Monday, April 30, 2007
Call it a eulogy if you like. Or a final chapter. At the very least, call it a testimony to the inescapable way we become connected to one another.
When Kelly and I met Marta,* neither of us was aware of the bittersweet legacy that had already been set in motion.
Only 26, Marta had the weary demeanor of someone 60 years older. She was a frail woman, “tiny and sullen” as writer Scott Cotter remembered from meeting her in 2003.
Scott first met Marta, her three sons and her husband when they lived in a tiny mud shack, or baharaque. He didn’t know it then, but inside that stagnant, musty shack, a fatal disease was incubating, preparing to spread through Marta’s body.
When Kelly and I visited her four years later, her family was living in a sturdy cinder-block home provided by our organization. Her children were in good spirits, giggling as they ran in and out of the house, but their mother, weighed down by fatigue, could only manage a smirk for a smile.
Repeating the recent events of her life, Marta’s face played out a range of emotions. It brightened when she said, “Children International has helped us a lot with school supplies, with the house they’ve given us, and everything I’ve needed.” It dimmed when she remarked, “With my sickness, they’ve helped me with that as well.
“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. Kelly and I exchanged glances, a reminder to do what we could when we returned to Kansas City.
A week later, Marta died.
She had gone to the hospital for medicine but was turned away, dismissed as a lost cause. Defeated, she returned home and lay down in bed.
Sensing her time was near, Marta called for José Luis, the sponsorship area supervisor who had been her friend, confidante and caregiver ever since she contracted the disease. When José arrived, Marta made one final request...“Please,” she gasped, “take care of my children until they grow up and keep them in every CI program. Never let them down.”
Back in Kansas City, we made arrangements to transfer the money needed to build a fence for her family. News of her passing arrived the following day.
It’s hard for me to believe that Marta was only 26 when she died. Her life to that point had not been easy, and I am humbled by her final words. They are a lasting testament to a mother who struggled to care for her children at all costs. And they will live as a permanent reminder that like her, there are many deserving people, noble in their own right, who desperately need our help.
Listen as Marta shares her final thoughts about living with AIDS and the impact it had on her children.
*Her name was changed to protect the privacy of her family.
Friday, April 27, 2007
“I’ve seen the pictures of dirt floors and tiny shacks, but I had no idea it was really that bad. You really have to be there and see it for yourself.” Leah said tearfully. “There is no way to prepare yourself for what you’ll see. Words cannot describe it.”
Overwhelmed at what she witnessed in the field, the experience was also a joyful one for Leah when she had the opportunity to visit one of her sponsored children, 5 year-old Mileidy of Guayaquil.
“I spotted her immediately at the center! She was sitting there with her mom, Martha.”
Smiling through tear-filled eyes, Leah remembers the visit enthusiastically. “I was able to spend about 45 minutes with them. My children and I had picked out gifts for Mileidy. She was shy and quiet as I gave her the coloring books and stuff, but I really connected with her mom, and eventually Mileidy, as we sat and colored together.
“I hope to bring my children to visit someday. This was such a life-changing experience. I look at everything much differently now. I see the difference in children who are sponsored and having met her deepened my commitment to her.”
With the memories of her trip fresh and at the surface, Leah is even more committed to the mission of Children International. “What we do makes me so proud to come to work everyday.”
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Fire swept through a shantytown in Quezon City, Philippines, the afternoon of April 26, destroying homes and property as residents fled for their lives. There have been no reports of serious injuries or casualties.
The ravaged community consists of approximately 150 homes. Our staff in Manila rushed to the scene to check on the welfare of the families in the area. They informed us that 39 families of sponsored children – as well as two former sponsored children – have been affected by this disaster.
Sponsored families have been provided with temporary shelters within the Bagbag community by local government agencies.
Since most sponsored families were not able to salvage any personal belongings, Children International immediately provided emergency items such as blankets, pillows and toothbrushes. Additionally, government agencies distributed food to the victims.
We'll keep you updated as more information becomes available.
Photos and information provided by Arlene De Vera, of our Manila agency.
Power returning to Colombia after nationwide blackout
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) -- Colombia's electrical grid collapsed Thursday, causing a nationwide blackout that briefly halted stock trading, trapped people in elevators and left authorities struggling to determine the cause.
President Alvaro Uribe told journalists in the southern city of Cali that the blackout, which began at midmorning, "appears to have affected the entire country."
Luis Alarcon, manager of state-controlled electricity distributor ISA, issued a statement that the power outage apparently began with an undetermined technical glitch at a substation in Bogota and quickly spread to the rest of the country.
