Friday, March 30, 2007

Easter Shoes

Posted on behalf of Arlene De Vera, Manila, Philippines

For over a year now I have been the communications coordinator for Children International-Manila, and I have seen poverty in many shapes and forms, and to different depths and extent. Our agency assists over 23,000 needy children. I get a lot of opportunities to interact with them and learn about their triumphs and challenges, and each time the experience either leaves a familiar dull pain in my heart or I rejoice with them.

As I entered Rio’s home last week I didn’t feel the usual impact. Rio Beltran is a 34-year-old volunteer area leader helping the agency operate its largest center in Quezon City (near Manila) and a father of two sponsored children, Lovely Sophia, 7, and Richelle Joy, 8. They live on a meager allowance, which Rio receives from the government as barangay tanod (village watcher) and for doing errands for their neighbors.

As he graciously welcomed us, I got disoriented and was unsure of where he was leading us. Were we in a covered entrance or in the house already? It was 10:00 a.m., yet it was very dark inside because they don’t have electricity. He opened a window, the only one they have, and slowly I was able to see the whole place.

The old house is literally bare; it’s clean, but it looks – and reeks – like a pigpen. The smell could be coming from a canal just feet away from their door that serves as their convenient multi-purpose washing area where they brush their teeth and bathe. Aside from a dilapidated cabinet where their kitchen utensils and other things precious to them are kept, and a rundown, wooden bed in their bedroom (which can be entered only by going in sideways through a very narrow opening), the family has nothing else.

This picture was stuck in my head even after we joined other sponsored children and youth at SM Mall, where they do their Easter Gift shopping. My heart aches for these two children and I couldn’t imagine how they are able to live under such pitiful condition.

When Lovely Sophia happily showed to her father a pair of black boots, it was like showing the best find in the whole world! “The Lord has been so good! I just got a new pair of shoes and I could even buy slippers to replace my old pair!” I got goose bumps upon hearing these words. For a child who watches TV from someone else’s window (that is often closed upon learning that she is there), drinks from salvaged cups of instant noodles, and is only able to taste a good meal on her birthdays because she visits her godmother who cooks for her, it was a concrete demonstration of unfaltering faith not many people could muster.

It was the first time the two children received material benefits from Children International, so I asked Rio how it was accompanying the kids to shop. There was a lull and when I looked at him, he was holding back his tears but could not hide his emotions. “I was like on air seeing that joy in their eyes which I realized I had not seen since their mother passed away almost four years ago. I’m thankful that what I couldn’t provide for my children is generously given to them by people we don’t even know!” said Rio in between sobs. He got one of each of his daughters’ slippers and showed them to me. “These slippers should have long been discarded but I repair them every now and then so my children will have something to use. I’m so happy that finally they will wear new ones!”

I froze when I realized how a pair of new shoes and slippers could make such a difference, while Mabel, an officemate who was with me to help cover the Easter Gift distribution, couldn’t hold back her tears.

There are nights that I think about Lovely Sophia and Richelle Joy. I imagine them lying on their wooden bed which squeaks whenever they move while their father wonders how to make ends meet the next day. I sigh in relief thinking that although sponsorship cannot not provide everything this family needs (they are grateful just to have a bowl of rice and salt), it could very well take away the fear of a father that his children might not have a chance to finish school.

So, if you ask me about the significance of Easter to the children we help…? It’s about raising hope for Lovely Sophia, Richelle Joy and the 23,000 other children and youth they represent. And I thank all of you for making this possible.

Arlene De Vera is the communications coordinator for Children International's agency in Manila, Philippines.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Exercises for the Heart

Posted on behalf of Javier Cárcamo, Rural Guatemala
  1. First, get up and walk ten paces. Stop.

  2. Take another ten paces and sit down.

  3. Now think of the hundreds of children around the world who are unable to do this – not necessarily because of any physical disability, but because the place where they live is so small it is impossible to take ten consecutive steps.

