Wednesday, August 29, 2007

By Elizabeth Sung, Consultant for CCF-Chad

I send my best wishes from N’djamena, Chad!

I went into town yesterday with the DDR program coordinator, Sandra, to help with distribution. CCF’s newest program in Chad is the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) of child soldiers in transit centers. In general, the youth are 11 to 17 years of age. At the transit centers, they receive education and health services among other interventions for approximately three months while CCF collaborates with relevant local and international organizations to arrange for reunification with the boys’ families.

As you can imagine, the former child soldiers have witnessed and may have even caused violence. Working with this population is extremely challenging since many are severely traumatized and some are accustomed to the ways of the military.

Since many of the youth arrive at CCF centers without any clothing and possessions, we helped to distribute basic hygiene items, clothing and shoes to the boys. First the boys were organized into groups according to general size. Then each boy was called up to receive his new possessions. “PrĂ©sent!” each boy called out as he quickly walked up to the front. As each walked back to his group, he proudly examined his new shoes.

The youngest group of boys sat quietly apart from the rest of the groups, under the shade of the classroom, neatly folding their clothing on the ground, and placing their new possessions into their bags. They contrasted from the older boys who took the clothing, examined it, threw it into their bags, and chattered amongst themselves.

As the boys tried on shoes to check the fit, one of the staff members would call out, “Un 44!” Then Sandra and I would scramble around checking the shoe sizes to find a size 44.
A couple boys modeled their new shirts and shorts for us, twirling around, as the staff and the crowd clapped their hands and laughed.

The boys loved looking at themselves in the photos when I showed the camera screen to them. They pointed to the faces and grinned to themselves. I think that is one reason why we continue to work so hard—they remember how to smile and enjoy themselves. It is a strong sign of their resilience and, hopefully, their ability to reintegrate into society.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

By Elizabeth Sung, Consultant for CCF-Chad

Dear readers:
From the CCF office in N’djamena to wherever you are, I send warm greetings and hope you are well. It’s presently raining giving us relief from the humid warm weather, though the rain also means that the side roads will be swamped.

Last Saturday, I arrived in N’djamena from New York (stopped in Richmond, DC and Paris on the way). As I stepped off the cold airplane, a wall of heat struck me. The scent of burning woodchips enveloped me, and I recognized that I had finally reached Chad, my final destination.

A brief introduction about myself: I am consulting for CCF-Chad during the next three months, conducting a Knowledge, Attitudes, and Practice study (KAP, for short). Until recently, I lived in New York City where I studied social work and international public health. I love traveling, writing, photography and crunchy peanut butter.

Over the next three months, the KAP study will be my primary focus. A KAP study is a very common means of assessing how people think and live.

Here are examples of questions:

Knowledge question: Name one way that HIV is transmitted.
Attitude question: What do you think about girls going to school?
Practice question: How often do you go to school?

In Eastern Chad, CCF implements Child Protection and Gender-Based Violence programs in refugee camps. In regards to child protection, issues in the East include access to education, health services, and reduction of trauma. As for Gender-based violence, relevant topics include female circumcision, early marriage, and forced pregnancy. These are the main topics that will be covered in the KAP survey.

The staff has been wonderful as I make the transition to the new environment. Over the next few days, I will be collaborating with the staff to plan my work. I am very excited, and I can’t wait to fly out east!

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By Nicole Duciaume, Documentation and Sponsorship Support Officer

Santa Cruz, Bolivia
Today is Monday and I have not been able to write for a few days, principally because of traveling but also because I am now on a borrowed computer in the lobby of a quaint hotel in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. The weather is surprisingly dreary, cold and wet…which is unexpected for a town known for its warm, sunny and pleasant weather nearly year round. According to my very knowledgeable taxi driver, the weather should be less than ideal up through Wednesday, coincidentally the same day I am scheduled to return to the US. So I continue to wrap my alpaca shawl tightly around my shoulders and continue on.

Santa Cruz, Bolivia
As far as an update is concerned, Friday was spent in La Paz at the National Office giving a briefing on the events of the week and the objectives going forward. It was a very fruitful conversation and it lasted until late evening. I think between the US delegation offering support and the Bolivia team’s knowledge and experience, the programs in the new area will thrive. The day ended with hand shakes, hugs and promises to remain in contact throughout the process.

