Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Land of Sun…and Sadness

Last Saturday evening, Greg, Damon and I returned from Honduras. We were bone-weary from traveling, but each of us carried in our hearts special memories of our trip.

The weather couldn’t have been nicer during our visit. Warm, spring-like days filled with bright sunshine provided the perfect atmosphere for us to interview sponsored children, their families and our agency staff about the challenges of poverty in Honduras – and believe me, these challenges are nearly overwhelming.

Several heart-rending cases cast dark shadows upon the beauty of the landscape. Perhaps the most difficult of these involved children infected with AIDS. To know these innocent young children face unimaginable suffering in the years ahead – through no fault of their own – was a reality almost too hard to handle.

But not all was grim. We were also surrounded by the evidences of the success of Children International’s sponsorship program in Honduras. Medical cases previously thought to be hopeless are now filed away in the “Cured” stack; children from impossibly poor families are going to school with their program-issued supplies and uniforms, chipping away at the glass ceiling that used to bar the less fortunate from any chance at success in life. And there were lots of smiling children.

Thanks for traveling to Honduras with us through this blog. It meant a lot to us to read your comments and hear your input. There’s lots of good stuff coming in the next few days, so please keep checking back.

Monday, February 26, 2007

The People We Meet

After a long and tumultuous trip Greg, Kelly and Damon arrived safely back in Kansas City late on Saturday night. For all of them, it was an emotional trip that they won't soon forget. We'll be providing you with more details and stories from Honduras in the days to come.

Today we wanted to travel back to Colombia as our writer Scott Cotter shares memories of that recent trip. Enjoy!

It has been nearly three weeks since we returned…the heat and humidity of Colombia have been traded for rain and snow. The sharp smell of cooking fires has been washed from our clothes and, as life has gotten back to normal in Kansas City, we were left with only our memories, notebooks scrawled with notes and discs jammed full of photos.

We met single mothers struggling every minute of every day. We talked to young teens filled with so much talent that I can’t imagine them not succeeding. And everywhere we went, eager sponsored children surrounded us with laughter and grabbed at our hands, pulling us toward their tiny homes.

Some of the people we met left me saddened and stunned. Most, though, were brimming with hope, helping me to see once again that action – and a bit of compassion – transforms lives in a lasting way.

Take Eneida. We met her and her two children, Marleidis and Anibal, at an anti-parasite campaign. When I asked for someone who wanted to talk about sponsorship, laughter erupted among the assembled mothers…they pushed Eneida toward me.

Gathered with mothers in a shelter of sorts, Eneida was singled out by the other mothers as the talkative one. Although shyness overcame her when she sat down with Jennifer and me, she managed to tell us how much she enjoyed being a part of the program and that it brought her children joy to receive letters and gifts from their sponsors.

We talked for less than five minutes, but with a smile, she said her children are thriving and that “we all benefit from a program like this.”

There was also Yesenia, who waited patiently at our community center in Barranquilla. It was late in the day and exhaustion had set in for all of us, but we knew we needed to hear what she had to say, not just because she and her mother had waited so long, but because Yesenia’s smile lights up a room.

In the community center library, as the sun’s last rays settled through the windows, her conversation with Patricia, our communication coordinator in Barranquilla, reminded me how much impact one person can have on another.

“I don’t live as bad as I did before,” she said with a smile. “I want to tell my sponsor that I love him like my own father and thanks for making our life better.”

Certainly, it’s good to be home. And though I may never meet my newfound friends again, I’ll never forget them. And I’m comforted with the fact that they will always have our staff in Colombia to turn to in times of need.

Yesenia used to live in a squat little shack that was so short her family entered bent at the waist so they wouldn’t hit their heads. Inside it wasn’t much better, the ceiling so low that Yesenia said it felt like suffocating. Rains often brought flooding and illness into the house. With help from her sponsor, Yesenia has a new house and the family has started a cold drink business that has elevated their standard of living.

Yesenia likes to talk about the time her sponsor visited. More than anything, she wants him to return. She says, “I’d also like to help other children, just like my sponsor has helped me.”

Saturday, February 24, 2007

In the Field with the CI Team

I'm happy to report I've survived whatever it was that got me last night!

