sponsorship

Three Siblings Follow in Their Grandparents’ Charitable Footsteps

By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

Each Christmas, R.B. Wheeler and his wife Fran gave their grandchildren packets of information about a donation they had made in their family’s name to touch the lives of children through a ChildFund project.

75th ChildFund logoFor more than a dozen years, the Wheeler family gathered to consider existing project needs in various countries where ChildFund works. Then R.B., Fran and the family would pick a few projects (often involving water and education) to fund in the names of all their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Jacey Messer, one of those grandchildren, says she didn’t always take the gifts seriously when she was young, but the message her grandfather sent each holiday season eventually sank in. Her brother, Jeff Wheeler, suggested to Jacey and their sister Julie that they make a collective donation to a project this past Christmas through ChildFund. After losing both of their grandparents in the past year, the decision was very meaningful, Jeff says. Their gift will expand and equip a school in rural Ecuador where educational opportunities are very limited.

“I felt it was kind of our responsibility,” Jeff says, adding that his grandfather “knew at some point that this kind of gift would be more rewarding” than a toy or another present under the tree.

Wheeler family

The Wheelers, with original ChildFund supporters R.B. and Fran seated at center.

The three siblings, who are now in their 20s and 30s, live in different states and have many responsibilities. Jeff is an engineer in Seattle, and Julie is a nurse in Minnesota. Jacey, a lawyer, works for the family’s business in South Dakota and is expecting her third child. Deciding to make a contribution to a ChildFund project as a family was an effective way of making a difference, as well as honoring their grandparents, Jeff says. 

Over the years, R.B. and Fran Wheeler, who lived in Lemmon, S.D., sponsored children through ChildFund. They also donated funds for schools in Uganda, Bolivia and Brazil, as well as other projects focusing on health and water needs in Kenya, Ethiopia and Zambia.

Jacey says that her grandfather was “very meticulous about studying up about where his money was going” and that he placed trust in ChildFund’s stewardship. He was very interested in providing clean water and education, ideals that he shared with his family, even when they were young. Today, Jacey says she is continuing the humanitarian tradition with her children. Her eldest child, who is 5, is “starting to get it,” she says, and Jacey, Jeff and Julie hope to continue the Christmas tradition of funding a ChildFund project.

“What made R.B. and Fran Wheeler even more exceptional is that they wanted their love for children around the world to live on not only through their own children and grandchildren, but also through their estate,” explains David Jokinen, ChildFund’s bequest administrator. “They realized that they could help the children in ChildFund’s programs and still benefit their own family after they were gone — a true win-win arrangement.”

When R.B. and Fran passed away last year, the gifts they’d planned for years ago, through their will and via a charitable trust, passed to ChildFund. Today, their generosity and faithful partnership lives on, transforming the lives of children.

“It’ll be something we’ll have to keep going for them,” Jacey says of future Wheeler generations.

You can make a gift to help children that costs you nothing now, by including ChildFund International in your estate plans.

Giving a Gift From the Heart

By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

In celebration of the 75th anniversary of ChildFund, we are running a 75-post series highlighting our past, present and future. Today we hear from longtime supporters Sue and David Gossman.

Sue Gossman’s church started sponsoring a child through what was then known as Christian Children’s Fund in the early 1970s, when she herself was a teenager. As she grew up, went to college and then married in 1976, she continued that sponsorship. Sue and her husband, David, sponsored more children as the years passed, a commitment that continues today.

Now, they support 10 children through ChildFund, and their generosity includes a meaningful Christmas tradition: giving gifts from ChildFund’s Gifts of Love & Hope catalog to children and communities in need.

75th ChildFund logo“It really goes back a couple of years,” David explains. “It didn’t make sense to give large gifts to everybody in the family.” In previous years, he and Sue, who split their time between Illinois and Iowa, have chosen items from the Gifts of Love & Hope catalog to give in honor of their three daughters and other family members, but this past Christmas, their loved ones chose gifts themselves. The family gathered in December 2012 at David’s parents’ 60th anniversary celebration, so David and Sue brought along the catalog.

