By Sylvia Ximenes, ChildFund Timor-Leste
In Timor-Leste, staff members at ChildFund’s national office recently created a wall decoration in celebration of the 75th anniversary of our organization and looked back at what ChildFund has meant in our country, which has seen major changes in the past decade, including its political independence.
“In the life of a child, every year is significant,” says Geoffrey Ezepue, ChildFund Timor-Leste’s national director. “Each year, children need access to education, good nutrition, health services and a safe and supportive environment in which to grow and learn. This is something that ChildFund has been striving to achieve every year for 75 years.”
Reflecting on our organization’s history, Vicente Alves, in sponsor relations, also looks forward to its future growth. “Commit and move ahead,” he says. “We can do it!”
Marcos Fatima has worked with ChildFund since 1991, when it was still known as Christian Children’s Fund. At the start, Marcos was employed with local partner organization Assistentia Caritas, and he has held several positions with ChildFund in the intervening years. In 1999, a time of political upheaval in Timor-Leste, Marcos was an assistant manager for a shelter program. His team provided assistance to families in need of homes, distributing materials such as zinc roofing sheets, timber and cement in two districts.
In 2006, another conflict broke out in Timor-Leste, causing the displacement of many families; at that time, Marcos became a youth facilitator, providing training and games for youth and children to reduce stress and feel more at ease while they lived in Internally Displaced People, or IDP, camps.
Since 2007, he has been a senior assistant for ChildFund Timor-Leste. “I enjoyed my work from the beginning, because this is a great job,” Marcos says. “We dedicate our time to work directly with children, especially the ones who are deprived, excluded and vulnerable.” Furthermore, he adds, we can help to empower children through our programs and activities.
As a father of six children — two boys and four girls — he acknowledges the importance of education to all of his children. “I started with nothing, but after working with ChildFund, I feel confident to provide a better education and support to my own children from the benefits that I receive,” Marcos says.
Translated by Maria Fernanda Peixoto, ChildFund Brasil
Josengleyson “Gleyson” de Lima Maciel, 23, a former sponsored child from Brazil, wrote this testimony in gratitude to his sponsor and the local partner organization that helped him become an educated and successful adult.
I was born and raised in a community called Lagamar, located in the Aerolândia neighborhood in Fortaleza, Ceará, Brazil. It is a suburb of the capital known for its violence and drug use (as well as other situations involving conflicts between organized groups), which oppressed all the residents, who were in the most part deprived of sanitation and other essentials. It was very hard for me and my neighbors, colleagues and friends to deal with this reality. Even with the family support that many of us had, I recall our prospects being minimal and restricted.
The ChildFund Brasil-affiliated project Frente Beneficente para Crianças (Front Charity for Children) rescued me. I cannot imagine how my life would be now without having enjoyed the project’s benefits during my childhood and adolescence, always counting on the support of all of the instructors, teachers and others who do this essential work.
The project brings many opportunities to the children and teenagers who are enrolled. Among them are tutoring, school supplies, snacks, professional training, dance and art classes, lectures and workshops that promote education. Those programs made me see life differently and led me to compete in the labor market in a satisfactory way, making it possible for me to achieve a career in administration. It is relevant to note that this project produces professionals with good conduct, ethics and, the most important in my opinion, character.
I feel extremely accomplished for being part of a contrary statistic. By my efforts and through the project’s support, I can honor my parents and all my family. For me, these are my greatest riches.
I graduated with a degree in business administration, and I am a professional, registered with the Regional and Federal Brazilian Administration Councils and specializing in financial management and controllership. Also, I’m certified by IFCE-CEFET in intermediate English. I recently purchased a car, and I’m currently employed in a company in charge of the administrative management of condos.
I believe life is a perpetual learning process, and, since I was young, I have yearned for continuous learning. Despite my difficult and turbulent start, everything changed with the indispensable support of the Frente Beneficente para Crianças project and ChildFund Brasil.
I take this opportunity to thank all the people who did — and still do — this excellent work, my family for being my base and especially two people who never stopped believing in me and my potential: my sponsor, Dorothy, to whom I will be grateful for the rest of my life and whom I love, even without ever having any contact in person. I hope she receives this message. I also owe part of my education, efforts and faith to my professor, Silvia Simões. In the name of all of her students, I thank her for her patience, competence, strictness and care.
