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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
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.”
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.
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, Gracieand 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.
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.
A 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.
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.
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.
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.
By Sharon Ishimwe, ChildFund Uganda
Fredrick’s family grew their own food in eastern Uganda, like many other families in their village. They used the food for their meals and sold the extra vegetables. It was enough to help the family get by, but the income was too low to send Fredrick and his six siblings to school.
Fortunately, Fredrick, who is now 21, gained a sponsor through ChildFund in 2000. He was able to go to school then; and, today, he’s on his way to becoming a mechanical engineer. For most youths, sponsorship ends in their teens, but some sponsors continue to assist when a young adult pursues higher education.
As a child, Fredrick went to Magombe Primary School.
“When I first went to school,” he says, “I felt hopeless because I didn’t see a bright future in education. My parents were poor. I didn’t think I’d reach this level of education.”
But Fredrick worked hard and completed school with top grades. By this point, he knew that he wanted to be an engineer. So he remained optimistic and focused.
The assurance he got from his sponsor, Kathryn, through letters and gifts gave him confidence and the hope that he could achieve his goal. When Fredrick finally sat for his A-level exams in 2012, he scored an outstanding 15 points in physics, chemistry, mathematics and economics. With such a stellar performance, Fredrick feels his dream has drawn even closer.
He’s also working to earn his own income. Fredrick received one heifer through a ChildFund project and used monetary gifts from his sponsor to purchase a second heifer. Over time, these animals have multiplied to seven, and with proceeds from the sale of milk and calves, he has bought seven goats. The milk from all these animals has been of great help to the family, as they sell it and also use some of it at home.
“This helped me realize I could reach my dream with even the little I have,” Fredrick says. He plans to start his engineering training in January 2014.
The family has also managed to build a semi-permanent house, which is a major step forward from the mud-and-grass-thatched house they lived in before.
“I thank ChildFund and my sponsor Kathryn for supporting me. I can now be an engineer,” Fredrick says.
By Erin Olsen, ChildFund Staff Writer
Last week, the United Nations released the Post-2015 Development Agenda, outlining the strategy for eliminating extreme poverty by 2030. The agenda is a continuation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), set to expire in 2015, and includes recommendations from thousands of civil society organizations, businesses, governments and everyday people from more than 120 countries. The result is what the report calls a “bold yet practical vision” for the future of development.
It was exciting to see children at the core of the Post-2015 Agenda. Among the 12 goals outlined, eight specifically target children’s issues. At the forefront: violence against children, gender discrimination, job training and education for youths and prevention of deaths among children under 5 and mothers during childbirth.
Since the declaration of the MDGs in 2000, there have been many successes, particularly for children. According to UNICEF, more children – especially girls – are now attending primary school, maternal and child deaths have declined steadily. Malnutrition in children under age 5 is lower than ever. Globally, extreme poverty has been reduced by half.
Despite the successes, there have been some shortcomings, in part because the eight defined goals were not well integrated. Effective sustainable development requires a holistic approach. For example, combating malaria doesn’t just require supplying those at risk with pesticide-treated nets and medicines; it also requires tackling the root causes of poverty, like poor infrastructure in communities and inequality.
Addressing that lack of integration is a main focus of the Post-2015 Agenda. The agenda is driven by five “transformative shifts” that will help to meet the 12 goals to end poverty. Economic growth, universality, peace, global partnering and sustainability are all essential to meeting the goals by 2030. Each goal focuses on a particular sector such as gender, water and sanitation, health, food security, education and economics. These goals integrate and overlap, and ideally the success of one goal will lead to the success of another. It will require a pretty drastic global paradigm shift, but the payoff could be huge.
ChildFund’s programs are already ahead of the curve on many of these issues, and sustainability is at the heart of ChildFund’s mission. Our integrated, sustainable approach tackles root causes of poverty and focuses on holistic programs. For example, our Early Childhood Development programs incorporate maternal and child health, early education and nutrition, as well as addressing parenting techniques and preventing violence in the home.
You can play a part in eradicating poverty and helping children in need by Sponsoring a Child, and supporting ChildFund’s efforts to provide innovated, integrated programs to help children throughout the world.
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
This is the final in a series of blog posts with suggestions for writing to the child you’re sponsoring through ChildFund.
Older children offer us a rare opportunity to learn not only about another culture, but also of the difficulties these youth face as excluded or vulnerable members of society. Teenagers are developing critical thinking skills and opinions of their own. Your encouragement of their hopes and dreams is particularly valuable at this stage of their lives.
