Tell Me Everything

21/Marzo/2012 | 18:35


Every afternoon dozens of kids flock to a small tent in the San Francisco Plaza in Quito. They find familiar faces that engage them in games or they sit down with a book to read while the bustle of el centro continues unabated.


They are the children and grandchildren of the informal workers of old town. And some of the children are laborers themselves – shoeshine boys who briefly put down their box of polishes and brushes to do something that should feel more natural: be a child.


When other shoeshine boys approach, looking for clients, they are invited to join the activities. This is not the place for work. The tent, the books, and the nearby mobile school - a large wagon on wheels that opens into an array of interchangeable educational panels – are part of "Cuentamelotodo" (Tell me everything), a popular eduction program for children ages 3-12 that offers a refuge in the streets of Quito.


The project, which began in 2009,   is the work of expatriates, Laetitia Courtois Aulestia and Emma Barthes, who also founded the sponsoring NGO, Desarollo Social & Habitat (DSH). The foundation is funded by international organizations such as Foundation Air France, UBS, and Columbia University.


"I wanted to start a project like this with children working on education and rights, but I did not know how to do it," explains Cortois. "I went to visit different organizations working with children."

One of those was Fe & Alegria (Faith and Happiness), a popular educational movement that has been operating in Latin America for 60 years, reaching out to marginalized students in areas where the government does not or will not serve.


After 18 months at Fe & Alegria, Cortois was joined by Barthes and together they began twice weekly workshops with organizations like Jesus Divino Preso, which works with the children of women prisoners, El Plan Ecuasol, which gives school support in North Quito, and Las Tres Manuelas, a center that attends to abused and neglected women and children. In these workshops they created stories with the children, which were later published in a book called, "Viajando con Niños," or Traveling with Children.


Cortois says, "Through this process we realized that the children had a lot of desire to create things but little space in which to develop their creativity."   So both women decided to take their project to the streets.  "When I arrived here I didn't see many organizations working from the children's reality." She found many institutions with centers but nothing that served them as directly as DSH does today.   

"In Quito you don't have many street children but you have many children spending lots of time in the streets and nothing is done from the streets."


Tell Me Everything


"Tell Me Everything corresponds to two things," says Cortois. "The idea is to gain the confidence of the kids...tell me what you want, what you can about your life and we will tell you the stories that we have." They want the kids to share who they are and in turn they share lessons that disadvantaged children do not always hear in their often, stark world.


Four days a week, Tell Me Everything offers an education that is not academic, but rather a curriculum focused on children's rights.  Cortois explains, "When we talk about children's rights we talk about the right to education or the right to rest, the right to dream. It's formal and informal rights…we have a planning with the different rights to work on throughout the year." It is popular education, which complements their formal education.


The approach is structured. Teacher, Rosario Centeno, says "It is a sequence of workshops to work on the values that help the conduct of these children. We are reinforcing it from the perspective of daily life and also through these activities in order to put them into practice."


Social Support


Through their educational activities DSH is able to reach children and sub sequently provide social support to them and their families.


"Once a child has shown up for three sessions, we learn more about the child, get information through the children about the schools they attend, the families, etc. and then get in contact with the family," explains Cortois.


The children who attend often have many needs that go unaddressed, be them academic, medical, family, or emotional. Social worker Monica Palacios explains, "What we understood was that most of the needs of these kids were not attended to because they did not know where to go. So we started to identify and to contact public and private organizations working in health, in housing, in education, to see if we would find, depending on the needs of the children, where we could send them to get some help."


One of their regular students, Anthony, whose mothers sells candy in the plaza, needed eye surgery to correct his deteriorating vision. DHS was able to refer him to a couple of centers where, ultimately, he received the surgery needed to prevent eye loss from the Vista Para Todos Foundation.


DSH provides key chains for the kids and their families with plastic information guides that include the name, address, phone number of institutions that are available to assist them, free of charge.

"We have signed agreements with 20 organizations and have a database of 50,  between public and private (institutions)," says Cortois. Most are located in the general downtown vicinity. 


Gauging Impact


Success is difficult to measure. In two and a half years thousands of children have passed through the DHS tent in the plaza, though only about 80 students regularly show up each week. 

"It is a process. It is very slow it is very difficult to measure but it has proved to be a positive process," says Cortois.


Cortois emphasizes that their approach is very deliberate and very flexible. "We are working from the environment of the children…We don't ask them to stay because there is an economic reality."    She describes a situation where a kid, if pressured to stay, may return home only to be beaten because he didn't bring back the $2 he was supposed to earn. 

"We are in no position to say you should or shouldn't work…We can be against children labor but it is another thing."


Because Tell Me Everything operates from a tent, they can never close their doors to anyone.   Their practical education offers children a vision for their lives that they may not otherwise acquire and Cortois says it permits the kids to see their principal environment – the street – in a different way. 


"The street is a place where they work, where they rest, it is a place where they are mistreated by workers, by the police...the idea also is to tell them that the street can be positive, where they learn things, where they have positive interactions with people."



Ciudad Quito

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