One daughter, who is a veterinarian and an EMT, picked out a fully stocked health station, and another daughter who likes to sew donated a sewing machine. The Gossmans also like to donate a gift yearly that has a long-term, infrastructural benefit, often assisting a village to grow its own food or have clean water. This year, along with the health station and the sewing machine, the Gossmans donated a water filter, a scholarship for a child in Ethiopia and a starter farm.

“It was a way of saying, ‘Hey, this is what Christmas is all about,’ ” David notes.

Also, through their years of sponsorship, the Gossmans learned how much good even a small donation can do.

Gossman family

The Gossman family gathers during a reunion to choose ChildFund gifts to donate.

“We’re always astounded at how far the Christmas and birthday gifts go,” Sue says of the monetary gifts the couple gives to their sponsored children. For only $8 or $10, a whole family can purchase clothing and party treats, David adds. One boy they sponsored in Africa since the age of 5 or 6 wrote the Gossmans a closing letter after he had turned 18 and was leaving ChildFund. He’d finished a tailoring course, and he was saving money to buy his own sewing machine to start a business. Sue and David decided to step in and purchase the machine for him.

“He’s becoming a part of the community who is giving back in a productive way,” David says proudly. “That’s a fantastic long-term thing that happens.”

One of their daughters, who started a job just after finishing graduate school, now sponsors a child in Africa, so the Gossmans’ tradition continues.

“Something as basic as clean water is pretty amazing, that that’s considered a gift,” David says. “Much of what we discuss in the letters with the children is education — encouraging them to continue with it and work hard on it. It’s so important to them.”

Making Crafts to Express Friendship

By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist; videos produced by ChildFund interns Sierra Winston and Caitlin Swoboda, with editing by Erin Olsen 

One of the best parts of becoming a sponsor through ChildFund is that you make a friend — sometimes for life. We hear from formerly sponsored children all the time about what their sponsor’s assistance, gifts and letters meant to them.

Thailand origami

Thai children learn how to make origami birds.

Today, we celebrate the International Day of Friendship, an event declared in 2011 by the United Nations, with a few simple crafts to send to your sponsored child and step-by-step instructions on video for friendship bracelets and origami cranes. These crafts are small enough to enclose in a letter, and they represent the bridge you are building between cultures and people.

Knot a Friendship Bracelet

Gather together seven to 12 lengths of embroidery floss in different colors. Include your child’s favorites, the colors of her country’s flag or the colors of the rainbow. Use multiple strands of the same color — or various shades of color — for wider stripes. Strands should be about a yard long and arranged in the pattern you want to see.

Tie an overhand knot about 3 inches from one end. Tape the knot to a wall, at eye-length, to anchor the bracelet as you work.  Other options include clipping the bracelet to a clipboard or taping it to a table.

With the far left strand, tie a half-hitch knot over the adjacent one, making the shape of the number 4. Tie a second half-hitch knot on the same strand.

Continue to tie two half-hitch knots on each of the remaining strands. You now have a band of color, and the floss that began at the far left is at the far right.

Return to the far left strand and knot the next row. Continue knotting until the bracelet is long enough for a child’s wrist; then, close it off with another overhand knot. Trim any excess floss, leaving about 3 inches. Knot the ends of the floss so they won’t unravel.

Watch the video:


 

Fold a Peace Crane

Begin with a square of origami paper. Fold it lengthwise into a rectangle. Fold the rectangle into a square and then, diagonally, into a triangle. Unfold the paper, orienting it as a diamond, back (duller) side up. Use the fold lines to press the sides of the diamond in, forming an accordion-fold square with a closed top and four points joining at the bottom.

Lift the left and right sides of the square into the center diagonal, forming a kite shape. Flip it over and repeat on the reverse side. Unfold the kite and lift the bottom point of the square. The flaps on either side will fold into the center in a long diamond. Flip it over and repeat on the reverse side.

Fold each of the two legs at the bottom in toward the center. Flip over and repeat on the reverse side. Lift the right leg, folding it out at a right angle for the crane’s tail; then turn it inside out. Repeat with the left leg to form the crane’s neck. Fold down the tip of the neck, turning it inside out for the head.

Pull down gently on each wing. Hold the neck and tail joints, gently stretching them apart until the crane flaps its wings.

