In our 75-post series in honor of ChildFund’s 75th anniversary, we’re talking with several of our national directors who oversee operations in the countries where we work in Africa, the Americas and Asia. Virginia Vargas, national director of ChildFund Mexico, has been with our organization for 13 years and also served as Kenya’s interim national director for two months last year.
What is your favorite thing about working at ChildFund?
I work for ChildFund because I am convinced that by developing capacities in children and youth, they will be able to break the generational cycle of poverty and achieve their full potential.
I also appreciate that we reach the most vulnerable and deprived children; we try to help those children meet their potential. I like to be part of a global organization known as a child development and protection agency.
Where did you work before ChildFund?
I worked for a cerebral palsy foundation as the director for its education programs.
What is the most difficult situation you have encountered in your job?
The wonderful thing about the national director job is that every day is a different one. I always have to solve different problems, to make decisions, sometimes strategic and some operational. I always have in mind the communities and children we serve.
One of the most difficult tasks is to keep the “balance” among national office, local partners, the international office and the Mexican Board of Directors. As the leader of the organization in Mexico, I have the responsibility to take everybody in the same boat and to roll in the same direction.
What successes have you had in your national office?
Looking at the potential market for sponsorship in Mexico, during 2005, we started our fundraising. Today we have almost 7,000 Mexican sponsors. We developed a five-year business plan, and our goal is to have 15,000 sponsors by 2017.
What motivates you in life?
My motivation in life is to be able to support more vulnerable children; to give them hope, to help them to reach their dreams.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I like to read and go to the gym.
Who is your role model?
Gandhi, because he made a revolution in his country with no violence.
What is a quote, saying or belief that you live by?
“I want to end my life with empty hands, not because I have nothing to give, but because I have given everything.”
In Ecuador, children under 5 make up 10 percent of the total population, and 23 percent of them suffer from chronic malnutrition.
But in a small community north of Pichincha, we find Samira, a cheerful and lively 2-year-old girl who lives with her mother, Diana, and her grandparents, Maria and Miguel.
Maria and Diana participate in ChildFund’s early childhood development programs in their community. Diana has participated since she was pregnant, and when her baby girl was born, she already knew Samira needed the right kind of food. Maria tells us that Samira is the family’s “guinea pig” because they put into practice everything they have learned in raising her.
“My daughter does not get sick as other children do,” says Diana. “When the other children have had strong flu, she didn’t get it. She is a very healthy girl. She likes to eat soup. She really likes beans and corn, and she eats all kinds of fruits.”
Samira has access to this healthy diet thanks to another ChildFund-supported effort: Maria’s family garden. In her 30-square-meter plot, Maria cultivates a variety of fruits and vegetables. These form the basis of the family’s diet.
We hope to provide this opportunity to 70 more families in Pichincha through our Ecuador gardens Fund a Project. These endeavors assist communities with specific needs like treated mosquito nets or winterization kits.
With your help, the garden project will provide these families with a sustainable source of nutrition, helping to address health challenges common to this region. Each family will receive fruit and vegetable seedlings with supplies and training for growing their own gardens. Using recyclable materials and avoiding pesticides, families will create their gardens in a sustainable, safe way.
As a result, children will have better access to vitamin-rich produce, which will protect them from malnutrition and illness. And the sale of surplus fruits and vegetables will boost each family’s income by as much as $40 per month. We need about $5,000 to reach our goal to start these families on a healthier path. Please consider making a donation.
It was a cloudy Sunday morning in La Paz, Bolivia, and at 6 a.m., all you wanted to do was to stay in bed with hot chocolate and watch TV. But that Sunday, Dec. 8, we had something special in mind, and we had to wake up early and start moving.
We were not just running for ourselves but were running to promote the campaign, too.
Four staff members from ChildFund Bolivia’s office — Katerina Poppe, Ana Vacas, Fernando Arduz and I — and our pal HyeWon Lee from ChildFund Korea ran 21 kilometers (13.1 miles, or a half-marathon) that day. Aside from the pursuit of good fitness, our goal was to share awareness of the “Free From Violence” campaign, a global advocacy campaign by ChildFund Alliance asking governments to ensure that children are free from violence and exploitation.
“It was a very exciting, tiring but fruitful experience,” HyeWon notes. “We had a long, hard run of 21 kilometers ahead of us, but it felt really nice to be with the co-workers, one next to each other, cheering each other on and sharing the exciting moment together.
