By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
This was the second time I’ve been to Guatemala, but it was very different from my first trip, which was a vacation taken with a friend. Both times, I saw plenty of beautiful terrain, including an active volcano, lakes, foliage and mountains.
But during my ChildFund trip, I had the chance to visit places that tourists never go.
Here’s a short video I shot from the car during one drive into the highlands; it may seem bumpy, but this was hardly the worst of the roads. This one was paved, after all.
I took Dramamine every morning, just in case.
Some moments were a little scary, like when we were trying to cross this ditch being dug for a water line. But we all got in and out each day without serious difficulty, thanks to good planning by my hosts from ChildFund Guatemala’s national office and our local partner organizations in the communities. Not only did they arrange transportation and lodging, but they also spoke to families, teachers and principals so I could interview them.
The most remarkable visit was to a family’s home in Patzite. We met Cristina, the mother of six children — including a baby girl born just the week before. She didn’t even have a name yet. Despite still being in bed, Cristina welcomed us warmly. Two of her children, 8-year-old Wendy Catarina and 7-year-old Marcos, are sponsored through ChildFund.
Inside their home, which had dirt floors and mud-brick walls like many in the region, the children and their mother sat on beds and greeted us. I asked questions about water and electricity (they have running water every third day, and they have electricity, although others in the village don’t), where the baby had been born (at home, with a midwife attending), how the children liked being sponsored.
Marcos says of his sponsor, “I have a new friend.” He hopes to be a lawyer, while Wendy wishes to be a doctor. Their 12-year-old sister, Ana Loida, says she likes to write and hopes to be a teacher.
Of course, money factors into those dreams. Ana is in sixth grade, and although Cristina and her husband, who is a day laborer, would like their oldest daughter to continue to high school, the cost of uniforms and books is high. Plus, Wendy has considerable physical problems: poor eyesight, a femur that doesn’t fit right into her hip, and ear and foot issues. Medical assistance costs money, too.
“She has many difficulties,” Cristina says. “Wendy has to leave home early so she gets to school on time. She can’t run or walk fast. She also has to sit near the blackboard. She cries at night because her foot hurts.” The nearest health center is a one-hour walk from their home, and public transportation is available only on Thursday and Sunday.
“If there’s no medicine there, we get a prescription, and we have to buy medicine ourselves,” Cristina says.
Still, she adds, the children have benefited from ChildFund’s presence in the community. Cristina’s first contact was with guide mothers, local women who had received training through ChildFund. “At first, I was a little afraid because I didn’t want people to ask my children things,” she says. But her initial reservations dissipated quickly. “Marcos is happier, and so is Wendy.”
They were enrolled in ChildFund-supported programs six years ago, and both Marcos and Wendy found sponsors at the start of this year. Because only three children can be enrolled per family, Cristina plans to enroll the baby, who’s just starting to wiggle and fuss amid the blankets.
Cristina hopes for more opportunities for her children than she’s had. After finishing second grade, her father couldn’t afford to send her back to school, and Cristina had to weave cloth to sell. After a decade of working, she was married at age 18 and began having children. Today, she speaks only her local language, Quiché, although Ana, Marcos and Wendy can speak Spanish.
“After what I’ve seen,” Cristina says, “education is important. I try to make their dreams come true. Not knowing how to speak Spanish — it’s not what I want for my children.”
It’s a real struggle for many of the families I met in Guatemala’s mountains. I hope Cristina’s children and others I met can receive the help they need to continue school and have more options as young adults, whether it’s through sponsorship, grants or some other source. I also hope to return to these villages one day and see the changes for myself.
By Nicole Duciaume, Americas Region Sponsorship Manager
In Bolivia, Juanita’s two-room house is full. Six family members share three beds, and Juanita cooks in a small kitchen with poor ventilation while her husband works as a day laborer.
But this family is fortunate in other ways. Juanita’s 10-year-old son is sponsored through ChildFund, and his sponsor has written letters and sent small gifts over the years. Two years ago, the family received a cow purchased through ChildFund’s Real Gifts Catalog. The cow has changed Juanita’s life, providing milk and more cattle. Today, the family has two cows and three calves, and Juanita received training on how to care for the cow, breed it and milk it.
