Friday, September 28, 2007


On, we recently featured a slideshow which contained sponsor Marci Wulf's personal photos and her first person account of what it was like for her and her husband Ryan to vist their sponsored child in a village outside of Calcutta, India. Our conversation was so illuminating that we wanted to print a condensed version of Marci expressing her views and outlooks on a variety of subjects.

On Begging:
We got stopped by a train track on our way in, there was about ten little kids tapping on the windows, showing their sad faces and it’s definitely disconcerting to have that happen and probably if that would have been my first experience I would have been really troubled by it, but I’ve done a lot of traveling and have had these kind of experiences before. You know I really believe that if you give a little bit of money it just makes a temporary change, but if you give money in a way that people can use to help themselves through education or community programs, it’ll make a more lasting change and so I had a policy as I travel to not indulge too much in handing out cash as I move along.

I remember the first time I went to Cambodia, going across the border, there were tons of little kids come running up to you and they show you their sad faces and they look dirty and they have their hands out. And instead (of giving them money) I would always play with them, smile back at them or make faces. I was always surprised at how quickly they forgot they were supposed to be getting money and just want to play with you because they are just little kids. We had a really fun time with these kids as we crossed the borders. I would make a point to donate money to an organization that was doing work there, but I’d try not to give money to the kids themselves, because I don’t want their parents to be encouraged to keep sending them out.

On Entering Rinki’s Village:
She’s in a small village, that’s outside of Calcutta that is very green and lush. It was quite poor, there was a lot of little children on our way in that would come running up to the car and beg as we go along. Once we got into her village outside of the little town area and back into where she lived, there was a lot of single or two room homes attached together, that her family members lived in. All of her family was there; aunts and uncles came to meet us. I’d seen these type of living conditions before, so it wasn’t shocking to me by any means, they have a really small, simple home and they do their best to keep it clean and take care of it and make do with what they have.

On Sponsorship:
I definitely believe in the value of education, and I know that the money I give to the organization (Children International) helps her to go to school and get the materials and the uniforms that she needs and so I definitely see an impact in that portion. When I was there they also brought out all the functional gifts that the family had received through being part of the program. Whether it was a blanket or pot or pans, or everyday useful items. And I really believe in that type of charity, I don’t like that word. But I think that functional gifts, things that are going to be used day to day are the kind of things that need to happen.

I was also really impressed, they told me a little bit about some of the community programs that they have there that they have there, the organization (Children International) creates with the moms of the sponsored kids and some of the programs that the moms have come up with to help improve the circumstances of their community and I think that that is really fantastic way to make a lasting change for a group of people and to get moms involved to better their own community. That’s a way to really make changes, to empower people to change it for themselves.

On Rinki’s Future:
I really want her to continue in school and I want her to wait to get married. It’s part of their culture, they get married younger, they have the arranged marriages in India, and her sister just got married and her sister just finished her school, she’s 17 maybe 18. And want Rinki to finish school, and I really want her to go to college and I’m encouraging her in that direction in the letters that I write. Because I want her be able to help improve her circumstances, and the circumstances of those around her and that’s really the way to do it. She writes me letters that she is interested in it and she is learning English. Finishing school and also being able to speak English is really important skills in the world today and in India as well. So, I’d really love to see her to be able to grow up before she gets married and be able to get some information and be in a position to help improve her circumstances in her community, instead of being a victim of the circumstances.

On Children International:
I’m always recommending it to my friends that they sponsor children because it I feel like people who want to make a contribution, it feels more worthwhile when you see what happens with your contribution, when you can actually see the results and talk to a person and have that personal contact. I really think that is an excellent way to involve people in helping.

I like the way that Children International goes about the program. I like that they include everybody in all the activities whether or not their sponsors give extra money. I like that they keep their sponsors involved in what is happening in the country of the kids they are sponsoring. I’ve also been impressed with the way Children International is so forthcoming with their funding. Every year we get a report on how funding comes out. I’ve spent a lot of time working with nonprofits and I really appreciate that transparency in an organization.

