By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
You can learn a lot about the children you sponsor through the exchange of letters. For Bernadeta Milewski’s family, their sponsored child Hermie is like a second daughter, despite more than 8,000 miles between them.
After four years of sponsorship, Bernadeta, her husband, Evan, and 6-year-old daughter Nadia traveled in May from Connecticut to see Hermie and her family in San Joaquin, Philippines. It was a dream come true for everyone, Bernadeta says. “When we saw each other for the first time, there were no words, just long hugs. Tight hugs,” she says. “So much affection. In my wildest dreams, I didn’t know it could be so amazing.”
The Milewskis were there for a couple of reasons — mainly to see 12-year-old Hermie, but also to assist her family, whose home is vulnerable to flooding. Fortunately, San Joaquin did not experience much damage from Super Typhoon Haiyan last November, but Hermie’s home is near water and has suffered harm in other storms. Sponsors typically don’t see their sponsored children’s homes, but the Milewskis were permitted to do so to assess the best way of helping, whether it was renovating the existing home or purchasing property elsewhere.
Ultimately, after thorough discussion with Hermie’s family and local staff, they decided to build a new home; they also purchased a fishing boat for Hermie’s father. Hermie, her mother and siblings depend on his income — often $2 to $4 a day — for their day-to-day needs. The new boat will improve their situation tremendously as it will increase their earnings significantly. “Our plan was to assist Hermie’s family with their living arrangements so that they could have a safe place during typhoons,” says Bernadeta, “but when we learned that Hermie’s father had been working for someone else for over 20 years and therefore making very little money, we quickly decided to help with the purchase of the fishing boat as well.”
The Milewskis sponsor three children through ChildFund; although they have relationships with all of their sponsored children, Hermie was always very special to them, Bernadeta says. Early on, “she was calling us Mommy and Daddy and telling us that she was dreaming of meeting us. We knew we would do everything to make her dream come true. We really love the whole family there. During our two-day visit, there was no awkward moment. We were really kind of reunited.”
Writing letters is very important to the sponsor-child relationship, Bernadeta emphasizes. During the trip, she met other children enrolled in ChildFund-supported programs who hunger for communication and encouragement from their sponsors due to a lack of correspondence. She promised that she would let other sponsors know how much the sponsored children look forward to receiving letters and establishing a relationship with their sponsors.
“They would love to get letters from sponsors,” Bernadeta says. “It’s very important to remind people that it’s not just about the monetary donations. Letters are extremely important. As sponsors, we can tell the children about things they do not know even exist. We can motivate them, encourage them and offer praise. Through letters, they learn about other kinds of opportunities — opportunities their own parents for the most part are not aware of.”
For instance, Hermie’s parents had never been to the main city in their province, Iloilo, until the Milewskis’ visit. “For Hermie, we hope life has more in store, and we want to make sure that she has big dreams,” Bernadeta says. Sponsors don’t take the place of parents, but they often provide a new perspective for children, giving them hope for the future.
“When you become a sponsor, you sign up for some sort of relationship,” Bernadeta says. “If they can feel that someone cares about them, that gives them confidence that they’re really lacking.”
Bernadeta acknowledges that writing to your sponsored child may seem difficult at first and gave some tips to other sponsors:
“I always introduce myself, tell the child who we are and why we sponsor. I am always very positive and ask lots of questions as this opens up a dialogue. I ask what the child likes doing, what holidays he or she celebrates, what their favorite subject is. I always stress how important it is for them to study and encourage them to do their best. We include stickers, postcards, bookmarks, balloons, coloring pages and photos we take during our vacations and on special occasions. As sponsors, we have a very important role in their life. We can provide something different than their immediate families do.”
After the Milewskis’ return home, they received a letter from Hermie. She wrote, “I will give my best to attain my dreams in life to help my family to combat poverty. I will follow you to help the poor so I will not disappoint you, and I will not waste your dreams on me.”
For more tips about writing letters and developing a friendship with your sponsored child, visit ChildFund’s website.
By Abraham Marca, ChildFund Bolivia
Every day, Yobana wakes up ready to go to school, dresses by herself and has breakfast with her four older brothers. You may think this is quite normal, but not for 6-year-old Yobana, who had serious problems with her spine, left kidney and left shoulder.
