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.
Reporting by ChildFund Guatemala
Michael Kurtzman and his sister, Nancy Hernandez, came to Guatemala to visit Lilian, his sponsored child. This was his second visit; the first was in 2009. Lilian is 15 now, and she’d like to become a teacher. “I feel very happy sharing with my sponsor,” she says. “Thank you for his visit, and thank you so much for all the supplies he bought for me today. I am very glad to meet him again. God bless him.”
Michael visited the central highlands project Let Me Tell You (to increase children’s literacy, self-expression and research skills) and spent time with 80 children. During his visit, the children were making masks of their favorite animals.
“I know children need help; children can make a better world,” Michael says. “I see Lilian is a little shy, but she looks happier now. She and her family are in a better situation than before, when I came the first time.
“My commitment is to continue my sponsorship; also, I want Lilian to keep studying, and I will help her. I really want her to finish her education, because it is very important for her future.”
By Nicole Duciaume, Americas Region Sponsorship Manager
Read Nicole’s first post about her trip to Dominica, a Caribbean island nation where ChildFund works.
I often say that ChildFund’s work begins where the pavement ends, and this rang true in Dominica. Within a few blocks of a docked cruise ship, about 10 miles outside of the capital of Roseau, we parked the car and walked up a path of crumbling stones and packed earth.
It was there that I met Miranda, 31, and her 4-year-old daughter, Lashana. Miranda and her five children, who are enrolled in ChildFund’s programs, live in a small two-bedroom home she inherited from her grandmother. The home is made of weathered wood panels atop cement blocks. There are gaps where the ceiling and walls don’t meet, and broken windows outnumber whole ones.
They have lived without electricity for more than five years, and their bathroom is in the backyard, with a pit latrine and a hose for a shower, plus a few panels of plywood and rusted metal sheets for privacy. Her three sons, aged 17, 14 and 12, share one tiny bedroom; her two daughters, aged 9 and 4, sleep in a twin bed in the hall outside of the bedroom that Miranda shares with Lashana’s father.
Miranda does her best for the family. She encourages her children to go to school so they will have more opportunities than she had. The school down the road is supported by ChildFund and embraces the child-friendly methodology (including alternative discipline, age-appropriate furniture, bright and engaging learning environments and parental engagement). We had visited the school earlier in the day to distribute sleeping cots for preschoolers and to see a renovated library where children can read, study and imagine.
Lashana suffers from asthma and other respiratory problems, which often forces her to return home early from preschool; she often falls ill if any of her classmates are sick. Miranda believes in the power of early stimulation and education, something ChildFund encourages throughout Dominica and in other countries, so she has educational charts at home to promote Lashana’s learning of the alphabet, numbers, vegetables and fruits.
Miranda doesn’t have a formal education, so her employment options are limited.
She takes on odd jobs, anything to provide for her family — cleaning homes, washing laundry by hand and so on. Miranda also keeps a small garden in the backyard to feed her family and sell the surplus produce in the market. But heavy rains this year ruined her crops and waterlogged the seeds. As a result, the family is having a hard time making ends meet. This is why Lashana was all smiles as she told me her most exciting news: She recently received a goat from her ChildFund sponsor. Though Lashana knows it is her goat, she also realizes that this goat will help the entire family with milk to sell, and once they breed the goat, they will be able to supplement their income by selling the offspring.
The day-to-day life for this family is daunting, but they have hope. Sponsors help provide hope for many children through their support of ChildFund’s programs and the families themselves. Sometimes in the form of a goat.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
We’ve reached the final post of our 75th anniversary blog series: number 75. When this series started back in September 2013, I wasn’t sure this day would ever come, but it is here.
I’d like to take a moment to thank the ChildFund staff members who sat down for interviews, wrote stories, took photos, searched for archived photos and video, edited posts and made story suggestions. Your help was invaluable. Also, to all of the ChildFund Alliance leaders who contributed posts about their organizations’ work — thank you. It’s amazing that some of the countries where we worked decades ago are now strong and prosperous enough to help other children in need today.
During the series, we learned a great deal about the origins of ChildFund, which was called China’s Children Fund when it was founded in 1938 by Dr. J. Calvitt Clarke to help Chinese orphans. Over the years, our leaders and staff members — both in Richmond, Va. and abroad — have transformed our organization (renamed Christian Children’s Fund in 1951 and ChildFund in 2009) from a small but ambitious charity to a global aid organization that assisted more than 18 million people worldwide last year.
Some of the most memorable posts for me were about children and alumni who have seen great change take hold in their lives.
Gleyson, a young man from Brazil, wrote about his neighborhood, which was plagued with violence stemming from the drug trade. It also didn’t have running water. But he was sponsored and enrolled in a ChildFund-supported project that provided him with tutoring, study materials, extracurricular dance and art classes, and above all, a supportive environment.
Today, he writes, “I graduated with a degree in business administration, and I am a professional, registered with the Regional and Federal Brazilian Administration Councils and specializing in financial management and controllership. I recently purchased a car, and I’m currently employed in a company in charge of the administrative management of condos.”
We heard many encouraging stories like Gleyson’s. Manisha’s family was able to quit the bangle-making trade in Firozabad, India, finding more lucrative and less hazardous work; Nicky, a Zambian man, earned a degree in business administration and went to work for a bank. Many of the Chinese orphans who grew up in Hong Kong orphanages started by CCF have found professional and personal success, and an amazing number have formed their own charities to help other children. My colleague, Christine Ennulat, wrote an essay about how we can’t count the number of people that have been helped through ChildFund — because our actions have a ripple effect.
