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.

 

Country Spotlight: El Salvador — An Interview with Ricardo Candray

This month we begin a new feature on our blog, Country Spotlight. In addition to our general blog content, each month we will be sharing a series of articles about one of our ten partner countries. We hope our Country Spotlight will give readers a deeper picture of the work we do around the world.

We kick things off with a focus on El Salvador and an interview with Country Director Ricardo Alcides Candray Menendez, who joined Feed the Children in 1991. Special thanks to Mayra Humphrey and Meylin Quan for conducting the interview.

How did you first get into this work? Why focus on children specifically? The opportunity arrived at the right time. I was called for an interview and found out this was my true calling. I decided to focus on children, first of all because I have children of my own. I have never had to see them go through hard times—so the passion started thanks to my children. But I also feel whole when I see the smiles on the faces of the children we serve, because I know that at least they had a decent meal on that day.

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? What motivates me is being able to help children, mothers, families and communities. There is a child that I met a long time ago. His name is Edwin, from the community of El Refugio. His father suffered from alcoholism, so he looked up to me as a father figure. Edwin is now all grown up, because we gave him an opportunity [to grow and thrive]. So every child I meet in a community reminds me of Edwin.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing children and families in El Salvador, and how does Feed the Children address those challenges? Some of the biggest challenges are poverty, hunger, unemployment and health. Feed the Children’s four-pillar approach helps address these challenges. In fact we do much more than provide food—we teach and empower children, parents, care providers, and their communities to reverse malnutrition and defeat hunger. The four pillars of our child-focused community-development program are Food & Nutrition, Health & Water, Education, and Livelihoods.

*IMG_5484Is there a recent story you can share about the work being done in El Salvador on behalf of children? We recently have been receiving donations from Vitamin Angels. Now children below the ages of 5 are receiving Vitamin-A supplementation, and the mothers that are pregnant are also receiving prenatal vitamins, which makes me really happy because this vitamin helps with vision, particularly in low light. Chronic deficiency can cause blindness.

What’s one misconception people in the United States might have about El Salvador? What would you want us to know about this country? The most common misconception is that only delinquents and gangs live in this country. We would like for people to know Salvadorians are nice, responsible and hardworking people. Not all the population are wrongdoers. Millions of Salvadorians love their country and believe in God.

Just for fun:

Interests and hobbies: Soccer

Favorite vacation destination: United States

Favorite restaurant: “Mariscos Beto” ( Beto’s Shrimp)

Favorite scripture: Philippians 4:13

Favorite American city: Pasadena

Favorite song/artist: Marcos Witt

What did you want to be when you were 6 years old?: Teacher

Top 3 on your bucket list: Go to Africa; Get involved in a mission to help evangelize people; That all of my family is converted to believing in God and Jesus Christ.

Your favorite day at Feed the Children so far? In October 2013 when we received a donation to build our new feeding center in the community of La Labor.

 

Education is the Key: Jaqueline’s Story

Imagine having to choose which of your children will be the one to go to school. For too many parents around the world, this is the agonizing choice they must make.

Jaqueline is the lucky student in her household. Jaqueline, age 10, lives with her mother and two sisters in a small village in Nicaragua. Her older sister stays home with the younger one so their mother can work and Jaqueline can go to school. Each day between February and November Jaqueline joins almost 70 other students in a small school with three classrooms.

Jaqueline loves to play with dolls and toy kitchen sets. But she’s bright and imaginative enough to play with just about anything. During one recent visit she was seen amusing herself with a piece of plastic and a bunch of bottle caps. She enjoys her schoolwork too, and her favorite subject is literature. She loves to read, and even though she doesn’t own a book herself, she gobbles up the books her teacher brings to the classroom. She wants to be a teacher when she grows up, and she wants to teach the children in her community, in her words, “so they can study a lot.”

A decent education is one of the key elements in bringing kids out of poverty; in fact, it’s one the four pillars we focus on when engaging in community development. Education will give Jaqueline a fighting chance at a better life. But it’s a tough road. The unemployment rate is 90% where she lives, and her single mother ekes out a living working in tobacco, tomato and cucumber fields near their village. During harvesting season, Jaqueline’s mother earns about a hundred cordobas a day—that’s less than $4.