Watch the video: 


 

Craft a Memory Collage

If you’ve sponsored a child for a year or more, you’ll have photographs from annual progress reports. Copy or digitize them to create a greeting card documenting your unique friendship. Add photographs of your family, words in both languages, cultural features of each country and any other specifics that define your relationship.  

Build a Peace Bridge

North America’s second busiest border crossing is near Niagara Falls. Each year, the Peace Bridge’s five graceful steel arches link millions of American and Canadian tourists, workers and students. Constructed in 1927 to honor more than a century of peace, prosperity and partnership, it sports webcams, a duty-free shop and foreign currency exchange, fast-food restaurants and toll-free bicycle and pedestrian lanes. LED lighting changes color for American and Canadian holidays, athletic events, Halloween and other celebrations. In springtime, the iconic structure blooms with thousands of flowers.

What would the Peace Bridge linking you and your sponsored child look like? Draw a picture or write a story.

Or, simply write a note to your sponsored child today to mark International Day of Friendship.

After Exchange Week, Sponsor Relations Managers Ready to Take Action

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:

Mexico visit

Ana enjoyed her visit to Mexico, where she, like the other sponsor relations managers in the exchange, visited the field.

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.

Bolivia group picture

Dov (in blue shirt) was impressed with the youth involvement during his visit to Bolivia.

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.

Sponsor Relations Exchange: From Ecuador to South Dakota

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 is the third of four posts about the exchange program and our work to improve the sponsorship experience. Read the series.

It’s not exactly easy to have someone come to your office and watch your every move. You could feel like an exotic specimen under a microscope. But when it’s one of your own colleagues from another country who is coming to learn and share equally, it’s a little less intimidating and turns into an opportunity to grow professionally and personally.

For this exchange, Santiago Baldazo, sponsor relations manager for ChildFund’s U.S. programs, hosted Zoraya Albornoz of Ecuador. They traveled together to our South Dakota office; Santiago is based in Texas.

Through discussions with Zoraya, Santiago says he learned a great deal about how Ecuador’s team partners with local communities and partner organizations to build common understanding about goals and expectations of sponsorship and other ChildFund-supported programs. “ChildFund Ecuador has a lot of faith in its very intricate network, which helps the communities become more empowered,” Santiago says.

ChildFund United States staff

ChildFund’s U.S. staff — (from left) Santiago,
Lori Arrow, Billie Jo Besco and Devin Oliver — prepare for Zoraya’s visit.

He is now eager to replicate some of the child-friendly forms and materials that Ecuador uses in community orientations, child enrollment and child letters to sponsors. And Zoraya learned about how the U.S. team is maximizing technology to improve response time with their area offices and local partners. She plans to discuss with her team how to use technology to be in closer contact.

Of course, along with the professional observations, there were cultural ones as well. “It was interesting to see how both countries have indigenous populations that have historically been suppressed, repressed and oppressed by others and how the populations have responded to that,” Santiago notes. “In Ecuador, it seems it has given them the opportunity to raise their concerns, their voices and their solidarity as a people.”

The exchange was a great experience, Santiago reports, filled with opportunities to learn, grow and improve practices. In fact, he notes, “Having a shadow this week felt more like having a mentor, and that is primarily due to our visitor – her experience and knowledge and her personality and support.”

Zoraya was equally appreciative: “In the daily work, we lose the real perspective of our strengths and weaknesses. I saw that we have some things that can be improved in order to reach our goals.”

Tomorrow: In their own words.

Sponsor Relations Exchange: Stories From Guatemala

 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 is the second of four posts about the exchange program. Read the series.

We asked Cynthie Tavernier-Jervier, sponsor relations manager for ChildFund Caribbean, to share some stories about her exchange experience in Guatemala: what she hoped to learn beforehand, what she encountered during the exchange, and which practices she wants to implement in her own office.

Guatemalan baby

Cynthie spent time in the field, meeting children we serve in Guatemala.

Before the exchange, Cynthie was excited about the opportunity but also concerned that she might not be able to apply many lessons at her home office, which works with children in Dominica and St. Vincent. ChildFund Caribbean has about 6,500 enrolled children spread across the two islands, whereas ChildFund Guatemala is almost three times the size, with 18,500 enrolled children.

