Wednesday, December 31, 2008

We’ve Taken a Giant Step!

After two years of blogging here at, it’s time to grow. So 2009 will not only be a new year…it will also mark the beginning of a new phase in our blogging – one we hope you will enjoy.

As of January 1, 2009, we have moved our blog to a new location. From now on, you’ll be able to catch the latest from your favorite bloggers, hear news from the field and leave your comments – all on the new CI blog.

This site will remain active so you can come back and read posts you’ve enjoyed in the past. But we invite you to join us at for today’s post.

Thanks…and we’ll see you at our new site!

—The Children International Blog Team

Out with the Old

…Out with the old memories, that is.

2008 has come and gone – and like every year, it has left its indelible imprint on history. A worldwide financial crisis…a presidential election…the collapse of the stock market…these things will not be soon forgotten.

But the year brought its share of happy events as well. Not least among these, for me, was the opportunity to travel to our agency in Zambia, Africa. There I witnessed how a family of orphaned children received new hope for life through sponsorship and saw the joy and optimism your generosity is creating.

How about you? What was the single greatest, most defining moment in your sponsorship experience this past year? Please – post a comment and let us know about it. We’d love to share the memory with you.

And from all of us here at CI…have a safe and happy 2009!

P.S. Be sure to check back tomorrow…a big surprise is on the way!

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Chat with Victoria

This is nine year old Victoria from Guatemala City. A member of our field staff caught up with her at one of Children International's community centers and asked her and her mother, Maria, a few questions about sponsorship.

According to Victoria's mother, “When she comes here to get her Christmas gift, she wants everyone to come running here at six in the morning. She tells us 'Hurry, we are going to be last!' Even when we come here for the medicine she feels happy."

Victoria also had a message to share with her sponsor: "I am doing well at school and I like going. I thank my sponsor for supporting me and I appreciate her."

Reporting assistance and photo by Raquel Lacán and Miriam Lemus of Guatemala City.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Christmas Wish from CI President Jim Cook

It’s that special time of year…The holidays. Christmas lights, carols and personal thoughts of what it all means to each of us.

At this time of year I’m particularly happy to be part of something that helps so many in so many meaningful ways.

I also particularly enjoy talking to our generous sponsors this time of year. They are all inspiring in their own unique ways.

At the end of this tumultuous year in the world financial markets and the U.S. economy, I’m reminded how relative tough times are…by thinking of those less fortunate that we serve around the world.

This was really emphasized for me recently when I was speaking with my son who was wrapping up the semester at his university. He had been under the weather while trying to write papers and study for exams…he said he was starting to feel sorry for himself when he happened to visit the Children International website and saw some of the children there and read a couple of stories. He remembered the experiences he had when he accompanied me to Honduras and Guatemala in his early teens.

After that, he revised his computer wallpaper to have a sponsored child’s picture on it as a reminder of just how bad he didn’t have it…and to remind him that there are many much more challenged, with far greater difficulties, EVERY day!

That’s a big part of what this season is about, I think.

Merry Christmas!


Posted on behalf of Jim Cook, president of Children International. Photo by Marelvis Campo.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

On the 12th Day of Christmas My Sponsor Gave to Me…

…12 Months of Friendship

It seems perfect that our last day of Christmas be about something that is so important during the holiday – the connection we have to one another.

I’m sure it comes as no surprise to most of your that your sponsored child thinks of you as a friend, a steady, reassuring presence in what can be a fairly chaotic and uncertain life. That’s why your letters are so meaningful. They provide that special boost when it’s needed most. And when your child knows you’re going to be there all year long, well, it helps them believe that his or her life has possibilities.

More than once I’ve had a sponsored child entrust to me a message that I am to spirit back with haste to his or her special friend. “Tell him I love him,” or “Please tell her that I am thankful for her and pray for her every night.” Often, they’ll make me promise. And, often, with a fair amount of luck anyway, I can play the part of happy messenger and deliver the dispatch.

So, in celebration of the friendship that sponsorship helps foster, on this, the 12th day of Christmas, I’d like to share with you what the season is really all about, as told by sponsor Robin Buckley, who was lucky enough to be with his special friends, Roberto and Bianny, so near the holiday.

From his blog, written shortly after his visit, which was just a couple of days ago:
Today was spent visiting with the two boys – Roberto and Bianny – whom I sponsor through Children International. Unlike my visit in June when I was able to see the boys on separate days, this time it was necessary to see them together because of the busy Christmas season. And so, we decided to spend the day at one of the larger shopping malls in Santiago. I had brought several gifts with me from Canada but wanted to give the boys the chance to pick out what they wanted.

