She is one of the 1000 women proposed fort the Nobel Peace Price 2005.
She says: “We can only contribute to the peace in the world with human qualities.”
Blanca Campoverde – Ecuador
She works for the ‘Fundación Niñez y Vida–Tierra de Hombres Ecuador‘.
This year, she will complete 50 years of life. Thirty of them were spent educating the children of underprivileged classes. Blanca Campoverde, early orphan and adolescent mother, came from a poor family. Now she is one of the most important figures in the education sector in her country. She directs the Fundación Niñez y Vida (Childhood and Life Foundation), an organization that takes care of the education and health of children and youth.“Blanca is a very special person with a great intelligence. She has taught herself so well that people even ask her in what university she has studied. And she is so dynamic that Edmond Kaiser, the founder of the non-governmental organization Tierra de Hombres (Terre des Hommes), immediately accepted her application and made her director of the day care center he founded in Quito.”, says Florence de Goumoëns, a Swiss educator, about the Ecuadorian educator Blanca Campoverde.
“I have known her for 23 years,” adds the European educator. “We are friends. We have collaborated in operating these very valuable day care centers for the neighborhood of Toctiuco. They send Swiss volunteers (already there are more than 60) and thus develop north-south relationships between the youth of our countries.”
Blanca’s childhood was difficult: She was born half a century ago in Macará, on the Ecuadorian border with Peru. Her father was a peasant and her mother a housewife. She had three brothers, and she was the youngest child. They lived with great limitations, but her memories are of a happy childhood.
When she was 12 years old, a prolonged drought forced them to emigrate. The family moved to Santo Domingo de los Colorados, a 19-hour bus ride from Macará. There, an accident took the life of two of her brothers. Liver cancer killed her mother three years later.
In Santo Domingo, Blanca finished secondary school. She graduated as a teacher in dressmaking. At age 17, she gave birth to a baby girl and, shortly after, to another one. She was unmarried and only received support from her father, with whom she still lived. “He left us a few years ago,” she remembers with a young, clear voice.
Blanca went to Quito with her two small children, searching for work. The Swiss representatives of the organization Tierra de Hombres (Terre des Hommes) contacted her. They wanted to start a day care center in Toctiuco, a neighborhood in the suburbs of the capital. Blanca explained that she had experience with students in Santo Domingo de los Colorados, but that she had never worked with children of pre-school age. “Your children are small,” they said to her. “If you pass the test, you can bring them with you.” This proposal convinced her.
The settlers of Toctiuco generally have limited resources. Several families will share a latrine. The mothers go to work in the market with their children. The small ones crawl amongst the garbage under an intense sun. The population of children is exploited as untrained and cheap labor, mistreated and exposed to drugs and alcohol. In this kind of setting, the activities of the Tierra de Hombres day-care center are remarkable. Several men and many women play and learn here with children that would otherwise be in the streets.
When Blanca Campoverde began her work in 1967, the classrooms were empty. She visited the houses in the neighborhood to convince the fathers and mothers of the need to educate their children. They were distrustful. The Swiss had blond hair and blue eyes. ‘Are you sure they do not want to steal the children and take them away?’ they asked. But with the presence of Blanca, an indigenous with a kind face, they relaxed. They trusted in her. The mothers whispered to her so that the gringos (foreigners) would not hear: “Ah, you are going to work here, so I will send my child, but take care of him”.
They started with a group of 26 children – feeding them well, and providing health and educational services. During the past 17 years, the Center has provided medical aid and economic and social support to the boys and girls whose families require it. The children have been involved in a variety of activities – growing plants, for example.
The Center was failing in the beginning. The children resisted and cried, being disobedient. Blanca, the young educator, was desperate. Their efforts collided with the family environment. Children, who were mistreated in their homes by alcoholic family members, became aggressive in the day care center. It was necessary to work with the families as well.
In 1979, the Swiss personnel left, but they did not break their bonds with the day care center. Blanca took over the position of director. By that time, she had met Mauricio and Rebecca Wild, the founders of the Pestalozzi Children’s Garden. The calm atmosphere of the garden impressed Blanca. The pair visited Toctiuco to share their experiences. They spoke of independent education and of the Montessori method.
The day care center changed. The toys and materials that had been kept in shelves were now used freely. The children played with toys and educational materials according to their desires and preferences, and the atmosphere filled with smiles. There were three clear rules: a child must not take a toy away from another child who was playing with it; a child must not attack other children, and a child must put the toys back after using them. The small children were separated from the older children, and while some listened to stories or watched puppet shows, others stayed on the playground where they played in a small house with a suspension bridge.
As the number of children grew, the Center became too small. Land donated by the mayor was used to build a new Center. They organized mingas, communal workdays. The fathers raised the walls, the mothers cooked with the educators, and everyone ate together. When the new Center was finished, they organized moving everything from the old center to the new one.
Shortly after that, their day care center was not the only one. Others were being built, several by the initiative of parents. The Tierra de Hombres day care center was the example, and many asked for its advice. All this was grouped under Blanca’s direction.
Meanwhile, the Swiss organization expanded its services. In order to get the adolescents off the dangerous streets, they started artisan workshops – handicrafts, bakery, and carpentry. Several bakers came from Switzerland to offer their knowledge. Handicraft specialists from Germany, Switzerland, France, the United States, and even from Ecuador came to share their knowledge and training.
An engineer from Quito taught the children how to grow plants without soil, a technique called hydroponics. The young people thought it was a game. Later, they were astonished: They harvested lettuce. They were happy and they gave the lettuce to the people of the neighborhood. They went from house to house showing people the lettuce they had grown without using soil.
Art was also done at the Center. A member of the National Symphony came and organized a musical group at the youth center.
In order to organize this diversity of services, the Foundation Childhood and Life (Fundación Niñez y Vida) was created. Under Blanca’s direction, the Foundation is an example for the entire continent. And it is an example that she continues to maintain: “Treating children with love is the only way to guarantee that tomorrow we’ll have human beings who are capable of contributing to peace.” (Read this on this page of 1000peacewomen).