He said work crews had re-established power to about 20 percent of the country and hoped to reconnect the rest in a few hours.
Bogota's stock exchange resumed trading around noon as power returned. It said trading would be extended for an hour to make up for the suspension.
RCN television reported that power had returned to central Bogota, and to parts of the city's northern districts, where many companies have their headquarters.
Rosa Ortiz, who runs a cigarette stand at a busy intersection in Bogota, said that with traffic lights knocked out, "we've seen a few near accidents, but so far the drivers seem to be adapting to the situation."
There was no indication of a terrorist attack, though leftist rebels routinely sabotage electric transmission lines as part of their four-decade old campaign to overthrow the government.Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Time may heal wounds, but the scars of Typhoon Durian may last a lifetime…
When news that Typhoon Durian was about to come ashore in the Philippines, Tony Lorcha, communications coordinator for our Legazpi, Philippines, agency, and his family did the only thing they could...they faced the storm.
This is his account of that fateful event just a few months ago.
News about Durian had been spreading and it made my family fretful. First, we live in a village located in the typhoon belt and near a volcano, which places us in the path of flooding and threats from volcanic eruption. Second, our house is near the waterway and in case water rises, our place would certainly be flooded. And third, we were anxious on the stability of our house, since the wall is made only of plywood and the roof is made of corrugated metal.
When Durian made a landfall, it caused severe damage to infrastructure, houses, crops, and other properties. The storm battered our village for seven hours. It left our house completely destroyed, including the small vending store that served as my parent’s source of livelihood. We were lucky to get out before it collapsed.
Left with no other option, my family faced the wrath of the roaring winds and heavy rains outside. We crossed the already flooded area in our village and we managed to move to our new but only small concrete house, which is still under construction. We felt a little relief when we got there.
At one point, we heard cries from outside as people were screaming about the flood. The big volume of water triggered a loosening of the volcanic ash and it came tumbling down toward us along with water, sand and boulders, causing people to panic.
I went outside to have a look. I was shocked at what I saw. And I felt fear. A number of people were running fast along the streets, terrified. My parents, siblings, and the rest of our neighbors were deeply frightened by what was happening too. From our house, I could see the raging floodwater heavily flowing down from the rice fields and riverbanks.
One of my relatives, who went along with the crowd, returned and told us that the bridge that connects our village with another was destroyed. We were trapped.
Luckily, the waters and debris moved in a different direction and we were saved. But for two days we were isolated in our village. We had no food but several fathers salvaged pigs that had been carried away by the floods and that saved us from hunger.
Some of my colleagues were worried about us because they had heard the bad news. One friend told me I was listed as missing on the radio. For two days, I could not confirm that my family and I were safe because all communications were down. As soon as I could, I sent a text message to several people to let them know that we were safe…that we were alive!
Their worries for my family and me were finally over. After that, I joined other staff to begin helping sponsored families and gathering data about the destruction of our communities.
I thank God that my family is safe and nobody was hurt. We’re now starting to cope with what has happened, and trying to leave behind whatever scars this disaster has brought to us.
Losing one’s house, especially a source of livelihood, is depressing. But we won’t lose hope. Amidst these things, I strengthened my resolve to be stronger for my family and for the other families who suffered the loss of loved ones and property.
With the help of many generous donors from around the world, the affected people, including my family, are now starting to rebuild.
Recently, the ambassador of the Philippines to the United States invited Children International to Washington, D.C., along with one of our generous donors, Fresh Produce Sportswear of Colorado. The occasion was a celebration honoring Children International and Fresh Produce for the $4.1 million in aid we donated jointly.
Kathe Freund, Outreach Ambassador to Children for Fresh Produce, reflected in her speech, “Fresh Produce knows that life is always richer when you give back, and we have made it an important part of our company’s culture. We believe it is good corporate citizenship to give back to others in need, so we spread comfort and cheer through our fun, bright, colorful clothing.
“We focus our giving to women, families and children in need, as well as education. We give through volunteer work, monetary gifts and product donations locally, nationally and internationally,” explained Freund.
And that’s not just idle talk. Fresh Produce has indeed made significant contributions during the partnership it has maintained with Children International since 2000. In fact, in the past two years alone it has donated 175,000 pieces of clothing through Children International for disaster and humanitarian relief efforts in third world countries.
Most recently, Fresh Produce donated 36,000 items of clothing to help the children and families who were hardest hit by Typhoon Durian, working together with Children International to provide a meaningful response to the enormous tragedy and destruction of the storm.