Building a lasting friendship: Robin and Bianny exchange a hug.

Since Roberto lives about an hour away from Santiago, he came with his mother and one of the CI Social Workers and they went directly to the mall. Yaseni, the CI field office worker (and my translator) arrived at my hotel together with Bianny, his father and their Social Worker and then we were off to the mall to meet up with Roberto.

We all got together in the cafeteria at the Mall to figure out our plans for the day. This mall is absolutely huge and would rival anything we have back in Canada. I told the boys that they could go shopping and that they had 2500 pesos each to spend (about $75 US).

By the time the boys had finished with what they considered “necessities”, they had purchased some new shoes, jeans and a t-shirt and had a little left over to buy a toy.

By this time, we were all getting hungry and so we returned to the cafeteria for some lunch. The unanimous choice was for pizza from Dominoes.

When it was originally suggested to me that we would have to combine the visits with both kids, I was a little worried because I didn’t know whether or not they would get along. Roberto is 11 and Bianny is 9 and at first they were a little apprehensive together. But there’s a kid’s play area (similar to what you’ll find at McDonald’s back home) and they both headed there after lunch while the “adults chatted.” I think this was the “icebreaker” because when they returned to the table, they were laughing and joking together. It’s absolutely amazing how kids can get along when you leave them alone!

We left the mall to take Roberto, his mom and their social worker to the bus stop for their hour-long ride home at which time I gave Roberto the gifts I had brought from Canada. These mostly consisted of school supplies – notebooks, pens etc that is so lacking in this country as well as a watch that I had gotten for him. Then Bianny, his dad, their social worker, Yaseni and I headed over to Bianny’s house to spend some time there.

While there, it was time to give the gifts I had brought from Canada for Bianny and his adorable little sister. I felt bad about the fact that there were cousins visiting and I didn’t have anything to give them.

And then unfortunately, it was time for me to leave but I did so with the promise that I would be back again sometime next summer. The family wished me a “feliz navidad” and Bianny wanted to give me a hug.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what Christmas is all about!

Thanks Robin. And thanks to all of you for being that friend year in and year out. It truly matters. The happiest of holidays to each and every one of you, and our gratitude for making it all possible.

Make sure to come back tomorrow for a special post by Children International president Jim Cook.

Posted on behalf of Scott Cotter. Photo courtesy Robin Buckley.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

On the 11th Day of Christmas My Sponsor Gave to Me...

Eleven Scholars Hoping

My nephew and his wife had a baby about 2 months ago. This means that for the first time in 25 years, we will have a new little human in the family at Christmastime.

One effect Christmas has on me is introspection…not just on holidays past, but on my life in general. So, seeing the new addition of the Denton clan gathered around the sparkling tree and bundled up close (but not too close!) to the crackling fireplace this weekend, I started thinking back 25 years ago.

In 1983, I was still in high school and was earnestly contemplating what I wanted to do with my life…college was looming in another 2 years and there wasn’t much doubt in my (or my parents’) mind that I would be continuing my education after high school.

The reason everyone assumed this was because my parents had worked hard and saved – and they planned to help supplement my cost of attending college. My father had begun working right out of high school, pumping gas. He worked his way from there into a management position with a large, global company.

My mother postponed her educational goals to raise three boys. Shortly after I was born, she began earning a Master’s degree in education. Her thesis involved developing learning strategies…and I was her guinea pig. As a result, I learned to read at a precociously young age. I credit her with instilling a love of reading and a love of language that has remained with me ever since.

Without the opportunity to go to college, I have no idea where I’d be today…I’m certain I’d not be sitting here writing for Children International.

Looking at my great-nephew this weekend, I pondered the huge responsibility his parents have shouldered. And, knowing I needed to post an entry on the blog about our HOPE fund, my thoughts turned to college.

Like the cost of healthcare in America, the cost of education beyond high school has skyrocketed in the last 25 years. But in most of the places we work, it is still quite affordable, at least by OUR standards. That’s why our HOPE fund (Helping Overcome Poverty through Education) is one of my favorite “ancillary” benefits that Children International makes available.

