Friday, December 21, 2007

’Tis the Season

So…do you have your Christmas shopping done yet?

I don’t.

In fact, I haven’t even started yet. But that’s par for the course for me; and if I’m lucky, I’ll have it all wrapped up (no pun intended) by tonight.

But Jennifer and I do have a little present for you. We went all over the building here at Children International headquarters and gave the different departments a chance to send you a greeting…and we want to share it with you.

Meanwhile, the moderators of this Internet-based media channel will engage in a hiatus of brief duration in order to pursue seasonally-appropriate activities with groups and individuals with varying degrees of affinity to same, either by familial or social relation, with an eye to resuming normal engagements subsequent to the reinitialization of the common annual chronological cycle.

Or, in language I can understand, Jennifer and I are going to take a break to spend Christmas with our families and friends, and will resume our activities on the blog after the New Year!

So please enjoy this holiday greeting from Children International, and we look forward to more blogging fun as we kick off a great 2008.

Merry Christmas to all of you, and may you have a very happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Behind the Scenes: Meet the Writer

When Kevin Fleming joined Children International as a writer almost a year ago, he didn’t know he’d be working as a White House correspondent.

And he doesn’t. But he does get to cover the president from time to time. President Jim Cook, that is!

Kevin has worked with Jim to bring you a special slideshow. Jim – who’s amazed that he’s already been with Children International for 20 years! – looks back over 2007 and reflects on some of the major events that touched our lives and the lives of the children and families we work to help.

So what’s it like to work with the president?

“Jim is supremely easy to work with. To communicate 365 days of events and accomplishments in 3 or 4 minutes is not an exercise for the timid -- and Jim handled it brilliantly,” says Kevin.

And speaking of major events, Kevin is due to become a dad at the end of January! So feel free to drop him a comment in honor of this special occasion. And enjoy the slideshow, which posts on our website,, on Thursday afternoon (December 20).

Monday, December 17, 2007

Thanks, Annie and Sara!

Posted on behalf of Kevin Fleming.

When 12-year-olds Annie and Sara discovered the harsh realities of life for some African children from their 7th grade religion teacher, they had to ask themselves, “What can we do about this?”

“When we heard about kids with AIDS, malaria or malnutrition, we decided to do something good,” explains Sara.

For inspiration, they had to look no further than their own wrists and to the neatly woven thread bracelets they wore. They decided to create bracelets and sell them to their friends for $1 apiece. The bracelets only take about five minutes each to create – a job Annie and Sara really enjoy.

Their bracelets came with the message that more could be done to attack the problems that plague other children around the world.

A school wide bazaar provided yet another way to market their wares and raise not only money, but also awareness. They added earrings and cookies to their offerings – and made $80 in all (so far)!

They decided to donate the money to Children International and help support our work in Lusaka, Zambia. Children International – Zambia has over 200 sponsored children who have been identified as being malnourished, and 80 of these are HIV-positive.

Annie and Sara’s kind donation is going toward the purchase of new cups, plates and utensils to better serve the nutritious meals that volunteer mothers prepare at the community center three times a week.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Meet Len, from Quezon City, Philippines

“I want to be a teacher when I grow up because a teacher can do so many things and I will be able to teach many children how to read and write.

My sponsored friends say that we should thank God because we are sponsored children who receive many gifts and help from Children International.” – Len, age 7

Photo and reporting assistance by CJ Tarroja, communications coordinator for Children International's agency in Quezon City, Philippines.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

When You Want to Know…

Knowledge is key.

Whether we’re talking finances, politics or job performance, those who rise to the top are those who take the time to make sure they’re well informed.

Sponsorship is no different. The sponsors who get the most out of the sponsorship experience are those who avail themselves of all the information at their disposal to learn more about their sponsored children and their families, as well as the world they live in and the challenges they face.

That’s why we created eNews. Children International’s electronic newsletter is delivered monthly to your inbox to keep you up to date on what’s going on in the world of sponsorship.

If you haven’t already received your copy, it should arrive shortly. This month’s issue will:

* Take you to visit a young girl in Zambia whose parents fought a tragic struggle with AIDS,
* Introduce you to our newest community center in Mexico,
* Share the story of a volunteer mother who spreads Christmas cheer by giving presents to children who are not sponsored, and
* Place you in the audience as former world-class tennis pro Andrés Gómez addresses a group of young people who are graduating from the sponsorship program in Guayaquil, Ecuador.