Saturday was quite a treat. We left La Paz and within two hours we were at Tiahuanacu, the ancient ruins of a civilization that gave birth to modern day indigenous cultures throughout Bolivia (and into several neighboring countries as well). The culture predates the Aztec, Mayans and Incas that we have all studied throughout our schooling years. The ruins are incredible and yet mostly still hidden beneath the surface. According to our guide, Benedito, only 10% of the structures have been unearthed thus far. There is something very surreal about walking on sacred ground, taking photos and learning the ins-and-outs of this vast culture while anthropologists are literally over your shoulder still uncovering the treasures and keys to the past.

Sunday morning was dedicated to another trip to the Witches Market to pick up a few remaining gifts and then lunching with a friend from my previous trip to Bolivia. The early afternoon comprised solely of trying to fit all my purchases into my previously already full suitcase. I truly should have had more restraint when it came to the market deals. I am not sure if was the thrill of the bargain or just my dedication to helping the local economy, but my suitcase is now officially stuffed to the brim. Sunday evening I left for the airport to start the final leg of my trip. We landed in rain-drenched Santa Cruz at about 10pm and I quickly settled into my hotel room and drifted off to sleep.

Today I visited three projects in the outer rings of Santa Cruz. The city is a set of concentric circles which begin in the city square and then the poverty increases as you ripple out into the outskirts of the town. The areas in which we work are part urban and part rural and yet entirely comprised of smiling children who are in need. In the afternoon and evening I participated in enrollment trainings and small group discussions with members of the communities. We explained the general criteria for enrollment and then helped the communities define the specifics for their individual circumstances. For example, it is a CCF guideline that we enroll the neediest, the most vulnerable, the most excluded, so we had the communities define what is the base level and then how to reach the children and families who fall below that line. This participatory approach is a cornerstone of CCF’s partnership with the communities.

As I am on the only internet-connected computer in the hotel lobby and a small line is forming, I will bid you a fond adieu from Santa Cruz.

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Friday, August 24, 2007

By Nicole Duciaume, Documentation and Sponsorship Support Officer

Oruro, Bolivia
It is a three hour drive southeast of La Paz to Oruro, the once prominent mining town and capital of the district. It is known for its Carnival, folkloric dances and deeply rooted indigenous customs. With Mount Illimani (Aymara for “golden eagle”) disappearing in the rear view mirror reminding us of our departure from La Paz, the drive to Oruro passes through the Altiplano, a desolate area scattered with small clay houses, grazing lands and wind storms. At this time of year, it was surprisingly agreeable, though perhaps we had finally acclimated to the altitude and temperatures. The major highway from La Paz, crowded with large trucks, is flanked by both water and gas pipes and is actually a smooth ride with occasional views of some of the most spectacular mountainous skylines.

Upon arriving in the city we went straight to a CCF sponsored cultural center that serves as an after-school (or in some cases, a before-school) center for children of all ages. The activities ranged form art, music, computer training and gymnastics to library access, educational videos and early childhood development. We also were informed about CCF Bolivia’s participation in a state-run nutrition program. We met with a small group of guide mothers who are part of a pilot program involving individual home visits for children under 2 years of age to assess development and nutritional development. They train parents to encourage early stimulation and growth by using a scale developed and promoted by CCF which charts height/weight, age/height and age/weight along with developmental stages. They also refer families to local health posts for specialty care. We had an informal lunch with them, they were able to share their own individual stories. The ones with whom I spoke to each had children of their own but felt that the program was a very valuable tool for the community and was a complete success.

We went to a specific project where CCF works through a school that not only focuses on the academic achievements of the children but also in their artistic cultivation as well as social development and child protection. The school also offers programs for parents to learn valuable skills such as weaving, confectionary skills (primarily focusing on baking/decorating/marketing cakes and pastries) and tailoring so that after completing the course, they will be able to hopefully have better access to the formal economy. Each of these programs charges a nominal enlistment fee that lasts for approximately six months and concludes with the presentation of a certificate of completion. For so many of these classes the skills learned goes beyond the mechanics of the craft and focuses on creativity. Parents are welcome to take as many classes as they like while their children are attending school on the same campus. It is CCF’s hope and expectation that these income generating activities will have a positive impact on the lives of their children. A block or two away is a newly constructed multi-sport complex for youth. The complex offers youth opportunities to join various teams such as basketball, volley and indoor soccer. The goal of the complex is to channel youth energy away from destructive behaviors such as drugs, violence, early pregnancies etc. This complex is also used for community assemblies and meetings.

