An interview with Milton Lobo, National Health and Human Development Manager, Pro Mujer Bolivia
- Tell me about your new Children’s Corners.
Our new Children’s Corners are bright and colorful spaces within Pro Mujer centers where low-income women’s children play and learn. Children’s Corners are geared towards kids ages four to ten years old and feature Sesame Workshop games, posters and puzzles. They also come with two tablets loaded with health education videos, games and activities that all work together to teach children about taking care of their health. The materials are focused on nutrition, oral hygiene and physical activity for children, and, like in the United States and elsewhere around the world, this kind of content is needed now more than ever. Children and their moms are vulnerable to diabetes, obesity, and poor nutrition, and so our Children’s Corners are teaching kids about these very real issues that are affecting their health, in a way that is fun and encouraging.
The tablets also provide an added benefit of offering children the opportunity to play with and learn from technology that they normally wouldn’t have access to in Bolivia. The segment of the population we serve works in the informal sector in poor communities where this kind of a device is out of reach. This means that many of the children of Pro Mujer clients are now learning cutting-edge technology years before their peers.
- How do these new spaces change Pro Mujer centers?
In the past, women would bring their kids to Pro Mujer centers. Kids are very flexible and resourceful– they would play on their own, at their mom’s feet, in the communal areas, and with each other. We knew we were missing an opportunity to reach children, so we aspired to make our Pro Mujer Centers not just for the women we serve, but also for their kids. Our partnership with Sesame Workshop and Pfizer gave us the chance!
Pro Mujer Children’s Corners provide a dynamic and educational space, leveraging much-loved Sesame Street characters and designed to get the kids excited about health. The use of tablets is particularly effective because they provide children with important health-related messages in a fun and engaging way.
- Is the concept of Children’s Corners unique within the micro-lending and financial services community?
Well, first, it’s important to understand that Pro Mujer is not a typical microfinance organization. We are very much in the business of women’s empowerment and giving low-income women access to small loans, savings, training, health care, and the support of other women. This is how we’ve managed to help women for 25 years. It’s also true that in urban centers in Latin America there are more and more banks and commercial enterprises that are targeting low-income people for loans, but without the support we provide. So, in many ways, Pro Mujer is very different. Our programs are uniquely formulated to address the issues that low-income, vulnerable women face: lack of money, a shortage of confidence, increasingly poor health. And yet, women are all about their kids. They come to us because they want a better life for their children.
So, Pro Mujer’s having innovated Children’s Corners is another way that we are different from commercial lenders and also a great next step in supporting women and their families. Our model is the difference between a loan and a life transformation.
- How have the Children’s Corners been received by the mothers you serve?
Moms love them. They are more relaxed when their children are close by and learning, and the Children’s Corners give women a break as well. They trust that their kids are safe meeting new friends and learning in a dynamic way. The women we serve can turn their attention to their own selves, to working with their peers to learn good business practices that help them become better entrepreneurs, to learning about their own empowerment and rights. The reception has been so positive that clients are now asking that these Children’s Corners be available in even more Pro Mujer centers.
- How have the little ones reacted to the new Children’s Corners?
The children love it too! The rooms are always full of little kids, and they’re all very curious to see what’s on the tablets. They love the fact that the rooms are colorful and have their favorite Sesame Street characters everywhere.
- Are there plans for expansion?
We are currently in the pilot phase. We are evaluating the Children’s Corners and expect we will learn a few things we’ll want to tweak. We also expect to find, frankly, that they will be very well-received by low-income women and their children and that we will want to expand them to other regions of Bolivia. Pro Mujer is working throughout the nation, and it would be wonderful if we could reach even more women and children in all areas of this diverse country.
Pro Mujer’s new Children Corners were made possible thanks to a unique Healthy Connections collaboration between Pro Mujer, Sesame Workshop, Pfizer and the Mayo Clinic. In addition to significant funding of the Children’s Corners, Pfizer is also helping Pro Mujer implement an innovative health education platform using Facebook and enabling our clinicians to access Mayo Clinic resources using a newly-developed, tablet-based application. These efforts are extending health care for otherwise underserved, vulnerable, low-income women, their children, and their families.
In addition to six Children’s Corners in Bolivia, Pro Mujer operates four in Peru and two in Argentina. In total, these spaces are reaching 30,000 clients and their children and family members.