I actually have a second child that I sponsor from Zambia now; it’s a younger girl. I’ve been really happy with how Children International runs their programs and we had a great experience in India going with the regional officer directly, and so I would absolutely recommend Children International to everyone. I haven’t seen any flaws so far.

On International Connections:
I think everybody should do more travels and especially if you can go to a place where you can know somebody who lives there and make a relationship with that person, I think that that would do a lot to help improve the circumstances in our world. You know, I’m optimistic.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Well Worth a Thousand Words...

The old adage is so true: a picture really is worth a thousand words. Javier Cárcamo, communications coordinator for our Rural Guatemala agency, worked his magic with the camera to help us meet Hilda Leticia and her mother.

Hilda Leticia is a sponsored child from the Mayan culture that is prevalent in Guatemala. Notice the intricate designs of the clothing she and her mom are wearing. These are typical, handmade Mayan garments that are very much a part of their culture and identity.

Hilda had this to say: "The thing that makes me feel most thankful to the [Children International sponsorship] program is that they help my mother and me; they help us to be in good health and to get a lot of things such as gifts, kitchen tools and clothing…

"They also help me to go to school; and when I come back from school I have the opportunity to help my mother to sell corn, beans and guisquil (a thorny, starchy, potato-like vegetable)."

Monday, September 24, 2007

Weathering the Storm

Posted on behalf of Scott Cotter

A gentle rain started falling and everyone just ignored it. The drops made a rhythmic lilt on the metal rooftop of the Quito community center. Looking out one of the windows, we could see that most of the families queuing up to receive school supplies were getting wet but they hadn’t sought cover…yet.

Maybe living day in and day out with Mother Nature in almost total control over their lives and belongings tempered their response to the rain.

Then the sound started getting louder. Much louder. As the drizzle turned into a downpour and finally mixed with hail, the families ran for cover; and as floodwaters started pouring into the community center and staff scrambled to help the children and parents, I ran for the window with my recorder so I could report on what I was seeing and hearing.

Along with the audio clip I recorded while watching that storm dump sheets of rain on Quito, CI photographer Jennifer Spaw tried to capture, as best she could with limited mobility, what that storm was like.

Friday, September 21, 2007


I recently had the pleasure of meeting sponsored youth Jimmy Pizza. He was tutoring children at the Children International community center in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Jimmy came from a place saturated with negativity and pain. Recruited by gangs, he chose the path of virtue.

Seeing faces light up as he walks into a room made me think of one of my favorite poems - "IF," by Rudyard Kipling.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream--and not make dreams your master,
If you can think--and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings--nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much,
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!

--Rudyard Kipling

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

An Experience Beyond Belief...

Last week Clayton Yearns, a Children International staff member, visited our Guayaquil agency and met his own sponsored child, 5 year old Narcisa, for the first time. Here is what Clayton wrote as he recalled his special visit:

I just got done with my child visit, and it was an experience beyond belief!

I was afraid that a 5-year-old girl would be terrified of a stranger, but the visit started off with a great big hug and a card like she had known me for years. The card read (if I can read her writing) "te quiero y espero que te guste esta tarjeta que la hice con mucho cariño para usted" which means "I love you and I hope that you like this card that I made with much love for you." It also contained a drawing of Narcisa, my sponsored child, with a great big smile.

I was so overwhelmed with how beautiful she and her family were that I almost forgot that I had brought them any gifts. I handed dolls to Narcisa and her sister, Kayla, along with colored pencils and paper, and gave their mother towels and washcloths.

As expected I was in awe without questions to ask, but I managed to finally start asking questions as well as telling her much about me and my life. I found out that Narcisa is already in the 1st grade because she was too advanced for Kindergarten. She remembered from my first letter that I had cats and wanted to know more about them. I also showed her pictures of Mickey, my dog, but I guess she is more of a kitty person, as she talked about her cat a lot.