This is how Juana del Carmen Rodríguez Valle, a girl who in the humblest of conditions shared a small bamboo room with her mother, her grandparents and her sister, spent the first five years of her life.

Because her grandparents are elderly and her father deserted the family, the things Juana and her family needed to improve their living conditions were simply out of reach. As a result, they were forced to live in a flimsy structure on a steep, nearly inaccessible hillside.

In the midst of this landscape (a harsh and dusty forest trail surrounded by coffee plantations) and facing into the imposing winds descending from Mount Alotenango, was Juanita, imprisoned by the borders of the tiny lot where she and her family lived as though on an island. It was painful to witness.

But life began anew for Juanita and her family when their generous sponsor, upon learning about their situation, decided to build them a home. Her grandfather offered his plot of land from which, little by little, a solid structure slowly rose above the bushes.

Now Juanita’s eyes sparkle with happiness as she peeks out the window and runs in and out of her new house, where she has plenty of space to play hide-and-seek with her sister. And the days when her mother would tell her, “Don’t go too far because you might fall into a ravine!” are over now.

Juanita’s grandmother sums up the family’s happiness. “She is an angel, a child who is good to everyone. She always helps me gather wood, and we all love her very much. She has been a blessing to this family since she was born, and her sponsor, by helping her, is also helping us.”

Javier Cárcamo is the communications coordinator for Children International's agency in Rural Guatemala.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A Champion for Children

The opening of Children International’s newest community center in Barranquilla, Colombia last week was a joyful event, but for the friends and family of Nicole Lyn Anderson, it was a bittersweet occasion.

Nicole, wife of CI Marketing Vice President, Brian Anderson, was diagnosed in March 2006 with stage four lung cancer. Nicole fought her cancer by planning events that marked her progress against the disease. Events like attending an out-of-town wedding, vacationing at the beach with family and friends, renewing her own wedding vows with Brian, the production of their son’s first CD, and attending the opening of the new community center in Barranquilla. Nicole died in October.

Nicole was an incredible champion for children. Supporting not only her own children, Lucas and Tyler, but the three children she and Brian sponsor in Barranquilla: Stephany, Carolina and Luz Marina. Brian and Tyler spent the day before the inauguration doing what Nicole would have wanted – taking the three girls shopping, a drive by the ocean and finishing the day with a visit to the zoo, complete with ice cream.

“She had an incredible impact on every child she ever met as her unstoppable energy and enthusiasm inspired them to improve their lives. It was part of her life,” said Children International President Jim Cook.

On the day of the event, there were no dry eyes as Brian spoke in tribute to his wife. Sharing her passion and zest for life, her love of Lucas and Tyler, her friends and family and of course, her love for the children in Barranquilla.

“Nicole wanted so much to be a part of their lives,” Brian said. “She wanted to make every event special, she wanted to be here for the opening of this center.”

And it was clear that she was. Nicole’s presence lingers in the center that bears her name. She’ll be here to watch as official operations begin and as the thousands of children run through the halls into medical and dental clinics, the library and youth community rooms. She will live on through each and every child that visits the center.

It is certain that Nicole will be missed, but her legacy lives on in the children whose lives she has so wonderfully touched.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Living Letters

Last week we posted about the opening of the Nicole Lyn Anderson community center in Colombia. In today's post, we want to share with you the story of Nicole's visit with her sponsored child, Luz, during a November 2004 trip to Barranquilla. This story was written by Damon Guinn and appeared in the May 2006 Children International eNews.

Tomorrow, Nicole's husband, Brian, shares his emotional journey as the center named in his wife's memory was inaugruated.

“I know this family is going to make it,” Nicole Anderson confides while pointing to a picture of exuberant Colombians.

Nicole, anxious to talk about her trip to Barranquilla, Colombia, had recently returned from visiting her sponsored child, Luz, after dropping off some gifts for a relative’s sponsored child, Carolina.

