Monday, July 30, 2007

Design for the Other 90%

Children International writer Kevin Fleming is an aficionado of utilitarian design, believing that form should always follow function.

On a recent weekend trip to New York City, I had an opportunity to visit the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. On exhibit until September 23rd is Design for the Other 90%, which celebrates innovative designs that make life better for many people.

“Of the world’s total population of 6.5 billion, 5.8 billion people, or 90%,have little or no access to most of the products and services many of us take for granted; in fact, nearly half do not have regular access to food, clean water, or shelter. Design for the Other 90% explores a growing movement among designers to design low-cost solutions for this “other 90%.”

Most of the designs are elegant in their simplicity. The exhibit is inspiring and left me with a feeling that with creativity, imagination and heart we can find solutions for many of the world’s problems.

Here are a few of my favorites:

The Q Drum is made of durable plastic. Its design enables one person to transport 75 liters of water.
A cooling effect happens as the water evaporates from the sand, which is in between these two ceramic pots. The pot-in-pot cooler enables produce like tomatoes to last for 21 days instead of 2 or 3.The Bamboo Treadle Pump is two simple pistons, which can be completed with available materials like bamboo. Access to groundwater can guarantee success for crops, even when the clouds aren’t cooperating.

(Photos courtesy of Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum.)

Friday, July 27, 2007

Picture Perfect

Original artwork by Rosa Maria Guerra, at age 11, from Rural Guatemala.

Last year marked the 10th anniversary of the Children International Art Contest. Each year, we ask our agencies around the world to encourage sponsored children to submit artistic entries about a given theme. Then each agency sends its favorite artwork to our office in Kansas City, Missouri. To learn more about this contest, check out the slide show by visiting our video and slideshow archive by clicking here. The Art Contest slideshow can be found on the lower right hand side of the page.

The contest is happening again in a matter of weeks and we'll be sure to share with you the outstanding entries from our many talented sponsored children!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Membership Not Required

Poverty is a club of which no one would like to be a member. No matter where you are – Asia, Africa, South America – the uniform is eerily the same, as well as the decor, the lodging, the dialogue, the smell…

-Half of the world’s population lives on two dollars a day.

-Over one billion people live on less than a dollar a day.

-6% of the world enjoys 60% of the world’s wealth, while 94% splits the other 40%.

-Every day 30,000 people die from extreme poverty.

-Every 3 seconds a child dies from a preventable disease.

When an impoverished child lies down to a night’s sleep, what fills their dreams? Do they fly through skies of blue and try to touch the moon? Do they run barefoot in fields of grass? Is there a warm hug of stew and fresh bread, the laughing of their parents and friends? I hope they are not thirsty in their dreams. I hope there is not danger in their dreams. I hope for at least some time each night, they can feel safe and warm and clean and full…in their dreams.(Facts according to the World Bank.)

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Face Behind the Fence

Written by CJ Tarroja, Communication Coordinator in Quezon City, Philippines

Working for a humanitarian organization is an exercise in conscientiousness and judgment. You must take the utmost in care to see things as they are, then push the limits of assistance, yet still recognize that moment when you can’t do anything anymore. I discovered this during a recent trip to the Bicol province to distribute material aid to families affected by Super Typhoon Durian, which buried villages from the once bountiful region after it lashed the province in late November.

We had just completed a distribution to over 8,000 sponsored families in Tabaco. The next day, we headed for a evacuation center located at an elementary school. This time, our beneficiaries were non-sponsored families; these are families whose children do not receive regular benefits from Children International.

The crowds anticipated the start of the distribution with a bit of confusion in their faces and hope in their eyes. In the hustle and the bustle of the preparations, a ghostly image of a thin boy with the saddest eyes caught my attention, his chin nestled against a wire fence.

The image would make for a moving photo, I initially thought, so I immediately asked him if I could take his photo. I thought I saw his eyes brighten just for one swift moment. He obliged by nodding his head shyly, but did not budge. Only his eyes flickered, following the lens of my camera as I took various shots.

After putting away my camera, I came forward and asked his name. “Cindy,” the child said softly. “Cindy?” I double-checked to make sure. By this time, other children were swarming around the child, curious about why I was taking pictures and asking questions. “Yes, her name is Cindy!” they answered in chorus. It was a bit funny, I thought, as I looked at the child closely and slowly discovered a trace of girlishness behind the short hair and straight boyish body.