I told them that I had their letters and pictures on my fridge at home; I have more pictures of her than I do of my own family! And I wanted her to know that I felt bad for not writing enough, but now that the family was "real" to me I would be sure to write on a more regular basis.

Narcisa and Kayla drew pictures for me, and Narcisa insisted that I draw a picture, too. I forewarned her that I could not draw but I drew her and me anyway with a note that read "I'm sorry I can't draw and I'm sorry that I don't speak Spanish."

"I don't understand anything he is saying," she spoke lightly in Spanish to her mother, perhaps disappointed that she couldn't talk directly to me. It was heartbreaking to see her sad as I think she was looking forward to it. However, my translator did a phenomenal job.

The time we spent together went by too fast. After many hugs, kisses, pictures and videos, it was time to say good-bye. As I walked out of the building trying not to cry, something grabbed onto me. It was Narcisa wanting to say one last good-bye. Even after I was on the bus, she was at the office door waving good-bye.

It is hard to comprehend how much of an impact you can have on someone for a few dollars a month and a few moments of your time. I would like to think now that since I have visited her city, our facilities, and seen the dire poverty that exists there that I have at least a mild idea of how I impact her life. I'm sure I still can't truly understand and, sadly, I never will be able to. But I can at least try. I know that I comprehend enough that when I get teary eyed about her situation, I could do more for her and her family.

The people in Ecuador are beyond generous, and Narcisa and her family would most likely rather me help another family than just focus on them. They are selfless people and if everyone would aspire to be as selfless at them, then just perhaps the world might not have as many problems anymore. Well, we can all dream, can't we?

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Comfort of a Hug

September 17 is a special day at Children International. It’s the day we celebrate each year as “Special Hug Day”…and chances are you’ve received something in the mail about it.

Special Hug Day is probably one of the Children International initiatives people know the least about. But for the families of our sponsored children, it’s a big deal. Our sponsorship program unites a single sponsor with a single child, so most of what we do is necessarily child-centered; however, on Special Hug Day we do something special for the whole family. Because the children are so poor, they rarely if ever are able to give gifts to their parents and siblings, so this is the one day each year they can feel like they are directly responsible for something good coming to their families.

The gifts we give for Special Hug Day are practical items – so practical, in fact, that some might wonder why they’re so special. We might not find chairs, shelves, pans, dishes or other household supplies very exciting, but just last week I saw some things that put it all in perspective.

I just returned from Cartagena, Colombia, where we spent several days working in La Ciénaga de la Virgen (the Swamp of the Virgin), one of the poorest and most desolate areas of Cartagena. This is an area that routinely floods to depths of 3 or 4 feet during the rainy season…and the flimsy shacks the families of our sponsored children live in are demolished by the floods, leaving the families to start over from scratch each year.

Children swarmed around us, practically fighting over our empty plastic water bottles. I asked one little girl who very politely asked if she could have mine what she wanted it for. She told me she wanted it so she could take a drink to school.

In another community we met a sweet little girl named Veronica. Veronica’s dad was murdered a couple of years ago, and her mom was in the hospital when we met her. Her family has a single bed to sleep in and only one chair.

That’s why Special Hug Day is such a big deal.

By giving families items that provide a basic level of comfort, we increase their dignity and make their incredibly difficult lives just a little bit easier. So why not swing by Children International’s website and learn more about Special Hug Day and how you can send someone needy the comfort of a hug?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Almost Hell

Posted on behalf of Damon Guinn of Children International.

Another day has dawned in Kanyama, Zambia, and Shadreck Mukanjo waits outside his cracked mud hut for customers. Squatting on his haunches, he digs in the dirt with a cobbler’s tool and surveys the baked surroundings.

He’s sent his sons, Mukanjo and Biemba, to school, and now he has all the time in the world. But there isn’t a customer in sight. Who in this community of shoeless stragglers has any need for a cobbler?

Shadreck lifts himself with a heavy sigh. Hefting the weight of the world can be hard on the bones, and his are growing weary from worry. How will he ever earn the 20,000 kwacha (about $5) to pay the rent on his crumbling hut, he thinks to himself. The owner will surely come and threaten to evict them again, he frets.

