Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Soggy Success in Santiago

Early Monday morning, I drove to one of Kansas City International Airport’s peculiar, round terminals and hopped on a plane....Destination? Santiago, Dominican Republic.

I guess I was shell-shocked from my last two trips, with the haunting memory of hours spent in airport terminals or stopped on the tarmac waiting for the bad weather to lift from the airports I needed to reach in order to get home.

But this time, all went incredibly smoothly. I didn’t even know a tropical storm had hit Santiago until I got off the plane and found out it was raining cats and dogs outside. And today it was evident that it won’t take much to cause some severe flooding…authorities are having to open the floodgates on the dam to relieve the incredible stress it’s under, and water is just a few feet away from some of the shacks of the hopelessly poor people who have nowhere to live but along the riverbanks. I’ll try to get pictures tomorrow if I can.

Today I spent the day with a warm and gracious couple named Frank and Alejandra Moll. The Molls are from Los Angeles, although their roots are Dominican and Cuban. They are in the Dominican Republic to visit 26 of their 27 sponsored children – 18 of these in Santiago (the rest live in Santo Domingo, while one child lives in Guatemala). Besides the Molls, the rest of the group was made up of Diomaris, chief of sponsor relations for Children International’s Santiago agency; Nurys, who works in Sponsor Relations, and world traveler, new CI development officer and all around cool guy Jeremy Parker, who speaks English, French, Spanish (he says he doesn’t!) and two African languages I won’t even try to pronounce. And of course, we couldn’t have made it without William, our patient van driver who each night swabs the mud out of his van and lovingly polishes it inside and out, only to see it turned into a mud pit by the end of the day.

We took the Molls to the Children International community center in El Flumen. This community center is modern and airy, and is generally packed with families who show up to receive sponsorship benefits, see the doctor or dentist or attend a workshop. Then, after a quick visit with the staff and a tour of the facilities, we braved the rain back to the van and headed out to visit two of the Moll’s sponsored children. Warm welcomes awaited us in the cramped and humble structures these families call home (odd—they were both bright yellow), and some of the kids couldn’t resist hamming it up for the camera.

But the most exciting part came next. We drove to a popular pizza place, where the Moll’s 18 sponsored kids from the Santiago area met us, along with their families. Talk about a crowd – we OWNED the place! Smiles, laughter, a few tears, songs, speeches, gifts…I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that not one of those children will ever forget the day their sponsors came to town.

We were accompanied on this part of the trip by Pedro, the Santiago agency’s photographer, who came along to film the event. Pedro is a neat guy…He started working for Children International about a year ago, after working 10 years as a professional photographer. Pedro’s older brother was sponsored by Children International in the early 90s, but Pedro didn’t realize we were the same organization – since at that time our agency was known by a local name – until he was in the final parts of the interview process.

As he speaks about the work Children International does in Santiago, his eyes burn with the fervor of a true believer. Like others, he has discovered parts of his own city he never dreamed existed until he began to work for CI – areas where poverty lies over the communities like a deathly pall. But he has seen what sponsorship will do, and he feels working for Children International is his calling.

“Sometimes I just want to brag [about sponsorship],” smiles Pedro. “I am so proud to work for Children International!”

P.S. Frank Moll asked me to pass along a challenge…he’d like someone to outdo him and sponsor 28 children. But, says Frank, if you have just one sponsored child, sponsor another; you’ll be twice as rewarded!

I’ll be blogging more in the next couple of days about the time I spend in the communities and the grand opening of our newly remodeled community center in Cienfuegos, so please check back.

Monday, October 29, 2007

A Guatemalan Ghost Story

Posted on behalf of Damon Guinn and Javier Cárcamo

They say you can hear her approaching in the dead of night. The wind starts to whirl and the dogs howl. Old ladies in the village cross themselves with trembling hands then clench their white, boney knuckles in urgent prayer.

Try to run. It’s no use. Your footsteps grow heavy and slow. The air around you suddenly becomes cold – your heart is gripped with fear. Then you hear a scream and a desperate wail...“Wherrrrre isssss myyyy sonnnn?! Wherrrrre isssss myyyy sonnnn?!”