“Fresh Produce is proud to be a part of the largest non-governmental contribution and the first clothing donation allowed into the country,” continued Freund. “We would like to recognize the Philippine government for their help in absorbing the cost of the shipment and delivery of these garments….
“In the future, Fresh Produce will continue to make the world a brighter place by giving back to non-profits around the world. We look forward to expanding programs that benefit women, families, children and education because it is not only gratifying and worthwhile, but also the right thing to do!
“On behalf of the many employees and associates of Fresh Produce Sportswear, I would like to personally thank you for this honor – and we will be continuing our involvement with Children International in the future.”
Children International values the contributions of Fresh Produce Sportswear and all of our partners to our struggle to fight poverty around the world. To read the full text of Kathe Freund’s speech, click here.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Zambia, where Children International operates one of its 18 agencies, has some sobering statistics: one out of every five children under the age of five in this developing country will likely die because of malaria. In fact, the problem is so severe that malaria is the leading cause of death in Zambia.
April 25 is Malaria Awareness Day in the United States…and “MAD” is a fitting acronym for this portion of the worldwide effort to conquer malaria. Leading organizations such as the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are only a few of the many entities that are pouring their energy into fighting this ruthless killer.
Malaria is a problem of gigantic proportions. We at Children International realize that the chances of eradicating malaria on our own are pretty slim; however, we also know that every little bit of help counts. Although our primary focus in Zambia is on our core benefits (things like medical and dental care, nutritional support and educational assistance), we also partner with other organizations whenever possible to help protect our sponsored children from malaria. We have been involved in joint efforts to provide mosquito nets to sponsored children, and we are actively engaged in educating the children and their families on ways to help avoid becoming infected.
The difference sponsorship makes is really evident when our sponsored children do contract malaria – and this is not unusual, because around 96% of the population of Zambia is at risk. The free medical care our sponsored children enjoy can literally mean the difference between life and death.
To learn more about malaria and what is being done to fight it, please click here. We hope you will join our efforts and those of the other organizations who are working hard to help families in Zambia and around the world beat the odds of malaria.
 Roll Back Malaria 2005 World Malaria Report
Mosquito photo courtesy of peacecorpsonline.org. Photo of child by Clementina Chapusha, Children International's communications coordinator in Lusaka, Zambia.
Monday, April 23, 2007
As a journalist I was intrigued and researched Children International’s writings, videos, slideshows and magazines. I liked the fact that their help was not conditional and stayed away from pity. It was authentic and respected the dignity, pride, self-respect and power of all the people they helped and wish to help. I was determined to become a part of their organization and as fate would have it a writer position became available.
I have been a writer at Children International for one month. Beyond a world map and a small zebra plant I have not been able to decorate my office much. In between stubborn sentences, I stare at the map. I gaze upon the regions where Children International works, Ecuador…India…(my eyes scan east) the Philippines. I imagine children and their parents walking through the front door of a local Children International Community Center.
A field worker is there every day to listen and act. Housing assistance, nutritional rehabilitation, clothing, medical and education aid are available. A safety net that was never there before provides genuine piece of mind. I imagine our sponsors and their connections and affections for these far-flung people and places. I’m proud to be a part of this organization…this solution…this wonderful idea that works. Half the world is okay, and half the world could use a hand. If we all just help one person what a difference that would make.
Everyone here at Children International wants to work so hard and do such a good job that we no longer have a job. We want to accomplish this by giving a child a chance to maximize their potential on the earth. To invest in a child brimming with potential is a great gift for the world.
From the mailroom to the boardroom this place is a beehive of activity. I am in awe of the scope and scale of our work. Seventy-one years ago this place was just a thought. Because of this thought; and because of the sponsors; and because the efforts of the people who work in and have passed through this building, and because of our eighty-seven community centers throughout the world, over 300,000 desperately poor children will be helped this year.
What legacy will our thoughts leave seventy-one years from now?
To be able to help tell the Children International story is an honor. It’s empowering to know that my thoughts and my words can become actions and positively impact people’s lives.
Friday, April 20, 2007
“I will show them all their letters to me which I read over and over again.”
Photo by Arlene De Vera, from Children International’s agency in Manila.
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Ana María never strays far from my mind.
Even though it has been eight months since I visited her and her family in Guadalajara, Mexico, I still think about her often. And I can still see her dejected face yearning for help.