Before the cow arrived, Juanita used to bake bread to sell, but she inhaled a lot of smoke and suffered heat exhaustion and back pain. Today, she instead sells surplus milk that her family doesn’t consume or share with other families.
“My life is complete,” she says. “I am a better mother because of these cows. And I am a leader in the community, too. I never could have imagined my life would improve so much with one cow.”
Juanita recently donated a cow to her neighbor Diana, a mother of three young boys. In this way, Juanita is helping transform a community, one cow at a time.
With support from ChildFund’s local partner organization, Juanita chose Diana based on her family’s need, their participation in community programs and the fact that they have enough land for a cow. Now Juanita will train Diana to care for the cow, whose name is Cristina.
“I will treat Cristina as my only daughter,” Diana said during the brief cow-transfer ceremony. “I will take care of her just as Juanita did. I hope she will grow strong and reproduce, so I can give a calf to someone else in the community very soon. My heart is so full and so thankful.”
With the gift of a cow, the lives of two women and their families are now changed. Transformation is possible, and sometimes it can come in the form of a cow named Cristina.
Interview by Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter Seth Glier has worked with ChildFund as a LIVE! artist since 2013. Seth is a multi-instrumentalist who’s performed at major folk festivals, and he also is a national spokesperson for the Autism Awareness Foundation. He recently released his third album, If I Could Change One Thing, and is now on tour in North America. We caught up with him recently to talk about his music and the reason he supports ChildFund’s work.
Q: You’ve been involved with ChildFund for quite a while. How did it happen?
A: I first heard about ChildFund through my management company. One of the main reasons I got into songwriting was because of my relationship with my older brother, Jamie, who is autistic and nonverbal. I feel like I’m in a special position to speak into a microphone each night, and with that comes the responsibility to amplify the voices that could use the decibel level.
Q: Are children’s issues something you think about a lot?
A: Yeah, I think that if you give children a leg up, you’ll change the world. I think giving a child his or her basic needs is something we need to pay more attention to.
Q: What can people expect to see and hear on your tour?
A: I talk a little about ChildFund, and I perform some songs off my new record, If I Could Change One Thing. I’m out there with a trio: a great bass player, an amazing saxophone player and then I play piano and guitar. There’s a lot of variety. It ranges from a several-thousand-people festival set to a 100-people room in a café. I like to try to turn any environment into a living room — one where stories are being told and songs are being shared.
Q: I listened to your new song with Crystal Bowersox, an American Idol finalist, the title cut on your new album. Did you write it with her?
A: I wrote that song with a friend of mine, Liz Longley. It was an up-tempo thing, and I had a drum track worked out and everything. I left my place to get a cup of coffee, and by the time I came back into my apartment, Liz had turned it into a ballad. I don’t think we thought about making it a duet until afterwards. I was on tour with Crystal, opening for her, and we became fast friends, and I went to Malaysia with her in December as part of her side band. She’s been such an amazing champion of my music, and I just can’t say enough great things about her and her talent. So, I asked her to sing on it, and she amazingly said yes.
Q: You won Best Social Action Song at the Independent Music Awards for 2011’s “The Next Right Thing.” What does an accolade like that mean to you?
A: I really came out of this folk world, this folk tradition. Woody Guthrie is a huge influence for me, not just trying to write songs that people will hear but write songs that need to be sung. In the same way that ChildFund is doing work that needs to be done, I’m trying to align myself and my own music with songs and places that need it most.
Q: Are you working on any songs now that are in that social action vein?
A: Yeah, all the time. They take me a long time to write. I’ve been writing a song about fracking for a while, and the song has changed a lot as I’ve continued touring. The more I get out into the country and see what the social struggles are and how the struggles are changing, the more my writing evolves.
Q: How many musical instruments do you play?
A: I fake most of them. [Laughs.] I’m most comfortable with the piano, and I’ve gotten more comfortable with the guitar. It’s a great writing tool. I can fake playing the banjo, harmoniums and different things. I do enjoy playing the accordion. It’s such a physical instrument. It’s like dancing. It’s great.
Q: What have you noticed in your world travels?
A: When we talk about poverty, economic disparity is a world issue. There are people who have so much, and there are people who don’t have remotely enough.
