Imagine you are 8 years old living in Cebu. And your mom tells you that another big storm is about to hit your island, like last year.
You’d wonder about what might happen to your toys.
You’d wonder if the waters would get too high.
You’d wonder if you’d have a house to go home to when the storm passed.
And then the rains start and the winds come. Imagine how scared you’d feel and how worried you’d be about your friends, down the street.
When morning came, what would your street look like? What about your school? And your friends’ houses?
This is the reality for so many kids in the Philippines right now.
No water. No power. Destroyed homes and schools.
Today, the worst may be over for the kids in the Philippines as Typhoon Hagupit (locally name “Ruby”) ravaged central islands for days, but the challenge to feed thousands of children and family members is beginning to hound the country.
In Northern Cebu, though families started returning to their homes Monday, many houses were totally destroyed still remained at evacuation centers needing food and other assistance.
Many families who thought the worse couldn’t happen to them again are now facing their worst fears.
The good news is that thanks to our generous donors, Feed the Children started providing hot meals fortified with VitaMeal in evacuation centers of Bogo, Cebu, while simultaneously conducting rapid disaster needs and assessment to other hit areas of Northern Cebu.
Kids in the streets and at community gathering points are being greeted by loving Feed the Children staff. Working around the clock, our staff is encouraging kids that through the gift of a hot meal they are seen. They are cared for. And together, one step at a time, life will be better.
One thing is for sure: recovery in the Philippines will be a long process.
Few families have back up plans for what to do when the little bit of food they have runs out.
Although most parents and kids in the areas of Tabogon and Daan Bantayan, Cebu were no longer in evacuation centers as of Monday afternoon, there is still the need to distribute emergency food packs.
Most families’ whose livelihood relies on fishing were unable to go out fishing since Thursday and farmers were unable to harvest crops and fruits.
The Philippine government has yet to release official total damage assessments but has declared 7 regions to be under a state of calamity including Metro Manila, the capital City.
Feed the Children has worked in the Philippines for the last 25 years, and we are here to stay. We will continue to distribute emergency aid until it is no longer needed, one child, one mother, one father at a time.
Yesterday, in Nairobi, Kenya the kids of the Dagoretti Children Center gathered for their first ever American Thanksgiving dinner.
It was an especially celebratory occasion because Kevin Hagan, President and CEO of Feed the Children helped to cook the meal along with his wife Elizabeth.
Kevin and Elizabeth spent the days leading up to the big dinner carefully planning the meal with the kitchen staff of the Center. Then, yesterday morning they worked tirelessly with the kitchen team to prepare the feast, side by side. Wearing special Feed the Children aprons and hats; they cooked and cooked and cooked.
When asked, Kevin said he wanted spend the holidays in Kenya because, “The kids at the Center are so very important to me. They’re the heart of our mission. I need them to know that their Feed the Children family loves them.”
Over 50 children and staff gathered around adjoined tables for this great feast.
The menu consisted of the traditional fare –turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and stuffing along with a few other side dishes more familiar to the Kenyan children likecooked carrots, garden peas and leeks. The children liked the sweet potatoes and turkey the best.
For dessert, the children enjoyed cupcakes with ice cream, a rare treat, while the adults savored on apple crumble and peach cobbler.
Before dinner began, Elizabeth offered a thanksgiving prayer and many of the children shared what they were thankful for –“Life!” “Feed the Children!,” and “Our visitors to Kenya!”
Kevin carved the turkey and explained the history of American Thanksgiving and why it is important to give thanks.
After dinner, the staff choir shared several songs with the group, which included “Count Your Many Blessings” and some traditional Swahili songs about giving thanks as well.
Several of the older children performed a skit about thankfulness, inviting the audience to join in.
Seintje Veldhuis, Regional Director of African programs, who also helped to organize the event said, “This was a very happy day for the children and the staff. We gave thanks to all be together.”
