Tag Archives: kenya

Promise for Kids in a Desperate Landscape

It is quite rare that our international volunteer coordinators have the opportunity to visit the Children Incorporated headquarters in North Chesterfield, Virginia – but when they do, it is such a treat for the staff. An exceptional guest dropped by recently – our Volunteer Coordinator and the Manager of St. John’s Community Center in Nairobi, Kenya: Mr. Njuguna. The stories that he recounted about the community center, the people it serves, and the multi-faceted work that it carries out daily were a testament to the practical and holistic approach that St. John’s employs in ensuring that its attendees are truly afforded a chance at a better life – a chance to break free from the piecemeal landscape of the slums.

Nairobi’s most destitute and crime-ridden neighborhood is the slums of Pumwani – and St. John’s Community Center serves its inhabitants, who live in absolutely deplorable conditions.

Nairobi’s most destitute and crime-ridden neighborhood is the slums of Pumwani – and St. John’s Community Center serves its inhabitants, who live in absolutely deplorable conditions. The community center serves children of all ages, as well as the community as a whole. It is comprised of a series of buildings that include a primary school, a childcare clinic, a counseling clinic, a library, administrative offices, and a church.

Mr. Njuguna began his presentation for the Children Incorporated staff with the context of the Mau Mau Uprising, which plagued the better part of the 1950s in Kenya. Also known as the “Kenya Emergency,” the revolt was the result of African resistance to colonialism – and it ultimately yielded Kenya’s independence from British colonization. This was the turning point that set the bloodstained tone for the country’s arduous ongoing struggle towards recovery – a healing that served as the mission of St. John’s Community Center, established to address the immediate needs and concerns of some of Kenya’s most destitute and hopeless at a time when promise was obscured by utter desperation.

No life left unchanged

Mr. Njuguna further explained that about sixty percent of the city of Nairobi’s official population lives in slums. He made reference to an “official” population, because a significant portion of the community is unaccounted for as a result of births occurring in the slums themselves rather than in hospitals, where babies are always registered upon birth. Many of the infants born in slums are never registered with the government due to a lack of resources and knowledge about the complicated process. Unregistered residents, to further complicate things, are unable to obtain employment, which renders them unable to support themselves – much less provide adequate care for their children. This is but one component of the extensive catalog of critical issues that St. John’s Community Center is currently addressing.

Mr. Njuguna spoke with Children Incorporated’s staff about the St. John’s Community Center in Nairobi, Kenya on a recent visit to the office.

With the help of several partnering organizations, St. John’s Community Center boasts one primary focus to which all aspects of its work leads: instilling self-esteem and self-worth in those in attendance so that they may rise above hopelessness. Not only does the community center address poverty, child abuse and neglect, unemployment, and civil ignorance, but it also houses programs for the economic empowerment of women, group meetings in which parents and guardians may share tips and concerns – and youth programs in which all Children Incorporated kids participate. St. John’s even trains its teachers in counseling so that they are better-equipped to address the emotional needs of the community.

Perhaps one of the most essential ways in which Children Incorporated sponsors and donors contribute to the center is through our Mosquito Net Fund, which provides children enrolled in our program with an integral tool in combatting mosquito-borne illnesses, which are prevalent in Kenya. Mr. Njuguna explained during his presentation at our headquarters that these mosquito nets also serve our kids and their families in a less tangible way: because mosquito nets are considered a luxury in the community, those that receive them experience a confidence that only ownership can bring.

St. John’s Community Center strives to address any and all concerns that arise for the community, optimizing the utilization of on-hand resources all the while. When an urgent need for a sanitary bathhouse in a nearby slum presented itself, the community center sought and acquired funding for the construction of one. A question soon arose: Who will maintain the bathhouse? St. John’s implemented a program through which it employs its older youth so that they may learn about responsibility on the job while also earning money to contribute to their households.

When student tardiness became a legitimate worry at St. John’s Community Center, possible resources were investigated for the provision of morning meals in order to ensure a more timely arrival for students. The community center partnered with an organization that provides support for morning porridge, and tardiness has been eliminated almost completely.

