A common saying in Bolivia is, “A big dream is born from a small seed.” The new Early Childhood Development Center in Cochabamba is a perfect example.
For many of the families who live in a small community near a garbage dump, the only work parents can find is collecting garbage to recycle. Others have only temporary jobs or farm work. Their children, with their parents so preoccupied and strapped for resources, have little if any access to the education and stimulation they need. The children can slip off the path to healthy development.
In 2002, a community-based organization called Obispo Anaya, ChildFund’s local partner, began offering an Early Childhood Development (ECD) program for 36 of the community’s children under 5. The most immediate problem Obispo Anaya identified was malnutrition — about half of the group suffered from it. This was a challenge, a reality to change.
“We gave the children nutritional supplements and followed their development until their health improved,” says Dolly, a teacher at the center. “Nowadays, only 2 or 3 percent of the children have this problem.”
As more and more children began to attend the ECD center — the number quickly grew to 120 within a year — the poor condition of the building that housed the program became more difficult to work around. The classrooms were too small and badly lit, and the walls needed plastering. The community began to dream of a new space for the center.
“Mr. Shannon became our savior,” says Danitza Vasquez, Obispo Anaya’s coordinator. “In 2010, this sponsor sent us $2,600 to buy construction materials, but with a condition: Parents must build the new ECD classroom with their own hands. And we did it!”
In 2011, Clarence Shannon arrived in Cochabamba for the new classroom inauguration. The dream was growing and growing. Children under age 5 now had a place to play and learn. By that time, the center served about 145 children.
Edson tells us, “I like coming here and playing!”
His classmate Denis hugs him. “I like playing with these new toys and with my friends,” he says.
In May 2011, there was more great news for the community’s parents and children. With support from ChildFund Alliance member Barnfonden (ChildFund Sweden), another classroom and a dining room specially designed with the needs of children under 5 in mind would be constructed. In June 2012, ChildFund International’s President and CEO Anne Lynam Goddard was the first to play with the center’s children and their new toys. Now, enrollment has increased to about 250 children playing and learning there.
Parents are happy about this new project because they can feel confident about the development of their children. “It’s a huge help,” says one mother, Martha. “Now I can trust where my children are.”
Jimena, another mother, says, “My child now has all this support, and this will help him improve his language skills.”
This little seed, planted a long time ago with the first 36 children, has become a big tree thanks to support from ChildFund and Barnfonden, a generous donor and the community’s families themselves.