A Heart for the Orphan: Providing Help and Healing Around the World and Here at Home

Feed the Children began in 1979 with a simple mission: to stand with hungry and vulnerable children and to work for a world where no child goes to bed hungry. Our mission is rooted in Christian values and the belief that, like Jesus, we are called to care for “the least of these.” Whether we’re providing a box of food and essentials for a family of four in Kentucky or feeding an entire school in the Philippines, we believe we are serving Christ himself: “for I was hungry and you gave me something to eat” (Matthew 25:34).

Most of what we do supports children right where they are—in the families and communities that know them best. We build feeding centers to supplement the meals kids receive from their families. We construct latrines and hand-washing stations in villages and provide preventive medication to slow the spread of disease. We give parents the training and support they need to make good health decisions for their children and increase their own livelihoods. We call this the four-pillar strategy—Food & Nutrition, Health & Water, Education, and Livelihoods—and it’s working to transform communities and lift them out of poverty, one family at a time.

But some of the children we serve have no family. Around the world and here at home, children are abandoned every day by the ones closest to them. It’s a desperate decision with life-long consequences. But there is hope: “But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted… you are the helper of the fatherless” (Psalm 10:14).

You Can Help Foster Hope

Here in the United States, we are a “helper to the fatherless” in a variety of ways, but we’re especially excited about our new Foster Hope backpack program that serves children in foster care. When children are removed from their home and placed with a foster family, they often come with nothing but the clothes they’re wearing. And many of them are young—half of all children in foster care in the U.S. are five or younger, and 85% of them are ages 10 and younger. We’re partnering with churches across the country to provide backpacks to these children, filled with the things they need, plus a little love too.

Congregations get involved with Foster Hope by giving both financial resources and time. It costs just $20 to sponsor each backpack, which contains a coloring book and crayons, a spiral notebook, shampoo, body wash, toothbrush, toothpaste and a teddy bear. We ship the supplies directly to churches, so members of your congregation can roll up their sleeves and fill the backpacks, pray for the children who will receive them, and deliver them to a local foster-care agency. For an additional $5, you can also provide a 50” x 60” fleece blanket for each child.

Foster Hope launches in conjunction with Orphan Sunday, November 8, at churches around the country. But the program is ongoing throughout the year. Our work continues, because the needs continue. Learn more about Foster Hope by emailing church@feedthechildren.org or check out our informational video about the program.

Hope for the Orphans

At Feed the Children, we believe our work is urgent. It’s Kingdom work—building a world where kids can be kids and dream of a better future for themselves. Through our network agencies, Feed the Children distributed over $344 million in food, other necessities, educational supplies, and medicine, impacting close to 9 million individuals in the U.S. and over 4.9 million individuals globally in fiscal year 2014.

Casa del Niño, Honduras
Casa del Niño, Honduras

Feed the Children currently has two facilities specifically for orphans, Casa del Niño in La Ceiba, Honduras, and the Dagoretti Children’s Center in Nairobi, Kenya. Casa del Niño first opened its doors in 1996 and currently houses some 40 boys ages 7 to 18 years. The boys receive three nutritious meals a day and opportunities for sports and art activities. All children attend school and classes may include computers and English. All told, we’ve provided a stable home, love and care for more than 500 Honduran youth over the years.

But too many children still struggle. And who’s more vulnerable than a child without a parent in their corner?

But the children we serve are also our heroes. Their zest for life, their curiosity, and their courage in the midst of tremendous struggle are what keep us going. God has not forgotten these children. And neither have we.

We’d like to introduce you to some of the heroes we’ve gotten to know through our work with orphans around the world. Names have been changed to protect the privacy of these young people—but their stories are all real.

Heroes Come in All Shapes and Sizes

Our Abandoned Baby Center, part of Dagoretti Children’s Center in Nairobi, is filled with pint-sized heroes who inspire us every day. Samuel, for example, was brought to the ABC about a year ago as a toddler. A woman whom we believe was Samuel’s mother asked another woman to hold him while she used the public restroom in a busy commercial area of town. She never returned.

samuel
Samuel at Dagoretti Children’s Center

Our staff has been caring for Samuel, ensuring his physical, emotional and social needs are met. They are also conducting the necessary searches and documentation to see whether kin can be found for Samuel. In the meantime, Samuel delights and charms the staff of Dagoretti. He’s an enthusiastic eater, he plays in the sand, and his favorite toy is a toy phone. He willingly shares with the other children. “Samuel loves attention,” said one Feed the Children staff member. “When you show him that you care, he will not let you go.”

