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.
By Veronica Travez, ChildFund Ecuador
Daniela is 15 years old, and she and her two brothers are albino. Albinism is a rare genetic condition characterized by the absence or reduction of melanin in the skin, eyes and/or hair.
Daniela’s family lives in the northwestern area of the province of Pichincha in Ecuador, a region that’s subtropical and humid. Her home is made of wood, which helps protect the family from high temperatures, humidity and insects.
Vicente, her father, is a farmer, and Jessica, her mother, is a seamstress. With the help of Daniela’s sponsor, Susan, the family was able to obtain a loan to buy sewing machines and have installed a textile workshop in their home. This business allows them to share quality time with their children while supporting them financially.
Albinism causes difficulties for Daniela and her brothers. Because melanin is necessary for the development of the eyes, the siblings have experienced problems with their vision. However, Daniela’s sponsor has sent money that covers vision treatment, so the siblings’ sight has improved.
“Thanks to the support of my sponsor, I have excelled economically, in my health and in my studies,” Daniela says, “and I was able to be trained as a young leader.”
Daniela also participates in a ChildFund-supported community program for school-aged girls and boys, where they receive social and financial education, as well as learning about their rights, responsibilities, self-esteem, saving money and frugal spending.
Jessica is a trainer in the program, and she notes that she too has learned a lot throughout the process. “I have met new friends; I learned to respect and care for my peers with disabilities. At school we performed a skit about people with disabilities, teaching children not to discriminate against them.“
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
ChildFund’s latest LIVE! artist, the Christian musician Carman, has inspired more than 500 people to sponsor children in programs around the world in just the past month — an amazing feat. We had the opportunity to speak with him last week just before his concert near Houston, a stop on his No Plan B tour.
Carman has performed his pop music for more than 30 years to audiences around the world while delivering a Christian message. “I feel like we have a lot of ministry and a lot of artistry, and ChildFund is included in that,” he says. “Always in my concerts, I give the audience the opportunity to give.”
During this tour supporting his latest album No Plan B, Carman is encouraging his fans to become sponsors through ChildFund. He says that he was impressed by the fact that our organization doesn’t simply deliver food and supplies to families in need; we help empower communities to create brighter futures for children.
Carman’s tour is going very well, he says, and his health is getting stronger daily; he was diagnosed with cancer in February 2013 but announced after a year of treatment that tests have shown no trace of multiple myeloma, a rare and often deadly form of cancer.
Carman has performed in several countries, including a stadium show in Johannesburg, South Africa, which broke attendance records at the time. Nelson Mandela even attended the show, he adds. “You hope that what you do affects people, not just immediately in front of you but around the world.”
By Nicole Duciaume, Americas Region Sponsorship Manager
Driving along a packed-down dirt road in Ecuador, we crossed a wood-plank bridge and saw some elderly grandmothers washing clothes by hand in the stream. An enrolled child lived nearby, and we could go speak with the family if we wanted. I jumped out of the car in record time and made my way over to the grandmothers, who greeted us with hearty smiles and soapy waves.
We talked with the mother about her children’s health and development, as well about ChildFund’s programs and what has changed in their lives in the year and a half since we started working in this community. The mother talked about the hopes and dreams she has for her children, and we talked about their ongoing needs and struggles as a family. During the conversation, she not only allowed us into her home but also invited us to take photos.
The two-room house has walls made of plywood and split reeds, leaving gaps where rain and insects come in, plus a tin roof and a bare concrete floor. The kitchen has a simple stove and water from a well. The other room has two beds, one for the parents and the other shared by three children.
Outside, there’s a wooden chicken coop next to a latrine constructed with leftover slats of wood, metal sheets and a plastic banner. Next to the home is the stream where families wash their clothes and often bathe. Here is a collage of some of our pictures:
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
You can learn a lot about the children you sponsor through the exchange of letters. For Bernadeta Milewski’s family, their sponsored child Hermie is like a second daughter, despite more than 8,000 miles between them.
After four years of sponsorship, Bernadeta, her husband, Evan, and 6-year-old daughter Nadia traveled in May from Connecticut to see Hermie and her family in San Joaquin, Philippines. It was a dream come true for everyone, Bernadeta says. “When we saw each other for the first time, there were no words, just long hugs. Tight hugs,” she says. “So much affection. In my wildest dreams, I didn’t know it could be so amazing.”
