Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Easter? In January?

Tomorrow we’re supposed to get 1-4” of snow here in Kansas City…although the less optimistic have it at 4-7”. Either way, it’s cold!

This is not exactly the type of weather that brings to mind balmy spring days, sunny picnics and bright Easter dresses. So you might be a bit surprised when you receive a letter in a few days from Jim Cook, our CEO, asking you to help us provide Easter presents for our sponsored children. But the fact is, an effort as massive as providing gifts for over 320,000 children takes a lot of time, so we start really early.

We won’t be handing out chocolate bunnies and marshmallow chicks. Instead, we’ve had our field personnel work with the children’s parents to determine the things they need most. In most cases, those turn out to be shoes, uniforms or school supplies. Not exactly something you’d find in most Easter baskets, but these are things that can make the difference between a child being able to stay in school or having to stay home because he or she doesn’t have the required materials or clothing.

In the next few weeks you’ll hear us talk a lot more about Easter on our website. In fact, right now it’s featured front and center on our homepage. Please take a minute to check it out…and if you can help us out with a contribution toward the expense of providing these gifts, of course we’ll appreciate it. But more than that, you can have the satisfaction of knowing that you made a real difference in some of the world’s most promising young lives.

Photo: Noreimis, from Barranquilla, Colombia, is all smiles over her new Easter shoes!

Photo by Patricia Calderón

Monday, January 28, 2008

Lifting Lives

One of the greatest single costs of doing business for most organizations stems from the expense of recruiting new customers. Children International is no different.

We invest in a variety of media to get the word out about sponsorship and encourage individuals to become sponsors. And as you can imagine, these days the phone just isn’t ringing as much as it used to and new sponsors are harder and harder to come by.

The thing is, there’s no shortage of children who desperately need the vital programs and material benefits of sponsorship. And that’s where you can help.

We have to get the word out to as many people as we can as economically as possible. And according to a 2007 Nielsen report, word-of-mouth is the single most powerful form of advertising that exists.1

That’s why we’ve launched the Lift One Project. I’ve asked CI writer Kevin Fleming to give us a brief idea of how Lift One works, and how you can use it to help us free up funds that are critically needed in areas of direct importance to the children:

“Finding more sponsors for more children is what the Lift One Project is all about. It is a great way to explain Children International to your family or friends who you think would enjoy the sponsorship experience. After registering at you’ll be able to create your own webpage, upload your email contacts and send messages to encourage others to become sponsors. If we all just find one other person to sponsor just one more child, what a difference that would make!”

If you’re a sponsor but you haven’t yet become familiar with the Lift One Project, please take a moment to visit our site now and read more about it. And if you’re not yet a sponsor, we’d love to have you join our efforts to change the world – child by child.


Friday, January 25, 2008

An Unforgettable Experience – Part 3

A sponsor of seven children, Steve Krumholz recently traveled to the Philippines as a volunteer on a surgical mission trip sponsored by the Society of Philippine Surgeons in America. While in the Philippines, he had the opportunity to visit not only his sponsored children, but also the children and their families that he has helped support with generous contributions since becoming a friend to Children International in 2006.

Part 3

At the community center, Cynthia Tiotuyco introduced me to 10-year-old sponsored child Rachel Labayo, who also lives in Bagbag Cemetery. Rachel felt bad that her mom works so hard to provide for the family. Rachel found a small piece of open dirt, in the midst of a sea of cement graves, and planted vegetables so her family had additional food. I was taken so much by this story of ingenuity and motivation that I asked to sponsor one of her siblings and was introduced to 8-year-old Marjorie, who became my 7th sponsored child.

On the following Monday, Cynthia Tiotuyco and her staff took me to two special locations. The first stop was at Santo Nino Elementary School in Caloocan City. This school had a new classroom built through the fundraising efforts of Aura’s House. When I entered the compound that contains Santo Nino School, I was greeted by a group of majorettes doing a dance routine, while dozens of 1st graders waved flags for me. In the background I could see the nine classes share an open classroom area. Not very conducive to a good learning environment, but they were making the most of limited classroom space (due to overcrowding in schools, there are three shifts of students, from 6 AM until 10 AM, 10 AM until 2 PM and 2 PM until 6 PM).

