By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
In the rural region of Jinja in eastern Uganda, the lands are green and lush. “It’s beautiful,” says Linda Williamson, who has been there twice to visit her sponsored child. “Their roads are rough. They’re dirt roads, and they’re hard to get by. The homes are very modest, and they’re mostly brick with tin roofs.”
The water is clean, but there is no electricity in the small community where 24-year-old Erie and his family live. Cell phones work occasionally.
The town of Jinja is a commercial center on the shores of Lake Victoria and the Nile River’s headwaters, but Erie’s family lives in a remote community where subsistence farming is a normal way of life. HIV and AIDS have had a devastating impact on families, as well as other health problems such as malnutrition, malaria and diarrhea. In Uganda, an estimated 2 million children have been orphaned by AIDS. Floods and droughts affect everyone’s ability to grow crops and maintain food security.
“They are really concerned about climate change,” Linda says of Erie’s family and others who live in his village. “They can’t anticipate the seasons’ changes the way they could before.” This can lead to food shortages, but as many other sponsors have noted after their visits, families often serve their visitors entire banquets to show their hospitality.
It was the same for Linda, who spent a day with Erie’s family and community leaders earlier this year. “There were so many people there who were trying to make this day special. There was so much food!”
Erie himself is shy and a delayed learner, Linda says, but during this visit, “he’d come and hold my hand and sit next to me.” His mother, in contrast, is very gregarious.
Sixteen years ago, Linda received a financial gift from a relative for Christmas, and she decided after seeing a ChildFund commercial (then Christian Children’s Fund) that she would use the money to sponsor a child. Her first visit to see Erie and his family was in 2008, and since then, they’ve become even closer. Now that Erie is close to aging out of sponsorship, Linda is planning to sponsor one of his younger siblings.
“I’m very bonded not only to Erie, but to his younger siblings and the whole family,” she says. “This is like my family in Uganda. This is a big part of my life, having this relationship for the past 16 years. My friends and family know about my family in Uganda. When I go to Uganda or do something for Erie, I’m the one who’s blessed.”
It often takes a full day to fly from the United States to India, counting layover time, and that brings you just to the nearest large city. To reach Dhodlamitta, a village in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, you’ll spend several more hours on the road.
This summer, a team of filmmakers, plus ChildFund staff members from India and the U.S., traveled to Dhodlamitta for an unusual purpose: to create a 360-degree video that will give viewers the experience of visiting the village. Using the 360 GoPro camera and other elaborate gear, the crew takes us to homes, a school and fields where people labor under the sun every day.
Annapoorna is our narrator. She’s a former sponsored child who is now a teacher, a wife and a mother. When she was growing up, child marriage was very common where she lives — and it still is in nearby villages. Sponsorship and ChildFund’s programs helped Annapoorna continue her education and finish university. She also is in a happy marriage that was her choice, and her daughter is thriving.
We hope you’ll take a look at the 5-minute video — and share it. Not everyone has the opportunity to fly across continents and oceans to Dhodlamitta, but we can offer you the next-best thing: an immersive virtual reality experience. You can also read more about Annapoorna and the making of the video.
Do you remember Phenny? She’s a former sponsored child in Zambia who now is a supervisor at one of the country’s largest automotive repair shops. We caught up with her recently during a trip to Lusaka, and on our website is a new video of Phenny recalling her tough life as an orphan and how sponsorship helped her continue school and succeed in her career.
“As you can see, I’m the only lady here, supervising a number of men,” Phenny said in our 2014 interview. “My life has changed positively, and I feel like I’m living my dream. I have dreams of meeting my sponsor to thank him and tell him in person what his support has done.”
Happy Labor Day, everyone!
If you’re thinking of becoming a sponsor, don’t take it from us. Take it from former sponsored children: You matter. We hear from many young adults who are involved in careers, higher education and leadership roles that they never expected to achieve before someone sponsored them as children. Your consistent support and encouragement help them pursue many kinds of dreams and even pass on your generosity to future generations. Here are just a few examples.
Paul, a teacher in Uganda: “My sponsor used to inspire me through the letters he sent. I used to wait so eagerly for his response whenever I wrote to him. He always reminded me to work hard at school.”
Makeshwar, a community leader in India: “We will always remain indebted to ChildFund and our sponsors. We have taken a vow, and we will continue to serve underprivileged children and help them live with dignity.”
Lidiane, a business owner in Brazil: “Today I am a warrior, a hardworking and brave woman, fighting for my goals and dreams, and you are part of this. I wish I could say more to you, but I can write a thousand words here and still would not demonstrate what you represent in my life story.”
Else, a nursing student in Indonesia: “I want to help cure people. My favorite subject is pediatric nursing. I love taking care of young children. Soon, I will be working in a hospital helping young children in need.”