It’s hard for Shadreck to imagine a greater insult than being evicted from a hut with listing walls and a huge crack that threatens to collapse the whole place at any moment. The hut’s so grim, he and his sons have spent nights trapped in a corner, waiting out the rains that flood the dirt floor. Then a disturbing thought creeps in...What if he and his sons are are buried alive when the house finally collapses?

Life has not been kind to Shadreck and his sons. Ever since his wife died and he lost his job more than 10 years ago, each day has been like purgatory. Shadreck does everything he can to scrape together 2,000 kwacha (about 50 cents) a day repairing shoes, but it’s hardly enough to cover both food and rent. There have been days when they don’t eat anything at all and must turn to their neighbors for help.
Waiting is nothing new to Shadreck...waiting for work, waiting for food...but waiting for impending disaster is hell. At least his sons have found some peace, some happiness. They are both sponsored, and the support they receive helps clothe them and keep them healthy. The fact that they are both in school definitely gives Shadreck a reason to be thankful. Having two sons in school is not common in these parts.

“My hope lies in the future of these children,” Shadreck has said reassuringly when asked about his family’s circumstances. Their future is certainly guaranteed, he believes, now that they have help from sponsorship.

And yet, there’s always a gnawing fear that he and his sons will be evicted or the house will collapse on them. But all he and his sons can do is wait. Maybe someday, Shadreck ponders to himself, they’ll find some saving grace...their waiting will end, and they’ll know what it feels like to be safe and secure.

Writer’s Note:
I met Shadreck and his sons a year ago. I had wanted to meet him ever since I heard about our staff’s first attempt to enroll Biemba and Mukanjo in sponsorship. Frustrated and enraged, Shadreck had chided our field officer, exclaiming, “I don’t know how many NGOs have come to my house to get information about me and my family, but look at my life, it hasn’t improved in any way!”

One look at his hut and Shadreck’s hostility seemed entirely justified. Their home wouldn’t even make a decent storeroom. Other groups had come and gone, leaving locals without so much as a trace of support. Why should Shadreck trust a group like ours when so many others failed to help?

During my visit, Shadreck confessed, “I trust CI because of the wonderful gifts I have been receiving together with my children and the services the organization offers.” At that moment, I desperately wanted the power to tell him we’d build him a new house. Unfortunately, regular sponsorship can only do so much.

My hope is that by writing this story, someone out there might feel compelled to build a new home for Shadreck and his sons. For them, even the simplest new home would be heaven on earth.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Incremental Change in Mexico

Posted on behalf of Erin Fitzgerald of Children International.

More than a year has passed since I first met the Ponce family in Guadalajara, Mexico. But I can recall the family’s house, the smell of poverty and the sound of suffering like it was yesterday.

When I visited the Ponces, 18 people lived together in a tiny shack with dirt floors and an open fire to cook food. Several family members were plagued with health problems, which only made it more difficult for them to provide adequate food, clothing and shelter for their children. Ana María was pregnant with her fifth child, and life didn’t seem like it could get much worse.

Since we initially reported their story in our Spring 2007 issue of Journeys magazine, several sponsors and donors have sent generous contributions to help the family. With their assistance, Children International was able to provide the family with new clothing, shoes, food, and more.

Earlier this summer, our communications coordinator in Mexico sent an update on the family. Here’s what we have learned:

  • Ana María, her husband and children are now living with her mother-in-law and father-in-law in a two-bedroom house with a concrete floor – a major improvement over the old shack, which had dirt floors and didn’t keep out the rain.

  • The house doesn’t have potable water, but it does have a cistern to accumulate water during the rainy season.

  • Thanks to a donation from Children International, the family cooks with a small electrical stove, a safer method of preparing food than the open fire they once used.

  • Ana María’s baby, Natalia, is now about 8 months old and appears healthy but hasn’t yet received all her vaccines.