When I met her, she and 17 family members shared a tiny, dilapidated shack with dirt floors and an open fire to cook what little food they had. The family was plagued by little education, low income and health problems.
Heavily pregnant and not feeling well, Ana María didn’t say much when I interviewed her. But she didn’t have to. Her pleading eyes were enough to explain her desperation. For food to feed her husband and four children, for help with medical care, housing needs, educational support, and so much more – all issues that seemed overwhelming even with sponsorship support.
Sometimes I wonder why I am fortunate to lead such a different life from the families in our program like Ana María’s. Why am I lucky enough to live in a decent house and eat three meals a day while she and her family struggle so much?
On the surface, it doesn’t appear that Ana María and I have much in common. But when it comes down to it, we’re not that much different. We both care about our families and loved ones. Like everyone else, we just want to get ahead.
But unlike me, for Ana María getting ahead often means just having enough money to feed her kids.
Read more about Ana María and her family in the Spring 2007 issue of Journeys magazine. To read an online version, click here.
Monday, April 16, 2007
Even as the tempo of the dance beats increased, sweat glistened on the faces of the young students as they followed Jacqueline Porter's moves and instructions -- different language or cultures posing no threat to great communication between them. The wise men have rightly said -- music is the language of angels.
The instructor, Jacqueline Porter, is a professional dancer, a dance teacher, and an entrepreneur; she is also a sponsor, and her students were comprised of sponsored children from the two community centers of Children International-SAHAY.
While no stranger to the Bollywood song and dance numbers that blare from tiny shops located in the narrow alleys of Kolkata, lessons from a professional had remained a distant dream to these children…till they met Jacquie. A graduate of Smith College, Jacquie always wanted to dance, and apart from having done shows on Broadway and National Tour she has also taught more than 3000 children internationally. But to go beyond her usual sponsor visit and spend so much of her valuable time with more sponsored children and conduct a very enjoyable workshop for them was a gesture that overwhelmed everyone at CI-SAHAY, especially as this was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of a treat for many of the children.
The admiration, love and respect were mutual as is apparent through Jacquie's quote: "I have taught 3000-odd children, but this group is the fastest in learning and the most cooperative." And we at the agency would like to add that we look forward to an encore soon.
Nivedita Moitra is the communications coordinator for Children International’s agency in Kolkata, India.
Friday, April 13, 2007
It really felt good to be able to answer with confidence....
People who care enough to give also care enough to be concerned with how the money they give is spent. We feel this is one of the reasons so many of our sponsors have been with us for years – particularly those who have actually visited their sponsored children and seen their sponsorship dollars at work.
One of the things we really, really believe in is transparency. That’s why we welcome it when people check out the way we use sponsorship money. We believe we’re doing a good job of using what you give; however, we also want to know if there are ways we can improve.
That’s why we’re proud to share with you that we’ve been evaluated by a number of consumer protection groups – and that we’ve passed with flying colors! The American Institute of Philanthropy (AIP), Consumers Digest, BBBOnLine …all of these organizations agree that with 80% of our income being spent on programs that directly benefit sponsored children, giving through Children International is a wise way to channel your charitable contributions.
From time to time, you’ve probably had questions. Jennifer and I would love to answer any questions you may have on how Children International operates…or anything else you’d like to know about how we help children. Let us hear from you!
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
What a blessing it was to be able to visit the children I sponsor through Children International in the Philippines.
I have sponsored two children in Metro Manila for at least 15 years. I visited Children International there the first time 8 years ago and I can see many changes.
The most exciting changes are in the child and his family. When I visited 8 years ago, Michael was a small boy and appeared fearful of me and unsure. Today he is a confident young man of 18. He has a construction job to help earn money for a college education. He hopes to be a math teacher. His mother has an air of confidence also. The father stayed home from work to see me. He was unemployed 8 years ago. Their home is somewhat expanded. Michael’s younger sister (also a sponsored child) is outgoing and joyous and instantly eager to take my hand and take charge of Cheska Joy, my other sponsored child. Cheska is 9 and has similar characteristics that Michael had 8 years ago.
Michael spoke English with me, asked questions, and quietly mentioned to me more than once that he would play basketball at the local basketball court on Sunday at 2 p.m. We all went to watch him play, and he is an excellent, fearless and fast player. What a testimony to the work of Children International.
The contribution of Children International to the individual lives of the children and their families is significant, but that is not where it stops. One of the changes since my last visit is the Children International community center. These are beautiful, clean buildings that stand out against their surroundings. The children and their families now come to these centers for most of their interactions with Children International. They are expected to help keep these buildings clean and free of trash. Thus, each beneficiary who enters feels that they are special. In the case of Michael’s family, this has carried over into all aspects of their lives.