The scream grows louder and louder. You have to escape. There’s no time to spare. If the third scream finds you, La Llorona will get you!

So goes the legend of La Llorona, “The Crying Woman,” a ghost story practically every child in rural Guatemala knows by heart.

“Our grandparents say that on a small and humble farm surrounded by mountains and rivers, there lived a young woman who got pregnant by a man who deceived her while her husband was away on a long trip,” Gloria, a 15-year-old sponsored youth, quietly incants. She tells the story to her friends and siblings late at night, in the eerie glow of a flickering fire that casts long, lurking shadows.

As legend has it, the woman goes mad and drowns her baby in the river. Stricken with grief, she repents and begins an endless search for her son. But it’s too late...she’s damned to wander the dark and all the places where water runs until she finds her drowned child. If you cross her path, she’ll try to drown you too.

“People say that when they hear her, their hair stands on end, and it is impossible to run and escape,” Gloria whispers cautiously. “When her crying is far away, it means she is very near; and when it is close, La Llorona is far away.”

To this day, Guatemalans claim to hear La Llorona near the coffee plantations of Sacatepéquez and the ruins of Antigua. Some believe that her presence foreshadows death. Some say it’s a cautionary tale warning young girls not to get pregnant. Still others believe it is a parable, suggesting La Llorona drowned her son to spare him from a life of poverty...that even death is better than being poor.

One thing’s for sure though – with legends like La Llorona floating about this Halloween, it’s scary to think what could happen to poor children in Guatemala if you weren’t around to look after them.

Photos by Javier Cárcamo, from Children International's agency in Rural Guatemala.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Dreaming Big in the Dominican Republic

Posted on behalf of Erenia Mesa

Neither poverty nor epilepsy could kill the dreams of this young slugger from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Nelson has no doubts about his dream. One day he’ll be a great shortstop like his hero, Miguel Tejada, of the Boston Orioles. And thanks to sponsorship, he just may make it.

Challenged by epilepsy, Nelson used to pass out. This caused him problems in school and caused him to get behind.

Ana Josefina, Nelson’s mom, is grateful to the medical staff from Children International in Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic, for diagnosing Nelson’s epilepsy. She’s also thankful for the support he’s received since then.

“He used to get fever, and right away he’d go into convulsions. But he doesn’t do that anymore,” says Ana Josefina.

Nelson and his mom, Ana Josefina, with Nelson's bat and baseball trophies.

Now he can play baseball. “I play shortstop and second base for the team,” says Nelson, proudly. “I’ve been playing baseball for four years, and I don’t get sick anymore. I’m hoping they’ll sign me because I want to be a successful ballplayer. Thanks to sponsorship and my medical treatment, I can keep on playing.”

He’s in school now, and he’s made significant progress. He’s working on finishing sixth grade. And his epilepsy is almost completely under control; his convulsions are a thing of the past.

Despite living in poverty with his mom and three sisters – and without the support of a father – Nelson is very optimistic and sure of his dreams. And sponsorship provides the medications and the care he needs to give those dreams a fighting chance.

Photos by Erenia Mesa. Erenia is the communications coordinator for Children International’s agency in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

California Wildfires

Photo courtesy AP.

We are saddened at the news that wildfires continue to rage in California. Children International has many sponsors and donors living in the affected areas of the state, and our thoughts and prayers go out to them at this time.

If you are a Children International contributor living in an area affected by the wildfires, please read this special message from Children International regarding your sponsorship.

Press Control+P For Progress

Posted on behalf of Deron Denton

Amid the click-clack of keyboards and the persistent hum of a large air conditioning window unit straining in the Honduran midday heat, children are putting computers to good use.

We are in the neighborhood of Asentamientos Humanos, on the outer reaches of San Pedro Sula. This new computer learning center, made possible through Children International’s youth program, has been up and running for about one week.

Youth leaders who are democratically chosen by their peers determine how to spend a given amount of funds to benefit their community. The youth program was developed to support and empower youth, encouraging them to hone leadership skills and implement ways to improve their surroundings. The youth leaders in Asentamientos Humanos decided to spend their allotment of funds on this lab, which consists of 10 computers.

In addition to the myriad of services that every Children International community center provides, this one is now offering all youth in the community an opportunity to develop vital skills; specifically, how to use a computer and navigate the Internet.

