Peru: "Napaykullayki" from Ayacucho

Kendra Flowers works with the U.S. Fund for UNICEF at our national headquarters in New York City. She's currently in Peru visiting UNICEF programs.

I'd like to begin this entry by sending wishes of support to those presently suffering in the aftermath of Pakistan's recent earthquake. Having just left the devastation of Pisco and Chincha"still recovering from their own devastating earthquake of over a year ago"I am somber, yet so glad to know that UNICEF is working tirelessly in Pakistan to ease the suffering of children and get aid to those in need.

After Tuesday's seven-hour drive through the beautiful Andes, and a little light-headedness at over 12,000 feet, the lights of Ayacucho in the valley below were a welcome sight. Wednesday morning we journeyed over an hour back into the Andes to the indigenous communities of Rosaspata, Arizona, Chullucapampa and Huamanguilla.

There we learned directly from the community leaders and parents all about their early childhood stimulation programs and child health surveillance centers. Early childhood stimulation practices the concept that children fare far better socially, physically, and intellectually when they're sung to, played with, and engaged in activities as infants and toddlers. Surveillance centers are posts where child growth is measured and local health promoters are trained in an effort to combat chronic malnutrition in indigenous communities.

peru-ayacucho-health.jpg
© US Fund for UNICEF/K. Flowers
UNICEF-trained heath promoter in Rosaspata community of Ayacucho District, Peru.

We were all struck by how utterly committed these communities are to their children's physical and emotional health. The president of one community program was so impassioned when he proudly explained their meticulous charts and graphs that one needn't have any knowledge of Quechua (the native tongue) to know his community's priorities revolve around its children. UNICEF trains health promoters within the community to monitor families and ensure they are educated in how to nourish and protect their children. The promoters report back to the center with height, weight and other general health measurements revisiting the children's progress each and every month.

Kendra Flowers works with the U.S. Fund for UNICEF at our national headquarters in New York City. She's currently in Peru visiting UNICEF programs.

I'd like to begin this entry by sending wishes of support to those presently suffering in the aftermath of Pakistan's recent earthquake. Having just left the devastation of Pisco and Chincha"still recovering from their own devastating earthquake of over a year ago"I am somber, yet so glad to know that UNICEF is working tirelessly in Pakistan to ease the suffering of children and get aid to those in need.

After Tuesday's seven-hour drive through the beautiful Andes, and a little light-headedness at over 12,000 feet, the lights of Ayacucho in the valley below were a welcome sight. Wednesday morning we journeyed over an hour back into the Andes to the indigenous communities of Rosaspata, Arizona, Chullucapampa and Huamanguilla.

There we learned directly from the community leaders and parents all about their early childhood stimulation programs and child health surveillance centers. Early childhood stimulation practices the concept that children fare far better socially, physically, and intellectually when they're sung to, played with, and engaged in activities as infants and toddlers. Surveillance centers are posts where child growth is measured and local health promoters are trained in an effort to combat chronic malnutrition in indigenous communities.

peru-ayacucho-health.jpg
© US Fund for UNICEF/K. Flowers
UNICEF-trained heath promoter in Rosaspata community of Ayacucho District, Peru.

We were all struck by how utterly committed these communities are to their children's physical and emotional health. The president of one community program was so impassioned when he proudly explained their meticulous charts and graphs that one needn't have any knowledge of Quechua (the native tongue) to know his community's priorities revolve around its children. UNICEF trains health promoters within the community to monitor families and ensure they are educated in how to nourish and protect their children. The promoters report back to the center with height, weight and other general health measurements revisiting the children's progress each and every month.

Kendra Flowers works with the U.S. Fund for UNICEF at our national headquarters in New York City. She's currently in Peru visiting UNICEF programs.

I'd like to begin this entry by sending wishes of support to those presently suffering in the aftermath of Pakistan's recent earthquake. Having just left the devastation of Pisco and Chincha"still recovering from their own devastating earthquake of over a year ago"I am somber, yet so glad to know that UNICEF is working tirelessly in Pakistan to ease the suffering of children and get aid to those in need.

After Tuesday's seven-hour drive through the beautiful Andes, and a little light-headedness at over 12,000 feet, the lights of Ayacucho in the valley below were a welcome sight. Wednesday morning we journeyed over an hour back into the Andes to the indigenous communities of Rosaspata, Arizona, Chullucapampa and Huamanguilla.

peru-ayacucho-health.jpg
© US Fund for UNICEF/K. Flowers
A UNICEF-trained heath promoter in the Rosaspata community of Peru's Ayacucho District, says "Napaykullayki," a friendly greeting in her native language, Quechua.

