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.”
In April 2012, David Jenkins found himself on his sofa, watching TV while recovering from surgery in his Las Vegas home. That’s when he saw a commercial for ChildFund, and his attention was captured by the children on the screen. His next step was to go to our website’s financial accountability section to do some research.
“I liked what I saw,” David says, and he decided: “Well, I’m going to do this.” He began reading profiles of children in Mexico, in part because he knows two Mexican women who told him about some of their hardships growing up, challenges that many girls still face. The opportunity to get to know the child and immediate family by exchanging letters was also important to David. Right on the first page of search results for Mexico was Jessica, a girl from Ocumicho, in the state of Michoacan. She wore her hair in pigtails and looked quite serious and sad. “I’m not a big believer in divine intervention,” David says, “but I felt I needed to sponsor that little girl right there.”
Today, nearly two years later, David and Jessica maintain a strong friendship through their correspondence; they write to each other about every three weeks. Jessica’s grandmother, who looks after her, sent David some homemade pillow covers last Christmas, which he cherishes. Sometimes there’s a delay in mail service, but the friends continue to write each other regularly. They agreed early on to write when they have something to say, whether or not they’ve received a letter lately, David notes, and they make sure to record dates on the letters so they can keep up with the chronology of events if one letter falls behind. “It really takes things to a whole different level,” he says of their correspondence, which has taught him a great deal about Jessica’s community. “What I’ve learned is it’s a very traditional town. They’ve been through a lot of struggles.”
Jessica is part of the Purépecha Indian tribe, whose members speak an indigenous language and were one of Mexico’s pre-Columbian civilizations. In the 1500s, the Purépechas managed to hold off the Mexica Empire, which tried to conquer them. These days, David says, most are farmers, earning only $100 to $200 a month. Her community is known for creating carved masks and figurines, but tourism has declined in recent years, so this source of income for the village has decreased.
Jessica and David often exchange the Purépechan phrase “juchari uinapikua,” or “our strength,” in their letters, and they often share stories about their activities, including Jessica’s participation in local festivals. One of her favorite things is dancing, and she also loves reading, drawing and coloring pictures, especially of flowers.
“I think it’s very important to go to school,” says Jessica, who’s now in sixth grade, “because then I’ll have better opportunities …. I think that having a sponsor has changed my life. From my sponsor, I learned to be honest, as he has been with me, and to be generous.”
In addition to his sponsorship of Jessica, David has encouraged several friends and coworkers to sponsor other children in Ocumicho, including Jessica’s friends and classmates. Often, Jessica serves as “town crier” when she hears that David has found a new sponsor, spreading the news.
“She’s got a very big heart and has wonderful priorities for a child her age,” he says, and Jessica, who just turned 11, is feeling hopeful about her future. “Her dream was to get her vocational degree and become a secretary,” David recalls, but now she has mentioned becoming a teacher after attending university, or perhaps another professional career. Noting that she loves mathematics, David wonders if she’ll pursue engineering. At the end of 2012, David started a university fund for Jessica, contributing part of his annual tax return. “I’ve got a feeling that whatever she does, it’ll be something that helps people,” he says, calling her a ray of “inspirational sunshine and perspective.”
ChildFund staff members from our Mexico office recently met up with Jessica and recorded a short video, in which she explains in her own words what sponsorship has meant to her.
Many of our national offices have thrown celebrations recently for ChildFund’s 75th anniversary. Here are some photos from these events (featuring lots of ChildFund’s special shade of green), taken by staff members from our offices in Kenya, Liberia, Mexico and Mozambique. Enjoy!
Mexico City, Mexico
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
Social media can be a mixed blessing. It’s easier to stay in touch with friends and relatives today, but status posts, tweets and pictures also can add distraction to our lives. The other day, though, we experienced a pure blessing on ChildFund’s Facebook page.
A few weeks ago, Nicole Duciaume, regional sponsorship manager for the Americas, visited some of ChildFund Mexico’s programs. She met Guadalupe (whose nickname is Lupita), who works with one of our local partner organizations, often helping children write letters to their sponsors. Lupita was a sponsored child herself in Oaxaca, and she spoke fondly about her sponsor family from Oklahoma, the Talberts. More than 20 years after their sponsorship began, Lupita has kept the letters and photos from the family. (Click here to see a video of Lupita telling her story.)
As we do with many stories on the blog, we promoted it on Facebook. Usually we get a few dozen likes, a comment or two and perhaps a question about how to sponsor. The day that Lupita’s blog post went up, though, we received an unexpected message in the comments from Janice Talbert, who spotted the photo of her former sponsored child!
“This is so AMAZING,” Janice wrote. “I am so THRILLED to see LUPITA…she was OUR sponsored child. Of course, I had no doubt she would give back to her community. She wrote lovely letters to us for many years and then when we met her, she was warm, vivacious, bubbly and enthusiastic.”
Both Janice and Lupita still remember favorite letters they exchanged. Lupita’s was a letter she received on her 15th birthday, a cultural milestone for Mexican girls called the Quinceañera, marking the girl’s entrance into womanhood. Her family didn’t have money for a fancy dress or a big party, but the Talberts wrote that in their eyes she was still important.
Janice recalls the concerned letters that Lupita and another Mexican child they sponsored, Juan, wrote after Sept. 11, 2001, asking if her family was safe after the terrorists’ attacks. Janice says that her family, too, has kept every letter and drawing that Lupita and Juan made for them.
I had a chance to talk to Janice about her family’s 2005 trip to Oaxaca, when she visited Lupita and Juan.
At that point, Lupita was in high school, and the Talberts had sponsored her since she was 4 years old. They had been hoping to make the trip to see her and Juan for quite a while, and the timing worked out well. ChildFund Mexico’s national office helped arrange the visit, and Janice recalls riding in a white van for hours. Lupita’s town was quite a ways from Oaxaca’s capital, but the landscape was beautiful.
Near Lupita’s home was a canyon circled by jacaranda trees that were blooming during their visit. Lupita’s family warmly welcomed the Talberts, and they had a great visit to Lupita’s school, church and neighborhood. “It was amazing to meet her,” Janice recalls. “We’d get a picture once a year, and she was always serious in the pictures, but she smiled a lot in person.”
Lupita remembers the visit fondly: “My family and I were very excited about the visit, and we planned the food that we were going to bring them. When the date of the visit arrived, I made a sign. Then we showed them the local partner’s facilities and some activities we have there. What is most important is that I had the joy of meeting them.”
The Talberts also formed a close bond with Juan’s family. Janice recalls the tough conditions in which his family lived – a home with a dirt floor, and a single source of electricity coming through a long, orange extension cord. Janice and her family took Juan to see the nearby Mayan ruins; he had never had the chance to visit this historical site.
The families were generous hosts and very proud of their heritage. “At that point, my Spanish was really bad,” Janice says with a laugh. “The people from Mexico are so warm and helpful. When you butcher their language, they still compliment you.”
Today, since Lupita and Juan have completed ChildFund’s programs, Janice’s family sponsors two younger children from Oaxaca. She hopes that one day she’ll hear from Juan as well, whom we learned is still living in Mexico and working at an optician’s office. He still plays soccer in his spare time, a love that has carried on from childhood.
For Janice, the excitement of learning that both of her formerly sponsored children are doing well and leading happy lives has been an unexpected blessing.