However, good news came in the form of the support of her sponsor, Joan Elizabeth, and ChildFund Bolivia. Yobana has recuperated from medical procedures addressing her physical issues.
In 2011, doctors discovered a problem with her left kidney; the case was immediately treated, and Yobana was under observation for the following year. Her troubles continued with difficulties using her left arm, and doctors realized her spine and left shoulder were malformed. Surgery was the only answer. Joan Elizabeth offered support during the procedure and recovery; she and ChildFund Bolivia’s national office covered the costs of surgery and medication.
In order to get the best surgery possible, ChildFund Bolivia and Yobana’s family — with the help of Dr. Ovidio Aliaga, an orthopedic surgeon — researched their options; Yobana’s surgery took place in October 2013. The surgery proved a success, only physiotherapy was needed to make Yobana’s left arm perfect. After her last checkup, Dr. Aliaga said, “She is doing terrific! She can now dress by herself.”
It was a great pleasure to know Yobana, who is now happier. She helps her mother at home, and she also participates in ChildFund’s campaign against violence. Yobana also feels more confident at school.
Reporting by ChildFund Guatemala
Michael Kurtzman and his sister, Nancy Hernandez, came to Guatemala to visit Lilian, his sponsored child. This was his second visit; the first was in 2009. Lilian is 15 now, and she’d like to become a teacher. “I feel very happy sharing with my sponsor,” she says. “Thank you for his visit, and thank you so much for all the supplies he bought for me today. I am very glad to meet him again. God bless him.”
Michael visited the central highlands project Let Me Tell You (to increase children’s literacy, self-expression and research skills) and spent time with 80 children. During his visit, the children were making masks of their favorite animals.
“I know children need help; children can make a better world,” Michael says. “I see Lilian is a little shy, but she looks happier now. She and her family are in a better situation than before, when I came the first time.
“My commitment is to continue my sponsorship; also, I want Lilian to keep studying, and I will help her. I really want her to finish her education, because it is very important for her future.”
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
As we look forward to the next 75 years of assisting children who live in extreme poverty, we’re pleased to announce a new way for you to increase your involvement with ChildFund: through a nationwide volunteer network.
The ChildFund Action Network (CAN) offers an exciting opportunity to be part of a group of sponsors and supporters (ChildFund Humanitarians) who are passionate about helping children. Friends telling friends is one of the best ways to give voice to the ChildFund mission of helping children break free from the generational cycle of poverty and lead healthy, productive lives.
ChildFund reaches 17.8 million people in 30 countries, yet there are thousands of children enrolled in our programs who are awaiting sponsors — those special people who write and send love across the miles.
Our ChildFund Humanitarians will reach out to their network of friends, family and co-workers to help find new sponsors for children who are waiting for someone to say, “Yes!”
You’ll be able to personally share what it means to be a sponsor. When prospective sponsors see pictures and letters from your sponsored child or hear the reasons you support ChildFund, they’ll be reassured by this firsthand evidence of the change that sponsorship makes in children’s lives.
As a member of the network, you’ll seek out opportunities to share ChildFund’s mission in your community at local concerts, fairs, club meetings, events at your house of worship, conferences and more. When you join the ChildFund Action Network, you’ll receive a tool kit with additional background on ChildFund and tips on how to be an effective ChildFund representative. We’ll support you every step of the way, providing child packets that will allow the people you interact with to immediately sign up as sponsors.
To learn more about the ChildFund Action Network, contact our Sponsor Care center at 1-800-776-6767, or by email.
We look forward to working with you to grow our national ChildFund Action Network. We CAN do it!
By Nicole Duciaume, Regional Sponsorship Manager, ChildFund Americas
When Guadalupe, better known as Lupita, was about 4 years old, a woman from Oklahoma sponsored her. But they had a communication problem because Lupita’s mother was illiterate. So, the 4-year-old dictated her messages to a volunteer in her Mexican community. But Lupita wanted to write to her sponsor herself, so she would trace and copy the letters one by one to form words that became sentences that eventually created a letter to her sponsor.
This was a couple of decades ago, and Lupita eventually was able to write for herself as her relationship continued with her ChildFund sponsor until she was 22. Over the years, she wrote about her community (including festivals, holidays and culture) and herself (school progress, family and friends).