A wage like that is barely enough to keep the family’s pantry stocked with tortillas, rice and beans. A backpack full of school supplies would be unthinkable.

Unthinkable… except that individuals just like you have decided to stand with Jaqueline and help give her a future. Thanks to Feed the Children donors, partners, dedicated staff, and the engagement of the residents themselves, the unthinkable is now possible for Jaqueline and countless others.

*3-2015 NI0002 Jaqueline Morales  (1)Today, Jaqueline, her sisters, and other children in the village get a good nutritious meal five days a week. They receive shoes and other basics. And at the beginning of every school year, Jaqueline receives a backpack filled with school supplies that has allowed her to keep studying and help that dream of being a teacher to become a reality.

We know that helping lift children out of poverty is a multi-faceted process. For Jaqueline, a good meal means she’s able to focus on her studies without a grumbling belly. But the backpack gives her the supplies she needs to thrive in her studies. It’s also a tangible sign that we believe in her—that you believe in her.

Even at her young age, Jaqueline can see what this support has meant to her family: “Before, my mom was very sad when she could not pay for my school supplies, and she told me I would not be able to go to school. Now, I am happy, and she is happy, because I go to school.”

Jaqueline’s school year will be winding down soon—typically in Nicaragua, the children attend school between February and November. Here in the United States, however, the school year is well underway. Learn more about how our programs support education and how you can be a part of it.

Ending Child Marriages in Africa: Sian’s Story

Sian is a hardworking, talented and beautiful 13-year old girl. A student in Kajiado County, Kenya, she devotes herself to her studies and her family and thinks about her future.

For Sian and other children her age, especially girls, that future can be uncertain and full of anxiety. Child marriages are still a common practice in many parts of the world, including sub-Saharan Africa. Currently more than 700 million women living around the world were married before their 18th birthday. More than a third of those were married before age 15. The most dire statistics come from South Asia, with 41% of girls marrying before age 18, but West and Central Africa follow closely behind.

According to a 2014 report from UNICEF, girls who marry before they turn 18 are less likely to remain in school and more likely to experience domestic violence. Young teenage girls are more likely to die due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth than women above 20; their infants are more likely to be stillborn or die in the first month of life.

Sian with her mother
Sian with her mother

As a talented and hardworking girl, Sian would be an attractive focus for suitors. Once married, she would likely not see a classroom again, instead focusing her energies on taking care of a household. By the time she is 20, she could have 3 children or more. Hypothetically, when those children reach the same age as Sian, the cycle would continue.

The issue of child marriage is further complicated by the practice of Female Genital Mutilation, a custom that has been banned in many countries but is still practiced covertly in many communities. In early 2014, Sian’s mother started to prepare her for “Emurata,” a Maasai word for the practice. Once Sian went through the practice, her community would see her branded as a ‘mature woman,’ ready for marriage.

Research shows that FGM and child marriage profoundly and permanently harm girls, denying them their right to make their own decisions and to reach their full potential. These customs are detrimental to the girls themselves, their families and the society at large. There can also be profound long-term medical complications from the practice.

Tuesday, June 16 is the Day of the African Child, an annual event to bring awareness to issues facing young people on the continent. This year’s focus is on child marriage—on children just like Sian. The African Union has addressed the practice of child marriage and sees it as a hindrance to the development of the continent, not to mention the affect on individual girls and families. Child marriage is a complex issue that is driven by a number of factors in different societies. To turn the statistics around will take the power of many—government, communities, churches, leaders and other experts.

Supporting girls as they reach full adulthood is one of our missions at Feed the Children. One month before Sian was due to undergo Female Genital Mutilation, Sian’s mother attended a community event sponsored by Feed the Children. During this session, community members came together to discuss the effects of FGM and also to promote Alternatives Rites of Passage (ARP). This training was designed and planned in conversation with parents, community members, and local leaders to gain their confidence and enhance ownership around changing this cultural practice.