“It’s one way to keep youth away from gangs…to help them build stability in their own life and for their families,” says a mature 16-year-old Joel Arita, one of the youth who helped start the program.

What Joel and the rest of the youth leaders know is that familiarity with computers is as fundamental to success in today’s world as is reading and writing…practically indispensable for anyone trying to find decent employment, much less trying to break free from poverty.

A part-time instructor was hired to provide formal training to sponsored youth in the mornings. In the afternoons, the computer lab becomes a cyber-café, open to all in the community for a nominal fee. Sponsored youth pay half-price. The money goes back into the lab for maintenance and other needs.

Joel and another youth program member, Alberto Rivas, are assisting and supervising younger sponsored children. On the afternoon of our visit, they are visibly proud of the project and their role in creating it.

“It’s nice to be able to help kids learn how to use computers and discover the Internet,” says Alberto.

Joel recounts how he had helped a sponsored youth a day or two earlier: “A boy of about 12 came in who had never been on a computer or used the Internet before, and I taught him. It’s very gratifying,” he says.

Since this computer center is the only one in the entire community, it looks like Joel, Alberto and the rest of the youth leaders can look forward to a successful – and fulfilling – adventure. It is likely to pay off, in more ways than one, for years to come.

This story originally appeared in the October 2005 edition of Children International's eNews under the title, "Youth Program Creates Cyber-Café." To view our archive of eNews stories, click here.

Photo by Jennifer Spaw.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Meet Sabana, From India

"I would like to tell my sponsor that I am very lucky to have a friend like you!"

Photos by Niveditra Moitra, the communications coordinator for our agency in Calcutta, India.

Friday, October 19, 2007

A Sad Ending

Posted on behalf of Erin Fitzgerald

As gratifying as our work is at Children International, at times it can be emotionally wearing. For me, last week was especially heartbreaking. I was shocked to learn that Monica Mvula, a stone crusher we featured in the Winter 2007 issue of Journeys magazine, passed away. Some of you may recall that Monica hammered rocks into gravel to sell for construction work in Lusaka, Zambia.

Each and every day she, her husband and seven children struggled. Rarely was there enough nutritious food, but at least sponsorship was easing the burden by providing essentials like basic health care and educational support.

Still, Monica worried about the future of her children. “The biggest challenge in my life is the children who depend solely on me,” she once said. “I sometimes imagine if I were in no position to provide for them how their lives would become....”

Then the unthinkable occurred. Monica was diagnosed with tuberculosis and advised to no longer crush stones. Just when it seemed life couldn’t get any worse, a generous donor stepped in to help Monica start a small business. At last, the sense of security she had been grasping at for decades suddenly seemed within her reach.

Although I never met Monica, I felt like I knew her. I read quotes from her describing her life, looked through dozens of photos of her and her family, and watched video footage of her smiling and laughing. Like so many others, she was just a mom trying to support her kids – and give them the best life possible.

The news of her death hit me hard. I immediately emailed Clementina, our communications coordinator in Lusaka, Zambia, for an update. Here’s what she had to say:

“I visited the home of the late Monica Mvula. I found the widower in bed and very sick. He has a very bad cough. I had a short discussion with him because he could not stand for too long. He is not working because he is too weak to do so. He is not receiving any medical attention because he has no money.

"Monica's health had improved greatly after the first course of the TB [tuberculosis] treatment but soon after she started the second course of the TB treatment she had a stroke and her condition worsened. She was then admitted in the intensive care unit of the University Teaching Hospital until her death.

"Her children Ronica, James and Brenda who are on the program have been taken to another town…to live with their aunt because their father is too sick to look after them. Lemmy and Shadreck [both sponsored] together with their elder brother are the ones looking after their sick father....”

Clementina’s update was worse than I had feared. I wonder how Monica’s last days were spent and how she felt knowing she was leaving behind her children and a husband who couldn’t support them. Monica dedicated her life to her kids. I can’t imagine what she must have gone through.

Now poverty and sickness have torn the family apart. Fortunately, Ronica, James and Brenda have their aunt to look after them.

