Fundación Niñez y Vida (Childhood and Life Foundation)
Niñez y Vida began almost thirty years ago, making it one of the oldest NGOs in Ecuador. It is distinguished by the breadth of its services and the quality of education it provides in Quitos shantytowns. It works in three interrelated areas: children, families, and communities.
Niñez y Vidas most impressive work is in preschool and afterschool education, based on the Montessori model, though always adapted for the specific needs of poor Ecuadorian children. This schooling has had a very positive impact, preventing youth homelessness, child labor, and child prostitution. Niñez y Vidas schools also serve as centers of community development.
There are two types of schools: the first are more orthodox, with professional teachers paid by Niñez y Vida. Other schools are self-starting, where teachers come from the community; Niñez y Vida trains them in pedagogy and helps the community to build quality classrooms. This model appears to be both effective and cost-effective, and brings a good salary to the new teachers.
In both kinds of schools, the method centers on the child in h/er natural process of development. There is no pressure to grow up faster than s/he wants. For this reason, the schools have very little formal structure; instead there are dozens of corners where the child can learn at h/er own rhythm. Children learn curiosity and independence while becoming actors in their own lives, because the teachers observe and accompany more than imposing their own knowledge on the children.
This is hardly to say that the teachers dont need training! In fact, they must learn how to diagnose learning problems, abuse, or poor relations with peers; then they must know how to solve these problems. They also have to know how to allow children to experiment and learn without danger, and they must be models of curiosity, independence, and kindness.
The corners are educational, but not necessarily formal. There might be picture books in one corner and blocks in another, but there are also daily life corners where children can imitate what their parents do. These corners might be a kitchen (always with real gas and food), a shop, or a bakery, but they might also be a play dump (if parents work as trash pickers) or mops and brooms (if the mother works as a maid). These corners build empathy with parents, but they also teach children that they may not want to follow in their parents footsteps.
For adolescents and teens, the corners change -- here is where we see Niñez y Vidas extraordinary creativity. Instead of vocational workshops, the teens go to Experimental workshops, where they find all the tools of carpentry, sewing, electricity, or cosmetology, but there is no master to teach them proper techniques. Instead, the teens play, experiment, and explore; they learn, but without losing their creativity and curiosity. Teachers are present to answer questions, but not to enforce a certain scheme of knowledge. [When I visited, I asked about safety, but it turns out that there have been very few accidents, even with the carpentry equipment. When there is no supervision, the children learn to watch out for each other.]
Families are always invited to visit the schools, and they often do, especially when they see the changes in their children. Because of the childrens new skills, the involvement of their parents, and their increased self esteem, children who attend the schools have much lower drop out rates, they suffer less abuse, and they seldom end up on the street.
There are several important elements at all of the schools. In every patio, there will be dirt and water -- the dirt (often a sandbox) helps maintain connections with nature. Water is always present because ecuadorian parents punish their children with cold water baths, and a birdbath or little pool helps children overcome their fear of water.
Niñez y Vida supports volunteers very well. International volunteers without much Spanish can always work with young children, and the educational model is easy to learn. Ex volunteers have helped Niñez y Vida by raising funds in their own country.
The Foundation also runs a project in the city dump, which you can read about by clicking here.
Fundación Niñez y Vida
Andres Artieda 188 y Zorrilla ( La Gasca)
593 2 235 545 fax 227 419
Contactos: Sonia Pérez, firstname.lastname@example.org