By Cynthia Price, Director of Communications
As a child, I loved receiving mail – yes, the kind with stamps. I had several international pen pals, and my friends sent postcards when they took vacations, even if it was simply to the shore. I also subscribed to magazines and book clubs, so I eagerly anticipated the arrival of the mail carrier.
Today, most people communicate by text and email. Those who sponsor a child, though, know the wonderful feeling when a letter arrives with an international postmark and stamp. It means a letter has arrived from their sponsored child.
What happens when you send your letter to your child? It’s not as simple as putting the letter in the mail and it being delivered by a mail carrier on the other end. The letters arrive at a central point — usually the ChildFund office in the child’s country. The letters then need to be delivered to communities, which can be miles apart.
On a recent trip to Ecuador, my coworkers and I met with several youth who help deliver the sponsor letters within their communities. Catarina, who is 15, says she delivers between 10 and 12 letters each week within her community.
“It’s fun,” she said. “I like delivering the letters and making others smile.” She says the letters come from around the world, and she enjoys seeing all of postmarks from the different countries.
After the letters are delivered, Catarina says the child who receives it will write a reply. Depending on the age of the child, Catarina and others will help guide the child. They’ll suggest topics to cover, such as writing about their favorite school subjects or talking about their siblings.
Catarina also is sponsored and she loves receiving letters from her sponsor, too.
It’s good to know that a simple letter can bring so much joy.
Jake Lyell, photojournalist and videographer, provides a behind-the-scenes view as he travels to southern Africa to document the needs of the people of Zambia and report on the successes of ChildFund projects in the area. Enjoy the video.
By Kate Andrews
Many of us are making resolutions to eat less, exercise more, call our parents on Sundays, get more organized and achieve any number of other positive goals in the new year. In this season of setting resolutions, we ask you to consider sponsoring a child in 2013; don’t let another year slip past.
Five-year-old Felipe, who lives near the town of Diamantina, Brazil, doesn’t have access to clean water or enough food. With a $28-a-month sponsorship, you can help children like Felipe live healthier and more stable lives.
Also of note: Sponsoring a child takes less work than going to the gym five days a week. “There’s always a tendency for people to resolve to eat less or exercise more,” ChildFund’s digital marketing director Timo Selvaraj says, “or to say, ‘Next year I’m going to make a difference.’ Let’s not allow 365 days to go by. It’s a simple message.”
To sponsor a child, please visit our website. It’s a great way to start 2013.
Guest Post by Pete Olson
Pete Olson is an American Formula car racer in the Asia Formula Renault Series. Olson’s Race for Children campaign is to raise awareness around the issue of child poverty while encouraging fans to become child sponsors. Olson shares his recent trip to meet sponsored child Trang.
After a decade of sponsoring various children through ChildFund, I finally made the decision to meet my sponsored child, Trang, and it was so worth it. Beyond the pictures and the letters from half a world away, my trip to Vietnam made my sponsorship experience that much more tangible. For the first time, I saw, in person, what my sponsorship had done for the little girl I’ve been communicating with over these past years.
To put it simply, meeting Trang is one of the most incredible things I’ve ever done.
My visit made me realize, more than ever, just how privileged I’ve been in my life. I have been very lucky to have so many opportunities, many of which I’ve taken for granted. The benefits my sponsorship are helping provide to Trang are things I’ve always been accustomed to having.
For instance, I saw how ChildFund has helped build a medical center in the village to provide basic health care; they’ve built a fresh water system so the community doesn’t have to walk to a stream to collect drinking and cooking water; and they’ve installed toilet facilities in the village to provide access to basic sanitation. It was eye-opening to realize these standard amenities were previously nonexistent in this community. But I was more shocked to learn from a ChildFund representative that some children have to walk over the surrounding hills to get to and from school each day. That’s probably an hour hike over – and we complain about the Stairmaster!
We gripe so much about trivial things when so many of our basic needs are met. We only have to do a little comparison with those who lack those conveniences to realize how thankful we should all be for what we have and often take for granted.
It is a shame that there are so many inequalities in the world, but I know that I can do my part, no matter how small, to help children like Trang to improve their lives. I sincerely hope that through the Racing for Children program and my own personal efforts, we can find many more sponsors for children like Trang. If more people were moved in the way that I was last month in Vietnam, I have no doubt they would contribute.
I’m already looking forward to going back to visit Trang and her community. I am so glad I made the effort. To think that I have been able to help so much with what we Americans think of as so little – it is really something.
Formula One World Champion race driver, Aytron Senna said it best, “Wealthy men can’t live in an island that is encircled by poverty. We all breathe the same air. We must give a chance to everyone, at least a basic chance.”