Armed and equipped with the right information, Sian’s mother sent her daughter for a one week training organized by Feed the Children on ARP. During the training, Sian and 40 other girls were empowered with information on life skills, sexual health, child rights and responsibilities, and mechanisms for reporting in case of violation. The girls developed a strong bond within the ‘ARP-movement’ as they shared their fears for the future, but rejoiced in their new knowledge and empowerment—especially once they saw the support from parents and community leaders who want to see them thrive. Through our work and the partnership of many others, Sian and her peers will be allowed to be children for a few years longer and dream big dreams for themselves.

This year’s Day of the African Child is themed “25 Years after the Adoption of the African Children’s Charter: Accelerating our Collective Efforts to End Child Marriage in Africa.” To mark this important day, let us take a moment to reflect on areas of improvement in order to save the young from getting into marriage at a time that they are barely teenagers. To end child marriages is not easy given that culture is complex. To end child marriages comes with a call for different organizations to work together as a bloc. It calls for an open discussion by stakeholders at the community, national, regional and continental levels, and coordination between them in order to accelerate the end to this practice.

Screen Shot 2015-06-15 at 8.29.24 PM

Following the one-week training, the girls went through a graduation ceremony. There was a great turnout by the parents, community leaders and government representatives. Here the girls rejoice and dance at the ceremony, champions indeed—and they can thrive even more with you in their corner. Learn more about our international development work, or browse our gift catalog for education-related items to help make the difference in the life of a child like Sian.

–Reporting by Seintje Veldhuis of Feed the Children Kenya

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. 

~

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

A Well in Malawi: In Celebration of #WorldWaterDay

“Water is life. Children are the leaders of tomorrow. Thank you Feed the Children for investing in our future generation.” -Josophat

Around the world, more than 780 million people lack ready access to clean, safe water. For some, this means traveling many miles for hours each day to fetch water from a remote well. For the people in one village in Malawi, it meant encountering contaminated water once they got there.

While the village had a deep, machine-dug well not far from the community, for more than ten years this well had no cover. People would throw items into the well. Dirt and sand would blow in. People were getting sick.

“My children were greatly affected with the unclean water,” said Irene, mother of two young children. “I would spend weeks in hospital with my first born son because of diarrhea. It was a sorry situation.” At times the women would resort to drawing water from hand-dug wells, but the effects were worse.

The women of the village also came to see the well as a hazard in their midst. It was harrowing just to stand beside it and peer down into it. Children could easily fall in.

For years the people of the village tried makeshift remedies for the exposed well—wood planks, sheets of iron—but they were no match for the fierce wind and elements.

Things are different today.

Last June, Feed the Children helped install a well cover to enable community access to clean and safe water. It was a true partnership—the community provided bricks, a contractor offered expertise, and Feed the Children furnished materials and coordination. Malawi’s Ministry of Water was also involved, offering technical support.

Today the community is enjoying unlimited access to clean and safe water. More than a hundred families fetch water from this well. The well is located close to the Community Based Child Care Centre (CBCC) which hosts 61 children who are also accessing water from the same well. Hospital visits have decreased. Children can learn, grow and be kids.

Parents now have greater peace of mind and the time to focus on other initiatives to improve the community. These programs include Village Savings and Loan groups, helping improve community members’ financial status. A care group program promotes behavior changes at the household level in hygiene and sanitation, nutrition and breastfeeding.

Eunice Maxwell draws water from an unsafe well
Eunice draws water from an unsafe well

“My life has greatly improved, thanks to Feed the Children,” said Eunice, a mother of four. “Because of Feed the Children, my family drinks clean and safe water, and going to fetch water is not a burden for me anymore. I have enough time to do my house chores and also rest. Before, I used to spend long hours at the well just to fetch water.”

This Sunday is World Water Day, and we’re inviting you to celebrate the this community’s success and make that same change possible in other places around the world. Our gift catalog makes it easy to donate.

For the cost of a bottle of water a day, you can provide a water filter kit for a entire family. Does your office have a water cooler? For the same price, you and your co-workers can come together and provide a hand-washing station for a community to help prevent disease. Give today.

Championing One Child at a Time: Gerardo in El Salvador

At Feed the Children, we feed 350,000 kids every school day internationally. And on paper, it’s a large number. But in the midst of all the numbers we never want to forget the one child.’