The Thanksgiving festivities concluded with a song in Swahili about how “Goodness had come to Dagoretti” on this very special day. The staff, children and choir danced their way out of the Dining hall. Each leaving the dinner with a smile on their face!
Last month, Feed the Children’s Chief Operating Officer and President of FTC Transportation, Travis Arnold, traveled to Guatemala along with several other staff members to visit communities where we work. When he returned, we asked Travis to tell us about the trip, what he learned, and how it changed him.
Feed the Children: Tell us about your role at Feed the Children.
Travis Arnold: For the last 13 years, I’ve been a part of this great mission that no child around the world goes hungry. Currently, as Chief Operating Officer, I am responsible for managing daily operations, both in the U.S. and around the world. I also serve as the President of our for-profit arm, FTC Transportation. This subsidiary supports the operational needs of Feed the Children by delivering food and other essentials to children and families across the country.
Feed the Children: You’d never visited, Guatemala, right?
TA: No, I hadn’t.
Feed the Children: What surprised you about this country?
TA: I’d heard stories from others who had visited about how beautiful the country was, but it was even more beautiful than I imagined. It’s a wonderful place — the lush valleys, the mountainous regions — with so much tourism potential, given the right infrastructure and leadership. And the children are so beautiful
Feed the Children: What stood out to you about our work in Guatemala?
TA: The children, of course. They were so kind and respectful. And though the kids eat the same meal day after day: fortified rice from our partner, 4Life, and beans with a tortilla, I never heard a complaint. In fact, in one community we visited, not one child ate anything until all the kids in the community were served. Then, after a prayer, all the children ate at the same time. We learned this was not a show for the visitors. These kids are just so grateful.
Feed the Children: Do you think we need to do more and reach more people in places like Guatemala? How do you respond to people who say, “We should feed the American kids first”?
TA: By no means do I want to take anything away from the kids who are empowered through Feed the Children’s work in the U.S. We have so many hungry kids in our own backyard that we need to take care of. It’s our national responsibility. But, what people don’t realize is that poverty in places like rural Guatemala is extreme. Most families are too poor to afford fruits and vegetables. They have no resources to fall back on when those hard times get even worse — a parent falls ill, a child is born with a disability, or a tropical storm destroys their home. Many of the kids I met only eat once a day, and that meal comes from Feed the Children.
Feed the Children: What is one thing you saw on this trip to Guatemala that you’d most like our donors to know about?
TA: Know that the work in this country has been validated. I saw with my own eyes the kids that are being lifted out of poverty because of your donations. If it weren’t for you, donors and partners, these kids wouldn’t have hope. And it’s lasting hope we’re bringing because we are not just feeding kids. We’re investing in education, giving communities clean water, and helping parents find jobs. I met with one mayor in a town where we’ve hosted a feeding center for years. The mayor showed me pictures and told me over and over again, “You’re changing lives. Kids are coming to school. They’re learning. They’re dreaming big for their future.
Feed the Children: Anything else you would like to share with our readers?
TA: Since I returned to Oklahoma, the faces of the children I met have stayed with me. I do the work I do every day because of them. They are our heroes!
Recently, we shared an interview with you about a trip that Corey Gordon, our Chief Marketing Officer took to North Korea. He traveled to this place that few Americans ever visit. He explored the possibility of feeding hungry children in this country. In July, Corey traveled again to North Korea to meet with more government leaders and see the results of our first shipment of food into the country. We thought you would like to hear this update on his trip and the work we are doing.
Feed the Children: What did you do on this trip to North Korea? CG: I traveled to North Korea to validate with my own eyes, the Vitameal distribution. My guides took me to 9 different orphanages. One day I also visited a children’s hospital and a physical rehabilitation center.
I also had several meetings with higher-level officials, including those with the Korea Education Fund (KEF), an internationally recognized NGO established by their leader, Kim Jung Un. KEF’s mission is to ensure the feeding, education and health of the childen in North Korea. Here, I was able to meet with and have a really productive conversation with their president and their senior program manager. We discussed partnering together, and how best to work in conjunction with the governmental agency that oversees Feed the Children’s involvement in the North Korea.