By Veronica Travez, ChildFund Ecuador
Paul and Robinson are two smart and happy brothers, 13 and 11 years old respectively. They’ve gone through hardships in their lives but still have a great deal of hope and enthusiasm for the future.
Because their mother died from health problems when they were very young, the boys live with their grandparents, Martha and Victor, in a community about 15 minutes from San Gabriel, Ecuador. In this largely agricultural area, most locals work as laborers on potato, bean or corn plantations and earn an average salary of $10 a day. Martha, 73, divides her days between farm work and caring for the boys and her husband. The family raises guinea pigs and chickens for additional income.
Paul and Robinson are enrolled in ChildFund’s Aflatoun and Aflateen community clubs, which offer children and youth educational workshops about saving money, spending responsibly and their rights. Martha attends family workshops that have helped her understand the importance of school and extracurricular activities like sports and cultural events.
Three years ago, the boys received sponsors, whose support has been very important to the family. On one occasion, Paul’s sponsor sent him $100, which he used to buy a bed, a mattress and a cabinet for storing his clothes.
“I feel very grateful that they support my little ones without having met them,” Martha says. “I always ask God to give the sponsors his holy blessings and to always take care of them, wherever they may be.”
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.
School is starting this week for many children in the United States. Children and youth in many of the 30 countries where ChildFund works have limited access to school, whether it’s because their families can’t afford to pay fees for uniforms, or the children are relied upon to fetch water or work to contribute to a family’s livelihood. Sponsorship helps many children attend school longer and have a better chance to break the generational cycle of poverty. Here are some pictures of students from communities where we work:
Interview by Erin Nicholson, ChildFund Staff Writer
Jeff Miller joined ChildFund two years ago to manage our then brand-new LIVE! Artists program. Jeff recruits musical performers to partner with ChildFund, allowing us (along with volunteers) to promote sponsorship at concerts around the United States. (Find out how you can volunteer.) We asked him a few questions about his love of music and helping children.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
I’m an Iowa boy who somehow escaped the alluring clutches of the Midwest. I’ve lived in five states, including Pennsylvania, where I currently reside with my wife and my poodle, Ozzy.
Have you always worked in music?
This is my 25th year actually earning a living from some aspect of the music industry. However, there have been a few respites along the way where I have veered off the path, working in book publishing and serving on the senior staff as communications director for a U.S. congressman.
What brought you to ChildFund, and when?
I’ve been with ChildFund almost two years now. Prior to ChildFund, I worked at a similar organization – Food for the Hungry in Phoenix. About three years ago, my former boss had come to ChildFund. He dropped me a line asking if I’d be interested in helping launch LIVE! It took almost a year for everything to fall into place, but voila, here we are.
I signed up to sponsor my first child at a concert some 33 years ago when I was in high school. I’ve been sponsoring kids ever since. I’ve seen firsthand how sponsorship can impact the lives of the children and families in developing nations. It’s my passion. I’m a complete music nerd. To be able to combine my passion about sponsoring children with my interest and experience in music is truly a dream gig for me.
What’s your favorite artist and/or the best concert you’ve ever been to?
Oh, now you’re hitting the music nerd side of me on all cylinders! Paul McCartney, Dec. 3, 1989, at the Rosemont Horizon in Chicago. He hadn’t toured the United States since 1976, and my mom wouldn’t let me go see him that year, given that I was 12. I’ve never forgiven her. During the ’76 tour he mostly avoided his Beatles’ roots, attempting to establish his own identity as an artist. But when he returned in ’89, he embraced his heritage full on. The Beatles quit touring in 1966, so a good 50 percent of their catalog was never performed live by the band. So I sat in the stands with goose bumps hearing songs like “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and the closing medley from Abbey Road being performed live for the first time ever. It was like watching my generation’s Mozart perform live. Yup…I’m definitely a music nerd.
What has been your proudest accomplishment working for ChildFund so far?
3,098 children sponsored from July 2013 through June 2014! Bands are fun. Concerts are fun. Music is fun. But bringing hope and opportunities to the lives of children and their families is the true meaning behind all the fun. It’s the motivation and purpose of the work that we do. In the end the music fades, but these children will have impact on their communities for generations to come.