After completion of the choreographed dance routine by the majorettes, I was led to the classroom of Christian Capin, whose classroom was funded by Kristen Palana, the founder of Aura’s House.

Upon entering, I was loudly greeted by a sea of smiling faces. Christian, a tiny 9-year-old boy, presented me with a drawing of his classroom and a handwritten letter thanking me, Aura’s House and Children International for the construction of this special classroom. Then an upper classman, a third grader sang “Hero” to me – though I think the words are more appropriate for the Aura’s House team who helped make this classroom a reality: “So when you feel like hope is gone, look inside you and be strong and you’ll finally see the truth, that a hero lies in you.”

Our final stop was at Bagbag Cemetery, where Eduardo Garcia and his family formerly lived. Rachel and Marjorie Labayo and their siblings still call it home. After stopping at Eduardo’s former home, which is now occupied by his paternal grandmother, I climbed over dozens of graves, almost one on top of the other, to reach the Labayo home. A tarpaulin stretched over several pieces of wood covering three graves was home to this family of eight. An extension cord powered a fan and a single light bulb. I sat for photographs with Rachel, Marjorie and the Garcias and realized how fragile their lives are, nestled among the dead who rested here. I resolved to find a home for Rachel and Marjorie so they can also escape from the isolation of living here.

I realized that, as sponsors, we are heroes to our sponsored children. I know that not everyone has the means or ability to visit their sponsored children, but hopefully you will take comfort in knowing that your sponsorship is making a world of difference in the lives of others – children you may never meet, but who will think of you as their heroes.

On my trip to the Philippines I met many who I consider heroes. The surgeons who give freely of their time and talents to bring world class surgical care to their impoverished countrymen. The Children International field staff in Legazpi City and Manila/Quezon City, and the many staffers and executives in Kansas City who paved the way for a very successful visit. They made me feel like their best friend and they went to great lengths to make me feel welcome, to help me see the big picture and understand how sponsors fit into the global community of helping others.

To the sponsored children and families I met – the Maninangs, the Garcias, the Beltrans, and the Labayos – I owe a great deal of affection and admiration for their strength amidst seemingly overwhelming odds against them. As sponsors you can make a difference in the lives of others. Perhaps you will never meet your sponsored children, but please know that you are a hero to them…. “It’s a long road when you face the world alone”, but you are reaching out a hand for them to hold.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

An Unforgettable Experience – Part 2

A sponsor of seven children, Steve Krumholz recently traveled to the Philippines as a volunteer on a surgical mission trip sponsored by the Society of Philippine Surgeons in America. While in the Philippines, he had the opportunity to visit not only his sponsored children, but also the children and their families that he has helped support with generous contributions since becoming a friend to Children International in 2006.

Part 2

After completing the surgical mission, I returned to Manila where I was to meet my sponsored child Eduardo Garcia, an 11 year old boy, and the Beltran sisters Lovely Sophia, age 7 and Richelle Joy, age 9. I first came to learn about the Garcia family when they were featured in the sponsorship magazine, Journeys. I was stricken with concern about how these families could live among the dead in Bagbag Cemetery. At the time, I sponsored two children in Colombia and Ecuador and was looking to add two more. However, time passed and the Garcia family slipped my mind until the March 15th blog post. There were Remy Garcia’s hollow eyes staring at me once again. I knew I couldn’t wait for others to do something. I contacted Children International to sponsor one of the Garcia children and to also explore finding a new home for the family, somewhere out of the cemetery.

"Real help, real hope for the New Year. Mr. Steve Krumholz, a sponsor of Children International – Manila, visited recently his sponsored child Eduardo Garcia. Together with Mr. Ron Neal, he literally dug out Eduardo and his family from the grave and from poverty of living in Bagbag Cemetery and given them a new house and a new life."
When a house was found, the cost was a bit beyond my reach. However, Vickie Wiedenmann at CI headquarters in Kansas City, continued to search for other sponsors who might help with funding. She found sponsor Ron Neal. Together, we were able to purchase a home for the Garcias, and Children International CEO Jim Cook had the enviable job of delivering the good news to the family upon his visit to June 2007. To Ron Neal, whom I’ve never met, I want to extend my sincere thanks for helping make a dream come true for the Garcia family.

