Sociodramas, enchiladas, toys and gardens: Learning Basket program supports rural Guatemalan parents

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Pedro holds an ORID in a parents Session.

“It was a very nice experience because, through it, I learned how to interact and how to support my daughters in their development,” said one participant in the Learning Basket program delivered in small rural Guatemalan villages by the Instituto de Asuntos Culturales Guatemala in 2016 and 2017. “I also learned how to knit.”

She learned to knit because this innovative participatory program to improve the lives of young children in rural Guatemala aimed to support parents in practical, tangible ways. The focus was on giving parents, who are their children’s first teachers, knowledge, tools and skills to parent more effectively.

Along with learning how children develop, 60 parents in three rural villages learned how to make toys to entertain them, and in El Chorro village, created family gardens and mini-orchards to support improved family nutrition. In all, 385 people benefitted directly from the Learning Basket program, while many others benefitted indirectly from information shared by their family, friends and neighbours.

Brenda holds an ORID with parents in Capucal Centro

In 2016, 10 local people from the region (Actzumbal La Pista de Nebaj; Capucal Center of La Union, El Chorro of San Antonio La Paz; and Guatemala City) learned participatory skills through ICA’s Technology of Participation (ToP) training delivered by Guatemalan ToP trainers. In 2017, 10 people and a Peruvian and a Chilean participant learned how to facilitate the Learning Basket sessions, in training delivered by Raul Jorquera and Angelica Rodriguez of Phoenix, Arizona.

Learning how children develop

Learning Basket sessions taught parents about brain development, the five senses, the developmental stages of children up to five years old, and about managing discipline and limits with love. The sessions also included information about nutrition, encouraging the habits of eating fruit and vegetables; a nutritious dish, ‘enchilada’, made up of vegetables, eggs, some cheese, and some chicken, was cooked during a session. Another vegetable-based dish with chicken, ‘chow mein’, was prepared for the closing session in El Chorro. Local firemen and nurses delivered first aid informational sessions. And participants came home with toys — crocheted balls in blue, yellow and red, and small felt faces — for their children.

The five senses workshop

The program was intensive — eight sessions in two of the villages, and 10 sessions in El Chorro, and despite the many demands on their time, most beneficiaries were able to attend and to participate respectfully within the groups.

In El Chorro village, between September 2016 and November 2017, 22 mothers of children and 22 teenagers aged 13 to 15 engaged in remote secondary schooling through La Telesecundaria, took part in ten Learning Basket sessions and also learned about family gardens and orchards. Twenty-two youngsters attended six primary sessions, and five special sesssions were delivered for 18 mothers of kindergarten children. In all, 68 boys and girls benefitted from the activities, 28 under five who attended with their mothers and 40 children of families and neighbours with whom information was shared.

Youth plan concluding event

The agronomist and one of the participants of the family garden organizing the seeds and the harvesting of cucumber

The Telesecundaria youth and their parents subsequently worked with the mothers to organize the concluding exhibition in El Chorro with representatives and COCODES (Community Development Councils) from two neighboring villages, Los Planes and El Soyate, and authorities of San Antonio La Paz. The Telesecundaria youth and their parents developed the action plan for this event. Mothers took charge of the food, while young people talked about the nutrients in good food and presented sociodramas on the development of a baby’s brain. Some noted that they had to overcome shyness in order to do this.

The onions, beets, cucumbers, tomatoes, radishes, coriander, celery, eggplants and chili peppers participants were growing in the 18 family vegetable gardens in El Chorro were displayed, and people talked about the 18 mini-orchards they had worked to create. In all, 75 people took part in this concluding event, which led at least four neighbouring communities to express great interest in starting orchards and gardens themselves.

Some of the participants of the vegetables garden, GRADUATION. El Chorro, San Antonio La Paz

Twenty-two mothers and two fathers, along with 20 boys and girls aged five to 12 and 15 children under five, participated in Learning Basket sessions held in Capucal Centro between February and November 2017. Additional sessions included information about networks, delivered by the Municipal Office for Women of La Union and by Zacapa-based SOSEP ( Office of Social Work of the President’s Wife). Municipal firemen taught participants first aid, and participants learned to make toys for the children.

In Actzumbal, between September 2016 and December 2017, the local nurse taught the first aid courses, and 20 mothers and 16 boys and girls under five took part in the Learning Basket sessions, learning about brain development, the five senses, and discipline and limits with love. A number of relatives and neighbours also joined the sessions, and toys were made here as well.

Some of the Materials given to the parents

Each parent received a cloth bag containing a book, Play to Learn, Learning to Play, by Dr. K. Elise Packard, a book of stories to read to their children, and thread, needles and materials to make toys. The head of each family received a folder with reading materials on child developmental stages, guides for parents, and recommendations on listening to music, along with a Diploma of Participation in the Program.

The family gardens in El Chorro were supported with vegetable seeds and instructions for how to plant and cultivate them, along with pipes and cotton to build home-made gray-water filters for watering the gardens.

Conchita, not Daniela

Parents welcomed the information, resources and support for better relationships with their young children and enjoyed socio-dramas that helped them grasp that message. One socio-drama contrasted Daniela the “Distracted”, who often neglected her baby, with Conchita, who was affectionate and took good care of her children. “Now our children have our attention, and not like before, when we did not care about the growth and learning of the children,” one parent said.

Asked what they had learned from the sessions, parents talked about learning to play and sing with their children (and sometimes grandchildren) and understanding what children know and can do at specific ages. Young people said that they learned how to take care of their siblings more effectively, and were more patient with little brothers and sisters.

Some participants mentioned that they felt more confident and more able to speak without shyness, and said they planned to share their new knowledge with neighbours who didn’t attend and young people who weren’t attending school. Women expressed particular thanks, saying the sessions were very important for them in learning how to feed and treat their children, and said it would be vitally important to share this knowledge with new mothers.

Community and international support

The Learning Basket program was supported financially through $15,000 contributed by the Spencer, Hopkins and Packard families and by CAF America, with in-kind contributions from government institutions including the Corporation and Municipal Office of Women of La Union, Zacapa and SOSEP (Office of Social Works of the Wife of the President) of Zacapa, Municipal Corporation of San Antonio La Paz, Community Development Councils and the volunteer firefighters and local nurse.

All three communities provided classrooms or halls for the sessions, lodging and food for the trainers and facilitators, while El Chorro village also provided space for the initial and concluding events. Facilitators from each village prepared snacks such as milk-rice, milk and cereals, fresh fruit such as oranges, or bread and beans, and did extensive work to invite people locally, as the internet signals from the city did not reach all villages.

About the Author: Joaquina Rodriguez developed and co-ordinated this multi-faceted project with support from Lisseth Lorenzo and Dr. Elise Packard. Joaquina also worked with six local facilitators to deliver the Learning Basket program in the three villages.