Finally, I take this moment to say that this chain of goodness cannot stop. Human beings have the possibility to be much better, even with little gestures. With this mindset, I have great interest in being able to sponsor a child and contribute, even with little, to the evolution and development of that child. My reality today is different because I was encouraged by sponsorship.
Interview by Sierra Winston, ChildFund Communications Intern
This is one in a series of interviews with ChildFund’s national directors in honor of ChildFund International’s 75th anniversary.
Where did you work before ChildFund?
I have done many jobs before working at ChildFund: When I was growing up, I took holidays jobs such as cinema usherette, postal service redirection worker, vegetable and fruit picker, toy shop and gift shop salesperson. Later on in life, I was a teacher in Australia and Africa, and I have also worked for Australian Volunteers and Save the Children.
What is the most difficult situation you have encountered in your job?
The most difficult situation I have encountered in my job is speaking to young people and hearing about the barriers that prevent them from achieving their dreams. The barriers can range from the simple, which ChildFund can address through programs and project activities, to the more challenging, systemic barriers.
ChildFund is working on challenging existing power structures in an appropriate manner, both at the local and national level, but it takes time. There are many visible improvements in the lives of children today in Cambodia, but there is still a lot more to do, especially in rural communities where the wealth gap between the rich and poor has increased at a greater rate than in urban communities.
What successes have you had in your national office?
Some of the successes would have to include establishing the Cambodia program and scaling up activities each year, responding to opportunities that present themselves. Also, hearing that the relationship Cambodia staff have with the royal government of Cambodia is highly valued by authorities.
Authorities at the district, commune and village levels now have firsthand experience of working with children and youth and understanding the value they can bring to development planning. We see members of a youth group reach into their backpacks and pull out the 5-year District Development Plan and identify the priorities that were included as a result of their lobbying. Also, we read in evaluations that youths and households have increased monthly income through ChildFund income-generation training and support activities. A parent approached us to ask if her son could attend youth group trainings even though he is not a youth club member, because she has seen the benefit it gave her eldest daughter.
What motivates you in life?
I am motivated by hope and possibility. Even in very difficult circumstances, young people will often have ideas and want to be involved in community planning.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Like so many people I know, I am often trying to have greater balance in my life. I spend time with family and friends, I read, I get involved in my local community wherever I am living, try to do something new every year. A friend and I have committed to each identify resolutions to focus on each month, but we’ve also learnt that we often have to revise or reschedule resolutions. Perhaps we’ll get better at this as time goes on.
Who is your role model?
My mother, who believed that it didn’t matter what religion you were but whether you helped your neighbor when they were in need. I am not sure if she would have called herself a feminist, but she had the same expectations of my brother and me to help around the house; only after I left home did I realize this was not a common expectation across all families.
What is a quote, saying or belief that you live by?
Different quotes have been important to me at different times in my life. Today an Australian Aboriginal proverb resonates: “Those who lose dreaming are lost.”
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
Laurie Tragen-Boykoff’s first glimpse of Nicky stuck in her memory: “He had the look of an old soul in his eyes.”
He was 7 years old, and Laurie and her husband had decided to sponsor him through ChildFund (then known as Christian Children’s Fund). It was nearly 25 years ago, and they were a young married couple living near Los Angeles. Nicky lived in Kafue, Zambia.
“We weren’t upper-class by any means,” Laurie recalls, but “the program pulled at my heart.” One thing she decided: She would write to her sponsored child. It was important.
At first, Nicky couldn’t write to her in English, so they corresponded through interpreters. Still, his personality shone through, Laurie says. “He was an unusually expressive child, filled with joy and appreciation.” She learned details about his everyday life, and she kept everything he sent in a manila envelope in her nightstand’s drawer.
The letters continued for eight years, as Nicky grew up and eventually was able to write to Laurie in English. During that time, she became a licensed social worker and had a son and a daughter. ChildFund later contacted Laurie to let her know that Nicky’s village was healthy and self-sustaining and that the organization would be leaving to work in a village with greater need.
