Henry and Judi Ferstl began sponsoring two 5-year-old Brazilian children, Jovino and Suely, through ChildFund (then Christian Children’s Fund) in 1981. Henry was a dairy farmer living 45 miles west of Madison, Wisc., where he still lives. He hadn’t been to Brazil before, but he was curious about other cultures, and helping children appealed to him and his wife.
“They’re so grateful to have somebody care about them,” he says. As the years passed and their sponsored children aged out of the program, the Ferstls kept sponsoring; they have helped 10 children in all, and in the past decade, they took on two more sponsorships. Today, they assist four children and write letters every two months on average. The Ferstls’ son is continuing the tradition by sponsoring a child in Timor-Leste.
“I’m a big gardener,” Henry says. Just sharing ordinary details about weather or the vegetables he grows in the garden are interesting to the children. “The kids are amazed,” he notes, especially when he sends a picture of snow or, say, a moving truck in the neighborhood.
Henry says that he likes sponsoring through ChildFund because he knows where his donations go, and his assistance contributes toward children’s dreams.
“One girl wrote one time, ‘When I grow up, I’m going to sponsor a child, just like you sponsored me,’ ” Henry says.
Lidiane has a special place in the Ferstls’ heart; they started sponsoring her in 1995, and she’d aged out in 2006, but they maintain contact today, often through email. Lidiane attended college and started a clothing business in Brazil. She and her husband now have a daughter, and the Ferstls had the honor of choosing her name, Emily.
“She’s just a wonderful young woman,” Henry says of Lidiane. “It’s one of the great satisfactions. I learn as much or more as the children do. And that’s probably how it should be.”
Drawing from USA.gov’s list of popular New Year’s resolutions, we’ve come up with ways to give a child something he or she needs. This may even keep you on track toward reaching your goals.
1. Eat healthy foods – If you’re committing to eat healthier this year, consider making a donation to start a vegetable garden for families living in Ecuador. Each family will receive fruit and vegetable seedlings and agricultural supplies to grow and improve their own gardens.
2. Lose weight – You’ve joined the gym, and those cycling classes are brutal, but providing a bicycle for a young girl in India or Sri Lanka will help ease a child’s pain. Many girls walk long distances to school, which can be unsafe and often leads to their dropping out early. While you sweat it out in class, just think of how happy you’ve made a child who now can get to school on time.
3. Quit smoking – According to the American Lung Association, the average retail price of a pack of cigarettes in The United States is $5.51. For less than one pack of cigarettes a day, you can sponsor a child and change his or her life forever by providing him or her access to an education, better health care and other basic needs.
4. Get a better education – Most Americans would agree that having access to a good education is important to becoming self-sufficient and improving your quality of life. As you set out to continue your education this year, consider donating to our scholarship fund for girls in India.
5. Take a trip – Now that you’ve kicked smoking, sponsored a child and saved money, you definitely deserve to take the trip that’s been on your bucket list. Why not visit your sponsored child? If you can make the trip, ChildFund staff will arrange a visit. You can see the world and view firsthand how your contribution is helping your sponsored child.
Happy 2014, and good luck keeping your resolutions!
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!
To commemorate ChildFund’s 75th anniversary, we invited the leaders of each of the 12 ChildFund Alliance member groups to reflect on the past and future of their own organizations and the Alliance. Today, we hear from Sweden.
Sofia, 14, has a friendly smile and an air of confidence. She is the chairperson of the student parliament in her school in central Ethiopia. When she grows up, she hopes to be a doctor. But a year ago this dream was about to disappear.
Sofia’s stepfather and her mother wanted to send her to Saudi Arabia or another foreign country to work. They felt her income was needed to support the family, and this had a higher priority than her education. But Sofia managed to hold her ground. She had learned about the importance of education and the dangers connected with child migration in her youth club in school.
Sofia spoke to her siblings and her teacher, who in turn spoke to her parents — and managed to change their minds. It was a close call because her stepfather had already arranged a false identity card stating her age as 18, and an application for a passport was the next step.
The situation could have turned out differently had Sofia’s school not been taking part in a three-year project working against harmful traditional practices (HTP). Barnfonden is supporting the project, working through ChildFund Ethiopia and a local partner organization.
