able to write him directly, and we wrote every two months. He sent me letters, sweets, postcards and Christmas cards.
He always sent me words like “Yes, you can!” or “Go on!” and that helped me to keep going.
When I was going through elementary school, he would always send me letters to cheer me up. Despite the distance, he never forgot us and in his letters always asked about my family and how I was doing in school. It was very exciting for me because though we had never met, it felt great to have somebody showing such interest in me.
When I started high school, we kept exchanging a lot of letters, and he started to ask me about my future plans. At that time he told me that he was going to keep on sponsoring me for as long as I was engaged in the local partner organization’s activities and in my studies, as far as I wanted to go. That excited me so much, because since I was a little girl, my dream was to have a career. He always sent me words like “Yes, you can!” or “Go on!” and that helped me to keep going, because each letter encouraged me to go one step further.
My sponsor always motivated me to not give up, despite the many obstacles I crossed, and this is how I fulfilled my dream, and I can proudly say I have a degree in biology. It is the best thing that ever happened in my life, so I appreciate his trust in me and support without expecting anything in return.
This is why I invite all sponsors to write to their sponsored child, because a simple letter or photograph is exciting for us as children and brings us the best feelings and joy, and also motivation to keep going.
Read more about writing letters to your sponsored child.
Photos from ChildFund’s offices in Bolivia, Brazil, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Mexico and Timor-Leste
In the lobby of ChildFund’s international headquarters, we don’t have your typical office décor. Instead, we have a sparsely furnished Kenyan classroom, a world map mural with paper dolls holding hands, and homemade toys collected from around the world. A lot of the toys are made with what some people might call trash: used plastic bottles, twine and bits of rubber and metal. But the toys themselves are not junk and are often prized by the children who made and played with them.
In these pictures below, you’ll see the ingenuity and creativity of children who play with what they have — animals, traditional games and toys made from available materials.
By Nicole Duciaume, Americas Region Sponsorship Manager
A small public school in the Sierra Norte region of Puebla, Mexico, recently won a prestigious state award for its organic garden, which has produced much more than fruits and vegetables: It has also brought new outlooks on nutrition, agricultural practices and even entrepreneurship in the community.
Supported by ChildFund, the school’s garden helps students learn about not only nutrition and agriculture, but also their indigenous heritage. Here in Mexico’s northern highlands, much of the population is indigenous, and the program encourages students to talk about gardening, recipes and nutrition with their grandparents and parents in their native language, Nahuatl.
Maria Isabel, 15, took us on a tour of the garden this spring. She’s been heavily involved in the project since day one and was chosen to represent her school at the state ceremony in the capital, where the principal, teachers and students were recognized for their innovative garden.
“With programs like this school garden, a new hope is growing in this community, because we want to learn,” she said.
She pointed out each plant, telling us its nutritional value, recipes it can be used in and how much shade, water and care it needs. Maria Isabel also gave us the scientific names, as well as the plants’ names in Spanish and in Nahuatl. The garden has medicinal plants, fruits, vegetables, trees and herbs.
Students’ families come to the garden to learn advanced agricultural techniques, composting methods and plants’ nutritional value and levels of resistance to extreme weather. They also learn about how to use old soccer balls, plastic soda bottles and truck tires for planting, to save space.
The garden yields vegetables and fruit that also can become healthy dishes like pancakes made with bananas or carrots, complementing families’ usual diets and improving nutrition for children. Maria Isabel says she likes nopal cactus leaves steamed with onions, a dish that’s rich in vitamin A. She’d never eaten it before the school garden. Family members can take home some of the produce, and they’re also diversifying their own gardens, where they typically grew only rice and oranges. They’re beginning to sell surplus produce in roadside stands, supplementing their incomes, as well as sharing with relatives and neighbors.
The school has also started selling baked goods made with ingredients from the garden, even taking bakery orders for products like their increasingly popular carrot bread. In the future, students hope to create soaps and shampoo to sell at markets — next steps to look forward to.
Reporting from ChildFund Mexico
Last month, the city of Puebla, Mexico, hosted the Sixth World Congress on the Rights of Children and Adolescents, a complex event focusing on child protection, freedom from violence, environmental problems and educational opportunities. Three young men from the Huehuetla area and two young women from Caxhuacan who are enrolled in ChildFund’s programs in Puebla attended the conference, along with ChildFund Mexico representatives.
The three-day program focused on these issues: the right to live free from violence, the Internet as a human right, child migration and the right to family life. The conference, which met for the first time outside of Geneva, Switzerland, coincided with the 25th anniversary of the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Mexican officials, including the national director of the Family Development Agency, Laura Vargas Carrillo, and Puebla’s governor, joined Kirsten Sandberg, president of the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child.
“We have a date with history, but above all with future generations, thinking tall, looking far and acting soon,” said Puebla Gov. Rafael Moreno Valle at the opening of the conference.
Teens attended workshops and discussions, and they shared some of their thoughts with ChildFund in writing.