Her sponsor also sent Lupita US$1 for Christmas, Easter, her birthday and the day of her saint. Lupita became known as the Dollar Girl in her community, and that dollar was worth so much to her. It was enough to buy a piece of chocolate and also to boost her self-esteem year after year. Lupita, who is now 26, is proud that when she graduated from ChildFund, her sponsor agreed to support another child in her community.
Today, Lupita works as the sponsorship coordinator for one of ChildFund Mexico’s local partner organizations a few hours away from where she grew up. The children she now assists remind her of herself a couple of decades ago. Lupita manages a cadre of eight volunteers who work with 660 children.
“Now, I help children who have difficulty writing to their sponsors,” she says. “I have to have a lot of patience to help as much as possible, just like I learned with the support of my sponsors.” Lupita hopes all of the children in the community will be sponsored one day so they can feel what she felt: the love, the encouragement and the support of a faraway friend.
Communication between sponsors and sponsored children is very important, Lupita says, because you get to know people from other places that you never even imagined existed, with whom you can share traditions, customs, your way of life and how you are developing. Often, that person becomes a part of your bigger family.
She says that her sponsors “always cared about what was happening in my life and always encouraged me to grow personally and academically. They always inspired my confidence and encouraged me to tell them my problems and said that they were there to morally support me.”
In addition to the emotional support she received through sponsorship, there was a definite developmental value to her experience as well. Through the various writing exercises and reading letters from her sponsors, Lupita improved her literacy skills and learned to write and express herself clearly.
“It was important because it taught me to write and to learn something new every day that I didn’t already know, and then I wanted to learn as quickly as possible so I could write to my sponsors myself,” she says.
To this day, Lupita still has all of the letters, postcards and photos her sponsor sent her.
By Nicole Duciaume, Regional Sponsorship Manager, ChildFund Americas
Nicole recently visited our Mexico office, where she met with children in ChildFund programs. This week, she will be sharing highlights from her visit.
Gisela, 13, is the youngest of three siblings. Her parents sew soccer balls by hand for a living, a common profession in this rural community high in the hills of the state of Oaxaca.
It takes about 10 hours to sew one ball, which will bring 11 pesos (just a little less than US$1). With each parent making one ball per day, Gisela’s family of five must survive on less than $2 a day. Her parents’ hands are badly worn and blistered from pushing needles through the thick leather.
Though she already knows how to sew balls too, Gisela has other dreams for her future. When asked what she hopes to do one day, she replies with a coy smile that she would like to be a kindergarten teacher, not a ball maker. “I want to teach [children] to paint and about using vowels and how to write their names,” she adds.
Gisela is shy, but she describes herself as “friendly, respectful, intelligent, honest and affectionate,” noting that “these qualities are important for any human being and that, above all, we should treat others well.” She sees these qualities in her U.S. sponsors.
Often, Gisela receives letters from the teenage daughter of her sponsor family. Gisela has all of the family’s letters and photos safely tucked away in an envelope that she made just for this purpose. The envelope is labeled “Beautiful Details.” She has folded and refolded each letter so many times that the paper has worn thin around the crease marks. The photos are a little dog-eared at the corners, and you can see fingerprints all over the matte finish. These are Gisela’s treasures, and she keeps them well-guarded.
When Gisela’s U.S. friend was taking high school Spanish classes, she sometimes wrote in Spanish, which made Gisela smile because then she could read the letters without the usual translation from ChildFund Mexico’s national office. But since Gisela is learning some English in school, she also likes to try to read the letters in English to help her practice. Now, she can pick out words in the letters like “mother,” “father” and “blue.”
Her sponsor family wrote to Gisela about holidays in the United States like Thanksgiving, Halloween and Independence Day, as well as their daily lives: school, sports, dancing, pets and weather changes. These are all topics Gisela wrote back about as well, but sharing the traditions around Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) instead of Halloween and Mexican Independence Day in September instead of the Fourth of July. In her community, there is a rainy season and a dry season, as well as basketball, volleyball and dancing at festivals. Gisela even has her own animals to look after: chickens, pigs and two dogs.
