A Better Feeling Than Nothing

IMG_2092I don’t really remember the feeling I felt when Mr. M and I sponsored our first two children back in 2009. We sponsored a Roy, a young boy from Lebanon with the most vibrant blue eyes and Emelisa, a girl from Albania whose favorite subject was French. After Miss C was born I felt that it would be a good idea to sponsor, Adriana, a child her same age to help her learn about privilege and social responsibility.  When I met a woman in 2014 who talked about her sponsored children in such intimate detail, when I knew so little about the girls we sponsored, I felt ashamed and endevored to get to applologize for my inattentiveness and strive to get to know them better. In 2015, when Emelisa referred to us as her second parents, I felt humbled. When, after 5 years of sponsorship, I received a picture of Ariana smiling, I felt joy. When Alice, who we sponsor in Burundi, told me that the entire village gathers together to hear the social worker read the letters I send her, I felt shocked and inadequate in writing letters worthy an audience.

With all the feelings I’ve felt about sponsorship, I’d been curious about how it felt to be sponsored. While visiting a small, rural medical clinic surrounded by what felt like vacant space as far as the eye could see, I asked this question of mothers, who now grown are World Vision volunteers. They told me it made them feel happy to be sponsored, that someone who didn’t even know them would care enough to help them. They felt proud to have been chosen. They told me that they felt a desire to try harder.World Vision Nicaragua-3

We met with a teacher in a rural school who shared that having been sponsored as a child help him to gain confidence and fueled him to try to help others achieve their dreams. He spoke to us wearing a broad smile on his face and a small child on his hip. His evident care for the young boy led us all to believe him to be the boy’s father, but after further discussion we learned that he was a caring teacher, looking after a young student whose parents hadn’t yet arrived to take him home.World Vision Nicaragua-162

We met a civil engineer who, along with his sister, had been sponsored by a woman from New Zealand. She wrote to tell them that she felt that the best way to help the siblings have a better future was to fund the older brother’s college education so that he could get a job that would support them both. Now, he puts his skills to work as a World Vision staff member, helping to build a brighter future for all children in Nicaragua.

We met mothers who felt grateful that someone would be willing to invest in their child’s future. One felt thankful that she were able to give her children clean water to drink, that there was a stable roof over the one room home and that there was a stable latrine behind the home. Another felt happy for the education World Vision had done around breast feeding that had led to much healthier children in the area.World Vision Nicaragua-11

After personally meeting Valeria, the little girl we sponsor in Nicaragua, I felt grief at bidding her farewell. We both had tears in our eyes and quivering lips as I told her through out translator that I felt so very proud to be her friend. I also felt so very thankful for the opportunity to have gained such an up close look at the hope and possibility that World Vision weaves through all their projects. I feel know that Nicaragua has a brighter future as a result of ordinary people making the choice to share about $1 a day with someone they may never meet, may never hug, may never speak to face-to-face. BUT, I also know that child and that child’s mother will feel the love in that simple act and it may just be the spark that ignites something really big in that child’s life. I invite you to experience the feeling of changing a life today: cause.worldvision.org/salina If there’s one thing I’ve learned – doing something to try to make a difference sure feels a lot better than doing nothing.

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It Takes a Village

World Vision Nicaragua-47.jpgEach time World Vision enters a new community, they do so with the mindset of stabilizing that community in order to break the cycle of extreme poverty holding that community from reaching their full, God-given potential. Entrance always comes with an exit strategy, but it doesn’t come with an end to problems.  Today, I would like to tell you the story of the 582 World Vision volunteers in one of the three regions in which World Vision operates in Nicaragua. I met several of these volunteers last week when I was given an up close look at World Vision’s work in Nicaragua. Their selfless dedication to improving the lives of children allows World Vision to scale their work far beyond what other organizations can do.

Imagine if you were to transform a community and help it become self-sustaining for generations. On one hand, you could do all this for the community in a year or two: build wells, schools, clinics, and stores.  You could use sponsorship dollars to pay for books, uniforms and school fees to attract children to attend school. When you step away, some of this work will remain, but much will return back to the way things were before – the way people are accustomed to and equipped to handle things.

World Vision Nicaragua-8Alternatively, you could partner with community leaders, civic groups, local & national government, other NGOs, parents and youth, taking the time to train those who will remain, long after you have gone.  You could help to build schools, train teachers and help change the culture around education. When parents and civic leaders see the value in children attending school past elementary, when students become mentors who help struggling students learn to read and write, when sponsored children grow up and become teachers: we all win.