But I worry about Lemmy and Shadreck. What will become of them? I’m comforted by the fact that they will continue receiving the benefits of sponsorship.

Monica worked so hard, yet had nothing to show for it. Like countless other Zambians with little education and few resources, she battled for survival. Despite the support of Children International and a special donation, a better life was still out of reach for Monica. I’m hopeful that it won’t be for her children.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Stand Up Against Poverty

“Wherever men and women are condemned to live in extreme poverty, human rights are violated. To come together to ensure that these rights be respected is our solemn duty.”
– Joseph Wresinski
Today celebrates the 20th anniversary of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. The first commemoration in 1987 was held in Paris, France where 100,000 people gathered to give a voice to those who live in extreme poverty. Officially recognized by the United Nations in 1992, the event has grown in partnership with other organizations and events are held around the world each year.

This year at the United Nations, delegates and staff members will be asked to participate in the “Stand Up” event, in which 23.5 million people in more than 100 countries participated last year, setting a Guinness World Record. The organizers hope to break that record, with people all over the world standing up to remind their Governments of the commitments they undertook in the 2000 Millennium Declaration to halve the number of people living in extreme poverty by 2015. According to the United Nations, some 980 million people still live in extreme poverty, or on less than $1 a day.

Children International is proud to be partners with over 250,000 committed sponsors. With your generous support, we will continue to serve children and their families who suffer from poverty. Together, we will give them a voice to tell their stories. That’s our commitment. So, stand with us as we fight to end poverty.

How are you going to stand up against poverty?

Painting by former sponsored child, Carlo Orcena, from the Philippines.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Behind the Scenes: Meet the Writer

Beginning Tuesday, October 16, Children International’s website ( will feature a story about a family living in desperate poverty in Mexico. We thought you might like to go behind the scenes and meet Alejandro Bonilla, the communications coordinator for our agency in Jalisco, Mexico, who wrote the story. Here’s a bit of personal insight from Alejandro:

“The first time I visited the Muñoz family’s house, I was impressed with the extreme poverty in which they live. The landscape was dreary; their house is at the top of a hill, and you have to negotiate a path made of rocks and mud to climb it. When I saw this dramatic scene I realized that Adela, the supervisor for Children International’s community center in Paraísos del Colli, was not exaggerating when she told me this family really needs help urgently if they are to make it.

“In Jalisco, most families who live in poverty at least have a brick house with a cement roof to protect them from the rain and the cold. But the Muñozes live like paupers. Roughly 10% of those who live in poverty live in situations similar to that of this family in Zapopan. I was really surprised to see the house was made of cardboard and tarps; the first thing I asked myself was how the family protected itself from the heavy rains that fall in Jalisco for five months out of the year. I got my answer right away: the children’s mother told me she doesn’t sleep, because she has to be alert every night so she can save her children in case of a mudslide.

“They get wet almost every night, because water leaks in through the flimsy walls of the house. So the children always have colds; this is evident in their faces, in their weakness and in the deep sadness in their eyes. Those apparently spontaneous smiles turn to sadness when you look into the children’s eyes and realize there would be little to hope for their future without the help Children International can offer them.

“When I finished taking pictures and interviewing the children’s mom and dad, I realized how easy my life is compared to theirs. Both of the parents are my age, but their lives have been so hard they look 10 years older. The dad works in construction all day, barely eating and always worrying because he has five children to feed. It seems the days go by and nothing changes in this family’s life…nothing improves. When you have no plans and no dreams, you learn to just survive.

“But deep down, the mother’s eyes hold sincere hope for change. Shyly and after much thought, as though it were something completely alien to her life, she said she would like for her children to go to college and become lawyers or doctors. It’s sad to know that if you’re born poor, the idea of having big goals and dreams for your life never crosses your mind; poverty itself breeds low self-esteem, and you feel helpless to have a good quality of life, to get a college education, to have a nice house, to dream….

I believe that somehow Children International teaches these families that life has many options besides simply continuing to survive in poverty. Through the work of the medical staff and the field officers, these types of families become aware that they can create changes in their lives and that they can plan the kind of life they want for their children and for themselves.”

Check out the story and its accompanying slideshow at starting Tuesday, October 16…and if you find the story to be thought provoking, why not come back to the blog and share your thoughts in a comment under this post?