Despite the grueling pace (13 hours in the field Wednesday and equally long days on Thursday and Friday), spirits are high as we continue to meet sponsored children and their families and witness firsthand how their lives are improving with the help of their sponsors and our agency staff. Let me share with you a brief photo tour of some of our activities in the field:

Since the age of 9, Digna has worked selling sand dredged from the river. Now she is partially disabled from a stroke, but she still supervises as her sons carry on the work. They dive to the river bed and scoop up sand in 5-gallon buckets, loading it into a skiff until the gunwales are barely above water. Bailing furiously, they pole down the river and use shovels to unload the boat, creating a pile on the bank. They repeat this process until they have enough sand to make a truckload, which they then hope to be able to sell.

The work is grueling, but Digna is thankful she can work with her children every day. She worries about the influences they would face if she had to leave them on their own in order to earn a living.

Two of Digna's sons carry a boatload of sand down the river.

Digna and her sons pose by the river with Damon (second from right) and Kelly (far right).

Chips, anyone? Frying and selling banana chips is just one of many creative ways poor families work to survive.

When her home was completely buried in mud by Hurricane Mitch in 1998, Delmis and her neighbors dug down and salvaged the front and back doors. Shortly thereafter, Children International built her a new home. In this picture with her grandchildren, Delmis stands next to one of the doors that was recovered and now guards the entrance to her house.

You may recall reading in Journeys about a young man named Darwin (see photo in our post from Wednesday) who received a life-changing surgery thanks to the concern of our sponsors. Dr. Mariela, our agency physician, was deeply concerned about the long-term emotional effects of his condition. Now, though, Darwin's surgery and subsequent complete recovery have turned him into a confident young man with a hopeful future.

"Please tell my sponsor thanks!" That's the message Christian, Darwin's little brother, wanted Greg to be sure to give his sponsor - Children International employee David.

Not exactly cutting-edge technology.but this earth stove is all one family - and thousands like them - has for cooking.

Radioing the control tower. Children International is all about broadening the horizons of desperately poor children. Who knows? After a few more years of encouragement and support with education and other essential benefits, one of these young men just might be your pilot when you fly down to visit your sponsored child in Honduras!

Posted on behalf of Kelly, Greg and Damon who are hopefully experiencing less delays as they travel back to Kansas City today. My deepest thanks for all their hard work this week in Honduras!

Friday, February 23, 2007

We're Blogging Until the Cows Come Home...

Moooooooo-ve over! The cows won…so we had to slow down to a crawl until the herd had safely crossed the road.

Good morning friends! We had hoped to share an update from the field, but an unforseen illness (always a potential issue when you travel outside the United States) has kept Kelly from giving us a daily update.

However, we did receive this of the many interesting views from inside the van on their drive out to the Copán Ruinas on Wednesday. Generally, not something most of us see when driving on the freeway...certainly reminding them that they weren't in Kansas (City) anymore.

Get better soon Kelly!

Check back later today and again on Saturday for the latest updates from the field.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Hope Rising from the Ruins

Copán Ruinas was no disappointment. Because of its remote location, accessible over rugged – and often dangerous – washboard roads, we have not visited this beautiful town in the heart of the ancient Maya empire as frequently as we have other areas served by Children International in Honduras. Nonetheless, sponsorship is alive and well here.

We thought we’d share with you some photos we shot on location today. Although nothing can compare with actually being here, perhaps these will help you feel a little closer to the sights our sponsored children see every day.

For all of us, it was exciting to see families waiting in line to enroll their children in the sponsorship program (did you know that, with around 4,760 sponsored children, Copán Ruinas is our largest service area in Honduras?). You’ll see a picture of a mother waiting patiently as her son’s paperwork is completed, which promises to bring positive changes to his life for years to come. And we’ve included a picture of newly sponsored child, Ronal, as he and his mom write his very first letter ever to his sponsor! Hopefully this will be the beginning of a lifelong friendship.

Certainly, what we saw today affirms for us the work we do and the considerable contribution sponsors make toward the lives of the children of Copán Ruinas. And we expect to see the same positive signs as we continue our travels through Honduras.

We’ll be here two more days, talking to families, seeing how sponsorship impacts lives and telling the stories we uncover…so make sure you check back for more updates from the field.

