In Februrary, 1999, CISAS, the Center for Information and Training in Community Health, in Nicaragua, held a national workshop for sharing of ideas in Child-to-Child activities. Invited were children from 8-13 years old, and youths from 14-18 years old, who have been involved in Child-to-Child activities in many different areas of Nicaragua. There were also groups from El Salvador and Honduras. Helping to facilitate and evaluate the 6 day workshop were Martin Reyes and David Werner. Martin, who for many years was a leader in Project Piaxtla and PROJIMO in Mexico, for the past 6 years has been woking with CISAS to help introduce the practice of Child-to-Child thoughout Central America and beyond.

Child-to-Child is a learning-by-doing educational approach through which school-aged children learn to observe, analyze, and take action to help resolve health-related needs in their homes and communities. Although the concept began with the idea of children learning to help safeguard the health of their younger brothers and sisters, it has grown to include such activities as community gardening, reforestation and helping disabled children integrate into public schools.

At the workshop, groups of children from different areas gave presentations on outstanding activities they had realized in the last year. One of the most impressive activities accomplished by the children from El Viejo, dealt with the huge problem of accumulating garbage, which has added to the poliferation of rats and, since the hurricane, a nationwide epidemic of Leptospyrosis. The children started a profitable business of turning biodegradable household garbage into fertilizer. First they separate out the plastics and similar non-biodegradable garbage, which they burn. Then they mulch the organic garbage, alternating layers of garbage with layers of dirt, and water it regularly so that it decomposes quickly into a rich fertilizer, which they can sell to farmers and use in their community gardens.

One of the goals of Child-to-Child is to encourage children to think for themselves, analyze their common needs and to discover their underlying causes, and then to seek solutions cooperatively. This empowering approach called “discovery-based learning” has been strongly advocated in Latin America by Martin Reyes, who became a facilitator of Child-to-Child when he himself was an adolescent and junior health worker in the village of Ajoya, Mexico.

Following Hurricane Mitch in the fall of 1998, which caused a region-wide disaster, for a while it was questioned whether the Child-to-Child Workshop planned for February, 1999, should be canceled. But CISAS decided, and all the children concerned agreed, that the current “hard times” made the Child-to-Child encounter even more important.

It was decided that a key focus of the Encounter should be to explore ways that children and adolescents could be supportive of one another, and could offer a helping hand to those youngsters who had lost their home and even family members to the hurricane. So through stories and role-plays and sharing of experience, the young folks learned about ways they could be helpful and kind to the child who has suffered serious trauma and loss.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Encounter was the vitality, spirit of joy, and resiliance of the children present. Many had lost their homes, their farmland and even family members or friends in the hurricane. They were able to discuss the enormity of their problems seriously, sometimes with tears of emotion. And yet they still knew how to put their problems aside, enjoy one another, enjoy themselves, and enjoy life. For me, in spite of inevitable shortcomings, the Child-to-Child Encounter was something of a renaissance: a celebration of the uncrushability of youth when given even half a chance.

We all learned a lot from one another, and came away from the experience refreshed and renewed by the children’s unbounding openness, honesty, and intelligence.

Images from the Workshop