Friday, June 29, 2007

Driver Puts Poor Children in Victory Lane

NASCAR driver Juan Pablo Montoya gets the checkered flag for winning his first Nextel Cup race and giving impoverished children hope through Children International. The NASCAR road race in Sonoma, California, last Sunday was the first win for Montoya in 17 Nextel Cup starts.

The Colombian-born stock car champion donated $6,300 in 2006 to provide medical attention and therapy for children suffering from orthopedic health conditions. Montoya also funds a soccer school that provides 34 sponsored teens with training to help them improve their athletic skills.

“We have worked with Children International through our foundation in Colombia, and I have to say I am really grateful with all their help and support because thanks to them we have been able to create a foundation. I think it’s an amazing organization that has done so much for my country, and I am very grateful for that,” Montoya said in a 2006 interview.

Jim Cook, president and CEO of Children International, says, “Juan has always been a champion in our eyes. He has allowed us to give so many children in Colombia hope for the future. ”

Congratulations on your victory JP!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

On the Ground with Jim Cook: Images and Observations from the Philippines

Part Three

My next day in the Philippines included an early departure from Legaspi. The destination was Manila once again, this time to visit the two Children International agencies there.

I was met at the airport by the Manila staff, headed up by Cynthia Tiotuyco. Our brief greeting was punctuated by Cynthia introducing me to one of the staff members who would be taking pictures. Her name is Mabel, and she is the daughter of Alberto Garcia, a world-renowned photographer I met on my first trip to the Philippines! He is a good friend of the organization and has worked with us many times over the years.

Alberto is without a doubt the finest photographer I’ve ever met. And I’ve met some good ones. His amazing shot of the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo (yet another volcano!) has been featured in both National Geographic’s 100 Best Pictures and Time Magazine—Great Images of the 20th Century.

I was informed that Alberto would be joining us to shoot some photos, along with his daughter. What a joy it was to watch the two of them work together!

We wasted no time getting into the thick of things by paying a visit to a family that some of Children International’s writers had documented on their last visit. The family was the Garcia family (no relation to Alberto and Mabel), and the article that appeared in our sponsorship magazine Journeys described their life with the Bagbag cemetery as their home.

I had read the article, but I wasn’t quite prepared for what I saw. It’s hard to describe conditions in which the most prominent element of the “home” is the crypts—complete with headstones—that form the floor, bed, kitchen, furniture, etc.

I visited with the three generations of Garcias present and had the pleasant assignment of informing them that two Children International contributors, Ron Neal and Steve Krumholz, had joined to provide enough funds to purchase a home—a real home—for the family. This news was greeted with emotions that ran the gamut from smiles to tears…at the same time. I’m not sure who was happiest among the group…likely it was a tie for ultimate bliss of a dream come true for all!

Talk about Real Help and Real Hope. The future just changed for the Garcias!

For my next visit I followed the staff across the cemetery, picking our way over and around burial vaults. That’s a first for me. On one vault was a bone. About eight to ten inches long. Pretty much bleached by the sun. I looked at it. I looked up at the local person leading me. She nodded…yes, it was a human bone. Like I said, this was a first for me. A couple of ‘em.

After that most unforgettable visit, we traveled on to a new community center, recently completed thanks to generous contributions from our donors. It is truly a magnificently functional beacon in the community!

I also once again met my 15-year-old sponsored child, Ranie, who seems to grow substantially every time I see him. He had done a really nice drawing for me that pictured my family from an earlier photo I’d sent to him. (Sponsored children and families LOVE receiving pictures from their sponsors…I urge sponsors to do it—it is so easy and means so very much to the families!)

We left the new center and traveled through the byzantine (and extremely confusing) streets of Manila to another clinic. There I met the grandmother of Leopoldo, a sponsored child who has a very serious condition called bradycardia. His condition was discovered by a Children International doctor, Dr. Jun Santiago, during his regular medical checkup. It causes a slow heartbeat that leads to other problems and can be fatal if not addressed.

Addressed it was. In fact, on that day, Leopoldo was in the hospital preparing for surgery the next day.

Grandmother was quite emotional in expressing her appreciation for Children International donors who made the surgery possible. She presented me with a card Leopoldo had written. It said, in part: “Thank you for having a big and good heart that makes my heart strong and giving me a chance to live a long life. Maraming salamat po! [Thank You!]”