The children I sponsor in the name of my cousin’s two children are newly sponsored. They are in the Tabaco area. They and their families tell of the hope for a brighter future. Leo is an only child who is 5. His father and mother are devoting themselves to Leo’s future. As a farmer, the father struggles to make enough to provide for Leo. But the assistance from Children International makes them optimistic for their son’s future.
In the case of Ginabel, the home where she lived with her younger siblings, her pregnant mother and her father was blown away by the typhoon that hit their island of San Miguel. The family’s new dwelling is makeshift. Her father is a fisherman, but the money paid for the fish they catch is very little. Hopefully, involvement with Children International will make it possible for Ginabel to finish school and make a better life for herself.
I visited the new Children International community center that will provide benefits for thousands of additional sponsored children in this remote but beautiful area. They assist over 1,000 children now and will soon have 5,000 sponsored children, to bring the total number of sponsored children in the Tabaco area to 23,000.
Just a few of the programs include teaching nutrition, values, and leadership skills for older sponsored children. All of these programs are invaluable. In the long run, Children International hopes to help raise the standard of living so that Filipinos can stay and make the Philippines a more prosperous country, where all people have the prospect of earning a reasonable standard of living.
There are so many more children in need of support. Hopefully, children like these can be part of Children International efforts in the future.
Monday, April 9, 2007
To their surprise, they sponsored the one-millionth child to receive benefits from Children International.
“That’s incredible! I had no idea that so many children had received help through Children International. That’s an incredible amount of children,” Weinberg added.
Carl traveled to Cartagena in late March to meet his sponsored child, 5-year-old Yorledis Jaramillo.
“Neither words nor pictures could possibly suffice to describe the experience,” Carl explained. “I am certain you've seen pictures of children who live in poverty and squalor and, to be sure, we saw no shortage of unpaved streets, dirt floors, corrugated iron roofs and children walking in the dirt, semi-clothed, alongside sewage and garbage in the streets of Cartagena.
“What stands out most about my experience in Colombia, however, was not the poverty, but rather the incredible success that Children International has had in breaking the cycle of poverty for so many children and their families.” Carl said.
Most people know Weinberg to be a skeptic when it comes to organizations like Children International, but as he explains, “it is rare for me to personally vouch for any organization. If you have ever experienced any thought or desire to do some good for people in dire need of assistance, however, I would wholeheartedly commend you to Children International.”
Thank you to Carl and Wendy for their dedication to the Children International mission.
Friday, April 6, 2007
We met Rhia at her home in Quezon City, Philippines shortly after her entire family was treated by the agency for tuberculosis. “We discovered we had TB because my father was coughing – and it began to have blood in it,” the sponsored youth told us.
I imagined how shocking that must have been – not just for her father, but the whole family. I have been terribly ill with upper respiratory infections myself…and have even had coughing fits of such force that they seemed to bruise my ribs…but coughing blood? That must be terribly frightening.
All the family members ended up testing positive for the bacteria that cause TB. But it was Rhia’s father and three brothers who had active tuberculosis, meaning they were suffering from – and showing symptoms of – the disease.
Sadly, the family is far from alone: one out of every three people on the planet is infected with the TB bacillus.
Through tears of relief, she expressed her gratitude: “[M]y children can now experience childhood the way they should – playing with friends and roaming the neighborhood.”
In addition to the positive news for Rhia’s family and the thousands of others helped through our anti-TB program, there was good news globally in the fight against TB in 2006. On March 22, two days before World TB Day, the World Health Organization released their latest data showing that TB numbers were leveling out…meaning that although the number of overall cases continued to climb, they did so in line with population growth. This was the first time in 15 years that TB numbers – relative to population – did not grow.
With such a prevalent and deadly disease, not receiving bad news is a welcome indication of progress. And it was moving to witness first-hand one family’s successful recovery.
If you’d like to meet Edna and learn more about the family’s struggle with TB, please click here to watch our video.
Thursday, April 5, 2007
Wednesday, April 4, 2007
The notion of creating value through housing is an important one, especially when you consider that close to one billion people around the world live in inadequate housing. Substandard houses are unsafe, unhealthy and dangerous. Living in them is a constant worry, especially with children in the house. These are hardly places where families can prosper.
