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Stories of Working Children and Youth as Active, Empowered Citizens

Story by Transformations February 2nd, 2015

Transformations: Stories of Partnership, Resilience and Positive Change in Peru is a collaborative photojournalism project intended to increase dialogue and further understanding of international partnerships that address complex global challenges. Through individual and organizational stories the Ontario Council for International Cooperation (OCIC) invites viewers to actively engage in a new narrative on international cooperation and solidarity.

This narrative is rooted in the Istanbul Principles for CSO Development Effectiveness, a set of mutually shared values guiding the development work of civil society organizations (CSOs) worldwide. These include to: respect and promote human rights and social justice; embody gender equality and equity while promoting women and girls’ rights; focus on people’s empowerment, democratic ownership and participation; promote environmental sustainability; practice transparency and accountability; pursue equitable partnerships and solidarity; create and share knowledge and commit to mutual learning; and commit to realizing positive sustainable change.

Through this stream of the exhibit we invite you to learn about the work of Save the Children and the Commission on Human Rights of Ica (CODEHICA) to empower working children and youth to become active citizens, and to access dignified work.The stories presented were documented by OCIC and Allan Lissner, Praxis Pictures, during a visit to Peru in November 2014. We extend our deepest gratitude to our organizational partners and to the many individual people that shared their experiences, and their lives.

This initiative was undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada (DFATD).

Save the Children Canada is a member of Save the Children International, a network of 30 member organizations raising funds and operating programs domestically and internationally that focus on the issues of health and nutrition, education, HIV and AIDS, child protection, livelihoods and food security, emergency relief and child rights governance. The members of Save the Children International work together as a federation by pooling resources, establishing common positions on issues, and carrying out joint projects. Save the Children is committed to ensuring children realize the rights to which they are entitled under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Commission on Human Rights of Ica (CODEHICA) has been operating in Ica, Peru, for over thirty years. CODEHICA promotes and defends human rights by strengthening the participation of citizens and the relations between the State and civil society. CODEHICA and Save the Children have worked in partnership for over 15 years and have jointly undertaken the ‘Children Lead the Way’ program in Ica since 2011.

The ‘Children Lead the Way’ program, funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada (DFATD), seeks to empower working girls and boys to become active citizens, and to access dignified work in Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Peru and Nicaragua. It does this by providing access to quality and relevant education and protection from exploitation, and by encouraging and enabling working children and youth to participate in programs and policies that affect their lives. Through the ‘Children Lead the Way’ program in Peru, working children and youth have access to after-school tutoring and technical and entrepreneurial training. They are also encouraged to participate in peer leadership activities and to engage in public affairs as a part of the National Movement of Working Children (MNNATSOP).

MNNATSOP promotes the healthy development and citizenship of working girls and boys so that they know their rights — especially to protection and education — and can claim them with employers, government, schools, their families and their communities.

Nidia Mendoza, 16, and her cousin Jimena Hernandez, 4 (left). Nidia in her classroom at El Rosario High School, Ica (right).

Nidia Mendoza, a vibrant high school student, has been a working selling fruits and vegetables in a local market on weekends since she was 12 years old. Nidia explains that, in the past, her employers used to yell at her if she made mistakes, and paid her very little for long hours of work, often beginning at 4:00 am. They told her that “she was worthless… a good for nothing person.” Despite the abuse she suffered, she didn’t want to leave because her work was helping to supplement her family income.

Through workshops at CODEHICA, Nidia describes learning about her rights and learning that she can overcome any situation. As a result, she says, she decided to quit the job where she was poorly treated. She went on to find another job where her rights are respected and she can negotiate with her employer on things like having breaks to eat, and receiving better wages. “It’s beautiful! It’s fun,” she says, “I like the training. I have become more responsible and I know that I have to invest my money in something good.”

Nidia says that she likes numbers and is good at math. These strengths have resulted in major accomplishments for her, including winning medals in local and national math competitions. Nidia hopes to work as an accountant, in the future.
Nidia Mendoza (left), with her cousin, Jimena Hernandez, aunt, Nancy Casavilca, and grandmother, Bacilia Cardenas, on their family property.