Nathaniel is another one of our heroes. Nathaniel came to us after his mother passed away and his aunt could no longer adequately care for him and his siblings. Nathaniel had a twin sister, but she was so poorly nourished that she had to be admitted to the hospital rather than Dagoretti. Tragically, she died in the hospital.

When Nathaniel was admitted to Dagoretti, he showed classic signs of malnutrition: pale, swollen face, discolored hair, a white tongue from lack of blood, and a distended stomach. Most heartbreaking of all was his vacant, moody expression. And at 2 1/2 years, he could sit on his own but could not crawl or stand.

After only a month in Dagoretti, Nathaniel was transformed, able to stand with support and grasp items on his own. After six months, he seems like a completely new child. He is now in good health, he walks steadily, his speech has greatly improved, and he has hope and a future. “Feed the Children saved Nathaniel’s life,” says Purity Nyamu, one of our social workers. “If we hadn’t admitted him [at the Center], I doubt he would be alive today.”

Meanwhile we’re working with Nathaniel’s aunt to get her the support she needs so she can care for Nathaniel long term. Our ultimate goal is to reunite Nathaniel with his family—but we’ll be in his corner no matter what happens.

Or consider eleven year old Agatha, who was brought to Dagoretti Children’s Center when she was six years old. She was malnourished, hardly ate, was a slow learner in social settings, and could not stand or walk without support. At the DCC, she was provided with a nutritious diet that enabled her body to grow and develop. She also attended continuous rehabilitation exercises as part of a treatment plan to build strength and coordination in her leg muscles. As a part of the Dagoretti community, she spent time with other kids at the early learning center, which helped improve her coordination, cognitive and social skills.

agatha
Look out world–she walks!

Agatha has made great progress, but in her five years with us, she’s never been able to walk on her own—until a few months ago. Agatha brought the Dagoretti Children’s Center to a standstill in July, when she took her first unassisted steps at age eleven. It’s a miracle that wouldn’t have been possible without the teamwork of dedicated staff at the DCC, staff at our headquarters in Oklahoma City who support the field work, and generous donors around the world, including corporate partners and congregations like yours.

Our final hero is the one who’s captured our hearts most recently. When Sarah was about a year old, there was a fire in her home, resulting in a six-month hospitalization. She was eventually discharged, but is an amputee. Home life continued to be chaotic, and Sarah found her way to Dagoretti Children’s Centre when she was 2 years old.

Dagoretti became a place of healing, including physical therapy, fittings for prosthetics, and continued rehabilitation. Sarah was ultimately reunited with a grandmother, whom she visited during holidays. And she began attending school, where she proved herself to be bright and curious.

Sarah at high school graduation
Sherlyn at her high school graduation

Today, Sherlyn is 19 and is attending college in the United States, where she is studying biology and chemistry. On her way to the airport, she was escorted by a busload of fellow children and friends, Feed the Children staff representatives, her grandmother, and an auntie (see photo at the top of this post). There were tears of joy and sadness, laughter and hugs. It was a bittersweet experience for Sarah, who said, “I am blessed, and intend to pass the feeling along to others too.”

We know the feeling, Sherlyn. We at Feed the Children are humbled to be Christ’s hands, feet and hearts around the world, and we invite congregations and groups around the country to stand with children like Sherlyn, Agatha, Nathaniel and Samuel right here at home. To find out more about the Foster Hope backpack program, or any of our programs, email church@feedthechildren.org.

Country Spotlight: El Salvador–Hope Is Hatching

We’ve all heard the phrase, “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.” That’s why our international development work centers around four pillars: Food & Nutrition, Health & Water, Education, and Livelihoods.

When children are hungry and malnourished, the need is urgent: to fill their bellies and get them the nutrition they need to grow healthy and strong. But we know we can’t stop with the Food & Nutrition pillar:

How can that health be sustained?
Through increased access to clean water and sanitation (Health & Water pillar).

How can children escape poverty?
By going to school and learning the skills needed for a successful life (Education pillar).