An excerpt from 16-year-old Guadalupe’s journal:
“One of the activities in which I participated was about violence, which we debated and discussed, bringing up things we have done and experienced.
“Then a rapper told us how rap shouldn’t be associated with crime but used as a means of expression. We visited the Atoyac River outside Puebla, and we heard the story about Atoyac and its creation and pollution. We learned about the percentage of salt water and fresh water and how much water they use to make clothing. It made us think about how we waste water in unnecessary ways.”
All the participants were affected by an unexpected event, when a woman was ejected from the congress. She was the mother of a 13-year-old boy who was killed in July when a rubber bullet fired by a Puebla police officer hit him in the head during a protest gathering. The case has been heavily covered in the Mexican news, and when the woman was removed from the meeting, some delegations walked out in protest.
“When I arrived at the meeting, some adolescents had started a rally with banners on stage, due to the case,” wrote Ricardo Calleja Calderon, who served as a chaperone for the ChildFund youths. He added that the teens involved in the rally were respectful but also pressed authorities for answers and for mutual respect.
“This conference was very useful for the young people,” Ricardo wrote, “primarily to strengthen their spirit of cooperation.” It is still challenging for teens to express their feelings, and more work is needed to encourage dialogue and good decisions based on their knowledge of their rights, he added.
“We want to do more for children and teens,” Guadalupe concluded, “because if we know our rights, the injustices in Mexico will stop.”
By Valeria Suarez Suchowitzki, ChildFund Mexico
ChildFund works with hundreds of local partner organizations around the world, providing funding and other support while they run programs that help children and families in need. Sometimes a day comes when a local partner is self-sustaining and no longer needs ChildFund’s support, which allows us to move on and continue our work in communities that need more help.
Recently, that day came to Colonias Unidas de Oaxaca, our local partner in Oaxaca, Mexico. We’ve worked in this community for 25 years and have seen great progress during that time. When we first arrived, the community water supply was rationed and untreated, 70 percent of the families didn’t have electricity, and children suffered from intestinal infections and diarrhea.
Now families have fresh tap water and a sewage system. Colonias Unidas de Oaxaca started a kindergarten, following teaching methods and knowledge built in partnership with ChildFund. Of the children that were enrolled in ChildFund-supported programs, 65 percent have finished a technical or college degree. Parents have improved their incomes, and children have a safe and inviting community space where they can participate in recreational and development activities that help to develop their skills, abilities and confidence.
This was the first local partner graduation in Mexico, where ChildFund began work in 1973, so this event was even more significant than usual.
After a year of planning and preparation, we held a graduation ceremony in September at Colonias Unidas de Oaxaca, attended by community members, ChildFund Mexico staff members (including our national director and the president of our board). We celebrated the community’s accomplishments with stories and memories. It was with great pride that we noted that some of the former sponsored children were now part of the organization’s staff.
On Saturday morning, the big celebration began. It was a day full of joy and festivity. The founder of Colonias Unidas de Oaxaca opened the event followed by testimonies from a former sponsored child and a mother of another child who served on the administration and parents’ committee. This was followed by a speech from ChildFund Mexico’s national director, along with the presentation of an award in recognition of all they had done. A mariachi band played, too. Finally, children and youth groups presented some dances and theatrical pieces.
When the celebration finished, ChildFund Mexico staff began the long trip back to Mexico City. But the journey reminded us of just how far Colonias Unidas de Oaxaca had come over the last 25 years. We were bursting with satisfaction, pride and happiness as we know that there is a new future for them, a future built on a strong partnership that has prepared them to continue working to benefit their community for many years to come.
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communications Specialist
Chile en Nogada is a seasonal dish celebrating the walnut and pomegranate harvests. The Spanish word for walnut is nogal, and this is a chile relleno topped with walnut sauce. This popular dish also is eaten on Mexican Independence Day (Sept. 16), as it contains the colors of the Mexican flag, red, white and green. There’s also a legend connecting the dish to the signing of the Treaty of Cordoba, which granted Mexico independence from Spain in 1821, so it’s a very patriotic dish to eat.
2 cups walnuts
12 poblano chiles
1 cup unsalted butter
2 yellow onions, diced
4 peaches, diced
2 green apples, peeled and chopped
2 plantains, peeled and chopped
¼ cup raisins
¼ cup citron preserves, chopped
4 cups pork, cooked and shredded
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
Sea salt, to taste
1 cup parsley, chopped
1 large pomegranate
1 cup cream
¼ pound queso fresco
Soak walnuts in cold water for 3 hours, then drain and discard the liquid.
While the walnuts are soaking, wash and dry poblano chiles. In each chile, make a 1 ½” slit, lengthwise. Fry the chiles in small batches on medium-high heat, turning them until they puff up and turn olive in color. Peel them under cold water and gently remove the seeds through the slit, without tearing the flesh of the chile.
Melt unsalted butter in a skillet. Add onions and sauté until soft. Add peaches, green apples, plantains, raisins and citron preserves. Sauté for 3-5 minutes, then add pork and cinnamon. Add sea salt to taste. Spoon the mixture carefully into the chiles and bake on a greased cookie sheet at 350o for 5 minutes.