“We were wearing ChildFund T-shirts with the phrase ´Libre de violencia´ [Free from Violence] printed on the back, and this short phrase really made our running much more meaningful. We were not just running for ourselves but were running to promote the campaign, too. It made it much harder to give up, and as a result, we all met at the finish line.”
Ana also shared her thoughts: “I have run quite a few races before but never for a specific cause. However, this time was different. The race took on a whole new meaning for me; I was no longer there as another participant just hoping to cross the finish line but as someone who was actively participating in efforts to create a world where children are free from violence.”
Katerina added: “To be part of this competition was a wonderful experience for me because I believe in this cause. I believe that we all together can do something to raise our voices and share our commitment to fight violence against children, especially girls.”
That Sunday will be in our memories forever; if we can overcome this challenge, others in life can be defeated with an effort.
When I think of 2013, I see great waves of floodwater. Over the past year, a typhoon and a cyclone struck communities in India and the Philippines, causing great devastation to families we serve, as well as our local partner organizations and national office staff. Yet these disasters also gave us the opportunity to show the best of our human spirit, whether it was through donations or assistance on the ground.
Here’s a look back at some of ChildFund’s highlights in 2013.
In November, Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest storm to hit the Philippines in many years, blew through several communities that ChildFund serves. Nationwide, more than 6,000 people died, and 550,000 homes were destroyed. We are still collecting donations to help those who lost their homes and belongings, as well as giving psychosocial support to children and families who were traumatized by the storm’s destruction. In October, Cyclone Phailin struck eastern India, causing massive flooding and the destruction of homes and more than a million acres of farmland. Our support there continues.
Our work against exploitative child labor took center stage in mid-June, when we recognized World Day Against Child Labor. We learned how child labor takes many forms, whether it’s in a sugarcane field, a mine or inside the home; sometimes, it’s hard to tell when children and youth are being exploited because of the secrecy surrounding the practice. In fact, a poll we commissioned in June revealed that 73 of Americans surveyed believe that only 1 million children are working in exploitative conditions. Wrong: The actual number is closer to 150 million. It’s important to pay attention to the signs and to make efforts to support industries that are taking a stand against child labor. ChildFund Alliance also launched the Free From Violence and Exploitation petition this year, aiming to make child protection a priority in the United Nations’ post-2015 goals.
In November, the Alliance released the results of its Small Voices, Big Dreams children’s survey, asking children what they would do if they were president of their countries, as well as what they consider the most important issues of the day. As usual, children gave wise and considered responses to our questions.
In September, ChildFund began marking its 75th anniversary, a landmark that our national offices, Alliance members and international office have recognized with numerous events, including meetings and celebrations with staff members, our Alliance countries, board members and, of course, sponsored children. Our 75-post anniversary blog series, which shares historical photos and stories — as well as the views of sponsors, children, Alliance members and staff — continues through the end of March.
As we take a look back at the past, we employ our history to lend perspective to ChildFund’s work and to help determine our future goals. Just as our founder, Dr. J. Calvitt Clarke, declared in October 1938, the well-being of children in need remains at the heart of ChildFund. Thank you for your past and present support, and have a happy and healthy 2014!
A long wait at a community clinic led to an international photography award for a Brazilian boy who is sponsored through ChildFund.
Caio, who is 15, participates in ChildFund Brasil’s project Photovoice, which provides cameras and photography training to youth. He submitted photos to a contest held by the World Health Organization last year that was open to teens from ages 14 to 19.
“Teacher Daniel spoke to our class about the contest and nobody took it very seriously. I had an appointment that same week at the community clinic,” Caio says. “I took the camera and tried to entertain myself. While waiting, I photographed a few things I felt good about and things that made me very upset, such as a woman in a wheelchair who was in pain and waited for a long time.”
Caio’s photos were among 450 pictures produced by 77 teens in 33 countries. Five professional photographers, as well as a young doctor, chose the top 10 photos, and Caio was the only Brazilian selected. The other winners are from Argentina, India, Malawi, Pakistan, Philippines, Slovenia, Ukraine and the United States.
The teens, including Caio, won the opportunity to be contributing photographers for the WHO’s Health for the World Adolescents report, set to be published in May. The new photos, dealing with health care and teens, will also become part of the WHO’s digital library and in future publications, and each teen will receive a $1,000 stipend for their work.
“I really like the Photovoice project and learned many things about photographs,” Caio says. “I began to see that a picture can speak. We can shoot and show everyone what we like and don’t like through the image produced. I made many friends, too.”
Caio’s been sponsored for 12 years, and besides the Photovoice project, he participates in a computer course and sports activities held by ChildFund Brasil’s local partner organization, Child’s Search for New Life – Gcriva.