Meandering through the crowded streets, avoiding the rogue dog, passing over a garbage-strewn stream and eventually leaving the paved roads behind, we head to the fringes of the town. We first stopped at a school that uses sports for the children to come and train for soccer but also receive classes, art lessons and additional tutoring as needed. There we also spoke with some parents who expressed their overwhelming thanks for what CCF has done in the community, but also brought to us their concerns such as expanding potable water sources out to the fringes of the various communities. They spoke of the needs for their children, themselves and for the community as a whole. They asked for additional help and expressed their desire to continue working with us, the local government and the community organizations as well.

After speaking with the parents, we went out to the area where these children live. The homes, no more than 8 feet by 10 feet, were mostly constructed of a combination of brick, mud and straw. There were hundreds of them packed together without a tree in sight. Families, some as many as five, lived together in these one-room abodes, though most cooking and sanitation activities were attended to outside of the house. Some houses doubled as classrooms during the day since there were no formal schools in this newly constructed area. The children, with smiles from ear to ear, asked for us to share with them and jumped in front of every picture. They giggled and squealed when I turned the camera to display to them their own reflections.

We concluded our visit to Oruro by visiting a nearby project that was also helping parents and older youth acquire marketable skills including silk screening and bead work. One room, with 4 sewing machines, was paid for in full by contributions from the Gifts of Love and Hope catalogue. The parents and staff talked to us about the importance of giving the parents a way to make an honest income to not only provide for the children but also to set a good example as well.

Next to the parents’ training room was the early childhood center with more photo opportunities than I could resist.

Here it is common to hear people say “paso-a-paso” (step-by-step), and though we wish there were quick fixes, the reality is that these programs take time, resources and technical skills to implement. CCF is committed to these communities, parents and children and is investing in the area and its people. We left Oruro on the same road we entered, Illimani this time appearing on our right as we reached La Paz. We had seen a sampling of the support CCF has provided and we also had a better understanding of how much more there is to be done.

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

By Nicole Duciaume, Documentation and Sponsorship Support Officer

El Alto, Bolivia
I spoke yesterday about the incredible cultural bond that unites the residents of El Alto. There are three very basic rules, in the indigenous community in Bolivia: Amu Sua - Don't Steal; Amu Llulla - Don't Lie, and Ama Quella - Don’t Be Lazy. As part of this core ethos, there is a strong commitment to each other and to the communal good.

This commitment manifests itself in community oversight boards. These boards are comprised of representatives from each neighborhood and they look after the representation of the neighborhood and district as well as the well-being of each individual family resident within the neighborhood. These are voluntary positions and are often appointed by the communities themselves. So in the case of District 5 where CCF will be working, there are 49 neighborhoods and each one has its own particular board (with a president). The president of the neighborhood boards all sit on a general oversight or vigilance committee made of 49 people. Then they elect 12 members to represent them all (an executive board). This group of 49 neighborhood presidents elects one person to be the representative to the sub-Mayor’s office. In fact, these committees have some power in electing the sub-Mayor (which is an annual term). The sub-Mayors (one from each district) report to the Mayor of El Alto and determine government policies, spending and priorities.

This traditional structure is very old. This structure, gives the neighborhood communities access to annual city planning. It allows them a voice, something that they have been denied for too long.

The youth now want a similar structure to voice their opinions as well. These youth groups want a structure that will allow them to affect youth and child specific policies, and services. Youth in El Alto are generally considered to be between 19 and 26 years old, though they occasionally allow members younger than that to participate as well.

During our stay in El Alto, we met with the Municipal Youth Council. This group is comprised of 36 youth who represent the ten districts within El Alto. Each district sends four representatives to the council: one who attends university; one who attends high school; one who represents a youth association; and one from a church youth group. Amongst themselves, they elect a President, 2 Vice Presidents (one representing the northern districts and one representing the southern districts) and one general secretary. They also have commissions such as communication/public relations, health and politics/ethics.

Currently, this Youth Council is working on rights and obligations of youth. They are also working in policy and advocacy issues to bring municipalities in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (and human rights in general as they pertain to the children ad youth in El Alto). Last month, they represented El Alto in Cochabamba during the national encounter of the youth. They are excited about CCF’s commitment to working through the communities and the youth to work as partners in the priorities they set forth. In fact, they said anyone who wants to support kids and youth and can prove their intentions, they want to partner with. They are articulate, passionate and dedicated. As one of them pulled me aside and told me, “I don’t want people to tell me that I am the future…I am the present.”