Friday, October 12, 2007

Turning Orange into Green…

This fall at Children International headquarters, a small group of employees has started and maintained a pumpkin patch whose proceeds are designed to ease the burdens of a couple families.

The pumpkins were purchased at wholesale prices and have been displayed in the parking lot, where Children International workers can buy them at market prices. So far, over 100 pumpkins have been sold!

Pumpkin patch profits have been designated for the purchase of a sewing machine for an entrepreneurial mother in Ecuador who has recently fallen on hard times. And the rest of the profits will go directly to Indian families whose homes were destroyed by recent floods.

Eddie Welsh, who helped start the project explains, “This patch is just one small thing, but for the families who will receive relief, it’s huge! If we all keep doing small things they will all add up to something big.”

Thursday, October 11, 2007

One Down, Seven to Go!

Mithu Dinda peers through a massive crack in the wall of her flood-damaged home in India.


Thanks to the generosity of our blog readers, in just two days we have received enough donations to cover the repairs to the first of the eight homes that were critically damaged by flooding in India!

As you may recall from my first blog from a couple of days ago, the government in the state of West Bengal, India, has stated that around 400,000 people have been affected by the flooding, and that some 40,000 homes have been either damaged or destroyed. I also mentioned that it is very difficult to obtain land to build new houses, so the most viable option is to repair and rebuild the homes using much more durable materials.

Our goal is $4800, which will allow us to repair the eight homes identified to us by our agency staff as being in the most critical need of repairs. The individual cost breakdown is $500-600 per home. And in the past couple of days, our readers have already contributed $550!

So we’re off to a great start. I realize that our blog readers make up a limited – but growing – group, so I’d like to ask you to help in a couple of ways:

1. If you haven’t already contributed toward helping put a roof back over the heads of these families, please consider doing so. You may give any way you prefer: by phone at 1(800) 888-3089, by check (mail to Children International, PO Box 219055, Kansas City, MO 64121) or via our website,

Regardless of which method you choose, it is very important that you email us at to let us know the amount of your donation and that it is intended for the India flooding victims. Be sure to include your account number.

2. How about helping us spread the word? Use the little envelope icon at the bottom of this post (and of the original posts from a couple of days ago) to forward it to your friends and family. Let them know you’re participating in helping repair these families’ homes. Perhaps they’d like to help as well!

You don’t have to do it alone…helping these families in India would make a great project for a class, a group of coworkers or a church group.

Thanks a MILLION for your help! I’ll keep you updated as more donations come in and work begins on the repairs.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

As Seen On TV...

Posted on behalf of Gretchen Dellett

You’ve probably seen a Children International television commercial before. It may even have been what persuaded you to become a sponsor in the first place. But have you ever wondered how these ads are created?

I recently returned from Cartagena, Colombia, where I participated in the filming of two new Children International TV ads. I’ve worked as a writer for Children International for 14 years; I’ve been working on our TV advertising for 8. From the Philippines to Honduras to Colombia, I’ve stood in raw sewage, trekked through garbage dumps and dodged trains just inches from my nose – all in the service of getting the “right shot:” The shot that just might catch the attention of someone out there and convince them to sponsor a child.

Each trip has its own particular challenges; this time it was the heat. The unbearable, suffocating, sloppy heat. But even we hardy Midwesterners and seasoned travelers were not prepared for how very hot it was.

We were filming in a community called La Ciénega de la Virgen, which means “Swamp of the Virgin.” True, the community is situated on the edge of a swamp, but there was nothing pure about it. Tiny shacks stumbled over each other, with pools of stinking sewage running down the middle of many streets.

We spent an entire day filming behind a shack where a rotting chicken lay splayed near a pool of water that was covered in something that looked like tar (but smelled much worse). We tried to cover the deceased with old newspaper so we wouldn’t have to look at it, but every so often the pigs would wander through and snuffle it off with their noses. I always tell people that you haven’t seen poverty until you’ve smelled it, and this little corner of the planet in Colombia was certainly no exception.

Two different children were chosen to be used in our ads – a little boy named Danilo and a little girl named Veronica. Danilo had a blast with the whole thing – he was so pleased to have been chosen that we couldn’t get him to wipe the grin off his face when we needed him to be serious.

