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?

A Roof Made of Tacky Christmas Cards

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This year, our family went the ‘tacky’ route and emailed our Christmas card.  I created a card in PhotoShop rather than purchasing it, exported it as a PDF rather than having it printed and emailed it rather than paying for postage, which resulted in a savings of several hundred dollars.  So what made us decide to buck tradition this year?  I wanted to see if we could use that money to bring the Christmas spirit to even more people this year, so we sent our Christmas card money around the world as gifts to the girls we sponsor through World Vision.  I was so excited to receive a thank you note from Burundi, Africa with a picture of three year old Alice, wearing a new dress and holding the pieces of steel that will be used to replace her thatched roof.  I can’t wait to hear what she thinks of the new sound her roof makes when it rains in her village!

So, friends, thank you for accepting our tacky Christmas card this year, which in turn allowed us to shine Christ’s love all the way to Albania, Burundi, Peru and Guatemala.

Tell Everyone: We’ve Found the Secret to Happiness!

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Tell everyone you know – the secret to happiness has been found!   Though it’s not really much of a secret if you think about it: when was the last time you felt like your glass was filled to the brim and perhaps even overflowing?  It probably wasn’t sitting on your couch watching yet another fabulous episode of “Scandal” or when you finally found those amazing boots you’d been scouting for over the last several weeks.  It probably wasn’t even watching the game – though I do love my Seahawks!  I’d be willing to bet it was when you gave something of yourself away.  I have found this to be true in my life – I feel like my life has the most purpose and fulfillment when I am giving time or resources to others, so it should be no surprise to me that Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith found that over and over again, those who gave of their time and money were actually happier, healthier and feel more fulfilled.  Let that sink in for a minute: giving of yourself can improve your overall health and sense of well being.  Wow!

Dr. Smith’s findings, as summarized in Richard Stearn’s recent Huffington Post article and recently published in Dr. Smith’s book “The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose” are quite compelling:

  • People who give away 10 percent of their income are 10 percent more likely to say they are very happy and 5 percent less likely to say they are unhappy.
  • The more you volunteer, the happier you are: People who say they are very happy also tend to volunteer almost six hours per month. People who are neither happy nor unhappy volunteer less than three hours per month, while people who are very unhappy spend less than 0.6 hours per month volunteering.
  • People who volunteer report feeling better and enjoying better mental health than people who don’t volunteer, even though they have the same number of doctor visits and hospitalizations.
  • People who give or volunteer are more interested in pursuing personal growth.

It kind of makes you want to make this a question you ask anyone you might potentially date, befriend, hire or allow to watch your children, huh?  “So, we seem to have a great connection here, but I really want to ensure that you are volunteering at least 6 hours per month before we move on in this relationship . . . ”

In my own life, I tend to generally think of myself as a glass half full kind of girl, but something really changes when I am regularly engaging in giving of myself to issues I’m passionate about.  I transform from glass half full girl into my cup runneth over girl: I am so much happier, more energetic, more positive, feeling like my life has a true purpose and knowing that I am doing something to make a positive impact on this world.  If you don’t know what that feels like, you are missing out and I encourage you to find your passion. For me, my passion has always been kids; I am also passionate about veterans and military families.

The truth is that some people on this earth CANNOT make their circumstances better without help: those who spend every waking hour in search of filthy water to drink cannot attend school and become the engineer who will build wells in the remote villages of Africa, the small boy in Pakistan who must labor long hours under dangerous conditions so that his brothers and sisters can have a small meal each day cannot become the police man he dreams of being, the young girl who is kidnapped and spends her days trying to survive her life as a sex slave cannot teach the next generation of girls in her village in Bangladesh that they are just as valuable as boys.

“Sometimes I would like to ask God why he allows poverty, suffering, and injustice when he could do something about it.”
“Well, why don’t you ask him?”
“Because I’m afraid he would ask me the same question.”
—ANONYMOUS

And so I take care of tiny humans in the church nursery each Sunday, I advocate for children living in extreme poverty and I teach middle and high school girls their strength, worth and value.  We sponsor four girls around the globe and give to other charities that help underprivileged children.  I only make this list because I believe myself to be a very normal person with a very normal schedule of working full-time and raising two young girls, yet I prioritize others as well and yes, it is a sacrifice, but one that pays dividend after dividend after dividend.  If you are not engaged in supporting others with your time, skills and/or money, you are missing out.  Whether it’s been building a program to support veterans in a Fortune 500 company, making blankets to comfort foster kids, writing letters of encouragement to my sponsored girls or changing dirty diapers, I don’t regret a minute of time I’ve given to another.

