28 Years in ChildFund: A Conversation With Honduras National Director Norma de Sierra
“For me, it has been a long trip,” says ChildFund Honduras National Director Norma de Sierra of her 28 years with the organization. Her smile suggests that it has been good — and certainly not boring. “I have been following all the waves of ChildFund, all the changes,” she says. “ChildFund has been growing toward what it is now. It is more organized, there is more quality in what we do, there is more coverage.” We spoke with her in her Tegucigalpa office earlier this summer.
Norma de Sierra
What are some of those changes in ChildFund?
I would say one of the important things was that our mind had to have a big switch, that instead of thinking small, with our sponsored children — which still is the important part of the program, the heart — we had to expand. The world has become very global, and ChildFund could not stay where it was, so it was a jump. We started thinking bigger, having alliances, relating with other NGOs, with the government … we knew that if we don’t look for grants, for other alliances, the impact we can get is small. With the new approach, we have more benefits and varied resources.
And we give more empowerment to the communities. When we went into a community, we were working very small there, and when we would leave that community, we didn’t know what was going to happen with them. Now we expect that that community will be empowered, so when we go away, its [local partner] organizations, the same government and the same people have to go on with the work.
For the last several years, ChildFund has tailored its work more specifically to the needs unique to a child’s life stages, ages 0 – 5, 6 – 15 and 16 – 24, which is a shift from a more general focus on school-age children. How do you see this affecting youth?
Many of the schoolchildren are now youth. So that was very interesting, for us to work with these youth and to value them. I think one of the positive aspects is that you do not only work with the youth but with the parents. And the parents have to understand that the youth have their own minds and their own needs and their own desires.
At the beginning, we were afraid that our parents would reject our work with the youth, because culturally the parents here are the ones who set the directions and the lines. But the parents now recognize that the youth have their own minds, their own voices. So for us it has been a good experience.
When we started working with youth, I remember I felt uncomfortable because they didn’t talk. They were afraid. Now it’s amazing, and that makes you think the program has done a really good job with the youth. Now they talk, they participate, they have their activities.
The Honduras Ministry of Education has made ChildFund Honduras’ Early Childhood Development (ECD) program the national standard for years now. How did that come about?
When the schools received the children who came, they were disappointed because the children who had been with our ECD program were more active, more alert. So the teachers said, “Oh, these children from ChildFund, they bother too much.” Because they were not like the other children. What we did is to work with the teachers and show them what ECD is and that they have to adapt to the child, not the child to them. They finally understood, and now they are happy.
Now the ECD program is very strong in the country. As a matter of fact, Plan International just asked us a month ago to establish an alliance with them so we can teach them our program of ECD and how we work with the guide mothers [volunteers who help prepare very young children to enter school].
Do you have a favorite story from your experience in the communities?
You know, some years ago, I visited a community in Santa Barbara [northwestern Honduras], and there was a small child — a little girl, barefoot, very cute, and I liked the little girl. So I talked to her, and I asked who are her parents, where she lives. She told me, “I live in that house,” and I said, “OK, and what does your mother do?” She said, “Well, you know, my mother works with that program that you have,” and I said, “Which program?” and she said, “Working with the children.” “Ah,” I said, “with the child development program?” and she said, “Yes, she’s one of the guide mothers.”
I think that girl was 8 years old. Every time someone from the office was going there, I asked them, “Look for that little child and see how she’s doing.” To my surprise like two, three years ago, I asked [a staff member], “Have you seen that little girl?” and she said, “Well, she’s not that little girl; now she’s a mother. You know what? She’s working with the child development program as one of the guide mothers.”
ChildFund set something in motion.