Ana Maria Locsin poses with a child participating in ChildFund's summer camp program.
“Children have always been in the forefront of all the organizations I have worked with,” says Ana Maria Locsin of her 20-plus years’ career in international development. By 2005, when she signed on as ChildFund’s national director for her native Philippines, she had already worked in the Philippines, Timor-Leste and Vietnam. Since joining ChildFund, Locsin has also served in the same role in India and Afghanistan. In August 2011, she became the national director for our Caribbean office, which serves the islands of Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The Caribbean and Afghanistan would seem to be polar opposites. How does poverty differ between both of these places?
When I came to the Caribbean, my first reaction was, “Are we needed here? Why are we here?” Because it’s very, very different from other places I’ve been. However, as I have been coming along in the country, I see the faces of poverty that children experience here.
Over the last 40 years in Dominica and St. Vincent, migration of skilled workers away from the islands went to almost 40 percent — really high. So the family, the very basis of the environment where the child’s early development takes place, is often broken. If you look at a child in a family, in Afghanistan the issue would be war — it would be the status of always expecting violence to be around, and family disintegration or weakening of relationships. And here in the Caribbean, it is the absence of the parent or a caregiver that puts the child at risk for violence.
Corporal punishment is almost systemic here — it is very, very accepted. At times, parents almost expect for the schools to carry it out. So we’re trying to help change that. Domestic violence is really high, and teen pregnancy is especially high. In Afghanistan, you don’t hear anything about teen pregnancy, although it’s there. Here teen pregnancy is different; it happens quite frequently, in some areas more than others. We have a teen mothers’ program for St. Vincent, because the incidence is much higher there. It’s a very interesting program, and we hope to engage the young men in the program as well, but so far it’s a very slow start.
If the Annie Locsin of 20 years ago had suddenly traveled forward in time to the present day, what would have surprised you the most?
Being here! Being in this kind of organization, because my background is economics, and I started out in banking. It was boring. I used to work in a bank, this 8-to-5 kind of thing.
I also would have been so surprised by the fact that I was able to raise four children and still serve thousands and thousands of children in different parts of the world. When I started work in development, I had small children, and I would always be away. I had a very strong support system in my family, but I questioned myself why I was doing this when I should be home, I should be looking after my own children. I really don’t know — it was just hitting me like anything, working with children.
What also would have surprised me is the fact that I’ve worked in countries where I have worked with a lot of men — this is actually the first time I’m leading an all-female staff. In Afghanistan, the staff was 98 percent male. And in India, and Timor and Vietnam — it was very male-dominated, too.
Another thing that would have surprised me is that I was able to work in these post-crisis countries. And loving it, actually — loving it like anything. It was scary, but I loved it.
It sounds both complicated and rewarding.
When I bow out from this work, I will always consider myself to be very lucky to have been able to do this. To be here, and at this time.
Because of the technology, and all these things — all the disorder that is going on around us in the communities that we work with, and all the opportunities that we can take to put some order in that chaos. I mean, you know? At this time, we are very welcoming of innovations and of speaking your mind. To me, it is something that not many people in the world can have, and so I consider myself very lucky and blessed that I am able to contribute and participate in helping children to improve their lives.