Because ChildFund protects children and sponsors by monitoring all correspondence and not allowing the exchange of personal addresses, Laurie and Nicky had to say goodbye to each other, but they didn’t stop thinking about each other
As a teenager, Nicky even went to the U.S. Embassy in Zambia to see if he could contact Laurie and her family. Unfortunately, the embassy’s employees said it was too difficult to find them without more information.
Laurie, meanwhile, held on to the manila folder and thought about Nicky from time to time but never imagined she would hear from him again.
One day in 2011, though, when Laurie was making a stop at Starbucks, her daughter Megan called. She said she had received an unusual message on Facebook from a Zambian man named Nicky Mutoka.
“It was all I could do to not scream,” Laurie recalls. She gave her daughter very specific instructions about what to tell Nicky, because as a self-described technophobe, Laurie wasn’t on Facebook.
Soon enough, Laurie reconnected with Nicky through email, phone calls and even on Facebook. Nicky still lived in Zambia and had progressed a long way from childhood. He was the only one of six siblings to attend college, and he had married a woman named Ketty.
“The sponsorship, for me, meant a lot,” recalls Nicky, who is now 32. “I felt so special among my siblings because I had all my school needs taken care of. I still remember my parents never bought me a uniform, a pair of shoes or books during my primary and junior secondary school. I can’t forget about this, and my memories are still fresh even if it’s over a decade now.”
When the sponsorship ended, Nicky says he was fairly discouraged and unsure if he would complete school, but he says that his faith in God gave him courage to continue. Today, after earning a degree in business administration, he is a sales adviser for a bank.
After several months of contact, the two families took a big step; Nicky and Ketty came to California for a visit in 2012.
“California, and particularly Los Angeles, is a great and beautiful place,” Nicky says. “There is so much to learn there. I enjoyed myself, had so much fun with my lost friends and family.”
“We just seemed to get each other,” Laurie says, and friends from her synagogue and neighborhood were drawn to Nicky like a magnet. “People were absolutely blown away [by the story].” Laurie and Nicky’s friendship also served to show that sponsorship helps real people, she adds. “People were so reassured to hear that the money went where it was supposed to go.”
Today, Ketty and Nicky have a baby son whom they named for Laurie’s husband Terry, and Laurie visited them in Zambia this past spring. Both families are so happy to be reunited.
“As a young boy,” Nicky says, “I always knew these were very good people and felt strongly attached to this family.”
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
On Oct. 6, 1938, our founder, Dr. J. Calvitt Clarke, received a charter for China’s Children Fund Inc. from the State Corporation Commission of Virginia. Through the course of the next 75 years, the organization would evolve to become ChildFund International, which today serves 17.8 million people in 30 countries.
Among the officers on CCF’s board at the time of the charter were three Richmonders: President Eudora Ramsey Richardson, Vice President T. Nelson Parker and Secretary and Treasurer Clarke.
Richardson, who was born in Kentucky and moved to Richmond as a child, was full-time director of the Virginia Writers’ Project, which sent clerks, writers, editors and others who had been without work during the 1930s to gather life histories, social-ethnic studies and interviews with 50 former slaves. It was part of a federal project, which fell under the umbrella of the Works Progress Administration and employed 8.5 million people during the Great Depression.
Parker was a former Richmond mayor and insurance commissioner for Virginia.
Richardson served as president of the executive committee until 1944, and Parker succeeded her, staying in the post for 30 years.
In part, the 1938 charter reads:
“To solicit and receive voluntary contributions in and on the North American Continent and transmit such funds … to China for looking after, caring for, and rehabilitating the poor and indigent children of China. … To cooperate with and assist responsible child welfare institutions and agencies in China and to establish orphanages, homes and other agencies throughout the country of China.”
It was the beginning of an organization that would make reaching the hardest-to-reach children its mission.
By Rosa Figueroa, ChildFund Guatemala
On Oct. 1 each year, the Guatemalan people celebrate Children’s Day, a holiday to promote children’s rights. Many schools have special activities for students, such as breaking piñatas, exchanging gifts and handing out candy and other food. Sometimes, to the delight of children, there are clown performances.
