By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
In a small Honduran village in the mountains, 12-year-old Yunior writes letters regularly to Margaret and Bob Erickson, who live in Washington state, a continent away. They’ve sponsored him through ChildFund since 2005, when Yunior was only 3 years old. A lot has changed in that time, particularly his communication skills.
“He’s taking English classes now. He’s writing to us in English,” Margaret says with excitement. “We have no children, and we are going to try to set up something so he can go further in school. He’s a very important part of our lives.”
Ten years ago, the Ericksons decided to sponsor a younger child so they could follow him through his childhood, helping where they could. He’s the first child they’ve sponsored. Yunior’s mother had died, and his father’s family took him in, although his grandfather and uncle were only earning about $42 a month. Because Yunior was too young to write, his aunts and grandmother wrote letters to the Ericksons on his behalf.
“I didn’t know what to call ourselves, but his aunt called us godparents,” Margaret recalls. In the passing years, Yunior has had happy and sad experiences; his grandmother passed away, but he also has succeeded in school. He’s now in seventh grade, and his favorite classes are math and English, Margaret says. She and her husband have sent money for Christmas, which Yunior often uses for practical purposes like clothes and shoes, and they also paid for a floor for the family’s house and a bed for Yunior, who had been sleeping on the ground.
“I’ve totally encouraged him to stay in school and do well,” Margaret says. “I’ve told him if he needs anything for school that he can’t afford, to let me know.”
Bob Erickson is a retired civil engineer, and Margaret was an internationally certified ophthalmology technician, setting up doctors’ practices remotely and often dealing with new eye diseases that immigrants carried to western Washington as they begin new lives in the United States. The couple has long had an interest in international travel and has visited the Panama Canal, the Falkland Islands and glaciers in a South American inlet.
Aside from receiving letters from Yunior, the Ericksons sometimes get photos from him. For years, he has posed for pictures with a grim look on his face, so Margaret asked him to smile in a picture this year.
“This Christmas, he gave us an awesome, big smile,” she reports. “He is a delight, and we truly love him.”
Larry, 22, is a teacher at a private high school in the Philippines and the president of a youth association in his community. He was sponsored through ChildFund and attended programs at a local partner organization, Community’s Hope and Initiative for Lasting Development Inc. (CHILD Inc.), in the Western Visayas. Children from this region face many challenges, including a high rate of malnutrition and many teens dropping out of school to work. Here is Larry’s story, in his own words.
My unforgettable journey with ChildFund, its local partner and my sponsor, Catherine, began 15 years ago.
In all of those years, Catherine never failed to support me every step of the way. Even though I haven’t met her, nor was she in the habit of writing, I always knew she had my back, because of her ceaseless support. I hope she’s proud of what I’ve made of myself so far.
Beyond my need to stay in school, ChildFund helped me discover what I wanted the most: I wanted to share my blessings with others. I didn’t have much in the way of material goods, but from what I learned from participating in ChildFund’s activities, I learned I could still share with others.
I remained involved in ChildFund’s programs until graduating from high school, and one of the later things they introduced to us was psychosocial support for children. The local partner, CHILD Inc., trains trainers who can look after the immediate emotional needs of children after an emergency.
I was chosen to join the first batch of trainers and soon found the opportunity to test what I learned when flash floods from Typhoon Washi (locally known as Sendong) claimed more than 1,000 lives and demolished entire communities in my province in 2011.
There was no shortage of children in the dozens of evacuation centers that sprouted after the typhoon, and ChildFund called on us to assist them. My own home was not very badly affected by the typhoon, thankfully, so I was free to devote my efforts to helping other young people. The experience was tiring, but seeing the first smiles on children’s faces since the typhoon was rewarding. We produced artwork and helped the children express themselves about their experiences, along with their ambitions in life. It also saddened me to discover and share their pain, as they opened up their feelings to us.
ChildFund invited me to a lot of training seminars, which made me more aware of their plans for the community. These activities honed my skills and developed me into the person I am today. I joined an advocacy newsletter project and became editor-in-chief. This directly influenced my desire to pursue a teaching career.
ChildFund also sent me to national conferences, where I was able to meet fellow youth leaders from all over the Philippines. I discovered their cultures and traditions as I interacted with them. I was amazed how children and youth were able to articulate local issues and concerns, as well as assemble response plans.
Now that I’m employed and contributing to my family’s livelihood, I remain involved in ChildFund’s activities. I participate in the local partner’s Special Children Outreach for Rehabilitation (SCORe) program, and I volunteer with the sponsorship program.
My heart’s filled with gratitude for my kind and generous sponsor, Catherine, for her unceasing support, and for ChildFund, for molding me into what I am now.
A little reminder since Christmas is coming, and many of our sponsors want to give something special to the children they sponsor. For more tips about corresponding with your sponsored child, check this out.
Want to include something special for your sponsored child? Think flat.
Children cherish the little gifts and fun extras you add to your letters, but bulky objects cause difficulties and create problems with customs officials. Make sure that anything you include is flat, lightweight and not easily broken. Avoid items that can melt.
“Envelope add-ins” include:
To minimize the possibility that mail will be lost or stolen, make it appear to have less worth to those who may be interested in its contents. Never include anything of value, use plain manila or white envelopes, and keep external writing nondescript.
We ask sponsors not to send packages to their sponsored children.
Packages are frequently stolen, or they can be charged a prohibitive duty tax. If you would like to give a gift for Christmas, birthdays, or other occasions, we recommend gifts between $20 and $50. ChildFund requests a $3.50 donation when sending monetary gifts to help offset the costs associated with processing, distributing and safely delivering the funds. If you would like our assistance with giving your sponsored child a monetary gift, please call us at 1-800-776-6767. Our representatives will be happy to assist you.
By Abraham Marca, ChildFund Bolivia
ChildFund’s office in Bolivia recently hosted the daughter of a sponsor, who got to meet 2-year-old Neri and her parents.
Isabel, 18, is Spanish but lives in Germany; her mother, Luisa, has sponsored Neri since July through ChildFund Deutschland, one of our Alliance partners. They sponsor five children in all, one for each member of the family. Luisa needed to stay home to care for her younger son, so Isabel went in her place to Bolivia.
“With these pictures, my mom is going to be jealous of me,” Isabel said. “She really wanted to come here.”
Neri will become a big sister in January, when her mother is expecting her second child. Her father is a truck driver, and the family lives in La Paz, one of Bolivia’s largest cities. During Isabel’s visit, they went to see Mi Teleférico, a new cable-car system, which was very exciting for Neri. It was a sunny day, and the independent little girl was happy to walk by herself.
“Neri’s dream has come true,” her mother said. “She has wanted to get in the Teleférico for months.” Then they went to a children’s park, where Neri ran and played with Isabel and her mother.
“Neri reminds me of my younger brother,” Isabel said. “She has a lot of energy and independence, and it seems she never gets tired!”
Earlier in the trip, Isabel also visited an Early Childhood Development center supported by ChildFund and run by a local partner organization, San José Las Lomas. She had the opportunity to talk to the coordinators and meet children there, and she expressed a lot of interest in their work.
When the sun was going down, the group returned to the neighborhood where Neri’s family lives, again riding Mi Teleférico and enjoying the city’s sights one last time. “This is like her Christmas gift,” Neri’s mother declared. Below, see more pictures from Isabel’s visit, including a trip to the local ECD center. If you’re a sponsor and wish to visit your child in his or her country, call our Sponsor Care team at 1-800-776-6767, between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. (ET), Monday through Thursday and 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday.
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.