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.”
One of ChildFund’s signature programs is Early Childhood Development, which focuses on children’s first five years. It’s the most important time in a person’s life, determining what a child will accomplish in school, in his or her career and what these children will pass on to their own children. Before turning 5, a child’s motor skills, problem-solving ability, language and self-control are all well-defined. ECD centers help give children who are living in poverty a better chance to reach their potential. In Honduras, ChildFund’s Lylli Moya took some photos at two ECD centers so you can see what happens inside.
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.
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 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 Kate Andrews, ChildFund staff writer
Having children is hard work, no matter where you live and what kind of assistance you have available. But think of a mother living in a developing country. She may not be able to give birth in a hospital, and she may lack the proper nutrition that both she and her baby need to survive. As we prepare to celebrate Mother’s Day, here are some ways to show your appreciation for mothers who are striving to raise children in difficult circumstances. You even can give a gift in your own mother’s name if you’d like.
The Mama Kit, available through ChildFund’s Gifts of Love & Hope catalog, has supplies for a pregnant woman in Uganda to use during and after delivery, and qualified health professionals provide education for women to ensure safe birthing experiences. This is important because Uganda has a high infant mortality rate of 64 deaths for every 1,000 live births (2012), according to the CIA World Fact Book. For $35, an expectant woman and her baby have a better chance to survive.
Another item in the catalog is medicine for children and mothers in Liberia, protecting them from parasites, malaria and low hemoglobin levels. For $50, you can help stock ChildFund-supported clinics, which are run by trained community health volunteers. Health posts bring vital medication and education to communities that would otherwise go without.
The catalog features other gifts that make for great Mother’s Day presents. Mothers in Vietnam will benefit greatly from a small micro-loan of $137, which will allow them to start their own agricultural businesses. The income they earn provides food, clothing and educational opportunities for their children. In Honduras you can buy books for first-grade classrooms for only $9. When children learn how to read, the whole family benefits.
Mothers around the world want the best for their children. This Mother’s Day, consider helping a mom.
By Patricia Toquica, Americas Region Communications Manager
Country music duo Thompson Square visited Honduras last week to meet Emerson, a 4-year-old boy they recently sponsored through ChildFund International. Keifer and Shawna Thompson, who also are husband and wife, say that they are “totally changed” by the visit, which allowed them to see how children and their families survive on few resources and yet have much love and joy to give.
The pair, who promote ChildFund’s child development work through ChildFund’s LIVE! artist program, traveled to Honduras to meet Emerson and his family and also took the opportunity to shoot a video for their recent hit single, “Glass.”
After almost two hours of bumpy back-road travel through the beautiful green mountains, Keifer and Shawna reached Emerson’s house near the town of Lepaterique in the central Honduran province of Francisco Morazán.
Shawna and Keifer, joined by a film crew and ChildFund staff members, received a warm greeting from Emerson’s family. Soon, they were playing soccer with Emerson and his brother, Christian; learning how to make corn tortillas with the mother, Ana; and singing songs for the family. The children proudly showed their visitors a little playhouse they had built in their backyard with sticks and stones.
“You honor us with your visit to our humble home,” said the great-grandfather of the family, 93-year-old Maximino. “We are poor, and your coming here means a lot to us. May God bless you in your way.”
“There’s no feeling in the world like this,” Shawna said after meeting Emerson and his family. The experience, she added, “definitely makes you realize what is important in life, and it’s pretty obvious that it’s family.”
“This has been one of the most amazing days we have ever had,” Keifer added.
In addition to visiting Emerson, Keifer and Shawna had the opportunity to see ChildFund programs in action while visiting the local school. There they observed children, ages 8 to 10, tutoring their peers and sharing stories and drawings. The duo’s acoustic performance of “Glass” delighted the students.
After visiting other families in the community and handing out toys and candy to children along the way, Shawna and Keifer received a Honduran farewell on the edge of a beautiful lake. Following a meal of traditional food, it was the couple’s turn to be entertained with music and dance performed by children and youth participating in ChildFund programs that focus on strengthening self-esteem, leadership skills and cultural identity.
The reigning CMA Vocal Duo of the Year is now back on tour, with a schedule that includes concerts in more than 100 U.S. cities. They will continue sharing with their fans the life-changing experience of sponsoring a child through ChildFund, inviting them to say “yes” to a child like Emerson.