I was able to meet Eduardo Garcia and his family in the house he refers to as a “palace.” Eduardo’s “palace” is small, but offers two bedrooms, a bathroom and a combined kitchen and living room. An adjacent apartment consisting of two rooms is rented out and helps bring the family much needed income. Compared to the small tarpaulin covered shanty the family called home for almost 20 years, the Garcias’ new home is a treasure.

Lovely Sophia and Richelle Joy Beltran were two girls I became acquainted with in the “Easter Shoes” blog post. These two young girls were still coping with the death of their mother four years earlier, as their father, Rio, struggled to provide for his family.

Although I am not their sponsor, I wanted to help them because it saddened me that at the ages of 7 and 8 they were receiving their first pair of new shoes. These two little girls treasure this one pair of new shoes provided by their generous sponsor. I wanted to do something more to help the family out. Over the course of a few months, I was able to help their father, Rio, make improvements to their home, including adding two new walls, a new bed to replace the rickety one where the girls used to sleep, and installing electricity. Rio was also able to start a small business selling frozen meats to neighbors.

I was greeted by a large banner welcoming me to their community when I entered the Beltran home. Amid many tears, Rio hugged me and I felt as though he was a long lost brother. I was encouraged that I had made the right decision to help this family by the happy smiles of Lovely Sophia and Richelle Joy.

We collected both the Garcia and the Beltran families and went to one of the largest shopping malls in the Philippines. The mall has partnered with Children International to provide an extra 10% to each sponsored child’s visit. Eduardo Garcia and the Beltran girls were presented with stuffed pillows in the shape of animals by mall representatives. Eduardo’s wish was for a bicycle. With a helmet, knee and elbow pads and a lock, he is now ready to ride to school. The Beltran girls settled for clothes, but the look in Lovely Sophia’s eyes as she tried on a new dress spoke volumes about her happiness. Richelle Joy is more reserved, but still, when she picked out an Elmo T-shirt, she was a very happy girl.

After shopping, we returned to the Community Center, where a holiday party was in progress. I was stunned by the warm reception provided by Agency Director Cynthia Tiotuyco and her staff. Their greetings made me feel like a celebrity! The sponsored teens at the Manila field office made me feel special as well when I praised their efforts to notify and educate their friends about dengue fever and parasitic diseases. There were so many intelligent and sincere teens that I met there. Just looking into their eyes made me see that their future holds great promise.

Check the blog again tomorrow to read how Steve was inspired to sponsor yet another child.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

An Unforgettable Experience

A sponsor of seven children, Steve Krumholz recently traveled to the Philippines as a volunteer on a surgical mission trip with the Society of Philippine Surgeons in America. While in the Philippines, he had the opportunity to visit not only his sponsored children, but also the children that he has helped as a supporter of Children International since 2006.

Part One of Three

I first came to sponsor Cindy Maninang, a tiny 9-year-old girl, after reading a few months ago about the plight of her family on the blog post titled “The Face Behind the Fence.” I provided food assistance to the family to help them get beyond the lean period they were still experiencing many months after Typhoon Durian.

Cindy and I met when Dr. Zaldy Abainza, CI’s Legazpi City Agency Director, brought her and her family to the Bicol Regional Training and Teaching Hospital, site of the surgical mission where I was working. Cindy, standing shyly next to her parents, Salvador and Digna, and sisters Sandra and Sarah, took my right hand and pressed it to her forehead as a sign of respect for an elder. That simple gesture helped me see the gratefulness within her eyes for what sponsorship means to a child.

Sponsoring Cindy meant that she could begin school – first grade – as it provided her with a uniform and book bag. The field office staff happily reported that Cindy was excelling in her studies.

I had brought a few simple gifts for Cindy and 12-year-old Sandra, who is a head taller but not much heavier. After I gave the two older girls t-shirts and colored pencils, Dr. Abainza pulled me aside to review some of the plans for the afternoon’s visit. In just those few minutes, Cindy and Sandra found some paper and, using the colored pencils, drew a colorful flower for me to take home.

After leaving the hospital, we traveled to the Community Center to meet the CI staff, who greeted us warmly. Then we took Cindy and her family to downtown Legazpi City, where I had prearranged a holiday shopping trip for the family.