While we were filming him in a local market, some of the passersby whispered amongst themselves: “Is he some kind of movie star? He must be rich!” If only they knew he lived in a swamp and owned so little clothing that we had a hard time putting an outfit together for him to wear while we filmed him.

Veronica, the little girl, was much more quiet and contemplative (Kelly mentioned her in his blog a few weeks ago). But she shone with such a sweet radiance that we all fell in love with her. In fact, Sarah, with Outpost Broadcast Communications, the production company we typically use, began sponsoring her on the spot. Sarah has been on many trips with us and has at least a dozen sponsored kids by now! We’ve also worked with the same director, Mike Wunsch, since the 1980s, and he and his crew are pretty much part of the CI family, after all the miles they’ve logged on our behalf.

While we’re talking about the kids we use in our ads, you may wonder how they’re chosen. On this trip, we spent the first two days scouting for children and locations. We met dozens of children; every one of them was a sweetheart.

However, we’re looking for just the right combination to help us film a successful spot. They can’t be too shy or scared of the camera. They can’t be too young or they’ll tire easily and won’t understand the simple direction we give them. They have to be unafraid of our spokesperson – no easy task when he’s a “gringo” who doesn’t speak Spanish! Fortunately, we were working a great guy who jumped right in and made it very difficult for the children not to like him.

The important thing for you to know is that the children featured in our ads are really, truly children who are waiting for help.

But not for long! Once filming is completed, each “featured child” is immediately entered into the sponsorship program and begins receiving benefits. The family also receives compensation that our field staff uses to purchase food, clothing, household items and something special for the child as a “thank you” for their generous assistance. It’s a good feeling to know these children’s lives begin getting better the moment we turn a camera on them.

It sometimes feels intrusive to step into these people’s lives and in essence, record their misery for the world to see. But we’re always welcomed with open arms and warm hospitality. They know us and respect what we’re doing in their community. If I’ve learned anything from my travels, it’s that poverty doesn’t change the fundamental goodness and humanity in people. Some of the best people I’ve ever met live in the worst conditions.

My favorite part of creating a new commercial is seeing its end result. A successful ad can mean thousands of new sponsors – which translates into thousands more children who now have the chance to seek a future they once thought was beyond their grasp. I can’t imagine doing any other job that would reward me so much.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

More Help Needed in India

The very first thing I want to say is “thanks.”

I wrote yesterday about the victims of the flooding in India in hopes that we’d be able to raise some funds to help them, and you didn’t disappoint me. Some of you responded right away – and we appreciate that!

Today I received a report that damages are more extensive than we first thought. In addition to the two families I wrote about yesterday, at least 6 more children and their families have been severely affected.

So our goal just jumped from $1200 to $4800 ($600 per home x 8 families).

Besides asking our blog readers to help, we’ve also kicked off an initiative here in the office. Our Children International employees are raising money in different ways – some of them quite creative! (Stay tuned…we might be sharing more about this on the blog.)

Wouldn’t it be exciting to put these families into safe, dry houses without lengthy delays? Of course, we as an organization are committed to their wellbeing, so we will make sure they’re taken care of. But I know our sponsors want every possible ounce of our regular sponsorship donations to go to the programs that are so desperately needed to make children’s lives better. So if we can raise these funds as a separate project, much good will have been done.

If you’d like to donate, please email us at You may donate any way you’d like, but it’s VERY important you specify that your donation is to help the needy families in India that you read about in the blog. So if you donate through the Children International website, it’s still important that you email us at and let us know that you gave, and how much. If you send a check, be sure to include “For Needy Families in India – Blog” on the memo line.

The report I received is so recent that I don’t yet have photos of the specific homes that were affected, but below are some general photos of the flooding.

We’ll keep you posted as to how much we’ve raised as the donations come in.

Thanks again!

Photos by Nivedita Moitra, from our agency in Calcutta, India.
Note: Click on each picture for a larger image.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Families in India Need Your Help Now

No country is guaranteed safety when nature’s fury strikes, be it through volcanoes, hurricanes, typhoons, tornados or earthquakes. So loss of property and even life is a sad – and often recurring – reality in many countries. It hurts worst of all when natural disasters strike developing countries whose people are already struggling to survive.