I laughed and tactlessly apologized by saying she looked like a boy to me. “She’s a girl, and she’s my sister,” a voice from behind quipped. It turned out to be Cindy’s elder sister Sandra.

I was intrigued by this child. First, that she turned out to be a girl, and on a deeper level, by her very sad eyes. I wanted to get to know her and instead of just asking where she lives, I asked if she would accompany me to her home so I could see where she lived. Cindy eagerly led the way into a row of raised round tents.

Walking around, I saw larger ones serving as communal shelters for several families as well as pup tents intended for two persons but crammed with up to five family members inside. Intended to serve as transit homes to displaced families, these tents have been their home for over half a year now.

Arriving at Cindy’s tent, I met her parents and I discerned a similarity, the same sad eyes that evoke of desperation, loss, and uncertainty. Her mother, Digna, was holding a sick infant in her arms while her father, Salvador, was busy sorting piles of old clothes to throw in the wash bin.

The heat was tempered by drizzle that would drench the top of the tent from time to time. Even though it was midday, there was no sign of a meal being prepared. Clearly, there was none, as the pots and pans were still hanging conveniently in their places in a bamboo holder behind the tent.

“There is nothing to cook,” Digna confessed when I inquired what she planned to serve the children for lunch. The infant in her arms already had her fill of boiled rice beverage from a neighbor’s pot, and that is all that mattered that day. As for the couple and their six other children, bread sold in a nearby variety store for one Philippine peso per piece would have to sustain them until supper. And besides, everybody was excited about the donation and wouldn’t want to miss it for the pesky task of cooking.

I felt my stomach start to quiver. I had a full breakfast at the hotel before our team geared up for the distribution and yet, my body was reminding me that it would soon need the second meal of the day to get by. I looked at the family, their faces beaming with anticipation at the sight of opened donation boxes, yet their stomachs were empty.

Neatly arranged inside the tent were the family’s sparse belongings like a sleeping mat, sheets and pillows and personal belongings. Hospitable in any situation, the couple humbly requested that I get inside and have a seat. I wanted to know what the product distribution was like from inside the tent, and so I did. From the cramped “home” with hardly anything inside but old things and bland loneliness, the bulging donation boxes overflowing with colorful new clothing and footwear was definitely eye-candy.

Inside, Cindy showed me the space where she sleeps. “Do you like it here?” I asked her. She said yes, with all the honesty of a 9-year-old. Obviously, for Cindy and the hundreds of children that swarmed the camps day in and day out, life is just like playing house. But the gloom in their eyes reveals the inner turmoil and uncertainty about the chaos that surrounds them.

Cindy’s family belongs to about 1,000 families still occupying the elementary school in Daraga, one of the remaining 15 evacuation camps out of the 80 that the government designated for more than 20,000 families displaced by Typhoon Reming. Their house was among the 93,008 houses that were totally destroyed.

At the height of the typhoon, Cindy’s family found themselves among the initial hundreds of families that were sent to evacuation centers. Their camp at the school is actually one of the two most damaged schools in the community. Despite this, any available classroom meant shelter to hundreds of people, who are still grateful to find refuge, even if it does have a damaged roof, walls and windows. As most of the schools and public establishments were also damaged, the government supplied more than 1,300 tents from local and international sources and created tent cities near schools.

Six months after the tragedy, food and clothing distributions have been few and far between. Digna told me the last food rations they received was about a month ago, consisting of canned goods and three kilos of rice from a religious foundation. During the first few weeks following the devastation, the evacuees received food like sardines, noodles, milk, coffee and biscuits two to three times a week. These days, the families generally provide for themselves. The frail mother acknowledged that food rations, which has sustained them for the most of their stay in the evacuation center will soon have to stop completely.

The same is true about their tent house, and this reality brings out fear in Digna. “I don’t know where we will live. We do not have land or money to construct a new house. We have relatives but they are also poor,” she says, bursting into tears that are quickly wiped away, probably realizing that there is nothing she can do.

Everyday, Salvador tries his chance at freelance construction jobs, which are surging after the government released over 1 billion Philippine pesos to speed up rehabilitation of much needed infrastructures in the region. Some days, he is lucky. Still, so many men like him are also eager for work. On lean days, he has to be resourceful, scouring the lands nearby looking for grown vegetables and fruits. “It is never enough,” he said.

