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How are we being inspired to make innovative positive change through the pandemic?

POSTED February 8, 2021

How are we being inspired to make innovative positive change through the pandemic?

The legacy of Dr. Paul Roberts, a member of our Board for almost 60 years, is pushing me onward in our goal to help more children

By Fred Witteveen, CEO, ceo@childrenbelieve.ca

Fred standing in park

I never got the chance to meet Dr. Paul Roberts, a founding member of the Children Believe Board of Directors, but regular phone calls were enough for me to see his impact on the organization and the world. It wasn’t just the feats he accomplished — although there are many — but the way he approached life’s challenges that has stayed with me, especially as the world, and our programs, have navigated through COVID-19. 

We lost Dr. Paul in November. He was a member of our Board for almost 60 years, until he retired from his duties in 2019. Just 97-years-young, I’ve heard stories of his passion for pushing us forward to change with the times so we could help as many children as possible.

He pushed himself forward his whole life. Consider this: he moved to Ecuador, got his Ecuadorian medical degree in Spanish and eventually raised enough to fund the construction of a hospital for the country’s most vulnerable. He also created an original research study that led to the development of a successful treatment for Pinta, a local disease. That was his early career.

The Honorary Consul of Ecuador in Toronto and Professor Emeritus, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, was a man of action. As one of his final acts — from his palliative care bed — he secured the shipping of a fourth ambulance to Ecuador. That perseverance is what we need in our work every day, and especially through this pandemic.

Dr. Paul talks to Maria

Just ask Katherin. The 17-year-old’s dad is a street vendor in Nicaragua, so when COVID-19 hit, income was lost. This had implications for the entire family. “I can’t continue my studies. I left high school. I live with the uncertainty of when I will get back to school,” Katherin told us.

Many of us know how isolating the pandemic can make us feel. Our team, and local partners, knew they had to keep Katherin and hundreds like her connected and plugged in to friends, teachers and mentors to continue learning and growing.

That’s when our local partners began leveraging WhatsApp. The simple application, with text, voice and face call functionality, was economical, easily accessible, fast and compatible with most devices. It was the perfect way to keep children, youth and adults connected and learning through the pandemic.

It became a beacon across many of our program communities, especially in Nicaragua and Paraguay. So far, it’s been used many ways:

  • to provide tips for how to keep safe from COVID-19
  • to provide guidance on how to protect against the indirect effects of the pandemic, including domestic violence during the lockdown, bullying, teen pregnancy and more
  • to conduct e-learning through school
  • for organized child and youth groups and community savings-and-loan group meetings for parents

In our South and Central America offices nearly 15,000 children, youth and adults have benefited from this innovation of an existing technology to create engaging content.

Katherin is grateful for it. “I have learned a lot about violence against women and what we can do to stop it,” she said. “The trainers have taught how I can prevent this, and how I can help other people. I know it’s very reliable information. And, to be honest, I like to be part of this.”

The aspiring psychologist is still learning what she can, while keeping connected with her peers. She’s hopeful she’ll return to school soon and be the first in her family to get a university education.

There are many stories within this story, thousands of Katherins searching for a way to keep connected to their dreams and stay on the path to success.

It’s just like Dr. Paul’s life. He initiated thousands of small good-news stories through his acts of kindness that ballooned outward to multiply more goodwill.

As has been said of Dr. Paul, nothing was impossible for him; he’d just find a new way around — or over — the mountain. Thanks to this humanitarian for reminding us about the power of believing anything is possible. And, thank you to all our generous donors for giving us the means to overcome obstacles every day.

Keep safe everyone.

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ABOUT CHILDREN BELIEVE (formerly Christian Children's Fund of Canada):

Children Believe works globally to empower children to dream fearlessly, stand up for what they believe in — and be heard. For 60 years, we’ve brought together brave young dreamers, caring supporters and partners, and unabashed idealists. Together, we’re driven by a common belief: creating access to education — inside and outside of classrooms — is the most powerful tool children can use to change their world.

About ChildFund Alliance:

A member of ChildFund Alliance, Children Believe is part of a global network of 12 child-focused development organizations working to create opportunities for children and youth, their families and communities. ChildFund helps nearly 23-million children and their families in more than 70 countries overcome poverty and underlying conditions that prevent children from achieving their full potential. We work to end violence against children; provide expertise in emergencies and disasters to ease the harmful impact on children and their communities; and engage children and youth to create lasting change and elevate their voices in decisions that affect their lives.