“I expect to be dazzled and overwhelmed because of the size of the office that is hosting my visit,” Cynthie said before the trip. “I am most concerned that due to the size of my office, I will not have anything to contribute to that large office.”

But on arrival, she learned that every ChildFund office, regardless of size, language or culture, has something to share and also something to learn. Cynthie noted later that it was important “not to be intimidated since difficulties and sometimes even frustrations can be encountered by all, and solutions suiting those situations can be found and successfully applied — sometimes even done as a team.”

Cynthie spent a few days in the national office in Guatemala City, as well as two days in the field, visiting local partner organizations that work with ChildFund and, of course, interacting with the children we serve.

Along the way, Cynthie and her hosts discussed processes like sponsorship department structure and roles, orienting families to ChildFund’s programs, child enrollment, children’s letters to sponsors, communication methods, handling of monetary gifts from sponsor to child, youth communication teams and the integration of sponsorship and program activities.

In return, Cynthie gave a presentation to the entire Guatemala senior management team (including the national director and the leaders of programs, sponsorship, finance and human resources) about operations, processes and programs in ChildFund’s Caribbean office in Roseau, Dominica.

What was the most important thing Cynthie learned? Providing more child-friendly resources to the local partners to share with children as they write to their sponsors, she says, after observing how these tools make letter writing more engaging.

So, the first thing Cynthie wants to do upon her return to the Caribbean is “make the correspondence fun and colorful, friendly and easier for children, so as not to make it a chore.”

As for the unexpected, Cynthie says she was surprised to learn that in Guatemala many of the programs and daily activities in the communities are carried out in indigenous languages, not Spanish.

group of Guatemalan children

During the exchange, Cynthie learned that many programs are conducted in indigenous languages.

In the field, there are many different languages spoken by the indigenous people, and some don’t speak Spanish, she says. “Some of the people wear specific cultural dress and no other, unlike in my country, where the cultural dress is worn only during certain months (or during traditional activities).

I was also surprised that children of about four or five years were working in the fields on a weekday, especially since school was in session.” So she spent time discussing how Guatemala is seeking to address child labor issues.

The exchange visit to Guatemala resulted in several professional and personal gains, Cynthie says. “Basically, this week makes me want to continue to make the sponsor relations position more and more effective.”

Tomorrow: From Ecuador to South Dakota.

Exchange Program in Americas Focuses on Sponsorship Experience

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 is the first of four posts about the exchange program.

In every ChildFund national office, there is one person who is responsible for enhancing the sponsor-child relationship. This person relies heavily on a team of staff and volunteers throughout the country to ensure every process and procedure is followed to identify children for enrollment, gather photos and biographical information to send to potential sponsors, oversee the exchange and translation of hundreds of thousands of letters, deliver monetary gifts, and respond to sponsor inquiries about children, programs and ChildFund in general. These people are the unsung heroes of the sponsorship process: They are sponsor relations managers.

girls writing letters

Girls in the Americas write letters to their sponsors.

The Americas region, which serves children in nine countries, is committed to improving sponsor relations, helping children and sponsors connect, and building the expertise of our staff. Our sponsor relations managers do a great job, but there is always room for improvement and learning. By investing in our sponsorship staff both professionally and personally, we hope to improve the sponsorship experience for children, families, communities and sponsors.

This year we decided to take the learning experience out of a meeting/conference setting and move it into the field, where sponsorship processes and experiences are more relevant and exciting. So, we created an exchange program. Over the course of one week, four of our regional sponsor relations managers visited a regional counterpart to share and learn from each other. Brazil’s manager went to Bolivia; the Caribbean manager went to Guatemala. Ecuador’s manager went to the United States, and Honduras’ manager went to Mexico.

With these visits, the managers aimed to learn firsthand how other sponsorship departments are organized and how operations are managed. Each exchange was to cover several topics: structure, staffing, volunteer motivation, orienting families to ChildFund programs, children’s self-expression, translations/communications, letter timeliness and so on.