For very little cost, we can send deserving sponsored youth to college or vocational school, where they learn skills that often helps boost them above and beyond the dire poverty they grew up in. Time and again, we hear about former sponsored children who now have steady, good-paying jobs thanks to a combination of their own hard work and being the recipients of HOPE scholarships.

Most of the time, there is virtually no chance that their parents – unlike mine – will be able to help send them to college.

I hope my great-nephew gets that opportunity.

I also wish that every sponsored child who wants to continue their education had the opportunity to do so. Thankfully, the number of HOPE scholarship recipients has continued expanding over the years.

So, if I get the chance to ask the old, bearded, red-suited saint for one thing next year, this is my wish: a HOPE scholarship for every child who wants one in each of the 11 countries where we serve them.

I already know he makes deliveries there…because all of you are already making so many wishes come true.

Thank you…and have a great holiday!

Posted on behalf of Deron Denton.

Monday, December 22, 2008

On the 10th Day of Christmas My Sponsor Gave to Me…

Ten Boards for Building

In my last blog post I poked fun at my mom’s compulsion to decorate every last inch of our house for Christmas. Last week, we were all together at my parent’s house and someone brought up the posting. Everybody got a kick out of it – but the one who enjoyed it the most was mom. Of course she tried to say “I’m not as bad as all that,” but it was hard when all around us the house was shedding tinfoil like some great Yuletide dog.

We had gathered to observe our yearly tradition of decorating the tree. When I think back over all those years of Christmas, that day was always one of the highlights. Mom would put on her Sinatra Christmas album, and my dad would call out every few minutes asking us to smile for his camera. As a result, we have hundreds of pictures of me and my siblings hanging decorations, flashing our most cheesy looks of wonder and joy at the camera. We thought it was hilarious. Dad disagreed.

This year, my niece and nephew took our place under the tree. As we sat and watched them, my dad revealed a disturbing family secret. It seems that, late at night after us kids had finished hanging the tree; mom would sneak down and carefully remove all the decorations, re-hanging them in a way that was more aesthetically pleasing. She denied this of course, but even this year, as 6-year old Kaden put a clump of decorations on the same two branches, I saw an uncomfortable twitch in her eye. I wondered how long she would wait after we were gone to make it right.

As much as I enjoy poking fun at my parents’ Christmas idiosyncrasies – I wouldn’t miss it for the world. For years I lived in different states, but I never missed Christmas at home. I remember driving from the airport, recognizing that familiar sickly glow over the distant horizon, and feeling a rush of sublime anticipation. I was going home! If there’s a better feeling, I don’t know what it is.

This year it occurs to me how lucky I was to have a home to return to. A home that protected us from the elements. A home we could decorate for the holidays beyond all bounds of normalcy. What an important part of growing up! When I was young I knew kids who lived in mansions, but as much as I admired their swimming pools and “rumpus rooms”, I wouldn’t have traded our home for a million comic books. It was ours. Some instinctual part of me knew that, and was proud.

When I got older, I had the chance to meet people without homes. It’s always tragic – but the children affected me the most. I can’t imagine what it would be like to grow up never knowing where you were going to sleep at night. To have nowhere to go to escape the world and just be safe.

That’s why I’m so proud that some of our sponsors have helped their children’s families build homes. The impact it has on the child and their family is immeasurable. The home will guard them for generations to come. Everyone in the family will have the physical and psychological advantage of knowing they have a safe haven. Each of them will feel a little extra pride knowing they have a place to call their own.

What a wonderful gift. What wonderful sponsors we have! Maybe it’s something we should all consider doing some day. If that’s not possible, we should all take a few minutes this holiday season to recognize how lucky we are to have homes. Those of us who have never been homeless are truly blessed. May we all stay that way for many years to come. Merry Christmas!

Posted on behalf of Garrett Kenyon.

Friday, December 19, 2008

On the Ninth Day of Christmas, My Sponsor Gave to Me…

Nine Sponsor Letters

“Dear Santa…”

How many millions of letters are written with those opening words each year? From Barbies to Xboxes to “I wish my parents were back together,” letters to Santa reveal the deepest longings in the hearts of our children.

I used to adore writing letters to Santa; in fact, they were a tradition in my household. As a budding writer, I’d spend Christmas Eve penning my masterpieces, which were left on the hearth of our big stone fireplace. And Santa always wrote back, with a funny quip or cute rhyme. Here’s one from 1978: “I’m hungry and sleepy and weary and tired, but if I don’t hurry back to Mrs. Claus, I’ll likely be fired!”