Here’s how children in ChildFund-supported communities plan to celebrate.
Three hours from Guatemala City, you will find Rabinal in the Baja Verapaz region. Rabinal is a small town with friendly, lovely and sweet people, mostly of indigenous origin. Their houses are almost identical: small, sometimes with just one room, and made of adobe with a tin roof and dirt floor. Most of the families do not have access to water and electricity, and they use outdoor latrines.
In the community of Rabinal live Luciano and Rigoberto, who are both 12. Luciano lives with his parents, four brothers and five sisters, and Rigoberto’s household includes his mother, three sisters and three brothers.
Luciano is an active participant in ChildFund Guatemala’s project “Let Me Tell You,” in which he draws and paints and participates in programs that improve his self-esteem and teach values, including respecting others. He loves to have fun with his friends and share stories with them. Rigoberto participates in the ChildFund project Seeds of Change, where he has learned how to save money, share with others and be a valuable part of his community. With big smiles, both children told us about how they celebrate Children’s Day in their community.
“This day is very special for me; it’s like my birthday,” Luciano says. “We break piñatas, and everyone is happy and laughing. I would love for every child in the communities of Guatemala to celebrate this day.”
“I know my rights … right to life, education, health, to have a family, to have fun,” Rigoberto says, “but sometimes adults do not respect them, especially when parents do not let children go to school. Children’s Day is special because we talk about our rights.”
“How do we celebrate this day? Usually we have a big event at school, the major comes and the police. All children sing the national anthem, and later we have some food and candies,” Rigoberto adds.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
Annet Amiret, 21, was sponsored through ChildFund while growing up in Uganda, a politically unstable country at the time. Today, she is studying to become a nurse. In this Q&A, Annet reflects on the value of having a sponsor.
Where did you grow up, and what was it like?
I grew up in a lot of different places. My family had to move from our village when I was 8 years old. I stayed behind to live with a neighbor because my parents wanted me to remain in the ChildFund program. Eventually I had to leave when I was 12 because war broke out. I went to live in Soroti town [in eastern Uganda] with various family members.
How many siblings do you have, and who raised you?
I had six siblings, but one of my older sisters passed several years ago. I’m the youngest of all my brothers and sisters. Because of the instability in Uganda, I was raised by various people, including my grandmother, auntie, older brother and neighbor.
How did your family make their living?
My father is a farmer. He grows peanuts and maize. My mother sells fish in the market.
How old were you when you received a sponsor?
I was 6.
Do you recall particular ChildFund programs that helped you as a child?
I remember my sponsor sent money for a uniform and books. I had no money for it, so it helped then. When I was 9, I received a cow and a few goats, which later helped me with secondary school. It helped me pay for tuition fees, books and after-school tutoring. Unfortunately the goats were stolen from our family during the war, but to this day we still have the offspring from that cow. We still get milk and breed the cows to sell.
My mum also used to attend meetings and training sessions. Some of it was to do with agriculture and farming practices.
I was 8 or 9 when ChildFund built new classrooms at our school and provided desks. I remember before we used to sit on the floor or study under the trees. When it rained, there were no classes.
What changes did you experience after being sponsored?
Sponsorship made life easier because I could remain in school. There were several children that I knew that weren’t sponsored who couldn’t always go. Things were difficult for them.
Do you have any fond memories of a letter or a gift from your sponsor? How did this person make your life different?
My sponsor never wrote a letter, but they did send money for school uniforms and books.
How long did you attend school, and what do you do now?
I’m studying to become a nurse now in Kampala [Uganda’s capital]. I do a combination of attending lectures and working on the wards.
What is your career goal?
I want to work in health care, because if you have your health, you can do anything. People here lack basic information about prevention of diseases, and I want to be part of the group that helps educate people.
Do you have a message for people who are considering sponsoring a child?
I would tell them to go ahead and sponsor. There are very many people with potential that need help to realize their goals. ChildFund gave me a strong foundation and helped prepare me for who I am today.
By Shawn Pennington, Vice-President of Artist Management at BBR Management
Shawn is a child sponsor and the manager of the chart-topping country duo Thompson Square, who partner with ChildFund’s LIVE! program.