Through ongoing communication with her sponsor family, Gisela has gained happiness, confidence and a new understanding of a different world of possibilities. For much of the time we spent together, she was reserved and quiet, but when she spoke about her sponsor family, she was all smiles.
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist; videos produced by ChildFund interns Sierra Winston and Caitlin Swoboda, with editing by Erin Olsen
One of the best parts of becoming a sponsor through ChildFund is that you make a friend — sometimes for life. We hear from formerly sponsored children all the time about what their sponsor’s assistance, gifts and letters meant to them.
Today, we celebrate the International Day of Friendship, an event declared in 2011 by the United Nations, with a few simple crafts to send to your sponsored child and step-by-step instructions on video for friendship bracelets and origami cranes. These crafts are small enough to enclose in a letter, and they represent the bridge you are building between cultures and people.
Knot a Friendship Bracelet
Gather together seven to 12 lengths of embroidery floss in different colors. Include your child’s favorites, the colors of her country’s flag or the colors of the rainbow. Use multiple strands of the same color — or various shades of color — for wider stripes. Strands should be about a yard long and arranged in the pattern you want to see.
Tie an overhand knot about 3 inches from one end. Tape the knot to a wall, at eye-length, to anchor the bracelet as you work. Other options include clipping the bracelet to a clipboard or taping it to a table.
With the far left strand, tie a half-hitch knot over the adjacent one, making the shape of the number 4. Tie a second half-hitch knot on the same strand.
Continue to tie two half-hitch knots on each of the remaining strands. You now have a band of color, and the floss that began at the far left is at the far right.
Return to the far left strand and knot the next row. Continue knotting until the bracelet is long enough for a child’s wrist; then, close it off with another overhand knot. Trim any excess floss, leaving about 3 inches. Knot the ends of the floss so they won’t unravel.
Watch the video:
Fold a Peace Crane
Begin with a square of origami paper. Fold it lengthwise into a rectangle. Fold the rectangle into a square and then, diagonally, into a triangle. Unfold the paper, orienting it as a diamond, back (duller) side up. Use the fold lines to press the sides of the diamond in, forming an accordion-fold square with a closed top and four points joining at the bottom.
Lift the left and right sides of the square into the center diagonal, forming a kite shape. Flip it over and repeat on the reverse side. Unfold the kite and lift the bottom point of the square. The flaps on either side will fold into the center in a long diamond. Flip it over and repeat on the reverse side.
Fold each of the two legs at the bottom in toward the center. Flip over and repeat on the reverse side. Lift the right leg, folding it out at a right angle for the crane’s tail; then turn it inside out. Repeat with the left leg to form the crane’s neck. Fold down the tip of the neck, turning it inside out for the head.
Pull down gently on each wing. Hold the neck and tail joints, gently stretching them apart until the crane flaps its wings.
Watch the video:
Craft a Memory Collage
If you’ve sponsored a child for a year or more, you’ll have photographs from annual progress reports. Copy or digitize them to create a greeting card documenting your unique friendship. Add photographs of your family, words in both languages, cultural features of each country and any other specifics that define your relationship.
Build a Peace Bridge
North America’s second busiest border crossing is near Niagara Falls. Each year, the Peace Bridge’s five graceful steel arches link millions of American and Canadian tourists, workers and students. Constructed in 1927 to honor more than a century of peace, prosperity and partnership, it sports webcams, a duty-free shop and foreign currency exchange, fast-food restaurants and toll-free bicycle and pedestrian lanes. LED lighting changes color for American and Canadian holidays, athletic events, Halloween and other celebrations. In springtime, the iconic structure blooms with thousands of flowers.
What would the Peace Bridge linking you and your sponsored child look like? Draw a picture or write a story.
Or, simply write a note to your sponsored child today to mark International Day of Friendship.
By Nicole Duciaume, Regional Sponsorship Coordinator, ChildFund Americas
In the Americas region, four of ChildFund’s sponsor relations managers visited other countries for a week to observe firsthand what their counterparts do. This post concludes our four-part series about the exchange program designed to improve the sponsorship experience. Read the series.
Our weeklong exchange program for sponsor relations managers in the Americas opened the door to in-depth conversations on policies, practices, processes, operations and cultures. Each sponsor relations manager now has an action plan to implement a promising practice gleaned during the exchange.