Even after I knew the truth about Santa, the letter writing didn’t stop. Each year it became a contest between my father and me to top each other’s letters. I’d try to come up with some clever premise – sort of like a game of “Stump the Santa.” One year I’d write in the voice of a jaded socialite waiting for a manicure and a facial, the next as an immigrant who didn’t understand who this “Scanty Claws” person was.

On Christmas morning, before I even looked in my stocking, I’d hunt for “Santa’s” reply. There it would be, in my father’s neat, all-caps penmanship. That special communication between my father and me remains one of my most treasured Christmas memories.

Sponsored children are just as excited about receiving letters from their sponsors. I can’t tell you how many sponsored families I’ve visited where a child would pull out a stack of carefully preserved letters to proudly show me.

The children yearn to know their sponsors and truly want to enjoy a personal relationship with them. They’ll crowd around me and ask, “Do you know my sponsor? Can you tell him I said hello?” If you’ve ever worried that the children don’t understand the connection between the benefits they receive and the sponsor who is providing them, have no fear. They know…and they care.

So if you’re wanting to do something special for your child without spending any money, the answer is simple: write him or her a letter. You’ll find more information and writing tips here. I guess it will make your child's day (or month...or year!) to hear from you.

Posted on behalf of Gretchen Dellett.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

On the Eighth Day of Christmas, My Sponsor Gave to Me…

Eight Teachers Teaching

Growing up in Arkansas, where summers were hot and humid and mosquitoes swarmed the streets like a plague, I longed for the cold snap that accompanied Christmas. It was the ’70s, and we could always count on downy seasonal snowfalls.

Every year, my friends and I would pray for snow days, when we could forget about school and go sledding, build igloos and launch all-out snowball wars. We lived to suit up in our overstuffed coats, bib pants and moon boots and wander the snow-packed streets like a roving band of misguided Eskimos. Who needs school, we scoffed, when we could make our homes in snowdrifts and live off snow ice cream?

Even now, as fresh powder blankets Kansas City, I long for those carefree days when school was cancelled. But then, I grew up in middle-class America. I had the luxury of blowing off school to pretend I was an arctic explorer trudging through a desolate landscape.

Now I realize how shortsighted I was. Each day I’m reminded that sponsored children don’t have the “privilege” of brushing off school to indulge in make-believe. Many are truly trapped in inhospitable environments, where they’re lucky to attend school rather than skip it. And education is often their only means of escape.

Even in my home state of Arkansas, where Children International has a sponsorship program in Little Rock, simply getting to – and staying in – school can be an arduous journey for boys and girls from impoverished households. But, thankfully, our education program stands out like a shining star that guides children in the direction of academic progress.

Little Rock is a particularly bright spot because we work in partnership with the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR) and six public schools. That unique relationship connects sponsored children with college students and certified teachers who provide tutoring and other constructive activities during our after-school program, or Kids’ Club. Sponsored kids who would probably be home alone or out on the streets have the opportunity to participate in literacy workshops, computer classes, a chess club, art and dance activities.

“Everybody wants to be in it,” Renee Herd, one of our site coordinators, told me when I had a chance to see the Kids’ Club in action at Little Rock’s Bale Elementary School last year. That was great news considering that I had once heard the chancellor of UALR, Joel Anderson, say that 73 percent of the students in the after-school program showed improved performance in their schoolwork.

There are other highlights, too, like the college prep course we offer to graduating youth, the year-round GED, nutrition and computer classes for the parents of sponsored children, and educational summer camps to name a few.

Sponsorship really does provide so much more than school uniforms, supplies, access to scholarships and library resources…it gives underprivileged kids the perseverance to forge ahead, no matter what obstacles may come, and the power to believe that something more promising, maybe even dreamlike, lies just over the horizon.

Getting an education is the greatest adventure of their lives, and you’re the ones who are making it possible.

Posted on behalf of Damon Guinn.

Just added: Children International hosts a Christmas coat drive for underprivileged families in Little Rock.

Monday, December 15, 2008

On the Seventh Day of Christmas My Sponsor Gave to Me...

Seven Doctor Visits

Well, maybe not exactly seven, but sponsored children are fortunate to be able to see the doctor every time they get sick and for their yearly check-ups. From treatment for a sore throat or skin rash to a more serious illness or injuries, medical care is something that all sponsored children can rely on. Mothers of sponsored children count this as among one of the most valuable benefits we offer. An appointment at a private clinic and medicines can cost well over half of their monthly incomes, but at Children International’s clinics, health and peace of mind are free of charge.