If you have teenage children or grandchildren of your own, consider asking them to correspond with your sponsored child. Youth share similar problems and concerns regardless of their backgrounds and can easily forge common bonds across cultures. And what better way to demonstrate the importance of giving back?
We are very excited to meet you! We are twins named Sarah and Courtney, and we live in Boston, Massachusetts. We are sophomores in high school, and this year we have an exchange teacher from Ethiopia for art class. His name is Tesfa. He has been telling us all about his life in Addis Ababa and showing us the pictures he painted of your country. It is so beautiful! We convinced our father to sponsor a girl in Ethiopia and he agreed, provided we would be the ones to write to you. No problem!
About our family, our father teaches math at the high school. He gave us a Sudoku chart to send to you. Do you have number puzzles at your school? Our mother is a works at a hair salon – she’s great at cutting and styling hair. We also have a little brother, but he’s only interested in video games.
We’re planning to go to university in Boston in a few years, but we won’t be studying math. Right now we’re busy spending our free time listening to music, dancing and texting with our friends. We love to cook, so we might open a restaurant when we graduate. Our favorite foods are pizza, fish tacos and cupcakes. Here’s a photo of us at our birthday party, eating pizza.
We hope you’ll write to us and tell us something about your family and your school. What are your favorite subjects? What do you like to eat and how do you spend your time with friends?
Sarah & Courtney Anderson
In subsequent letters, consider enclosing flat items like embroidery thread or hair ribbons (for girls), stationery sheets, poems or stories, a map of the United States and a map of the youth’s country, photographs or postcards. Other possibilities include traditional folk tales, Sudoku charts, flash cards with English vocabulary words (if the child is not an English speaker), photographs or postcards.
We hope you enjoy a fruitful and long correspondence with your sponsored child!
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
This is the third in a series of posts with suggestions for writing to the child you’re sponsoring through ChildFund.
Enclose stickers, paper dolls or hair ribbons (for girls), origami paper, coloring book pages, photographs or postcards.
My name is Colleen, and I live in a suburb of the city of Cleveland, in the state of Ohio, in the USA. My husband Mark and I have two young children, William and Anna. Mark works in Cleveland at the Goodyear factory, which makes tires for cars and trucks, and I am a pastry chef at a nearby restaurant. I prepare all of the sweets and desserts.
My youngest sister, Amanda, is a Peace Corps volunteer, working in public health in Siem Reap. Since she arrived in Cambodia, Amanda has been sending us photos of the area near her home – the temples of Angkor and the villages in Tonle Sap Lake. One of my favorite pictures is of two small girls sitting inside an open window at Angkor Thom, playing a game with stones.
After hearing Amanda’s stories about Cambodia, I decided to sponsor a child there. I chose you because your picture is just like one of those little girls in the window at Angkor Thom.
Meakara, I hope you will write to tell me about your life, so I included an information sheet to help you. I am very interested in the street games you play to celebrate Chaul Chhnam Thmey. Could you please tell me what you like best about Khmer New Year?
I would like to introduce myself to you. My name is Bob and I live in the city of Charlotte, in the state of North Carolina, in the USA. I am a pediatrician, with three grown sons. Andrew is a computer programmer. Nathan is a banker and he and his wife Mary have children of their own. My grandsons are named Robbie and Timmy. My youngest son, Ian, is a dental hygienist.
I have never visited Vietnam, but several of the doctors in the hospital where I work are Vietnamese. They share their customs and holidays with me, and they even taught me to prepare pho. I decided to sponsor a child in Vietnam because of their friendship. When I read that your parents were divorced, I chose you. I am also divorced, and I know how difficult it is for a parent to raise a child alone.
Minh, I hope you will tell me about yourself and what you enjoy most. I am also interested in how your family will celebrate Tet, the New Year, in February. I was born in the year of the snake. Which year were you born in?
I enclosed a map of the United States, so that you can find the city and state where I live, and a map of Vietnam, so that you can find your own town.
In subsequent letters, enclose embroidery thread or hair ribbons (for girls), string games, origami paper, a poem from their culture, Sudoku charts, word puzzles, a map of the United States and a map of their country, flash cards with English vocabulary, photographs or postcards.
Next post: Writing to youths ages 12 to 18
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
This is the second in a series of posts with suggestions for writing to the child you’re sponsoring through ChildFund.
If your sponsored child is younger than 3, you’re really writing to the child’s parents or guardian. Think of this as an opportunity to learn about the family’s situation as well as the child.
A child of 2 years or older is often able to draw simple pictures of his or her family or home. Photographs and postcards are good enclosures in your letters for this age group.
