Friday, November 30, 2007

Stop AIDS: Keep the Promise

Keep the Promise, is the theme for this years World AIDS Day, which is observed on December 1st. This struggle became personal for us this year when Marta, a young Honduran mother whom we met many years ago, passed away just days after we checked in with her.
“I’ve been fighting this disease for four years,” she later pointed out, careful not to name the illness for fear of yielding even more power to its presence. “I suffer. My children suffer.”

We all sat in silence. We knew that Marta was suffering from AIDS. We tried to encourage her, but our sentiments fell flat. Our words were simply too little, too late.

Marta, brave and humble, admitted that all she really needed was a fence around her home so her children could safely play when she was no longer there to look after them. We exchanged glances, a reminder to do what we could when we returned to Kansas City.

A week later, Marta died. (Hear Marta tell her story here.)
According to UNAIDS estimates, 33.2 million people are living with HIV, including 2.5 million children. During 2007 some 2.5 million people became newly infected with the virus. Around half of all people who become infected with HIV do so before they are 25 and are killed by AIDS before they are 35.

Around 95% of people with HIV/AIDS live in developing nations. But HIV today is a threat to men, women and children on every continent around the world.

Started on December 1st, 1988, World AIDS Day is not just about raising money, but also about increasing awareness, fighting prejudice and improving education. World AIDS Day is important in reminding people that HIV has not gone away, and that there is still much to be done.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Hidden Side to Poverty

Posted on behalf of Erin Fitzgerald

Poverty sneaks up on you in Chile. At first glance, it isn´t that visible. The bustling airport in Santiago, the lush vineyards that line the highway leading to our agency in Valparaiso and the modern hotels and restaurants give no hint of poverty.

A closer look reveals the startling truth -- that some people here live in desperate conditions.

Scenic hills are lush and picturesque. Just beyond the horizon, little shacks are carved into the sides of cliffs where people live in dangerous locations. They have nowhere else to go. Winter storms bring wind and rain and with them the threat of mudslides.

Even those who are fortunate to live in a more stable environment still have difficulty affording homes to adequately protect their families from the elements.

On Wednesday, we visited 11-year-old Luis who lives with his grandparents and siblings. With the steep dirt roads in his community, we had to walk part of the way to his home because we were concerned that the van we were traveling in wouldn´t be able to make the trip.

Thanks to the generous donation of his sponsor, Luis and his family will soon own the land their home sits on and will receive home repairs. They look forward to a house that will better shield them from Chile´s winters.

From new clothes to shoes and soon an improved home, Luis said Children International and his sponsor have been very good to him. "They provide the things that I need, the things that I´m missing" he exclaims.

While poverty may be a little harder to find in Chile, it remains a real and lingering problem. Children International and our sponsors are providing some much-needed relief.

Erin, Andrea and David will be returning from Chile on Saturday. Next week, David will share his reflections of Chile along with more photos. And don't forget, photos and stories from this trip will appear in upcoming Children International publications, emails and blogs and on our website, so watch for them soon!

Photos by Andrea Waters and David Nebel

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Returning to Chile

Posted on behalf of Andrea Waters

This is my third trip to Chile in my 20 plus years at Children International. The first time I visited, the country was just beginning to find its way after so many years under the rule of Pinochet.

Today Chile has a burgeoning middle class enjoying better employment opportunities allowing them the income to purchase newer, larger homes. You see the new housing divisions popping up everywhere. Yet there are still so many suffering in older neighborhoods and squatter areas.

For those with less education and lacking skills, work can be difficult to find, or seasonal at best.

Even though it is spring here, the cooler mornings bring out the children in sweaters, colorful hats and their distinctive rosy round cheeks.

I love that the families we encounter, although quite poor, still have a resourceful and wonderful spirit.

On Tuesday we met Waldo, a proud grandfather who used to build homes. That is, until a recent health crisis left him partially disabled.

His wife, Maria, does laundry for others. During our visit she was finishing up laundry for a soccer team! Bright yellow jerseys were hung neatly in two rows. Between their two meager incomes, they support their family. Their daughter, Soledad, volunteers for Children International – usually helping the children write letters and helping clean the community center. They all work hard to support their family unit, all centered around little Jennifer, a precocious sponsored 5-year-old.