I’m embarrassed to admit that my whole adult life I’ve always been “that guy” who would say things like, “Why do we send so much aid overseas? Why do all these celebrities spend so much of their time trying to help those in other countries when we have so much wrong in our own country?” For me, that all changed earlier this year when Thompson Square and I traveled to Lepaterique, Honduras, with ChildFund to visit the children whom we sponsor.
As many know, over the last couple of years, Keifer and Shawna Thompson of Thompson Square have proudly used their celebrity voice in all forms of media, and at every show they help bring awareness and attention to ChildFund International’s efforts to help children all over the world. In 2012, we made great strides in getting more children sponsored, but at the end of the year, as we began preparing for the current tour, we really felt that we needed to take the message up a notch. The only way to do that was to go into the field ourselves and see with our own eyes what these children are dealing with.
Due to an always insane travel schedule that Thompson Square keeps, it can be really hard to find a free week to fly around the world and back, so we chose to sponsor children in Lepaterique, which is only a two-and–a-half-hour flight from Atlanta.
What would come in the next few days would be life-changing. Cliché-sounding, I know, but it’s true. It’s one of those things that you can never really describe to someone and expect them to fully “get it” without experiencing it.
As we traveled from the city of Tegucigalpa towards Lepaterique, it became quickly apparent that we were about to see poverty that many people believe only exists in movies.
Imagine what it would be like to live in a one-room “house” with a family of five and one bed among them. The only way to bathe is a dip in a lake or a stream, the same water in which you wash your clothes, and the same water that is so polluted that you wouldn’t dare try and drink it.
Imagine being pregnant and having to spend four hours or more walking one way to get to the nearest doctor, just to wait in line and maybe not get to see the doctor (because there aren’t nearly enough of them), and thus have to turn around and walk back home. The government provides vaccinations for children but doesn’t have sufficient doctors to administer the shots.
My family signed up to sponsor a 4-year-old boy named Danni. Prior to the trip, I went shopping to buy Danni a few gifts. You cannot even begin to imagine how difficult it is to decide what to buy. There are so many factors that come into play. Some things seem so simple and easy to “fix” to those of us who are much more fortunate. But that is where ChildFund comes into play. They have programs in place to gradually improve the quality of life for these children and their families with a balanced approach.
The interesting thing about the people of Lepaterique is that they appear to be some of the happiest people I’ve ever met. Even in the shadow of everything that challenges them in their daily lives, only two things matter to them – God and family. Visiting them was quite a lesson in life for all of us on the trip. We should be ashamed of ourselves for complaining about anything!
While we were there in January, an outgoing little boy at the school we visited slipped a note to Shawna that said (in Spanish) “Please help us get computers for our school so that we can learn better.” Through some great efforts from our team, we were able to work with an office supply company to get computers donated, and in July we traveled to Lepaterique once again to personally deliver them! Words cannot express the depth of gratitude that they showed us, or the feeling of knowing that our team made a dent, if only a small dent, in improving the quality of life for these children.
Keifer and Shawna were able to visit their sponsored child Emerson again while we were there, and I got to see Danni and meet his entire family! We were all sad to leave. We can honestly say that we have friends there now that look forward to seeing us as much as we do them. I hope that we will return again soon.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
With credit to A Book about Children by Larry E. Tise and Yankee Si! by Edmund W. Janss
A name you’ll see often in our 75th anniversary blog series is Dr. Verent Mills, who was our third executive director from 1970 to 1981. But his connection to ChildFund (and our preceding identities as Christian Children’s Fund and China’s Children Fund) goes back much further.
Born in Birmingham, England, and raised in Winnipeg, Canada, Mills became a missionary to South China in 1931 and remained in Asia for decades. He and his wife, Alma Kenney Mills, and their three daughters lived in China through the 1940s, where Mills was director of an orphanage in Toishan, in the region of Sz Yup. This area was cut off from food supplies beginning in 1937, when Japan began its invasion of China.
