BY ANNA COX
“Something was missing in our work, but we found it with Viva.”
I have recently returned from Viva’s annual Latin America network meetings held in Mexico – and what a privilege it was to be there.
This was my first international visit since I started working for Viva one and a half years ago. I have read, written about, talked about and fundraised for the work that Viva’s networks are doing for vulnerable children around the world, and written network profiles and the co-ordinators’ names so many times.
But nothing could fully prepare me for the impact of meeting so many of these inspirational people in one place, face-to-face.
We spent three days in long meetings from 7am-10:30pm filled with training, strategy and sharing of expertise. It was a valuable programme aimed at supporting leaders of networks at different stages of development, so that they can bring even greater benefit to the churches and children they serve.
Co-ordinators of Viva’s partner networks, many of whom are volunteers, are working tirelessly to meet the needs of children in their communities – and they are doing just that.
We learnt how, in Honduras, where nearly a third of child deaths are homicide, the network has taught 85,000 children about protecting themselves and preventing abuse. Through a partnership with the government, this same network plans to teach 245,000 children in schools about transparency and anti-corruption.
In Cuba, the network does not have the luxury of partnering with the government who are more oppressive. In fact, it is very dangerous to work with children in this country in case officials perceive the work as an ideological threat.
Nevertheless, the network there is working with 500 children who are at risk of abuse or committing suicide, teaching them about self-protection and helping them to understand that they are valued, unique and have huge potential.
At Viva, we aim to support the work of these networks, however large or small, by connecting like-minded churches and organisations, building their capacity and helping them to build strategies for lasting change.
As valuable as these meetings were in offering this necessary support, it was clear that the most important aspect was the opportunity to connect, share, be together and build relationships.
Despite challenges of the work, co-ordinators gave up a week of their time to get on a plane and fly to Mexico to meet together.
Seeing the joy as they all gathered for the first time in a year, the tight grasp of the hugs and wide smiles on faces was heart-warming – I instantly wanted to get to know these people and consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to!
In the course of the time, I was also able to visualise how each person is able to bring together a group of leaders into a network. It is not possible to fully reflect their dynamic personalities using simply a name on a piece of paper! But it was very clear to see how each of these individuals, in their own way, would encourage unity and create traction with a network to drive for change.
The final reflection I want to share is how affirmed I felt in our role at Viva by hearing how much the networks value their partnership with Viva.
Representatives from Mexico, who have a network of their own and are considering how to grow their relationship with Viva, came for a day of the meetings to think about how this might work. At the end of the day they said, “Something was missing in our work, but we found it with Viva”.
Maria Luna from Honduras said, “We appreciate the moral support you bring to us. For a long time we were alone and had to deal with our frustrations and struggles on our own. It is good to have the family of Viva.”
If you are reading this, you hopefully know us and support this work in some way, and you are part of this family too – thank you!
Anna Cox is Viva’s Network Development Team Co-ordinator