The Children International community center in Copán Ruinas is not hard to spot.

Starting a new phase in life: Enrollment in Children International’s sponsorship program promises steady support for children’s mental, emotional and physical development.

Ronal, who just found out that his waiting is over, works on a masterpiece to share with his new sponsor.

Say, “Queso!” Sponsored children have their photos snapped so their sponsors can stay up to date with how big they’ve grown…

This dusty road stands in stark contrast to the lush semi-tropical growth in the beautiful background.

Children International cameraman Javier climbs on top of a sponsored child’s house to record a home improvement project.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Desperate Lives Bind Us

A few of you have asked, "Why did I receive an email about Honduras?"...because you generously sponsor at least one child in the region of Central America. The region is comprised of Mexico, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic and Honduras. And even though you may not have a child in Honduras, we hope you enjoy learning about living conditions and issues that are similar to your own sponsored child.

And we encourage you to post any questions you might have. I'm positive that someone else probably has the same question! We'll do our best to answer your question and share what we know about the children and their communities.

And about today's's written and posted on behalf of Children International writer Damon Guinn, who is experiencing his first trip to Honduras. On to today's post...

I never knew what it felt like to be truly powerless until I looked deep into the eyes of a dying child.

There are many children who are close to death here in Honduras. They may not die today or tomorrow, but there is little doubt that their fates are sealed if help doesn’t arrive in time. This week, my colleagues and I will visit a number of children struggling to survive on the fringe of San Pedro Sula.

We’ll meet two sponsored children in the El Milagro (The Miracle) community who were recently hit by drunk drivers and suffered massive trauma and brain damage as a result. Their stories are not at all uncommon here. Angy, 7, and Milton, 14, are among several sponsored children whose lives are in jeopardy.

Then we’ll go to Las Minas (The Mines), where we’ll come face to face with an 11-year-old named Franklin. Chronic malnutrition and a necrotic ear infection have forced Franklin to abandon school.

You may ask what can sponsorship do for children so close to the edge? All I can say is, if you could be here and see what I’m seeing, the answer would be obvious.

In every one of the six sponsorship areas we visit over the next three days, we’ll encounter compassionate field workers who help create a vital connection between children desperate for help and a concerned community of supporters like you.

One such field worker is Dr. Mariela Castillo Pires, the Children International doctor in Las Minas, who first informed us about a little boy named Darwin when a group from Children International visited Honduras in 2005.

Darwin (right), you may recall, was living a wretched life because he was born with a rare rectal malformation. His exposed intestine and crude homemade colostomy bag caused him endless agony and dejection. When Dr. Castillo Pires intervened, he received corrective surgery and psychological support. He now lives like any other young boy his age, prompting one of our staff members to say, “It’s unbelievable…you can’t even tell he had a problem!”

Today we’re on the road to Copán Ruinas to see the difference special donations are making in the children’s lives. Be sure and check back tomorrow morning for more photos and an update.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Sidetracked, But Still On Target

There’s more than a little truth to the old saying about the best-laid plans of mice and men sometimes failing…

I expected to be writing this post from my hotel room in the humid heart of San Pedro Sula, updating you about a busy day of travel and training. Instead, I’m writing from my hotel room in Houston, where Greg, Damon and I ended up after a chain of events that started with a plane that was delayed over three hours leaving Kansas City and led to missed flights in Houston, the final recovery of our luggage – after hours of searching – and this unexpected overnight layover.

To make a long story short, we were rescued by an “angel”…a hard-working gentleman behind the ticket counter who tackled our problem and came up with a solution.

We will arrive in San Pedro Sula just after noon today, and will spend the rest of the afternoon in specialized training with staff from our agencies in Honduras and Guatemala. Then, on Wednesday morning, we will launch into the field to meet with sponsored children and their families, extending our trip one extra day to make up for the day we lost in transit.

Our first venture into the field will take us to Copán Ruinas, an ancient Mayan city once referred to as the “Athens of the New World” and whose majestic ruins overshadow the lives of many children who struggle in desperate poverty. Children International has a long history in this area. We anticipate that our staff members from Guatemala, a country which shares this ancient Mayan heritage, will have special insights to share with all of you about this visit.