The later approach is that taken by World Vision and has been proven to be more effective in the long run because the community is vested in the decision process, they understand the why and they are passionate about helping to create change.  When you take time to develop a community and create opportunity, educated children they will grow to become parents, teachers and civic leaders who will help the next World Vision Nicaragua-162generation achieve even more.  I met some of these people while in Nicaragua who had been sponsored children in their younger years and now are creating a brighter future for the next generation.  They spoke with pride and dignity about the experience of having someone outside their community care about them; it spurred them on to work hard and now to give back to a program they felt gave them so much. Some of the volunteers are mothers of sponsored children and see the benefit of giving their children a better tomorrow. Others, with great gusto, told us that this was their community and they were there to do the hard work to make it better than ever.
Development work is hard work, costly World Vision Nicaragua-6work, slow work, but it pays dividends in transformed communities. By using a network of highly trained volunteers and teaming with other organizations, World Vision can scale their work far beyond what any NGO could do alone.  Volunteers, who have several years training and experience, meet with families and help monitor children for signs of preventable disease & malnutrition, to ensure they are in school and that they have access to needed social services.  When volunteers identify a gap, they work with World Vision to solve for the root cause of the problem. Examples range from providing bikes to children who are not in school because it is too far to walk, or engaging with the Ministry of Health to provide services if a child is ill.  When you sponsor a child, you join hands with thousands of others around the world to create a network of transformation, a network of greatness in the lives of those touched by this work.  Today, I reach my hand out to you and invite you to join this network for good. Will you be bold enough to reach back? cause.worldvision.org/salina And better yet, in addition to supporting this great work, will we allow these people to teach us about the power in working together to create positive outcomes in our own home communities?

Why the American Should Cross the Road

This last week, I had the extreme pleasure of accompanying a group of seven other World Vision volunteers to Nicaragua to get a better look at how World Vision conducts their development work.  What an experience! Today, I would like to tell you the story of one family we met along the way.

World Vision Nicaragua-61We had driven quite a ways down a bumpy, dusty dirt road surrounded by unfamiliar vegetation and homes that could easily fit onto my screened porch. Chickens, a scrawny dog and a pig greeted our arrival when the van finally stopped at our destination.  The grandparents, their seven sons and the son’s families, occupied smalls homes set in a row on the dusty property.  Between the seven sons were thirteen children and more, obviously on the way.

World Vision Nicaragua-91The family occupation is basket weaving, which consists of purchasing long sticks of bamboo from a local grower.  The sticks are transported back to the family’s home where they use a machete to separate the bamboo into the three layers needed to weave baskets. This step takes half of the day, but once it’s complete the weaving process, which takes about 20 minutes per basket, can begin. The finished product is loaded onto the same horse-drawn cart that delivered the bamboo sticks and finished baskets are carted to the market in Granada, a 45 minute drive by car.  The raw bamboo costs the family just over $7, from which they craft 7 baskets that they hope to sell, yielding $50 for their day’s labor. I don’t know about your family, but my family of four can easily spend $50 at lunch; this $50 must cover the expenses for the family of 29 people.

World Vision Nicaragua-85The children absolutely stole my heart. There was one boy in particular who was especially outgoing and soon held my attention in a great peek-a-boo game.  Within minutes, this game had turned into playing soccer and then tag.  Most of the children were barefoot and dust covered.  They thought our sunglasses strange and even more so, the Bandaid I applied the toe of my new friend, who received a cut chasing me across the separated bamboo.

World Vision Nicaragua-73For my part, the sight of the children taking a rest from our game to dip their cups into the large drums of clean water behind the house, the outdoor latrine and the chickens following the children into their homes were all foreign sights. When I’d guessed one of the older girls to be 7, I’d adjusting my expectations to account for the smaller statue of the Nicaraguan people. She was 10.