  • Celia, Ana María’s mother-in-law, is better able to control her epilepsy because Children International has provided her with needed medicine.

  • Lupita, Celia’s young daughter who suffers from cerebral palsy, received a wheelchair from the municipal government and is expected to undergo therapy. She looks well and has grown.
Many thanks to the sponsors and donors who have helped provide the Ponces with the basic essentials of life that no one should be without. This family is so poor and uneducated that it’s impossible for special donations and sponsorship support to bring about vast improvements immediately. But with contributions over the long-term, little by little their lives will improve. And hopefully when the Ponce children are grown, they’ll have an easier life than their parents.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Behind the Scenes at Children International: Smiling Voices At Your Service

I hate talking to machines.

In this age of technology where automation equals efficiency, I guess I’m just a bit old-fashioned...but like most of us, when I call a customer service line, it’s usually because I need help. And when I need help, it’s usually from a person, not a computer. So hearing a real, live voice belonging to a real, live person at the other end of the line is a big step in the right direction all by itself.

You may have wondered who the faces are behind the helpful voices on our Sponsor Services line. When you call 1-800-888-3089 for help with your account, you talk with real people – people who put a lot of heart into what they do and who want to make sure our sponsors are well cared for. In fact, many of us who work for Children International are ourselves sponsors…so we have a vested interest in making sure sponsors are treated right!

If you call Sponsor Services, you’ll speak with Ashley or one of about 38 other Sponsor Services representatives. Ashley and her colleagues spend their days helping sponsors in a number of ways. According to Karen, a veteran of more than 18 years of exceptional customer service, it’s not unusual for the group of reps who handle phone calls to answer anywhere from 500 to 1000 phone calls each day…and that’s not all they do. They also handle a variety of administrative tasks including letters to sponsors, special funding requests and health reports.

For Ashley, Karen and their coworkers, customer service is more than a job. They realize that by helping sponsors they are really helping our sponsored children. And there are some very rewarding moments! Ashley recalls, “I assigned a child to this lady and she was SO excited, asking lots of questions about extra gifts, where to send packages, letters, pictures, etc. I spoke with her again when she was asking about the package she had sent. I told her that the child had received it, and what was in it. She was still SO excited and SO nice!”

But what Ashley learned next really gave her pause for thought. “She told me she was hit by a car and was in a wheelchair for 9 months. She said that it made her think about how she wanted to help others, and even though she was in a wheelchair, she was going to do everything she could to help. I really thought it was awesome how willing and strong she was. She was a very grateful person!”

Serving our sponsors has become a lifestyle for our reps…and some, like Karen, have handed the tradition down to their children. Karen’s daughter, Tomika, has worked for Sponsor Services for the past nine years, making sure your email inquiries are handled in the quickest and most efficient manner possible.

So next time you call Sponsor Services, remember that the person you’re talking to is committed to helping you…and our sponsored children. After all, you as a sponsor are the one who makes all of this possible. And we want you to know we appreciate you.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Fallout from Felix

Reports from Children International agencies in Guatemala and Honduras indicate they have experienced serious flooding from Hurricane Felix. Our staff in San Pedro Sula (Honduras) report that the government evacuated residents from low-lying parts of El Milagro, including families of sponsored children. In Guatemala, evacuations as a result of Felix have not been necessary.

Agency personnel in Honduras and Guatemala are on the ground gathering information and checking on the wellbeing of sponsored children and their families. Our experienced staff stands ready to provide immediate relief for affected sponsored families as needed.

Felix crashed ashore early Tuesday morning near the Honduras-Nicaragua borders as a Category 5 storm with 160 mph winds. It was the second Category 5 storm to hit Central America this year. Hurricane Dean slammed into the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico just two weeks ago, marking the first recorded instance of two such storms making landfall in a single hurricane season since record keeping began in 1886.

It is Children International’s policy to contact sponsors when we can verify their sponsored child has been directly affected by a disaster.

For updates on the region, visit our website at, or check back here on the blog.

