This Daycare Center Is Helping Single Parents Return to School in Honduras

When Adelaida Velásquez first heard of a subsidized child care center in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, she did not know that it would do so much more than just provide her with child care.

But it did – the center would continue to change her life.

The then 34-year-old single wanted to return to school “at least to study the basics” and Pasos Pequeñitos (Spanish for “small steps”) provided childcare and an education scholarship that made it possible for her to return to school. then .

The center in Honduras’ capital was established in 2005 to provide affordable day care services specifically to low-income single parents returning to school. Pasos Pequeñitos offers education scholarships on an individual basis to cover the cost of school, related supplies and transportation. By promoting their education, parents can move away from informal work and tap into salary positions, which often provide them with opportunities to earn more and better support their children.

Like many other parents at the center, Velásquez would get up early to take her son Leonardo to Pasos Pequeñitos before her classes, and would spend her nights studying.

“I would go to bed at 01:00 [after] do my homework, ”she told Global Citizen. “It was like that every night.”

And it bore fruit.

Velásquez, who made the decision to return to school more than a decade ago, now works for the government, and Leonardo, who spent his time at the center learning colors and multiplication, thrives in high school.

Work in a challenging socio-economic context

Children line up to be greeted by a volunteer before class in July 2022 at the Pasos Pequeñitos Child Care Center in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
Image: Thomas Ayuso for Global Citizen

The center, which runs from 6:30 a.m. to 6 nm. open to children 15 months and older, offers education in line with Honduras’ national curriculum, health care benefits and daily various meals and snacks.

In addition, Pasos Pequeñitos offers monthly workshops on topics including health and family planning, and weekly entertainment programs, such as Zumba classes, to help parents bond with their children.

“The children who come here, their most stable source of food and nutrition, come from this program. Very often in their homes they may eat once a day, ”Stephen O’Mahony, the national director of Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos (NPH) Honduras, the non-profit organization that oversees the center, told Global Citizen.

Most parents whose children are in the center earn $ 2 to $ 3 USD per day. Digyana Hernández, the coordinator of Pasos Pequeñitos, told Global Citizen that most of the children live in small rooms with many other people, and without dedicated spaces to play, nap or eat, despite their parents who work every day. work hard to provide for them.

Small Trees

Small Trees
A girl and a boy eat a fruit snack at Pasos Pequeñitos.

Thomas Ayuso for Global Citizen

Small Trees

Small Trees
A volunteer helps a young child with an activity during class time at Pasos Pequeñitos.

Thomas Ayuso for Global Citizen

Small Trees

Small Trees
A girl colors a leather worksheet at Small Steps in Tegucigalpa.

Thomas Ayuso for Global Citizen

For example, one child currently attending the center lives with their single father in an industrial space used by carpenters to upholster furniture.

“Another challenge is that many of the neighborhoods [our clients] is based in is very dangerous and they have a lot of gangs, ”Hernández said. “When we do a home visit there, we just go and [pray for safety]. ”

Because many of the children come from challenging environments, they sometimes initially show behavioral issues, such as hitting others. Within weeks at the center, however, staff say the children’s behaviors are starting to change to reflect the calmer environment they have come to know for most of their day.

Hernández, who still stays in touch with all the children who have moved in from the care center, describes her role as more of a family member than a caregiver.

“When we have a child, it is not just a child. We [staff members] is like an aunt to them, ”she said.

A volunteer talks to a boy during afternoon playtime at the Pasos Pequeñitos Child Care Center in Tegucigalpa.
Image: Thomas Ayuso for Global Citizen

Single-parent households in Honduras

According to the Honduran National Institute of Statistics, 23% of the Honduran population was raised by single mothers.

In 2019, when NPH Honduras surveyed 1,500 households in Mata de Platano and Pueblo Nuevo, outside the country’s capital, they found that 80% of mothers gave birth to their first child when they were under 21 years old, and ‘ an additional 40% were under 18.

Through Pasos Pequeñitos, some parents returned to middle school or high school, while others went to post-secondary institutions and graduated as teachers, lawyers, and engineers.

“We try to work with them to keep them moving [so they don’t think]: ‘I’m poor. I have no more choices, “said Hernández. “[We tell them]: ‘You can do it. Keep going. ‘ That’s how we work with our families. ”

Although it is ideal to continue their studies or to pursue higher education, it is not possible for all single parents, and therefore the center allows children from case to case.

According to Hernández, single mothers often work casual jobs, such as cleaning houses or selling fruit on the street, which enables them to financially “survive only day by day”, rather than earn a steady income from a full-time job.

As a result, they may not be able to attend school, but having their children at the center still offers an economic benefit, O’Mahony explained.

One of the single mothers, Mariela, whose children receive care from the center, is a fruit seller. Although she is likely to stay in this informal job and have no plans to return to school, the center offers her the opportunity to earn money during the day as her children are cared for, which means she can afford milk and diapers for sale. , and other necessities at a crucial time in her child’s development.

Establishment of an accessible, subsidized financial model

The center, which operates under NPH Honduras, is funded primarily by donations from Germany and Austria. However, parents contribute a nominal amount based on their financial situation to participate in the program – usually the equivalent of about $ 1 to $ 17 USD per month.

Due to limited resources, the center can only care for a maximum of 20 children at a time.

The children climb and play at a park next to Small Steps in Tegucigalpa.
Image: Thomas Ayuso for Global Citizen

Pasos Pequeñitos works using the Montessori method, an educational approach that involves child-based learning and encourages independence from an early age. Comparable child care centers in Honduras cost about $ 160 to $ 200 USD per month, making it out of reach for low-income single parents.

According to the World Bank, 350 million children under primary school age do not have access to childcare. Access to this care will not only improve child outcomes and help them reach their potential, but it will also increase women’s employment and drive inclusive economic growth – which is especially now needed to recover from the pandemic.

For single parents and children in Honduras who do not have access to quality, affordable child care, expanding the accessibility of centers like Pasos Pequeñitos could “change the entire country,” says O’Mahony.

He adds that increased access will make a fundamental difference to many households’ economic situations and the overall well-being of children and their parents.

To enable single parents to continue their studies or work while their children “are in a place where they are safe, and are cared for, and they are loved… [is priceless]”he says.

Investing in quality childcare is one of the best ways a country can work for equality, improve human capital and put women at the forefront of economic growth. The World Bank’s new Child Care Incentive Fund, which will review proposals for new projects in the coming months, focuses on providing flexible funding to governments to support child care initiatives.

Global Citizen’s Care Allowance content series aims to highlight initiatives that will be the ideal pilots for this type of funding, emphasizing the importance of quality, affordable childcare in low- and middle-income countries around the world.

Disclosure: This series was made possible with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Each piece was produced with full editorial independence.

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