If this note has inspired you to share of your financial resources with others, I, of course, have to make a plug for one of my favorite charities, World Vision.  They have been transforming lives around the globe for over 56 years by working to alleviate the root causes of poverty in some of the poorest and most forgotten places in existence.  For only $35 per month, you can be a part of the story of a real human being who is experiencing real suffering.  I don’t know about you, but my mom never had to feed me mud so that my hungry belly wouldn’t keep me awake, or fear that my ear infection would be a death sentence to me, or cry as she sent me off to work in a dangerous factory or mine so that my younger siblings could survive.  You can make a difference today – for yourself and for another human being.  I don’t know about you, but I’ve not found myself missing roughly $7 per week.  Click here to find a child just waiting to be a blessing in your life

Confessions From the World’s Worst Huminatarian

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Bob Pierce, founder of World Vision once prayed, “Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God.”  Wow.  As the owner of an incredibly selfish and uncompassionate heart, I thought that the only way I’d ever really be able to be truly used by God was to follow this example.  Here’s a prayer that really needs some kind of consumer warning, folks, because believe me, He gave me a passion for helping hurting children around the world.  Day after day, He has broken my heart for kids starving in Africa, working under dangerous conditions in India and caught in trafficking in Bangladesh.

Stupidly, I thought that if given the opportunity to reach out and save a child, most people would jump at the chance.  I didn’t think that people could actually peer into the eyes of a first grader, starving to death, and say, “I’m good, thanks.”  I wanted to tell him that I kind of figured he was ‘good’ when I saw him pull up in his $70,000 car.  My super judgmental alter ego was furious at me for not sharing with her that with what she’d spent on her manicure, she could save a child from dying or from being sold into slavery or from being made a child bride or worse.

I’d meant to share this opportunity with the people of North Hills until 4pm that day, but at 3:30 I wasn’t hardly able to manage a smile, so I packed it in early.  I cried most of the way home to find M and C just getting ready to come see me and offer encouragement.  Immediately, both of them knew I was deeply sad and asked what had happened.  “I wasn’t able to find sponsors for a lot of these kids,” I said to my 4 1/2 year old in a shaky voice.  “Who are they?  Can you tell me their names?” She knew what this really meant – those kids, kids with names and faces and real stories would continue their struggle for survival.  My husband, always more pragmatic, began counting the remaining folders.  “You’ve made a huge difference in the lives of 13 kids in the last month,” he stated.  “Yeah, but that doesn’t help Ruth or Aimee or Benjamin or any of the others,” I’d said as the tear began flowing down my cheeks once again.

My heart was breaking for the hearts of the 20 kids I’d not found sponsors for.  Logically, I know that the problems in Africa had been festering for a very long time.  I also realized that this problem wasn’t just waiting around for me to come and solve through Child Sponsorship, but I really did think that I could make a difference for these kids at least.  Then, Pollyanna Salina found a table in the corner at which to sit, sulk and update her Facebook status to read: “Pollyanna needs a nap. And a hug. And a Xanax. Maybe not in that order.”  Seeing her opening, Selfish Salina joined the party and started talking about how stupid it was to have spent a day away from the family and a huge to-do list only to end up mentally, physically and emotionally too worn out to enjoy what was left of the Saturday.  Cynical Salina saw us sitting there and decided to add her two cents, “I don’t know why you even bother.  It isn’t like you’ll be able to change any part of this world.  What good can you do?”  Pollyanna Salina, though feeling quite defeated, answered in a small voice, “Isn’t it better to do something than nothing?  What if our child was the one who was hungry, lost or hurting?”  Snarky Salina quickly chimed in, “The one thing you’ll accomplish through all this is feeling like you’ve done nothing other than spending time away from your actual responsibilities and crying in front of your kid.  Are you ready for the award for that?”

And so Pollyanna Salina, who had had enough of these other voices, headed out to do the weekly grocery shopping with her family, her 4 year old remarking from her pink booster in the backseat that, “Mommy is still sad about the kids who don’t have sponsors”.  Once at Target, feelings of guilt for having ready access to an abundance of high-quality, healthy food wasn’t helping.  At the checkout, Pollyanna Salina listlessly checked her UrbanSpoon app for a nearby restaurant that would cater to a host of food intolerances, still mentally more sitting at her pity party than at Target.

Then, a beautiful French accent broke through the heavy haze of her commiseration, asking, “Do you work for World Vision?”
Somewhat startled, I look up and said, “I volunteer with World Vision,” realizing I was still wearing my bright orange World Vision t shirt.
“I know they do great work back home in Africa, but I didn’t know they were here in North Carolina,” she said excitedly.
“I spent my day trying to find sponsors for kids in Africa today,” I’d replied.
“Since I came here from Kenya, I’ve wanted to get involved with giving back through World Vision because of what they do for my people in Africa,” she said more as a question than a statement.