Our group is headed back out to visit more communities and children today. We will have more to share with you tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Destination: Chile

This week a few staff members from Children International in Kansas City will be on the ground in Valparaíso, Chile. Hopefully, if technology is on our side, they'll be blogging stories and photos of the children and their families that they meet. And maybe, one of them just might be your sponsored child! Here are a couple of my favorite photos from a trip to Chile in 2005 to celebrate the agency's 25th anniversary. The photos were taken by Andrea Waters, who is there this week.

Here is a look at Children International in Chile...

Check back tomorrow as we hope to have our first report from the field!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Meet Tanya, From Ecuador

Tanya (far right) with her sister, Lilly, and her brother, Jorge.

“My favorite part is receiving gifts. I like a doll I received once and I also like my backpack I received for Easter. It was red. I just want to say I feel happy...and thank you.”

– Tanya, age 9, Guayaquil, Ecuador

Photos and reporting assistance by Patricia Huerta, Children International communications coordinator from Guayaquil, Ecuador.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Simple Joys

By Erin Fitzgerald

Introduce yourself to Santiago and the first thing you’ll notice is his toothy grin that stretches ear to ear. Not his disability.

But a quick glance at his right leg reveals years of hardship. Now 5, Santiago was born with a shortened right thigh that left him unable to walk without assistance.

His mother, Olga, often carried him, or Santiago used a crutch to move. Other children teased and even pushed him.

“Santiago would ask me after coming back from school, ‘Mommy, why was I born like this,’” Olga said. “And I would tell him not to worry, that one day he’ll get better.”

Now he is. With help from a prosthesis, Santiago can walk, play and act just like other kids his age in Cartagena, Colombia. He’s experiencing the simple joys of childhood that he couldn’t before.

Without the assistance of Children International and a generous donor, Santiago might not be walking today.

Olga’s husband abandoned the family, leaving Olga to care for Santiago. Olga’s older son lives with his grandmother because Olga can’t afford to support him. Washing and ironing clothes just doesn’t pay enough. But Olga has been unable to pursue other job opportunities because Santiago requires extra care.

She feels fortunate that Children International has helped provide vital assistance like necessary medical care for Santiago. Without additional help, Olga would have found it difficult to afford a prosthesis for Santiago.

Bradd Pavur, a dedicated Children International donor, was more than happy to provide assistance. His generous donation of $545 paid for the prosthesis, and there were even funds left over to buy a bed with a mattress, a pair of shoes and clothes for Santiago.

Olga recalls in vivid detail the day Santiago received the prosthesis. When he tried it on, he walked with such excitement, she explained. He realized that he could now do so many things he had only dreamt of doing before. He said, “Thank you, God, because now I can walk and run. They’ll no longer make fun of me, Mommy.”

It is this type of life-changing assistance that Pavur finds so rewarding. “As the parent of two kids of my own, it’s incredible to think my donation made such a difference,” he said.

Regular sponsorship funds can typically only provide basic health care and medicine for children in our program. Special donations from supporters like Pavur make it possible to assist children who need additional help.
“I find the medical donations make a huge difference in children’s lives,” Pavur noted. “It allows them to have a quality of life that is significantly better. And it helps them to have more positive interactions with their peers.”

In Santiago’s case, being able to act like a normal kid is one of the greatest gifts of all.

Reporting assistance and photos by Marelvis Campo Carmona of our Cartagena, Colombia, agency.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Remembering to Say “Thanks”

Posted on behalf of Kelly Nix.

One of the biggest casualties of the frenzy of modern life is the simple phrase, “Thank you.”

Are we becoming more self-centered, or have our busy schedules so encroached on our minds that we’re only semi-aware of the myriad lives we touch on a daily basis, and of the many blessings of varying sizes we enjoy? Either way, the demise of “Thank you” is a big loss to our society as a whole.

Two little words that can make hours of hard labor worthwhile. Two words that bring a smile to faces creased with stress. Two words that bring things back into focus and make us remember that we’re entitled to nothing…and every comfort we enjoy is truly a blessing.

