By Emmanuelle Sánchez-Monin
A few days ago, a community in Masaya, Nicaragua, opened the doors of its new Community Children’s Center or CICO. This building is the first of 40 centers expected to open before February 2013 in various poor neighborhoods around the country. These centers are the most tangible and eagerly-awaited product (but not the most important) of a new phase of the Urban Welfare Program for Children in Extreme Poverty. It’s a time of great joy, as the Nicaraguan Ministry of Family has dreamed of this Program for over three years. I’ll admit that it’s also a moment of satisfaction for me, for having been a part of this initiative, for having offered an idea or two, and (hopefully!) for not having hindered the process of filling the first CICO with girls and boys.
For the past fourteen years, in more than seven hundred spaces known as CICOs, community educators have served the children of Nicaragua’s poorest districts. I’ve been in love with this country for the same number of years, after coming here for the first time in 1998 to oversee what was then called the Comprehensive Child Care Program in Nicaragua (PAININ). I’m telling you this so that you’ll forgive me if my writing reveals more emotion than should be allowed in my role as an IDB project supervisor, which is supposedly a more objective and somewhat detached role. Oh well, after all, the IDB slogan is “We are more than a bank.”
What gets me excited today is to see how the communities themselves own and have a sense of ownership over the CICOs. I want to share a story that illustrates a much more complex issue, which is that of belonging and cultural relevance. At the Masaya CICO, the community’s enthusiasm suddenly took shape when deciding on the decoration of the walls. At its own initiative, the neighborhood’s parent committee sought help from a dad who offered his artistic talents. He painted a bird, but not just any bird—it was the beautiful guardabarranco. He also painted a flower, the dazzling sacuanjoche or plumeria and a landscape with the familiar and imposing Momotombo volcano. For the girls and boys of that CICO, the bird and the flower are familiar elements from their surroundings. As such, they remind them on a daily basis that just by opening their eyes to the world around them, they can find experiences that tell them who they are, and with that firm foundation of trust, be able to get wherever they want to go. That feeling of belonging is essential to generating self-esteem and building other strengths (emotional, physical and cognitive, to name a few).
Did we really get all of that from a flower and a bird? Well, yes. With apologies to Winnie the Pooh, I think the program should be proud that the little bear failed to make an appearance that day. What a joy that the children of Masaya can take their first steps away from home at the CICO, surrounded by signs reminding them that what’s theirs counts for a lot and that they’re taught to appreciate it and themselves!
Emmanuelle Sánchez-Monin is the lead specialist at the Division of Social Protection and Health and works at the Bank’s offices in Nicaragua.