“When I arrived at Carolina’s home, her little sister, Stephany, leaped into my arms,” Nicole says, still clearly excited about the experience. Her entire family came out in celebration.

“It was so much fun to see how happy they were,” she exclaims, especially after presenting the girls with art supplies, stuffed animals, and a photo album of her family. “Their mother, Jacqueline, was so moved by the photographs and presents, she gave me a very special picture of her family. It was probably one of their only photos.”

The visit convinced Nicole to sponsor Stephany once she returned home to Kansas City. Soon after returning, she sent the family the pictures she had taken during her visit. In a matter of weeks, a letter from Jacqueline arrived in her mailbox.

Turning to a letter now pasted in her photo album, Nicole reads, “We remember the day you were here with us a lot. Stephany is very happy with all the pictures where you appear. She shows them to everybody that comes to our house.”

And that was just the first visit, the one that was supposed to be a quick stopover, Nicole continues. Her trip to see Luz, her first sponsored child, was even more gratifying.

“Luz ran out of her house yelling, ‘Mí madre! Mí madre!’” (My mother! My mother!) Nicole pantomimes while flipping to a picture of the slightly cross-eyed girl beaming at the camera. “She jumped into my arms, wrapped her legs around my waist and gave me a big kiss on the cheek.”

Despite the ragged conditions of the house and the family’s obvious hardship, she says Luz was all smiles and remained draped around her neck throughout the visit.

Pointing to a picture of Luz wearing a Carnival mask Nicole had given her, she turns to her most cherished letter. In uneven, curlicue letters, the happy-go-lucky girl has penned, “I am very happy to have met you…I also wish to see you again very soon to hug you and give you lots of kisses.”

“These letters are like love letters – they’re read over and over again,” admits Nicole, clearly smitten.

Even if other sponsors don’t have the opportunity to visit their children, she encourages them to write and send pictures so they, too, will experience the joy of connecting with their sponsored children.

“It’s life-changing,” she concludes. “That’s all I can say.”

Monday, March 26, 2007

A Smile is Worth A Thousand Thanks

Sponsored child, Juan Carlos, age 9 (pictured holding his brother Issac) and his family were the recipients of a donation made possible by his sponsor, Eileen Brown, and Aura’s House. Working together, Brown and Aura’s House were able to raise the funds to provide the family with 850 blocks for construction on their home, along with cement, lime and much needed grocery items. Often a family cannot afford these extra items on their meager income. Leaky ceilings and dirt floors can lead to respiratory illnesses in children, but a few small repairs can make a world of difference.

Friday, March 23, 2007

What It's All About...

I grew up in a third-world country, surrounded by poverty. The children I played with on a daily basis faced the same stark living conditions as the children that today I’m trying to help through my work with Children International.

Having said this, the ugliness of raw poverty is something you just never get used to. When I received this picture from my colleague Javier Cárcamo at our Rural Guatemala agency, the impact was like a kick in the stomach. This is the reality of the monster called poverty – the monster children and families in the areas where we work wrestle against every day.

I thought I’d share it with our readers just to remind you how desperately important your support is to people who literally have nowhere else to go for help.

Javier and his camera caught this lady in Guatemala digging through trash to find stray kernels of corn with which to make tortilla dough.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Inauguration of the Nicole Lyn Anderson Community Center

On Wednesday, March 21, 2007 we officially inaugurated the newly constructed Nicole Lyn Anderson Community Center in Barranquilla, Colombia, in the community of Soledad.

The center is designed to provide services and benefits to at least 5,000 sponsored children – many of whom represent generations of the poor here in Soledad. The word soledad means “loneliness” – but it is lonely no longer. Happiness and hope arrived in the form of an incredible community center, which will serve children and families in need for decades.

Children International was not alone in its dedication to this project. Agency director Hermelinda Guarín succeeded in obtaining many local donations including building supplies, installation of electrical and water services and more. Of particular note, the Rotary Club donated a 99 year lease on the property.