By Gabriela Ramírez, ChildFund Mexico Communications Officer, and Patricia Toquica, Americas Region Communications Manager
The beginning of November marks a special celebration in most Latin American countries: the Day of the Dead. The first two days of the month are dedicated to remembering and honoring loved ones who have passed away. These celebrations have their origins in the pre-Hispanic era and symbolize death and rebirth.
Earlier this month, we had the opportunity to celebrate this occasion with the Quechua communities while visiting ChildFund programs in Ecuador. Specifically, Nov. 1 is dedicated to honoring infants, while Nov. 2 is devoted to remembering deceased adults.
One of the most common customs is the making of altars to welcome departed spirits home. Vigils are held, and families go to cemeteries to be with the souls of the departed and to present them with offerings and flowers. Ceremonial foods include the colada morada, a spiced fruit porridge, and the guagua de pan (guagua means child in Quechua language), a bread shaped as a little child, wrapped in traditional clothing and beautifully decorated as a symbol of remembrance of those infants who passed away.
Sharing the traditional foods and customs with the mothers, children and elders in the community made us reflect on the precious lives of children and sadly reminded us of the many children who die every day, especially in developing countries due to lack of water, sanitation, food or proper care. Each day, nearly 19,000 children die before their fifth birthday. That’s almost 800 every hour, according to World Health Organization’s 2011 stats.
The celebration of the Day of the Dead – also very important in other countries where ChildFund works in the Americas including Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Bolivia – was a special opportunity to honor the many children who didn’t make it to their fifth birthday. It reaffirmed our commitment to work toward providing access to health care and nutrition, educating caregivers and creating safe environments for the growth and development of millions of children born into challenging conditions around the world.
This is our commitment. We want more children to be able to celebrate the Day of the Dead, and not just be remembered on that date.
By Graeme Thompson, ChildFund Americas Regional Program Coordinator
Is saving even possible in rural, poor communities? That was a question a lot of people asked when the Aflateen program began in ChildFund’s Honduras and Ecuador operations last year. The answer, from the youth themselves, has been a resounding and, perhaps surprising to some, “yes.”
Aflateen is a global methodology for introducing social and financial education to youth, ages 14 to 24, and the program is a follow-on from the popular Aflatoun, which reaches children ages 7 to 13. ChildFund offices in Ecuador and Honduras had been working with Aflatoun, so they agreed to pilot the new Aflateen program in 2011.
“It’s an issue we’ve never had before,” recalled one youth participant attending a workshop in Santa Barbara, Honduras. “We’re not taught about these things in school.”
“I learned to spend my money on what was really useful and not just to waste it,” said another participant.
In one activity, youth participants each fill out a chart, identifying money they can earn in a month and what they think they can save. Then they write down the cost of something they want – new shoes, a phone, a month at university. The chart then helps them easily see how much time they will need to save for that item. Saving is difficult, but the youth discover that even very high-cost items are reachable with a good savings plan.
In Honduras, 30 youth went through the program, spending three hours in class every other Saturday. They were led by five of their peers, who studied the teaching guide and revised the activities to suit the local context. The program includes modules on personal exploration, rights and responsibilities, savings and spending. As a capstone, the youth design, implement and, if necessary, raise money for a small community project.
In Ecuador, youth participated in a high-school-based version of the program. Additionally, a radio broadcast version reached hundreds of youth who live in outlying areas. Beyond financial topics, the radio program introduced themes like first relationships, personal self-image and friendships. The show also offered a hotline number so that youth could call in and ask questions.
Youth like the Aflateen program because it’s highly participatory and is tuned to their local experiences and realities. Given the success of the pilots, both Honduras and Ecuador are expanding their programs in the coming year.
Reporting by ChildFund Bolivia and ChildFund Honduras
On International Youth Day, ChildFund salutes the young people in our programs worldwide who are embracing education, developing their skills and working every day to make their communities better places to live.
In Asia, Africa and the Americas, youth are taking on leadership roles, constantly inspiring us with their insights and enthusiasm.
Today we introduce you to a few of those youth in Honduras and Bolivia. Teenagers like Kevin, Wendy and Jordi who are helping ChildFund Honduras’s local partner, ADACOL, develop a strategic plan to improve conditions in their area. They are developing their public speaking skills and contributing to important community decisions.
In Bolivia, the Obispo Anaya Youth Club recently greeted ChildFund CEO Anne Lynam Goddard, eagerly sharing their achievements in ChildFund’s youth leader program. Through this program, the youth are engaged in news reporting, growing community gardens and protecting the environment in and around the city of Cochabamba.
With children and youth as our partners, we know the world will become a better place.