A holistic approach in which Children Incorporated plays a meaningful role

The list of programs and interventions realized by St. John’s Community Center goes on: HIV/AIDS prevention programs; life education and pregnancy prevention programs for young girls; skills training programs in handicrafts, carpentry, etc. for adolescents; and civic duties and human rights education for all. Children Incorporated has helped to fund the construction of new classrooms in which these courses are administered, and your contributions help to finance vocational and apprenticeship training.

Children Incorporated’s presence at St. John’s Community Center, in effect, promotes a high retention rate for students.

Our sponsors help to ensure that kids receive the school supplies they need to do their very best; and malaria prevention medications are dispensed to them so that they may be healthy enough to attend classes. Funds from our donors and sponsors currently help to provide lunch to 187 students in attendance at St. John’s Community Center, which has drastically reduced absenteeism among all age groups. No longer hungry during the day, these youth do not need to beg in the streets during the school day – or steal – just to get some food in their bellies. Nourished and full, these kids are afforded the chance to concentrate in an environment where they feel safe and protected, so that they may participate, learn, and perform well.

Of utmost importance, Mr. Njuguna explained, the sponsored kids at St. John’s Community Center know that they’re not at risk of the embarrassment of overdue school fees. Children who attend other schools often learn about overdue fees upon arriving, and they are turned away. Sometimes they even find out in front of their peers, which can be humiliating. With school fees paid by sponsorship funds, parents and guardians are able to provide the children in their care with other basic needs, like food; a great burden is lifted. If it weren’t for the payment of school fees, after all, many kids would not have the opportunity to obtain an education – and therefore never have the chance to break the cycle of poverty.

Children Incorporated’s presence at St. John’s Community Center, in effect, promotes a high retention rate for students. Knowing that they will receive primary and secondary support to nourish both their bodies and minds during the school week, children are motivated to attend the community center. Through this integrated nurturing, hope becomes tangible, and feeling it motivates kids to seize the opportunities that are presented to them today in order to have the best tomorrow possible.

A common passion

Mr. Njuguna’s work is heartfelt; while growing up, he himself witnessed the routine struggles of his impoverished parents. As a result, his drive is to incite change – not only in his own life, but also for those in his community. Our mission at Children Incorporated is also to foment change, because we passionately believe that children everywhere deserve education, hope, and opportunity. Contributions encourage change, because our work – and Mr. Njuguna’s work – would not be possible without our donors and sponsors.

Gratitude reverberated in each word that Mr. Njuguna spoke the day that he visited – with each program and benefit that he eagerly described in his presentation. That gratitude is for our supporters; it is for the ones who make our work and his a reality – the ones who are ultimately responsible for the promise that shines brightly in a dark corner of the Pumwani slums in Nairobi.

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HOW DO I SPONSOR A CHILD IN KENYA?

You can sponsor a child in Kenya in one of three ways: call our office at 1-800-538-5381 and speak with one of our staff members; email us at sponsorship@children-inc.org; or go online to our sponsorship portal, create an account, and search for a child in Kenya that is available for sponsorship.

A Quality Education for Children in Bolivia

The small landlocked nation of Bolivia comprises the rugged Andes Mountains and vast high-altitude plateaus to the west, including a portion of Lake Titicaca – the largest high-altitude lake in the world. To the east are the lush lowland plains of the Amazon Jungle. Despite its wealth of natural beauty and resources, Bolivia bears the scars of centuries of conflict, beginning with the Spanish conquistadors, and followed by almost 200 years of wars and internal military coups. Political and economic instability have brought about considerable poverty there, resulting in widespread malnutrition, crime, and disease.

Yotala, an agricultural suburb of Sucre, is no exception to these hardships. The area is prone to drought, which not only diminishes crop yield, but it also forces families to purchase water for drinking and bathing. Many people in this community are very poor; they rarely manage to grow enough food to feed their families, much less to sell at the market. The Santa Rosa School was founded to assist the children of Yotala’s subsistence farming families. The school teaches core academic subjects, and it has received recognition in Bolivia with high honors for its biology and geography classes.