When Caio started going to ChildFund-supported programs, he was a shy boy who had difficulty communicating and writing. But today he is becoming more confident and feeling more support. With the opportunity to speak out, he has developed better communication skills and interacts more with his peers.
“When I was younger, I wrote a letter to my sponsor couple, and I thought that sponsorship was only that: writing letters,” Caio says. “As I grew older, I began to participate in the sports activities, computer classes and now the photography course. Sponsorship is good, because if it were not for our sponsors we would not have that.”
In April 2012, David Jenkins found himself on his sofa, watching TV while recovering from surgery in his Las Vegas home. That’s when he saw a commercial for ChildFund, and his attention was captured by the children on the screen. His next step was to go to our website’s financial accountability section to do some research.
“I liked what I saw,” David says, and he decided: “Well, I’m going to do this.” He began reading profiles of children in Mexico, in part because he knows two Mexican women who told him about some of their hardships growing up, challenges that many girls still face. The opportunity to get to know the child and immediate family by exchanging letters was also important to David. Right on the first page of search results for Mexico was Jessica, a girl from Ocumicho, in the state of Michoacan. She wore her hair in pigtails and looked quite serious and sad. “I’m not a big believer in divine intervention,” David says, “but I felt I needed to sponsor that little girl right there.”
Today, nearly two years later, David and Jessica maintain a strong friendship through their correspondence; they write to each other about every three weeks. Jessica’s grandmother, who looks after her, sent David some homemade pillow covers last Christmas, which he cherishes. Sometimes there’s a delay in mail service, but the friends continue to write each other regularly. They agreed early on to write when they have something to say, whether or not they’ve received a letter lately, David notes, and they make sure to record dates on the letters so they can keep up with the chronology of events if one letter falls behind. “It really takes things to a whole different level,” he says of their correspondence, which has taught him a great deal about Jessica’s community. “What I’ve learned is it’s a very traditional town. They’ve been through a lot of struggles.”
Jessica is part of the Purépecha Indian tribe, whose members speak an indigenous language and were one of Mexico’s pre-Columbian civilizations. In the 1500s, the Purépechas managed to hold off the Mexica Empire, which tried to conquer them. These days, David says, most are farmers, earning only $100 to $200 a month. Her community is known for creating carved masks and figurines, but tourism has declined in recent years, so this source of income for the village has decreased.
Jessica and David often exchange the Purépechan phrase “juchari uinapikua,” or “our strength,” in their letters, and they often share stories about their activities, including Jessica’s participation in local festivals. One of her favorite things is dancing, and she also loves reading, drawing and coloring pictures, especially of flowers.
“I think it’s very important to go to school,” says Jessica, who’s now in sixth grade, “because then I’ll have better opportunities …. I think that having a sponsor has changed my life. From my sponsor, I learned to be honest, as he has been with me, and to be generous.”
In addition to his sponsorship of Jessica, David has encouraged several friends and coworkers to sponsor other children in Ocumicho, including Jessica’s friends and classmates. Often, Jessica serves as “town crier” when she hears that David has found a new sponsor, spreading the news.
“She’s got a very big heart and has wonderful priorities for a child her age,” he says, and Jessica, who just turned 11, is feeling hopeful about her future. “Her dream was to get her vocational degree and become a secretary,” David recalls, but now she has mentioned becoming a teacher after attending university, or perhaps another professional career. Noting that she loves mathematics, David wonders if she’ll pursue engineering. At the end of 2012, David started a university fund for Jessica, contributing part of his annual tax return. “I’ve got a feeling that whatever she does, it’ll be something that helps people,” he says, calling her a ray of “inspirational sunshine and perspective.”
ChildFund staff members from our Mexico office recently met up with Jessica and recorded a short video, in which she explains in her own words what sponsorship has meant to her.
This is the time of year when we often take stock of our past, present and future, and it’s a great opportunity to consider making a donation to help a child: a gift that truly has legs. Whether you begin sponsoring a child today or purchase a gift that will help a family or community, your gift will mean hope to a child in need.
Also, by giving before the end of the year, you can make a deduction on your tax forms for 2013. We encourage you to take a look at our planned giving options, which help make a difference to communities for years, allowing children to become independent, self-sustaining adults who have more opportunities than before. Thank you for your past, present and future generosity, and we wish you a happy and meaningful 2014!
Many of our national offices have thrown celebrations recently for ChildFund’s 75th anniversary. Here are some photos from these events, taken by staff members from our offices in Brazil and Honduras.