And right there, I saw the reason to keep letting my heart be broken, to keeping giving the time that I could use to finish my grocery shopping, to give the money that could be spent on a lunch date with a friend, to give my heart to real people with real problems in real places.  I’ll keep putting one foot in front of the other because God tells me to, and I’ll pray that God will repair my faith in humanity and help me not to judge others by their reaction to something I’ve become passionate about over many years.

“If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister  in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.  Our actions will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before God.” 1 John 3:17-19

If you, like my family and I, have enough to live well and would like to show compassion for a child in need, click here to learn how you can save a child in dire need of your aid.

An American Preschooler’s Understanding of the Congo

One of the things I really want to impress upon my girls, who are now 2 1/2 and 4 3/4, is that we have been born into great privilege as compared to others around the world – we didn’t earn, purchase, or even request our middle class spots in a country with relatively low turmoil.  One tangible way we talk about our blessings is in comparison to the lives of other children around the world.  Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not about to go into the specifics of war, trafficking or slavery with my innocent girls, but I do think they should be aware of hunger, poverty and varying levels of freedom.

Wednesday, I received a package with picture folders of 30 four and seven year olds who are growing up in the Congo – living much different lives than those my girls are living.  By now, the girls have come to understand that there are about four things I can tell them from each picture folder: the child’s gender, birthday, number of siblings and favorite game.  I’d been pulling out the folders one at a time, reading the highlights to the girls who were picking at the bowls of homemade turkey soup in front of each of them, then I’d place each folder in order by birthday.

“This little boy is named ‘Dieumerci’ – that means ‘Thank God’ in French!  He will be 7 on his birthday on January 1st,” I’d said as I held up a picture of a sad looking boy, “He lives with his mom and has no brothers or sisters and he likes to play soccer.”
IMG_4680I’ll confess that I wasn’t actually paying a lot of attention to my words.  My mind had already skipped ahead to to where to file the folder, neatly placed amongst the January birthdays.  I was already thinking about how to arrange the picture folders on the display table, asking you to care about Dieumerci, without really connecting with his pitiful little frown.  But, I’d said a prayer to not let me off the hook that easily.  I’d actually prayed the prayer of World Vision’s founder, Robert Pierce:

“Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God.”

And so in the rapid-fire conversation that transpired with my almost five year old, He brought me back to the reality of why I’d even asked for the privilege of receiving these folders.

C: Wait.  He lives with just his mommy?  What about his dad?
Me: Uh.  Well.  It doesn’t say where his daddy is, just that he only lives with his mommy.
C: So his mommy sleeps all by herself in a great big bed every night?
Me: Well, I’m not sure that people in the Congo actually have great big beds like Mommy and Daddy do.
C: So she sleeps in a small bed?
Me: Well, yes, if she has a bed it is probably small.  But she may not have a bed either.
C: So she has to sleep on the carpet.
Me: Well, people in the Congo probably don’t have carpet.
C: But then she’d have to sleep on the floor.  That would be so dirty!
Me: Yes.  It is probably very dirty in the Congo.
C: So then she has to take a shower when she wakes up every day.
Me: Actually, they probably don’t have showers in the Congo.
C: Oh.  A bath then.
Me: Well, they don’t have bathtubs either I would imagine.
C: So they can’t get clean until they go swimming in the pool?!?
Me: I’m fairly certain there aren’t pools in the Congo.  They probably take their baths in the river.  They would get into the river and splash the water onto themselves to get clean.
C: But the water in the river is dirty.
Me: Yes, but it would be better than nothing.
C: Why can’t they just use the clean water that they drink from their sink?
Me: Because there isn’t clean water for most people in the Congo and they don’t have sinks.  They have to drink the water from the river too.
C: But, Mom, then they would get sick!
Me: And that’s why we are trying to help find sponsors, Kiddo, so that World Vision can help build wells for these people so that they can drink clean water and give them medicine to help them not be sick from the dirty water.

Over the past 36 or so hours, I’ve told this story to a couple parents whose eyes held the same horror I’m sure yours hold as you read these words – are you crazy, Salina?!  Telling a four year old about extreme poverty and social injustice?!  Friends, please don’t miss the message here: I want my daughters to know that we can do something about extreme poverty and social injustice.  I don’t want to raise girls who bury their heads in the sand or turn a blind eye to the suffering of other children; I want my girls to always feel compelled to be a part of the solution.  If you’ve been looking for ways to help raise kids who give and not just share, let me tell you that sponsoring children through World Vision is making a huge impact on how my girls view their responsibility in this world.