Please check back with us often throughout the rest of the week as we bring you the latest from our field operation in Honduras. Join us as we look into the homes, lives and hearts of the children who are the real reason for what all of us do.

Photo of little girl by Andrea Waters, April 2005, outside San Pedro Sula, Honduras.
Copán Ruinas photo courtesy of Eric Sustad.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Children International in Honduras

Children International has been working in Honduras nearly 20 years and provides benefits to over 20,000 children. With our team currently on their way to Honduras, we thought you might want to see for yourself just how much sponsorship really changes lives.

Headed for Honduras

I’ve never been to Belize…but my luggage has. Unfortunately, while my bags were enjoying a few days of vacation in paradise, I – along with my fellow Children International team members – was in the sweltering tropical heat of Honduras, making do with a single change of clothes.

But if you’ve done much international travel, you know lost baggage is just part of life. The sobering part was that while I considered myself to be hopelessly short on clothing, the two sets of clothes I had (one to wear and one to wash!) represented a more complete wardrobe than many of the children I had come to visit had ever owned all at one time.

That was a couple of years ago. Today, Greg, Damon and I are on our way to Honduras once again. Greg and I have been several times, but this will be Damon’s first visit. With a 6 a.m. departure from Kansas City and a training session scheduled from 3 to 10 p.m. in San Pedro Sula, it promises to be a long day.

We’ll spend the next three days visiting our community centers throughout the San Pedro Sula area and interviewing sponsored children and their families. Each child has a special story to tell, and we wish we could visit with each one; but because we sponsor thousands of children in the area, we’ll only be able to squeeze in a few.

This trip will be particularly exciting because we’ll be touching base with several children who have been featured in our various publications, such as Journeys, eNews, etc. In fact, for some of you, the very first letter you ever received from Children International featured a little Honduran girl named Damaris, whose family couldn’t even afford to buy her a good pair of shoes. You may also recall Sonia, whose sad green eyes conveyed the pain of being shunned by other children because of the horrible burns that covered her face and body.

Sponsorship has been life-changing for these children. There are others too…Darwin, who also was shunned because of his raw, exposed colostomy; Jennifer, who had barely eaten in months when Children International found her, her rail-thin body a mute testimony to the terrible malnutrition that was slowly destroying her.

I’m a little sad that we won’t get to see Cinthia…she’s now moved to the capital city, Tegucigalpa. Cinthia was the little girl whose growth was so stunted by malnutrition that at 8 years old she could have passed for a toddler – and who would eat dirt in a desperate attempt to provide the nutrients her body craved. Our caring staff in Honduras helped her get into a nutritional rehab center, and she’s now enjoying a much better life.

Please check back often, as we’ll be updating the blog every day this week when we get back to the hotel after our field visits. We look forward to helping you catch up with our old friends and telling you about the new ones we’ll make as we visit one of the loveliest – and neediest – nations in the world.

Posted on behalf of Kelly and crew who at the moment are sitting in the airport waiting on their very delayed flight...

Friday, February 16, 2007

A Party for Lizzy

As a photographer for Children International, I’ve met hundreds -- if not thousands -- of sponsored children around the world. I was excited to learn that my next assignment would take me to Lusaka, Zambia, where I would meet my own sponsored child, Lizzy, for the first time.

I became Lizzy’s sponsor last summer after my sponsored child of 13 years, Karl, graduated from the sponsorship program. Upon realizing that I would be in Lusaka on her birthday, I started planning how I could make this special day for Lizzy.

When I met 6-year-old Lizzy at her aunt's home, she was quiet and shy. Her mother had passed away only a few months earlier and her father was no longer around. She now lives with her aunt and cousins, who have taken Lizzy and her siblings into their own family. With so many children who’ve been orphaned due to AIDS and forced to live on the streets, I was comforted by the fact that her family was caring and she had a safe place to call home.

I arrived in Lusaka hoping for two suitcases to come off the plane, but found that only one had made it to Zambia with me. Although clean clothes would’ve been nice, I was thankful it was the suitcase full of gifts that my friends, family and I had purchased and carefully packed for Lizzy and her family. It would be five days before the suitcase with clean clothes would finally catch up with me!