And how can an entire village improve their circumstances?
By receiving training and support as they learn a marketable trade (Livelihoods pillar).

Darwin is just one child who will benefit from all four of these pillars. Let’s find out how.

Food & Nutrition

Darwin is five years old and lives with his parents in a rural village in the middle of coffee country in El Salvador. His father works as a bricklayer and earns about $100 a month. It’s enough to get by—they can put food on the table—but it’s not the nutrient-rich food a growing boy needs.

Thankfully Darwin has access to a Feed the Children feeding center, where he receives a nutritious lunch each weekday. Darwin loves both the food and the children he’s met: “I feel happy because I have a lot of friends [at the feeding center], and also the food is delicious, like a restaurant!”

Health & Water

We know that nutritious meals go a long way toward keeping children healthy. And Darwin has gained 10% of his body weight since he’s starting receiving meals from the feeding center. But our involvement in Darwin’s community goes beyond food. Feed the Children also provides children five years of age and older with deworming medicine, helping prevent debilitating diseases. We also arrange for medical personnel to visit Darwin’s community on an annual basis. These personnel provide free medical care to the residents.

Education

At age five, Darwin is not old enough to attend school, but his parents are excited for him to go when it’s time. Darwin’s village has a school that serves some 360 students in twelve classrooms. In El Salvador, uniforms are required, but they are provided by the government. Through assistance from donors and corporate partners, Feed the Children can steps in with backpacks and other necessary items so kids have what they need to learn and succeed in school.

Darwin loves animals and dreams of becoming a veterinarian.
Darwin loves animals and dreams of becoming a veterinarian.

Darwin loves animals and would like to become a vet some day. With Feed the Children’s support of him, plus hard work and luck, these dreams can become a reality.

Livelihoods

El Salvador has a 16.2% rate of unemployment. We’re tackling that statistic in many different ways, but in Darwin’s village, that means fish. About a year ago, we helped develop a tilapia hatchery in the community. We work with the mothers who work at the feeding center, providing training and coursework about how to manage the hatchery for their own food as well as a means of generating income. This project has helped Darwin’s family and many others by providing knowledge and new approaches to improve their quality of life.

We aren’t just teaching one person to fish—we’re providing support to an entire community so that fishing can be the backbone of a sustainable economy. Darwin benefits, but so do many others.

It would be easy to give food to Darwin and children like him and then stop there. But we’re not content with easy answers and half steps. We want to create a world where no child goes to bed hungry. And we believe that when we all pitch in, hunger has an expiration date. Get to know more about the four pillars here and how you can get involved here.

 

Country Spotlight: El Salvador–Kenia Dreams of Shoes

For our next installment of this month’s focus on El Salvador, we’d like you to meet Kenia.

Kenia lives with her parents and her six siblings. The children range in age from nineteen to one—and at age nine, Kenia is right in the middle. Her father has a job, but not a steady one—as a bricklayer, he may earn about $75 a month. Kenia’s oldest sister also works cleaning homes, and brings in a little more than that.

It’s not much for a family of nine. But through luck, hard work and resourcefulness, they make it work. They live together in a small adobe, bamboo and plastic house that’s been in their family for fifty years. The house has electricity but no running water, which means Kenia’s mother spends untold hours hauling water for the household each day. Kenia has one pair of shoes, a pair of synthetic leather shoes donated by the government. She only wears them for school—they’ll last longer that way.

Kenia’s parents are able to put basic meals on the table. But these meals don’t always have the nutrition that Kenia and her siblings need to be healthy in body and mind. Breakfast might be tortillas with beans, or eggs if they’re available. Lunch is often a soup based on seasonal leaves and berries foraged near the home—spinach, blackberries, or chipilin, a legume common in Central America. Dinner is tortillas with salt and lemon, or beans again.

“My mom used to be very sad every day because my sisters, brothers and me didn’t have enough food to eat three times a day,” Kenia says. It made Kenia feel weak not to have enough food in her belly.

Kenia’s story is common in El Salvador. Overall, the national percentage of malnutrition is 19%, but the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that some areas of El Salvador have malnutrition rates approaching 50%.

Thankfully, Kenia and her school-age siblings benefit from a Feed the Children feeding center at her school. It was ten years ago that this partnership began with a group of mothers whom Feed the Children helped mobilize to provide a nutrient-rich hot meal every school day. Today the mothers continue to be the backbone of the program, coming together to prepare and serve meals to some 100 children.

