Oscar buzz often has less to do with film awards than with the pageantry of the event -- especially what the stars wear on the red carpet.
In honor of the Academy Awards this past weekend, World Vision celebrates our stars -- children -- and their cultural pageantry and expressive styles of dress.
I have worked with World Vision for nearly three years -- yet I am still amazed by the things I see and the stories I hear. I am equally inspired by the drive and determination of people living in poverty to overcome their circumstances and build a better world for their children, their communities, our country, and the world.
Recently, I experienced firsthand the struggles children in remote communities face just to get to school, and I wanted to share this experience with you.
Thousands of photos are taken each year in nearly 100 countries worldwide where World Vision programs help reach the most vulnerable. These 11 photos reflect the stories, the struggles and the events that have changed people's lives forever this year -- from earthquakes to famine, from hardship to triumph, from despair to hope.
On day 11 of the 2011 True Spirit of Christmas Trip, our team introduced you to Joyce, who's life has been changed thanks to the gift of goats from the World Vision Gift Catalog. The goats provide Joyce with milk and a means for extra income that she sometimes uses to purchase ingredients to make scones from her own recipe.
We shared Joyce's special scone recipe straight from her kitchen with World Vision supporters on Facebook after our trip host, Kirsten Stearns, did some midday baking with Joyce calling her scones "among the best she has ever tasted." Back in the United States, a long way from Joyce's kitchen in Zambia, Kirsten's sister-in-law Sarah and her church group agree the scones are quite delicious.
What do Christmas celebrations look like in other parts of the world? In some places, World Vision throws big Christmas parties where disadvantaged children can enjoy the festivities and even receive presents. In other places, children participate in traditional celebrations that might look quite different than our American Christmas.
When USA Today asked me about my favorite Christmas gifts given and received, I couldn’t help but reflect on the gifts I have received through World Vision. As a donor to World Vision U.S. for 25 years -- and as its president for 13 years -- I've found that the best gifts I’ve received come as a result of generous giving.
The follow post was written by Narine Ohanyan, World Vision field communicator in Armenia.
* * *
Do you believe in miracles?
For a mother in Armenia, something miraculous is happening at Christmas.
“I love the ornaments and the lights. I love to stare at them,” says 4-year-old Narek Qotanjyan.
Coming from a child in the United States, this statement wouldn’t be so surprising. However, Narek lives in Armenia with a disability.
Although I wrote this last year, I feel it deserves a repeat-performance. I visited this family again recently and brought their daughter Lilly an actual malaria net, like those World Vision uses in Africa because I know the compassion she feels for those affected by malaria, an experience from a previous visit with her folks. She's a busy 7-year-old now and couldn't remember the entire incident, so I promised to find what I'd written last year and send it to her. Re-reading it blessed me and I hope it blesses you, too.
* * *
This year, we all agreed to forgo the typical presents for our adult extended family members and instead choose gifts from the World Vision Gift Catalog. We'd given some similar "gifts" previously, but this year there was a special abandon to it -- a desire to really make these "thoughtful" gifts for each receiver, a criteria very close to my wife Janet's heart.
Counting your blessings this week for Thanksgiving? We are, too. Blessings #1 and #2: The people we serve and those who serve with us, and the many faithful donors and supporters of World Vision's work around the world. Thank you.
* * *
I was in the Dominican Republic last year with World Vision.
On our last day there, the World Vision staff in Santo Domingo threw us a "goodbye" party. At some point during the festivities, I was asked to say a few words and then pray.
I don't remember what I said exactly, but I remember what happened after I finished. As I handed the microphone back to the sound guy, a woman grabbed my hand. And when my other hand was free, she grabbed it, too, and cupped them inside hers.
When she had my complete attention, the woman began talking. I couldn't understand what she was saying as she spoke in Spanish. I thought about stopping her so I could look around for somebody to translate her words, but so much was happening around us -- talking, laughing, shouting, music, and dancing -- that I felt compelled to keep my eyes on her, listen closely, and experience what she was saying.
How many times have you used the toilet today? Judging by the fact that you are awake enough to be reading this blog, I’m assuming the answer is at least once, and probably more. (Maybe you are even reading this while on the toilet, which means you probably have the luxury of using a loo that is clean, private, and relatively comfortable).
For all of you who are fortunate enough to have a toilet in your life, I would like to wish you a happy World Toilet Day.
No, I’m not kidding -- Saturday is World Toilet Day. You mean you didn’t get the memo?
Granted, for those of us who are lucky enough to have an abundance of bathrooms in which to “do our business,” it might seem a bit silly to celebrate the toilet. Aren’t there bigger development problems to tackle? Bigger accomplishments to celebrate?
But I want you to think back to the last time you didn’t have a decent toilet when you needed one (maybe your last camping trip, that port-a-potty at the stadium, or that long stretch of road between rest stops). Toilets, or lack thereof, are no laughing matter. Are they?
Someone once said that a picture is worth a thousand words -- but as I sit here looking through photos from my recent trip to the Horn of Africa, I don’t think that’s true.