CODEHICA works with teachers and administrators to implement productive training and education programs in schools in Ica, Peru. Teachers consider the particular needs of working children and youth in their design of curriculum, and accommodate them in other ways.
Students in El Rosario High School demonstrate their screen-printing skills.

Students in El Rosario High School are learning how to screen-print images onto t-shirts. They are also trained in business and marketing, so that they are equipped with basic small business knowledge. Teachers say that some students are taking their projects outside of school and earning money to help their families.
Students share their recipes and explain how to prepare local dishes during the productive education program offered at El Rosario High School.

As part of the productive education program introduced by CODEHICA, boys and girls are learning new skills, such as how to prepare popular meals and sweets. The activities they participate in help break down gender stereotypes and provide useful opportunities for participants to gain practical experience that they can use at home, at work, and in their future careers. As a result, teachers report that students express more motivation to create their own business or to manage one within their families in the future.
Students in an El Rosario High School classroom lesson (left). Nidia Mendoza raises her hand to answer a question about HIV and AIDS prevention in the lead-up to Worlds AIDS Day (right).

In addition to attending school and working in the market, Nidia is actively involved in MNNATSOP. The movement works to increase access to dignified work and educational opportunities with the aim of promoting and protecting children’s rights, and securing greater influence for working children in decisions that affect their lives.
MNNATSOP participants are divided into smaller groups called ‘bases,’ which typically have up to thirty participants ranging from five to 18 years of age. Marina, Luis Angel, Nidia, Lenny, Johad and Raquel (left to right) are part of one of these bases.

In addition to being a space for them to learn about their rights and practice democratic leadership, participation in ‘bases’ tends to increase the self-esteem of group members. Working children and youth claim ‘bases’ as spaces to share how they feel and what they know with one another. “The beautiful thing about this group,” says Luis Angel, “is that we get to join a lot of activities and meet a lot of new people and make friends. This has become like a second home for us.”
Juan Carlos Meneses Surco, 15, at his home (left), and at his workplace (right).

Juan Carlos Meneses Surco lives in the community of Parcona, in Ica. Juan Carlos works within his home and in a potato factory nearby to help support his mother and three younger siblings. Juan Carlos was not going to school before, but with the help of CODEHICA he is now attending Micaela Bastidas Puyucahua School in the afternoons, and has benefited from the tutoring and psychological support offered.
Juan Carlos Meneses Surco, preparing food for his family.
Juan Carlos’ mother, Maria, and baby sister, Gabby, at their home.

Juan Carlos’ mother, Maria, says “things have been difficult, but Juan Carlos has big dreams and keeps telling me that he will grow up and help me, and we will live in a better house one day. With the income Juan Carlos has earned, and with help and advice from CODEHICA we were able to improve our home so that we are now better sheltered from the cold winter nights. The baby used to get sick a lot, but she’s much better now that I can keep her warm inside.”
Students participating in an activity in the classroom at Micaela Bastidas Puyucahua School.

CODEHICA has introduced school-based social skills workshops that focus on leadership, tolerance, gender equality and non-violence. Through these programs, children are protected from exploitation and their health and well-being improve. The job skills they acquire help them to find meaningful dignified work, and to lead productive lives within their communities. Teachers report that students are responding better in schools after participating in the programs offered by CODEHICA.
Students making presentations of their small business ventures at Micaela Bastidas Puyucahua School.

‘The Sweet Temptation of Paradise’ is a small business venture that was started by students in Micaela Bastidas Puyucahua School. Girls and boys make and sell candied apples to their friends, schoolmates and neighbours, as a way to raise money for their graduation trip to Cusco. Other groups have also started small businesses making hats, chocolates and bracelets, among other things.
Students dancing (left) and playing soccer (right) in the courtyard at Micaela Bastidas Puyucahua School.

At Micaela Bastidas Puyucahua School we learned that female students complained that the boys were dominating the courtyard during recess. With guidance from the teachers, the girls realized that they have to negotiate to gain equal use and to find a workable solution. As a result, the students agreed to alternate days when boys and girls can use the space for sports.
Vilma Contreras, describing her work with CODEHICA to reduce violence in homes and in the community.