One young man that we spoke with individually was Daniel(pictured in the above photo seated in the middle of the front row of the group), who is one of the chosen 4 representatives from District 5. He was very happy that CCF will be working in his district and that we had identified the most vulnerable neighborhoods in order to reach the most excluded. He explained that the youth of District 5 just need some space to organize, but also to enjoy. He explained that often people assume that the youth are all united and close, but that isn’t true –- they need organization and to come to together and have space and opportunity.

Although they were serious when speaking about rights and equality, their eyes lit up when a member of our delegation presented them with a soccer ball. It wasn’t much, just a small token of friendship, but it represented our commitment to them and you could tell an impromptu game would be formed shortly after we departed.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

By Nicole Duciaume, Documentation and Sponsorship Support Officer

El Alto, Bolivia
As the altitude increased, so did the quickness of our breath because the air was thinner and the oxygen seemed in short supply. You could feel it on your skin, in the back of your throat and in the tightness of your lungs. The scenery was breathtaking, but the altitude actually took our breath away. This was compounded by the cold. The kind of cold that seeps in all the way to your bones. It is the lingering cold that you feel even after you’ve drank your tea and buttoned the top of your coat.

El Alto was generally considered a slum or informal satellite city of La Paz for most of its history. I have even heard it described as the dorm rooms of the capital. For decades it has been the landing place for recent migrants coming in from the various rural areas of Bolivia hoping to have access to a better life, social systems, social services and access to the formal economy. However, all of these hopes and demands have surpassed the capacity of El Alto, it is now home to 800,000 people, mainly indigenous descent, though some estimate the population has topped one million.

In 1988 the city declared its independence from La Paz and became its own individual municipality comprised of 10 districts. It resembles a major urban government and yet it was unplanned, self-built and is comprised primarily of transient population who often are not included in the formal economy. It has intermittent access to basic services (water, electricity, schools etc) intertwined with areas that have rural characteristics (less desired land, dependence on external food sources, strong cultural identity, and lack of proper service for the majority of the inhabitants).

According to statistics in 2007, 60% of the population in El Alto are less than 25 years old. This is evident as you drive through the neighborhoods and see all of the children, only some of whom are wearing school uniforms and the others you can only assume do not attend. Despite the fact that there are so many young people, services for them are not readily available. Nor are there areas for them to play safely. Garbage dumps double as soccer fields and rusted playground equipment springs up from rocky terrain. Children congregate next to polluted water sources or play in dust-filled streets. It is shocking at first, but somehow you become accustomed to the sight.

Because El Alto is so large, CCF will be operating initially in just one of the 10 districts. And in fact, even within the district of over 100,000 inhabitants, CCF will be operating in the 10 northern most neighborhoods, also considered the most vulnerable, poor and marginalized. The district we chose is not currently being supported by any other international organization. The vast majority of the inhabitants are second generation migrants who came from the areas surrounding Lake Titicaca. The cultural ties to the community are so strong that most of them moved together and brought their costumes, heritages, social hierarchies and traditions. The younger generation identifies very closely with traditional culture, but are also linked with the assimilated El Alto culture as well.

These communities have a strong reputation for cultural identity and civil society involvement. They are proud of their ability to unify and speak as a collected voice. They are politically aware and highly motivated. Unlike so many marginalized groups, they demand a voice. The popular call to action is “El Alto De Pie, Nunca De Rodilla”, (El Alto on its feet, never on its knees) meaning that they will stand up for themselves and not be knocked down. I will tell you more about their strength and structure as well as the voice of the youth in my next blog.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

By Nicole Duciaume, Documentation and Sponsorship Support Officer

La Paz, Bolivia
CCF-Bolivia National Office is tucked away in an area of La Paz known as Miraflores. I know this only because of neighborhood signs, not because I had any idea of how to navigate around the city. The streets are steep and winding. The drivers are innovative and fast. The buses were on strike today, which left the pedestrians plentiful and quick on their feet. From hotel to office it was no more than 20 minutes, but any hope of finding my way back on my own would have lasted a lot longer.
On the agenda for today were meetings followed by discussions which preceded more meetings. Throughout the day I was impressed with our staff, both those accompanying me on the visit as well as those from the Bolivia National Office. Some of our Bolivian colleagues I knew from my previous trip and was delighted to reconnect with them. Others were new to the organization, or at least new to me. The discussions were thorough, informative and intense. It is often difficult to keep a room full of people focused for a day around the conference table, but all parties truly had a commitment to expansion into the new program area, El Alto.

