Thursday, January 1, 2009

We’ve Taken a Giant Step!

After two years of blogging here at blogger.com, it’s time to grow. So 2009 will not only be a new year…it will also mark the beginning of a new phase in our blogging – one we hope you will enjoy.

As of January 1, 2009, we have moved our blog to a new location. From now on, you’ll be able to catch the latest from your favorite bloggers, hear news from the field and leave your comments – all on the new CI blog.

This site will remain active so you can come back and read posts you’ve enjoyed in the past. But we invite you to join us at http://blog.children.org for today’s post.

Thanks…and we’ll see you at our new site!

—The Children International Blog Team

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Out with the Old

…Out with the old memories, that is.

2008 has come and gone – and like every year, it has left its indelible imprint on history. A worldwide financial crisis…a presidential election…the collapse of the stock market…these things will not be soon forgotten.

But the year brought its share of happy events as well. Not least among these, for me, was the opportunity to travel to our agency in Zambia, Africa. There I witnessed how a family of orphaned children received new hope for life through sponsorship and saw the joy and optimism your generosity is creating.

How about you? What was the single greatest, most defining moment in your sponsorship experience this past year? Please – post a comment and let us know about it. We’d love to share the memory with you.

And from all of us here at CI…have a safe and happy 2009!

P.S. Be sure to check back tomorrow…a big surprise is on the way!

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Chat with Victoria

This is nine year old Victoria from Guatemala City. A member of our field staff caught up with her at one of Children International's community centers and asked her and her mother, Maria, a few questions about sponsorship.

According to Victoria's mother, “When she comes here to get her Christmas gift, she wants everyone to come running here at six in the morning. She tells us 'Hurry, we are going to be last!' Even when we come here for the medicine she feels happy."

Victoria also had a message to share with her sponsor: "I am doing well at school and I like going. I thank my sponsor for supporting me and I appreciate her."

Reporting assistance and photo by Raquel Lacán and Miriam Lemus of Guatemala City.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Christmas Wish from CI President Jim Cook

It’s that special time of year…The holidays. Christmas lights, carols and personal thoughts of what it all means to each of us.

At this time of year I’m particularly happy to be part of something that helps so many in so many meaningful ways.

I also particularly enjoy talking to our generous sponsors this time of year. They are all inspiring in their own unique ways.

At the end of this tumultuous year in the world financial markets and the U.S. economy, I’m reminded how relative tough times are…by thinking of those less fortunate that we serve around the world.

This was really emphasized for me recently when I was speaking with my son who was wrapping up the semester at his university. He had been under the weather while trying to write papers and study for exams…he said he was starting to feel sorry for himself when he happened to visit the Children International website and saw some of the children there and read a couple of stories. He remembered the experiences he had when he accompanied me to Honduras and Guatemala in his early teens.

After that, he revised his computer wallpaper to have a sponsored child’s picture on it as a reminder of just how bad he didn’t have it…and to remind him that there are many much more challenged, with far greater difficulties, EVERY day!

That’s a big part of what this season is about, I think.

Merry Christmas!

Jim

Posted on behalf of Jim Cook, president of Children International. Photo by Marelvis Campo.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

On the 12th Day of Christmas My Sponsor Gave to Me…

…12 Months of Friendship

It seems perfect that our last day of Christmas be about something that is so important during the holiday – the connection we have to one another.

I’m sure it comes as no surprise to most of your that your sponsored child thinks of you as a friend, a steady, reassuring presence in what can be a fairly chaotic and uncertain life. That’s why your letters are so meaningful. They provide that special boost when it’s needed most. And when your child knows you’re going to be there all year long, well, it helps them believe that his or her life has possibilities.

More than once I’ve had a sponsored child entrust to me a message that I am to spirit back with haste to his or her special friend. “Tell him I love him,” or “Please tell her that I am thankful for her and pray for her every night.” Often, they’ll make me promise. And, often, with a fair amount of luck anyway, I can play the part of happy messenger and deliver the dispatch.

So, in celebration of the friendship that sponsorship helps foster, on this, the 12th day of Christmas, I’d like to share with you what the season is really all about, as told by sponsor Robin Buckley, who was lucky enough to be with his special friends, Roberto and Bianny, so near the holiday.

