Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

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On a warm day in a bustling urban barrio (neighbourhood) of Francisco Morazán Department, Honduras, Laura is at home helping her son, Esdras (pictured below), make a block tower. The four-year-old names the colour of each block as he stacks them, not missing a single one.

“In February of this year, he began preschool,” Laura says proudly. “I could see that he did his homework very well and recognised parts of his body, colours and shapes. He learned that from his guide mother.” She nods toward the woman in a pink chequered blouse standing beside them, who smiles.  

Alcinia López has worked with Esdras in the family’s home for several years. Why? Well, that’s what guide mothers do. ChildFund and our local partner organisation operate a program in the community called Creciendo Contigo (Growing With You) that trains a handful of moms as volunteer “guide mothers.” Guide mothers learn all about the ins and outs of early childhood development – what to feed children, what normal development looks like, how to stimulate their growth, how to discipline them in positive, nonviolent ways, and why early childhood is so important in the first place. The guide mothers then share this information with the rest of their community by paying monthly home visits to families with young kids.

Why early childhood is important

In this part of Honduras, often known as the “dry corridor,” climate change has made alternating droughts and floods the new normal, destroying the corn and bean crops that many families depend on for their livelihood. Parents are often too busy trying to make ends meet to devote extra time to early childhood education.

But kids under 5 thrive need that extra attention. Science tells us that early childhood is the most intense period of brain development in life. When children get the cognitive and emotional stimulation they need in these early years, they’re primed for success at school and beyond. When they don’t, they’re at higher risk for all kinds of academic and behavioural setbacks – including violence. In this way, children’s education begins long before they enter a classroom.

Playing and learning in early childhood education

Each time López visits a child, she has them complete a series of age-appropriate exercises known to promote five different areas of learning: language, gross motor, fine motor, socioemotional and cognitive. She walks their parents through the early childhood milestones the child should be approaching next, discusses the child’s daily activities and diet, answers questions and recommends ways for the whole family to get involved in playing and learning in early childhood education. The visits are a much-needed source of support for parents, who are hungry for this kind of information. And for the kids, the visits just feel like fun!

“I like all the exercises that the guide mother has me do,” says Esdras. “What I like the most is putting puzzles together.”

Esdras is learning and thriving thanks to his mother

And for the guide mothers, these visits are a precious reminder that when you teach, you learn.

“By putting my training into practice, I gain more knowledge,” says López. “And I put it into practice with my own children. It has taught me how to be a better mother.”

Wondering about ways to promote gender equality?

Kelin, 17, has an unlikely suggestion: start with a soccer ball.

She lives in a tiny farming town in Francisco Morazán Department, Honduras, where tradition is as deep-rooted as the pine forests that cover the land. She’s also the captain of her school’s girls’ soccer team.

Before, she says, the 14 girls could hardly be considered a team. They’d never competed against any other schools.

They didn’t have uniforms or proper footwear. In fact, they didn’t have any formal soccer training, because the only time they were allowed to play at all was during their lunch breaks – and that was only if they could find a ball.

“We used to be left wanting to play because we didn’t have balls,” says Kelin. “Sometimes, we borrowed them [from the boys]. Now, with these new balls, we can play every day.”

She’s talking about the unpoppable soccer balls her school received last year. ChildFund received a share of these balls and distributed them to young people in our programs who needed them most – like Kelin and her teammates.

Unpoppable, unstoppable: Empowering girls on and off the field

Unpoppable balls? You read that right. They’re designed to withstand the toughest playing conditions in the world. And in the communities where ChildFund works in rural Honduras, the balls are now helping to break down the injustices that face girls.

Traditional gender roles in Honduras dictate that the place for women and girls is in the home, not in the public eye, and certainly not on the soccer field.

In addition, violence against women and girls is widespread, so in an effort to protect their daughters from danger, parents often unintentionally limit girls’ access to valuable social connections and learning opportunities – like soccer tournaments.

“Before, only the boys had gone to another village to compete,” says Kelin.

But after ChildFund delivered the new soccer balls, things began to change. The girls practiced longer and more regularly.

Eventually, seeing their passion for the game, the school administration allowed them to travel to a nearby community to participate in a multi-school girls’ soccer tournament.

“We were nervous,” Kelin laughs. “We were afraid the others would beat us.”

Kelin, 17 (second from left), is the captain of her school's girls' soccer team in rural Honduras. Before ChildFund donated unpoppable soccer balls to her school through One World Play Project's #PassTheHappiness campaign, she and her teammates used to have to borrow soccer balls from the boys just so they could play. Now, they're an award-winning girls' team in their area.
Kelin, 17, is the captain of her school’s girls’ soccer team in rural Honduras. Before ChildFund donated unpoppable soccer balls to her school she and her teammates used to have to borrow soccer balls from the boys just so they could play.

The endless wins of sport for development

Of course, what all players – and sport for development programs – know is that soccer can help young people develop important life skills.

Kelin and her teammates say the game has taught them lessons in leadership, confidence and perseverance.

It’s all about the connection and cooperation that come from the players’ looking out for each other, girls empowering girls.

They’ve learned how to accept losses gracefully and take pride in their wins.

The teens surprised themselves when they, a debut team, won the multi-school tournament, beating out teams from more than 30 other schools.

They were awarded medals and even new uniforms for their accomplishment.

By the time they returned to their hometown, their families and neighbours already knew that they had won, and the celebrations were overwhelming.

“It was a beautiful experience,” Kelin says.

Today, many of the girls dream of playing professionally. So much for borrowing soccer balls from the boys!

Kelin, 17 (second from left), is the captain of her school's girls' soccer team in rural Honduras. Before ChildFund donated unpoppable soccer balls to her school through One World Play Project's #PassTheHappiness campaign, she and her teammates used to have to borrow soccer balls from the boys just so they could play. Now, they're an award-winning girls' team in their area.

Sport as a unique way to promote gender equality

Curious about ChildFund’s other sport-for-development and girls’ empowerment programs? Check out how we’re helping kids across Asia develop confidence and learn life skills through rugby. Or learn how we’re empowering young girls to resist child marriage in India through soccer.

And if you really want to help a girl score her goals in life, sponsor a child. Few things are more encouraging to a child than knowing that someone’s on her team.