Through the Eyes of Children in the Village, They See Community!

Cathy Luo
By Cathy Luo

At our January 30th Vital Village Visioning Night, Network members gathered to share visions and goals for the community heading into the new decade. A resounding theme throughout the evening was the Village’s commitment to the community’s children. Dominique Bellegarde, a Breastfeeding Coalition leader and self-identified “Woman of the Community”, captured the energy of the evening in her statement, “We are raising the future generation of leaders.” 

Child holding cameraChildren are a constant presence at Vital Village gatherings, whether in person or virtual, growing up alongside the leadership and advocacy of their parents, caregivers and neighbors. These scenes of children drawing and playing beside the adults planning and mobilizing inspired me to ask the question, what matters to our children and their community? 

During a recent interview, Desi Hartman (Vital Village Staff) and I had the opportunity to hear from Dominique’s 3 older children, Adam, Ange-Yolette, and Gregory Bellegarde, about the Vital Village experience through the eyes of the children who drive our work. 

As we listened to the children, we heard how their description of Vital Village aligns with their idea of community. The spirit of engagement and belonging, the collective responsibility to one another’s well-being, and the transformative effect of capacity building emerge from their statements. The children’s reflections and insights resonated deeply with us as we see how the work of the Village touches each of their lives.

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Getting to Know the Bellegarde Children

The children’s energy and personalities shine through the 3-inch-by-4-inch video window as we begin the interview. While Ange-Yolette carefully adjusts the camera angle, Adam proudly introduces his large stuffed alligator, Ally, and Gregory jumps into view carrying the family cat, Tippy, in his arms. In their own words, the children introduce themselves and share what they would like others to know about them. 

“My favorite colors are red, green, and blue,” says Adam (7-years-old) as he begins his introduction. When asked what he would want people to know, he says, “that people could know my age when you’re starting to be friends with them.” 

After I introduce myself as Cathy from Vital Village, Gregory responds that he comes from “Mommy Village,” and he would like people to know, “That I’m creative, funny, and I’m 13.” 

Bellegarde family portrait during Black Breastfeeding week

Ange-Yolette (10-years-old) and also from “Mommy Village,” shares that she would like people to know not to judge others by how they look and to be accountable to our actions. “If I look kind of sad or unhappy or just my regular face, they think I’m mean. Just because someone's face looks mean -- but their heart might be very, very nice and inside might be very nice,” she says. “I also want people to know to say sorry if you hurt them by accident and you don’t know.”

It is an honor to hear Adam, Gregory, and Ange-Yolette’s responses full of wisdom and self-awareness. Their dreams and aspirations for who they want to become further reflect the depth of their imaginative and creative thinking. 

“I would want to be a doctor [for animals] like someone in my class’s mom,” says Adam. “When you’re a vet, you can take care of animals.” When asked what kind of animals he’d like to work with, he responds, “Baby pitbulls, ducks, lots of animals - turtles, penguins.”

Ange-Yolette shares that she doesn’t know yet what she wants to be when she grows up. She does know who she looks up to. “My mom,” she confidently says, adding that one thing she admires about her mom is, “That I can teach her something. I taught her how to do three cartwheels in a row and she actually did them.”

Gregory knows that he wants to be an engineer and do more hands-on work with cars and robotics. His interest in engineering grew from a program he participated in, where he created superhero weapons and got to use 3D printers and laser cutters. We ask Gregory: what will be your favorite part about engineering? 

“Knowing stuff,” he says, “Being like ‘I know how to fix stuff.’” Gregory already has experience with fixing various gadgets. “In school, I helped fix a couple laptops, I fixed electronics in the house. When I started doing it, I started breaking things apart and using that to fix other stuff.”

As we listen to Gregory, Ange-Yolette, and Adam, a common theme emerges that their aspirations and role models come from the experiences and relationships they have in their family and community. 

What does Community Mean to You?

Gregory starts off singing the Lion King tune, “It means no worries!” For him, community means “helping people when help is needed or when you see or think they need help. Even if they don’t want the help, still trying to help them.”

Adam shares, “I think that community means you’re being around loved people in a community place where everyone can go, including babies. And they could have fun together, playing with each other.”

Ange-Yolette adds that a community is a welcoming space. “[It’s] where people can go to a place and they can interact with people who, even if they’re new, can introduce them to a lot of things.” She reminds us, “Someone new - they want to feel wanted, they don’t want to feel unwanted.”

Who is Part of Your Community?

“Grandma, grandpa, aunt, neighbors, friends at school, teachers, even pets,” lists Adam. He pauses to think for a moment and adds, “Grass and trees are living. They could be a part of your community, ‘cause grass and trees make the air better.”

Ange-Yolette affirms, “Also animals that are stray on the street.” For the Bellegardes, community is a space of belonging, support, and love that encompasses all members of their village, from family to friends to nature.

What is Vital Village?

“Vital Village is a village of people who care about other people, who wanna help people who are having some problems that they need help with. They know they can help them. They could go to a Baby Cafe, they can see other faces, babies, children,” says Ange-Yolette. “Vital Village is a welcoming setting.”

According to Gregory, Vital Village is “a group of people helping other people excel.” He describes “It's kind of like opening doors for other companies and making it easier and easier for everyone else. If there’s things you didn’t know and now you know it, you can share with other people.”

Adam chimes in, “It’s where I eat all the muffins!” He shares that the breastfeeding Baby Cafes, where his mom is a breastfeeding counselor, is often stocked with yummy snacks for caregivers and children who attend. His response, which draws laughter from the group, is yet another reminder of the simple but important ways that the Village welcomes and cares for others.

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Throughout our interview, the Bellegarde children posed questions they had for members of Vital Village. How would you answer these questions?

  1. When did you join Vital Village?

  2. What’s your favorite color?

  3. What color is your toothbrush?

  4. Do you use a surgical mask or a cloth mask? 

  5. Do you have any pets?

Please click this link to see the poll results!