The community also benefits from a community greenhouse that helps provide vegetables to cook in the feeding center, which saves money. Feed the Children brings in medical personnel to the community each year so people can receive annual checkups. And children older than 6 years of age receive medicine to prevent intestinal parasites.

Kenia with her favorite toy, a teddy bear named Daniel
Kenia with her favorite toy, a teddy bear named Daniel

With the support of Feed the Children, and the community development work Feed the Children has fostered, Kenia and her peers can grow and thrive. Kenia dreams of working in an office someday, perhaps as a secretary. After getting by with one pair of shoes for so long, she wants to have enough money to buy “pretty shoes.” For some, that might see like a modest dream. But for Kenia, it’s a sign of success and a better life.

Thanks to everyone who supports Feed the Children—through your donations, children like Kenia can dream their dreams and work to achieve them. With your help, hunger has an expiration date. Learn more about our work and how you can be involved.

 

When Grandparents Become Caregivers

Editor’s Note: The following article was originally posted on the IF:Gathering website. We are thankful for the partnership with IF:Gathering, which will be highlighting the work of Feed the Children on their blog over the next several months.

Many folks have specific images in their minds of what it will be like when they become grandparents. Rocking babies on their knee. Thanksgiving and Christmas with the entire family around the table. Kids visiting in the summer for “grandparent camp.” Sometimes grandparents will admit, “It’s all of the fun of parenting without the stress. I get to give them back to their parents!”But sometimes, tough circumstances change that vision of what grandparenting is like.

Some grandparents end up becoming caregivers for their grandchildren. After raising their own children, they now find themselves going through it all over again. Ada is one of those grandparents. She and her husband watched with increasing alarm as their grown kids, with three children of their own, got into some trouble—trouble that negatively impacted the children. Eventually, the grandparents were awarded custody of the three little ones, bringing them into their Tennessee home.

Soon after, Ada’s husband died.

It’s been three years now, and Ada has sole custody of eight-year-old Benjamin, four-year-old Nathaniel, and three-year-old Raelyn. Ada still works part-time, and that income helps pay the bills and put food on the table. But it’s often not enough.

Ada does her best to cobble together resources for the children—help from the church, food from a food pantry—but it’s a constant source of stress. “It breaks your heart sometimes,” Ada says. “It worries you, being afraid they won’t have enough. I’d like to get to where I wouldn’t have to worry about that. Those little eyes, when they look at you… you want to give them what they want.”Ada also gets by with food stamps—$343 a month. It helps, but with three growing children, it’s not much. Sometimes that money lasts all month, sometimes not.

“It hurts,” she says. Rent takes a large chunk out of her monthly paycheck, along with other bills. She’s careful to make the life insurance payments; as guardian to these kids—and not getting any younger—she has to be thinking about their long-term future.This time of year is especially tough on Ada. With the kids out of school, she has to pay for child care just so she can work. And her grocery receipts go up too—the kids receive free breakfasts and lunches during the school year, but when there’s no school, there’s no breakfast or lunch.

More and more community organizations and congregations are becoming summer feeding sites, helping bridge the gap after the school year ends. Feed the Children has been on the forefront of this movement in Oklahoma and soon to be around the country. But Ada’s little ones don’t have access to such a site. Their family needs more organizations and churches to step up and do what they can during these critical summer months.

Last month we shared Crystal’s story and called all of us pray for compassionate hearts. This month we challenge you to “pray with your eyes open.” When we think of families, we often think immediately of a father, mother and children. But that’s not always the reality. Families like Ada’s are all around us. Let’s all be on the lookout for non-traditional families like Ada’s, and consider what their struggles might be, and how we might be moved to respond.

H.E.L.P. Comes to West Virginia

August is a month in which we focus on back-to-school readiness–making sure kids have what the need to learn, grow and have success in school. Education is one of the four pillars of Feed the Children’s work, and we know kids can’t learn well if they don’t have their basic needs met. That’s why we take a multi-layered approach, providing not just food, but also school supplies and other essentials. We work closely with local organizations to make sure folks are part of a long-term effort to help them get on their feet and out of poverty for good.