Children need to attend school to succeed; but more critically, they must attend schools where they are being taught by trained professionals – which is just the case at the Santa Rosa School.

A great institution

Children need to attend school to succeed; but more critically, they must attend schools where they are being taught by trained professionals – which is just the case at the Santa Rosa School. There are sixteen professors at the school – a large number compared to many schools – which means that the children there are attending a great institution where they learn daily and are prepared for moving on to receive a higher education.

Not only is the Santa Rosa School acclaimed for its academics, but it also offers skills training in such areas as weaving, agronomy, dressmaking, carpentry, computer literacy, and hairdressing. The school encourages parental involvement. Since many parents of students there are illiterate or only speak Quechua, the school offers them educational courses, along with general courses on parenting skills and nutrition – all of which afford them the opportunity to obtain better jobs and earn a greater income, which is helpful for their entire families.

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HOW DO I SPONSOR A CHILD IN BOLIVIA?

 

You can sponsor a child in Bolivia one of three ways – call our office at 1-800-538-5381 and speak with one of our staff members; e-mail us at sponsorship@children-inc.org; or go online to our donation portal, create an account, and search for a child in Bolivia that is available for sponsorship.

Getting to Know Africa

As an incredibly diverse continent, it is difficult to sum up Africa as a whole. Each of the 54 countries that Africa comprises is unique and distinctive in its own way, offering beautiful landscapes, rich histories, and varied cultures and customs. Spanning over 5,000 miles north to south and 4,800 miles east to west, Africa contains a wide array of religions and ethnic groups. Within each country, stark contrasts exist between rural areas and bustling cities. Known for its amazing natural wonders and safari adventures, which attract tourists from all over the world, Africa also faces a great deal of adversity, as many people there are plagued by extreme poverty, famine, and war.

Facts about Africa

– The African continent has the second-largest population in the world – about 1.2 billion people

– Over 1,000 languages are spoken by the people of Africa

– The most-practiced religion in Africa is Islam, followed by Christianity

– The oldest human remains ever discovered, thought to be approximately 200,000 years old, were found in Ethiopia

– The longest river in the world, the Nile (4,132 miles long), is located in Africa

– The world’s largest desert, the Sahara, which is almost the size of the United States, is in Africa

– Victoria Falls is the largest waterfall in Africa, at 355 feet high and one mile wide

– Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa, at over 19,300 feet

– Madagascar is the largest island in Africa, and it is the fourth-largest island in the world

– Africa is the second-largest continent on earth after Asia, at approximately 11.7 million square miles

– Africa is the hottest continent on earth

In Africa, we provide children and their families with mosquito nets to protect them against mosquito-borne illnesses like malaria and dengue through our Mosquito Net Fund, and we support feeding programs through our International Feeding Programs Fund.

Understanding poverty in Africa

To understand our work in Africa, it is important to comprehend the struggles that the families of our sponsored and unsponsored children are facing on a daily basis as a result of poverty. Although Africa’s economy is improving, the continent is the poorest in the world, and many children and adults there are afflicted by hunger, disease, and a lack of basic necessities.

Facts about poverty in Africa

– 75% of the world’s poorest countries are located in Africa, including Zimbabwe, Liberia, and Ethiopia

– Diseases like HIV/AIDS are leaving kids orphaned at a very young age; an estimated 50 million orphans live in Africa

– Of all of the people in the world without access to clean water, almost 40% of them live in Africa

– Every day, almost 2,000 children die from diseases linked to unsafe water and a lack of basic sanitation

Facts about hunger in Africa

 – Half of the continent’s population is children; an ever-increasing number is experiencing stunted growth due to the challenges of malnutrition

– More than 300 million children are chronically hungry, and more than 90% of those children suffer from long-term malnourishment and nutrient deficiency

– The average plot of land that a family living in poverty owns is too small for a garden that could help feed a family