We hope you enjoy this month’s eNews and will share it with your friends and family. If for any reason you do not receive your copy, you may view it online on our website (available midafternoon on December 12).

Monday, December 10, 2007

A Merry Christmas to All

“I thought if I would do good enough all year around, Santa would grant my wishes. And so every Christmas I’d wake up only to find the same empty sock I put up. Then the realization came to me. Santa wasn’t for real. And life isn’t easy.” – Leslie Mae Apuli, Philippines

Cold weather is here, and the Christmas shopping season has begun in earnest. And as much as I look forward to the season with all its sights, smells and memories, I’ll confess I’m not looking forward to the crowds at the malls!

Thankfully, Christmas is about more than just “things.” Nevertheless, gifts lovingly presented by friends and loved ones do serve to remind us that Christmas is indeed about giving – a valuable lesson, and one we would do well to put into practice the other 364 days of the year as well.

My family was not wealthy, and I’m sure there were Christmases when we got less than most other kids our age did. But there was never a lack of warmth and caring, and Christmas holds special memories for me because of that.

It’s sobering, though, to discover that Christmas isn’t all that special for a lot of people. Leslie Mae was just 14 when she came to Kansas City to represent her native Philippines at Children International’s youth conference. And when she stood up to give her speech, we quickly learned this was not just another teenager for whom Christmas was the next gadget, to be played with for a couple of days and then discarded out of boredom. Her words gripped us, and hardly a dry eye remained in the crowd.

“I thought if I would do good enough all year around, Santa would grant my wishes,” reflected Leslie Mae of her childhood growing up in poverty. And so every Christmas I’d wake up only to find the same empty sock I put up. Then the realization came to me. Santa wasn’t for real. And life isn’t easy.”

Now, over two years later, Leslie Mae is still talking about Christmas. “Before, Christmas was spent like an ordinary day. I remember looking forward to each day of the year as a child, wishing for gifts and bright lights to be decorated on our house. But there was nothing I could do than wish and watch other children excitedly spend the Christmas dinner with their families.”

Far from bitter over the deprivation she endured as a child, Leslie Mae is grateful for the generosity of the sponsorship family here in America – a family of caring people who have allowed Leslie Mae and hundreds of thousands of children like her to discover the wonder of Christmas.

“When Children International came, each Christmas brought with it a new hope for our family and other sponsored families,” adds Leslie. “Each gift that we received reminds us that the world had not given up on us, and that still there are people who care for us. Each Christmas becomes a motivation for us to strive hard and make our lives better every day.”

Photo and interview assistance by Anthony Lorcha, Children International's communications coordinator in Legazpi, Philippines.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Looking Back at Chile

Posted on behalf of David Nebel, who visited our projects in Chile last week as part of a team from Children International's headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri.

The ’80s are back! Well, sort of.

Apart from a local fascination with ’80s fashion and tunes, an abundance of very small napkins, and some pretty good pizza, there is also an amazing degree of progress in Chile (at least in Valparaíso and surrounding areas), such that upon first glance I could’ve easily mistaken it for a European country like Spain. Chileans possess a modern and efficient airport (in Santiago), top-notch highways, and a booming middleclass. And as I might have expected, extreme poverty was comparatively absent.

Poverty still exists in Chile nonetheless. Though not as conspicuous or overly abundant as in other Latin American countries such as Honduras, Ecuador or Colombia, pockets of financially distressed families speckle the outskirts of Valparaíso and the adjacent city of Viña del Mar. And a discerning eye would be able to spot the telltale signs of impoverishment in more rural towns such as Limache and Quillota. It’s in these economically depressed areas where Children International continues to bring positive change.

As a Children International employee, I saw how our organization was helping a young girl suffering from leukemia, providing housing assistance to a family who lost all they owned save the clothing they donned the day of the fire, and helping steer Chilean youth away from drugs and violence and towards becoming confident and outspoken leaders within their communities. I also met a volunteer mom who, after enduring eight years of domestic abuse from her spouse, is now raising awareness on the issue within her community – due, in part, from the support she found in Children International.