Today we share a little more about our Homeless Education and Literacy Program, which provides backpacks and other vital supplies for children who are homeless. Read more about H.E.L.P. at this link.

Homelessness doesn’t just affect the big cities—it’s a problem that plagues small-town America as well. We partnered recently with a school district in West Virginia that has some 156 homeless children in 9 schools.

7-2015 CDR 3063 New HELP Backpack Photos -29-We provided a backpack and supplies for each of these young people, and staff at the schools let us know what a difference they made. On a survey evaluating the program, staff reported increases in attendance and self-esteem, and said the backpack program helped improve communication between school staff and the families.

The staff passed along their profound gratitude for the gifts H.E.L.P. provided: “The items provided in the backpacks are things that families on this level of income would never dream of being able to provide. Without your help in distributing these supplies, these children would simply go without.

Another staff member reported this: “One child couldn’t believe that she was going to have a backpack of her very own. This little girl also attends my church, and she brought the backpack to church with her the following week! She and her mother told me afterward how much they appreciated the gift. She also told me she sleeps with her backpack! Something that most of us take for granted can mean so much in the life of a child.”

During the month of August we’re inviting people to join us in providing hope for those without life’s essentials. Will you sponsor a backpack full of supplies (and a few goodies) so that a child is ready for school? It just takes a few moments. Here’s how.

H.E.L.P. for the Homeless

Summer is winding down, and children across the country are getting ready for another school year. For lots of kids, that means a new outfit for the first day, fresh unsharpened pencils and a perfect box of crayons, or a new backpack emblazoned with the latest cartoon character or superhero.

But for one population, back-to-school time can be a time of anxiety and stress for the whole family: the population of children in the United States who are homeless. Each year, 1.6 million American children go to sleep without a home of their own—and sadly, that number is rising.

Succeeding in school as a homeless child is tough. Algebra, anatomy and Animal Farm can be challenging enough without the stress of living on the street, jumping from shelter to shelter, or wondering whether your parents will be able find a job or provide for your basic needs. Unfortunately, these kids are three times more likely to drop out of school than kids with homes. Such a tragedy only feeds the cycle of illiteracy, poverty, and homelessness when these kids become parents themselves.

That’s why it’s imperative that we do everything we can to keep these kids in school. Education is the key to breaking the cycle and ensuring a better life. 

In fact, we know that if children who are homeless can remain in school, they perform as well as their peers over time. These kids will prove themselves academically and socially if given the chance. And their families want to work and contribute positively to society too.

But they need help. They need H.E.L.P.: Feed the Children’s Homeless Education & Literacy Program (H.E.L.P.).

H.E.L.P. is one of the few programs of its kind in the nation. Since its inception in 2006, the program has focused on providing children who are homeless with backpacks and basic supplies they need in order to be successful in school.

7-2015 CDR 3063 New HELP Backpack Photos -36-We stuff these backpacks with some of life’s essentials as well as a bit of fun: school supplies, ready-to-eat food, hygiene items, and of course, books. We work with homeless liaisons and schools across the country who know the face of homelessness and can help us connect and respond. These local partners deliver the backpacks to the students who need them most. They make this delivery privately to help preserve the dignity of these young people.

The homeless liaisons who hand out the backpacks tell us that children treasure these gifts. In some cases, the backpack is the only thing these kids own. The backpacks aren’t just a leg up on the school year—they’re a tangible expression of hope.

Since the beginning of H.E.L.P. almost ten years ago, we’ve distributed more than 700,000 H.E.L.P. backpacks. In 2013 alone, Feed the Children provided 65,000 backpacks to kids without homes.

Can we deliver even more in 2015? You can help by sponsoring one or more backpacks from our catalog. Click here–it’s fast and easy.

From Fashion to Feed the Children: A Conversation with Silvia Andena

Editor’s Note: We continue our series of posts highlighting some of the people who make up the Feed the Children team. Here is an interview with Silvia Andena, Country Director for Feed the Children Tanzania. Other blogs in this series can be found herehere and here.

How did you first get into this work? Why focus on children specifically?

20150304_105643
Silvia Andena

My first work experience was in the fashion sector, coming from Milan in Italy. That kind of work is a very easy road to take, and many people aspire to it, but I always had the idea to do something that would help other people. This first work experience helped me understand that desire even better, and I realized clearly that fashion was not the right sector for me!