Hundreds of village leaders, health workers, local officials, religious leaders and school headmasters are part of this project, which is aimed at changing attitudes and behaviors through information and education. The goal is to reach 20,000 children and youths, to increase their knowledge and awareness of the consequences of HTP, a broad definition that includes female circumcision, child marriage, heavy and dangerous child labor and child migration. The project is based in central Ethiopia, with many sponsored children.
Since Barnfonden was started 22 years ago by BØRNEfonden (ChildFund Denmark), we have managed to increase our support to children in need every year. We have developed from being mainly a sponsorship charity to a broader organization that has diverse fundraising sources and many activities that help children in need.
With the help of the ChildFund Alliance, we have started advocacy efforts and raised our voice in the national arena for the causes of child protection and prevention of child violence. Today, we have 25,000 sponsors supporting 27,000 children in 25 countries. With the help of our sponsors, children in need are provided with education, better health care and the means and training to make a living on their own as adults.
To our delight, we also see an increase in funding from institutions and corporate partners, making it possible for us to support projects like the work against harmful traditional practices in Ethiopia. Our ultimate goal is to help even more children and families.
In everything we do, we remind ourselves about the children and families we are working for. And we remain grateful to our faithful sponsors, other supporters and corporate partners.
Important Dates in Barnfonden’s History
2005: Supported more than 20,000 sponsored children
2005: Started a dedicated project in Rajastan, India, in partnership with ChildFund International
2007: Received accreditation as the first member organization of ChildFund Alliance
2009: Started a partnership with ChildFund Australia and its programs in Cambodia
2011: Launched a designated project in Selingue, Mali, in partnership with BØRNEfonden
2011: Celebrated our 20th anniversary
2012: Began a project against harmful traditional practices (HTP) with ChildFund Ethiopia
2013: Supported a children’s rights project in Myanmar (Burma) in partnership with ChildFund Australia
2013: Currently supporting 27,000 sponsored children
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
Willy Peeters arrived in Miami, Fla., in 1995, to start a business in scale modeling and design. He is from Belgium, but he decided to make a change and move westward, a shift he’s continued with a recent move to Texas.
In 1997, he was watching TV, when he saw a commercial for ChildFund, then known as Christian Children’s Fund. It flipped a switch in Willy’s head, and he decided to sponsor a child — a girl from the Philippines.
“I thought it was the right thing to do, to give a child a chance,” Willy says.
The child’s name was Khim, and she was in first grade. Today, at age 23, she is a teacher and the mother of a daughter; they live on Basilan Island, in the Mindanao region of the Philippines. ChildFund continues to work in this region today; although the island is often affected by storms, it was not damaged by the recent super typhoon Haiyan.
“It was a coincidence that I needed a father’s love, which I found in him,” Khim says, “and he, who doesn’t have a child of his own, is fond of kids. I remember one staff member [from ChildFund] saying to me how other kids from the organization envy me for having Uncle Will. I felt really special, because he treated me not just as a sponsored child but as a part of his own family.”
Willy and Khim share a love of reading. Although we can no longer ensure that bulky packages get from sponsor to child today, back then, Willy sent Khim science books, which helped her in her education.
He still has a box of letters and pictures she sent him with updates through the years. “I will never get rid of those,” he says. Willy’s sponsorship of Khim continued until she was 18. He didn’t expect to hear from Khim again after the sponsorship ended, but he received a message on Facebook from her two years ago, when she was in college.
And last Christmas, Khim messaged Willy again to let him know that she had achieved another goal.
“[She] thanked me for sponsoring her because she [had] just passed the exam and is now a teacher, just like she always wrote she would like to be one day,” Willy says. “I could not have imagined receiving such a heartwarming present and that my simple efforts made such a difference in somebody’s life thousands of miles away. She has a great family now, and I couldn’t have been prouder of her for working as hard as she promised in her letters.”
Willy hopes one day to meet Khim in person, and he’s thinking about sponsoring another child through ChildFund.
“My uncle is really a philanthropist at heart,” Khim says. “He would always ask me what I am going to take when I reach college. He started sending money for my savings account, which I used when I reached college. Now, I am already a teacher with the help of my dear Uncle Will, through the help of CCF. Thanks a lot for helping us build our dream.”
Catch up with our ongoing 75th anniversary blog series.
The holiday season is all about family. It’s a time when families come together, slow down and enjoy each other.
The Donny & Marie Christmas Tour will be an experience — not just a show, but a holiday experience. The brother-and-sister duo has previously performed Christmas events on Broadway, in Chicago and in Los Angeles. This year, the tour is taking them to cities such as Tulsa, Dallas, Tampa Bay, Greensboro, Chicago, Pittsburgh and nine others!