Many of our readers have been among the first to volunteer to help when we’ve reported on critical situations. That’s why I’m sharing information about a very urgent need.

Recent heavy rains in the area of Calcutta, India, have wrought their yearly havoc. According to government estimates, around 400,000 people in the state of West Bengal have been affected, with some 40,000 homes damaged or destroyed. Predictably, some of those affected are sponsored children and their families.

Many poor families live in homes made of nothing but mud and bamboo, so when heavy rains come the structures are simply unable to hold up. Because of the difficulties surrounding obtaining title to land, Children International’s policy in the region is to help families repair their homes with better materials so they will be more durable in the face of the constant reality of the area’s heavy tropical rains.

Although a number of sponsored families’ homes have been damaged to varying degrees, the local staff has presented us two cases they feel are most critical. These involve damages to the homes of sponsored youths Rakhi Maishal (left) and Kunal Moisal (right).

The bad news is that the families of these sponsored young people are desperately poor and are unable to afford the needed repairs to their homes. The good news is that we can help.

The amount needed per family is relatively small, but it’s beyond the scope of what regular sponsorship contributions can cover. We are committed to helping these families, but any additional assistance we might receive would be greatly appreciated. At a mere $600 per family, I don’t think it will be hard to make a difference.

Will you help us put these two families under a safe, dry roof? If you’d like to contribute part or all of the $600 needed for each family, please contact us at We’ll put you in touch with our Sponsor Services staff, and they’ll help you complete your donation quickly and easily.

If you can lend a hand, thanks in advance for your help. Otherwise, simply keep these families in your thoughts and rest assured we’ll do everything we can to get them back on their feet again.

Tastes Like...Hope!

We’ve all heard people say, “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime!”

This really is more than just a worn-out cliché. One of the ways Children International helps families break the cycle of poverty is by teaching moms and dads – and young people – skills to help them earn better livings and more successfully provide for their families. In some cases, we also help them obtain micro-enterprise loans to get their fledgling businesses off the ground.

One example of these vocational programs is the Good Hope Workshop, in Viña del Mar, Chile. A group of volunteer moms found they could better their standard of living by working together to produce and sell baked goods. I visited their kitchen some months ago, and it was pretty impressive – clean, spacious and well equipped for the task.

These moms graciously agreed to share one of their luscious recipes with us…but beware: These empanadas (pastry shells stuffed with seasoned meat) can be seriously habit-forming!

Empanadas for “Tú”

Ingredients for pastry shells:
4½ cups flour
½ cup lard
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 cup warm milk

Ingredients for filling:
1 lb. ground beef
3 medium white onions (chopped)
3 tbsp. lard
2 tbsp. chili powder
½ tsp. dried oregano
½ tsp. ground cumin
½ cup raisins
½ cup green olives (chopped)
3 hard-boiled eggs (sliced)
salt and pepper

Melt lard in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add ground beef, onions, chili powder, oregano, cumin, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Mix ingredients and cook until beef is browned. Set aside when finished.

Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Melt lard and, along with warm milk, pour into flour mixture and mix until dough is soft (be careful not to overmix). Divide dough into twelve portions and cover with a damp cloth to keep moist.

Roll the dough into 3" to 4" circles approximately 3 millimeters thick. Place a tablespoon of beef mixture, a few raisins and olives, and a slice of egg in each circle. Moisten the edge of half the dough with water, fold in two, and crease the edge with the tines of a fork to seal.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place empanadas on a baking sheet powdered with flour or covered with parchment paper. Brush each empanada with milk and puncture a couple times with a fork to prevent pockets from opening while baking. Bake for approximately 30 to 40 minutes until empanadas are toasty and golden.

Click here to read the full story on the Good Hope Workshop as it appeared originally in the October 2004 edition of Children International’s eNews.

Photo of empanadas courtesy of

Friday, October 5, 2007

International Teachers' Day

In my mind, their is no more noble pursuit than being a teacher. Many in the profession look at it more as a calling, than a job. I come from a family of teachers. My grandma was a teacher, I have five aunts that are educators, my mother and father are teachers and my older brother just left this morning for a year of teaching English in rural Korea. With this said, I apologize if my grammar and punctuation are not precise. It's a blog, Mom.