With the support of my family, I decided to enroll in a Master’s in International Relations degree program in London, UK. That seemed to be the best way to shift towards working in the international sector.

I’ve always had a passion for traveling and living in different countries, and my idea was immediately to aim for Africa. I wanted to live there and understand the culture before finding the best way to be of help. It took me some years to get here, but finally I was able to make it!

The choice of children came naturally—they are the nicest thing on earth. But they are also fragile, and adults have a duty to help them protect themselves by empowering their lives. Even now, talking to children is one of my favorite things to do. I learn a lot from them about life and the best ways to help them.

Recently I have even decided to study children’s rights, in order to have more tools to help them. Working in this sector is not an easy thing, and without the right instruments and skills, you can’t have nearly as much positive impact.

What motivates you in your work? Is there a person, story or statistic that gets you out of bed in the morning and keeps you going?

People keep telling me that I am a good person for what I do. I feel I am actually a bit selfish. When you can do something to help others, you are the one benefiting the most from it. The smiles and warmth of people can make you feel alive, like you’re in the right place.

There is a sentence that I always try to remember in my work and my life from Terence, the Roman playwright: “I am a human, and I think nothing human is alien to me.”

That is what motivates me—my interest in other people, and spending my life doing something worthwhile for them. We all have a duty to help people in difficulty. Each of us, in our own lives, can find a small way to accomplish this.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing children and families in Tanzania, and how does Feed the Children address those challenges? 

Access to proper food, clean water and educational tools are the biggest challenges for children and their families. By supporting schools and communities through our four pillars, we can give children a proper education, which is their right. Also, by working to empower schools and communities, we can help solving other big problems present in Tanzania such as early pregnancies, child marriage and youth delinquency.

Is there a recent story you can share about the work being done in Tanzania on behalf of children?

We recently participated in the celebration of the Day of the African Child in one of our beneficiary schools. On that occasion children from other nearby schools participated, and Feed the Children provided all of them with juices and snacks. The children were able to dance and sing in front of adults and express their own views about the problems they have to face in their everyday life as African children. It was amazing to see small children expressing their thoughts with such energy, and then they all listened carefully during our speech about children’s right to education, particularly girls’ rights. I see this little event as a sign that this country might really see change happening. Children are our future!

What’s one misconception people in the United States might have about Tanzania? What would you want us to know about this country? 

FEED03Tanzania is not Africa; it is part of it. There are things Tanzanians share with other African populations, and things that are unique to them, such as their language and how it defines them as a culture and an independent nation. In Tanzania, the first language is not English; it is Kiswahili. People of different tribes, languages, and religions have been united under a language and a name. Nowadays, compared to other nearby countries, Tanzania is a peaceful one, where different people share their lives together without any conflict.

The general attitude of Tanzanian people is one of kindness and peace. This population has taught me what really means to be humble and patient. When you smile at them in the street they do not think you are weird or wanting something from them—they simply smile back.

“We Want to Make It Happen”: A Conversation with Scott Killough

Editor’s Note: We continue our series of posts highlighting some of the people who make up the Feed the Children team. Here is an interview with Scott Killough, Feed the Children’s Senior Vice President of International Operations. Other blogs in this series can be found here and here.

Tell us about your role at Feed the Children.

I’ve been at Feed the Children just over two years, and am currently the senior vice president for international operations. I coordinate and oversee all our international program activities around the world, as well as our program staff in the three regional offices and all ten of our country programs.

What’s your background?

My background is in international development. I’ve been living and working overseas for non-profit organizations for most of the last 30 years. My particular area of expertise is in international agriculture and rural development, and I spent many years living and working in the Philippines and Central America.

Last time we heard from you on the blog was after Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013. You visited the Philippines this past fall. Can you give us an update on the recovery and rebuilding that’s happening there? And what role is Feed the Children playing?

Unfortunately, typhoons are an annual occurrence in the Philippines, although Haiyan was a particularly bad one. I visited in November and had a chance to visit some of the communities and talk with families that had been affected.

Our response is twofold. Typically, our team will mobilize for an immediate relief response to communities that were affected, whether we are working in those parts of the country or not. Our staff and volunteers and partners were out quickly, providing food and supporting communities that were in the path of the storm.