We have shrunk Jesus to the size where he can save our soul
but now don’t believe he can change the world”
-ANONYMOUS

 Please don’t turn a blind eye to Dieumerci and the millions of other children who are in dire need of aid.  Of course you can’t change the world today, but you can change the world for at least one child and isn’t that better than nothing at all?  There are so many ways we can help without even sacrificing, but if it is a sacrifice, isn’t the life a child worth something?  A dinner out?  A bottle of wine?  The membership to the gym you haven’t been to in months?  Isn’t the life of a child worth something to you today?  Today, I implore you to consider sharing your table with a child for only $35 per month.  To view children who are truly suffering and are in desperate need your help, please click here or contact me directly.  If you’re not ready to commit to a monthly donation, please consider giving any amount to help buy farm animals for a community that is struggling to survive: click here.  You can honestly choose to be someone a child thanks God for – for saving their life, for allowing them to get an education, for giving them an opportunity to have a future.

Najim

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In 11 days, Najim will turn 8 and I can’t think of a better birthday present to offer him than HOPE.  Hope for a education, hope for full tummy, hope for health and hope for a future.  Najim is growing up in Bangladesh, one of the most disaster prone nations in the world.

Najim, his parents and 3 sisters live in a rural farming community on the southeast part of the country.  The typical home in Najim’s community is constructed of bamboo wall with a metal roof and dirt floors.  Community members survive on rice, fish and any vegetables they can afford.  Najim is in primary school and enjoys coloring and playing cricket.  A monthly gift of $35 will provide Najim and his community with improved healthcare and hygiene, school fees and new school buildings.  Your support will provide preschool, coaching and adult literacy classes.  New crop and animal production techniques will feed more families and improve their income.  Let’s make this the best birthday yet for Najim!  Comment on this post to sponsor Najim or click here to view other children in desperate need of your help today.

The Ice Bucket I Will Not Be Dumping On My Head

I absolutely adore the dear friend who nominated my daughter and I to join her and her daughter in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, but despite my deep respect for this wonderful woman, you’ll not be seeing a video of ice water raining over my head.  I know, I know.  I’m one of thosepeople.  You’re probably thinking, boy she is such a hypocrite.  Didn’t she just invite us all to a virtual lunch on World Humanitarian Day – donating the amount you would have spent for lunch to World Vision?  Wasn’t she the one who asked my to help her buy a goat for a family in India?  Where do I get off advocating for one charity and refusing to help raise awareness for another after all?

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The reason I’m abstaining from this challenge is named Alice.  She is three years old and lives in Burundi, Africa.  She is an only child, living with her parents who are farmers in a poor area of Burundi.  Each week or so, I try to send a note to Alice and update her on what’s been going on in our lives.  I cannot wrap my head around explaining my decision to dump on my head, what her mom would consider a precious resource.  You can see it in her eyes, can’t you – what is wrong with you, you crazy white lady?  What would I say it was for, after all, what would the ALS Association do with my donation?  They haven’t said.  After 30 years of research, are we any closer to cracking the code on ALS?  Will this donation get them closer to solving this mystery?  I don’t know.

Donations have skyrocketed and are track to reach $100M, up from $1.9M last year

I love that people have so generously donated to help the 6,000 people who are diagnosed with ALS each year.  I get that it’s an awful disease.  I would be devastated if someone close to me were diagnosed with this disease.  However, whether any of us want to admit it or not, money is a finite resource and as much as I would LOVE to increase my donations to help others, my salary just doesn’t seem to grow each time I choose to donate to another worthy cause.  So the question is, is ALS research the most worthy cause I can choose?  Do I know that my donation will make a difference?  Do I know that my donation will change a life?  I don’t feel that I can answer yes to those questions.

Women in Alice’s community gathering water for their households

The hard reality is: my choice to help girls like Alice survive to see their 5th birthdays means that I don’t have money to give to other charities.  Research shows that of the $100M likely to be raised through the ice bucket challenge, $50 million will be coming out of the pockets of other charities.  Ouch.  Folks, we are all in the same boat – limited funds and unlimited causes vying for our attention.  I am passionate about supporting Alice, and other children like her, who without help will never get the opportunity to eat protein, or won’t be able to attend school, or will eat mud just to not feel so hungry every day.  At the end of the day, we all get to choose how and where we spend our money and I hope you will find something to passionately support by opening your hearts and your wallets, as we have all been called to do.

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others