Feed the Children: What did the North Koreans think of the shipment of Vitameal?
CG: We couldn’t have picked a better product to send than Vitameal. Everyone I met with, the orphange directors, the doctors at the larger orphanges, the government officials, the team from KEF, were all very supportive and saw the value of the protein and nutrients in the Vitameal for the kids.
We knew this would be far more nutritious than just sending rice, with the added vitamins and minerals necessary for the healthy development of the kids. However, what we didn’t know at the time was the cultural good we were also doing.
Rice is cliché in Asian cuisine – everybody eats rice. But if you go to a nice restaurant and ask for rice, they don’t just give you plain white rice. You get something else mixed into it – other grains or beans, which is a sign of higher level in society. Vitameal is a combination of lentils, barley, and rice, and they mixed it into the rice they already had. So this made the children’s meal more like a special treat or occasion. Needless to say, they are very eager to receive more. They also told me countless times how thankful they were that Feed the Children followed through on its promise. It added greatly to our credibility that we made good on our commitment, before going back there.
Feed the Children: Did you see anything else interesting on your trip?
CG: My guides wanted me to see more of their country, to learn more about their history and culture, things that made them proud of their country.
I visited Kaesong, the cultural historical birthplace of Korea, the home of the Koryo dynasty. I love history, so it was fascinating to see things that were 1000-1200 years old. I was also given a tour of the birthplace of Kim Il Sun, which holds as much honor to them as we would view Mount Vernon.
I traveled to Panmunjom, which is the actual border between north and south (not the demilitarized zone). DPRK soldiers escorted me right up to the border itself. And I saw the building where the UN and Allied troops met with the DPRK leaders and where they signed the armistice. Everything was there just as if the meeting took place yesterday! I even sat in the chair where the UN negotiators sat to work out the deal.
Feed the Children: What were some aspects of your time in North Korea that surprised you this time?
CG: Even after visiting once, I didn’t realize how many preconceived notions I had about North Korea. I was very humbled by that, as I had considered myself to be fairly balanced and open-minded.
Probably what surprised me the most was the level of criticism directed towards American NGOs. I had expected there would be such towards the U.S. goverment, but it’s pretty evident that they don’t think much of the arrogance and tactics of American NGOs and visitors.
Unfortunately, the perception of the “Ugly American” is still very much alive internationally, with our seeming belief that we have all the answers and can solve all the world’s problems. Yet they can just as clearly see that we have our own issues and sins as well. I reiterated over and over that we would not be there to be critical and judgmental, we would always be respectful guests and partners.
Feed the Children: What are your hopes for Feed the Children’s relationship with North Korea in the future?
CG: Working in North Korea is very much a step-by-step process, as we continue to work hard to establish credibility and trust, both ways. Kim Jung Un recently visited an orphanage himself, and was quoted as saying, “Children are the king of this country.” That statement clearly highlights that the North Korean leaders really do want to help their children, but just need help to do so. Our response – a second shipment of Vitameal arrives into North Korea this week, with the next container to be shipped at the end of the month. These shipments cost us $5,000 per container, so if you look at it from a per serving basis, that’s less than 3 cents per meal. It’s such a small cost for making a huge impact on the future of so many children!
Beyond providing food, the North Korean officials have already authorized us to begin bringing into the country deworming medicines and Vitamin A, as we look to expand our work to focus on the health of the children. As funding continues to be available, we are looking forward to a long-term relationship with our North Korean partners, expanding the type of products we can send to help more kids.
To help futher this work, I will be traveling to South Korea this week, where I will be meeting with a number of potential board members and supporters and moving forward with the launch of Feed the Children Korea. Our office in Seoul will direct our programmatic work in South Korea, as well as help support the work in North Korea. Our goal is to have our office up and running by the end of the year, and I hope to return to North Korea in December.