In a small community in northern Ecuador, we find Samira (pictured above), a cheerful and lively two-year-old girl who lives with her mother, Diana, and her grandparents, Maria and Miguel.
Maria and Diana participate in ChildFund`s early childhood development programs in their community. Diana has participated since she was pregnant, and when her baby girl was born, she already knew Samira needed the right kind of food.
Maria tells us that Samira is the family`s ‘guinea pig’ because they put into practice everything they have learnt through ChildFund in raising her.
“My daughter does not get sick as other children do,” says Diana. “When the other children had a strong flu, she didn`t get it. She is a very healthy girl. She likes to eat soup. She really likes beans and corn, and she eats all kinds of fruits.”
The ChildFund-supported livelihoods project in their community means Samira has access to her healthy diet thanks to the family`s backyard garden. In her 30-square-metre plot, Maria cultivates a variety of fruits and vegetables. These form the basis of the family`s diet and keep young Samira happy and healthy as she grows.
Eli, a mother of two girls and a third baby on the way, is a volunteer with one of ChildFund`s local partner organisations in Oaxaca, in the south west of Mexico. We met her two daughters, who are among 30 wildly energetic children, aged six to 12 years old, participating in the Activate (Get Active) after-school program. Eli (pictured below) has her hands full trying to maintain order!
The session begins with a game called ‘the mailmam’. The children form a circle outside on a basketball court, and the leader calls out, “The mailman brought a letter for a child with€¦ a ponytail! Blue jeans! Red shirt!” The children scurry to the correct position in the circle, depending on their hairstyle or clothing. Younger children learn to identify categories through the game, and everyone burns some energy.
We then venture inside to a large room that the municipal government lends to ChildFund`s local partner. It`s centrally located and safe, so the children have an easily accessible space for learning. Inside these walls, creativity flows.
Now the children work together to create a new fairy tale, which winds up being called ‘Little Red Riding Hood and the Boy in the Blue Cape’.
Eli walks around the room asking children to provide the next line in the story, building on what the last child said. The story, intricate with detail, twists and plot turns, grows and grows, and another adult volunteer writes the story on a blackboard €” but with intentional spelling and grammar mistakes. After the story is finished, the children tell her how to correct the story €“ where an accent was missing, where a comma needed to be added, where an S needed to be changed to a Z.
As a facilitator, Eli supervises four sessions a week: two for children aged six to 12 like the one we saw, and two sessions for youth, aged 13 and older.
These sessions are different from school classes, Eli says, because in class, the children have to be formal and quiet. But in these programs, they get to let their energy and creativity soar.
As a facilitator, she receives a small stipend of approximately $50 a month to help her family. But the payback is more than monetary; Eli describes the children as her friends, and she loves when they run up to her and give her big hugs when she walks through the community.
After the fairy tale session, the children have another recess outside. This time, the basketball court is turned into an obstacle course with a fabric tunnel, foam rollers, large boxes and rings. They jump, hopscotch and crawl through the course, ultimately sitting on a throne made from cushions. Then it`s time to go home.
Eli says she has a new purpose and higher confidence with the skills she has learned as a facilitator, and she feels empowered to be a leader in her community. More importantly, Eli says the training has helped her to be a better mother to her own children.