Children, children, children. Everything we do at World Vision is for children. But when I visited a sponsorship area in northeast India earlier this month, program staff first wanted to show me the work they were doing with parents. They believed the most effective way to make a difference in the lives of children was to care about the whole family, improve parents’ livelihoods, and involve the entire community in long-term problem-solving.
As a parent myself, this made complete sense. My life centers around my kids. Make my earning more secure, and I’m better able to care for my family. Improve community structure, and everyone benefits. So I was first shown fish ponds and weaving groups, rubber trees, and orange groves. Making life better for children is our top priority at World Vision. Often that means focusing on the parents, too.
World Vision photographer Abby Stalsbroten traveled last week to Swaziland with a group of pastors from Austin, Texas, to look at the impact of sponsorship on children in rural communities. The country has a 24-percent HIV infection rate, but World Vision is working to feed and care for thousands of orphaned and vulnerable children across the country. Here are some of Abby's favorite pictures from the past week in the field.
Some of my new year resolutions are personal -- like finishing grad school and running another half marathon. But my resolution to keep sponsoring children through the organization I love gives me an outward focus.
[caption id="attachment_11493" align="alignright" width="158" caption="My first photo of Doctor when I became his sponsor in 2004."][/caption]
Nearly eight years ago, before I started working here, I sponsored a child through World Vision. It didn't matter whether the child was a boy or a girl, or from any particular country. I just wanted to help a child who needed a sponsor.
I'm often seeking beautiful stories of child sponsorship, because I know so many exist out there. When I find one, I eagerly await the author's permission to republish their words on our blog so it can be shared with so many more. Brynn's post -- which came highly recommended from a World Vision sponsor, who I'm blessed to call a friend -- eloquently captures the beauty of child sponsorship and why it's really a gift to every person it touches. Merry Christmas! —Lindsey Talerico-Hedren, managing editor, World Vision Blog
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This is my most favorite gift that we are giving this year.
Even more than the tablets we are giving the kids, but that might just be because I'm frustrated with trying to set them up and figure out why they won't connect to our wifi. Seriously, Apple has spoiled me because all of their stuff just works and works easily, but with a 10- and 12-year-old, there was no way that we were going to buy them iPads because they are 10 and 12, which means their gifts have to be indestructible or at least not cause their father to cry if they break them.
...And on that point, can I just say I miss the days when you got the kids presents that you spent four hours putting together instead of electronic gifts that require massive hours and Google to set up?
In September, World Vision introduced our first-ever travel sweepstakes: Supporters who found new sponsors for five or more children in a month's time were eligible to win a trip to Peru to witness the impact of child sponsorship firsthand. Just over a month has passed since the sweepstakes closed, and we are ready to officially announce our two winners!
Congratulations Sarah Baerg of Trabuco Canyon, California, and Terry Adams of Venice, Florida! We're very excited to have Sarah and Terry travel with us to visit sponsorship communities of Huanta and Forjadores del Futuro (Huamanga) in Peru, where they’ll meet sponsored children and their families and local World Vision staff members.
We're also blessed that so many more children have been sponsored because of the encouragement of current sponsors and the generosity of new ones. We thank each person who helped to make this possible -- whether you were a sponsor entering to win, or a new sponsor to a child in need.
Photography is an art.
Photography is a skill.
Photography is a form of communication.
A single picture can tell a story that crosses cultural and linguistic boundaries. It can evoke emotion or engagement (think National Geographic, Afghan refugee), freeze a moment in history (think WWII), or even start a revolution (think Arab Spring).
I confess that, until recently, the first thing that came to my mind when someone mentioned child sponsorship was Sally Struthers kneeling next to an emaciated African child, mascara running down her face, telling the TV that “if you can just save one life, won’t it be worth it?”
As passionate as I was about social justice and alleviating poverty, child sponsorship struck me as an old-fashioned model for giving, in which a few select children essentially walked through a breadline to receive meals, school supplies, and medical attention from faraway white “saviors” whose first-world guilt was eased by letters ensuring that their contributions made a difference. I worried that child sponsorship created dependency and that families were forced to attend church in order to receive assistance for their little ones. While I could certainly see the value in saving “just one life,” I longed to invest in efforts devoted to solving the underlying problems that perpetuate poverty in certain communities, rather than simply easing the effects of that poverty among a few.
