Save the Children event on childhood and adolescence

In December of last year (2014), I made a video to document the launch of the reading promotion program
La Cometa Lectora‘ (‘The Reading Kite’) that I helped to implement into Project Chiclayo programs in September.
At last, it is available for viewing on YouTube!

The first public viewing of the video occurred on December 5th at an event organized and funded by the NGO Save the Children, where attendees included regional government officials and the staff of various NGOs, as well as high school students who had previously presented on problems affecting their communities. During the Centro Esperanza presentation, my boss Gladys spoke about Centro Esperanza’s use of ‘Learning Through Play’ methodology (from the Toronto Hincks-Dellcrest Centre) and I then briefly introduced the video about La Cometa and let it play.

Dec.5 2014-IPD Lambayeque (ICPNA) 001 2The event banner: Dialogue for Concertation: Experiences of ‘Good Treatment’ for childhood and adolescence.

Dec.5 2014-IPD Lambayeque (ICPNA) 005 2A fellow presenter explaining the support for sports programming that his NGO offers.

Save the Children gifted attendees branded tokens including a pencil case, folder and pen, but the most interesting item was a pocket-sized bilingual Spanish-Quechua version of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. I am pleased that a version which serves the grand majority of Peruvians is now available. This is definitely a step in the right direction in a country in which millions of children are living in less-than-ideal conditions for their healthy growth and development.

While Quechua is the most widely spoken indigenous language in Peru, there are many other minority languages spoken, especially in the mountain and jungle regions, although the speakers of these languages are not necessarily literate in their native tongue because their languages are very ‘oral’ languages (and when they are written, they are written using the letters and sounds of the Spanish language). The formal language of the ‘legal’ UN text makes it difficult for many Peruvians (often with an incomplete primary or secondary school education) to fully understand. The same can be said for countless people worldwide. Nonetheless, I do commend Save the Children for their effort to make the rights of children more widely known. It is at the base of ensuring the respect for and protection of their rights.

It is anything but hidden knowledge that many Peruvian children are regularly subject to physical, sexual, verbal and psychological violence, and/or child labour. The last is one which I have been exposed to quite a bit lately. Most children in the working and lower classes in Peru have many more responsibilities at home than the average middle or upper class children in their country (not to mention those in industrialized ones). I am all for learning about responsibility and work ethic–and helping out at home is perhaps one of the best places to start learning about such values. Helping a parent sell at a family’s living room convenience store or bakery is one thing, but being denied an education and working for hours on end in the busy and dangerous central market or doing backbreaking labour in the fields is quite another.

The working conditions in which children may find themselves are usually far from ideal, especially for girls who are additionally subject to the gaze of men with not-always-so-good-intentions. The tasks children are given are often very demanding (not always so different from the demands placed on adults) and may expose them to harmful chemicals, dangerous machinery and a whole plethora of other risks.

Knowing how hard it is for uneducated adults to find work (whether formal or informal) to support their families, I realize that it is necessary that children help contribute to the household income in many cases. Unfortunately, while they may feel they are doing their best to help their family, students who work many hours have less time to focus on their education and less time to get the amount of sleep they ideally need, and may end up dropping out of school, especially if they are suffering from malnutrition. This is a sad reality, but again, knowing the lack of resources and support services available at public schools in the slum-areas, I understand when children or youth say that it seems more productive to work rather than study. Money is a means of immediate survival. Working children are usually very resourceful and intelligent little beings. Although they probably don’t know the rights they are officially entitled to, they probably do know deep inside that education may be their ticket out of poverty–but they also know that they and their families need to eat to survive. It is no secret that is harder to dream of an ideal existence and plan on how to reach that reality when you are fighting for each new day.

???????????????????????????????[In line with the global phenomenon, many Peruvian families are leaving rural areas for larger urban areas such as Chiclayo in search of work. This picture was taken near Motupe, region of Lambayeque, where the main employers seem to be giant fruit processing plants preparing fruit for national and international consumption.]

I have seen presentations about the work being done by a local NGO to address child labour in Chiclayo. They use a model of holistic development and start by working with the family of the child affected and ensuring their school attendance, offering homework help sessions as needed. Perhaps most importantly, this NGO offers fun and relaxing art and sport activities for these children, who have long been denied their rights to play and learn and socialize in safe environments with children of a similar age.

Even if they don’t work, many children have no safe place to spend their after school hours. I cannot count the number of times I have seen young children trying to concentrate on their homework while being watched over by their their parents in a market stall. These creative kids will rest their notebook on a box, a overturned bucket or their knees as they complete their homework, but the noise level and busyness of the market make it anything but an environment conducive to concentration and effective learning and studying. Free or affordable after school programs are rare in Peru (public schools are largely academic institutions and offer few extra-curricular activities). So, unless relatives or friends are available to look after children after school, many parents (mothers in particular) are forced to watch over their children as they themselves continue working. [In my own childhood, I was fortunate to have grandparents who picked up my sister and I after school if we had no after school activities. They took care of us in their home as we played and did our homework until my mother could pick us up after finishing work. I’m sure this was a relief for my parents.]

Like in many other Latin American countries, urban life here is characterized by extremes: a middle-upper class Chiclayan family may have a domestic worker from a rural area (often teenage girls who would not have finished their middle or high school studies, or women who leave their own families to be able to earn an income taking care of someone else’s family). While the employer family may provide a small bedroom to their employee, these girls and women are usually exploited for long hours, sometimes for far less than minimum wage and usually without health benefits. I once witnessed a local NGO social worker nearly begin shouting at her largely middle-upper class bureaucrat-type audience, telling them to treat their domestic workers as human beings with needs, feelings and dreams. She stressed that it is not just to hire girls without an education and that it is unfair to deny them all but one free day (or half day) as it doesn’t allow them to study in adult-education programs or visit their families (if they can afford the bus fare). I liked that this NGO worker was addressing a reality so few people dare to speak about it in such a direct, public manner.

I don’t have any conclusions about the living conditions of children here in Peru, but I wanted to share the above observations. They are anything but new observations when it comes to the rights of children, but they give you an idea of the local realities and some of the many challenges that we face in holistic human development at Centro Esperanza.

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