Grind the walnuts in a blender, gradually adding cream, queso fresco and cinnamon. Cover the chiles with the walnut sauce and sprinkle parsley and pomegranate arils (fruited seeds) over the top.
This month, ChildFund’s blog is celebrating the harvest and traditional foods of the countries where we work. On Fridays in October, we’ll share recipes. If you try one, take a picture of your dish and share it with us on our Facebook page!
Reporting by ChildFund Mexico
One day, Antonio felt terrible, suffering stomach pain. He needed to go to the hospital, about a four-hour drive from his home village, Huehuetla, in Mexico’s Puebla state.
It turned out the problem was appendicitis, and despite the long trip, Antonio’s operation was successful. He was able to get to the hospital with the help of ChildFund Mexico, in which he’s been enrolled since he was 2, and the support of his sponsor. Antonio is known for his smile, his good grades and his teaching skills. Yes, even at 10, he’s a teacher.
Antonio speaks two languages — Spanish and Totonaco, his community’s language.
His gift is being a translator for his mother and grandmother, especially when they need to go to the doctor.
Antonio knows that his family members, who speak only Totonaco, have a hard time communicating with Spanish-speaking doctors. So when he accompanies his mother and grandmother to clinics, Antonio is able to tell them what the doctor is saying and respond to the doctor in Spanish.
He also teaches Spanish and Totonaco in the community.
He starts the Totonaco class for children by saying:
“Pastakgasinil.” (Thank you.)
Antonio’s family is poor, but they have better access to health care and nutritious food through ChildFund and the local partner organization. In return, the family members volunteer their time and skills to help others.
Antonio says that he wants to major in math in college, and he dreams about owning a store, earning money to help his family.
He adds: “Hasta chale,” goodbye in Totonaco.
Read our story from Saturday about the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.
By Esperanza Soto Aburto, ChildFund Mexico
At the age of 12, Jesus — or Chucho, as he’s known to friends — was part of the Organization Hñañhu Batsi, a community group in Mexico. He played soccer and was part of a team that won a regional tournament.
Today, as an adult, he has worked with teens who belong to the same organization, a local partner with ChildFund Mexico.
“I was looking for the kids to bring out their character, and teaching them teamwork,” Chucho says. But it was also important for him to open a business, making good on what he calls his “Mexican Dream,” which has special significance since he immigrated to the United States when he was 15, returning later.
With other young people in his community, Chucho began to figure out what the needs of the community were, and there were no bakeries.
That’s how the Nheki Bakery was born; nheki means “me too” in Chucho’s native language, Hñañhu.
“At first I wanted to name the bakery ‘I undertake,’ ” Chucho says, “but there is no translation of this word to Hñañhu, so I named it Nheki: ‘I want, I can, me too!’ ”
They started making doughnuts, biscuits, bread, buns and other pastries, sweetening them with agave honey produced in the community. The yeast and jams also are made locally.
The bakery has been open for almost a year, and Chucho and his colleagues are considering opening more bakeries in the region. ChildFund Mexico is now a trading partner, buying bread from the Nheki Bakery for children enrolled in the Early Childhood Development programs. Chucho realized that there is work to do in his community, and with a lot of effort and sweat, there’s always a chance to create opportunities.
In our 75-post series in honor of ChildFund’s 75th anniversary, we’re talking with several of our national directors who oversee operations in the countries where we work in Africa, the Americas and Asia. Virginia Vargas, national director of ChildFund Mexico, has been with our organization for 13 years and also served as Kenya’s interim national director for two months last year.
What is your favorite thing about working at ChildFund?
I work for ChildFund because I am convinced that by developing capacities in children and youth, they will be able to break the generational cycle of poverty and achieve their full potential.
I also appreciate that we reach the most vulnerable and deprived children; we try to help those children meet their potential. I like to be part of a global organization known as a child development and protection agency.
Where did you work before ChildFund?
I worked for a cerebral palsy foundation as the director for its education programs.
What is the most difficult situation you have encountered in your job?
The wonderful thing about the national director job is that every day is a different one. I always have to solve different problems, to make decisions, sometimes strategic and some operational. I always have in mind the communities and children we serve.
One of the most difficult tasks is to keep the “balance” among national office, local partners, the international office and the Mexican Board of Directors. As the leader of the organization in Mexico, I have the responsibility to take everybody in the same boat and to roll in the same direction.
What successes have you had in your national office?
Looking at the potential market for sponsorship in Mexico, during 2005, we started our fundraising. Today we have almost 7,000 Mexican sponsors. We developed a five-year business plan, and our goal is to have 15,000 sponsors by 2017.
What motivates you in life?
My motivation in life is to be able to support more vulnerable children; to give them hope, to help them to reach their dreams.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I like to read and go to the gym.
Who is your role model?
Gandhi, because he made a revolution in his country with no violence.
What is a quote, saying or belief that you live by?
“I want to end my life with empty hands, not because I have nothing to give, but because I have given everything.”