The National Office shared some staggering statistics: approximately 87% of children suffer from some form of abuse within the home environment; over 800,000 children and youth work; only 17% of the children have access to education; and 600,000 children do not have birth certificates, which leaves them vulnerable to not being recognized by the government which could leave them excluded from basic rights such as schooling. Fortunately there were some uplifting numbers as well. CCF currently works with approximately 98,000 children from 14,024 families in 495 communities in five departments (states). Tomorrow we will learn even more about the situation and statistics in El Alto.

Towards the end of the day I had the opportunity to sit down with one Bolivian colleague to learn more about her position within the organization and the various roles she plays. Her name is Monica and she is the ECD Technician for El Alto. ECD stands for Early Childhood Development and according to the National Office, only 6% of Bolivian children have access to these types of activities and services. As I mentioned, Monica will be based in El Alto and ECD has been identified by the people in the community as one of the most crucial programming needs. Monica has a degree in education. She joined CCF nearly 10 years ago, but just recently turned her focus to ECD. She chose this area of concentration because she believes that they are the most vulnerable group of children in the country. She hopes the day will come when all children in Bolivia have a healthy start in life and not lacking education, nourishment or support.

Monica initially began working with CCF as a consultant doing research and then for seven years she worked in ECD at the project level (an urban project in La Paz). She believes that CCF truly offers the needed tools to work with children in ECD and she is excited to join the team in developing programs in El Alto, where she will be training the communities on what ECD is and what role CCF will play. She described El Alto as the area within Bolivia that has the most need and where strong programs will have the most impact. The idea of helping more children, reaching more families, and having a larger influence are the goals and ideals Monica holds for her career.

Monica was just one of the various colleagues I met with today and will continue to learn from over the remainder of the week. Throughout the day, everyone in the room expressed their commitment to the organization, the programs and the opening of successful partnerships with the municipalities, communities, children, youth and parents in El Alto. Tomorrow we ascend back to El Alto to see the area, receive an orientation of the new office, document the community needs and meet with the aforementioned stakeholders. There is little substitute for seeing an area first hand and speaking directly with the program participants, but personal consultations are what sustain our commitment to CCF, the communities and the children.

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

By Nicole Duciaume, Documentation and Sponsorship Support Officer

The week before traveling was consumed with trip preparation: flights, shots, altitude medication, luggage packing, arranging dog sitters, paying bills that would become due, reading country materials, attending meetings and preparing questions. The week before a trip seems endlessly long and yet passes before you notice.

I am CCF’s Documentation and Sponsorship Support Officer in the Global Program Group. I have been with CCF for a little over two years and this is my second trip to Bolivia.

A small team from both the International and the Americas Regional Offices is traveling in Bolivia to assess program readiness for opening a new community outside of La Paz, the capital of Bolivia. Though we currently operate in over 50 communities throughout the country, we are expanding to a new area called El Alto (The Height).

To give you a sense of altitude:
Richmond = 150 feet
La Paz = 11,800 feet
El Alto = 13,451 feet

It is Sunday, August 19th and we arrived last evening. The flights and connections were smooth and thankfully not packed. I was given the grace to sleep through just about anything, including long flights. Today was meant as a day for adjustment --- to the altitude as well as to the language, culture and just being in La Paz again. The altitude leaves you short of breath, a bit dizzy and occasionally with a headache that demands your complete attention. Walking up a few steps can be extremely laborious and lifting your laptop can throw off your balance. Local legend has it that you will adjust within about two days and that chewing on leaves will expedite the process. I chew the leaves and drink the tea, but still turn to my altitude medicine as well.

Resistant to the idea of just staying in the hotel, we walked the streets and did some personal shopping. Then we rested. We took a taxi into the city to explore the Plaza Mayor (photo to the left), the Monument to the Unknown Soldier, the Witches Market (photo at the top), the Church of San Francisco and the Presidential residence. Then we rested. We met for a few hours in the afternoon to brainstorm and prepare for tomorrow. Then, of course, we rested.

These waning hours of rest are our last chance to catch our breath before the week begins in earnest. Tomorrow will be exciting, we are meeting with various members of the National Office to discuss site selection, affiliation process, community preparedness, roles and responsibilities and expectations for the week ahead. There is so much to do in the coming week and I truly am looking forward to learning from my colleagues in the various offices and visiting the communities.

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