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.


Anonymous said...

it is nice that he sponsors so many children... i think the majority of current sponsors would LOVE to be able to afford to sponsor so many kids.. but that is more than many people's mortgage payment! i sponsor 6 and that stretches me out... yes, very rewarding i must admit, but a challenge like that, to "out-do" his number of kids, seems, to me at least, to diminish the impact i am making by only having 6, or the impact others have made that can only afford 1... i think rather than challenging people to outdo you.. challenge people to get the word out and get NEW sponsors... just my humble opinion

Anonymous said...

Although I do not think that this article was published to make those of us who can sponser fewer children feel bad, you make an interesting point. I have one sposored child, but by having only one am able to give bigger gifts to the family that provide items not covered by sponsorship. If I had more sponsored children, I could provide each of them less. Also since I am in graduate school, more children is financially implausible at this time. I do know that whether you have one child or 28, Children International does a good job of making sure that "our" children and their families are supported. Kudos on all the good work you do.

Kelly said...

ONLY 6 children, you say! I think that's fantastic!

I think what Frank is really saying is this...regardless of how many children you are able to sponsor, always be willing to challenge yourself. And if you're not able to sponsor another child yourself, you can have the same effect by finding someone who can!

So thanks for reading and commenting...and most of all, thanks for what you are doing for your sponsored children. Whether you have 27 like Frank, 6 like you or just one like have made are real difference in each of their lives.

Jennifer said...

Whether you can help 1 child or 28 children, every sponsor makes a difference. Ask any sponsored child and they’ll tell you how special they feel!

We make every effort to keep sponsorship affordable so that more people can sponsor at least one child. And the vast majority of sponsors do just that – sponsor one child. The great thing is that every sponsor can actually double their impact almost overnight by spreading the word and encouraging others to join our family of sponsors. As you say, it is a great approach to helping support needy children.

Want a little insider information? In just a few weeks we will be launching a new initiative called The Lift One Project. Lift One is a new advocacy tool designed to help sponsors recruit their friends and family to become sponsors too! We’re still working out the kinks, but make sure to look for the Lift One Project on in a few weeks.

Thanks again for making a difference.

Anonymous said...


Jennifer said...

Santiago has three community centers. They serve two urban communities and one that is semi-rural. Total of about 15,000 children. The communities are: Mao, El Flumen and Los Ciruelitos

Children are the World said...

I can't wait to see the pictures! I have been logging in all day to see if they have been posted yet. It would be wonderful to see my sponsored child (the one I have in Santiago) show up in the pictures. I am very concerned for all of the people affected by this storm.