I asked one of our World Vision hosts if this was a typical living situation for sponsored children in Nicaragua and emphatically nodding, he stated that yes, living conditions in the area where we had visited were very good – as we had seen.  In the north, where the development work was in a much earlier phase and food scarcity was a bigger issue, living conditions would not be as good.World Vision Nicaragua-22 World Vision has helped establish community wells so that families can fill their water drums and cart those drums back to their homes without having to travel more than 1-2 kilometers. They have helped build and support schools so that all children, even those in rural areas, can have access to education.  When these children became malnourished, they worked with the mothers to help train them in nutrition and helped them get necessary staples. It was evident that sponsorship dollars were going far in Nicaragua – far in brining basic necessities, safety, security and opportunity. I appreciated the contentment the people we met with felt over having access to these necessities and felt a pang in envisioning my own life of abundance.

So, why should the American cross the road? To help someone to the other side. To help someone have access to BASIC necessities: water, enough food to keep from malnutrition, access to education, etc.  Sponsorship through World Vision is a partnership: we as sponsors work in partnership with governments, other NGOs, the teachers, parents, volunteers and World Vision staff to bring a better tomorrow to places that will never feel the burden of the abundance so many of us live in today. If you’re ready to join this network of good, click here: cause.worldvision.org/Salina

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Give Twice As Nice: 25 Gifts that Give Back

You’ve heard the adage: it’s better to give than to receive.  Wouldn’t it be great to make your giving twice as nice this year by choosing gifts that give back too?  I’ve often used my busy schedule as an excuse for not shopping with more of a social conscience.  If you find yourself in this same boat, you’ll enjoy the list I’ve rounded up of 25 gift ideas that also help make the world a better place!