And besides impacting their health, security and peace of mind, a new or improved home is often the only asset of any value that many poor, working families have. A lot of these families have small-scale businesses that are based in their homes, so a good roof, for example, can help keep materials and inventory dry. The house is a foundation for the family to improve their future.
As one grateful housing recipient exclaimed, “¡Siempre soñaba con tener mi casita de material, pero ustedes ahora me han hecho este sueño una realidad!” (“I always dreamed of having a well-built house and now you have made this dream come true for me!”)
As much as I have seen this scene repeated over the years, it still never ceases to impress me. It reminds me how easy it is to take for granted our comfortable daily lives – a dry roof, running water, a warm house in the winter, electrical outlets in every room. It’s a dream that remains beyond the reach of so many. And it’s where Children International can make a huge difference in the lives of others.
Tom Owens is the Director of Grants for Children International.
Tuesday, April 3, 2007
Sponsorship provides the platform that allows CI to work in other areas of importance to the children and their families, such as housing. The community knows us and trusts us for our long-term commitment. Established networks like our volunteers and partnerships with local organizations are all part of our built-in capacity to do housing on a large scale.
We began a formal housing effort at Children International in Honduras in 1999 following Hurricane Mitch. During the three years after Mitch we built nearly 700 houses for Honduran families, most of them with children sponsored through Children International.
Other disasters have moved us to provide urgently needed assistance for shelter in other countries. CI built more that 500 houses in India in 2001-2002 following destructive floods and cyclones. We built still another 72 houses for families in Quezon City, Philippines, that lost their homes in a fire.
Our next challenge is once again in the Philippines, where a series of four brutal typhoons caused widespread destruction last year. Over 300,000 homes in the region around the cities of Legaspi and Tabaco were demolished and about the same number were partially damaged. We are currently securing land and seeking funding that will allow us to mount a response to this dire situation.
Through all these projects CI has maintained the principal of “building back better than before.” The idea has always been to help the families create something of lasting value. That’s why we ensure that we use the best quality materials available at the best price and used tested construction techniques to strengthen the homes against severe weather. We also take simple, inexpensive measures – such as good cross ventilation – to make the houses more comfortable in hot climates.
Our Home Improvement Loan Program grew out of these new construction projects and has helped hundreds of families make incremental improvements to their homes. Again, the beneficiaries provide the unskilled labor for the improvements, develop construction skills and take a genuine pride in their homes.
Tom Owens is the Director of Grants for Children International. Check back tomorrow for part 3 of this 3-part post on Children International’s efforts to improve housing for sponsored children around the world.
Monday, April 2, 2007
“¡Gracias! ¡Que Dios les bendiga! Jamás pudiéramos tener una casa digna sin la ayuda de ustedes.”
“Thank you and God bless you! We never could have had a decent house without your help.”
These are the words of appreciation that I heard over and over at the inauguration of Children International’s housing project at Villa Esperanza (Village of Hope), just outside Barranquilla, Colombia.
It was hotter than blazes that day last October when I was on hand to officially turn over the keys to houses that Children International helped 250 families build in Villa Esperanza. I wondered why there was so much sweat rolling down my back while all of the local people appeared so cool and comfortable under the shade of the canopy.
A really good deed: Tom Owens hands over the title to a new home
As we handed over the titles to the houses to each family representative I also had a chance to reflect on what Children International’s work means to so many thousands of people around the world. I first visited Villa Esperanza in 1997 when it was a new squatter settlement. Forced from their rural homes by political violence, hundreds of families arrived in Villa Esperanza in the late 90’s. Eventually the government granted them title to their land, but their houses were of decrepit materials, makeshift construction and mostly dirt floors. Children International brought sponsorship to Villa Esperanza and began to create a community volunteer network to help run the programs.
A few years ago we were able to access funding to begin house construction. Our network of volunteers was key here in mobilizing the community. We used a self-help approach were each beneficiary contributed the unskilled labor, the “sweat equity”, for the construction. We also organized the community into groups of 4-5 families each, sort of a solidarity approach, where everyone in the group helps build other group members’ houses on a rotating basis. It turned out to be a cost-effective way to build houses, and also had the positive effect of creating mutual respect and civic pride within the community.
I can’t say enough about the staff of our local agency in this project. They applied all their years of knowledge and experience to many long hours of organizing and implementing this program. It took away from their evenings and weekends, but they did it happily out of dedication and a deep sense of commitment to the people of the community.
Tom Owens is the Director of Grants for Children International. Check back tomorrow for part 2 of this 3-part post on Children International’s efforts to improve housing for sponsored children around the world.