“It felt as if we won the jackpot prize in a lottery,” remarked Glena Hular after her sponsored daughter, Gellian, received the heart surgery she needed.

Children enjoy going to our clinics and recognize the value of healthcare as well. Nine-year-old Cazel, from Manila, Philippines tells us about a time when she needed Children International’s help: "Last year, I was not feeling well. My mother brought me to a doctor. He said I was just fine. But when I came to see the doctor at CI she said I had dengue. I was very weak, feeling dizzy and my body ached. I was rushed to the hospital. We always remember that help. I do not know what would have happened to me if the CI doctor was not there."

And Children International will continue to be there for needy children. Medical care is a gift that sponsored children can enjoy year round. So here’s to a joyful and healthy holiday season, to you and your sponsored child.

Friday, December 12, 2008

On the 6th Day of Christmas, My Sponsor Gave to Me…

Six Dental Fillings

The dentist. Eek. Just the thought of it instills sheer terror in me. The sound of dental tools scraping the plaque off my teeth is like fingernails running down a chalkboard. It literally sends chills down my spine.

Needless to say, visiting the dentist is one of my least favorite chores. But it’s something I take for granted. I have the luxury of pulling out my insurance card to receive regular dental cleanings and keep my teeth healthy. I don’t think twice about it.

But I should. Because so many others around the world aren’t as fortunate as I am. Some families literally live each and every day uncertain of what the next will bring. Will they be able to find any work for the day? Will they earn enough to buy food to feed their children? Can they afford to take their daughter to the doctor if she gets sick?

Families facing extreme poverty can’t afford to purchase toothbrushes and toothpaste. They might even struggle to access clean running water needed to rinse out their mouths. They often don’t understand the importance of keeping their teeth clean because they’ve never had the luxury of visiting a dentist. Some children have never even been to a doctor.

Something as small as a toothbrush can make a big impact on a child’s health.

Children International recognizes the impact of oral hygiene on health, and we provide dental care to a number of impoverished children in our program. Our community centers with dental clinics are kid-friendly environments, with age-appropriate educational materials. We help make it possible for children to receive hygiene supplies like toothbrushes. And we teach families how to brush their teeth.

Given my own fear of the dentist, I’m always surprised to meet sponsored children who actually look forward to their dental checkups. Even if they need six fillings or extractions, they appreciate the care and attention they receive. They know if it weren’t for Children International and their sponsors, their teeth might go unbrushed and their toothaches untreated.

Visiting the dentist might not be quite as good as opening a gift come Christmas morning. But for impoverished children, it’s definitely more of a treat than a chore. Now if only I could learn to appreciate the dentist as much as they do….

Posted on behalf of Erin Anderson. Photo by Joel Abelinde of our Manila, Philippines, agency.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

On the 5th Day of Christmas My Sponsor Gave to Me...

5 Supplemental Meals

A Christmas wish worth writing down.

I remember Christmas as a time of anticipation. After Thanksgiving, mom would go to work with a military efficiency that would make any drill sergeant proud. Soon our house would look like a Christmas grenade had been thrown through the living room window. Fragile porcelain reindeer perched on every surface, creating a minefield for young knees and elbows. Shutting a door would dislodge a plateau of holly or bring a clump of mistletoe down on your head. Passing airplanes could calibrate their instruments by the multi-colored glow of our front lawn. Clark Griswold had nothing on my mom.

The rest of us stalked warily through the house, knowing that a simple “can you help for a minute?” would translate to hours of grueling holiday labor. After the initial onslaught, mom would slow down enough for us to resurface. If she was disappointed that we didn’t share her zeal for decoration – she rarely let on. I would have been too busy to notice anyway. By then I was engaged in the serious endeavor of creating my Christmas wish list.

In few areas of my life did I display the attention to detail that I gave my yearly wish list. It all seemed so important. How was I supposed to pay attention in school when at home my one-armed Spiderman figure was facing down a gang of super-villains without the new Spidey-mobile? How could my army of battered stormtroopers be expected to mount a credible defense against the Rebel Alliance without an Imperial Walker or at least a couple of T-Wing fighters to ride in? Didn’t anybody realize that the fate of the entire universe could hinge upon a single item on that list!