These concerns didn’t stop me from sponsoring children (especially after visiting India a few years ago), but they kept me from advocating on behalf of the sponsorship model. I think that a lot of Christians in my generation are wary of the suggestion that our responsibility to the world is limited to caring for “just one child.” We long for justice to roll down like streams of living water, not for charity to drip out like a leaky faucet.
About six months ago, as my team was putting together the autumn 2011 issue of World Vision Magazine, I asked our social media team if we could pose a question to World Vision Facebook fans -- and potentially use the responses in the magazine.
At that stage, we had an article from Rich Stearns, president of World Vision U.S., about how World Vision’s faith plays a role in every community where we work. I think it’s a great article that shows the big picture of how our faith motivates our staff around the world.
But something was missing. Of course, it is important to see how faith motivates World Vision staff, but I also wanted to show that faith motivates many of you, our supporters.
So we posed the question to our fans on Facebook: How do you pray for your sponsored child?
From now through September 30, you can enter for a chance to win a trip to Peru with World Vision to see our work firsthand. It's as simple as finding new sponsors for just five children.
But we know very well that asking friends, family, or colleagues to sponsor a child isn't easy. In fact, it can be difficult -- even intimidating. That's why we asked Elizabeth Esther, World Vision Bolivia blogger, for her tips as an experienced writer and child sponsorship advocate. Our Facebook fans had lots of tips to offer, too.
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When I first started asking my readers to sponsor a child, I was apprehensive. I wasn't sure how people would respond.
“Sponsorship takes love. Passion. Dedication. And partnership. By working together, we -- World Vision, our sponsors, and the families we serve -- can build healthy, self-reliant communities where children grow and thrive. Our child sponsors are an integral part of this partnership, and we’re so excited to share our work with them firsthand.”
—Lana Reda, vice president of sponsorship & donor management
You know how we're always talking about sponsorship? And how it truly does help change a community from the inside out and the bottom up? And how we're always showing you photos and telling you stories of how sponsorship is changing lives? Those stories are about the thousands of beautiful children your support is helping each and every day, from countries and places around the world you may never have a chance to visit.
Or will you?
I saw this tweet from Rachel Held Evans yesterday morning: “Been back from Bolivia for a week now, and I'm just now unpacking. Anyone else out there an unpacker-slacker?" I'm the worst kind of unpacker... I let the task of unpacking intimidate me in a really silly way.
I also think there's something sort of nostalgic about an unpacked suitcase -- it brings back memories of where you've just returned from. In this case, it brings back bittersweet memories of the seven days I spent in Bolivia with some of the most insightful and endearing people I'll ever know -- Elizabeth, Andrea, Joy, Nish, Matthew, Carla, Rachel, Amy, Michael, Jana and Deb -- and all of the moments we experienced together. Moments that have changed our hearts forever.
Now, each time I look at the photos, read the blog posts, or trip over my unpacked suitcase in the morning, every moment and every child’s face floods back into my memory and fills my heart with more love and joy than I sometimes know how to process. Those are the moments I never, ever want to forget.
Home for one week and still unpacking our bags, these are our unforgettable moments from our time in Bolivia. We hope pieces of our experiences bless you as they've blessed us.
Elizabeth Esther, ElizabethEsther.com
Meeting the special needs kids in Colomi ADP touched my heart in such a deep way. The parents’ unflagging dedication in spite of insurmountable odds truly inspired me to be a better parent myself. It was amazing to see the value World Vision places on each individual child—especially those with special needs. It was a great honor to join this trip. Thank you, World Vision.
Andrea Rodriguez, trip host, communications officer at the World Vision Bolivia National Office
The moment Arturo, a child at the Colomi special needs center, got his hearing device, his eyes became like the Sora Sora lake with the sunset – bright and beautiful – a moment I’ll never forget.