As an American, it is pretty commonplace for us to visit malls, supermarkets and restaurants on a regular basis. Cindy and her family had never visited any of these establishments, so they had the overwhelming experience of visiting all three for the first time.

To see the look of wonderment in their faces at the size and variety of stores made a great impression on me. While shopping in the supermarket for food, I had to reassure the little girls that it was OK to take cookies or candy for their shopping cart. Meanwhile, their parents worked with CI staff to obtain staples such as rice, cooking oil and vegetables.

At the restaurant, the CI social worker took the responsibility of ordering for the family as none had ever been to such a place before and the number of choices, like in the grocery store, was new, different and overwhelming. After leaving the mall, we took the family home to a resettlement village being built by several organizations at the far reaches of the Legazpi City service area.

Although darkness had fallen and there was little light available, a simple kerosene lamp illuminated the new home that Salvador is building for his family. In a space about 10’ x 10’ the family of 9 is building a home and, with sponsorship, hope…for a future that will hopefully see Cindy and her sisters bloom like the flower drawing they had presented to me several hours earlier.

Make sure to visit the blog tomorrow to share Steve’s experience in Manila.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Happy Birthday! Children International Celebrates One Year of Blogging

Poverty is a worldwide problem of truly epic proportions. Here at Children International, we are proud to add our voices and efforts to those of the dedicated non-profits from many nations who have made it their business to take on this insidious foe.

But of far greater importance than our efforts alone is the host of caring members of our sponsorship family who supply the financial support that is driving the changes we are bringing about. We help over 300,000 children…and that’s thanks to each of you, our sponsors.

As you know, we use a number of different media to keep you informed of our activities, the challenges we face, and the victories that are won along the way. But some time ago, we recognized that many of you wanted more. After all, you are part of the family; it’s important you have a means of interacting with us in a way that suits you.

So on January 22, 2007, we made the very first post to the Children International blog…and the response told us that our readers were eager to participate. In a few weeks we hope to hit our 200th post!

As moderators of the Children International blog, Jennifer and I enjoy bringing our sponsors and friends behind the scenes.

Through the blog, our readers are able to look at what we do from the perspective of the staff…share inside accounts from our communications coordinators in the field…become acquainted with critical cases of children in urgent need of medical assistance, housing or other special support…get the inside scoop when natural disasters affect areas where we work…become virtual team members when our staff from Kansas City – and even our president, Jim Cook – visits the field…meet our team of writers and other Children International employees…interact with other sponsors…and the list goes on.

And what is really exciting is how time after time our blog readers have taken the challenge to personally help children and families whose plight they’ve learned about through the blog. I can think of a family who no longer lives in a cemetery, a girl who has the wheelchair and other items she needs to deal with her disability, a family in Mexico who is climbing out of desperate poverty, and a family in India whose monsoon-damaged home is being repaired – all because our blog readers stepped up to the plate.

Thanks in great part to our blog readers, Awilda (pictured here with her mom and CI staff) now has a new wheelchair -- and a much brighter prognosis. Awilda hates to sit down low, so she always rides on top of her wheelchair!

Join in and make your voice heard today! Browse through our archives of past entries and read the latest posts. Then take a moment to introduce yourself and let us know what you think. We’re looking forward to meeting you! And to all the friends we've made over the past year...thanks.

Photos by David Nebel and Dayanara Reyes.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Meet Jesús David from Barranquilla...

Question: "What makes you happy or sad?"
Answer: "“I like to play soccer with my friends. I feel happy when I play with my friends. I feel sad when my family is sad for not having money to eat.”
– Jesús David, age 7

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Democracy in Action

It’s hard to change the channel these days without stumbling across the latest polls, commercials or the latest “he said, she said” banter of politics. While it’s easy to take for granted the power of democracy, it’s still a goal that many world citizens still fight and die for today. And for the youth of Children International, it all begins with casting their first ballot.

At Children International, we feel our youth are the rising stars of tomorrow. That's why we concentrate on developing them as leaders and instilling in them the skills they will need to make a difference in their communities. One way we do this is by teaching the power of democracy.

In November, Youth Council elections were held in Cartegena, Colombia. Each of our 18 agencies has a youth council that is comprised of sponsored youth. The council is responsible for determining the direction of youth programs in each of their sponsorship areas. Council members are also nominated and two delegates are democratically elected to attend the International Youth Conference.