And are we ever blessed! I could go on endlessly about the want and deprivation the families we work with around the world suffer…I could talk about the days some of them don’t eat, and of the hours of sweat and toil under hot tropical suns, to be rewarded with nothing more than a buck or two for their labor…but I’d rather talk about what they DO have.

They have dignity. Most have a strong work ethic. Thanks to sponsorship, they have hope. And they know how to say “Thanks!”

In fact, that’s what we hear more than anything else when we visit the field. From moms…dads…teenagers and little children: “Thanks!” Thanks to God. Thanks to their sponsors. Thanks to the agency staff…and thanks to you.

That’s what I had in mind when I put together the “Thanksgiving Around the World” slideshow that’s currently on our homepage, at Why not check it out and let us know what you think?

And most importantly, have a safe and blessed Thanksgiving celebration!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

You Asked For It!

Several of you have requested photos of children using the newly-remodeled Children International community center in Cienfuegos, Santiago, the Dominican Republic. I located a few shots sent to me by Dayanara, our communications coordinator, and thought I'd share them with you...

Measuring up (above): This child's medical records are getting ready to get an update. We carefully monitor children's height and weight in an effort to detect and prevent malnutrition and make sure development is normal.

Writing your sponsor is fun -- especially when you get to work with a friend!

Dr. Luisiana is going to make sure this young man keeps his winning smile...

One of the greatest benefits Children International provides sponsored children is free medications. Often, if poor families are even able to see a doctor, they do not have the money to fill a prescription. Children International backs up its free basic health care by making sure the children have the medicines they need to get -- and stay -- well.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Behind the Scenes: Meet the Writer

Posted on behalf of Damon Guinn

Damon Guinn is a Senior Staff Writer for Children International. You've most likely read his work in our various print publications and on our website, Here's an opportunity to meet him...

I’ve worked for Children International for more than six years now: first as a Sponsor Services Representative, then as a Proofreader, and now as a Writer. To say it’s been a learning experience is an understatement.

When I tell people that I work for a child sponsorship organization, the usual reply is...“Wow! That must be very rewarding!” No doubt it is, but I always pause before responding. There’s no simple way to describe the depth and scope of work like this – so full of tragedy and triumph, heartache and hope.

Damon with children at our agency in Lusaka, Zambia

Sharing the stories of the poor and disenfranchised is a cause I’ve been committed to ever since I volunteered at an orphanage in Bulgaria 12 years ago. That’s where I first came face-to-face with children in dire need of help.

Fresh out of college, with no idea what the future had in store, my time at the orphanage was a crash course in humanity. Interaction with Gypsy children taught me what it means to be absolutely marginalized by society. Seeing boys and girls covered in sores from skin infections, I learned how essential good hygiene and health care are to young children. And teaching basic English to boys and girls starved for knowledge was a lesson in enlightenment no university setting could ever replicate.

These days, my teachers are numerous and spread all over the world. I now have more than 300,000 young boys and girls in 11 different developing countries teaching me what it means to be truly, and sometimes desperately, human.

All of that to say this...on Tuesday, November 20, fellow writer Deron Denton and I will post a report on the anniversary of Typhoon Durian on It’s an examination of those lives fatally touched by one of the worst typhoons in Philippines history. We hope you’ll take a look at the article and video – if for no other reason than to glean some insight into the human condition.

Stories from sponsored youth who lost everything in the disaster – including loved ones – will no doubt give you a fresh perspective on life and another reason to be thankful at this time of year. You can also see for yourself how a new housing community being built by Children International and contributors like you will give typhoon survivors hope for the future.

Tragedies like Typhoon Durian are lessons in humility and heroism, and all of us should study the experience if we hope to gain the wisdom that comes only from a struggle for survival.

I, for one, am grateful to my young teachers for the grace and dignity they continue to impart while battling the tests of life.

Friday, November 16, 2007

As Promised…Pictures of the Grand Opening in Santiago, Dominican Republic

Well, it’s been a couple of weeks since we opened Children International’s newly remodeled Robert and Paula Larkin Center in the Cienfuegos community of Santiago, Dominican Republic. This center includes a lovely community hall named “Dan’s Place” in honor of Dan Truax. Dan is a sponsor who was critically injured in an auto accident in the Dominican Republic as part of a missionary team involved in improving the homes of a number of sponsored children. He remains hospitalized, and we wish him all the best in his recovery.

