Helping Little Ones Realize Their Potential
— Mary Kathryn Tiller · Tuesday, January 14, 2020 —
There is a small classroom lined with shelves in Chimaltenango, Guatemala, each neatly filled with toys and learning tools. Small, wooden tables sit in the center with tiny blue chairs surrounding them. Globes, small enough to be explored by little hands, rest on top of a shelf, next to an overflowing pot of ivy.
This simple, inviting space is located within the Community Care Center (CCC), a place that has loved and served the surrounding community for the last four years. This past year, however, Orphan Outreach heard the call to implement a Montessori Program with preschool aged children who are being raised in hostile environments, extreme poverty, and social risk.
“The CCC began as a tutoring program for children from 7 to 18 years,” explained Brenda Rivera, Executive Director of Asociacion Niñez con Futuro (ANIFU, the NGO partner of Orphan Outreach in Guatemala). “The parents of the children we serve work in the municipal landfill, or as street vendors, shoe shiners, or masonry workers. These children are at high risk of abuse and family disintegration and we often observed deeply ingrained behavioral patterns in them, behaviors that inhibit their overall growth. Our greatest desire is to impact these children’s lives by giving them access to new and better educational, social, professional, and spiritual opportunities. We want to help them realize their potential in a safe and violence-free environment.
Determined to find a way to disrupt the cycle of violence and abuse, Brenda and her team began looking for a solution. They found it in the Montessori Method.
Developed in1907 by Maria Montessori, the Montessori Method is a child-centered approach which seeks to develop the whole child. Offering children the freedom to explore a variety of educational tools and toys within a prescribed amount of time, the Montessori theory believes children are wired to learn and will naturally initiate learning if an environment is supportive and thoughtfully prepared.
“Montessori began working with children at social risk and with disabilities; given we work with a similar population, this encouraged us to use this methodology,” said Claudia Guzman, the Education Coordinator at ANIFU. “We believe by giving them the opportunity to use freedom in their first years of development, a child can become an adult with the ability to face life struggles.”
Sixteen children ages three-to-five years old were identified to participate in the pilot program. Brenda and her team spent the months leading up to the program working alongside a specialized psychologist and the CCC staff, completing home visits and evaluating the cognitive, language, social-emotional, and motor development of each child, establishing a baseline for each.
“We knew, according to the evaluations we conducted, it would be a challenge and a great responsibility to work with these children,” stated Brenda. “The results showed our children were lagging behind in all areas and had significant language and socio-emotional problems. We believed, however, by using the Montessori methodology, which dignifies and empowers the child in an environment of freedom, respect, and love, we could revolutionize their education.”
Through the program, the children are served two balanced and nutritious meals a day and study subjects such as language, mathematics, geography and botany. They also work on practical life skills and sensory development. Barely into their first semester, the team began to see results.
“After only two months, we were able to observe significant changes in the children. We saw improvements in their ability to express themselves and follow directions. Many gained weight and were more energized. They come to class with great enthusiasm every day. It is wonderful to see their faces fill with joy when they complete each activity. They’ve taken ownership of their education and it shows in how seriously they take their work,” Claudia beamed.
The children are not the only ones impacted by this program. Brenda and her team have observed the parents, astonished by the changes they are seeing in their children, beginning to engage in their child’s education and development.
“The families are so thankful for the attention that we give to the children. They say they can see change in them already. Some children are taking their Montessori learning home, and are telling their parents, ‘In Montessori we greet each other,’ or, ‘In Montessori we learn to respect each other.’ So, they are making an impact on their own families,” shared Claudia.
According to Claudia, the greatest challenge has been teaching the children good hygiene habits. None of the children could use the restroom on their own (some were even scared of toilets since they don’t have them at home). It has also taken time to teach them healthy eating habits, such as using silverware to eat, rather than their hands. Now, most of them can use the bathroom on their own, as well as brush their own teeth, use silverware, apply lotion, and wash their hands and face.
With the first few months of the program revealing so much potential, the hopes of Brenda and her team are high, as they dream of the impact this Montessori program might have on their community in Chimaltenango and beyond.
“Our mission as an organization is to 'Glorify the Lord Jesus Christ through the ministry of orphaned and low-income children around Guatemala.' We would love to strengthen the current program, and continue meeting the needs already mentioned, but we very much hope to expand the program to serve more children in the community."
As the program grows, Brenda and her team hope to address some of the more complex needs the children have, such as language therapy, traditional therapy, and pediatric medical care. They hope to find and partner with professionals in these areas, to properly address each of these needs.
“I believe this program is God’s reminder to the families of how much He loves them and how special the children are to Him,” Brenda said. “We see their potential and we are certain that Montessori will set solid foundations for better learning, enhancing their natural abilities and talents. It will provide them with the tools they need to change their future.”
You can support the growth and work of the Montessori Program by sponsoring a child within the program, praying for wisdom and guidance for the staff as they work alongside these children, and by