From his blog, written shortly after his visit, which was just a couple of days ago:
Today was spent visiting with the two boys – Roberto and Bianny – whom I sponsor through Children International. Unlike my visit in June when I was able to see the boys on separate days, this time it was necessary to see them together because of the busy Christmas season. And so, we decided to spend the day at one of the larger shopping malls in Santiago. I had brought several gifts with me from Canada but wanted to give the boys the chance to pick out what they wanted.

Building a lasting friendship: Robin and Bianny exchange a hug.

Since Roberto lives about an hour away from Santiago, he came with his mother and one of the CI Social Workers and they went directly to the mall. Yaseni, the CI field office worker (and my translator) arrived at my hotel together with Bianny, his father and their Social Worker and then we were off to the mall to meet up with Roberto.

We all got together in the cafeteria at the Mall to figure out our plans for the day. This mall is absolutely huge and would rival anything we have back in Canada. I told the boys that they could go shopping and that they had 2500 pesos each to spend (about $75 US).

By the time the boys had finished with what they considered “necessities”, they had purchased some new shoes, jeans and a t-shirt and had a little left over to buy a toy.

By this time, we were all getting hungry and so we returned to the cafeteria for some lunch. The unanimous choice was for pizza from Dominoes.

When it was originally suggested to me that we would have to combine the visits with both kids, I was a little worried because I didn’t know whether or not they would get along. Roberto is 11 and Bianny is 9 and at first they were a little apprehensive together. But there’s a kid’s play area (similar to what you’ll find at McDonald’s back home) and they both headed there after lunch while the “adults chatted.” I think this was the “icebreaker” because when they returned to the table, they were laughing and joking together. It’s absolutely amazing how kids can get along when you leave them alone!

We left the mall to take Roberto, his mom and their social worker to the bus stop for their hour-long ride home at which time I gave Roberto the gifts I had brought from Canada. These mostly consisted of school supplies – notebooks, pens etc that is so lacking in this country as well as a watch that I had gotten for him. Then Bianny, his dad, their social worker, Yaseni and I headed over to Bianny’s house to spend some time there.

While there, it was time to give the gifts I had brought from Canada for Bianny and his adorable little sister. I felt bad about the fact that there were cousins visiting and I didn’t have anything to give them.

And then unfortunately, it was time for me to leave but I did so with the promise that I would be back again sometime next summer. The family wished me a “feliz navidad” and Bianny wanted to give me a hug.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what Christmas is all about!

Thanks Robin. And thanks to all of you for being that friend year in and year out. It truly matters. The happiest of holidays to each and every one of you, and our gratitude for making it all possible.

Make sure to come back tomorrow for a special post by Children International president Jim Cook.

Posted on behalf of Scott Cotter. Photo courtesy Robin Buckley.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

On the 11th Day of Christmas My Sponsor Gave to Me...

Eleven Scholars Hoping

My nephew and his wife had a baby about 2 months ago. This means that for the first time in 25 years, we will have a new little human in the family at Christmastime.

One effect Christmas has on me is introspection…not just on holidays past, but on my life in general. So, seeing the new addition of the Denton clan gathered around the sparkling tree and bundled up close (but not too close!) to the crackling fireplace this weekend, I started thinking back 25 years ago.

In 1983, I was still in high school and was earnestly contemplating what I wanted to do with my life…college was looming in another 2 years and there wasn’t much doubt in my (or my parents’) mind that I would be continuing my education after high school.

The reason everyone assumed this was because my parents had worked hard and saved – and they planned to help supplement my cost of attending college. My father had begun working right out of high school, pumping gas. He worked his way from there into a management position with a large, global company.

My mother postponed her educational goals to raise three boys. Shortly after I was born, she began earning a Master’s degree in education. Her thesis involved developing learning strategies…and I was her guinea pig. As a result, I learned to read at a precociously young age. I credit her with instilling a love of reading and a love of language that has remained with me ever since.

Without the opportunity to go to college, I have no idea where I’d be today…I’m certain I’d not be sitting here writing for Children International.

Looking at my great-nephew this weekend, I pondered the huge responsibility his parents have shouldered. And, knowing I needed to post an entry on the blog about our HOPE fund, my thoughts turned to college.