And we’re excited to announce two opportunities for supporters and friends of ChildFund to celebrate the holiday season and help children around the world who have never received a single gift in their entire lives.
Through a special arrangement with Donny & Marie, friends of ChildFund are eligible for a $5 discount on the ticket price, and for every ticket purchased through this offer, Donny and Marie will donate $5 to ChildFund.
Another way to celebrate the spirit of Christmas is to volunteer at a Donny & Marie concert. Volunteers are needed at each city on the tour!
As a volunteer, you’ll meet new people who share a love of fun and helping children. At shows like this, dozens of volunteers help bring in hundreds of new sponsors. It will be a huge help to ChildFund and, more importantly, to children in need around the world. Anyone can do it — all you need is a big heart for children in need and a few hours of time.
To learn more about volunteering at this event, please contact Jennifer Hughes at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 804-756-2772.
To obtain the ticket discount and support ChildFund, choose the date and city where you want to attend the concert, and you’ll be linked to a page where you can purchase tickets. On the “Select Ticket Type” menu, be sure to choose “Children’s Charity – ChildFund.” Then type in “ChildFund” in the pop-up box to obtain the $5 discount per ticket.
Enjoy the show, and thank you for helping support ChildFund and our work with children in 30 countries around the world.
Ingrid Janeth became a sponsored child when she was 7, and today, as an adult, she works with children in her Guatemala community. In today’s guest post, she shares the impact that her sponsor had on her life.
About 22 years ago, a magic story started. I say “magic” because I never thought that a person would change my life! My story took place in a rural, poor, indigenous community in Guatemala; I was 7 when my life started changing. My name is Ingrid Janeth, and now I am 29.
When I turned 7, my mom told me that I had a new friend who lived so far away from my home; she lived in Pennsylvania. I remember the first letter I received. It had some stickers on it and a photo from my sponsor and her two children. She wrote to me about the United States, the American culture, their most traditional foods, places they visit for vacations, how they celebrate Independence Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. That was all new to me, and I learned a lot from her.
My sponsor was always really sweet; she taught me how important it was to share with my family, how important it was for me to study and to have a career. She also supported me economically when I was studying and I couldn’t buy my uniforms, shoes or books.
It was a really good experience, two families knowing each other, even though my sponsor´s family was in another country. But the communication was always constant. The best thing I got from my sponsor is her friendship, and I keep all her letters and photos in a special place.
If I had my sponsor in front of me, I would like to say, “Thank you so much for sharing your time; thank you for all your support; thank you for your letters and pictures. Thank you, because now I am different, and I have a bright future.”
Now I am a teacher, and I have a special commitment to work for my community, especially with girls and youths. I am a technician in the ChildFund Guatemala project “I Love Myself, I Take Care of Myself” and work with the Association Renacimiento, ChildFund’s local partner organization in Guatemala. This project specifically works to help youth improve their self-esteem, build healthy relationships with their families, peers and communities and provide guidance on health.
My intention, now that I am working with children, is to teach them how to change their lives and how to have a better life and future. From my own experience, I have confidence in the great potential of the youth in my communities.
My plans are to continue working with children; also, I want to finish my studies in college to become an environmental engineer and find a place where I can both work with children and contribute to creating a better planet.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
Social media can be a mixed blessing. It’s easier to stay in touch with friends and relatives today, but status posts, tweets and pictures also can add distraction to our lives. The other day, though, we experienced a pure blessing on ChildFund’s Facebook page.
A few weeks ago, Nicole Duciaume, regional sponsorship manager for the Americas, visited some of ChildFund Mexico’s programs. She met Guadalupe (whose nickname is Lupita), who works with one of our local partner organizations, often helping children write letters to their sponsors. Lupita was a sponsored child herself in Oaxaca, and she spoke fondly about her sponsor family from Oklahoma, the Talberts. More than 20 years after their sponsorship began, Lupita has kept the letters and photos from the family. (Click here to see a video of Lupita telling her story.)
As we do with many stories on the blog, we promoted it on Facebook. Usually we get a few dozen likes, a comment or two and perhaps a question about how to sponsor. The day that Lupita’s blog post went up, though, we received an unexpected message in the comments from Janice Talbert, who spotted the photo of her former sponsored child!