My name is Miriam. I live in the city of Santa Fe, in the state of New Mexico, in the USA. I have a 19-year-old daughter named Andrea. We are both musicians. I play the piano and Andrea plays the violin.
I have done some traveling, but I have not visited Mexico. And I never had a son of my own. So I decided to sponsor a boy in Mexico, a country that is a neighbor to America but also very unfamiliar to me. I want to learn more about Mexico and what it is like to live there. I chose you, Ricardo, because you like music.
I hope you will tell me about yourself and your family, so I enclosed an All About Me sheet for you to complete. I am very interested in how you celebrate Día de los Muertos. In Santa Fe on the Day of the Dead we eat sweet bread, called pan de muerto, and calaveras, sugar skulls in English. But we do not visit our dead relatives in the cemetery. Could you please draw me a picture of your family’s Day of the Dead celebration?
I am writing to introduce myself. My name is Marie and I live in the city of Oakland, in the state of California, in the USA. I am 50 years old and I have a 25-year-old daughter, named Michèle. I am a teacher and I once lived in Senegal, in Saint-Louis, along the Corniche. I taught English to the students at Lycée Faidherbe. I love Senegal so much that I prepare yassa and mafé tiga for my daughter whenever I have the chance.
Recently I made a decision to sponsor a child because I wanted to help another mother and her daughter. When I lived in Senegal, I was called Aïssatou Diallo. I chose to sponsor you because we share the same name.
Aïssatou, I hope you will write to me and tell me about your family. I am especially interested in how you celebrated Tabaski. My first memory of Saint-Louis is celebrating Tabaski with my new family there. Perhaps you can draw me a picture of your Tabaski.
A jaraama, nani. A la prochaine.
Enclose stickers, photographs or postcards.
Next post: Writing to sponsored children, ages 6 to 11
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
This is one in a series of posts with suggestions for writing to the child you’re sponsoring through ChildFund.
The first few letters you send to the child you sponsor are probably the most difficult to write because you aren’t sure what to write about. Don’t let that discourage you, though.
Imagine that you live in a place where schools have no books, maps, computers, or electricity. The dirt path leading to your village rarely brings visitors. You have never received a letter. In fact, most people you know cannot read or write. Some speak only a local language – never having learned an international one like Spanish, French, Portuguese or English.
Many of the children you sponsor fit this profile, so the brief notes you send to them – cards, letters and photos describing your family and expressing your interest in their lives, cultures and countries – are miraculous in their eyes.
The First Letter
Start by reviewing the narrative of your child and the description of his or her community and local activities that ChildFund provided. The better you understand your child’s background, the easier it will be to correspond.
Culture and religion provide insight into children and family life. Download a PDF file of country information on ChildFund’s website to learn about your child’s regional feasts, holidays and celebrations. You can listen to recordings of traditional music, watch videos of cultural events and even learn a few words in your child’s language.
In your first letter to the child, introduce yourself, explain what led you to sponsor a child and tell why you chose him or her.
If you’ve visited your child’s country, write about when and where you traveled there. If you’re familiar with the culture or religious traditions, reference a recent or upcoming holiday or celebration. Don’t hesitate to include words or phrases in the child’s language if you happen to know any. In my experience, both your child and their family will truly appreciate these signs of your solidarity with them.
Begin by telling your child a little bit about your family, your town and occupation. Ask two or three open-ended questions and let your child know how eager you are to hear from her.
Enclose a photo of yourself, a postcard from your town, or small, flat items that fit easily inside the envelope, like a bookmark, origami paper or stickers. International postage rates change once the weight exceeds one ounce, so limit yourself to a few items each time you write.
Then be patient: ChildFund’s automated system for keeping track of correspondence guarantees your child will respond. If a child is too young to write, you’ll receive letters from a member of the family.
We ask sponsors not to send packages to their sponsored children because they’re frequently stolen. Even if they do arrive, customs often charges a prohibitive duty tax.
If you would like to give a gift to honor the child’s birthday, Christmas or other occasions, we recommend sending a monetary gift through ChildFund. Amounts between $20 and $50 can purchase locally made products, which benefits not only your child, but also the entrepreneurs in their community.
ChildFund requests a voluntary $3.50 donation when sending monetary gifts to help offset the costs associated with processing, distributing and safely delivering the funds. If you would like our assistance with giving your sponsored child a monetary gift, please call us at 800-776-6767. Our Sponsor Care team will be happy to assist you.
Next: Sample letters for children ages 5 and younger.