International Literacy Day

Of the world's population of 6.6 billion people, over 4 billion can read. In honor of International Literacy Day we would like to share the story of Jocelyn Franco of Quezon City, Phillippines who joined the 4 billion last year.

Never Too Late

A mother leads by example

Nine-year-old Dante Franco Jr. of Quezon City wants to be a professional basketball player, like his idol, James Caguiwa. While basketball skills are not a direct part of his Children International sponsorship experience, the mere fact that he has the freedom to dream big is telling.

When his mother, Jocelyn, was his age, she was getting ready to leave school. Her family’s desperate financial state forced her into the workforce at a time when the orchard of her mind was just coming out of the soil. After the completion of elementary school, young Jocelyn had to go to the tire factory where she glued new rubber on old tires. Although she really missed school (where she had received excellent grades), she never complained about the work that had to be done.

Breaking the cycle

Through sponsorship, Jocelyn would accompany Dante to the Children International community center often. There he would receive school supplies, new shoes and clothes, health and dental checkups.

Life was stable for Jocelyn and her brood. Their store below their small apartment sold basic produce, groceries and meat to loyal customers. Although the family’s income was meager – bringing in only $56 per month – it was steady. The children enjoyed school. But Jocelyn always felt that something was missing. That’s when Pagasa came into her life.

Pagasa is the Filipino word for “hope.” Children International’s Quezon City office initiated the Pagasa Adult Literacy Program in 2005 to address a need expressed by sponsored children’s mothers, like Jocelyn. They wanted to help their children with homework and letter writing to sponsors but often couldn’t because basic skills eluded them.

Dante appreciates the help with his studies. A nonjudgmental environment and broad curriculum were created, and to date, 39 mothers have completed the program. Quezon City’s agency director Lei Orioste explains, “The program is designed for parents to relive the educational experience they missed. We want to empower them with enhanced skills like reading, writing, basic English, mathematics and interpersonal communication. Above all, the students are taught the value of education as a powerful tool to break the cycle of poverty, to make a different path for their children.”

For three months, Jocelyn diligently attended the classes for two hours every Saturday. She relished the homework.

“At night, after closing the store and before sleeping, I would review the lessons for about a half an hour. I even shared the lessons with my children, Babylyn and Dante, like English, vocabulary, weather reports and songs that we were taught,” Jocelyn explains. “I managed the time and responsibilities very well.”

Jocelyn’s self-esteem has been enhanced. The dividends of the Pagasa course are evident in all aspects of her life. Some of her former classmates have become her customers. “My neighbors say I am friendlier now. That is because we were taught a good attitude and how to apply it in our everyday life,” Jocelyn shares.

Before Pagasa, Jocelyn had to rely on simple addition and subtraction. “Now I will just multiply numbers, because I received much practice in multiplication. I am also more accurate in giving change.”

The Pagasa program has reaffirmed Jocelyn’s feeling regarding the power of education. She will not let her children repeat the mistakes of her past. Jocelyn says, “Education plays a very important role in breaking the cycle of poverty. If you finish your education, this is a good opportunity for you to have a good and stable job and a good stable life.”

Thursday, September 6, 2007


Information and photos provided by Nivedita Moitra from our Calcutta agency.

Our Calcutta agency recently held the 11th Annual Art Contest/Exhibition. Madhoboni Chatterjee, a famous danseuse, as well as a well-known painter and sculptor, inaugurated the art exhibition. In her inaugural speech, she said that she was overwhelmed by the beauty expressed in the paintings and hoped that the children who have drawn these lovely pictures would also work toward making the world a place as nice as their paintings.

Monday, September 3, 2007

A Different Kind of Labor Day

All of us at Children International want to wish each of our readers a safe and happy Labor Day weekend. Hopefully, your plans include a cookout and some quality time with friends and family.

Check out this video to learn about a much more literal meaning of "Labor Day" and how we're working with our sponsors to help our sponsored children have hope for a brighter future than their parents and grandparents knew.