The second phase of our response is to sit down with communities and identify ways we can support rebuilding and recovery efforts. And that’s where we invest more time and effort. As an example, we’ve been working with one community in Cebu province to help them rebuild their school.

We also helped develop a psycho-social counseling session for children and parents whose lives had been devastated. We worked with staff and volunteers from San Carlos University in Cebu to walk people through a process to better deal with their grief. In many cases their homes had been destroyed; they’d lost all their belongings.

Talk about the four pillars of Feed the Children: Food & Nutrition, Health & Water, Education, and Livelihoods. Talk about how those four pillars work together to help impoverished communities, with maybe a story to illustrate.

Improving livelihoods is one of the four pillars of our work.
Improving livelihoods is one of the four pillars of our work.

The four pillars for me represent the priorities that are universal to communities and families who face poverty in their lives every day. Everyone needs food and water, a decent education, and a chance to improve their livelihood.

As an organization though, the four pillars also provide Feed the Children with a concrete program framework around which we can plan our activities.

We typically start our programs with the first pillar: food and nutrition interventions. We may work with mothers to organize a school feeding program, or help parents introduce home gardens as a way to address food security at the household level. We bring the community together, and the social capital that’s built in the early work of the food and nutrition pillar becomes a platform for launching other activities— addressing health concerns, improving access to drinking water, improving education, and working with communities to support livelihoods.

One example of the four-pillar framework comes from the Philippines, where our four-pillar program framework was originally developed (although we’ve modified it, over time). What you see there are a number of communities working in partnership with schools, which have established school feeding activities. We’ve made investments in water systems both at the school and made drinking water more accessible to the wider community.

Tiyamike VSL group (3)
A village savings and loan group in Tiyamike

And we’ve had great success with the village savings and loan approach. We work with those same volunteer mothers and parents as we did in the beginning. The village savings and loan becomes a concrete mechanism for organizing small groups and getting them to build their own capital fund through savings. This happens not through an external infusion of capital from Feed the Children or our donors, but through their own group savings. Then, we work to support the community as they begin making small loans to the members of the group.

On the family level, the funds enable them to generate income by opening a small store, for example. Maybe it’s a “buy and sell” initiative in which they buy sweet potatoes, do some food processing/preparation and then sell the product at a higher value. There’s a lot of flexibility for individual families or groups to figure out the best way to improve their own household income. But that whole process often starts with meeting basic needs of food and nutrition.

What’s one misconception about international development work—something you wish people better understood?

Two points. One, in order to really bring about social change in communities we support, it is a process that takes time. It’s not something that you can map out in a two-year plan or a four-year plan. Development doesn’t follow a straight timeline: “We’ll do this, then this will happen.”

Second, many of us in the United States and the rest of the industrialized world think it’s our job to be on the ground doing the work. I don’t minimize the contribution and role that Feed the Children staff play, but when we see change, it’s because local people—mothers and fathers, community leaders—are stepping up and saying, “This is what we want for ourselves. We want to bring about these changes, not because you are giving us resources and training and support, but because this is our vision for our community and family. We want to make it happen.”

It sounds like community development work is very contextual, like there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. Or are there certain best practices or universal principles in play everywhere?

Well, it’s both. So much of what we do is location-specific. At the same time, there are certain attitudes and behaviors that we have as outsiders, that have been proven and time tested. We also know, from practice and learning, that there are certain ways of supporting ‘development’ – certain interventions – that will bring about better results or outcomes, and that are more cost-effective. We see those in a number of Feed the Children values: recognizing and respecting the dignity of individuals, working to develop local leaders, and understanding cultural diversity.

What motivates you in this work and keeps you going?

Right out of university many years ago, I worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala. That’s when I became involved in community development programs, with a focus on engaging men and woman at the community level.

That experience motivates me even today. How can we support men and women as they develop leadership and practical skills to make a difference for themselves, their families and their communities?  How can we support local communities to take a stake in their own well-being, in their own hopes and dreams for a better life? Those questions inspire me to work with colleagues in my own organization and other partner organizations to help make change at the community level. They really drive the work I do.

Top photo: Scott Killough visits with program coordinators and school faculty in Cebu City, Philippines.