Vilma Contreras is a community social worker that collaborates with CODEHICA to run activities that improve local living standards and prevent violence towards children and women. Vilma says that through the activities, the kids “make little purses, little jelly bracelets… little enterprises to overcome and get a better situation. They help to contribute to the program. And they don’t just get help; they also help other people.”

She says that their workshops with parents have helped reduce the incidence of domestic violence and other forms of abuse. “Because of the trainings they have received, they now have more knowledge of how to treat their kids and how to communicate,” says Vilma. “There was a lot of mistreatment towards children and a lot of violence in the houses, but now the children know their rights, and have self-esteem. They appreciate themselves as human beings.”
Flor Echegaray Quichca, 24, facilitating activities with children at a CODEHICA community centre program for working children.

Flor Echegaray Quichca has graduated from program participant to member of CODEHICA’s program staff. In her communications role she helps organize one of the local community centres, and she works with the local government to ensure that voices of working children are heard by decision makers. “It has been a struggle to get the government to take us seriously,” she says, “but after many years of work, we are now in a position of respect where the government actually invites us to participate in events and meetings.”

Flor says that the program helped her develop self-confidence. She says she used to be very shy and quiet, but now she is not afraid to speak up. This change made it possible for her to choose her career path, and now she wants to help teach other children what she learned. Flor says that all of the other working children who participated in CODEHICA’s programs with her are now professionals in their chosen fields – some are nurses, engineers, journalists, secretaries and human rights advocates.

Macia, Sebastian and Jose Luis present a puppet show about Children’s Rights at a CODEHICA community centre program.

Their script reads:

Once upon a time there was girl called Pamela, who with her brother, Fabricio, did not know what Children’s Rights were.

One day, heading to school, they met their friends Luis and Teresa and asked them if they knew what Children’s Rights are.

Luis and Teresa did not know anything about Children’s Rights, so they decided to ask their teacher. “Miss,” asked Luis, “What are our rights?”

The professor answered: “You have the right to have recreation.”

Pamela said: “The right to live well.”

Luis said: “The right to access to health services.”

Fabricio said: “The right to education.”

Teresa said: “The right to eat well.”

Finally, their friend Carlitos said: “Let’s defend our rights!” So, the children decided to make a big street banner to defend Children’s Rights.

Alison Anampa Huomani, 18 (far right), and her friends practice in their drumming group, ‘Total Eclipse’, which often gets hired to perform at public events.

Alison’s sister, Jenny, points out: “I don’t want people to get the impression that working kids are beggars or victims. We are very proud people. We’re proud of ourselves. We struggle and work every day. There are cases of exploitation, but in the majority of cases we work because we want to. We want to help ourselves, and our families. We aren’t forced to work. But even though we are working, we are still kids and we still like to play and have fun.”
“A lot of people think children should not work at all,” says Alison, “but I don’t agree with them because they don’t offer any alternatives or solutions. It is an economic reality that children have to work, and this has to be considered. You can’t just force a child to stop working, because that would be going backwards. That’s not the solution. The problem isn’t kids working, it’s about the bad conditions some of them face at work, so it’s more important to teach children about their rights and what they can do to stand up for those rights to ensure they are working in a safe environment and doing things that are dignified and appropriate for their age.”
Alison Anampa Huomani (far left) leads a meeting of local working children and youth.

Alison was elected national president of the working National Movement of Working Children (MNNATSOP) in 2012, and represents the organization’s interests at meetings with local and national authorities. While CODEHICA hosts these meetings in their community centre, staff rarely participate. The space is reserved for working children and youth to speak openly and to self-organize.
Alison Anampa Huomani’s mother, Elizabeth, sharing reflections on the Children Lead the Way program.

“I’m very happy that Alison is a part of this program,” says Alison’s mother, Elizabeth. “She used to be shy but she has become very outgoing and confident, and has had access to lots of opportunities as a result. For example, before we would struggle just to get money for a taxi into town, but now she is getting opportunities to travel to other countries. Right now she is applying to go to university to study to be a lawyer. I’m very joyful and proud that my daughters are working and that they participate and contribute to the household.”

(below) Alison, far left, at home with her mother and sisters Jeny, Elizabeth, Yessenia and Anel.
Footnote: All photos by Allan Lissner/Praxis Pictures. November 2014.
Ica, Peru