Later, we arrived at the new CI community center for an afternoon of birthday fun. The staff had cheerfully decorated one of the rooms and had snacks and treats for everyone to enjoy. With her first birthday party ever in full swing, the cake and gifts arrived and Lizzy’s face glowed with smiles. And so did mine...for I had received the best gift of all...a huge hug from Lizzy.

Posted on behalf of Greg, a long-time Children International photographer who has traveled around the world capturing the essence of our sponsored children and their communities in hopes of giving sponsors a glimpse into our children's daily lives. Look for more from Greg next week as he, Damon (a staff writer for Children International) and I travel to Honduras.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A Tragic Flood…And Stolen Hearts

As I write this, I’m looking at a little red rock I keep on my desk. There’s nothing really outstanding about the rock – but what it represents will stay with me forever.

I picked the rock up from the bed of the Rio Madre Vieja, in Patulul, Guatemala. What’s unusual about a river rock? Nothing…except just three months before, where I was standing was not a riverbed at all.

The place where I was standing used to be 18 feet higher. In fact, it was the site of Don Pedro Zunun’s home – a home he had worked for close to 20 years to build. His face filled with shock and pain, Don Pedro told us that he had not even bought a new pair of pants in all those years, just so he could provide a home for his family.

Everything changed when heavy rains caused a mudslide on a nearby mountainside. The raging torrent that resulted was so powerful that it completely altered the course of the river, taking with it homes – including Don Pedro’s – as well as lives, livelihoods…and dreams.

The little girl in the photo below was not aware that our photographer Javier was capturing her picture. She was not sponsored, and her home had suffered heavy damages from the flood. Javier snapped her picture as she watched wistfully while a neighboring family with sponsored children received a load of building materials to repair their own flood-damaged house.

Days later I shared Jessica’s photo with my wife and her gentle innocence captured our hearts. We couldn’t help but want to sponsor her. That’s one of the greatest satisfactions of working for Children International: being able to help children as a professional – and as a sponsor.

Thanks for letting me share the joy sponsorship has brought to my family. If you have any special stories you’d like to share about your own experiences as a sponsor, why not add them as a comment on this post?

Monday, February 12, 2007

Typhoon Durian Update

I had a chance the other day to chat with Vicki Medrano, our regional director for Asia, regarding our ongoing efforts in the Philippines to help the survivors of Typhoon Durian. As you may recall, this was the natural disaster that brought incredible death and destruction to an area where many of our sponsored children live.

It’s hard to convey with mere words or even photos the suffering that people living in the area around Tabaco and Legazpi, in Albay province, endured as the typhoon raged through the countryside. But the outpouring of support from our sponsors left no doubt about how much you care.

The situation remains grim for many displaced families, thousands of whom remain sheltered in schoolhouses – which they must vacate early each morning so children can attend classes. They wait in the sweltering heat under the meager shelter of thin plastic tents until they can re-occupy the only slightly more comfortable classrooms at the end of the day.

This typhoon survivor was photographed by Anthony Lorcha, a Children International staff member who lost his own home to Typhoon Durian.

Children International is working closely with local government officials and our donors to provide sturdy, typhoon-resistant homes for many of these survivors. Thanks to your contributions and other funds released by the Board of Directors of Children International, much can and will be done to help.

If you’d like to know more about the tragedy in the Philippines and how our sponsors are helping, go to and click on the “Typhoon Durian Relief” button under “Latest News and Features.”

I think you’ll be impressed by what you learn!

Thursday, February 8, 2007

To Colombia…And Beyond

Well, the Children International team is back from Colombia after 10 action-packed days on the ground. I hope you enjoyed tagging along with them as they visited sponsored children and reported on the difference your support is making in Barranquilla and Cartagena.

If this is your first time visiting our blog, please check out the posts below and in the archive to read about what the team saw and experienced in Colombia.

Our Children International team for Colombia included Jennifer, Scott, Andrea, Erin and David. They’ll be sharing more photos and experiences from their trip in the near future. For now, though, I asked each of them to summarize the trip in a few words…

Erin: “What stood out the most during our trip to Colombia is the dedication of the local agency staff. When we visited sponsored communities, smiles, handshakes and hugs were frequently exchanged between the families in our program and Children International employees. It was obvious to me that working for Children International is much more than just a job for our local colleagues - just as it is for me.”