In our logo, the “i” in the word “children” is lower case while the rest of the word is uppercase. It’s a great reminder for us all of us that we’re championing one child at a time.

Today, we want to tell you about one child named Gerardo from El Salvador.

ApgH1NxbYR-U3tGac0oR2U6mK8GMqbNIqUJl61BKq0QTen year old Gerardo lives with his aunt because his mother migrated to Guatemala to look for a job opportunity.

Gerardo lives in a small house located in the middle of a large plot of land. His house is made of cinder block the roof of zinc and the floors of bricks and tin doors.

Inside of Gerardo’s house, there’s a small living room, two bedrooms (one for Gerardo and one for his aunt, they sleep on a small and old mattress). They cook their meals over a firewood oven made of adobe. Their curtains over the windows are made of plastic bags.

Gerardo has electricity in his home but has to go outside to find a toilet.

Gerardo’s family income is around $80.00 US per month. This income mostly comes from his aunt’s work of selling eggs and tilapia to her neighbors.

Gerardo says, “Sometimes there is nothing to eat at home.”

But his story changes when he comes to school. At school, he receives a hot meal every day at the Feed the Children feeding center. His favorite foods to eat are: soy meat, beans with cheese and eggs.

When asked to explain more, Gerardo told a Feed the Children staffer: “I enjoy all the food that the Feeding Center gives me every day, it is delicious. I am so happy for that and when I am at the feeding center I feel that I am with my family.”

After lunch, he plays and laughs with his friends. He’s excited about learning. His favorite subject is Language and he loves reading.

His aunt says Gerardo now dreams about his future.

rU_7_wIkCQaGyyCxupnHXsCjjhv-6MH9H7DMMRpF6hkWhen he grows up, he wants to be a policeman because he does not like injustice. He wants to make a difference in his community. He wants to keep people safe.

Besides receiving food at school, his community now has a greenhouse and tilapia project, which teaches mothers in the community, like Gerardo’s aunt, about how to feed their families more nutritious food. Gerardo’s aunt says these Feed the Children projects have unified the community. Together, they are now pulling all of their resources together to make a better life for all of the children.

We asked Gerardo what he would like to say to his child sponsor and other Feed the Children donors, “Thank you Feed the Children for all the help you gave to me and my aunt. All the food is delicious.”

We are encouraged by the stories of kids like Gerardo and are reminded by the words of Mother Teresa who said, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”

We can all help one child. We can all help champion kids like Gerardo.

To learn more about child sponsorship in El Salvador, click here.

Bringing Hope to Nicaragua, Thanks to TOMS– One Foot at Time

We love when our partners get the opportunity to travel to the field to see how their contributions are changing lives.

 Recently, Morgan Loomis, our Director of International Partnerships traveled to Nicaragua with a delegation from TOMS—a committed partner of ours that provides new shoes to kids within our programs.

Morgan shared plenty upon her return.

Recently, Feed the Children hosted a Giving Trip in Nicaragua for a group from TOMS.

TOMS is in business to improve lives and wants to ensure their own team has the opportunity to experience this first-hand and see the impact their work is making.

I, along with local Feed the Children staff and the group from TOMS, spent a week in the field visiting communities and learning about our programs and 4-Pillar approach to development: Food and Nutrition, Water Sanitation and Health, Education, and Livelihoods.

Throughout the week, we delivered TOMS giving shoes, served meals, met with teachers and community leaders, and spent time playing with the children.

Though it was rainy season and extremely hot, I was so proud of how beautifully the TOMS staff interacted with the kids and community leaders we met during our journey. Everyone was so excited to see the work for themselves—through their eyes.

For me, personally, I loved the opportunity to interact with the hard working members of our field staff on the ground in Nicaragua. Our field teams are incredibly dedicated to our mission, but sometimes in the US we don’t truly understand all they do as they travel great distances every week to champion children in schools and at community centers. In Nicaragua alone, we feed nutritious meals to over 1,900 children in 20 communities and deliver school supplies to 1,200 students in 14 communities.