I tried to be reasonable. After all, we were a middle class family. My parents could hardly be expected to take out a second mortgage or forego buying presents for my siblings in order to properly outfit my Batcave. In an attempt to placate Santa, I was forced to limit the list to only my absolute Needs. It was tough, but I soldiered on.

As the big day approached, I prepared to confront reality. It was rarely a match for my imagination. But no matter how many toys were left off my list, when the gifts had all been opened and the living room floor reduced to a paper-strewn battlefield – I always felt something very near contentment.

Looking back on those days, I can’t help being a little embarrassed. Like the majority of us, I went through life with no concept of the difference between a “need” and a “want”. I never had to struggle through the day with an empty stomach or fall asleep wondering where I would find my next meal. Food, shelter and clothing were provided for me with such little fanfare they barely warranted consideration.

I’ve done some growing up since then. I’ve witnessed the devastating effects of poverty and seen the face of true need. Accordingly, my values and priorities have matured. I’ve found that more pleasure can be derived from helping others than from helping myself. That’s what led me to Children International.

It’s comforting to know that once a child is sponsored through CI, they can receive supplemental meals from their community center up to three times a week. I love imagining the weight lifted off the shoulders of a mother or father when they realize their child doesn’t have to face malnourishment and starvation. Knowing that sponsorship keeps these kids from slipping through the cracks warms my heart in ways extravagant gifts never could. And then there are the other ways CI helps these kids – with things like clothing, healthcare and education that benefit them far beyond their next meal.

I still have a lot of growing up to do. It’s impossible to go from taking food and shelter for granted to understanding the plight of the impoverished overnight. But I can take comfort in the knowledge that the day my wants became about fulfilling others’ needs, I came a long way.

Here’s to hoping you get everything on your list this year.

Posted on behalf of Garrett Kenyon.

Monday, December 8, 2008

On the fourth day of Christmas, my sponsor gave to me...

Four gifts throughout the year

I remember it like it was yesterday...

The Sears catalog would arrive in the mail, and my brothers and I – in an act of unusual solidarity – would spend day after day researching the toy section, dog-earing pages and itemizing must-haves. Lists were drawn up, meticulously revised and then narrowed down by the process of elimination.

Our excitement could hardly be contained when we finally reached the wee hours of Christmas morning. The record player would start to skip through its fourth rotation of “Silent Night,” and we would lie wide-eyed in bed listening to the sound of scissors slicing through wrapping paper, trying to visualize how large our gifts were.

A few unbearable hours later, we’d throw back the sheets, go rouse our parents from a brief night’s slumber, and beg our dad to go downstairs and make sure Santa had remembered to stop by. Finally, we’d hear the words we’d waited for all year long…“Okay, it’s all clear!”

Tumbling down the stairs and into the living room, we’d discover a picture-perfect Christmas setting full of shiny new toys and packages glimmering in the golden haze of Christmas lights. It was every child’s dream come true.

Seeing sponsored children receive gifts during our four annual gift distributions is like being a child at Christmas all over again. I see the same excitement and sense of wonder that I myself experienced as a child.

Blessings Changwe couldn’t stop smiling when she received her Christmas gift last year. “I want to tell my sponsor thank you very much and that I hope she had a happy Christmas,” Blessings said. “This gift means that I now have something to keep me warm at night.”

Weeks before a gift distribution takes place – no matter if it’s Christmas, Easter, Birthdays or Special Hug Day – sponsored children start begging their parents to tell them what they’re going to receive. That’s because their parents, like Secret Santas, help us choose what gifts their children need and want most.

And boys and girls are usually so excited they can barely sleep the night before. They even wake up earlier than normal so they can be first in line. Running to the center, their eyes light up the moment they see their friends and neighbors clutching packages that contain gifts like colorful new clothes or shoes, backpacks, books and art kits.

The gifts children receive may not be as lavish as what I was fortunate to find waiting for me on Christmas morning, but they are just as excited about what they receive – and far more grateful.

On those special days when we host gift distributions, sponsored children are the center of attention – and unlike so many other days filled with poverty and hardship – everything seems right with the world.

Posted on behalf of Damon Guinn

Friday, December 5, 2008

On the Third Day of Christmas, Children International gave to me...

Three sponsor visits (and maybe more)

I can recall more than once hearing my mother’s tired words during the holidays.

Worn from working six days a week, taking care of three boys and making sure my dad rose every morning at four so he could make it to work on time, she’d slump down in a rickety kitchen chair at the end of a long day and caution us about our Christmas expectations.