Jennifer: “My Spanish is sketchy at best. Simple phrases and lots of gestures generally convey my message. However with Maria, language was no barrier with us becoming fast friends. I’ll always remember her sweet smile and kind eyes as she plopped herself down next to me on a step and stuck by my side for the afternoon. With only her grandmother to watch over her as she grows, I’m excited for the opportunities sponsorship will offer her and all that she will achieve in the future. Children like Maria are why I work for Children International.”

David: “I saw that Children International really does bring out the very best in the volunteer mothers and the youth…the workshops give them a sense of self-worth and give them the power to help their own communities.”

Scott: "In Chubal, a dusty, isolated slum outside of Barranquilla, I was overwhelmed with the reaction our agency van elicited from the children. As we pulled off the highway and into the powder-fine dirt, a large group charged toward us, screaming and leaping into the air, their smiles an irresistible welcome mat. Our driver, Victor, said this is a common reaction because families think of our staff as their friends.”

Andrea: “I am always struck by the inner strength mothers have in dire and uncertain circumstances. They bear a heavy load, yet put on a brave face for their children and do the very best they can with practically nothing. They often lean on their faith and the hope that their children will have better lives. Sponsorship gives them hope.

And of course I still love the fact that no matter where I go, children are children and can find delight in the smallest of things…like looking at a tiny digital image of themselves on the back of my camera.”

What’s next?
We really hope you have enjoyed the posts and photos from our team’s Colombia trip. In just a couple of weeks we’ll have another team on the ground, this time in Honduras. We’d like to hear from you – what types of things would you like us to update you on while we’re there? Please drop us a comment or an email and let us know!

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

20 Years of Change

My first trip with CI was to Colombia - more than 20 years ago. I had never seen such wide-scale, overwhelming poverty. I simply adored every child and empathized with the mothers who had so very little to provide for their children and only the slightest glimpse of hope they would ever fare better. Of course I was hooked.

I've visited here several times over the years and have witnessed significant change. Horrible roads have become highways, phone service was laughable then but today the cell reaches nearly everywhere. Cars and buses are newer, yet the horse drawn cart is also still quite common. Where there was virtually no middle class, today apartment buildings have sprung up all over, representing a burgeoning tier of young, well-educated professionals. A new mall in Barranquilla is proof enough of the dramatic transformation taking place.

And while many things have changed, some things remain the same.

Just outside the urban core, behind the colorful facades and brightly-lit shops strung along the main roadways, you'll still find a vast sea of poverty. Families move to the large cities believing they’ll find opportunity, jobs and safety. Too often what they find is unemployment, high prices and dwindling hope. They can’t go back so they pull together their meager resources and construct a ‘temporary’ shelter from scrap wood, metal, and plastic sheeting. They become invisible statistics to already overwhelmed government entities. Days melt into years…more families move here…and the slums grow ever larger.

Displaced and waiting: Omar and Hernando Romano outside their
home in the Santa Rosa community outside of Cartagena.

But it isn’t as hopeless as it might sound. Hope exists in these same neighborhoods all over Barranquilla and Cartagena. We were here 20 years ago, and we’re still here today…reaching out to the children day after day and providing much-needed material benefits, services and the guidance they need.

As you would expect, our programs have evolved over the decades. We've learned which services make the greatest impact on the poor and we've implemented many more vital benefits. The CI infrastructure is strong and sound. Newer community centers offer a large, full-service oasis for thousands of children and their parents, many of whom are still struggling with the far reaching effects of poverty.

Excitement grows for the children living near the new CI Community Center currently under construction in Santa Rosa.

I can only wonder which of the children I met 20 years ago are still living a life of poverty - likely with children of their own. And I can hope that at least a few of them found their way out - maybe living in one of those new apartments. The children and youth we've met on this trip have a much better chance than the previous generation. There are more educational opportunities in their communities; improved transportation makes it possible for many to explore what their cities have to offer. And, of course, sponsorship provides the roadmap and resources necessary to actually make it out.