We met children in better health, doing better in school and with much hope for their futures. In community after community, teachers shared personal stories of the impact that they have seen on the children who receive TOMS and the glowing feedback they have received from parents.

Our team truly felt the joy of the children as we laughed and played with them. They love TOMS and Feed the Children for bringing shoes and the “shoemaking” team to them.

The visit gave the children an opportunity to meet TOMS staffers and make a personal connection to the individuals that support them.  This personal link is almost as important as the shoes themselves, because it truly makes the children realize someone truly cares and supports them.

We felt overwhelmed by the generous hospitality of the kids’ songs, poems and dances. Parents shared with our team later, how much the kids enjoyed playing games with the travelers and how special the visit made them feel.

TOMS groupOn our last day, the group spent the morning at Feed the Children’s Productive Training Center in El Crucero, delivering TOMS to children and visiting with the mothers. At the center, mothers are taught livelihood skills, such as training in vegetable production, baking, tailoring and poultry management. These skills not only allow them to provide food for their children, but are also an alternative income generation resource they can use to support their families in other ways.

Before we left, the volunteer moms surprised the team with a TOMS cake and expressed gratitude for their support. How cool was this!

TOMS cakeI came home thankful for TOMS and the privilege of working with the wonderful donors that support Feed the Children’s international programs.

Truly, one child, one pair of shoes at a time, we are impacting kids’ lives forever in Nicaragua, and around the world!

Hope for the Future: Kindergarten Graduates in Uganda

In some parts of the world, like in the US, registering your child for kindergarten is truly an emotional step. Your baby is a baby no more. Their educational journey has begun. Countless tears are shed in anticipation of the great change in developmental status.

But, Mom and Dad’s emotions aside, thanks to public schools, beginning and then graduating from kindergarten is a natural first step for five and six year old children in the US. Parents don’t worry that there won’t be a building or what’s most critical–an opportunity for their child’s learning to flourish.

The same is not true for early learners in Northern Uganda.

In designated settlements without early learning centers, kids simply stay at home until primary school begins in the 1st grade.

Yet, thanks to the generous child sponsors of Feed the Children back in 2013, all of this changed for a group of very excited and eager kindergarteners. The Sunrise Early Childhood Development Center opened its doors near Gulu, Uganda.

Starting small, a group of four qualified teachers and three support staff welcomed 23 preschoolers. At preschool, the kids learn the alphabet (A to Z) and counting. They also begin to learn colors, different types of animals, greetings (morning/evening greetings) and social skills like naming family members. Each child receives a hot meal each day provided by generous Feed the Children donors. Feed the Children has also installed physical equipment on site and provided school uniforms.

What is most remarkable about Sunrise is that it’s the only early childhood center in Twonokun, a village with over 1000 households. The kids who come to Sunrise are the lucky few.

Now, Sunrise hosts 124 children, many of whom now receive three meals a day from our staff–getting vital nutrients needed for their growth and development.

Sunrise hosted it first ever kindergarten graduation on November 28th of last year. (In Uganda, the school term ends for Christmas holidays late in November). It was a happy day indeed and lives on as a day for rejoicing!

With clear skies above, and the atmosphere bright and cheerful inside; children lined up for the festivities. A total of 30 children participated in this first graduation ceremony at Twonokun Village.

As part of the program, the graduates recited facts they’d learned and shared songs and dances with their adoring parents and caregivers, who gathered to watch the festivities.

sunrise ECDC parentsIn speeches, the local leadership voiced their support towards the continued growth of the Center. The parent representative exclaimed “Thank you so much Feed the Children for making sure our kids are fed at school!”

One Feed the Children staffer observed of the mood of the children on their special day: “Their faces were visibly excited. It was a happy day to rejoice in the voices of the children and their hope!”

Following a beautiful ceremony of dance and skits and crowned with a football (soccer) tournament that was arranged by the youth of Twonokun; community members entertained parents.

The day concluded with the official dedication of the school. The centre also serves as a day care centre for other families which means that children of less than 3 years also have access to porridge and a lunch meal!

We are thankful that we can participate in the joy of making moments like these happen in Uganda. We know that as they study hard, even with the challenges, that their future is bright. Congratulations, graduates!