By engaging in the democratic process to elect their leaders, and then deciding the direction of their efforts as a team, they learn a great deal about leadership, a commitment to ideals and shared effort. In this way, youth council members become an inspiration. They provide positive role models for younger children and they strive to educate and help others.

To us, these enthusiastic youth are the world best and brightest hope for tomorrow.

Photos by Marelvis Campo, Children International Communication Coordinator in Cartegena, Colombia.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Little Elves of the Icy Season

Posted on behalf of Javier Cárcamo

The inhabitants of some rural communities in the mountainous regions of Rural Guatemala change their behavior in a number of ways when temperatures drop.

In December and the first months of the year, the icy temperatures force men and women to cover themselves with ponchos and sweaters so they can go out into the fields to work, because the sun’s rays, the strong winds and the intense cold irritate their faces and burn their skin. People who live in these areas call this “ishpash” (skin-splitting).

Body Aches, Coughs and Fevers
During this season, there is a sharp increase in cases of respiratory illnesses in children. The most vulnerable are small children from poor families, who often lack the shelter they need, or else their homes – built from rustic materials – do not protect them from the intense cold.

Fortunately, many children receive free medications and medical checkups at the clinics Children International operates through its Rural Guatemala agency.

Freezing the Economy
This phenomenon also affects the economy, because corn – the crop that is most important to the people’s diet – cannot be harvested due to the cold. Instead, they take advantage of this season to grow wheat, strawberries, broccoli and cabbage.

Little Elves
The more fortunate children (those who enjoy benefits from Children International) not only enjoy health care, but they also receive clothing to protect them from the cold. Their parents – poor farmers who live in the mountains – have learned that it is better to care for their children’s health and leave them at home instead of exposing them to the ravages of the weather.

So the children look like little elves, bundled up in wool sweaters, hats and boots. They peek out the windows or from behind adobe walls as they wait for their parents, who will fix them hot beverages like coffee, a cornstarch-based drink known as atole or chocolate when they get home.

This is how our children spend their days during this season – happy because a generous sponsor like you provides them the peace of knowing they have someone to watch out for their health and wellbeing.

Javier Cárcamo is the Communications Coordinator for Children International's agency in Rural Guatemala. Guatemala is known as the "Land of Eternal Springtime" due to its mild climate, so winter weather in the mountainous rural regions can be especially difficult for children whose families are not able to buy warm winter clothing.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Coming Soon!

Children International works in some of the most fascinating places among some of the most fascinating people you can imagine.

We always look forward to publishing the next edition of our magazine, Journeys, so we can take you along to visit some of these places and meet some of these people. And this edition is no exception.

You'll meet Abhijit, a young boy in India, and take an insightful peek into daily life for families in the rural areas of the country. You'll travel to Guatemala to visit with Sabina, who over two decades ago became the very first child to ever enroll in what was then Children International's new sponsorship program; you'll experience vicariously the sights and incredible smells of the city garbage dumps outside Santiago, in the Dominican Republic, where families work under unimaginable conditions to eke out a living; you'll travel up a mountainside in Guatemala on a dark night in the middle of a tropical storm to see what it's like to be a family living in destitution while nature is at its worst...and you'll ride a motorbike down a smugglers' highway in Honduras with a Children International field officer as he makes his rounds (there's a really cool video to go along with this!).

All this and much more will be coming to your mailbox in the next three or four days. We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed putting it together!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Big News

I’ll admit it…sometimes I find myself sneaking around my own house.

Whenever a certain sound breaks into the consciousness of any member of my family, a mad rush ensues for the front door. If you happen to be in front of the mailbox, you could get hurt.

Ever so rarely, I just might get to be the first one to open the mail. But with a wife, four speedy kids and a ferocious Westie to compete with, that doesn’t happen very often. I guess I’m not as young as I used to be.

If you look forward to getting your mail like I do, I’ve got good news for you. We’ve made it easier for you. Any time now, you should receive this month’s edition of the Children International eNews in your email inbox! Unless your Westie is computer literate, you should win this one.