I’m eager and a bit anxious to learn how the surgery goes for Leopoldo.

After that emotional visit, it was time for me to head back to the hotel. What an amazing day it had been! Each person or family I had met underscored the essence of sponsorship—how our close connection to the children and their families in the communities, over time, enables our staff to identify needs: some basic, others, like a heart operation, not so basic.

And then, thanks to a whole lot of people—sponsors and other generous contributors—who want to make a real difference in someone’s life, we are able to…well…make a real difference in someone’s life!


My last day found me at our other sponsorship agency in Metro Manila…named our Quezon City agency.

Lei Orioste is the director there and, like Zaldy in Legaspi, Lei was already working for us when I made my maiden voyage to the Philippines back in ’86. We share a lot of memories.

I toured around the office and ended up in the accounting area where a “fellow” accountant (long ago and far away I worked as a CPA in an auditing firm) looks after things in an exceptional manner. Her name is Bolet—that’s her Filipino nickname for Violeta—and I was involved in her hiring back in 1991, and I think it was the morning of the day that Mount Pinatubo erupted. It does seem that much of my history in the Philippines has been defined by volcanoes!

We talked of that day, which featured a volcanic eruption that affected sunsets around the world for months. The cloud of volcanic dust and ash over Manila made it eerily dark as night in the middle of the afternoon, and I experienced an earthquake that scared the heck out of this Kansas boy.

Lei then announced that we were heading over to “The Betty Lou,” which is the name of the new community center named in memory of Betty Lou Daul, the late wife of Ron Daul, whose MOST generous contribution built the beautiful center that celebrates her life.

Once we arrived, I participated in handing out certificates for school supplies. With these certificates, each sponsored child is able to go to a large bookstore chain located throughout Manila and select exactly what he or she needs. The children love being able to actually go to a store and buy what they want and need.

Then it was time for lunch at the center with some parents and sponsored children. It was great. The children performed some very energetic singing and dancing numbers, and no one performs like Filipinos! Surely karaoke was invented here.

We had so much fun that the mothers of the children leapt up on the stage and performed their own lively dance—what fun!

But the crowning glory to that great lunch was when a sponsored child who might have been six years old recited from memory a poem her mother had written two days before. There were a couple of amazing things happening there…first the poem, which was inspiring and moving…secondly, that this young child could have memorized it in two days boggles my mind.

Here’s just a small part of that poem that describes this mother’s feelings after her child was enrolled in sponsorship:
Thank you, Lord for these people you sent into our life. That we may better see Your goodness and love For the poor and underserved, for the needy and ignorant Our dreams and wishes, You finally grant.
That mom then directed her words to me and said that I was a blessing from God. I’m not. To most—including me for sure—that is painfully obvious. What I am to that woman was the representative of all the selfless, caring sponsors who “finally grant” the “dreams and wishes” of people who are living in oppressive poverty.

But I didn’t tell that woman that I wasn’t the or even a blessing, much as I felt like doing so. Sometimes I think people probably need to have their own blessing, and if that woman needed me to be it, so be it. And more power to her.

The staff then took me to visit a housing area where we have built 62 homes for people who lost theirs in a fire a few years ago. The homes are quite nice and the people most appreciative. Once again I was taken with what must be an irrepressible, instinctive characteristic in the woman of the house to include plants and colorful flowers in and outside her home. I have seen it over and over in my travels.

I was very happy with the homes we had built. And, we actually helped create a community for this group of people. It was quite apparent how much camaraderie there was among the people there, as shown by the young men playing basketball on the “court” (a goal with the street as the court), who were obviously enjoying themselves in their new neighborhood. Incidentally, when this housing effort was dedicated, representatives from the U.S. Embassy attended…support we always appreciate!

During this visit, it was great to see old friends and associates and meet new, enthusiastic ones. It reminded me that this organization is really all about people—people who make it possible for so many to help so many!

It also served to renew my energy for Children International’s mission. Watching the dedication and commitment of the staff, who daily do heroic things for the children, always inspires and motivates me!

I also want to take a moment to thank our Communication Coordinators, who expended Herculean effort in recording my every move so I would have photos to share with you. So thanks to Arlene DeVera in Manila, CJ Tarroja in Quezon City, Juvy Bornilla in Tabaco and Tony Lorcha in Legaspi (I might add that Tony is a former sponsored child!). You guys were great.