It doesn’t take much asking to identify what the remaining evacuees have to deal with everyday. The problems are right there, staring you in the face – water, electricity, sanitation, waste disposal. I had Cindy’s older sister, Sandra, show me where they bathed, and I was led to a communal latrine with one low toilet seat. There is no lighting and the cemented floor is constantly wet. They share this latrine with 50 or more families a day.

Other problems remain – food and clothing, no source of income and health risks. Although the evacuation camps have clinics, the congestion and flimsy shelter that the tents provide leave the evacuees vulnerable to many diseases. At the time, Digna and Salvador are suffering from chronic cough, while the children regularly have colds. I offered the only solace I could: that housing projects for evacuees are being prioritized by the government, and hopefully, they will be eligible for one soon. Until that time, I suspect their stay in the tent compound is indefinite.

Despite the uncertainty of their future, Salvador said he is still looking forward to a good life for his family. His daughter, Sandra, dreams of becoming a teacher someday. But with her schooling interrupted, it may remain just that, a dream. Cindy, too, would like to teach small children how to read and write though, at age 9, she needs more education on these skills herself. Perhaps it is her way of expressing her own desire to be reading, singing, playing and learning again.

When it is time for me to leave the tent compound, Cindy and Sandra run after me. They tell me their mother wants to say “thank you.” Cindy, in her usual shy voice, then tells me her mom wonders if I can help send them back to school, or even get a house. I looked back toward the tent and see their mom busy hanging wet clothes to dry, her head purposely turned away from me.

I tell the kids to let their mom know that I don’t have the money or the means to provide for the specific help she’s asking. But I lean toward Cindy and tell her I will try to help in other ways. And that is what I am doing now. With neither the money nor the position to give them something that will alleviate their suffering, I will try to tell the world their story and, hopefully, someone who can do much more will care.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Meet María from Barranquilla...

What is your favorite thing about coming to your community center?

"What I like most about the community center is that I get
to play and read in the library."
– Maria, age 8 from Barranquilla, Colombia

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

What a Wonderful World

Zompopos de Mayo

Every year during the months of May and June the zompopos return. Zompopos are gigantic ants. Each morning they exit the comfort of their subterranean homes as children in rural Guatemala race to capture them, treating this insect like candy being thrown from a parade float.Many people in rural Guatemala have affection for this annual culinary treat. The Zompopos are high in fat and protein. Stripped of their legs and wings they are fried and put on a tortilla. Aficionados swear by their rich nutty flavor. The annual harvest is not only delicious, but also very useful.The zompopos tend to attack the root systems of fruit trees and vegetables, which can compromise the valuable harvest. The collection of these bugs has proven to be more potent than any pesticide. Poor families who benefit from this free protein source also enjoy the supplementary income. One pound of these ants sells for about 40 Quetzal or $5usd.

In many places around the world insects provide an indispensable source of nourishment. Termites, grasshoppers, crickets, grubs, cicadas (to name a handful) are classified as micro livestock whose nutrient value keeps millions of our fellow human beings from becoming malnourished.

Here at Children International we like to celebrate the diversity of the world, believing that it is our differences that make the world such an interesting, dynamic and magical place.

As the locusts howl and crickets chirp think of the zompopos and smile.

Special thanks to Javier Cárcamo of our Guatemala office for his reporting assistance.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Great News on Awilda!

For those of you who have been following Awilda's story, I want to share a heart-warming report. A few days go, we received the following information from our agency in Santiago:

Thanks to the wide-spectrum antibiotics from our clinic that our doctors prescribed, the culture on Awilda came back negative. No pathogenic microorganisms were found. It only showed that she once had an infection, and that she once had osteomyelitis.

"Few children reach this stage -- most have to undergo amputation... We hope she will continue like this," said Dr. Vargas as she excitedly gave us the good news.

At this time, Awilda will take other medications for 5 days. They are treating her foot daily, and will do so over the period of one month. Afterwards, she will undergo an evaluation by an orthopedic doctor to determine what next steps should be taken. They will buy her some special inserts for her shoe to minimize irritation to the foot (they are getting estimates for them now).

Awilda is very close to the hearts of the Children International team that visited her in May, to the Santiago agency and to others here at the home office in Kansas City -- and of course to her sponsor. And, as evidenced by the generous donations and expressions of concern we have received, it's also clear she's gotten close to the hearts of our readers!