An important feature of the center is its library. The library has been dedicated to a life long member of the Children International family: Dorothy Koch, who retired just a few months ago after 41 years of service!

Dignitaries, invited guests, children and their families arrived late in the afternoon while the sun was still hot, but the wind provided a breeze to keep everyone cool. The center has a large area in front of the main entrance paved with donated brick and the labor of volunteers. Hundreds of white chairs were placed under a large tent to shade the guests. The festive air was completed by the Navy band who treated the crowd to a very lively musical set complete with horns and percussion.

Also in attendance were several Children International staff from Kansas City including President Jim Cook. Representing Children International’s Kansas City board were Larry Lee and Joan Horan.

Make sure to visit us again next week to learn more about the woman the center is named after, Nicole Lyn Anderson, as her family shares their experience from this overwhelming and emotional event.
Brian Anderson, husband of Nicole Lyn Anderson, poses with their three sponsored children.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

In My Own Words: Meeting Glendy

Sponsoring a child is a life-changing experience for many people. Sponsors can develop fulfilling relationships with their sponsored children that last a lifetime. Some are fortunate enough to travel to the remote villages and actually meet their sponsored children and their families.

“In My Own Words” is inspired by those dedicated sponsors who want to share their sponsorship story...

Three years ago, I sponsored a child in Guatemala who lived in Antigua, located 30 miles from Guatemala City. At the time, she was 5 years old and about to enter school. I thought it would be rewarding to go there and meet Glendy Roxanne Camargo and her family. I contacted the Children International world headquarters located in Kansas City to coordinate my visit.

Upon my arrival in Guatemala, I called their local headquarters in Guatemala City, and a few days later was picked up at my hotel in a mini-van provided by an interpreter. Forty minutes later we arrived in the historic city of Antigua and a compound that has a small infirmary consisting of limited dental and medical services. Of course, all the children gathered around to get a glimpse of the American visitor.

We were directed to a small office where Glendy and her mother were waiting. They were a bit quiet, and held back as after all it was our first encounter. After hugs and greetings, we were then driven to their living quarters where numerous families were housed. Tropical birds were abundant along the pathways, and tortillas were cooked on stone stoves in the open. There were also lots of flies everywhere.

Once we reached Glendy’s home, I learned that five people lived in a hut consisting of a corrugated roof, dirt floor and heavy plank walls. There were two beds, makeshift closets or small dressers, an electric stove, a small TV, no toilet or running water and, of course, lots of flies. Can you just imagine?! Needless to say, I broke down and cried – and we complain at times. I will never complain again! We are so blessed!

I met the rest of the family and disseminated the gifts I brought with me in two large suitcases. There was something for all members of the family.

Glendy loves dolls. She had two worn-out dolls of which I’m sure she loved dearly. Well, I had six dolls, and she was overwhelmed with emotion as was the rest of the family.

Soon after, we were off to Guatemala City. Glendy had never been there before, and was truly in awe of the sights and sounds along the way. The highlight of the trip was a long stay at McDonald’s. McDonald’s there is truly a showplace. I travel a lot and it is the very best.

Early in the evening, we arrived back to her compound where I also met her father and grandmother. We took more pictures with them. It came time for me to leave, and we walked back to the van. As I was about to depart, I bent down for a hug and kiss. Glendy clung on tight as she didn’t want me to leave. Of course, you know what happened next.

Yes, I cried again!!

It was one of life’s experiences I shall never forget, and I’m sure she won’t either.

Same time next year, Glendy?

Harold Wentworth

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Doctor is In

Healthcare is front and center in the minds of Americans these days…but we’re not alone in this crisis.

Families around the world face health challenges on a daily basis. Some of these stem from the lack of hygiene that inevitably results from living in poverty-racked communities where basic sanitation services such as running water, sewer and garbage disposal are unknown.

But other serious illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and congenital defects strike poor families with the same random impartiality as they do families here in America.