 

 

TOMS Shares Shoes, Friendship in Nicaragua

In the Palo Verde community in Nicaragua, kids are growing and thriving… and so is fresh produce, thanks to a new garden that was recently planted as a result of a generous donation from an individual who visited the community recently.

With this gift, Feed the Children personnel were able to purchase tools, soil, compost, recycling bottles, hoses and pipes to create a small irrigation system. Students from the local school are tending the garden, which currently features onions and tomatoes, with plans to grow cassava. Children as young as seven are weeding, harvesting, and learning sustainable livelihoods—and are able to eat the fruits of their labor as well!

The community is also benefiting from a new submersible water pump to access fresh water. Up to this point the school has had to rely on the kindness of a local family, who granted access to their well, but were only able to do so for certain hours of the day. Now the school can rely on its own source of water, 365 days a year.

Last month a group from TOMS traveled to Nicaragua for a Giving Trip. The TOMS family includes a network of Shoe Giving Partners around the world and they host these trips to give their team members an opportunity to see the impact they are making and distribute shoes, learn about a Giving Partner, and experience the countries and communities they serve. The TOMS team was able to see Palo Verde firsthand, and we asked one of them to share her experiences in her own words.

Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 10.53.06 AMTell us about an experience or encounter that will stick with you.

Every encounter with every child, teacher, employee, or volunteer was so heartwarming and humbling, and genuinely contributed to an experience that I will forever hold close to my heart. Each person—big, small and teeny tiny—greeted us with either a smile, a timid look, or excitement at our presence, and gratitude for what we, at TOMS, do for them with the help of our Giving Partners like Feed the Children. But little did they know that they had an even greater impact on my soul than I feel I could have on them. 

I remember one particular boy, about 8 years old. After measuring his feet and trying on his shoes, he refused to keep his shoes on. He asked me to take them off and put his old, broken shoes back on. I was sad. I was sad that it seemed he was not as excited about his shoes as I was giving them to him. So with a heart full of sadness I watched him return to his seat. He didn’t know that I was watching him, but I saw him quietly return to his seat and sit down. Suddenly he hugged his shoes tightly with both arms and kissed them over and over again. My heart lifted. He was so happy and proud of his new shoes, and it warmed my heart that he hadn’t rejected the shoes, he had simply wanted to have a special moment with them first.  

What surprised you most about what you saw while there?

I was astonished by the amount of work, support and thoughtfulness behind each program that Feed the Children takes on to drive toward a better tomorrow. I was absolutely amazed by how much Feed the Children does and how immersed they are in the communities. They know these kids by name—they know their parents, their family history, and see each child as the most important gem on earth. It was incredibly beautiful to see, and I will forever be a lifetime advocate and fan of Feed the Children.

What did you take away from this experience?

Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 10.58.51 AM

This experience was inspiring… the people, the work, the effort it takes… everywhere I turned I saw and learned something new. It truly takes a community of people who are hopeful about the future and want a brighter future to lift a community out of poverty. And the reality is that it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, hard work, and unwavering commitment from a whole lot of people. 

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Here at Feed the Children, we appreciate the commitment of TOMS and all of our partners! Through their support, we are making a difference in the lives of children in Nicaragua and around the world. To learn more about our international work, click here

When the Waters Rise… Feed the Children Responds

At Feed the Children, we work day in and day out to help create a world in which no child is hungry. But when disaster strikes, we also mobilize quickly to provide immediate aid.

Recent severe storms across the southern regions of the U.S. have caused widespread flash floods extending nearly 800 miles from southern Texas to central Missouri. According to the National Weather Service in Fort Worth Texas, more than 35 trillion gallons of water fell in May over the Texas alone—enough to cover the Lone Star State with eight inches of water. This flooding has devastated communities, destroyed homes, and taken the lives of some 24 people.

Because we work in partnership with local organizations, we are ideally positioned to provide aid when disaster strikes. Following last week’s floods, Feed the Children has allocated supplies through our existing partner network and in collaboration with National Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster. Supplies were delivered to the Wimberley area in the Texas Hill Country, including clean-up kits, personal care items, Rubbermaid products, and beverages.

We have allocated two truckloads of supplies to be delivered within the next day or so, and we’re making plans for more. Can you help? Please visit our donations page and help us provide relief and hope in this vital effort.

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Photo By: Alberto Martinez/Austin American-Statesman via AP