This month, we’ve got a great story (hey, I wrote it myself!) about two rising stars in the Dominican Republic who have learned the true value of education. You’ll also read about the terrible struggle Zambian children and families face as they fight to survive in a country where diseases are powerful and health care is scarce. Then you’ll learn about how you can enlist the help of your friends and family as you battle poverty through the Lift One Project.

I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag, but you might also learn about a very important birthday that’s just around the corner. Hint: look in the lower left-hand corner of the front page of eNews for more information. You can also check out our website,, where you’ll find another story (yes, I wrote that one, too!) right on the home page that talks about the same big event.

And you don’t even have to run for the mailbox.

Photo by Jennifer Spaw.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Meet Angkan...

What would you like to be when you grow-up?

"I would like to be an artist when I grow up because I enjoy drawing and putting human emotions and forms to paper." – Angkan, age 11, from Sahay

Friday, January 4, 2008

A Drive to Succeed

Posted on behalf of Deron Denton

Receiving a formal education simply isn’t feasible for many Ecuadorian youth living in desperate poverty. Their families either can’t afford supplies, uniforms and tuition costs, or the children must lend a hand in providing for the basic needs of the family.

That’s why a graduation ceremony held at the Simon Bolivar Technical Institute in Guayaquil, Ecuador, was celebrated with a tremendous amount of enthusiasm. Amid an emotionally charged atmosphere, 132 sponsored youth received hard-earned vocational certifications.

One of the stars of the evening was 17-year-old Alexandra Baque, a youth sponsored since the age of 9.

Getting in Gear

Despite being the only girl in a class of 56, Alexandra graduated at the top of her Auto Mechanics course. In addition to completing her coursework, Alexandra had to handle another obstacle: her male classmates’ bias against having a girl in the class. Their attitudes became so bad that Alexandra had to take the matter into her own hands.

Soon after the course began, Alexandra reported, one of the students “told me something rude because I was the only woman, and then I reacted.” It was good for the bully that he relented when he did: Alexandra, at just 4’ 10”, has trained in self-defense nearly her whole life.

“I have practiced karate since I was 4,” said Alexandra, grinning. Although it took two months (and a ninja-style warning) to earn her classmates’ respect, she did earn it. Shortly after that incident, she says, “I earned a lot of respect and became the leader of my group.”


If her classmates knew Alexandra better, they would have known she would not be easily sidetracked from her dream. Ever since she was little, Alexandra preferred playing with her younger brother Luis’ toy cars rather than with her own dolls. Much to Luis’ dismay, Alexandra took the cars apart and reassembled them, designing her own small vehicles from the dismantled parts.

She also credits her father with having inspired her interest in machinery. “When I was 13,” she said, “I helped my dad disassemble a piece of industrial machinery, and that really sparked my interest.”

With her own high school graduation approaching, Alexandra began taking a serious look at what she wanted to do for a living. Initially, she looked into taking vocational classes offered by Ecuador’s largest cement manufacturer – Cemento Nacional. One benefit would have been an increased opportunity to work for the company upon graduation.

Alexandra’s mother strongly discouraged this, fearing her daughter’s mistreatment in such a male-dominated atmosphere. Despite fulfilling the requirements and submitting all the necessary paperwork, Alexandra had to forego that opportunity. A determined young lady, she wasn’t terribly disappointed by this setback…she insists it strengthened her resolve to find another way to enroll in a vocational education program.

The Final Stretch

It wasn’t long before Alexandra discovered Children International’s scholarship program, now called the HOPE Fund. She was delighted at the possibility of attaining a degree that would allow her to work with cars. She again submitted the paperwork and met all the requirements. This time, Alexandra seized the chance to pursue her dream and wouldn’t let go. No amount of dissuasion from her mother was enough.

Having earned top honors in the Auto Mechanics program, Alexandra’s next goal is to open an auto shop with some of her classmates. She eventually hopes to design her own cars. Luis is likely to forget about the toy cars his older sister “redesigned” if he actually gets to drive an Alexandra Baque automobile.

It’s a pretty awesome goal for a child who, without a little help, would probably be limited to dreaming about far more mundane things. Thanks to sponsorship and programs like the HOPE Fund – and the perseverance of a young lady – it’s a dream no one doubts is possible…at least, no one who knows Alexandra.
For more information about how you can give HOPE to children like Alexandra, click here.