One of the most important benefits Children International offers to more than 324,000 children around the world is free health care. From routine checkups to treatment for life-threatening diseases, our generous sponsors have given children from poor families a place to turn when health crises arise – and a means to proactively improve their health and prevent the onset of diseases.

Free health care is one of the many benefits sponsored children enjoy thanks to the generosity of Children International’s sponsors.

Children International’s sponsorship program provides compulsory annual medical checkups for all sponsored children through the age of 12. Older children continue to have access to medical care until they graduate from the program at age 19.

Did you know…?
Last year, Children International provided 571,527 medical exams and follow-ups and conducted 237,816 dental exams for sponsored children!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Best Friends

Something light-hearted to start your weekend...

Who is your best friend?

Yorgelis, age 8, from Cartagena answers:

Malory. We play together and pretend we are having tea.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Still There Among the Dead

Good afternoon friends! Welcome to our new readers and to those who faithfully visit the blog. I want to take a minute and encourage each of you to share your thoughts, comments, opinions or even your experiences with Children International. Don't be shy! If you have a question about a story, drop us an email. Is there a topic you'd like to know more about? Again, leave a comment or send us an email. Kelly and I, along with a whole lot of other people, are here to help. And don't forget that you can sign-up with RSS so that you never miss a photo or a post!

Some of you may remember Remy from the last issue of Journeys, but we asked writer Scott Cotter to share just a little bit more about a story that inspired all of us to continue fighting this disease called poverty....

Another year has passed for Remy. Now it has been 20. Twenty years and not much has changed.

What started out as temporary – or so she thought – has turned out to be about half her life. Half a lifetime spent living in a Quezon City cemetery, eating there, raising children there, waking every morning to the same startling reality…that every part of life for her and her family is surrounded by death.

I’m not sure I could do it. Living in a rickety shack built over the top of the deceased. Or pulling a piece of cardboard over a concrete tomb every night so I had a place to lie down. But, truthfully, it hasn’t been easy for Remy either. When we were there in the Philippines on assignment, she gazed blankly at the wall when she described her sleepless nights, how she talks to the stranger in the crypt below her for comfort, and what it felt like to be so poor that escape was impossible. Her shame was palpable.

Her seven children have never known another life than the one surrounding them now. And they probably never will. There is simply no room in the congested confines of a big city for someone who only has a few dollars to his or her name. Even with our help, the costs are just too staggering and spaces too few.

I think of Remy often. We’re about the same age, though you’d probably think her to be quite a bit older than me. I guess you could say time has betrayed her – in more ways than one.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

India: A Rich Tapestry

Posted on behalf of Deron Denton...

Among the many images I recall from our staff trip to India last year, one remains with me the most: a trash heap by the side of the road. It stood 2 or 3 feet high and must have been 8 or 10 feet long. The first thing I distinguished was a cow: it had found something to eat in the pile and was chewing lazily. Then I noticed a person was also rummaging through the same mound of refuse. As we passed by in the van, I was startled to see a large crow as well as a mangy-looking dog…all of them sorting through the trash for something they could eat or use.

It was a sad scene, to be sure - it left me feeling like the wind had been knocked out of me. It was also symbolic of the India I experienced: an amazing kaleidoscope of cultures and religions and eras…seemingly chaotic and random yet amazingly harmonious and…well, functional. Over a billion people living (mostly) peaceably in the world’s largest democracy. A truly ancient culture quickly adapting to globalization and a world economy.

What touched me most deeply, of course, were the people we met. The people – on your behalf – we were there to help. Particularly, I was moved by the strength, courage and perseverance of the girls and women we met in India…

…women like Sahida, mother of 5-year-old Rukhsar. Rukhsar had entered our sponsorship program the year before our visit. The girl’s father died when she was just a year old, leaving the household without a definitive breadwinner. Sahida had been forced into an arranged marriage at the age of 12. Now, because of Rukhsar’s sponsorship, Sahida had been given the courage of hope…hope for her daughter’s future. Despite her own numerous hardships, Sahida expressed confidence that her daughter would now be able to stay in school, receive a good education and live a happy life. These were opportunities Sahida didn’t have.