“This is so AMAZING,” Janice wrote. “I am so THRILLED to see LUPITA…she was OUR sponsored child. Of course, I had no doubt she would give back to her community. She wrote lovely letters to us for many years and then when we met her, she was warm, vivacious, bubbly and enthusiastic.”
Both Janice and Lupita still remember favorite letters they exchanged. Lupita’s was a letter she received on her 15th birthday, a cultural milestone for Mexican girls called the Quinceañera, marking the girl’s entrance into womanhood. Her family didn’t have money for a fancy dress or a big party, but the Talberts wrote that in their eyes she was still important.
Janice recalls the concerned letters that Lupita and another Mexican child they sponsored, Juan, wrote after Sept. 11, 2001, asking if her family was safe after the terrorists’ attacks. Janice says that her family, too, has kept every letter and drawing that Lupita and Juan made for them.
I had a chance to talk to Janice about her family’s 2005 trip to Oaxaca, when she visited Lupita and Juan.
At that point, Lupita was in high school, and the Talberts had sponsored her since she was 4 years old. They had been hoping to make the trip to see her and Juan for quite a while, and the timing worked out well. ChildFund Mexico’s national office helped arrange the visit, and Janice recalls riding in a white van for hours. Lupita’s town was quite a ways from Oaxaca’s capital, but the landscape was beautiful.
Near Lupita’s home was a canyon circled by jacaranda trees that were blooming during their visit. Lupita’s family warmly welcomed the Talberts, and they had a great visit to Lupita’s school, church and neighborhood. “It was amazing to meet her,” Janice recalls. “We’d get a picture once a year, and she was always serious in the pictures, but she smiled a lot in person.”
Lupita remembers the visit fondly: “My family and I were very excited about the visit, and we planned the food that we were going to bring them. When the date of the visit arrived, I made a sign. Then we showed them the local partner’s facilities and some activities we have there. What is most important is that I had the joy of meeting them.”
The Talberts also formed a close bond with Juan’s family. Janice recalls the tough conditions in which his family lived – a home with a dirt floor, and a single source of electricity coming through a long, orange extension cord. Janice and her family took Juan to see the nearby Mayan ruins; he had never had the chance to visit this historical site.
The families were generous hosts and very proud of their heritage. “At that point, my Spanish was really bad,” Janice says with a laugh. “The people from Mexico are so warm and helpful. When you butcher their language, they still compliment you.”
Today, since Lupita and Juan have completed ChildFund’s programs, Janice’s family sponsors two younger children from Oaxaca. She hopes that one day she’ll hear from Juan as well, whom we learned is still living in Mexico and working at an optician’s office. He still plays soccer in his spare time, a love that has carried on from childhood.
For Janice, the excitement of learning that both of her formerly sponsored children are doing well and leading happy lives has been an unexpected blessing.
By Christine Ennulat, ChildFund Staff Writer
In its 75 years, how many children has ChildFund helped?
We don’t know.
We don’t know because of Joel John Roberts, a formerly sponsored child from Korea, who grew up to found a charity that fights homelessness in southern California. We don’t know how many children he has helped.
We don’t know because of Barako, a formerly sponsored child from Kenya, now a police officer in his community. We don’t know how many children he has helped.
We don’t know because of Monica, once a sponsored child in Ecuador, who earned a degree in finance and now manages her community’s credit union. We don’t know how many families she has helped.
We don’t know because of Dr. Chun-Wai Chan, long ago a sponsored child in a Hong Kong orphanage, who grew up to become a cardiac surgeon, served eight years on ChildFund’s board and created a foundation to support orphans like himself. How many? We don’t know how many children he has helped.
We don’t know because of Tariku, a formerly sponsored child in Ethiopia, who completed a degree in psychology and is completing his master’s while working as a ChildFund sponsorship relations manager in Addis Ababa. We don’t know how many children he has helped.
We don’t know because of Maribel and Mae and Grace, formerly sponsored children in the Philippines, who now help run a community organization through which ChildFund has served thousands of children near where they grew up.
We don’t know because of Chief Joseph Brings Plenty, once sponsored in the United States, who grew up to become the chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, and who now teaches Lakota culture in a school on the reservation. We don’t know how many children he has helped.
Thanks to our wonderful supporters, these sponsored children grew up to change more children’s lives. We at ChildFund are privileged to be part of this change. After 75 years, we are so grateful.
Read more of our 75-post blog series in celebration of ChildFund’s 75th anniversary.