When Adelaida Velásquez first heard about a subsidized daycare center in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, she had no idea it would do much more than just provide childcare for her.
But it did – the center would change his life.
The then 34-year-old single mother wanted to go back to school ‘at least to study the basics’ and Pasos Pequeñitos (Spanish for ‘small steps’) provided childcare and a scholarship that allowed her to go back to school.
The center in the Honduran capital was founded in 2005 to provide affordable child care specifically to low-income single parents returning to school. Pasos Pequeñitos offers scholarships on an individual basis to help cover tuition, related supplies, and transportation. By continuing their education, parents can move away from informal work and into salaried positions, which often offer them the possibility of earning more and better supporting their children.
Like many other parents at the center, Velásquez would rise early to take his son Leonardo to Pasos Pequeñitos before his classes and spend his nights studying.
“I would go to bed at 1 a.m. [after] do my homework,” she told Global Citizen. “It was like that every night.”
And it paid off.
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, is thriving in high school .
Working in a difficult socio-economic context
Children line up to be greeted by a volunteer before class time at the Pasos Pequeñitos daycare center in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in July 2022.
The center, open from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. for children 15 months and older, offers education in line with the Honduran national curriculum, health care benefits, and several meals and snacks a day.
Additionally, Pasos Pequeñitos offers monthly workshops on topics such as health and family planning, as well as weekly entertainment programs, such as Zumba classes, to help parents bond with their children.
“Children who come here, their most stable source of food and nutrition comes from this program. Very often at home, they can eat once a day,” Stephen O’Mahony, national director of Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos (NPH) Honduras, the nonprofit that oversees the center, told Global Citizen.
Most parents with children in the center earn between US$2 and US$3 per day. Digyana Hernández, the coordinator of Pasos Pequeñitos, told Global Citizen that most children live in small rooms with many other people and without dedicated spaces to play, nap or eat, although their parents work hard every day. days to support themselves.
Tomas Ayuso for Global Citizen
Tomas Ayuso for Global Citizen
Tomas Ayuso for Global Citizen
For example, a child who currently attends the center lives with his single father in an industrial room used by carpenters to reupholster furniture.
“Another challenge is that many neighborhoods [our clients] are based are very dangerous and they have many gangs,” Hernández said. “When we do house calls there, we just go [pray for safety].”
Because many children come from difficult environments, they sometimes exhibit behavioral problems at first, such as hitting others. However, within weeks at the centre, staff say the children’s behaviors begin to change to reflect the more peaceful surroundings they have come to know for most of their day.
Hernández, who stays in touch with all the children who have left the care center, describes her role more as a family member than a caregiver.
“When you have a child, it’s not just a child. We [staff members] are like an aunt to them,” she said.
A volunteer talks with a boy during midday recess at the Pasos Pequeñitos daycare center in Tegucigalpa.
Single-parent households in Honduras
According to the National Institute of Statistics of Honduras, 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 had given birth to their first child while they were were under 21, and a further 40% were under 18.
Thanks to Pasos Pequeñitos, some parents went back to middle school or high school, while others went to post-secondary institutes, earning degrees as teachers, lawyers, and engineers.
“We try to work with them to move them forward [so they don’t think]: ‘I am poor. I have no choice anymore,” Hernández said. “[We tell them]: ‘You can do it. Keep on going.’ This is how we work with our families.
While further study or the pursuit of higher education is ideal, this is not possible for all single parents, which is why the center admits children on a case-by-case basis.
(L) A mother helps her son with his shoes and t-shirt as she arrives to be picked up from Pasos Pequeños daycare. (R) A mother, daughter and son pose for a portrait outside Pasos Pequeños.
According to Hernández, single mothers often work in casual jobs, such as cleaning houses or selling fruit on the street, which allows them to “just survive day to day” financially, rather than earning a constant income through to a full-time job.
Because of this, they may not be able to attend school, but having their children at the center still provides an economic benefit, O’Mahony explained.
One of the single mothers, Mariela, whose children are cared for by the center, is a fruit seller. While she is likely to stay in this informal work and has no plans to return to school, the center offers her the opportunity to earn some money during the day as her children are taken care, which means she can afford to buy milk, nappies, and other essentials at a crucial time in her child’s development.
Establish an accessible and subsidized financial model
The center, which is part of NPH Honduras, is mainly funded by donations from Germany and Austria. However, parents contribute a nominal amount depending on their financial situation to participate in the program – usually the equivalent of around US$1 to US$17 per month.
Due to limited resources, the center can only accommodate a maximum of 20 children at a time.
Children climb and play in a park next to Pasos Pequeños in Tegucigalpa.
Pasos Pequeñitos operates using the Montessori Method, an educational approach that involves child-directed learning and encourages independence from an early age. Comparable child care centers in Honduras cost around US$160 to US$200 per month, making them out of reach for low-income single parents.
According to the World Bank, 350 million children below the age of entry into primary school do not have access to childcare services. Access to such care would not only improve children’s outcomes and help them reach their potential, but it would also increase female employment and drive inclusive economic growth – which is especially needed now to recover from the pandemic.
For single parents and children in Honduras who don’t have access to affordable, quality child care, expanding accessibility to centers like Pasos Pequeñitos “could change the whole country,” O’Mahony says.
He adds that increased access would make a fundamental difference in the economic situation of many households and in the general well-being of children and their parents.
Allow single parents to continue their education or work while their children “are in a place where they are safe, cared for and loved… [is priceless],” he says.
A father helps his daughter put on her shoes before returning home to the Pasos Pequeños daycare center in Tegucigalpa.
Investing in quality child care is one of the best ways for a country to work toward equality, improve human capital, and put women at the forefront of economic growth. The World Bank’s new Childcare Incentive Fund, which will assess proposals for new projects in the coming months, focuses on providing flexible funding to governments to support childcare initiatives.
The Global Citizen’s Care Allowance content series aims to highlight initiatives that would be ideal pilots for this type of funding, highlighting the importance of affordable, quality childcare in low- and middle-income countries. of the whole world.
Disclosure: This series was made possible with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Each piece was produced in complete editorial independence.