Indeed it is our duty, and yet our privilege – we should all do our part. Help a child in need by becoming a sponsor through ChildFund International.
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
In our age of email, blogs, instant messaging, Facebook and Twitter, letter writing is mostly a lost art. Yet for generations, people have corresponded with each other. Scholars now study the many letters written by ordinary people to formulate their social and cultural histories.
When did you last take up pen and paper to write a letter? Remember how you paused a moment to hold your loved one in your heart before your words took shape on paper? Letters are gifts. And that’s the point of National Letter Writing Day, celebrated each Dec. 7.
For the children we sponsor, letters are an extra-special gift. They’re tangible symbols of our care and concern, so treasured that, if you visit a sponsored child’s home, you’re likely to find it displayed. You might see the wall of a mud hut completely covered with a sponsor’s cards and letters, or discover years of correspondence bound up in precious silk or leather for safekeeping. Often our words transform these children’s worlds, filling young hearts with hopes and dreams. Their lives will never be the same.
Whether this is your first or 50th time corresponding with your sponsored child, consider sending a letter or postcard today. Overseas postage is $1.05, for either a postcard or a standard-sized envelope of 1 ounce or less. You can order your stamps online in blocks of four, 10 or 20.
What to write? If you’re getting ready for Christmas, describe your own traditions. In most cultures, holidays are primarily about time spent with family and friends. So if your child happens to be Christian, ask about their own celebration. (In Belarus and Ethiopia, where Christians follow the Orthodox calendar, the date for Christmas is Jan. 7.)
For Muslim children, Muhammad’s birthday — called Maouloud or Milad an’Nabi — is celebrated on Jan. 24. In many countries where ChildFund serves, this is a public holiday.
Children in Vietnam, Timor-Leste and Indonesia celebrate the Lunar New Year on Feb. 9 or 10 this coming year; 2013 is the Year of the Snake. Vietnamese call the New Year Tet; to Indonesians, it’s Imlek.
Sri Lankans celebrate harvest thanksgiving day, Tamil Thai Pongal, on Jan. 14. Thai is the name of the first month in their lunar calendar, and Pongal is a special rice pudding they eat on that day. Holi, India’s harvest festival, arrives March 27.
What can you enclose with your letter? Keep “flat and light” in mind. For younger children, stickers, origami paper or balloons are fine gifts. Older ones might enjoy a short poem or story about your culture or holiday traditions. This gives them an opportunity to respond in kind. You may find some stories in common. The B’rer Rabbit tales, for example, are based on West African folklore about a trickster hare called Leuk – Leuk, le lièvre, in French.
Anything that encourages your child’s creativity or critical thinking is a perfect complement to your letter. Send crossword puzzles in their native language, Word Search games, Sudoku charts and coloring book pages.
Most of all, have fun! Letter writing is both an art and a gift of love.
By Virginia Sowers, ChildFund Community Manager
For the past few years, the ChildFund Alliance (a 12-member organization that includes ChildFund International) has been asking children to tell us what they would do if they were president or the leader of their country. As you can imagine, 11- to 12-year-olds have some definite ideas.
As U.S. voters go to the polls today to elect the next president of the United States, we wanted to share with you some very good ideas for changing the world offered up by children who have a lot of important things to say when asked.
If I Were President…
To help these children and others like them achieve their dreams, and maybe one day grow up to be president, consider sponsoring a child.
By Martin Nanawa, ChildFund Philippines
Marvin hails from a small coastal town in Northern Mindanao, the southernmost group of islands in the Philippines. In his hometown, people farm if they live inland or fish if they live near the shore. His father’s occupation is the latter, and 13-year-old Marvin’s family has tried to live within what the sea grants or denies. On a good day, the proceeds from the day’s catch are typically not enough to cover the family’s basic needs, including school fees for the children. On bad days, when Marvin’s father cannot sell much at the market to earn cash, the family can at least share the fish among themselves.
There are even worse days, however, when storms are at sea, and a rough tide keeps fishermen at shore. On days like these, Marvin’s father drives a commuter tricycle—a three-wheeled taxi. Earnings are not much because storms keep people off the road as much as they keep fishermen on land. His father also has to pay rent to the tricycle’s owner for each day of use.
Although public school education in the Philippines is officially free, each semester students like Marvin have come to expect an assortment of extraneous fees that make attending school expensive.
Small school budgets often mean that administrators shift many costs to students in the form of miscellaneous fees for registration, student ID, computer and library usage and special projects. Families also must pay for their children’s school uniforms, notebooks, pens and crayons, bus fare, recess snacks and lunch.