A small business helps this youth and his mother keep the family afloat during trying times. A Hope Scholarship is also making it possible for him to seek a certificate in accounting.

We've met incredibly articulate sponsored youth with generous hearts, compassionate souls and dreams they can truly attain. I am so proud of them…and if you could meet them you would be too. I hope the stories and photos we've posted this week have helped transport you to Colombia and have provided some unique firsthand insight into the lives of those we help and how your help makes a real and lasting difference.

Smart, articulate youth are being awarded with CI Hope Scholarships every year. Javier is studying commerce and Maria early childhood. Giving back to their families and their communities is a common value instilled in the youth.

Posted on behalf of Andrea Waters, Children International photographer. Andrea has over 20 years of committed service to the organization, sponsors and the children who make up the Children International family.

Monday, February 5, 2007

An Oasis of Hope

Updated at 4:45pm on Monday, Feb. 5 from Colombia: Hello everyone! We reached our central office today in town and finally have access to a working internet connection, so as promised, here are the photos that I mentioned in the post earlier today...enjoy!

On a hot, sunny day in Barranquilla, we visited "La Sierrita," where more than 5,000 needy children receive help at a Children International community center.

Known simply as Community Center #1, it might more appropriately be called The Oasis. Though it is 17 years old, updates, new, bright paint and expansions have made it more modern and more inviting.

While we were there, it was filled with boisterous children who were receiving medical and dental exams and enjoying the spacious, shade-covered courtyard, or a book in the unique, octagonal library.

Because we are using a mobile device while we’re in the field, we won’t be able to post the photos we snapped until later today or tomorrow – so please check back. Meanwhile, though, we wanted to share the responses we got to a question we always like to ask of sponsored children...what would you like to say to your sponsor?

Luis Carlos, age 8 said:
"My sponsor changed my life! Thanks for the help with my allowed my dream of speaking normally to come true!"

María Pájaro, age 7 and newly sponsored said:
"I love all the services that we are given and all of the nice things I see in my community."

Mileydys Corbarcas, age 6 said:
"I'm so happy that my sponsor chose me! I have a good, kind sponsor that gives me the opportunity to receive gifts and medical attention. I want to know my sponsor better."

María Guerrero, age 8 said:
"I only have happiness in my life since I've been sponsored. I feel like I have a lot of support and I'm important to someone far away."

These words, the hopeful and grateful thoughts of children who truly depend on sponsorship, affirm our efforts. They are the stories that highlight the change taking place in Colombia, and all the things that people like you make possible.

Friday, February 2, 2007

A Village of Hope: Villa Esperanza

Thank you for the wonderful responses and questions regarding our Colombia posting on Wednesday. The number of children we work with here in Colombia is overwhelming...over 40,000! As you can imagine, we will only see a few of them on this trip. We wish we could take personal greetings to each of them from their sponsors, but realistically, that is just not possible. But please know that, without exception, the children we’re meeting are eager to convey the same message to their sponsors: “We appreciate you!”

While what you are seeing may not be your specific child's home, the poverty here is so overwhelming that there's not much difference in how most of the families live. These photos and stories really represent most of the families we work with. And now a little bit about a community that we visited this week…

For the more than 2,000 sponsored children who live there, Villa Esperanza isn’t just a place they call home, but a place they find hope.

In this area, Children International provided the building materials and other resources for the construction of 250 new homes – permanent structures of concrete block. The sponsored families who live in these homes now have a place to call their own. Gone are the worries of crumbling shacks and the dangers of inadequate sanitary facilities. The worries have been replaced by a solid infrastructure. Running water, electricity and a modern sewage system provide welcome relief to families who never had such luxuries in the past.

While many residents came from rural areas of the country seeking refuge from paramilitary violence, others saw Villa Esperanza as an opportunity for a better way of life. Today, many of the sponsored families who reside here earn a living as construction workers or as street vendors selling miscellaneous items such as fruit, water and candies. And one enterprising mom has even started her own preschool for neighborhood children after completing her own education as an adult.

The Colombian spirit is easy to find here. Flowering trees line the streets, while brightly painted modern houses pay homage to a lively cultural heritage. For these children, hoping for a better home is no longer a dream. In Villa Esperanza, it is a reality.