Here are some of their final reflections on the experience:
Ana Handrez, of Honduras, who visited Mexico: In the 19 years I have worked with ChildFund, this was my first time visiting another country specifically to discuss sponsorship issues and experiences. I was very surprised to see the engagement and initiatives from ChildFund Mexico’s local partner organizations. They knew their policies very well, and they were very proud to share their ideas of engaging children in sponsorship activities. It was amazing! The visit was worth every single day.
Valeria Suarez (Mexico): Ana’s visit was an enriching experience for Mexico’s office and especially for the sponsorship team. The national office and field sponsorship staff realized that even though each country has “particularities,” both share similar conditions, processes, histories and results. We enjoyed showing Ana how things are done here in Mexico, how sponsorship processes and visions have changed in the past few years, and how results have started to be achieved. We learned from her how processing times should be improved to continue enhancing the sponsorship experience, and Ana learned from us how creativity and working closely with children can provide better information for sponsors.
Cynthie Tavernier-Jervier, of the Caribbean, who visited Guatemala: This week makes me want to continue to make the sponsorship position more and more effective. I realized again how important the part that we play in programs actually coming to fruition to meet the needs (educational, social, health) of the less fortunate of our countries. So, a wonderful thing about my job is helping to bring benefits to less fortunate children and families and making a difference.
Diana Benitez (Guatemala): The exchange is an opportunity to know in situ the sponsorship processes. I see this experience as very exciting and enriching. Although Dominica and Guatemala have very different contexts, the sponsorship processes are similar. This exchange will impact our work going forward.
Dov Rosenmann, of Brazil, who visited Bolivia: This was an opportunity to reflect on our current practices and identify key areas of improvement for immediate implementation. I consider myself a beginner in sponsorship management in ChildFund, and being in Bolivia with an experienced team is, for me, a unique chance to directly ask questions and take in knowledge. On the other hand, I hope I was able to share with my Bolivian peers more about Brazil’s experience in managing sponsorship. As for what has been the best part of the exchange, for me it was seeing the youth participation at the local level and learning about Bolivia’s communication corners. Both were very inspiring and definitely an initiative to be multiplied in other countries.
Rosario Miranda (Bolivia): My expectation was to learn by comparing processes and seeing opportunities of improvement. Both national offices have similar interests and efforts toward integrated sponsorship and program activities to contribute to children’s development. Having Dov visit our national office and four local partner organizations was a wonderful educational exchange experience. We were able to compare operations and provide valuable information to improve each other’s sponsorship processes and developmental activities with children.
Santiago Baldazo, of the United States, who hosted Ecuador: This was a great experience. Although in planning for the week, we assumed that discussing sponsorship processes when both countries were already very familiar with the procedures would be somewhat tedious. But, while we shared the “how” of the sponsorship processes, it was very valuable for us to have the opportunity to discuss the “why” as well.
Zoraya Albornoz (Ecuador): Staff in both offices work hard to give children the chance of better opportunities for their lives. Through this experience, I was able to better understand the way other offices work and realize the good things we have in our own operations as well as the importance of working closer to the local partners. In the daily work we lose the real perspective of our strengths and weakness. I saw that we have some things that can be improved in order to reach our goals.
Learn more about all of the countries where ChildFund works around the globe.
By Nicole Duciaume, Regional Sponsorship Coordinator, ChildFund Americas
In the Americas region, four of ChildFund’s sponsor relations managers visited other countries for a week to observe firsthand what their counterparts do. This is the third of four posts about the exchange program and our work to improve the sponsorship experience. Read the series.
It’s not exactly easy to have someone come to your office and watch your every move. You could feel like an exotic specimen under a microscope. But when it’s one of your own colleagues from another country who is coming to learn and share equally, it’s a little less intimidating and turns into an opportunity to grow professionally and personally.
For this exchange, Santiago Baldazo, sponsor relations manager for ChildFund’s U.S. programs, hosted Zoraya Albornoz of Ecuador. They traveled together to our South Dakota office; Santiago is based in Texas.
Through discussions with Zoraya, Santiago says he learned a great deal about how Ecuador’s team partners with local communities and partner organizations to build common understanding about goals and expectations of sponsorship and other ChildFund-supported programs. “ChildFund Ecuador has a lot of faith in its very intricate network, which helps the communities become more empowered,” Santiago says.