Facts about child education in Africa

– Primary school enrollment in African countries is among the lowest in the world

– 33 million primary school-aged children in Sub-Saharan Africa do not go to school; 18 million of those children are girls

– Although literacy rates in Africa have greatly improved over the last few decades, approximately 40% of Africans over the age of 15, and 50% of women above the age of 25, are illiterate

– Children from the poorest households are 3 times more likely to be out of school than children from the richest households

Facts about child health in Africa

– Malaria kills 3,000 African children per day

– More than 90% of the estimated 300–500 million clinical cases of malaria that occur across the globe every year are documented in Africa – primarily in children under the age of 5

– Measles, malaria, and diarrhea are 3 of the biggest killers of children — yet all are preventable or treatable

– 270 million children have no access to healthcare

– 1 in 5 children in Africa lacks safe drinking water

 How you can help

You can help a child living in poverty in Africa to receive basic needs and an education so that they may have the opportunity to break the cycle of poverty – and you can do so in a few different ways. One way is through our child sponsorship program. Sponsorship provides an underprivileged child with basic and education-related necessities such as food, clothing, healthcare, school supplies, and school tuition payments. This vital support allows impoverished, vulnerable children to develop to their full potential – physically, emotionally, and socially. Sponsors positively impact the lives of the children they sponsor through the simple knowledge that someone cares about their well-being. This gives children in need hope, which is powerful.

Sponsors positively impact the lives of the children they sponsor through the simple knowledge that someone cares about their well-being.

Our policy has always been to consider the needs of each sponsored and unsponsored child on an individual basis. We work closely with our volunteer coordinators at our project sites, who are familiar with each individual circumstance and the needs of every child in their care. Sponsorship donations are sent to our projects at the beginning of each month in the form of subsidy stipends. Our on-site volunteer coordinators use these funds to purchase basic and education-related items for children in our program, to ensure that they have what they need to do their very best and succeed in school.

You can also help children in need by donating to one of our special funds. In Africa, we provide children and their families with mosquito nets to protect them against mosquito-borne illnesses like malaria and dengue through our Mosquito Net Fund, and we support feeding programs through our International Feeding Programs Fund. Our special funds offer options for sponsors who wish to further their support, as well as for donors who wish to make a difference without making a commitment.

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HOW DO I SPONSOR A CHILD IN AFRICA?

 In Africa, we work in Kenya and Ethiopia. You can sponsor a child in Africa at one of our affiliated projects in one of three ways: call our office at 1-800-538-5381 and speak with one of our staff members; email us at sponsorship@children-inc.org; or go online to our donation portal, create an account, and search for a child in Kenya or Ethiopia who is available for sponsorship.

References:

 http://www.interesting-africa-facts.com
 http://www.aho.afro.who.int
http://www.worldbank.org/en/region/afr/publication/poverty-rising-africa-poverty-report
https://www.children.org/global-poverty/global-poverty-facts/Africa
http://www.globalissues.org/article/26/poverty-facts-and-stats
http://www.unhcr.org/pages/4a02d7fd6.html
https://thewaterproject.org/water-scarcity/water_stats#stats
https://www.gfmag.com/global-data/economic-data/the-poorest-countries-in-the-world
https://borgenproject.org/10-quick-facts-about-poverty-in-africa/
 http://www.afro.who.int/health-topics/child-health
http://www.allcountries.org/health/facts_about_health_in_the_african_region_of_who.html

Together, We Are Feeding the Hungry

Last year, Kenya suffered from a disastrous drought, which killed much livestock and caused widespread crop failure, creating food shortages throughout the country. As a result, the cost of grain increased tremendously. 2.7 million people were affected by the drought, causing many families to worry that they wouldn’t be able to afford to feed their children.

Some of the families that felt the effects of the drought included those of our sponsored children at the Materi Girls’ School in Kenya. When Brother John Konzka founded the school in a village called Taraka many years ago, he had envisioned a place in which young Kenyan girls would be given the opportunity to access the world outside their households.

