“They are the little green leaves growing back on the slopes of the volcano.”

The role of Child Friendly Spaces in community healing, from Summer 2019 IsraAID Humanitarian Fellow Ryan Rodriguez.

Children gather in front of the Child Friendly Space in Escuintla, Guatemala. ⁠

Living in the shadows of the Pacaya, Agua, and of course Fuego Volcanoes, seems like a fantasy, but for the families living in the ATUS community where they were evacuated to last year, it couldn’t be more of a reality. The wooden homes look like they are straight out of The Giver — each structure identical. Four rooms, four families, one blue metal roof. Clothes hang out to dry on wooden posts that balance between the wind and the weight of the damp fabrics. Every half hour, what seems to be the only thing that runs on time — the bright blue decorated school bus — drives by and honks its horn, delivering parents home to their families and taking others away to work.

Its 2 o’clock. The rubber crocs, all the same shade of brown, line up at the door. The kids, anywhere from ages 2–14, argue over who got in line first while telling on those who didn’t do their homework. All wait patiently for one of the Mentor Mothers to unlock the one wooden home that isn’t brown, but instead coated with murals of butterflies, trees, and a smiling sun.

Attendance is sporadic, sometimes seeing up to 50 of the 120 registered kids. After playing a group activity en una rueda, we begin our chant, “Yo soy Amable, Yo soy Inteligente, Yo soy Importante…”. It may or may not be borrowed from The Help’s “You is Kind, You is Smart, You is Important,” but self-confidence knows no borders. We enter the Child Friendly Space (CFS), and each choose a colored square from the foam carpet in one of the front rooms as we wait. The music starts, and we begin marching to the rhythms of Celia Cruz, Eddie Santiago, Romeo Santos, Prince Royce, transitioning to stretches with the Moana soundtrack in Spanish. “No te caigas, levántate… La vida es un carnaval… y el corazón, no tiene cara…”* are just some of the lyrics we sing together in the CFS.

The Child Friendly Space is just one component of IsraAID’s commitment to the communities affected by the Fuego Volcano eruption. After training a group of local professionals, public health workers, and community members in psychological first aid and mental health work under the PreparArte program, IsraAID recommissioned the CFS as a project to further develop and support the Mentor Mothers who work every day to make sure their children have a safe space to grow and play.

These individuals are leaders. Leaders who grind, who represent the purity in the world, who assume good, and listen with their hearts. Their leadership is reflected in their resilience and in the rhythm displayed in our dance classes. Rain or shine, homework or not, Mothers and students alike show up every day to prove their resilience on the dance floor and amongst each other. They are the little green leaves growing back on the slopes of the volcano, and I couldn’t be more grateful to learn from them during my time here in Guatemala with IsraAID.

*“Don’t fall, pick yourself up (Mozart La Para’s Levántate) … Life is a celebration (Celia Cruz’s La Vida es Un Carnaval) … and Love, doesn’t have a face (Prince Royce’s Corazón Sin Cara) …”

— Ryan Rodriguez, Summer 2019 IsraAID Humanitarian Fellow in Guatemala

On June 3, 2018, Volcan de Fuego erupted in Guatemala for the second time that year, devastating the surrounding areas. With almost 200 killed and 2 million affected, it was the largest and most violent eruption in over four decades. IsraAID’s Emergency Response Team arrived in Guatemala on June 5 to distribute urgent relief items and assess further needs. Local schools were especially affected by the disaster, leading the IsraAID team to partner with the Ministry of Education to support teachers and children. Educational projects have included Disaster Risk Reduction training in schools and the construction of the Child Friendly Space in Escuintla.

Ryan is currently attending Florida International University in Miami, Florida. He is one of two IsraAID Humanitarian Fellows volunteering in Guatemala for summer 2019.

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Stories from IsraAID's work providing life-saving emergency relief and durable solutions for populations affected by crisis. http://www.israaid.org