Fundacion Ninez y Vida

Linked with our presentation of Blanca Campoverde – Ecuador.

The Fundacion Ninez y Vida is a local NGO here in Quito with 30 years of experience working with children. Niñez y Vida offers multiple children’s centers in the poor neighborhoods of western Quito. One strong aspect of the foundation is its use of the Montessori model, encouraging a natural development process in children. With that in mind, the centers have very little formal education structure, but instead offer many different experimental stations where the children are free to learn at their own pace. In impoverished living conditions, children are often forced to grow up much faster than is healthy. The centers offer the children an atmosphere of freedom that allows for them to grow and develop at their own rate. In the centers, children are never pressured or required to participate in any activity or schedule.

Experimental play areas: One of the most important elements of each center is the experimental play areas. Each area is specifically designed and equipped with toys and materials to aid development in certain field. For example, you will find a corner of mathematics games and numbers, an area of building blocks and small construction materials, or a science section filled with animals and materials relating to the environment. All the centers have a ‘daily life’ area where children can imitate their parents by putting on make-up, playing dress-up, or even doing chores.

In fact, all the centers have small kitchens so that children can learn about the dangers of using knives and appliances without fear. Small clothes-washing sinks and mock houses are available for children to learn household responsibilities. Water and dirt or sand will always be present so that children can stay in touch with nature and also develop their motor skills. Water is helpful for children to overcome their fear due to the fact that many Ecuadorian parents punish their children with cold showers. Essentially, every center is focused around providing an area for basic child development: Movement, expression, exploration, feeling, discovering, understanding, touch, perception, etc. In order to create such an environment, the materials, toys, and activities are based on respecting and supporting the initiatives, actions, and decisions that the children make on their own.

Centers

Centro Infantil Semilla: Located far up the western hillside of Quito, Semilla offers two different programs to the poor youth and families of the neighborhood. For children age 2-8, there is an understaffed daycare center from 7:30am-5:00pm. Based on Niñez y Vida’s model, the center has numerous experimental areas and activities providing an atmosphere for natural development. Semilla also offers an after school program for children ages 9-12. The children are given a meal and then help with their homework. In the afternoons, the center also offers many workshops and classes to further education and development.

Centro Infantil Ayllus: Ayllus is located in a community of Quito made up almost entirely of poor indigenous families who come to Quito to sell items in the market. The children in the community are from indigenous communities from all over Ecuador and are often left to fend for themselves while their parents spend all day at the market. The center, which provides care from 7am-5pm, even has a replica indigenous house so that the children maintain a connection with their history and culture. The center leads the children on fieldtrips, especially to the nearby hillside forest to keep in touch with nature and the environment.

Centro Infantil Nueva Vida (New Life): offers care for children ages 2-5 years. With well maintained facilities and a strong infrastructure, this center offers children a secure place to play and develop in a somewhat dangerous community. Along with Niñez y Vida’s signature experimental areas, the center offers music classes, construction supplies, and medical supplies to help children overcome the fear of doctors and hospitals.

Refugio de los sueños (Refuge of Dreams): supports children ages 6-18 who are exposed to life in the streets or domestic violence. Although the center is open from 9am-6pm, the majority of the children arrive around 2pm after school. One of the focuses of this center is to offer workshops that allow the students to gain interest and skills in the field that they choose. The center has a panadería (bakery) where children are free to learn the trade of baking, a jardín (garden) where the children can learn about agriculture and plant-life, and a carpintería (carpentry shop) where children make a wide variety of crafts and furniture. Weaving, ceramics, sewing, and general crafts workshops are available. There is even a beauty workshop where girls can learn to put on make-up and cut hair. Along with multiple sports, the children are free to choose whatever workshop or work area they wish to work in and are giving free range to the materials. Although there is a chaperone to help and answer questions, the students take their own initiative with all projects.

Centro Infantil Tierra de Hombres: named after the international organization that helps support Niñez y Vida, offers care for children ages 2-6. This center is one of Niñez y Vida’s original projects dating back to 1976. Working with children in high risk situations, the center is a great example of giving the children a place to develop naturally. The 60 or so children that attend are free to participate in any activity that they choose, including meals and naps. The center has very well developed science and practical life areas.

Details: The first few days of work with Niñez y Vida will include an introduction to all the centers and deciding which one best suits the volunteer’s schedule and interests. Due to the Foundation’s flexibility, and the ability for volunteers to work with children even with limited Spanish, this is a great program for volunteers who are taking Spanish classes in Quito. Volunteers should start the program with Niñez y Vida with at least a basic Spanish level (which can be improved through classes while volunteering). There is a 4 week minimum commitment to the foundation and all volunteers must be at least 18 years old. (Read more about on Ecotracker Foundation).

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