There we learned directly from the community leaders and parents all about their early childhood stimulation programs and child health surveillance centers. Early childhood stimulation practices the concept that children fare far better socially, physically, and intellectually when they're sung to, played with, and engaged in activities as infants and toddlers. Surveillance centers are posts where child growth is measured and local health promoters are trained in an effort to combat chronic malnutrition in indigenous communities.

We were all struck by how utterly committed these communities are to their children's physical and emotional health. The president of one community program was so impassioned when he proudly explained their meticulous charts and graphs that one needn't have any knowledge of Quechua (the native tongue) to know his community's priorities revolve around its children. UNICEF trains health promoters within the community to monitor families and ensure they are educated in how to nourish and protect their children. The promoters report back to the center with height, weight and other general health measurements revisiting the children's progress each and every month.

UNICEF's goal here is to build capacity in the communities to reduce chronic malnutrition in children under three, and to spread awareness and inspire other neighboring communities to follow suit. I can't imagine how anyone could resist signing up when the charts show such clear progress"using symbols, not words, which are much more accessible to the many illiterate members of these indigenous groups"and are presented with such conviction.

One of the symbols on the chart is a heart: if whole, it means the health promoters have determined the family is following through on its commitment to its child's health; if broken, it signifies the parents' neglect of what's required to ensure their child doesn't succumb to chronic malnutrition. By the way, this 7x10-foot chart is posted on the center wall for all to see, so it's hard to imagine a family wouldn't shape up to make their broken heart whole again.

We also visited the Arizona community where Intercultural Bilingual Education is being implemented. Children in Arizona receive culturally adapted materials and learn in Quechua, their native tongue, and in Spanish. After an impromptu game of cat and mouse"much like ring-around-the-rosie, but even more fun"we were treated to a series of the students' presentations featuring their skills in both Quechua and in Spanish: a poem, a song, a book read aloud and a demonstration of writing.

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© US Fund for UNICEF/K. Flowers
A student in Arizona community of Ayacucho writes: "At home, I help my mother."

It is important to note that most of these kids had never seen a textbook prior to UNICEF's implementation of bilingual education in their community. Now they not only have materials to learn from, but are also equipped with the confidence that comes from knowing the language in which information is transferred. Kids are much more likely to engage if they aren't scared they'll be laughed at for saying the wrong thing.

The early childhood stimulation centers were so fun we didn't want to leave! The mothers take turns singing to the children, using puppets, balloons, games and toys to promote engagement and growth. The women of these communities also made beautiful toys and musical instruments designed to stimulate the senses of touch and hearing.

While it was hard to tear ourselves away from the laughter, hugs and kisses of the children of these communities, after hours of bumpy mountain driving we were all glad to be settled back in Ayacucho resting up for our 6 am flight to Lima.

In Lima, we visited a UNICEF-implemented "Gesell Chamber," where interviews are conducted with child victims of sexual and physical abuse. Before this interview system was implemented, if a child or their family filed a criminal report of abuse, the victim had to repeat their terrifying story 10 or more times with multiple municipal authorities, police, doctors, lawyers and even teachers. This process could take 8 months or more"plenty of time for a perpetrator to attack again or at the very least, avoid adjudication.

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© US Fund for UNICEF/K. Flowers
A Gesell Chamber in North Lima.

Now with the Gesell Chamber, all necessary testimonial witnesses have joined forces and agree to meet one time, immediately after the report is filed. The witnesses observe from behind one-way glass a single interview between the victim and a UNICEF-trained child psychologist. The child is far less intimidated and more likely to open up without 10 people in the room. If a medical exam is required, the child is taken to another room within the very same facility and all tests are completed from this one exam, eliminating multiple humiliating visits to the hospital and doctor's office. Jamie Gross was particularly impressed with the sophistication of the process and the facility itself"and she should know. She's a family lawyer in Los Angeles!

The leaders of the program define re-victimization not only as the repeat of an actual attack on a child, but also as the latent trauma caused by the child's multiple recounts of the attack. The UNICEF-implemented Gesell Chamber dramatically reduces the chances of both types of re-victimization of children.

I have learned so much more about the depth and breadth of UNICEF's lifesaving and life-changing programs over the course of this week. From valiant coordination in an emergency situation, to the leaps and bounds communities take for their children when given the chance and the tools to do so, to the defense and protection of the world's most vulnerable citizens, UNICEF is leading the charge. I am honored to have met the extraordinary UNICEF staff here in Peru and to have had the opportunity to represent the U.S. Fund for UNICEF during this amazing journey through such a beautiful country.

As Chuck Meyer humbly put it, "All the reports and written materials in the world could not have brought home for me the extent of UNICEF's work in the field like this meaningful experience has."