ChildFund will continue our work as we enter our 76th year, focusing on children and their families and giving support to communities in need — while providing training and resources through our local partner organizations, a process that lets communities determine their destinies. On the world stage, we are pushing for greater recognition of children’s needs as the United Nations sets its post-2015 development goals.
Thanks for reading, and I’ll leave you with a message from our CEO and president, Anne Lynam Goddard:
“Because nothing lasts forever, I never take for granted that ChildFund will continue for another 75 years. The decisions we make today will impact the ChildFund of tomorrow. We must continue to evolve as an organization, meeting the needs of children in a rapidly changing and complex world.
“Maybe one thing does last forever — the warm-hearted generosity of people who help children living in poverty. That part of our shared humanity is truly enduring.”
By Priscilla Chama, ChildFund Zambia
As we conclude our 75th anniversary blog series, we are focusing on success stories of youth and alumni from ChildFund’s programs in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Europe. Today we meet Phenny, an automotive repair supervisor in Zambia.
“I never imagined when I was growing up that one day I would work as a supervisor in one of the prestigious companies in this country. I supervise a team of men who work in automotive repair, vehicle servicing and boat repair. I owe my success to a man that sponsored me through ChildFund, and I’m really grateful. My life has turned around for the better, and I wake up every morning with a reason for living.”
These are the words of 28-year-old Phenny, a supervisor at Autoworld, which sells an extensive range of automotive, marine and lifestyle products in Zambia.
Phenny’s parents died when she was a small child, and none of their relatives offered to take in Phenny and her 16-year-old sister after they were orphaned. So, the sisters remained in their parents’ home, and Phenny’s sister dropped out of school and resorted to doing odd jobs so that they could survive.
“My life before ChildFund was very difficult,” Phenny explains. “My sister only made enough for us to have a meal, I had no hope of ever starting school, and most of the time I joined my sister, washing people’s clothes and cleaning their homes for food.”
Phenny’s big breakthrough came when her sister heard about the ChildFund sponsorship program (then, Christian Children’s Fund) and the girls were immediately enrolled in programs at Tiyanjane Community Association.
“Being enrolled at Tiyanjane project was the biggest relief for us,” Phenny says. “The sponsor I was assigned to was very kind. In our letters, my sister explained that I came from a child-headed household, and he became like a father to me. He did not just send us money for my school but also inspiring letters and cards. I looked forward to receiving them every month.”
With support from her sponsor, Phenny sailed through primary school and qualified for secondary school with good grades. She completed school in 2006 and decided to study motor vehicle engineering.
As you can see, I’m the only lady here, supervising a number of men. I feel like I’m living my dream.
In 2009, she started working for Autoworld as an assistant motor vehicle technician. She rose through the ranks through her commitment and love for the job. Today, she is the supervisor and still the only female at Autoworld’s downtown branch. She and her sister live together in a nice house, and Phenny’s sister no longer has to take odd jobs.
“As you can see, I’m the only lady here, supervising a number of men,” Phenny says. “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.”
About her future plans, Phenny explains that she wants to further her education and open a garage of her own so that she can support other children in need in her community.
Watch a new video featuring Phenny!
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 Ireland.
September 2013 marked my 10th year as chief executive officer of ChildFund Ireland. Throughout the past decade I have been lucky enough to witness immensely positive changes throughout both our own organisation and the wider ChildFund Alliance. This piece is far too short to mention them all, so I will share highlights from the past decade.
On the sponsorship front, we worked hard to streamline sponsorship funds and focus on 11 countries, as compared to 27 in 2003. This means we now can really see an impact that Irish sponsorship funds have on ChildFund work in the field. I have always been a great believer in child sponsorship. On a personal level, I am proud to have helped form the Sponsor Relations Network, which brings even greater efficiencies for the Alliance, our national offices and our sponsors.
In terms of grants, ChildFund Ireland received its first grant of €95,000 from Irish Aid in 2003 for a 12-month project in Kenya. In the intervening years, our relationship with Irish Aid has grown, and we now have a four-year multiannual funding agreement that focusses on early childhood development in three countries in Africa, building on the sponsorship-funded programme in the same areas.
Our first forays into the online world came in 2004 with the launch of our first website. This year, we carried out a major overhaul of the site. Visual appeal and navigability have been greatly improved through extensive use of colour, animation and a more intuitive layout, and a whole host of new features have been added. Our social media presence has progressed from limited use of a single platform (Facebook) in 2010 to daily updates on Twitter, photo-sharing on Pinterest and engaging an active community on Facebook.
In just the last few months, we have introduced a digital newsletter to share our favourite articles with supporters on our email database and created our first Facebook advertising campaign in aid of the ChildFund Alliance Free from Violence and Exploitation campaign. The combination of all of these efforts has meant that traffic to our website has roughly tripled, and readership of articles has multiplied from a few hundred to several thousand per article.
The economic situation in Ireland is well-publicised and has impacted ChildFund’s supporter base. However, perhaps due to the nature of child sponsorship, our cancellation rate has been well below what might have been expected. We are embracing the challenge, and I am indebted to the hard work of my team and the loyalty of our supporters during this difficult time.
Moreover, our increasing public profile means we are well placed to take advantage of the coming improvement in national economic fortunes. I, myself, have enjoyed every year of my time at ChildFund Ireland, and I look forward to many more.
Slán go foill … (good-bye for now).
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.