When his family couldn’t make ends meet, Marvin would forego the bus and his school lunch, walking to school and packing what food he could from home.
The cost of Marvin’s schooling weighs on his family, especially when his father’s earnings are down. “My parents sometimes fight over expenses, including the cost of keeping me in school,” Marvin shares. “Sometimes my father says it would be better if I’d stop schooling,” he says, noting the he recognizes that he could be helping his father earn money, instead of costing him money.
Marvin doesn’t know how to approach his father when he encounters a new expense at school. “I made it into a science class [in the honor’s program], but that required me to come to school in full uniform [other students wear only certain basic pieces], and I didn’t know where to get the 500 Pesos (US$12) to complete mine.”
Thankfully, Marvin has received help he didn’t expect. He’s been sponsored by his “Aunt” Janie through ChildFund since fourth grade. Recently, Aunt Janie sent Marvin a helpful boost just when he needed it most—extra funds for a full school uniform—a great gift he means to thank her for in his next letter. Now, he can attend the honors science class.
Marvin says ChildFund played a role in his admission into the science class. “I used to be real shy and timid,” he says, noting that he gained self-assurance by going to ChildFund’s summer camp and participating in leadership training activities. That confidence has led him a second term as president of his community’s youth organization. He’s also a youth representative on the National Anti-Poverty Commission. “I’m able to raise my community’s problems to the authorities,” Marvin says.
Newfound confidence and his gratitude for his sponsor’s support have moved him to excel at school. He tries to avoid ever being late for school, lest it seem he’s squandering the opportunities he’s fortunate to have. Even though his perseverance in school has led to greater expenses, Marvin remains grateful for his sponsor’s support that sees him through still.
If you’d like to sponsor a child like Marvin, visit ChildFund’s website. Your small contribution makes a big difference.
By Saroj Kumar Pattnaik, ChildFund India
Being born into an extremely poor family tends to reduce a child’s chances for a promising future. Years aoo, that seemed to be the case for Kesavaiah, a 6-year-old boy living in a remote tribal village in the Annanthpur district of southern India’s state of Andhra Pradesh.
Kesavaiah’s father, an agricultural laborer, was the only breadwinner for his five-member family. Insufficient income and paucity of alternative livelihood options often forced the family to struggle to prepare a full meal for all. Going to school and truly enjoying childhood was just a distant dream for Kesavaiah and his two sisters.
But things changed gradually for Kesavaiah after he was enrolled in ChildFund India’s Early Childhood Development program in 1996. Praja Seva Samaj (PSS), ChildFund’s local partner, matched young Kesavaiah with a sponsor, who provided additional funds so Kesavaiah and his sisters could attend the village school.
“I still remember the days when my father was struggling to arrange a square meal for each of our family. My mother was also working as a daily laborer just to satisfy our hunger. Many a time we went to sleep at night after just drinking water,” recalls Kesavaiah, who has now completed his technical degree and aspires to become a top mechanical engineer.
He notes that it was the timely support from ChildFund and its local partner PSS that helped transform him from a pessimist to a dreamer.
“I never thought that I would able to complete my primary education as the conditions were not allowing that to happen. It was the moral and material support by ChildFund India and PSS that helped me to come so far in life,” he says.
“Their assistance and advice have not only allowed me to become the first person in our community to see a college, but they also have proved to be a solid platform for my sisters to continue their studies,” he adds.
Kesavaiah, who has understood the value of money since childhood, took full advantage of the sponsorship assistance, never neglecting his studies. He was the top student throughout his primary and intermediate education, earning a full scholarship to technical college.
In addition to his academic achievements, Kesavaiah, now 23, has been an active member of the local Children’s Club supported by ChildFund. His perseverance and tenacity to achieve have become an inspiration for others in his village.
Kesavaiah’s mother, Venkataramamma wants her son to fulfill his dream of becoming an engineer. “I am so proud for my son. He has been a reason for hope for all of us, and I am very much thankful to ChildFund for making this happen.”
Village leader Pakker Naik concurs. “[ChildFund] has been focusing on many issues with interventions at the school level and village level. We are now seeing this positive impact among children today. I would say proudly that Kesavaiah is the first engineer in our village.”
By Loren Pritchett, ChildFund staff writer
In the 30 seconds it took him to watch the ChildFund commercial, Pete Olson, Formula car racer, knew he wanted to sponsor a child. The decision was quick, but he was no stranger to speed.
Fast forward more than a decade later and, today, Olson is supporting his third sponsored child and racing in the name of children in need. Behind the wheel, he is in control but admits that compassion is really what drives him.