As an American missionary and teacher in Kenya, Brother John had seen firsthand the leadership roles that Kenyan women were starting to embrace in their families, and he knew that more opportunities for girls to receive an education would present more opportunities in general for Kenyan families. Brother John has since passed away, and the school continues to help hundreds of girls every year.

Many of the students who attend the Materi Girls’ School come from families in villages close by; and because of the drought, not only were their families going without food, but the school was also struggling to feed the girls during the school days as well. Thanks to our Hope In Action Fund and our wonderful donors, however, we were able to send funds to the school for the purchase of enough food to last the remainder of the year, so that the children wouldn’t go hungry, and to help the families of the children that attend the school.

We are endlessly grateful for your support in making sure these girls and their families had enough food to eat!

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HOW DO I SPONSOR A CHILD IN KENYA?

 You can sponsor a child in Kenya in one of three ways: call our office at 1-800-538-5381 and speak with one of our staff members; email us at sponsorship@children-inc.org; or go online to our donation portal, create an account, and search for a child in Kenya who is available for sponsorship.

A Thousand Shoes for a Thousand Kids

As the end of the year approaches, I can say that the Children Incorporated staff as a whole is amazed by what we have accomplished thus far in 2017, thanks to our incredible sponsors and donors. When our President and CEO, Ron Carter, sent out a letter in December of 2016 asking our supporters to help us reach our goal of providing 1,000 pairs of new shoes to sponsored and unsponsored children at our projects in the coming year, we never dreamed the response would be so tremendous.

Just three months after launching our Shoe Fund campaign, our supporters had already donated more than $30,000 to ensure that children in our program in Latin America, Africa, and Asia would receive new shoes. We can’t thank you enough for what you have done for these special young girls and boys.

The importance of shoes

There are a lot of basic needs that children go without on a daily basis – something we understand all too well. Providing basic necessities, like clothing, food, hygiene items, and educational support, to kids is the foundation of our sponsorship program, and we believe that each and every one of these aspects is incredibly important in helping children have a greater chance to succeed in life. So why did Mr. Carter want to focus in particular on getting shoes to kids in need?

“Over the years, we have heard many heartbreaking stories about children who are unable to attend school because they don’t have wearable shoes.”

“Over the years, we have heard many heartbreaking stories about children who are unable to attend school because they don’t have wearable shoes,” says Mr. Carter. “In some cases, children attend school only every other day because they have to share a single pair of shoes with a sibling. We have always made a point of providing good, solid shoes to these children, knowing that shoes can be very expensive. As such, the Children Incorporated Shoe Fund campaign has been one of our most meaningful endeavors.”

1,235 pairs and counting

We are very grateful that our donors understand that items that can sometimes appear small and insignificant can really improve the lives of children. Shoes may not seem like a big deal, but as Mr. Carter stated, it’s sometimes the difference between a child going to school or not.

Because of you, we have provided children at our affiliated projects the Pedro Poveda School, Guarderia El Angel, the Lourdes School, the Santa Clotilde Orphanage, Villa Emilia, the Montero Home, and the Cristo Rey Mission in Bolivia with shoes this year. Thanks to you, children at Hogar Santa Julia and Hogar Santa Maria in Mexico have brand new shoes to wear to school. If it weren’t for you, children at the Dandora Community Center in Kenya, the Rainbow ‘Erdata’ Center in Ethiopia, Chrishanti Lama Sevana in Sri Lanka, La Milagrosa in Costa Rica, and Santa Isabel Ana Seton in Guatemala wouldn’t have received new footwear, either.

To date, we have provided 1,235 pairs of shoes to kids in need, and we will continue distributing shoes in the upcoming months.

Thank you for all that you do to help children – we couldn’t do it without you.

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The Road Ahead: Catching Up with On the Road’s Shelley Callahan

Around this time last year, Children Incorporated’s Director of Development, Shelley Callahan, and Director of International Programs, Luis Bourdet, boarded a plane and set off on the first of many adventures together, On the Road. Side by side, the two traveled to dozens of projects around the globe, from as far away as Ethiopia, to as close to home as Kentucky.