This picture is of Falima, a 25-year-old Somalian who recently entered the Dadaab refugee camp in northeastern Kenya. She is holding her son, Abdullah, while her 3-year-old daughter, Fauhuya, hides behind her.
I’m often asked how I’ve been able to photograph human suffering for so much of my career and still maintain my sanity and belief in the goodness of God.
Suffering is a mystery. I’ve met many good, righteous, faithful people who have lives full of misery. My dear sister-in-law, Karen, passed away last week after years of battling cancer. She volunteered with orphans in Haiti and gave to people in need in India. She made sure her home was always open to visitors, both family and strangers, even during her illness. She was generous to a fault, wonderfully kind, encouraging, and selfless. Her life of service was lived to the glory of God. Yet she died painfully and young. Suffering is a mystery.
One thing I do know: In the midst of the worst of the worst situations, God is still there.
Thirty-two years ago, World Vision reported the rescue story of Operation Seasweep, the boat Mr. Vinh Chung was on, in the August 1979 issue of World Vision Magazine. Mr. Chung recently retold his story at our headquarters office. I spoke with him afterward for a fuller picture of his life after Seasweep and the miracle of God's provision for his family.
Two very different parts of Vinh Chung’s life meet when he walks on a beach.
In an instant, the smell of sea salt takes the 36-year-old skin cancer surgeon back to his 1979 exodus from Vietnam.
Just four years old at the time, Vinh recalls fleeing the southern city of Ca Mau by boat from the Mekong River Delta toward the South China Sea with his parents and seven siblings.
The Chung family -- ethnically Chinese -- escaped the communist government’s persecution of ethnic minorities.
Once they reached the open ocean, Thai pirates stole their valuables. Their boat eventually made it to a Malaysian beach, but instead of offering asylum, soldiers held them at gunpoint and brutally beat Vinh’s father and uncle. Then they were towed back out to sea on a smaller boat with no working motor or fuel. They were left to die.
Their plight reminds me of a boy called Maror Bol. He was about 13 years old when I met him in Sudan. Maror was in similar dire straits and was also robbed. He also taught me one of the most important lessons of my life.
In 1998, bad weather and factional fighting had provoked a famine in Southern Sudan. Maror had walked about 50 miles to reach a World Vision feeding center for malnourished children -- located at a rough camp in the middle of nowhere. I spoke to Maror as he joined a line to register for assistance. He explained that his brother had kicked him out, saying there was not enough food to go around. So he took a long walk across Sudan’s parched landscape to see if he could get assistance.
When I saw him, he had not eaten for days and was naked. He is the only person I have ever met who had absolutely nothing.
Before you read this, let me just say that 100 words does not do this post justice. Just 100 words will barely begin to describe the beauty of Bolivia and the warmth of its people. Just 100 words isn't enough.
But please, please take these 100 words to heart. Understand they represent a fraction of a deeper story we're desperate to tell -- a story about survival and faith, sacrifice and family, difference and commonality. I hope these 100 words paint for you a picture as vivid as the memories in our minds, and as resilient as the love in our hearts.
This list was created out of the words from and expressions of the families and individuals we met, those who translated for us all week, and our own feelings. It is a combination of words that describe Bolivia -- the country, the people, the experience, the food, the faces, and the moments we'll never forget.
The Bolivia bloggers team
98. Rich (in love and family). I asked one of our translators before we left if Bolivians considered their country poor or in poverty. She said to me, "Well, that depends on what you mean by the word poverty. Bolivia is rich in culture, love and family. By those measures, we are not poor at all." Amen.
For five days, we listened as the women of the Congo shared with us the unspeakable horrors they had experienced -- personal stories of abduction, rape, and mayhem at the hands of men who use violence against women as a weapon of war.
But harder still for me to hear were their accounts of a second round of abuse at the hands of those from whom they should have expected comfort and compassion -- parents who rejected their own daughters after they had been impregnated in violent attacks by local militias; in-laws who laid claim to land and possessions from widows forced to watch as their husbands were killed in front of them. More than a decade of fear and devastation has ripped apart the very fabric of life for the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
As we get ready to send off our amazing summer interns -- some back to school, some onto start their careers, but all to wherever God leads them -- we want to say THANK YOU for the help you've given us this summer, and the impact you've had on the lives of children around the world. As our president Rich Stearns has said so many times this summer, "You are world-changers and we only wish we could hire every one of you."
Special thanks to Chris Clouzet, World Vision intern with the web content team, who compiled and edited this edition of "what working at World Vision means to me"... but with a twist -- what interning at World Vision means to me from four summer interns.
I wanted to be a blacksmith’s apprentice this summer, but it just seemed so "Middle Ages." Fortunately, a friend introduced me to World Vision’s internship program, and I was accepted. So, while I don’t get to make swords, I get to help with tasks like updating statistics and editing stories for the website -- and know I’m a part of helping children in need. For me, that means a lot.