This is a remarkable case where saving Awilda's foot and eradicating her osteomyelitis (something doctors were saying was virtually impossible when we were there) is, I believe, directly attributable to the scrutiny and attention this case received from Children International and all of you, our friends on the blog.


Friday, July 13, 2007

Beyond the Cake and Candles...

From Arlene DeVera, our Communications Coordinator in Manila, Philippines

Ten-year-old Nelnel belongs to a big family. He has six siblings and is the third among them. His father earns a living by driving a pedicab. It’s a bicycle with a covered cart which is the common mode of transportation in poor urban areas, where streets are narrow and can ideally only accommodate three passengers. His dad is the family’s sole provider who earns about US$4 per day. There are days though that he goes home with no money because his pedicab needs repair or authorities do not allow them to use certain routes.

Nelnel’s mother shared that she has never bought her son new clothes. They rely on relatives’ generosity for her children’s clothes. Her greatest challenge, aside from looking after seven children all by herself, is how to stretch the family’s budget to allow them three meals a day. Both Nelnel and his mother were deeply touched by the generous donations that allowed him to receive a birthday gift through Children International.

Nelnel said, “It’s hard to describe the feelings. I did not know how it is receiving a birthday gift. Money always determines whether I get to celebrate my birthday extra-ordinarily or just one of those days. If we have money, my mom cooks pansit but if we don’t have, my mom and dad just say happy birthday! (Pansit is a noodle dish sautéed with carrots, cabbage and soy sauce traditionally prepared during birthdays to signify long and healthy life.)

It’s great to receive new clothes for my birthday! It makes me feel good and special. Now I knew the feeling of wearing a new pair of pants and shirt which I myself picked and really like. It makes you feel like a movie star. I could now confidently attend events in school in my best attire. Before, it felt embarrassing to attend important school activities in my uniform. Some children in school looked at me and made me feel odd as they wondered why I was in uniform.”

Cyril, Nelnel’s mother said, “I am so grateful to my child’s sponsor for helping us out. My child gets to experience the joy of shopping for new clothes. He fills in the gaps that I’d love to do but could not afford to provide. Seeing Nelnel as he excitedly went from one clothes rack to another was a joy in itself! I am sorry that I can not provide for him this kind of experience but I’m glad that his sponsor generously gives. When Nelnel grows up, it would be nice that there are moments like this which could make him smile while looking back.”

Thanks to our generous sponsors who give children like Nelnel a chance to experience the joy of a receiving a birthday gift...sometimes the only birthday gift they will receive.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Investing in Tomorrow

If you’ve been acquainted with Children International for very long, you are most likely aware that our work targets areas where people live in extreme poverty. Our primary focus is uniting individual sponsors with individual children, and using this network of support to provide access to essential services such as health and dental care, educational assistance and nutritional rehabilitation to the more than 320,000 children we serve.

But we also have more far-reaching goals. Eventually, we’d like to do such a good job of helping reduce and eliminate poverty that we put ourselves out of a job.

With the degree of poverty that exists in the world, that’s not likely; but we can make a real difference. And that’s why we take our youth program so seriously. We feel we have the most outstanding youth program in existence – bar none. Our staff around the world is pouring its efforts into providing quality training in values formation, vocational education, career counseling and leadership for our young people…and it’s paying off.

One year ago we brought two youth delegates from each agency with a mature youth program to our International Youth Conference in Kansas City. These delegates were democratically elected by their peers to attend the conference – with the expectation that they would then return to their home countries and share their new-found skills in leadership, teambuilding and participation with the thousands of other young people who make up our youth program around the world. And from the reports we’re receiving, they’re doing a great job of living up to that expectation.

While they were here in Kansas City, the delegates got together and made a recording. The remarkable thing is that at least three or four languages were represented in the group, and only about half of the group could communicate with each other in a common language. But that didn’t stop these outstanding kids! Click on the video below to see and hear them sing the Conference’s theme song, “Sing It to the Mountains.”

Monday, July 9, 2007

In The Tondo

If you are a reader of Journeys, Children International’s magazine about sponsorship and the changes it is making around the world, no doubt you’re familiar with Scott Cotter. Scott is a long-time writer for Children International and has traveled around the world covering the work we do and the children and families we serve. One of Scott’s most notable pieces in recent issues dealt with the plight of families living in the Bagbag cemetery in Manila, Philippines.

