Wednesday, February 7, 2007

20 Years of Change

My first trip with CI was to Colombia - more than 20 years ago. I had never seen such wide-scale, overwhelming poverty. I simply adored every child and empathized with the mothers who had so very little to provide for their children and only the slightest glimpse of hope they would ever fare better. Of course I was hooked.

I've visited here several times over the years and have witnessed significant change. Horrible roads have become highways, phone service was laughable then but today the cell reaches nearly everywhere. Cars and buses are newer, yet the horse drawn cart is also still quite common. Where there was virtually no middle class, today apartment buildings have sprung up all over, representing a burgeoning tier of young, well-educated professionals. A new mall in Barranquilla is proof enough of the dramatic transformation taking place.

And while many things have changed, some things remain the same.

Just outside the urban core, behind the colorful facades and brightly-lit shops strung along the main roadways, you'll still find a vast sea of poverty. Families move to the large cities believing they’ll find opportunity, jobs and safety. Too often what they find is unemployment, high prices and dwindling hope. They can’t go back so they pull together their meager resources and construct a ‘temporary’ shelter from scrap wood, metal, and plastic sheeting. They become invisible statistics to already overwhelmed government entities. Days melt into years…more families move here…and the slums grow ever larger.

Displaced and waiting: Omar and Hernando Romano outside their
home in the Santa Rosa community outside of Cartagena.

But it isn’t as hopeless as it might sound. Hope exists in these same neighborhoods all over Barranquilla and Cartagena. We were here 20 years ago, and we’re still here today…reaching out to the children day after day and providing much-needed material benefits, services and the guidance they need.

As you would expect, our programs have evolved over the decades. We've learned which services make the greatest impact on the poor and we've implemented many more vital benefits. The CI infrastructure is strong and sound. Newer community centers offer a large, full-service oasis for thousands of children and their parents, many of whom are still struggling with the far reaching effects of poverty.

Excitement grows for the children living near the new CI Community Center currently under construction in Santa Rosa.

I can only wonder which of the children I met 20 years ago are still living a life of poverty - likely with children of their own. And I can hope that at least a few of them found their way out - maybe living in one of those new apartments. The children and youth we've met on this trip have a much better chance than the previous generation. There are more educational opportunities in their communities; improved transportation makes it possible for many to explore what their cities have to offer. And, of course, sponsorship provides the roadmap and resources necessary to actually make it out.

A small business helps this youth and his mother keep the family afloat during trying times. A Hope Scholarship is also making it possible for him to seek a certificate in accounting.

We've met incredibly articulate sponsored youth with generous hearts, compassionate souls and dreams they can truly attain. I am so proud of them…and if you could meet them you would be too. I hope the stories and photos we've posted this week have helped transport you to Colombia and have provided some unique firsthand insight into the lives of those we help and how your help makes a real and lasting difference.

Smart, articulate youth are being awarded with CI Hope Scholarships every year. Javier is studying commerce and Maria early childhood. Giving back to their families and their communities is a common value instilled in the youth.

Posted on behalf of Andrea Waters, Children International photographer. Andrea has over 20 years of committed service to the organization, sponsors and the children who make up the Children International family.


Steve said...

Since Andrea is a photographer for Children International, maybe she can answer why photo updates of sponsored children are so infrequent. Sometimes it takes 18 months to post new photos. Kids grow and change too quickly!

Given the nature of digital photography and the ease in which photos are downloaded, would more frequent updates result in any appreciable increase in costs?

Short of visiting the child, pictures (and letters) are the only connections we have with them. It sure would be nice to see six month updates. Is this a possibility?

Jennifer said...

Hey Steve, thanks for the great question.

Our field locations must submit a new photo of each child annually. We used to require one photo in a given “calendar” year meaning that one year an agency might submit a child’s photo in October, the next year in December (15 months). We just changed their requirement to submit the photo within 365 days of the last photo. This should eliminate the possibility of a significant delay.

The decision to update child photos annually was originally based on traditional photos we all had to endure back when we were in school. And while it is technically possible to get photos more often, it takes a lot of staff time and digital storage to collect 325,000 children once a year – let alone twice! We’ve discussed it internally many times and at this point, we’d prefer to keep the costs down and limit the photos to an annual occurrence. But like I mentioned, the topic comes up frequently, so there’s no telling when we may reconsider.

And because kids do grow so darn fast, one of the great things about “My Account” on is that you can see all the photos taken of your child over the past few years. We’re currently working on a problem with the year label under the photo as it doesn’t always match the actual date the photo was taken. However, if you hover over each photo it should display the correct day, month and year.

I hope this helps to explain our process a little better!

hogan said...


I happen to work for the fastest growing storage company in the world. If I were to scrounge up some equipment and donate it to C.I., would that help you with your storage needs and result in more frequent photos of the kids?

Steve (aka hogan)

Robert said...

Hi Jennifer, I started browsing through your blog, and I think it is a great new tool for us sponsors to see what's going on. I really loved your February issue of "20 Years of Change", since - to my utter delight - the girl pictured at the top of the issue, is the girl I sponsor! Her name is Yesenia Miranda, and she is such a special and wonderful girl. She wrote me recently that since she entered your sponsorship program her life has completely changed. I feel that my life has changed too, and that she and some other girls I sponsor have given my life more meaning. Unlike some other pictures in your blog, this one had no caption. May I ask how you happen to pick this picture,was it actually made on your trip to Barranquilla, where did you run into her, and did you talk to her? I would be so interested in hearing what she had to say. Would you please share that with me?

Andrea said...


Jennifer forwarded your question to me since I shot the photo of the beautiful girl in pink and included it on my ’20 years of change’ post.

You are absolutely correct – the girl is indeed Yesenia – one of the children you sponsor!

I selected this photo to go along with my post because she represents so many of the beautiful children we met in Colombia.

We were scheduled to interview her and about a dozen other children at one of our community centers on our last day in Barranquilla. By the time we finally got to her name on the list and got settled in the center’s library, the afternoon was slipping away from us. I captured a few shots of her in the library during the interview.

You would be delighted with a comment she made about your last visit…she laughed, recalling how you smacked your head entering their old house because the doorway was so low that you almost had to crawl in. You won’t have any problems with their new home – it has a taller doorway.

Later, as the sun was lower in the sky and casting its warm amber light, I captured a few more photos of Yesenia and her mom. Many of us call this time of day “the golden hour” – a perfect time to photograph to get great results. Yesenia was a delight to work with – she has a genuine easy smile that exactly matches her personality.

We have a few more photos and additional information on Yesenia and are working on a blog post for Monday, so we'll hope to see you on the blog!