My time here made me extraordinarily thankful for the thousands of sponsors who, every month, make a leap of faith by sending a contribution for a child halfway around the world they likely have never met and likely never will. A contribution they trust will be put to good use and make a real difference in the life of their sponsored child. Once again, I saw that leap of faith translated into action that is, in fact, making a real difference and providing hope where it didn’t exist before!

Thanks for tagging along with me on my journey. I’m out and I’m heading home.

For more photos of Jim's visit to the Philppines, check out his photo album and listen as Jim talks about his trip.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

On the Ground with Jim Cook: Images and Observations from the Philippines

Part Two

After witnessing the terrible impact of Typhoon Durian, it was a most pleasant diversion to stop and meet my 6-year-old sponsored child, Jonnalyn, and her mom here in Legaspi. She’s a charmer, and we had a nice chat, although my “strangeness” did make her understandably a bit shy. The staff had also made it possible for me to visit the sponsored child of a family friend in Kansas City. The friend was concerned about her child since the typhoon…as were many sponsors. After a brief visit with her and her mother, I was on my way.

The Chief of Programs for the Legaspi group, Angie, mentioned that the problem with Typhoon Durian was the amount of rain it brought. She had heard it dumped “half a year’s rainfall” in six hours. I looked up a year’s rainfall for this area: 133 inches. About 65 inches in six hours?

I’m not sure if that’s possible, but I do know that in 1998, over a few days, Hurricane Mitch dumped about 70 inches on Honduras, the only other place I’d seen anything like what I was seeing today. And it would take an incredible amount of water and speed to move the large boulders I was seeing…so, yeah, I think maybe I’ll buy that it was a half a year’s rainfall in six hours.

We then traveled to an area nearby called an “evacuation center.” This is where many of the sponsored families who lost their homes had been relocated on a temporary basis. There I saw many people living in tents, but more encouraging was what Children International’s contribution of approximately $200 of plywood, two-by-fours and corrugated sheet metal could do for a sponsored family and how that could become a surprisingly good shelter.

The other thing that surprised me was the spirit and positive attitude I saw in the people in this center. People whose lives had been changed forever in a nine-hour period.

One of the sponsorship program’s “volunteer coordinators” named Ambet showed us around. She is a delightful woman…so sweet and smiling…so typical of Filipinos. She, like so many people I met there, was effusive in thanking us for all we’d done. On the contrary, I thought, it was these people who had done so much…not the least of which was to once again humble me in the presence of such quiet strength.

Almost everyone we met had a dramatic story to tell. One couple had lost two children, ages 10 and 15. Once again, something I can’t even imagine. Angie also mentioned how, in the hours and days after the storm, it was so heartrending to see people staggering around with black eyes, bruises and lacerations inflicted by this killer storm.

Another young man named J.R. had suffered an injury that had left one leg in a permanently contracted position. Fortunately, he is scheduled for surgery, which our staff coordinated. That, I expect and hope, will be a happy ending, some painful physical therapy notwithstanding.

We then traveled a couple hundred yards to the site of where we hope to build 120 homes for those now living in the evacuation center. The local Governor had stated that the goal for permanent relocation should be the closest available safe site. Zaldy explained that Children International in Legaspi agrees with this goal—so he had identified some land nearby which the owner made available at a most favorable price.

Zaldy was excited because it has electricity, water and best of all, the people will not feel displaced…they will remain in their same neighborhood, surrounded by familiar places and people, able to continue jobs they had before the typhoon. Too often, we see people relocated to distant areas where they feel very alienated…causing them to return and become “squatters” in their previous location, preferring familiarity to comfort.

Here, they will enjoy both. Along with a new house, assuming we can find the money to build them.

After visiting a few other families, Zaldy handed us off to his counterpart in our Tabaco agency, Pio. Pio’s the new guy on the block as far as Filipino CI directors go, having “only” been with the program for three years. But he’s doing a great job, and once again underscores the value of injecting a fresh perspective and energy into a program.

Pio and a few staff took me to the newly completed community center outside of Tabaco. On my last visit in 2006, construction was underway but a long way from finished. It was inaugurated last September, only to have the first typhoon visit it a week later. Then Durian came calling in November and really did some damage to it.

But they’ve rebuilt where needed, in many ways better, and it looks great today. The children and their parents who were there when I visited spoke of how much they loved and appreciated the new center. It was beyond their dreams, they said.