We also hoped to open new channels of communication between the offices, encouraging peer-to-peer mentoring and exchanging best practices and other lessons. Also, each participant would gain a more global perspective — similarities and differences in culture, children and communities. In the end, we hope the exchange will help us unify who we are as ChildFund and as a dynamic and multicultural region.

This week we will be sharing reflections from sponsorship managers who participated in the exchange.

ChildFund The Gambia Launches Alumni Association

 By Ya Sainey Gaye, ChildFund The Gambia

A group of 37 formerly sponsored children — now young adults — have formed an alumni association in The Gambia. They hope to increase awareness of ChildFund’s sponsorship program at a community level, as well as ChildFund-supported projects that improve education, early childhood development, health care and other needs.

Gambian alumni

The ChildFund The Gambia alumni association.

“To ChildFund The Gambia, I have to say that you have indeed restored and nurtured the hopes and aspirations of over 20,000 people in this country through your sponsorship program, which all of us here today benefited from,” said Alieu Jawo, who was elected chairperson of the alumni group. “This is indeed a divine investment.”

Alieu, who is now 35, runs a graphic design and printing company, owns a general merchandise brokerage and serves as a shareholder and director of an insurance firm.

The Gambia alumni chair

Alieu is now chairperson-elect of the alumni group.

“My inclusion into the sponsorship program brought hope and joy to me and my entire family,” Alieu said, “as it was a serious nightmare for an ordinary farmer like my dad and any other average farmer to be able to send his or her kid to high school. There were no good ones around my village or region.”

But with the help of his ChildFund sponsor, who paid his school fees above and beyond the monthly sponsorship, Alieu was able to excel at primary school and continue his education. Other alumni echoed Alieu’s story.

“I was privileged because it gave me the opportunity to continue my education,” said 30-year-old Fatou Bojang, who received shoes and medical supplies too. “That meant less worry and burden on my parents.”

ChildFund The Gambia hosted the forum to formally launch the alumni association in Bwiam. Participants received a briefing on ChildFund’s organizational structure, a refresher on its mission and overviews of ChildFund’s five-year strategic plan and The Gambia’s strategic plan.

Equipped with a better understanding of ChildFund’s operations in The Gambia, the group drafted a constitution and nominated candidates for an executive board. Then the members cast votes.

Fatou and child

Fatou, a former sponsored child, is now a mother, senior researcher and a part-time college lecturer.

Staff from ChildFund’s national office challenged the participants to continue to make time for the alumni association, to work in their communities and to assist ChildFund as partners to promote child development and protection. The alumni, who well recall what sponsorship means to them, expressed optimism for the future.

“My enrollment in ChildFund sponsorship program really did contribute to what I am today,” noted Demba Sowe, 37. “I am now a father of five and an interpreter at the judiciary of The Gambia.”

Girls of Grace Team Visits ChildFund Projects in Brazil

By Tassia Duarte, ChildFund Brazil

Fifteen-year-old singer-songwriter Gracie Schram, along with the team from ChildFund LIVE! partner Girls of Grace, made a visit this month to visit ChildFund’s programs in Brazil, where Gracie sponsors a 1-year-old girl.

girls making crafts

Gracie makes crafts with girls at ASCOMED, ChildFund’s partner in Medina, while a film crew captures footage.

Gracie and representatives from Girls of Grace, which holds conferences across the United States aimed at teen girls, went to our programs in Vale do Jequitinhonha and Belo Horizonte in mid-June. They captured footage for a video to use at their conferences to promote sponsorship through ChildFund, which supports the events.

In Medina, children welcomed their visitors with posters and songs, and everyone participated in a traditional round dance. Gracie played with the children and then met Jovelina, her sponsored child.

“I was actually happy, even though it’s such a hard thing to see,” says Gracie. “But it’s really cool that I’m going to be able to be a part of her future and allow her to have a better life that she wouldn’t have without sponsorship.”

In Medina, while visiting ASCOMED, ChildFund Brasil’s local partner organization, Gracie

two girls

Gracie and Jovelina.

and a few Brazilian teenage girls made crafts, and she also sang for the children. The visiting team learned more about the activities children participate in that help them develop socially, and they saw a room specially designed for the children to write letters to sponsors.

