When CARE donors Mary Helen Wegmann and Rosemary Wharton accompanied me on a tour of CARE's work in El Salvador, the country was just recovering from two devastating earthquakes. We visited many projects, which included the reconstruction of temporary and permanent housing and schools, the design and implementation of water and sanitation methods, and the development of improved agricultural methods. But one project did more than impress - it simply amazed them. That's because it was created and carried out by children.
The project was initiated under a program called Pro-NAN, or "Program, Nino a Nino" (Child to Child). In this mentoring program (held daily after school and on weekends) CARE staff, who are mothers of two children attending the program, work with 5 to 14 year-olds. Projects include reading and writing tutorials, personal health and hygiene, nutrition, organized physical activities and various community service projects in their small village of about 50 homes.
To get there, we drove many miles up a dirt road that consisted of more bumps than road. Once we arrived, local children introduced us to their latest community project, which they designed, researched and implemented completely on their own. They had decided to clean up and dispose of all accumulated garbage around every household; garbage disposal in rural areas like this one is a monumental and extremely hazardous problem. The children mapped the entire village and designed collection and burial systems. They created posters for the village that taught the adults how to properly dispose of waste as well as the benefits of recycling. Many adults did not realize the health hazards of accumulated garbage. The children taught them.
The children also treated us to a puppet show that dramatized the implementation of their garbage disposal system; the set, scenery and puppets were made out of recycled garbage. Perhaps more inspiring than the project itself was the pride the children felt for their effort. They felt pride in their knowledge, pride for their families and community, and pride in knowing that they played an integral part in resolving a serious village problem.
The Pro-NAN project is just one example of how CARE works with individuals, families and communities to help them realize their potential and develop lasting solutions to poverty. CARE believes that sustainable solutions can be achieved when the underlying causes of poverty are addressed. In the children's project and other efforts in El Salvador, we witnessed a number of remarkable victories over poverty.
Rosemary and Mary Helen weren't the only people impressed with the projects CARE supports. After Rosemary shared her El Salvador experience at an elementary school in her community, the students were so impressed with the Pro-NAN program, they raised funds to purchase new Spanish reading books for the village.