Teachers around the world rise with the sun, standing in front of hungry minds and imparting knowledge. What a gift! Right this minute...imagine the children smiling as they are introduced to new worlds.

One generation, passing the flame of knowledge to the next. May the flame grow ever brighter.

The encouragement and supplies that your sponsored child receives from your support are instrumental in keeping them in the classroom. And education really is the best way to break the cycle of poverty. It's been said that for every year of school that a child completes, his or her earning potential increases 10%.

Today is a great day to think about and thank some of the educators that enrich our lives, and enrich our world.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

In Their Own Words...

Recently, Matt and Amy Carrithers attended the inauguration of the Nina Rae Wesson community center in Mexico. The center holds a special place in their hearts – it's named after Matt's sister, Nina. The Carrithers recently shared their experience with their friends and family and allowed us to share it with you...

Thursday 8/30/07

We checked out of our hotel and went to the opening and dedication ceremony of the Nina Rae Wesson Center…the jewel in the crown of this visit. We were let in first, before the crowds, before the ceremony began. The property is on a hilltop with panoramic views of the city and the mountains surrounding it. The top level is a huge courtyard with a basketball area and a lovely bright blue wall (great for wall-ball!) - then steps go down to the slopy playground, then the two-story center itself. It is gorgeous inside, light, airy and clean. Pots of geraniums sitting in the sunshine. Lovely tiles.

We rounded a corner and there was the huge portrait of our lovely Nina and her children…we had forgotten it was going to be there, and it took several long minutes for us all to recover. The portrait and accompanying plaque are the heart of the main floor of the center, displayed prominently…her sunny smile will be reflected in the faces of the thousands, thousands of kids who see it and read about who she was.

We feel strongly that all the children of Jalisco are also Nina’s children now. We know without question that she would be so humbled, so honored, that we have continued her legacy of kindness in this way. As Matt put it - “My sister has many, many friends…some she never had the chance to meet.”

The ceremony was fantastic. A children’s choir sang. There was a military-style presentation of the Mexican flag (which we quickly learned how to salute!). Many wonderful, emotional speeches in Spanish and English. We had a wonderful lunch on the upper courtyard, during which we were amazed, looking around at all the dressed-up tables: here we are in a foreign country, strangers in a strange land, and we were looking at so many friends. Everywhere we looked: friends we’d made. An all-female mariachi band came, played and sang, and then traditional Mexican dancers with their whirling, colorful skirts. Awesome! All our sponsored kids were there. Sugey was much more courageous today, and she had huge smiles and many besitos (kisses) for us!

Our hearts were so full. We will be carrying Jalisco home with us.
Words could never express our thanks to Jim, Shanna, Jan, Lesly, Oscar, Alejandro, Margarita, Ophelia, Sara and the dozens of others who made our trip so fun, taught us so much, opened our eyes, bettered us as human beings by showing us how to provide “real help” and “real hope,” and made us feel so welcome in our new country and second home. The work you are doing is wonderful! We know we will see you all again soon!!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Behind the Scenes: Meet the Writer

Erin Fitzgerald joined the team at Children International in 2004, and since then has treated our readers to many great articles and videos. Her simple and direct writing style resonates with our sponsors and helps bring to life the circumstances of the children we work with.

One of Erin's videos, Behind the Scenes of Sponsorship, will be featured on our website ( beginning Tuesday, October 2. We asked Erin to share a few comments with us about the video:

"In 2006, I traveled to our agency in Guadalajara, Mexico, to meet families served by sponsorship. While at a community center, I sat in on a computer class led by a volunteer mother who was passing on her knowledge to other parents of sponsored children.

"During this computer class, I tried out my video skills for the first time, attempting to shoot footage while the class was in progress. I used some of this footage to help create a video about our volunteers called 'Behind the Scenes of Sponsorship.'

"If you have a chance, check it out to learn more about the parents whose tireless dedication helps make our programs possible."

Follow this link to check out Erin's video as of Tuesday...or go ahead and visit now just to look around.