The idea was simple: give readers a first-hand look at the impact of child sponsorship. “The day-to-day life in these towns is always a story of triumph over adversity,” Shelley had said. “We want our readers to have a front-row seat on our trips so they can see first-hand how Children Incorporated partnerships work on the ground.”

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Luis and Shelley on their first trip together to Bolivia

The duo is preparing for several more trips in 2017. We caught up with Shelley to get her perspective on the series one year later – and to find out where On the Road will take us this year.

CI: It’s been a year since you and Luis first took readers “On the Road” to visit Children Incorporated projects in Bolivia. What is most memorable to you about that trip, and why?

SC: Going to Bolivia was my first international trip with Children Incorporated, and it really opened my eyes to the work we do. As the Director of Development, I understand how important it is to provide basic needs to our sponsored children, and I am aware of the impact that our sponsors and donors have on our children and their families, but seeing it firsthand in La Paz and in Santa Cruz was really life-changing for me.

Also, getting to see a larger, long-term project come to fruition was beyond amazing. Luis and I were invited to participate in the inauguration of the addition to the Montero School, which had been under construction for more than six months. Thanks to the support of Children Incorporated sponsors, the school now has enough classrooms to teach hundreds of children on a daily basis. We got to celebrate with the community there, and we stuck around to see the children try out their new classrooms. The sheer joy and excitement was extremely moving.

That’s precisely why we are doing this – to show what one person can do. It’s really something to witness, and I’m honored to share it with our readers.

We traveled all over Bolivia, and met so many incredible people, including Carla, a woman who graduated from an affiliate program of ours in La Paz. Carla was abandoned by her parents when they left Bolivia in search of work. She was raised by her grandmother, who struggled to support her granddaughter on meager earnings from the produce she sold at the local market.

With support from her sponsor, and under the guidance of our volunteer coordinator, Josefina, Carla successfully graduated from the Pedro Poveda School.

Now Carla is in college and working to save money to build a house. She lives with her husband, and they have a daughter together. And she still stays in touch with her sponsor after all these years! It was such a testament to the power of what one person can do, and just how a seemingly-small gesture, like donating $30 a month to a child, can be life-changing.

CI: Why did Children Incorporated decide to launch the On the Road series in the first place?

SC: We launched On the Road to bring our sponsors and donors along with us in order to show them the impact their contributions are making on children all over the world.

We could never have anticipated the reaction we had from our readers. I’ve heard many times over the past year that people really do feel as though they went on a trip with me – whether it was to South America, Africa, or in the U.S.

That’s precisely why we are doing this – to show what one person can do. It’s really something to witness, and I’m honored to share it with our readers.

CI: Has anything surprised you along the way?

SC: There are always lots of surprises when you travel, but what really amazes me is how this experience has helped develop my relationship with our donors. People comment all the time on the pictures we share and on the stories we tell about our travels around the globe. It’s really wonderful to share these experiences with our donors.

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Luis with Carla, her daughter, and our coordinator, Josefina, in La Paz, Bolivia

CI: You started in Bolivia, and went on to cover site visits in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Mexico – and even in the U.S. Which was the most challenging? Which was the most rewarding?

SC: This is a hard question, because every country is different, and every project is different, too! But I have to admit that visiting the slums of Dandora and Pumwani in Kenya was especially difficult. Site visits can be physically and emotionally draining at times. Long days of traveling to projects, having meetings, and interviewing children and their families already requires a great deal of stamina, but when you see the conditions the children live in, and you so desperately want more for them in life, it takes a toll.

Of course, out of the toughest challenges are the greatest rewards. In the bleakest of environments, I’ve seen up-close how sponsorship is making an impact. Most of the children we serve abroad would not be able to attend school if it weren’t for their sponsorship through Children Incorporated – it simply wouldn’t be possible. In many cases, school is the only safe haven available to these children. And in the U.S., sponsorship helps in ways that are so important. For example, there are children in Kentucky who are going to school in literally broken flip flops in the middle of the winter, with no coat – and they’re going home on the weekends to a house with no food. Sponsorship keeps those children warm and fed.