He is now eager to replicate some of the child-friendly forms and materials that Ecuador uses in community orientations, child enrollment and child letters to sponsors. And Zoraya learned about how the U.S. team is maximizing technology to improve response time with their area offices and local partners. She plans to discuss with her team how to use technology to be in closer contact.
Of course, along with the professional observations, there were cultural ones as well. “It was interesting to see how both countries have indigenous populations that have historically been suppressed, repressed and oppressed by others and how the populations have responded to that,” Santiago notes. “In Ecuador, it seems it has given them the opportunity to raise their concerns, their voices and their solidarity as a people.”
The exchange was a great experience, Santiago reports, filled with opportunities to learn, grow and improve practices. In fact, he notes, “Having a shadow this week felt more like having a mentor, and that is primarily due to our visitor – her experience and knowledge and her personality and support.”
Zoraya was equally appreciative: “In the daily work, we lose the real perspective of our strengths and weaknesses. I saw that we have some things that can be improved in order to reach our goals.”
Tomorrow: In their own words.
By Nicole Duciaume, Regional Sponsorship Coordinator, ChildFund Americas
In the Americas region, four of ChildFund’s sponsor relations managers visited other countries for a week to observe firsthand what their counterparts do. This is the second of four posts about the exchange program. Read the series.
We asked Cynthie Tavernier-Jervier, sponsor relations manager for ChildFund Caribbean, to share some stories about her exchange experience in Guatemala: what she hoped to learn beforehand, what she encountered during the exchange, and which practices she wants to implement in her own office.
Before the exchange, Cynthie was excited about the opportunity but also concerned that she might not be able to apply many lessons at her home office, which works with children in Dominica and St. Vincent. ChildFund Caribbean has about 6,500 enrolled children spread across the two islands, whereas ChildFund Guatemala is almost three times the size, with 18,500 enrolled children.
“I expect to be dazzled and overwhelmed because of the size of the office that is hosting my visit,” Cynthie said before the trip. “I am most concerned that due to the size of my office, I will not have anything to contribute to that large office.”
But on arrival, she learned that every ChildFund office, regardless of size, language or culture, has something to share and also something to learn. Cynthie noted later that it was important “not to be intimidated since difficulties and sometimes even frustrations can be encountered by all, and solutions suiting those situations can be found and successfully applied — sometimes even done as a team.”
Cynthie spent a few days in the national office in Guatemala City, as well as two days in the field, visiting local partner organizations that work with ChildFund and, of course, interacting with the children we serve.
Along the way, Cynthie and her hosts discussed processes like sponsorship department structure and roles, orienting families to ChildFund’s programs, child enrollment, children’s letters to sponsors, communication methods, handling of monetary gifts from sponsor to child, youth communication teams and the integration of sponsorship and program activities.
In return, Cynthie gave a presentation to the entire Guatemala senior management team (including the national director and the leaders of programs, sponsorship, finance and human resources) about operations, processes and programs in ChildFund’s Caribbean office in Roseau, Dominica.
What was the most important thing Cynthie learned? Providing more child-friendly resources to the local partners to share with children as they write to their sponsors, she says, after observing how these tools make letter writing more engaging.
So, the first thing Cynthie wants to do upon her return to the Caribbean is “make the correspondence fun and colorful, friendly and easier for children, so as not to make it a chore.”
As for the unexpected, Cynthie says she was surprised to learn that in Guatemala many of the programs and daily activities in the communities are carried out in indigenous languages, not Spanish.
In the field, there are many different languages spoken by the indigenous people, and some don’t speak Spanish, she says. “Some of the people wear specific cultural dress and no other, unlike in my country, where the cultural dress is worn only during certain months (or during traditional activities).
I was also surprised that children of about four or five years were working in the fields on a weekday, especially since school was in session.” So she spent time discussing how Guatemala is seeking to address child labor issues.
The exchange visit to Guatemala resulted in several professional and personal gains, Cynthie says. “Basically, this week makes me want to continue to make the sponsor relations position more and more effective.”
Tomorrow: From Ecuador to South Dakota.