  1. Spread Love for a Child: Millions of children around the world need help to break the never-ending cycle of poverty. Hunger weakens them. Unsafe drinking water makes them sick. Missing out on an education keeps them from reaching their potential.  As a sponsor, you will help provide a child with sustainable access to appropriate life-changing basics like nutritious food, clean water, healthcare, and education. Child sponsorship also helps families and communities lift themselves out of poverty by providing job training, business coaching, small loans, along with training to help poverty-affected farmers learn new ways to irrigate and grow crops.
  2. Hearts4Hearts-RahelGive a Doll with a Heart: Hearts For Hearts Girls® doll is inspired by real girls from real places around the world. Each doll has her own story to tell, with ideas about how to make life better for her family, community, country, and the world around her. When you buy a doll, a dollar of the purchase price is donated to World Vision to support children in that doll’s region.
  3. Adorn Your Walls with Prints from Sevenly: Each purchase of Sevenly merchandise, whether a campaign-specific shirt or print, results in a $7 donation to the featured charity of the week.  With nearly $4 million raised and counting, Sevenly strives to inspire a generation of generosity.
  4. Chomp_Personalized__15750.1411078231.215.215Cuddle up With Gifts for Kids from Everything Happy: You must see these darling, snuggly blankets, pillows and stuffed toys, as well as clothing.  Everything Happy is determined to bring smiles to every child – both locally and worldwide. For every Happy product purchased, another one is given to a child in need.  From orphanages to hospitals, to poverty-stricken communities, Everything Happy has touched the lives of thousands of children.BRONZEARROWBRACELET-10001499-6-218x153
  5. Accessorize at TOMS Marketplace: Since 2006, TOMS has been making a difference in the lives of the needy around the globe.  For every product sold, TOMS donates shoes, eye ware or clean water to help those in need.
  6. Give a Gift – Empower Women: Experience the world’s largest online selection of fair trade artisan products produced by women.  Shop all your favorite fashion, jewelry, and home decor treasures knowing that each purchase benefits a woman and her family.
  7. Goat_Plush_D4041423Give a Goat, Get a Goat: Goats nourish hungry children and families with healthy milk, cheese, and yogurt. Goats also give a much-needed income boost by providing offspring and extra dairy products to sell.  In addition to providing a goat, you’ll also receive Gertie the Plush Goat as a reminder of how you’ve helped change lives!cherry_bowery_grande
  8. Enjoy Your Favorite Tunes with Headphones or Earbuds from LSTN: For every purchase of reclaimed wood headphones are earbuds, LSTN gives to Starkey Hearing Foundation, to help restore hearing to a person in need.
  9. Wash your Hands of Inequality: Through sales of their hand soaps and sanitizers, Eve Echo makes low interest loans to women in challenged economies to start or expand businesses.  Eve Echo is on a mission to end gender inequalities and free women from oppression all over the world.
  10. Wear Love Beautifully: Connected in Hope works to empower women and families in Ethiopia to rise above poverty through sustainable income development, improved educational opportunities and increased access to basic health care.
  11. Raise a Glass to Ending Aids: 50% of the gross profits from the purchase of every Belvedere (PRODUCT)RED Special Edition Bottle will go to the Global Fund to fight AIDS.
  12. 253x253-45031Wear Fashion with a Conscience: Tea Features a beautiful collection of globally inspired, ethically sourced clothing and accessories from a company committed to advancing the dignity of children and youth around the world. Since 1997, the GFC has invested nearly $31 million in more than 575 grassroots organizations in 78 countries, helping transform the lives of 9 million of the world’s most vulnerable children.
  13. Hydrate and Save Lives: For every water bottle purchased, MiiR donates clean, safe water to one person.  The unfortunate reality of 2014 is that lack of access to clean water claims the lives of thousands every day.
  14. Adorn Yourself for Charity: You’ve seen Joan Hornig jewelry on the red carpet, but did you know that 100% of all proceeds are donated to the charity of your choice?
  15. Quinn-Plum_Flat-300x300Keep Warm with Krochet Kids: Give a gorgeous hat, scarf or sweater made by workers in Peru or Uganda who are being employed, educated, and mentored by the company’s programs.  Today, over 150 people in Uganda and Peru are working, receiving education, and being mentored toward a brighter future in creating gifts through a sustainable cycle of employment and empowerment.
  16. Break the Ongoing Orphan Crisis Cycle: Apparel, Jewelry and Accessories from 147 Million Orphans provide food, water, medicine and shelter to orphans in the name of Jesus Christ. The name of our company invokes discussion and brings awareness to the worldwide orphan crisis. Provision begins with the vulnerable child , but we also work to preserve families through sustainable income projects and community reconstruction.
  17. javanese-jewel-dishtowelsFurnish your home the Fair Trade Way: Did you know – If every American made just ONE Fair Trade purchase a year, it would lift ONE Million families out of poverty?  Seven Hopes United specializes in marketing stylish, handmade, fair trade and eco-friendly gifts from around the globe. Your purchase of fair trade products ensures that artisans are paid a living wage for their work, working conditions are safe, and no children are exploited. Seven Hopes strives to source products that use recycled and natural materials through a traditional handmade process.
  18. Show Your Genuine Care: Beautiful, genuine pearl jewelery offered by Pearls with Purpose, an organization passionate about adorning people with stylish but affordable pearl rings, bracelets, and necklaces while supporting micro-enterprise and job training for women in developing countries.
  19.  Grey-Three-QuarterSave Invisible Children with Style: All donations and purchases fund Invisible Children’s mission of civilian protection and rehabilitation of children abducted by the LRA. Protection and recovery programs focus on the futures of war-affected youth while  worldwide advocacy aims to establish long-term peace and prosperity.
  20. Stay Organized and Save Lives: Moleskin has teamed up with Project(RED) to offer you an exclusive notebook that in turn offers three days of life saving medicine to someone fighting Aids.
  21. Play Responsibly: Endeavor take the guesswork out of shopping for toys and games by only offering items that have been manufactured in countries that value human rights and civil liberties, are made with environmentally sustainable materials, are educational and are FUN!
  22. il_570xN.608756812_drwsShow Your Unique Style to Benefit Others: Many Etsy stores offer items to raise money for various charities.  You can find unique, handcrafted items at affordable price points while still making a difference in the lives of others.
  23. 6904060_1Ensure Our Cheer Doesn’t Harm Others: Millions are working under conditions of forced labor.  This holiday season, let’s stop exploiting human beings and make sure we decorate our homes with beautiful Fair Trade items created by people who have received a fair wage for their labor.
  24. Start with a Smile: Have you set your Amazon account to donate a portion of the proceeds from your spending to a charity of your choice?  Through Amazon Smile, I have mine set to reward World Vision for every purchase that shows up on my front door!
  25. Donate to Give, Donate to Receive: There are hundreds of great charities out there.  Instead of sending out your wish list this year, why not ask your loved ones to donate to your favorite charity in your name.  Or perhaps adopting a whale, or a sponsoring a child in your niece or nephews’ name would bring them more joy than the toy that will be broken by January . . .

As you can see, this list is very comprehensive and covers ideas for everyone on your list, but if you don’t see what you’re looking for on this list, don’t let that stop you from making a socially responsible choice.