I did 26 hours of travel on two hours of sleep. I don’t recommend this. My body and mind feel sundered–torn apart. This afternoon I started shaking. I’m so tired–physically, emotionally, mentally–that my body started freaking out on me without sending a warning note first. And Mariela’s face haunts my emotions:
[caption id="attachment_7329" align="aligncenter" width="480" caption="Mariela poured confetti on my head--the traditional Bolivian form of blessing and rejoicing"][/caption]
I met Mariela at the special-needs center in Colomi. Her uncle, in the words of Mariela’s mother, “es muy malo.” Very bad–meaning, his special needs are severe, overwhelming for a family already entrenched in deep poverty. Mariela wouldn’t let go of me. She held my hand, asked me to draw pictures for her, kissed my cheek repeatedly. Mariela has no father. Her mother is a single parent, recently returned from Argentina where she tried to find work. Mariela was too skinny for her age. But she knew how to love. She caressed my hand and stared into my eyes.
This journey has been an opportunity to give a voice for the voiceless. To put a spotlight on the unseen. To shed light on what life is like through the eyes of Bolivians. I hope that I have shared and will continue to share your stories with the accuracy and thoughtfulness that they deserve.
To the mothers who pray daily for the health and future of their children -- you are the fortitude of your families. To the mothers who battle cultural discrimination because their children are born with disabilities -- you are women of strength. To the mothers who took in children who were not their own because no one else would -- you are brave. To Celestina whose son Wilfram was born with a heart condition and down syndrome – I count you full of courage for never giving up hope in his life or in God.
If a picture is worth a thousand words... then a smile like this is worth a million. We met this sweet little girl in Viloma ADP at the grand opening of a new school built by World Vision. It is smiles like this from the children we have laughed with and cried with this week that are permanently printed on our hearts forever. Read more posts from the Bolivia bloggers team.
Paulo has 8 children ranging in ages from 14 years to 6 months. Three of them walk 2 hours to school and 2 hours home. He told us that he used to live near the mines, but it wasn’t a safe place for children. He bought the land in the mountains where we visited him, and moved his family there. But he can’t grow enough in his fields to feed them all.
Today has been like a beath of fresh air, and not just because the weather has been ideal. We spent the day with the people of Viloma.
This ADP has been operating for thirteen years. The Colomi ADP that I spoke of each of the last two days only began a year and a half ago. The programs that can change the lives of every member in a community in only thirteen years are inspirational.
Here are the top ten things I've learned this week about the ways child sponsorship benefits a whole community:
So you know we’re in Bolivia. You know we’re blogging. You know we’re meeting sponsored children. You know we’re hoping you also make the decision to sponsor a child in Bolivia.
Here’s something you should also know: The first 150 people who sponsor a child in Bolivia through our blogs this week will also get a special “Bolivia bloggers” edition necklace thanks to our sweet and talented friend Lisa Leonard. Lisa’s handmade jewelry design company donated these to our trip to support our team and child sponsorship in Bolivia. (Of course, we wish you were here with us, Lisa!)
And when you sponsor a child in Bolivia and get this necklace, know that someone special in a World Vision community in Bolivia is wearing the necklace, too -- maybe a necklace is around the neck of one of these beautiful people we've met on our trip.
I saw her as soon as I walked into the room. Her bright yellow name tag held her name, but I didn’t need to read it to know it was her. I knew that shy smile from the picture I was given when I first chose to sponsor Maria.
We made eye contact. She blushed and smiled a wry smile, one corner of her mouth turned up. Just like I do. The half-smirk. I laughed. Did she know? Did she know that it was me?
The following is one piece of a blog written last night, on day 5 of the Bolivia bloggers trip in Cochabamba.
Can I be honest? I think many of us who are engaged in the blogging world (Christian or otherwise) are suffering from a disease.
Not a disease like HIV or diabetes.
Maybe it’s not even a disease. Maybe it’s a disorder or a mental or emotional illness. Perhaps it’s some sort of spiritual discrepancy. Or maybe it’s something like boredom. We’re overstimulated perhaps. Whatever category it should be listed under, a whole bunch of us are suffering from something called social justice exhaustion.
Other people refer to it as poverty overload.