Pio and crew also took us to visit some families whose houses were damaged or destroyed in the typhoon. Again, I was impressed with what they were able to construct with $200 and “sweat equity,” as they call the work provided by the families themselves. I say $200 – but when I asked Pio to confirm that they spent an average of about $200 on materials for what I was seeing, he corrected me by saying they only spent an average of $192! Okay, I was being recklessly imprecise. We have emphasized accountability so much over the last 20 years, I should not be surprised at such a response.

We then saw two “multi-purpose centers” that had been built since the typhoon. Unlike the larger community centers, these small centers serve fewer children and are much more modest.

But don’t tell that to the volunteer mothers who are running them! They couldn’t be prouder of these simple but effective delivery centers. Here, doctors and dentists can visit and perform their exams and children can be fed while others write letters to sponsors. Also, gift distributions such as Special Hug and Christmas gifts are delivered at these centers.

It was great meeting those moms, even though they invariably offered some of their “local flavor” dishes for a snack. Little wonder I wasn’t needing supper after the visits of the afternoon—nothing like leaf-wrapped rice or fried banana to spoil an appetite!

Adjacent to the last center was a school in which 80 percent of the children are sponsored. I met with the principal, who first thanked me for our past support and then appealed for chemistry and biology textbooks. I promised to see what I could do and am confident I (WE!) can do something to meet that need.

As it was late in the afternoon, the children had been dismissed from school but most were still playing and socializing on the large playground. Someone suggested a picture, and one of the volunteer leaders shouted across the playground for all the sponsored children to come get in the picture. I knew terror at that moment I saw myself being stampeded by hundreds of well-meaning students! I urged Juvy, the photographer, to shoot quickly and she did. Crisis averted.

After a few good-byes, we headed back to Legaspi. On the way home, we were near Mount Mayon and the many streams that drain its slopes. It is a beautiful sight from about any perspective, but I concluded, after what I seen on this day, that it is a natural beauty best viewed and inhabited from afar…and those families who put their roots down too close to that beauty can pay a price as steep as the mountain herself.

For more photos of Jim's visit to the Philppines, check out his photo album and listen as Jim talks about his trip.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

On the Ground with Jim Cook: Images and Observations from the Philippines

Part One

The Philippines. I’m back. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 21 years since my first visit (check out the photo below), to this nation comprised of over 7,000 islands. It’s also hard to imagine that I would make as many trips here as I have. I lost count a few years ago at 25.

I just arrived yesterday in Manila. I’m now at the airport again, about to make the quick (45 minute) trip to the Bicol region, where we sponsor nearly 40,000 children in and around the cities of Legaspi and Tabaco.

The Philippines, the country where we have the largest number of sponsored children, has always been a favorite visit destination of sponsors. The U.S. presence, with military bases here until a few years ago (Clark Air Force Base and Subic Bay Naval Base), kept the Philippines in the forefront of the U.S. consciousness. Also, I reflected that when I first visited, the prominent role the Philippines played in World War II was a far less distant memory than it probably is today.

One thing about the Philippines: it’s a long, long way from the United States. From where I live in Kansas City, it’s about 26 hours of travel, door to door. It’s kind of tiring.

But it’s worth it. The Philippines is a beautiful country, full of really nice people. Sadly, many of these really nice people are living in really awful poverty, and that’s where Children International and our sponsors come in. Sponsors have been making a huge difference in the lives of the children and the families we’re helping…and the communities…and in some cases, entire islands and villages.

I really look forward to flying to Legaspi. Our staff there is led by Dr. Zaldy Abainza. Zaldy’s tenure with the organization exceeds mine; I vividly remember meeting him on that first trip 21 years ago.

Another reason I look forward to Legaspi is to once again see Mount Mayon, one of the most beautiful (and still active) volcanoes. It is a near perfect cone, rising dramatically from sea level—from the sea itself, in fact!—to a height of over 8,600 feet.

The volcano’s benign beauty belies her somewhat capricious and unpredictable behavior…her eruptions can be deadly.

Legaspi and Tabaco are also known for being in “typhoon alley,” and this well-deserved reputation is seemingly reinforced annually. In fact, one of the primary reasons for my visit is to see damage from a series of typhoons about seven months ago. These typhoons, led by “Super Typhoon” Durian (a super typhoon has winds in excess of 150 miles per hour), scoured much of the Legaspi area and, to a slightly lesser extent, Tabaco.