By then the cat was out of the bag on Mr. Claus so she’d shoot it to us straight. “It’s been a tough year,” she’d start. “Your father and I want you boys to have a wonderful Christmas but we don’t have a lot of money. There just won’t be many gifts under the tree this year.”

The thing is, I don’t recall ever being disappointed. There were always gifts to enjoy but, more importantly, I was thrilled to have special visitors whom we would see only during the holidays. People like my uncle Richard, who always had a tan, drove a big shiny car and laughed so loudly the windows would rattle. Or my cousin Lori, who sounded like an alien with her sweet Georgia drawl and East Coast staccato mixed together.

What they brought to our rural Missouri lives was a view of the world we never got to experience, which made the holidays all the more wonderful.

Of course, that’s also what a visit from you brings to your sponsored child. Not only do they get to meet a special friend they cherish, they get a glimpse of the world outside the walls of poverty that surround them. And it truly doesn’t matter what time of year it is. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that with you there, it’ll feel like Christmas whether it’s December or July.

So, in honor of the holiday, and all those people (you!), who bring joy, support and a different view of the world to sponsored kids all year long, I hope you’ll share with us your own thoughts on a visit you paid to your child.

Since this is the third day of Christmas, we’re shooting for three. But we’d be overjoyed to have many, many more.

Posted on behalf of Scott Cotter.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

On the 2nd Day of Christmas My Sponsor Gave to Me...

Two Leather Shoes

I love shoes, and I have a closet full of them to prove it. I bet if I really wanted to I could wear a different pair each day for a month. Winter boots, tennis shoes, leather Mary Jane heels, pointy-toed stilettos, Grecian-style sandals. My choices are endless.

Sponsored children love shoes too. But they usually only have a pair or two. And if it weren’t for their sponsors and Children International, they might not own any at all.

When we drive through impoverished neighborhoods, we often spot children running around barefoot, exposed to the rocky, dirt terrain of their neighborhoods. When you think about the fact that it’s not unusual to find raw sewage in these areas, it’s enough to make you cringe. It’s easy to understand how children can pick up parasites, which can lead to a host of health problems.

Then we visit Children International’s community centers and watch children being fitted for new shoes – a gift for their birthday, Christmas or Easter. These shoes are often sturdy leather footwear or athletic shoes that can be worn for school activities or at home. They are designed to stand up against wear and tear and offer their feet vital protection.

Luz Fandiño from Barranquilla, Colombia tries on her new shoes.

I’m the first to admit that I take basic necessities like shoes for granted. But since I started sponsoring a child a few years ago, I’ve learned to appreciate everything I have, including my dozens of shoes.

Each morning as I select my pair of shoes for the day, I think of my sponsored child and am grateful he has shoes from Children International. Sponsorship benefits give him – and all the other children in our program – a foot up in the fight against poverty.

Posted on behalf of Erin Anderson.

Monday, December 1, 2008

On the first day of Christmas, Children International gave to me…

A Sponsor Who Really Cares for Me

Like you, I remember being a child at Christmastime…the excitement and anticipation that would start to build after Thanksgiving until it reached a crescendo on Christmas Eve and I would toss and fidget most of the night. (I even remember trying to stay up all night to “catch” Santa, but I never did succeed!)

For the poor children we help, becoming sponsored is a lot like those childhood Christmas mornings.

It’s not uncommon for children (or their mothers) to weep with joy when told they have officially become a part of the Children International family. For the child, it can be one of the most thrilling moments of his or her young life.

They know what it means to become sponsored because they usually have friends or even siblings who’ve been in the program for years. And they have watched as others received new clothes and gifts on holidays and other special occasions. They have seen others who are able to visit a dentist when their tooth hurts…a doctor when they are ill.

And often, they have seen other children happily pouring out of the community center; clutching letters from someone they haven’t met…someone who makes all these benefits possible.

When children learn that they have been enrolled in the sponsorship program and that they have a sponsor – a real-life Santa – they are filled with hope and joy.

They know there is someone else in the world that cares for them.

Posted on behalf of Deron Denton. Please be sure to watch for an upcoming article Deron wrote for the next issue of Journeys, arriving in mailboxes around Christmastime, titled, “A Year of Firsts.” It’s about a boy named John Darren, recounting his first year of sponsorship.

John Darren’s mother, Eden, wept with joy when she learned of her boy’s sponsorship.