The problem of early, arranged marriages arose often in India. And it is a challenge that youth leaders and our staff are successfully confronting. Rukmini, who is now 21, was a sponsored child for 16 years. She became active in our youth program, eventually becoming a youth council leader. She now works as co-facilitator of our Youth Health Corps.

As a sponsored youth, Rukmini told me she received a great deal of training on leadership, reproductive and sexual health, and nutrition. “I then began giving that training and the knowledge I acquired to others in the community,” she said. Rukmini led seminars and workshops for youth and mothers, helping to empower them. “Now the girls have started coming out as a visible force in the community,” she added.

Rukmini, and others like her, are shaping the future of India. By helping prevent early marriages, empowering women, and educating those who will listen, they are elevating our India sponsorship program in ways that were probably unimaginable 10 or 15 years ago.

I am so grateful to have witnessed all the wonderful changes taking place in India. And it genuinely touches my heart to be a small thread in the colorful tapestry that we – our sponsored children, their families, our sponsors and our staff – are weaving…enriching the lives of everyone involved.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Photo of the Day

Mercedes, age 8, from Valparaiso, Chile:

If you could have one wish come true,
what would you wish for?

"That my sponsor would be with me."

Friday, March 9, 2007

Youth Wins the Gold!

A Presidential honor is top of the list of accomplishments for Vakeyia, a sponsored child through Children International, a Kansas City-based nonprofit child sponsorship organization.

Vakeyia, an 18-year-old high school senior, has been awarded the President's Volunteer Service Award for her community service work in Little Rock, Arkansas. The prestigious award was created as a way to thank and honor Americans who, by their demonstrated commitment and example, inspire others to engage in volunteer service.

Vakeyia sees her service to others as a way to a better life. " I have learned that the more you help people, the better you feel inside. 'Be the change you wish for the world,' is the quote that best describes what I have learned. I will take the knowledge that I have acquired and try to change the world for the best."

Some of Vakeyia's other accomplishments include:

  • Class of 2007 Valedictorian
  • President of her agency's Youth Council
  • Delegate representing her agency at Children International's 2006 International Youth Conference
  • 4-year scholarship to Hendrix College in Arkansas.

But the odds were not always on Vakeyia's side, as she is one of six children raised by her single father. Vakeyia could have fallen victim to violence and drug activity in her neighborhood, but with her father's steadfast support and the help of after-school mentoring through Children International, Vakeyia has kept her focus on one day working in the field of forensics.

James R. Cook, president and CEO of Children International, says, "We are so proud of Vakeyia's accomplishments. She is proof that sponsorship makes a real impact in the life of a disadvantaged child. Knowing Vakeyia, she will be successful in any career she chooses."

Posted on behalf of Dolores Kitchin from Children International in Kansas City, MO.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Children International in the News

The Matriarch of Mushrooms
by Damon Guinn

A metamorphosis like the one transforming mushrooms into income and extra food for Elizabeth's family is also changing the role of women in Zambian society....

Read the full article here.

(Photo) Elizabeth Mwiinga of Kanyama, Zambia, harvests homegrown mushrooms as part of a micro-enterprise project through Children International. Photo by Greg Tobey

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

An Unforgettable Encounter

When I wrote in my February 21 blog that I had never felt truly powerless until I looked into the eyes of a dying child, I hadn’t yet met 8-year-old Diana*.

As part of the team that traveled to Honduras to interview sponsored children and their families, I didn’t plan to spend much time talking to Diana and her mother, María*. Diana had clearly overcome the severe malnutrition that first brought her to Kelly’s attention during his visit to Honduras in 2005. Besides, we were rushed for time and had several interviews to conduct before the end of the day.