In its scouring, it obliterated or damaged the homes of many sponsored families. Now, Children International is not an emergency relief organization. We help children, each of whom has a special and distinct sponsor, day in and day out in a way that makes living in poverty a bit less difficult and much more hopeful.

That being said, as one member of the Board of Directors said at a meeting shortly after the typhoons: “These are our people who lost their homes; we have to do something!” I recall heads nodding around the room as the Board designated $1.5 million from our Endowment Fund to provide immediate emergency assistance to the many sponsored families who found themselves with nothing.

In addition, we received some excellent corporate donations, notably from the Fresh Produce clothing and CrocsTM shoes companies, which we were able to ship expediently to those in need.

Many concerned sponsors also sent additional contributions for special purchases that also went a long way toward making recovery faster for so many that were hurting.

So…that’s one big reason I’m here. I want to see for myself the typhoon destruction and what we’re doing to address it.

I landed in Legaspi and met with Zaldy and Pio Salvador, the director of the Tabaco agency. Pio made Children International history with his cell phone and text messaging in the aftermath of the storm!

My plane landed in the middle of a torrential downpour—it was interesting crossing the tarmac with the airline-issued umbrella doing its best to keep me dry…in vain, unfortunately. But Zaldy and Pio felt like I brought the rain and I was dubbed a hero for doing so, as it was sorely needed in the rice paddies in this heavily agriculture-dependent region!

After reviewing the plan for my visit, I ducked out of the rain and into the hotel, eager to get going in the morning.


My first full day in the Bicol area began with a glance out the hotel window to check on Mount Mayon…and it was beautiful to behold. The plume of smoke it was emitting and the rings of clouds adorning it were rose-colored in the early morning light. I snapped a picture that I hope turns out.

After a quick breakfast in the hotel, I met up with Zaldy and some staff and we headed over to the Children International office. The office is in one of our new community centers and it is good space, much improved from the cramped quarters of years prior. The center had just been opened when the typhoon of last fall hit, testing some of the construction. It held up remarkably well, but the roof was damaged and has since been repaired.

We traveled a short distance to see where the river channel from the lahar flow (lahar being the mud and sand and rock from previous volcano eruptions) devoured everything in its path. Everything included a lot of houses, only apparent now by seeing the tops of them, the rest having been filled in by the simply unimaginable amount of “stuff” that came roaring down the mountain on the tragic day back in November.

Besides the enormous quantity of the volcanic black sand and gravel, I was taken with the number and size of boulders that were also carried down the mountain – some as big as Volkswagens.

I talked to an enterprising young man at the scene who was selling postcards of various past eruptions of Mayon and the recent typhoon aftermath. He mentioned that he had been living nearby and lost his mother and a sister. A story I would hear too much on this day.

As we looked up the now-wide volcanic, black sand and gravel river channel, Zaldy pointed out a house. Only the top floor of what was a two-story house could be seen. He said that below that house, after the typhoon, a person’s moaning could be heard for a week. Rescuers dug frantically trying to get to the sound.

At this point in Zaldy’s story I was really hoping for a happy ending…I didn’t get it. They never found the person, who became another of the 600 victims who were buried by the lahar racing down the mountain and were just never heard from again.

Looking at it all, I tried to imagine the sheer terror and horror one would have experienced while witnessing it. My imagination isn’t that good…or bad. But it had to be the most violent, noisy, world-twisting, hell-on-earth that any of the survivors and the ones who died, had ever seen.

That’s all I have time for now. In my next post I’ll talk more about Durian and the way it has affected our sponsored families.

For more photos of Jim's visit to the Philppines, check out his photo album and listen as Jim talks about his trip.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Bridging the Generation Gap

Nowadays, it seems generations are moving farther and farther apart. While people of different ages have always struggled to communicate, the technology explosion of the past couple of decades – with the advent of text messaging, email and cell phones – has created languages of its own and has made it even more difficult for children and their elders to find common ground.

But a group of sponsored youth in Guatemala is proving that not everyone has yielded to the dividing influence of the generation gap. These young people recently visited a retirement home, spending time with its elderly residents and making them feel special.

Javier Cárcamo, communications coordinator for our Rural Guatemala agency, dropped me the following note about the activity:

“…A group of our sponsored youth organized a lovely social activity to benefit another group of needy and forgotten people: the elderly people in a retirement home called Cabecitas de Algodón (“Little Cottonheads”).