“It’s an incredibly rewarding experience,” he says. “You can change a child’s life and give them opportunities that many of us take for granted.”
Opportunities like getting a quality education and receiving proper nutrition are among those Olson knew as a small child, adopted into a loving family. He credits his own success to his adopted parents’ support and saw sponsorship as a way to share his good fortune. He began sponsoring as a student at Boston University.
“I felt that many of us there were privileged and lucky to have the opportunities that we did,” he says. “It was a point in my life where I started to feel it was important to give something back for all that I have been so grateful to have in my life.”
Olson maintained child sponsorships while earning two degrees, a regional racing license and pursuing his passion for speed. He excelled from motorcycles to professional karting and eventually found himself racing in China – thousands of miles from U.S. tracks but only a few hundred from his sponsored child, Trang.
“She writes a lot about her schooling, which she really seems to enjoy,” he says. “That makes me very happy as I think education is something that we tend to take for granted back home. In many other countries, children don’t have the same opportunities for education.”
Trang, 11, lives in Vietnam. In some rural areas of the country, children are discouraged from attending school because their classrooms are too far away. Other areas of the region lack clean drinking water and have inadequate sanitation facilities. With Olson’s support, Trang is able to attend school regularly and benefits from the various ChildFund health and nutrition programs in her community.
With a desire to help more children like Trang, Olson now races in the Asia Formula Renault Series and does so for children in extreme poverty. The ChildFund logo that shines from the side of his red Formula car is an invitation to all of his fans – sponsor a child. And although he aspires to be the first American to win the series this year, he knows this is much bigger than winning.
“I’ve stopped keeping track of the wins,” he says. “No matter what’s going on in my own life, I know without a doubt that in another part of the world I am bringing joy and happiness to a child in need, enriching their life and providing them with opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have.”
Olson plans to visit Trang soon to learn more about her family, community and where she goes to school. In the meantime, he continues his race for children.
Are you a racing fan? Catch Pete Olson September 15-16, October 20-21 and December 8-9. Check your local listings to find out how you can watch the races. Or stay updated on Facebook or www.peteolson.com. To learn more about sponsoring a child, speed over to the ChildFund website.
By Patricia Toquica, Americas Region Communications Manager
I’m flying from Honduras on my way home to the ChildFund Americas regional office in Panama City. The last few weeks have been full of intense traveling and inspiring experiences.
In Jamaica, while participating in the United Nations Study on Violence Against Children follow-up meeting for The Caribbean, I learned so much about what the Caricom countries are doing to fight and prevent violence against the most vulnerable in our societies: children, youth and women. By working together on awareness campaigns and advocacy efforts, nongovernment organizations (NGOs), civil society, governments and institutions—encouraged by children and youth—can raise our voices and stop violence. Raising kids with love, yet with authority and discipline and without corporal punishment, helps children grow into confident and loving adolescents, without fear and without anger or resentment.
A week later, I traveled to Guatemala, where the amazing beauty and richness of the Mayan world overwhelms your heart and your senses. So much color and vibrancy is reflected in the faces and outfits of the indigenous boys, girls and families we visited in their tiny houses hidden in the Guatemalan mountains.
It was inspiring to see so much happiness and hope expressed in the children’s faces, despite the hardships of poverty and deprivation. No water, no sanitation, sometimes not even the chance to continue studying beyond third grade. Still, these children have so much future ahead, and there are so many possibilities to make it brighter if we just help, in any way we can with time, money or knowledge.
Concluding my travels in Honduras was so rewarding, amid the beautiful tropical mountains in the Santa Barbara region, where ChildFund has been working for almost 30 years. Seeing young boys and girls representing their communities in town hall meetings attended by government officials and other NGOs is the fruit of many years’ labor and investment by ChildFund in these communities.
I wish we adults could have the confidence and abilities of these youth as motivators and public speakers. Their energy and desire to change the world is so contagious and convincing that you just can’t say no! These young girls and boys know their rights, are educated and confident, have big dreams for their futures and will not take no for an answer.
While visiting the town of Colinas in Santa Barbara, I felt blessed to meet Yordi, Wendy and Kevin, three young children who come from poor villages. They have sponsors from a country far abroad who not only send resources and letters but also encourage them to keep thriving and dreaming, studying and participating. They see a bright future ahead of them, are proud of themselves and speak with passion and conviction about their dreams.
This is how I know ChildFund’s efforts are worth it. When I’m with the children I know our organization’s work, and the generosity of sponsors and donors from all over the world, really make a difference and contribute to changing lives.