I paused nonetheless and greeted Diana in my usual clumsy Spanish. I asked her and her mother a few questions about her previous problems. Diana, all smiles, said she felt fine and enjoyed visiting the center to play hopscotch with her friends. But a glassy look suddenly swelled in María’s eyes and contradicted Diana’s good cheer.

I turned to her mother and asked, “Is Diana completely recovered?” Searching out my eyes, María gazed at me for what seemed like an eternity. Tears streaked her cheeks as she breathed the words...“My daughter has HIV.”

All at once, the world seemed to collapse in around me. I didn’t know what to say. One moment I was talking to a young girl full of joy and happiness, the next minute I was imagining her lifeless body in her mother’s arms. My translator, Jesús, filled in for me while I tried to regain my composure.

Jesús translated fragments of the conversation as I compulsively wiped my eyes. “They only found out about Diana’s case a year ago... Her mother has HIV too...No one else in the community knows...They’ll be expelled if anyone finds out...Diana’s medicine will run out in March....”

I quietly excused myself and went to our van, where I had a bag of toys stowed away. Although I hadn’t planned to give Diana anything, I picked out the best toys I’d brought and placed them delicately into an embroidered bag. I chose a soft, plush bunny, a necklace with a flashing pendant, some colorful pencils and handfuls of candy.

When I returned, both Diana and her mother were smiling. Arturo, the area supervisor, had shared some encouraging words in my absence...the community center would provide a small stipend for Diana’s upcoming medical expenses.

Right then and there, I wanted pick Diana up and take her with me, far away from her infected surroundings. Instead, knowing that there was nothing more to be done at that moment, I showed her the toys I’d picked out and explained why I thought they were the very best.

Diana smiled like a child should...without a care in the world, believing only in the moment and the kindness of a stranger. That, to me, is Honduras.

*Not actual names.

Posted on behalf of Damon Guinn.

Monday, March 5, 2007

An Exciting Day at the Mendoza Center

What an exciting day! It started very early for the CI staff because we were on the biggest morning show on Dominican television, Hoy Mismo, (Today). The four of us were on the show to talk about our work in the Dominican Republic and the opening of our new Mendoza Center. It was fun, and the show reached Dominicans across the island and, via satellite, in many other countries.

After the show we traveled out to the new center to make sure that everything was set for the big celebration. The mural had been completed…

…And chairs were set up in the community hall for the formal inauguration.

All we needed were the invited guests. These included leaders from the community, major grant providers (like USAID), our own staff and of course, some of the children and their parents. You could feel the buzz in the air as staff worked hard to put the finishing touches on the rooms that would soon be full of activity.

One of the rooms that the youth are going to really find important is the Microsoft Computer Center. It has 16 "state-of-the-art" Dell computers loaded with Microsoft tools, networked and connected to the Internet. This will provide an important resource for the community…all funded through a Microsoft grant.

After our guests arrived we gathered in the community hall. The seats were all filled.

There were some great speeches about the importance of the center and our vision for the community, as well as many words of appreciation to those who made the new center possible. But my favorite speech was given by this young sponsored child, who talked about her life and her dreams. She was the star, as the children in our program always are.

After the speeches, the ribbon was cut, we took a tour and then, up to the roof for music and food. A band from a local university was playing. I was told that the band often volunteered their services to churches, community groups and development organizations. They certainly were appreciated by all of our guests.

The opening was a big success. People talked about their dreams for the space and how soon, with the help from a donor (hint), there would be a wonderful playground on this roof for the younger children.

All in all, the trip was very valuable to me. We met with important donors who can help us create more – and better – programs. We raised the visibility of our program by being on television. We spent time in Santiago looking at the next center that needs rehabilitation. But most importantly, we renewed friendships with children, families, and staff...the people that make our programs vibrant and important to the communities we serve.