I’ll spare you the details of my delay-riddled flight back to Kansas City…but, as promised, I want to share with you a few pictures from the grand opening of the Larkin Center and Dan’s Place.

Photo 1:
I visited this center a number of times prior to it being remodeled. Had I not known the details, I would not have recognized it as the same place! The larger building in the front is the Robert and Paula Larkin Center, while the slightly smaller building in the rear is Dan’s Place.

Photo 2:
Left to right: Sponsor Bennett Scher, Sponsors Alejandra and Frank Moll, Children International Regional Director Connie Keyser and Children International Vice President of Marketing Brian Anderson rise from the head table in honor of the Dominican and American national anthems.

Photo 3:
Sponsor Frank Moll, who sponsors 27 children – 26 of whom live in the Dominican Republic – addresses the crowd. Although Frank and his wife, Alejandra, live in Los Angeles, their roots are Dominican and Cuban. They are excited about the prospect of helping bring hope to an area of the world that has long been dear to their family.

Photo 4:
A sizable audience of community residents and invited dignitaries joined CI’s local staff to celebrate the inauguration of the Larkin Center and Dan’s Place.

Photo 5:
Alejandra Moll officially inaugurates the Robert and Paula Larkin Center by cutting the ribbon, held by Santiago agency director Amparo Guerrero, as the other sponsors, Children International employees and sponsored children look on.

Photo 6:
Later, a medieval musical ensemble from a local university entertained the audience in Dan’s Place.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

In Stock and Available – CI Spirit!

Have you ever noticed the veritable army of unpaid advertisers that are just about anywhere you look? Free advertising for stock car racing, football teams, car manufacturers, soft drinks…and the list goes on.

When people believe in something, they’re passionate about promoting it. And some of you who believe in child sponsorship and the power it holds to bring lasting change to the lives of children living in desperate poverty have been asking for a way to purchase Children International clothing and accessories to help you get the word out.

It’s here.

Now you can visit and click on the “CI Store” button on the right-hand side of the screen. We invite you to browse our selection of caps, shirts, mugs and other Children International accessories.

Get the word out about sponsorship – in style!

P.S. While you’re there, check out the new, airier design of our homepage. We hope you’ll find it easier and more enjoyable to navigate.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Stories You Don't Want to Miss!

Be on the lookout for your monthly eNews from Children International! Our staff here in Kansas City and around the world have been working hard to bring you some great stories about the lives of our sponsored children and their families...stories that are sure to warm your heart.

Inside this issue:
  • A great slideshow featuring the children and families in Ecuador. Did you know that nearly half of all Ecuadorians earn $2 a day or less?
  • Relief and recovery as the first anniversary of Typhoon Durian approaches. Read a first hand account of how lives were forever changed by the storm.
  • These stories and more in this issue of eNews.
Do you like these stories? Is there something you want to know more about? Drop us a line or leave a comment here on the blog. And if you’re not a current subscriber to eNews, you can become one by clicking here then selecting the button on the right-hand side of the screen that says, “Sign Up for eNews.”

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Spinning the "Wheel" for Charity

Actor Neil Patrick Harris appeared on the game show “Wheel of Fortune” and chose Children International as the charity of his choice to donate his earnings, which totaled $60,452!

Harris appeared as a celebrity contestant during the show’s “Celebrity Week,” which is airing this week in syndication.

The game show couples celebrities like Harris with regular contestants, and the celebrity contestants will donate their winnings to charity. This is the second time Harris, who appears on the CBS sitcom "How I Met Your Mother", has generously donated to Children International.

On behalf of the children, thanks Neil for choosing us as your charity!

Monday, November 12, 2007

As Seen on TV: "Shoes"

A few weeks ago, Gretchen Dellett shared her experience about a recent filming trip for Children International. Many people wanted to know where they could watch our commercials and since they are shown in random time slots on various television channels, we decided to bring them directly to you.