“This retirement home is very old and is suffering from economic limitations that have threatened in recent years to force it to close. It is maintained solely by donations from generous people who live in the city of Antigua Guatemala (meaning "Old Guatemala") and by some private businesses. The unique thing about this retirement home is that most of its residents are elderly people who were rescued from abandonment, were picked up from garbage dumps, were homeless or have been abused.

“Motivated by their role as leaders, the young people of Service Area 2 in San Lorenzo El Cubo and and Ciudad Vieja decided to hold a grocery drive for these elderly people, and they organized a visit to take them a little joy.

“Our director supported this initiative, and we provided them everything they needed to hold their activity, which included two plays and a dance presentation. Each elderly person received a small gift, and they also raffled off small gifts that were appropriate for them.

“The activity lasted more than four hours, during which they livened up the party with marimba music. The youth danced with the elderly people, who were very happy. Some of the sponsored girls gave manicures to the elderly ladies who were sick and couldn’t move, and everyone enjoyed a bit of cake and refreshments.

“Something beautiful…when the activities were over and the residents were pretty tired, each youth chose a person and dedicated themselves to listening to them. The elderly people told their stories and the young people enjoyed them.

“The young people named this initiative ‘Youth Working Together for a Smile,” and they plan to do the same thing in other retirement homes, orphanages and special care facilities.”

Three cheers for some great young people who have proven that the generation gap isn’t so wide after all!

Photos by youth photographer Manuel Xoyón, from Children International’s agency in Rural Guatemala.

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Joy of Going Barefoot

Summer has officially arrived! A season of endless daylight that inspires most children to play hard, usually barefoot, and catch cool sips of water from a garden hose when they can. Ordinarily, we don’t think twice about letting our children play without shoes or even walking around ourselves barefoot. But for children who live in unsanitary conditions year-round, walking barefoot is an invitation to become hosts to parasites.

They could be hiding in standing water, waiting to latch onto a child’s bare foot. Or they could be lurking undetected on a dirty hand, eager to make their way into a child’s mouth. Parasites are just waiting for a chance to strike.

Worms live inside many impoverished children. Poor living conditions, inadequate sanitation and contaminated water serve as prime breeding grounds. Once inside, parasites consume up to half of the nutrients that a child eats.

That’s why for more than 10 years, Children International has promoted its anti-parasite campaign in impoverished communities around the world. We help provide anti-parasite medicine to children and families who live in areas with a high risk of infection. We also take a proactive approach, providing health and hygiene education to teach families how to keep parasites from returning. Our efforts are working, and we’re having a positive impact on the health of our sponsored children.

And with a deep appreciation to our sponsors, who donate so generously each year, we can continue to distribute regular doses of anti-parasite medication to infected children and families. And maybe one day, all of our sponsored children will know the joy of playing barefoot without the worry of illness.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

World Refugee Day

June 20 is the United Nations Day to bring attention to the plight of refugees around the world. We wanted to share with you the reality of one uprooted family that we met in Colombia.
* Names and Places have been changed to guarantee the safety of the individuals.

She Kept Saying
“It’s very, very, hard here.”
Rural parts of Colombia can be violent, lawless places where armed guerrillas exact their will on a helpless, voiceless and often impoverished population. In the San Andreas region local thugs demand all residents pay a protection tax. If the fee is not honored beatings follow as punishment. For these marauding gangs, death is the inevitable compensation for failure to pay their fabricated debts.

Theresa feared for her safety and that of her four children, which she raises on her own. At 33 she had already seen and experienced many lifetimes of horror. Short on cash, but with a wealth of fear she left San Andreas and took her family into the night. With nothing but their beating hearts, the family left their ancestral home. Knowing no one, and having nothing they found a barrio (neighborhood) outside of Cartagena to call home.

Strangers have proven crucial in the rebuilding of their life. Starting from nothing, they have been able to cobble together a claustrophobic shack with a dirt floor and plank walls. Their neighbors have given them clothes and food. Two of her children have found sponsors and now have access to medical care and educational aid. Opportunities lack in this community, but she been able to find a little work washing clothes for people.

Life is a struggle for Theresa*. Even with the assistance she has received her children still go to bed hungry sometimes. She kept saying over and over in a sad refrain, “It’s very, very hard here.”