Posted on behalf of Brian Anderson, who visited the Dominican Republic for the inauguration of the Mendoza Center, a Children International community center.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Mendoza Center readies for opening with splash of color

An oasis of real help and real hope in a desert of need – that’s the Mendoza Center. Upon entering this oasis, children, families and visitors to the community center will be greeted by a beautiful hand-painted mural. While Franklin, Connie (the regional director) and I were visiting the center in preparation for the dedication, we decided to help in the painting of the mural, which is located in the reception area.

It all started with sponsored youth, Wilmer Enrique, age 14, winning an agency sponsored art contest. Soon, Wilmer’s colorful painting of a clown became a transfer-on drawing on the wall. Members of the community have come together to help complete the mural in time for the opening of the center. Various youth, staff and younger children have spent countless hours adding their own personal touches to the mural. When these children visit the center, this mural will always remind them that they’ve made a contribution to the center that they call their own.

Friday, March 2, 2007

With A Little Help From Our Friends

Coast to coast, sponsors are coming together to share their stories, experiences and heart-felt wishes to help children around the world.

Last summer, the Dominican Republic Ambassador to the United States, Flavio Espinal, and his wife, Minerva Del Risco, opened their home in Washington D.C. to a group of more than 100 Friends of Children International. The goal of the evening’s event was to raise the funds needed to construct a second floor to the already over-crowded Mendoza Center in Santo Domingo.

The fundraiser was a success and after 10 months of hard work, the newly renovated and expanded Mendoza Center is ready for inauguration…today! The center houses medical and dental faculties and meeting rooms. In addition, Microsoft has generously donated a new computer room with 16 new machines. The once overflowing building can now more comfortably accommodate the 2,500 children who consider this center a part of their community.

Without a doubt, the Mendoza Center is a Friends success story. Thanks to all of you who made this dream a reality for the children and their families. We will have a full report of today’s events on Monday.

Photo: Jim Cook, president of Children International, joined by Ambassador Espinal and his wife, along with CI gift officer Franklin Guerrero in Washington, D.C., last summer.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

A Bittersweet Return to the Dominican Republic

Posted on behalf of Brian Anderson of Children International...

Getting to the Dominican Republic is not an easy hop from Kansas City. To make connections in Atlanta, I had a very early 3 am wake up call. Leaving a very frosty Kansas City for Santo Domingo but the eventual warmth of the sun more than made up for it.

I admit this trip will have some bittersweet memories for me. My wife Nicole and I have been to the Dominican Republic three times: the first on a vacation, the second with 60 teenagers who helped construct an addition to our community center in Mao. And the last time was just two years ago with board members and staff.

The trip to Mao however, holds a special place for me. This fall my wife passed very suddenly from cancer and her favorite picture was the one from our adventure in Mao.

There are several goals for this particular trip: meetings with Franklin (a CI Gift Officer) and our local staff, talking to several major foundations as well as an official with USAID, assessing a community center in need of renovation, and opening center that just recently underwent a significant renovation and addition.

The meetings thus far in Santo Domingo have been interesting and productive but it is too early to tell what the future holds.

Then we were off to Santiago - a trip only a few hours by car on a very good road through a beautiful valley. There are mountains on both sides of the valley and good crops between.

In Santiago we will assess the needs of the Cien Fuegos community center we have used for years. This center is scheduled for reconstruction and three friends groups in the US are helping to raise the resources necessary for the project. Our goal is to break ground in June when the children are out of school.

Later this week we will return to Santo Domingo where we will participate in the opening of the recently completed Mendoza Center. The center required significant reconstruction – in fact we gutted the first floor and added a second floor.

It's wonderful to see the progress we're making in the Dominican Republic. But it's still evident there is much work to be done, and I know that all of us, together, will continue to bring change to the children here who need it most.

At lunch time we stopped beside the road and had some roast pork. The place was full of people because of the National Holiday of Independence. This man served us from a pig that he had roasted the night before. It was a tasty and very Dominican lunch.