CI: Is there a place you wish you could have stayed longer? Why?

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Luis with sponsored children in Kenya

SC: I think I could have stayed in all of these places longer, because our coordinators are so welcoming and grateful for what Children Incorporated is able to do because of our donors. I have felt at home visiting all of our sites. But it would have been really cool to stay in Ethiopia longer, because we had provided some funds to help our affiliate project Kids Hope start a large garden to be maintained by the older sponsored children, to teach them and to provide food for the project – and I would have loved to have seen them get that going. They have since sent pictures, and it looked like everyone was having a lot of fun!

Of course, out of the toughest challenges are the greatest rewards. In the bleakest of environments, I’ve seen up-close how sponsorship is making an impact.

CI: Of all the On the Road stories you published last year, which is your favorite? Why?

SC: Tough question! One particular story that stood out is “Two Wheels and the Wind in Your Hair,” about the sponsor who donated bikes to children in Eastern Kentucky. It was so impactful because I got to be a part of so much of it – connecting with Claudette Gurley of New Hampshire, who had raised the money to purchase the bikes in memory of a friend who had passed away; actually going to Walmart and purchasing the bikes; presenting the bikes to the kids; and then meeting their parents when we dropped the bikes off at their houses. It was all very moving – to see the excitement on the faces of the children. I will never forget one of the boys saying, “I don’t know her (about the donor), but tell her I love her!”

CI: You’ve traveled extensively all over the globe for many years. How many stamps are in your passport?!  But seriously, what’s your best advice to those who want to travel off the beaten path?

SC:  I’ve been fortunate to have been able to see so much of the world. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting nearly thirty foreign countries in my lifetime. I’m grateful for the opportunity to travel with Children Incorporated, and to see firsthand the impact of sponsorship in the lives of the children we serve.

My best advice for any traveler is to have an open mind. Accept whatever comes your way, and respect all cultures and traditions, even if your natural reaction is to try to do things the way you are accustomed to at home. It’s always good to ask questions of everyone you meet – on the airplane, your host, someone who works at a local store. You will find out the best, most interesting information about a country from the locals, and you will hear the most fascinating stories from nationals. It is the only way to get a real, full idea of what life is like in a foreign country. And don’t forget to write it all down! Sharing stories is the way to make the greatest impact – if we tell others stories, we can help change the lives of others in need, just like On the Road tries to do.

Sharing stories is the way to make the greatest impact – if we tell others stories, we can help change the lives of others in need, just like On the Road tries to do.

CI: Did you bring home any souvenirs from the places you visited? What were they and why are they special?

SC: The best souvenirs are the ones that our volunteer coordinators or the children’s families give me, because they are personal and thoughtful. I have to say that the most moving gift I received was hand-painted tablecloths from the mothers of sponsored children at the Montero Home in Bolivia. They took hours to paint beautiful flowers on the tablecloths, which we would see in homes in Bolivia. It is hard to accept gifts from families that are in need, because they could sell them for money instead of give them to me; but it is the most heartwarming gesture, and a gift that will always remind me of these special people whom I have had the privilege of meeting and spending time with.

CI: You are gearing up for more travels soon. Where will you take readers in 2017?

SC: I will be in Costa Rica in May, visiting the La Milagrosa Center, the Costa Rica Center, and the Santa Luisa Center; and we will be distributing shoes to the children there, which is very exciting. On the same trip, I will also visit our projects in Nicaragua, which include the La Recoleccion Home and the Casa Betania Welfare Center – both homes where we support children living in poverty.

In July, Luis and I will be visiting projects in both Sri Lanka and India. We are currently trying to partner with another non-profit organization to take water filters to our children and their families in some of the schools we work with in Hyderabad, India, which is so important. Closer to the end of the year, we will be visiting projects in the Philippines – the details are yet to be determined, but in the past, Luis has taken eyeglasses with him to provide additional support for children and their parents.