Photos and reporting from ChildFund Ecuador staff
In many places where we work, it’s not unusual to see people cooking over open flames or on antiquated stoves. That can lead to a lot of harm, especially for young children. Many suffer from respiratory diseases from exposure to smoke, and some are hurt when hot water or food spills. Yolanda, a little girl in Ecuador’s Cotopaxi Province, suffered an unimaginable injury when she was 2. Her family’s wood stove caused a fire that engulfed their home at night, when everyone was asleep. She almost didn’t get out in time, and 80 percent of her body was burned. Yolanda lost her hands as a result.
Her parents were worried that she’d be mocked at school, so they didn’t enroll her, until ChildFund and our local partner staff members convinced her family that Yolanda would be better off in school. That turned out to be a good thing for Yolanda. Learn more about how she’s succeeding in a new story on our website!
Many of you are sponsors already — or are considering sponsoring a child. Because our organization has been fostering sponsorship around the world for many decades, we’ve heard a lot of heartwarming stories about these unusual and often close relationships: the meetings in person between child and sponsor, multiple generations of families sponsoring children and many more.
This week on the website, we have a story that takes a slightly different angle: Tracy, who sponsors several children living with physical or mental disabilities. She has cerebral palsy herself and has a unique understanding of their challenges, as well as the importance of giving the children encouragement. Over the years, Tracy has made a point to ask her sponsored children what they can do, rather than what limitations they face.
Belinda can hold a cup and drink from it. Stacy can write the words “cat” and “dog.” Millicent can stand with both feet flat on the ground.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
On the last day of my trip to northeastern Brazil, my colleagues and I (an intrepid group of five, including my translator) went to a small community called Sao Geraldo. After driving all over creation the day before — through rain and mud, past itinerant donkeys — it was a relief to have just a 15-minute drive on paved roads in the sun.
After visiting a well-stocked playroom for children ages 5 and under at a community center supported by ChildFund, we walked to nearby homes to visit sponsored and enrolled children and their families.
Sao Geraldo is a brightly colored place, with yellow, turquoise, coral and white homes lining steep streets. Nearly every home was decorated with children’s artwork and family photos. But serious problems lie beneath the cheery exterior. Neglect and abandonment of children, as well as drug abuse and prostitution, are common here, we learned from our local partner’s staff. Parents, mainly mothers, are doing the best they can, but this is a community that relies on sponsorship and ChildFund’s support of the community center, which serves children and youth.
You can read more about Sao Geraldo on our website, but I wanted to share a few photos of the children we met. Many face an uphill climb because of poverty and few job opportunities in this region, but sponsorship and other kinds of support do make a difference in their lives, offering them hope.
This summer, after more than four decades of work in the region, ChildFund will close our last two offices in the Caribbean, in the countries of St. Vincent and Dominica. Although we’ll miss the many people we’ve met there over the years, we leave future work in the capable hands of the staff members of two local organizations. They’ve received years of training and support from ChildFund, and they’re committed to protecting children’s rights and helping them fulfill their potential. To learn more about what is happening in the Caribbean, please read this story on our website.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
Maybe you’re a new sponsor or a supporter of ChildFund’s programs. Or maybe you’ve been with us a while but want to know more about the country where your sponsored child lives.
You have options! ChildFund’s digital team recently redesigned the Stories & News section of our website, where you can find interviews and pictures of sponsored children, their family members, ChildFund alumni and more. We also have current articles about issues affecting people in the communities where we work, including Ethiopia’s food shortage, early marriage and preparing for natural disasters. Once you’ve looked through the story files, you may want to know even more, which is where our Knowledge Center comes in handy. Publications, research and financial reports are all housed there, going back several years. Thanks for being part of ChildFund’s family, and let’s all have a happy new year!
By Karifa Kamara, ChildFund Sierra Leone
At an awards ceremony Dec. 18 in Sierra Leone’s capital of Freetown, President Ernest Bai Koroma recognized ChildFund Sierra Leone’s work in the fight against the deadly Ebola epidemic.
Billy Abimbilla, national director of ChildFund’s offices in Sierra Leone and Liberia, was on hand to accept the bronze medal and certificate “in recognition of its support to the government and people of Sierra Leone during the outbreak of Ebola disease, especially in the operation of Observation Interim Care Centers and donation of food and non-food items to communities.”
ChildFund was among 199 organizations and individuals honored at the State House in Freetown for their work against Ebola, which claimed 3,955 lives in Sierra Leone during 2014 and 2015. Abimbilla and Davidson Jonah, ChildFund’s field operations support director, were instrumental in opening Interim Care Centers in Liberia and Sierra Leone last year during the height of the epidemic.
Children who were exposed to the deadly virus stayed in ICCs during their 21-day quarantine period and were cared for and observed for signs of Ebola by trained health workers, many of whom had survived the virus and were immune to it. For many children who had lost loved ones to the disease, ICCs were safe havens where they could play, receive nourishing meals and sleep comfortably.