The first spot we're happy to bring you is called "Shoes". This commercial and three others, including one in Spanish, can be see on Children International's You Tube channel. Here you can check out not only the other commercials, but various other videos that highlight the different countries where we work.

Let us know what you think!

Friday, November 9, 2007

Making Christmas Merry

It’s happened. I left the country for less than a week, and when I came back the Christmas season had arrived in Kansas City’s retail outlets.

Christmas has always been a magical time of year. Growing up as an American child in South America, I would read books from back home that were filled with pictures of snow, sleighs and roaring fires under mantles bedecked with decorations and stockings. Then I’d go outside into the 90° heat and see wilting Santas parading around in heavy velvet suits as the perspiration dripped off their faces. But the incongruities never made the season lose its magic.

But there really are kids in another world who never do more than hear about Christmas. Theirs is a world of scant survival, a world where their parents don’t make a big deal about Christmas so they won’t have to explain why there are never any presents; a world where Christmas really is just another day.

I’ve talked to families in the countries where we work about the gifts they receive through Children International and what they mean to them and to their children. Moms’ eyes get suspiciously misty as they invariably burst into fervent words of thanks. And almost without exception, when I ask them what their children would have received for Christmas had our sponsors not given them a gift, the answer is a quiet, “Nothing.”

If you are a Children International eNews subscriber, you’ll love reading next week about a little girl name Mayra and her first experience with a Children International gift distribution. And if you’re not a subscriber, you can become one by clicking here and then selecting the button on the right-hand side of the screen that says, “Sign Up for eNews.”

But what I really want to mention is the letter you most likely have received in the last few days from our CEO, Jim Cook. If you haven’t received it, please be on the lookout for it. Jim has written our sponsors because we’re coming into the Christmas season, and this is a time of year when we need all the help we can get in order to make sure each sponsored child has a magical Christmas.

So please, when you get the letter, give some serious thought to helping us give our sponsored children the best Christmas they’ve ever had. Or if you’d like to help out right now, simply visit the Children International home page and click where it says, “Give the gift of joy this holiday season.”


Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Start Spreading the Word

Posted on behalf of Deron Denton

Last year was, in many ways, the Year of Giving Big. Warren Buffet pledged $37 billion dollars to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Clinton Global Initiative hosted a conference that read like a “who’s-who” of philanthropy: non-profit, corporate and political leaders from across the globe pooled their expertise and wealth to tackle issues of poverty, climate change, global health and education.

In 2006, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to a Bangladeshi man who founded a bank that helps poor people by providing them affordable loans to start their own small businesses. U2 front man Bono seemed ubiquitous: he was at the White House, in Africa, and everywhere in between. Scores of other celebrities were not only getting involved with humanitarian causes – they were talking about it. (The fact that they talked about it bugged me. But more on that in a minute.)

The same trend appears to be continuing this year…the actions of the rich and famous are being replicated by the rest of us. It is estimated that two-thirds of Americans gave to charity last year.

The friends and family who began sponsoring children since I started working for Children International 3 years ago seem to confirm this trend. Most of them, I think, already donated time or money to humanitarian causes prior to signing up for sponsorship. But when they learned about what Children International does, they wanted to be a part of it.

I know that two of those friends have provided special donations to their children’s families. One of them told me, more than once, that sponsorship has made him more aware of just how fortunate he is. The fact that we are not one of the 3 billion people on the planet struggling to survive on less than two dollars a day, he says, makes us wealthy. At least, we are wealthy beyond the dreams of half the people with whom we share this planet.

I don’t know if you can relate to this or not, but I have a tendency to not talk about the charitable endeavors I am involved with. Somehow, I think, this cheapens it. I’m not sure where that comes from, but I’ve had that notion for a long time now. So when I see celebrities talking about their involvement with certain humanitarian causes, it tends to turn me off.

But I have come to realize just how eager people are to help the less fortunate. And if we are passionate about something, that passion is contagious. Letting friends, family and co-workers know about the philanthropy that energizes us is a way to get more people involved. The more people we get involved…well, I think you get the point.

Very few of us are famous. But that doesn’t matter in terms of getting other people to hop onboard the train of charitable giving. We can still spread the word. Even fewer of us are billionaires. Nonetheless, most of us can afford to support a humanitarian cause…even if it’s just a small, once-a-year gift.