Her eyes have been drained of all joy…Theresa is a refugee. She has begun the arduous task of building life anew. She is safe now and because of her bravery her children will be able to live outside of the shadow of fear.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Meet Subhajit from India...

Subhajit, age 10, is one of our sponsored children from our Sahay agency in Kolkata (Calcutta), India. When asked what he would most like to tell his sponsor, Subhajit said, "I would like to tell my sponsor thank you and that I send them lots of love."

Have a wonderful Monday!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Celebrating Father's Day

One of the rewards of working for Children International is realizing how lucky I’ve been in my life. As Father’s Day approaches, I know I was blessed to have had a wonderful dad. He passed away in 1991, so I know the struggle of not having a father present. It’s not uncommon for children in our program to have an absentee father. Or worse, the father may be around but may be abusive, alcoholic, or unable to provide any support, financial or emotional – all of these problems compounded by living in extreme poverty.

But change is in the air. In the last couple of years, I’ve noticed more fathers in many communities actively participating in their children’s lives. They accompany the children to the community centers for events and distributions and participate in educational programs that focus on helping them become a better spouse and father. And in return, they are stepping up in their role as parent and many are giving back in their own communities.

While it’s unusual for fathers to volunteer because they are generally working to support their families, Carlos Loera Huizar from Guadalajara, Mexico, is breaking the traditional gender roles that prevail in Latin America.

Here is an excerpt from an eNews story. Click the link to read the story in its entirety:
Carlos helps support the family financially by earning money refereeing and coaching soccer teams on the weekends. He’s also a dedicated volunteer for Children International, notifying families when their sponsored children need to visit our community center to pick up a letter or gift or visit the doctor or dentist.

As a volunteer father, Carlos especially enjoys delivering letters to families informing them that their child has a sponsor and will begin receiving sponsorship benefits.

“I’m filled with happiness when I see how a person’s face changes when they hear that they have a sponsor and that they are going to be able to go to the doctor and have school supplies,” he explains.
Thanks to all of our sponsored children’s fathers, and to our own…and have a Happy Father’s Day!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Update on Awilda

[On June 7, Dayanara (our communications coordinator in Santiago, Dominican Republic) and Dr. Vargas, our agency doctor, accompanied Awilda and her mom, Jacqueline, to the Regional University Children’s Hospital for another exam. Dayanara shared the following report:]

The first thing Dr. Vargas (who had agreed to meet Awilda and her mother, Jacqueline) said upon entering the hospital was, “It looks like the hospital isn’t big enough for the population.”

We finally met Awilda, and in the middle of her greeting she said, “I’m a little nervous.” Dr. Vargas started joking with her to try to calm her. Then we continued talking about her situation, and Awilda told us, “My foot hurts a lot; I have a lot of infection. I’ve had to change my sock as many as three times a day.”

Dr. Vargas asked her, “Do you feel positive and ready for what the doctor tells you?” Awilda answered, “You’ve got to take it as it comes.”

[If you’ve never seen the conditions of public hospitals in countries with struggling economies, it can be overwhelming. Dayanara provided a vivid description of the scene that greeted her in the waiting room...]

Children in wheelchairs, crying; desperate mothers; a lot of heat; too many people – so many there weren’t enough chairs....When Dr. Vargas and I looked around the area where we were, Dr. Vargas observed, “God gives special children to strong people.”

While we were waiting, I tried to make time go by faster and break the tension by telling Awilda about the story Kelly had posted on CI’s blog. Awilda got very excited and said, “I’ll have to open an email account for all the people who will want to write me!” We all laughed. “As soon as I have money I’m going to an Internet center so I can see myself,” she added.

Finally we were able to enter the doctor’s office. He told us, “Osteomyelitis doesn’t heal; it can’t be cured. It stays alert while it messes things up.” Nutrition and rest are fundamental elements. The doctor feels that, overall, the child has alternated between good and bad progress.

[The good news, though, is that amputation is no longer being spoken of as the only alternative. There’s a fighting chance that Awilda’s foot can be saved.]

He also told us, “Were it not for the developmental stage she’s in, I would have fused her ankle; but that’s not feasible now.” He assured us that “Now the procedure will be slow. I’m happy that Children International is helping the child, because often the family can’t do what’s needed because of their financial needs.”