In 1942, Mills led 142 children more than 300 miles to KuKong, where he knew CCF had established an orphanage. These children were malnourished, and others did not survive the journey. In 1945, Mills called upon CCF’s help again, as he moved 700 children from Toishan to Canton, another arduous journey.
Dr. Calvitt Clarke, our organization’s founder, agreed by letter to help support the 700 children by finding American sponsors for them. Ultimately, Mills moved the children into an orphanage in Canton, where they went to school and received training in skills that would be useful for their livelihoods: weaving for girls, carpentry for boys.
In 1947, Mills joined the CCF staff as regional director in Shanghai. He scouted existing orphanages in China’s northern provinces, which were underfunded and needed help. Funding came quickly from the United States, where Clarke was recruiting new sponsors so fast that Mills could hardly keep up with the writing of children’s case histories.
But in December 1949, the communist government was established on China’s mainland. At the time, our sponsors were assisting 5,113 children in 42 orphanages across the country. But Westerners, CCF staff members included, realized quickly that they were not welcome under the new regime. Like many others, Mills was accused of being a spy.
The government took over orphanages, and Mills was not allowed to visit the 11 homes for orphans in North China or have any contact with them, and he and all foreign CCF personnel were forced to leave the country shortly. The Mills family moved to Hong Kong.
Most of the 5,113 children’s fates are unknown, but 280 children, who were among the 700 orphans that Mills moved to Canton, were able to cross the border to Hong Kong. Many received full educations, and among them (according to an interview with Mills in the early 1990s) were five pastors, nine doctors, four dentists, three professors and two millionaires.
Mills, who was named our overseas director in 1950, continued his work for the renamed Christian Children’s Fund through the 1950s while based in Hong Kong, opening orphanages and expanding operations through Asia and the Middle East. He was instrumental in opening the campus-style Children’s Garden in Hong Kong for Chinese refugee children.
Coming to the United States
In 1958, Mills was transferred to CCF headquarters in Richmond, where he worked as a coordinator and then director of operations, and in 1970, he was named our third executive director.
During the ’70s, CCF concentrated its focus by decreasing its span from 70 countries to 20; we left Europe and the Middle East and focused greater attention on Africa, where a regional office in Nairobi, Kenya, opened in 1973.
Mills commissioned two evaluations of CCF’s philosophy and practices, which led to a shift toward home- and community-based projects, with less concentration on orphanages and boarding schools.
In 1976, CCF launched TV and magazine ads featuring actress and sponsor Sally Struthers, a move that brought greater attention to the organization and helped the number of sponsors grow through the 1970s and ’80s. Mills retired in 1981, and in 1995, the Verent Mills Endowment for Health and Education was established. This fund fosters innovative health and education programs in countries where ChildFund has long-term commitments.
Dr. Mills died at the age of 83 in 1996, but his legacy carries on. In a 1991 interview, he quoted a Chinese proverb that he thought demonstrated our philosophy: “If you plant for a year, you plant grain. If you plant for 10 years, you plant a tree. But if you plant for a hundred years, you plant men.”
By ChildFund Brasil Staff
Just as ChildFund is celebrating its 75th year, ChildFund Brasil also marked 47 years of operations in the country. Staff members celebrated on Aug. 30 with a visit to ChildFund programs in Belo Horizonte, spending time with some of the children they help support.
“ChildFund Brasil completed 47 years of expertise and commitment to build a better Brazil,” said ChildFund Brasil’s board president, Valseni Braga. “There is much to celebrate with the numerous social programs and poverty-reduction strategies that positively impact the lives of children, adolescents, young people and their families. Everything that has been built so far would not have happened without the support of sponsors, partners, donors, volunteers, supporters and suppliers.”
In 1966, ChildFund arrived in Brazil. Many of the children helped in our early days there are now adults who are happy and fulfilled because they had better opportunities. But much remains to be done. More than 8 million children and youths live below the poverty line in Brazil. ChildFund Brasil assists more than 188,000 people, 108,000 of whom are children and youth.
Key to its efforts is ChildFund Brasil’s partnership with more than 60 social organizations, which work in more than 800 urban and rural communities.
“There are many challenges,” Braga noted, “but confidence in our work and hope to witness real change drives us to continue with our dream.”