On that same trip, Scott visited a neighborhood called The Tondo. The impact it made on him will forever remain etched in his mind…and heart. In a slideshow he put together shortly after his return, Scott narrates what it felt like to stand in this community where overcrowding, disease and poverty compete with hope…a hope that, in some cases, only sponsorship provides.

Cramped quarters: Scott sits on the floor of a tiny home in The Tondo as he conducts an interview.

Click here to visit Children International’s video and slideshow archive, where you may select “Life on the Line” and experience The Tondo with Scott as he shares his thoughts in a compelling slideshow.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Meet Sumana from India

“I want to be a nurse when I grow up and look after people in my village. That way I do not have to leave my village, which I love very much.”

Photos by Nivedita Moitra, our communications coordinator in Calcutta (Kolkata), India.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Creating Independence

Today, all across the United States, flags are flying, bands are playing and fireworks are noisily celebrating the day our country declared itself free and independent. Thanks to the sacrifices – sometimes even of their own blood – our forefathers made, we enjoy the freedom to live, work and worship according to our own consciences.

But millions around the world still live under the iron fist of a pervasive, cruel tyrant…known as poverty. Each day is another test of endurance…another struggle to just stay alive.

But thanks to the kindness and generosity of people like you – our Children International sponsors – progress is being made. Destinies are being changed and the victims of poverty are being shown a more hopeful future…one life at a time.

Sponsorship is far more than simply handing out material goods. An integral part of sponsorship is teaching children and families to become self-sufficient. Through basic benefits like health and dental care, educational assistance, nutritional support, vocational training and micro-enterprise loans to deserving children and their families, the Children International sponsorship program is bringing change to individual families and, in some cases, entire communities.

Watch the video below to see how the power of sponsorship helped one family get the upper hand in their own private battle against poverty.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Netting A Profit

By Deron Denton

The full moon sinks over the horizon as six men leave shore. Like an unseen fog, the smell of saltwater and fish hangs in the humid air. The mighty Ganges River bleeds into the Indian Ocean just south of here. All signs indicate it will be a good day for fishing: the sky and the waters are calm and clear.

Life is not easy on this small Indian island of Maipith, in the Bay of Bengal. The poverty here is rampant and ruthless. Opportunities to overcome it are scarce. Many heads of households struggle as daily laborers…considering it a good day when they earn enough to feed their children a second meal.

For years, the ineffectual grind of bare subsistence was a daily fact for six fathers and their families. And although the sponsorship program made life better for their children, it appeared dire poverty would be a reality for the rest of their lives.

Tossing the Net

Today – thanks to the generosity of a sponsor’s donation – these men are leaving shore as self-employed fishermen in a boat they jointly own. Their catches and the ensuing profits are also equally distributed. As a result of the families’ improved standards of living, their children also stand a better chance of breaking through the barriers of poverty.

Jaime “Jay” Rubin, a long-time Children International sponsor, funded this unique community project. The fishing boat gift is just one example of how proactive his philanthropic spirit is: Jay has funded numerous community projects in the past.

Ratan Bairagi, one of Jay’s six sponsored children, is the son of a fisherman. Last year, Jay inquired with Eric Newman, from Children International’s Sponsor Services department, if there were any community projects that needed funding in Ratan’s neighborhood.

The six fathers had all been fishermen in the past, but none owned a boat. Ratan’s father, Bholanath, explained, “Sometimes I would go out on the river in other people’s boats to help with the fishing. But my earnings would be very low.” So, he continues, when the staff asked “whether I had any special need which I could also share with others, I voted for a boat and net.”

The other parents enthusiastically agreed this would be the most productive and economical use of community funding. When the proposal was submitted for the sponsor’s approval, Jay readily endorsed and financed the project.

Since receiving the boat and fishing net in December 2004, six families – a total of 29 persons – have seen their household incomes nearly double. It was a compassionate donation of about $1,500…not a terribly large sum to many, but a life-altering gift to those who received it.

Reeling It In

With the sun setting over the bay, the men are exhausted and sore…but content. It has been a good day for fishing. Though they’ve had larger catches, they have also had smaller ones. Such is life as a fisherman. And it is a life these men and their families are grateful to be living.

“Feeding a big family is always very hard,” said Bholanath, “but now I feel lighter and happier.”

Returning to shore in their motorized boat, a small yellow sign catches the light of the sun. The sign serves as a reminder of how this dream became real: Painted in the color of ocean blue, Jaime Rubin’s name glows brightly.