The Milewskis were there for a couple of reasons — mainly to see 12-year-old Hermie, but also to assist her family, whose home is vulnerable to flooding. Fortunately, San Joaquin did not experience much damage from Super Typhoon Haiyan last November, but Hermie’s home is near water and has suffered harm in other storms. Sponsors typically don’t see their sponsored children’s homes, but the Milewskis were permitted to do so to assess the best way of helping, whether it was renovating the existing home or purchasing property elsewhere.
Ultimately, after thorough discussion with Hermie’s family and local staff, they decided to build a new home; they also purchased a fishing boat for Hermie’s father. Hermie, her mother and siblings depend on his income — often $2 to $4 a day — for their day-to-day needs. The new boat will improve their situation tremendously as it will increase their earnings significantly. “Our plan was to assist Hermie’s family with their living arrangements so that they could have a safe place during typhoons,” says Bernadeta, “but when we learned that Hermie’s father had been working for someone else for over 20 years and therefore making very little money, we quickly decided to help with the purchase of the fishing boat as well.”
The Milewskis sponsor three children through ChildFund; although they have relationships with all of their sponsored children, Hermie was always very special to them, Bernadeta says. Early on, “she was calling us Mommy and Daddy and telling us that she was dreaming of meeting us. We knew we would do everything to make her dream come true. We really love the whole family there. During our two-day visit, there was no awkward moment. We were really kind of reunited.”
Writing letters is very important to the sponsor-child relationship, Bernadeta emphasizes. During the trip, she met other children enrolled in ChildFund-supported programs who hunger for communication and encouragement from their sponsors due to a lack of correspondence. She promised that she would let other sponsors know how much the sponsored children look forward to receiving letters and establishing a relationship with their sponsors.
“They would love to get letters from sponsors,” Bernadeta says. “It’s very important to remind people that it’s not just about the monetary donations. Letters are extremely important. As sponsors, we can tell the children about things they do not know even exist. We can motivate them, encourage them and offer praise. Through letters, they learn about other kinds of opportunities — opportunities their own parents for the most part are not aware of.”
For instance, Hermie’s parents had never been to the main city in their province, Iloilo, until the Milewskis’ visit. “For Hermie, we hope life has more in store, and we want to make sure that she has big dreams,” Bernadeta says. Sponsors don’t take the place of parents, but they often provide a new perspective for children, giving them hope for the future.
“When you become a sponsor, you sign up for some sort of relationship,” Bernadeta says. “If they can feel that someone cares about them, that gives them confidence that they’re really lacking.”
Bernadeta acknowledges that writing to your sponsored child may seem difficult at first and gave some tips to other sponsors:
“I always introduce myself, tell the child who we are and why we sponsor. I am always very positive and ask lots of questions as this opens up a dialogue. I ask what the child likes doing, what holidays he or she celebrates, what their favorite subject is. I always stress how important it is for them to study and encourage them to do their best. We include stickers, postcards, bookmarks, balloons, coloring pages and photos we take during our vacations and on special occasions. As sponsors, we have a very important role in their life. We can provide something different than their immediate families do.”
After the Milewskis’ return home, they received a letter from Hermie. She wrote, “I will give my best to attain my dreams in life to help my family to combat poverty. I will follow you to help the poor so I will not disappoint you, and I will not waste your dreams on me.”
For more tips about writing letters and developing a friendship with your sponsored child, visit ChildFund’s website.
By Abraham Marca, ChildFund Bolivia
Every day, Yobana wakes up ready to go to school, dresses by herself and has breakfast with her four older brothers. You may think this is quite normal, but not for 6-year-old Yobana, who had serious problems with her spine, left kidney and left shoulder.
However, good news came in the form of the support of her sponsor, Joan Elizabeth, and ChildFund Bolivia. Yobana has recuperated from medical procedures addressing her physical issues.
In 2011, doctors discovered a problem with her left kidney; the case was immediately treated, and Yobana was under observation for the following year. Her troubles continued with difficulties using her left arm, and doctors realized her spine and left shoulder were malformed. Surgery was the only answer. Joan Elizabeth offered support during the procedure and recovery; she and ChildFund Bolivia’s national office covered the costs of surgery and medication.
In order to get the best surgery possible, ChildFund Bolivia and Yobana’s family — with the help of Dr. Ovidio Aliaga, an orthopedic surgeon — researched their options; Yobana’s surgery took place in October 2013. The surgery proved a success, only physiotherapy was needed to make Yobana’s left arm perfect. After her last checkup, Dr. Aliaga said, “She is doing terrific! She can now dress by herself.”
It was a great pleasure to know Yobana, who is now happier. She helps her mother at home, and she also participates in ChildFund’s campaign against violence. Yobana also feels more confident at school.