The doctor said that the most important part is the treatment, and he requested that CI cover Awilda’s transportation costs so she can go to the hospital instead of the having the volunteer who’s been caring for her foot at home continue to go to her house to treat her. He said that if the treatment is not done right the situation could worsen.

[Awilda will also be seeing a private specialist. Thanks to the ongoing support of her sponsor and generous donations from our readers, for the first time in years Awilda has a ray of hope.]

Would you like to share some words of encouragement with Awilda? Email them to and we'll make sure she gets them!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Meet María from Guatemala...

What do you like about visiting the community center?

I liked going to the community center when my sponsor came to visit. We went to Antigua and I got to ride a horse and visit a new place. My sponsor also brought me presents. She brought me a bear that I named Panda. – María López Guillén from Guatemala City, Guatemala.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Health in Colombia

Posted on Behalf of Marelvis Campo

Medical and dental appointments and preventive talks were given to the community of Santa Rosa de Lima to help minimize the health problems.

Children International–Colombia initiated a medical mission that was held in collaboration with TCC Colombia. TCC’s state-of-the-art mobile medical station came with four doctors and two dentists from the Universidad of Cartagena and Rafael Nuñez. They gave free care to 240 children over a two-day period.

The medical mission took place at the area where Children International’s Service Center #5 is being built. Children attended with their parents. Patients were seen in an organized way. If medications were prescribed they received them on the spot.

This activity was very important for the municipality of Santa Rosa de Lima, as this community lacks medical services. The closest medical and dental care is located in other towns that are half an hour away from Santa Rosa de Lima.

Parents of sponsored children expressed their gratitude. "This service was excellent; we are happy that our children are part of Children International because we know that every time they get sick we can take them to the doctor," says Mrs. Grisela Altamar Barrios, mother of sponsored child Edy.

There were also preventive talks to minimize the presence of common illnesses for the children of Santa Rosa de Lima. Information was distributed about the flu, respiratory illnesses, malnutrition and nutritional anemia, which are especially prevalent in the rainy season.

Marelvis Campo is Children International's communications coordinator in Cartagena, Colombia.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007


The Aycocho family is one of over 8,000 Filipino families with sponsored children who received aid totaling $4.1 million after Typhoon Durian destroyed communities in Legazpi and Tabaco late last year.

Watch as the Aycochos rebuild their home and their lives.

Monday, June 4, 2007

In My Own Words: Pam Bourgeois

As my son Gabe and I touched down on the Valparaíso tarmack, we had no idea how much our lives were about to change. We sponsor three children, Jason, Constanza and Sebastian who live here, and we were going to meet them. We were excited about finally making a real connection with our newly extended family in Chile.

We first met with Jason, who is 13 years old, and not much younger than Gabe. I am told it was a normal sponsorship visit where we traveled to his house that is little more than a shack. Like other sponsored children, Jason was very quiet but gave us a tour of his playhouse in the backyard.

His mother was overly grateful to us for helping her son. Life has been especially hard since Jason’s father abandoned the family. That’s because Jason sees a psychologist for anger and attention problems, and must take medicine to help him focus at school.

Then it was on to meet Constanza and Sebastian who are brother and sister. We brought loads of presents for the family, but it was time that we spent together – two families, so different, but so similar – that has cemented our commitment to them. We spent an afternoon at a local amusement park where the children could just be kids, even if for only a few hours.

While we were there, I had a lot of time to speak with their mother, Karla – mom to mom. She is so young, yet watches her children wake up every day to face a life of poverty. She is so strong, and she is determined to help her children have a better life.

Gabe and I will be there to help both families as much as we are able. We live comfortably and fortunately can afford to buy items we often take for granted here in the States. Jason now has a bed with linens, blankets and the medications he needs. Constanza and Sebastian have a new chest of drawers and new toys.

But it is the fact that we can make a connection and a lasting difference in these families lives that is the lesson we take away from our trip abroad.

Friday, June 1, 2007

What Sponsorship Means

In March, we shared with you a story about Vakeyia, a sponsored teen from Little Rock, Arkansas, who was awarded the Presidential Civil Service Award.

Voted valedictorian of her graduating class, Vakeyia shares with you what sponsorship has meant to her as she graduates and looks forward to college. As you’ll hear, she realizes that this time might not have come for her if it hadn’t been for the support of her sponsor.

Congratulations and best wishes to all of our graduating sponsored teens!