And talking about it, in terms of how giving helps the recipients – and how giving is its own reward – is a great way to further the cause.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Behind the Scenes: Meet the Writer

Posted on behalf of Scott Cotter

I grew up in a rural town outside of Kansas City and was fortunate enough to see the holidays for what they were truly meant to be…a simple and important time of giving and togetherness.

I fondly recall my mother working with the church and various other organizations to make sure poor families had something to eat on Thanksgiving Day. And how these same groups wouldn’t forget those families come Christmas.

It means even more to me today to understand what sort of struggles my parents faced every year trying to raise four boys and make ends meet. And that, no matter what, they always made sure we had what we needed and tried their best to care for others.

That time was long ago. But the lessons my wonderful mother made sure my three brothers and I understood still stand today. It truly is better to give than receive.

Proof of that can be seen in the pictures we’re featuring starting tomorrow on They were taken of sponsored children last year who, thankfully, were able to feel the true meaning of Christmas…thanks to folks like you.

Scott Cotter is a long-time writer for Children International. His stories appear regularly in Children International's Journeys magazine, on our website and in various other publications. His slideshow on Christmas for sponsored children will appear on on Tuesday, November 6. Be sure to check it out!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Day Two in the Field - Santiago, Dominican Republic

Today was pretty much what you would expect in the wake of a tropical storm. Dayanara (communications coordinator) and Rosa (field officer) took me to a community known as La Otra Banda -- "The Other Band". Our driver took us as far up the muddy hill as he could, but then we had to get out and walk. We found out a few minutes later that his efforts at gaining traction had really done nothing but gain him a flat tire.

We had two families to visit in this community, so we slogged up a hillside so steep we had to form a human chain to keep from succumbing to the call of gravity. And the mud -- gooey, stickey mud, the kind that will suck your shoes right off your feet. Good thing my wife let me know right before I left that my favorite pair of boat shoes really wasn't her favorite anymore!

I'll tell you the rest of the story in pictures.

Photo 1 (above):

The two families we visited were oddly similar -- and the similarities ran beyond just the fact that they only lived a few hundred yards apart. Both are desperately poor. Both have large has four children and the other six children. Both moms are named Dilcia. And both of their oldest sons, though not out of grade school yet, have to work in the mornings selling shelled peas or fruit salad (one even works taking out the neighbors' trash) to help their families stay afloat.

Then they go to school. If they don't find a ride with someone, they have to walk. The walk is two hours each way.

One of the children has epilepsy, and the doctor won't let him start school yet even though he's six. That means mom can't work. And with the rain, the boys wouldn't be selling fruit salad today, maybe tomorrow, maybe even for several days, so things aren't looking good in the pantry.

Sponsorship can't fix all their problems, but it has given them the gift of hope. Both moms have big plans for their kids. Through the educational help they receive from Children International, they're going to break out of poverty and make better lives for themselves. One of the boys even dreams of being a college professor.

At the end of our visit, we send someone to the corner store and make sure both families have enough food to last for several days, and then we slide back down the hill to our waiting van.

Photo 2 (above):

Concerned about the welfare of our sponsored families, we set out for the river to view the flooding from the storm. On our way, we met this sponsored youth crossing a rickety wooden bridge over a flood-swollen canal. I, too, got the privilege of making the crossing several times in search of the right picture...

Photo 3 (above):

I didn't even TRY to cross this one...especially since Rosa reflected ruefully that she had already put her leg through this crosswalk some time back.

Photo 4 (above):

These houses are in the danger zone since the Yaque del Norte river is on the rise. Some residents of this area have already been evacuated by the government.

Photo 5 (above):

I took this shot from a catwalk running alongside a huge red span bridge, hanging over the Yaque del Norte. We had to weave our way on foot across four lanes of crazy traffic that didn't seem to care whether we made it or not. Notice the flooded-out house in the river in the lower right hand part of the photo. The placid city scene with the famed Monument to the Heroes of the Revolution rising behind the river seems strangely incongruous with the chaos below.

My Internet connection here is sketchy at best, but I hope to upload more photos by Friday morning. Check back!