In the rural outskirts of Medina, the team learned about conditions that were disturbing: families struggling to survive in houses with no bathroom or running water, living far from the closest bus station and with poor access to education and health care. “Being so close to the poverty makes it really real, and it forces you to really think about where and who you are,” Gracie says. “And to think that people need so many things like clean water and health care, it’s really hard to see that.”

In the region of Comercinho, the team met families that have benefited from ChildFund’s assistance. Water is scarce there because of drought conditions, and the little water available has not been healthy to drink.

ChildFund has worked to protect the nearby river, so animals don’t have access to the springs, which leads to pollution. Families are now able to channel clean water to their homes. Trained “water watchers” monitor the water quality and act to preserve it, a sustainable practice that will help their children’s futures, as will sponsors like Gracie.

Gracie playing guitar

Gracie sings for an audience of children in Medina.

Letter Translation Exchange in Sri Lanka

By Ron Wolfe, ChildFund IT Project Portfolio Manager

In December 2004, as the Indian Ocean tsunami raced outward from the Great Sumatra-Andaman earthquake’s epicenter, the sea devastated the Sri Lankan coastline from the eastern city of Trincomalee to the western capital of Colombo. In the middle of this target stood Hambantota, a picturesque town on the island’s southern coast, which sustained devastation of a scale that is hard to comprehend.

Today, the visible scars of the disaster are primarily gone. The city has rebuilt, while much of the development has been relocated further inland. The children play, and civic life continues as it has for centuries. The tsunami, though, remains a part of the people’s identity.

ChildFund sign in communityA team from ChildFund headquarters was recently in Sri Lanka to deploy a new online tool called the Letter Translation Exchange (LTE). Its purpose is to facilitate the digitization of child and sponsor correspondence and reduce the time it takes to translate the letters. As part of the deployment process, we travelled from Colombo, the location of the ChildFund Sri Lanka National Office, to Hambantota to meet the staff in this district and the children we all serve.

After visiting the Hambantota Area Office, the team arrived at one of 12 zonal offices of the Ruhulu Wellassa Area Federation, ChildFund’s local partner organization in this area, tucked beneath a thick grove of cashew trees. Each Zonal Office in this district is led by a community mobilizer who manages 200 to 400 children participating in our programs.

girl in classroom

A youth group member writes.

On the day of our visit, a number of children were there playing with friends and family and writing letters to their sponsors, some of them writing in English instead of their native Sinhala. ChildFund is offering language skills programs through the local partner. “English is an important skill that the children are eager to gain,” said Dilrukshi Ruwanpura, ChildFund Sri Lanka’s sponsor relations manager. It was impressive to see the children combining some of the benefits they receive from sponsorship and one of the essential components of sponsorship itself: one-to-one communication.

girl at computer

Editing materials for the newsletter.

The LTE is ChildFund’s first step in modernizing that communication between sponsor and child. National Office staff will scan letters to create PDFs, which will be uploaded into an online document system. Translators can then access the system at any time and from anywhere via the Internet to translate the letters. Once translated, each letter will be printed out and mailed to the addressee. ChildFund currently manages approximately 1.5 million pieces of correspondence annually.

The technology is meant to enable the staff to do their jobs more efficiently while reducing the time it takes for correspondence to travel back and forth. “As we become more familiar with the LTE, our workload and the workload of the local partner will decrease,” said Dilrukshi. This in turn should allow even more time for the staff within each ChildFund area to focus on programs for the children.

Future ChildFund technology projects will eventually carry this further by facilitating sponsor access to the digital correspondence and providing a way to respond electronically. First, though, the LTE will continue to be deployed to additional countries. The team went next to Honduras and will soon be in Ecuador to scale up the LTE even further.

girl with camera

Photographing.

As we spent the afternoon with the children in Hambantota, they continued to impress us. One group of youth worked together to create a regularly published newsletter called Dawn, writing articles, taking photographs and editing and laying out the content. Others are involved in job skills training, such as hotel management, construction or information technology. One young woman proudly displayed images of the art she had created for a solo exhibition in her community, with art supplies provided by ChildFund. All showed the promise of becoming fully engaged in the continuing effort to lift up their country and make a difference.

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