Like the cost of healthcare in America, the cost of education beyond high school has skyrocketed in the last 25 years. But in most of the places we work, it is still quite affordable, at least by OUR standards. That’s why our HOPE fund (Helping Overcome Poverty through Education) is one of my favorite “ancillary” benefits that Children International makes available.

For very little cost, we can send deserving sponsored youth to college or vocational school, where they learn skills that often helps boost them above and beyond the dire poverty they grew up in. Time and again, we hear about former sponsored children who now have steady, good-paying jobs thanks to a combination of their own hard work and being the recipients of HOPE scholarships.

Most of the time, there is virtually no chance that their parents – unlike mine – will be able to help send them to college.

I hope my great-nephew gets that opportunity.

I also wish that every sponsored child who wants to continue their education had the opportunity to do so. Thankfully, the number of HOPE scholarship recipients has continued expanding over the years.

So, if I get the chance to ask the old, bearded, red-suited saint for one thing next year, this is my wish: a HOPE scholarship for every child who wants one in each of the 11 countries where we serve them.

I already know he makes deliveries there…because all of you are already making so many wishes come true.

Thank you…and have a great holiday!

Posted on behalf of Deron Denton.

Monday, December 22, 2008

On the 10th Day of Christmas My Sponsor Gave to Me…

Ten Boards for Building

In my last blog post I poked fun at my mom’s compulsion to decorate every last inch of our house for Christmas. Last week, we were all together at my parent’s house and someone brought up the posting. Everybody got a kick out of it – but the one who enjoyed it the most was mom. Of course she tried to say “I’m not as bad as all that,” but it was hard when all around us the house was shedding tinfoil like some great Yuletide dog.

We had gathered to observe our yearly tradition of decorating the tree. When I think back over all those years of Christmas, that day was always one of the highlights. Mom would put on her Sinatra Christmas album, and my dad would call out every few minutes asking us to smile for his camera. As a result, we have hundreds of pictures of me and my siblings hanging decorations, flashing our most cheesy looks of wonder and joy at the camera. We thought it was hilarious. Dad disagreed.

This year, my niece and nephew took our place under the tree. As we sat and watched them, my dad revealed a disturbing family secret. It seems that, late at night after us kids had finished hanging the tree; mom would sneak down and carefully remove all the decorations, re-hanging them in a way that was more aesthetically pleasing. She denied this of course, but even this year, as 6-year old Kaden put a clump of decorations on the same two branches, I saw an uncomfortable twitch in her eye. I wondered how long she would wait after we were gone to make it right.

As much as I enjoy poking fun at my parents’ Christmas idiosyncrasies – I wouldn’t miss it for the world. For years I lived in different states, but I never missed Christmas at home. I remember driving from the airport, recognizing that familiar sickly glow over the distant horizon, and feeling a rush of sublime anticipation. I was going home! If there’s a better feeling, I don’t know what it is.

This year it occurs to me how lucky I was to have a home to return to. A home that protected us from the elements. A home we could decorate for the holidays beyond all bounds of normalcy. What an important part of growing up! When I was young I knew kids who lived in mansions, but as much as I admired their swimming pools and “rumpus rooms”, I wouldn’t have traded our home for a million comic books. It was ours. Some instinctual part of me knew that, and was proud.

When I got older, I had the chance to meet people without homes. It’s always tragic – but the children affected me the most. I can’t imagine what it would be like to grow up never knowing where you were going to sleep at night. To have nowhere to go to escape the world and just be safe.

That’s why I’m so proud that some of our sponsors have helped their children’s families build homes. The impact it has on the child and their family is immeasurable. The home will guard them for generations to come. Everyone in the family will have the physical and psychological advantage of knowing they have a safe haven. Each of them will feel a little extra pride knowing they have a place to call their own.

What a wonderful gift. What wonderful sponsors we have! Maybe it’s something we should all consider doing some day. If that’s not possible, we should all take a few minutes this holiday season to recognize how lucky we are to have homes. Those of us who have never been homeless are truly blessed. May we all stay that way for many years to come. Merry Christmas!

Posted on behalf of Garrett Kenyon.