ChildFund Honduras held two celebrations, involving sponsored children and youth, representatives from our local partners, staff members and local officials.
This gallery contains 6 photos.
By Abraham Marca, ChildFund Bolivia; Priscila Oliveira, ChildFund Brasil; Rosa Figueroa, ChildFund Guatemala
Season’s greetings arrive from Bolivia, Brazil and Guatemala, as children share their Christmas traditions. Over the course of the year, they have received great encouragement, love and hope from our sponsors and donors. All of us at ChildFund are thankful for your generosity and kindness!
Quema del diablo (burning of the devil), processions, posadas, firecrackers, eating tamales and drinking ponche (a traditional fruit drink) are traditions that people in the communities we serve in Guatemala practice before Christmas. “Feliz Navidad” means Happy Christmas, and the majority of the celebration happens the afternoon and evening of Dec. 24. Christmas is a very special day. Children share with the family and have fun, even when the economic situation is not good.
Yuri is 12 years old; she lives in the central highlands of Guatemala. At home, Yuri and her mother make tamales and ponche for Christmas. She has a tree in the back of her house, and she likes to decorate it for the season. “I would like every child to enjoy and celebrate Christmas as I do,” Yuri says.
“Hi, my name is Floridalma, I’m 12 years old, and I love Christmas because I participated in the posadas, traditional processions that start nine days before Christmas. The group sings traditional songs at various homes. For the season my family and I eat tamales and ponche.”
Eight-year-old Leticia, a sponsored child: “This Christmas I think will be very good, because my uncles come to visit us and will bring me gifts, like dolls and clothes. I do not believe that Santa Claus exists, but I know that Dec. 25 was the day that the baby Jesus was born. I see Santa Claus only when I step in front of stores, never asked him for any gifts, but I want to get a bike.”
Six-year-old Joao: “I’m in the first year of basic school. I like studying, but I also like the vacations because it’s when Christmas comes. My father’s name is Geraldo, and my mother’s is Maria. I have two sisters, Sara and Nilma. I love Christmas; it’s a day of receiving gifts. I stare at the lights of the shops. I love lights flashing. On Christmas Eve my mother does supper, because we are a simple family. Before Christmas Day, a friend of my mother sends Christmas gifts by mail. I have won a basket with a boat, a game of little pieces to assemble and a [remote] control car. On Christmas Eve, I like to go to sleep early to wake up early to see if Santa left something for me. I love Christmas!”
In Tarija, according to our sponsorship team member Victoria Glody, there is a dance called trenzada, and the celebration starts two weeks before Christmas Eve, when children dance and sing carols (known in Spanish as villancicos) with small drums and flutes to “Niño Manuelito” — that’s what baby Jesus is called by children in Bolivia. During the trenzada, people dance around the streets on their way to the town’s main square; once they get there, everybody enjoys hot chocolate and a special type of bread, or buñuelos, which is basically fried pumpkin dough.
Cochabamba rural areas have a different and harder reality, reports Alain, a coordinator with one of ChildFund’s local partner organizations. Although children expect toys and gifts, their parents can’t afford them, but they have figured out smart ways to make wooden or clay toys. They also make clay nativity scenes to celebrate Christmas Eve at home. Children also dress as the old wise men or shepherds, with a cape and beard made of cotton and go out singing “Niño Manuelito” at their neighbors’ homes, and in return they get bread or fruit. For Christmas Day, it’s traditional to have breakfast with hot chocolate and “buñuelos” too. Parents and grandparents gather together at home as a big family.
In El Alto, 6-year-old Viviana says: “On Christmas day I take a walk with my family, I play with my little cousin, and that night we have hot chocolate and Christmas cake. I like that day because there is more joy at home.”
Many of us are in a big rush to finish our Christmas shopping, decorating or holiday meal-planning. Let’s all slow down and take a moment to think about our blessings — and the millions of children who go without nutritious food, education and clean water. Instead of driving to the mall one more time, consider purchasing an item from our Gifts of Love & Hope catalog in the name of a friend or family member.
For $150, you can feed 25 orphans in Kenya for a week. In several countries, families have requested chickens; for $29, you can provide a family with three chickens. In the Philippines, children lost their homes and all their belongings in Typhoon Haiyan last month. We’re still collecting funds to help families rebuild in these communities, and your assistance is greatly needed.
All of the gifts in the catalog are items requested by the families we serve, and they fit different budgets and priorities. Best of all, you can print out a personalized card to your loved one so he or she will know how this gift is helping a child in need. Thank you for considering these children during the holiday season.