All in all, I must say I’m proud of Chile as a country. It seems Chileans are addressing poverty with a great degree of success. Slowly but surely the wheels of progress are grinding poverty into smaller, more manageable bits. And Children International – who has been in Chile for more than 25 years – is undoubtedly still present, offering a helping hand in the fight against poverty and the improvement of children’s lives.

Photo by Andrea Waters

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Turning A Humble Dream into a Reality

Posted on behalf of Tony Lorcha, Children International – Legazpi

A week before graduating from his local public high school in Legazpi City, Philippines, 16-year-old Loreto Apuyan started to get very excited about going to college. Then, one day when he returned home from school to tell his mother about his plan to enroll in the local university and pursue a degree in computer science, he was struck with a deafening silence. Loreto’s mother told him he wouldn’t be able to go.

“I felt hopeless when I learned that my mother didn’t want me to enroll in college,” Loreto sighed. “But what could I do? My parents don’t have the resources to support higher education,” he acknowledged.

“One thing that revived my strength was the scholarship application I submitted to our youth coordinator for a HOPE scholarship,” Loreto said. “I didn’t lose hope that I would be called for an interview...and it happened.”

During his interview, Loreto shared his shelved plan to study computer science at the university level. He explained how his mother launders clothes for just $2 a day, while his father earns only a dollar more as a construction worker.

“Living in poverty is really hard,” Loreto told the agency’s interview committee, “but it gives me so much motivation to move on and reach for my dreams....”

When Loreto was selected as one of the 50 HOPE scholarship recipients in Legazpi City, he was determined to finish his studies and help his parents provide for the family’s basic needs. That’s why he decided to enroll in vocational education rather than the university.

“I’m a sophmore now at the San Francisco Institute of Science and Technology in the Philippines,” he said about the three-year Network Technician degree he’s pursuing. “With the HOPE scholarship, I have the assurance to finish my studies as long as I am able to comply with the requirements and maintain my high grades in school. The scholarship has provided for my daily meals, transportation, school project expenses, uniform and tuition,” Loreto attested.

Loreto is one of 734 HOPE recipients around the world who was awarded a scholarship worth as much as $350.

“I believe that HOPE scholarships uplift the spirit of youth to acquire college education in spite of poverty,” Loreto added, grateful that he can now see his dreams becoming a reality.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Behind the Scenes: A Grateful Writer

Posted on behalf of Deron Denton.

In November, I celebrated my third year as a member of the Children International family. The fact that I was hired just before the holiday season gets in full gear strikes me as a meaningful coincidence.

People involved with charitable humanitarian work know well the axiom that giving is its own reward.

We hear about it all the time: sponsors tell us that the joy they receive from giving far exceeds the monetary amount they contribute. The lessons I learn from our supporters are only exceeded by the incredible generosity of the people I meet in the field.

Deron (far right) with other staff members as they prepared to visit the Dominican Republic

I don’t know if you remember, but I wrote here a number of months ago about our most recent trip to the Dominican Republic, where I had the opportunity to visit my own sponsored child. His family offered me eggs from their own hen – it was an act of generosity that brought tears to my eyes.

During that same trip, I also met a 12-year-old girl named Ferlenny, whose two younger siblings are sponsored. She spoke with us about participating in the Youth Program and volunteering for our organization even though she wasn’t receiving sponsorship benefits. Her reason for being involved was simple: “I love to help people.”

Another highlight of that trip was getting the opportunity to touch base with Michael Hidalgo, a youth who was on the verge of graduating from our program. We’d first met Michael the previous summer, as one of the representatives at the 2006 International Youth Conference. An intelligent and charismatic young man, Michael’s enthusiasm for spreading the word about Children International was contagious. (An article I wrote that has Michael as a focal point is going onto our website,, starting Tuesday.)

He led a group of youth (and us) through the streets of his neighborhood. Their goal was to raise awareness about both the benefits of sponsorship as well as the participation requirements (photos, letter-writing, etc.). Michael was full of hope for the future…a hope instilled in him as a result of his involvement with our organization. It is a hope that permeates the impoverished communities where your support does so much good.

This holiday season, I am grateful for the extended family I have become a part of…and for the incredible lessons of generosity, and hope they all – in different ways – continue to teach me.