Helping Kids Thrive: A Story from Guatemala

Many of us are accustomed to taking out loans for big expenses:
A home.
A car.
College tuition.

But imagine having to take out a loan for your child’s school supplies.

That’s the economic reality for many people around the world.

Juana is a four year old in Guatemala. She’s too young for school, but her three older siblings all attend.

What’s even more significant is that the parents are going into debt in order to educate their two daughters, in a culture in which many families don’t allow their girls to go to school. It’s seen as an unnecessary expense in a culture in which girls are raised to get married and keep the home. Juana’s parents want their girls to have opportunity and self-sufficiency.

Juana’s village is a picture of contrasts. It’s a beautiful site near a lake in the middle of a dormant volcano. The ancient Maya settlements make it a popular tourist destination. Luxury hotels and fancy amenities clash with local living conditions; the indigenous communities around the lake struggle to maintain their quality of life in a region with few public services and poor infrastructure.

The economy in the village is centered around coffee and fishing, with the women creating beaded jewelry for the tourism industry. It’s a meager and unstable economic situation for the residents there. Juana’s father is 30 and never attended school. He works as a day laborer; depending on the month, he works picking coffee, avocados, or local fruit on land owned by wealthier families. During months when work is scarce, he supplements his income doing handicrafts or odd jobs for his neighbors. Juana’s mother has a first-grade education but had to drop out to help her family around the house.

Juana’s parents do their best to put food on the table for their growing children, but meals are usually lacking in variety and nutrients. The most common meal is black beans, tortillas and wild greens that they find growing in the coffee plantation. “My children are used to this life,” Juana’s mother says, “but I feel bad when they want to eat a second helping of food and I have no more to give them.”

Because the family has so little extra income, the children are used to wearing the same clothes throughout the week. The children use cheap plastic sandals bought at the market, which break quickly. Juana is underweight and gets sick often with diarrhea, stomachaches and vomiting. Still, Juana is a calm and easy-going child, and she likes to play with stuffed animals and dolls. She can entertain herself in the shade of the coffee trees near her house.

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Juana deserves a chance to thrive. It’s what her parents want for her, and what we want for her as well.

Feed the Children has been supporting children through child sponsorship in the village since October of 2012. These children receive a backpack with school supplies every year, which many families would not be able to afford otherwise. These are the supplies that used to put the family into debt each year—it used to take months to pay off the loan. Now the kids have what they need, and the parents can set aside money for other necessities.

Feed the Children also supports a feeding program in the community, in which every registered child comes to eat lunch at mid-day. Not only is the food more filling and nutritious than what Juana would eat at home, it allows families to save a little money and use more of their income to provide healthier meals at breakfast and dinner. “My children are always excited to go to the feeding program for lunch,” Juana’s mother says. “The food is more complete there and healthier. They are happy to be part of this program.”

Sponsored children also receive two pairs of TOMS shoes every year, which represents a large savings for the parents as they don’t have to replace their children’s shoes as often, and means that the children’s feet are protected every day.

Finally, Feed the Children in partnership with Vitamin Angels has begun to support the community with deworming pills, Vitamin A supplementation and multivitamins every six months. Children like Juana often drink contaminated water and lack good hygiene practices like hand washing with soap. As a result they can suffer endemic parasitic infections, which don’t allow their bodies to absorb important nutrients. The medication provided by Vitamin Angels helps break this cycle and helps reduce malnutrition and stunting.

Juana’s community still needs a lot of support. Family or community gardens could be a source of extra income as well as provide needed nutrients to the limited diet; and targeted village loan programs could help families start other production projects to grow their income as well. The community urgently needs water and sanitation infrastructure improvements to reduce the incidence of water-borne diarrheal illness; and hygiene education to support healthy habits.

However, the support that Feed the Children has provided so far has been a strong start and has shown the families here what they can achieve if they work together. The work continues.

Thank you to everyone who makes our work possible. To learn more about our work in Guatemala, click here.

Merry Christmas from Around the World!

“This is your day, and we are here to celebrate with you.”

That was Rhoda Njue, Child Sponsorship Coordinator for the Feed the Children office in Kenya, speaking to children as she welcomed them to Christmas celebrations. Christmas came early for thousands of kids around the world, thanks to our dedicated staff and donors and supporters like you who made joyful celebrations and parties happen in the communities we serve.

Our mission is to provide hope and resources for those without life’s essentials. Essentials include necessities like food, clean drinking water, quality education, and a possibility for a good livelihood.

But joy is also essential.
Dignity is essential.
And for children, play is essential.

That’s why events like Christmas celebrations are so important. The children we serve are our heroes. They strive and struggle in ways that are hard for many of us to imagine. Holiday celebrations are a chance to let kids be kids, to set aside the chores, responsibilities and worries of everyday life.

You are an indispensable part of our work. When you make a gift to Feed the Children, you help ensure that we’ll be able to serve even more kids next year, giving them access to nutritious meals, sanitation, and opportunities for joy as well.

Here are just a few highlights of Christmas celebrations in our communities, with reflections written by staff in these regions.

 

HONDURAS

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Many of us spend our Christmas by giving gifts to friends, families and loved ones. Christmas is a time to spread joy and smiles, and Feed the Children does this in our sponsored communities. The celebrations started early this year, because some areas are so remote and hard to access when it rains–the rivers overflow, making it impossible to access some communities.

In the Nueva Esperanza community, some 99 children enjoyed a festive meal of fried chicken, rice, apples and salad.

And at the Community of La Cumbre Palmichal, more than 300 children were given a t-shirt, an apple, a bag of candy, and a healthy meal.

The glow on the childrens’ faces was memorable, as many of them don’t celebrate Christmas this time of year. This wouldn’t have been possible without the help of our wonderful sponsors and donors. Thank you.

-Mayra Humphrey

 

KENYA

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Christmas came early for over 7,000 school children from 61 schools in Kajiado, Samburu, Turkana and Nairobi Counties. The celebrations were held on different days in November and early December before the close of the academic year, to celebrate kids under the Child Sponsorship program.

Elation was in the air as children performed, played games, and enjoyed specially prepared meals. Participating schools also received presents from Feed the Children, to great excitement from the kids.

And at the Dagoretti Children’s Center and Abandoned Baby Center, holidays are celebrated all month long with a whole calendar of activities, including a bounce castle, face painting, special story time, and BBQ and hot dogs on New Year’s Eve.

-Edna Onchiri

 

GUATEMALA

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Throughout the month of December, the Guatemalan team has been celebrating Christmas with the children in all thirteen of our communities. For some, we received donations of Domino’s Pizza to share with the children. They were so excited—many of the children rarely get to eat pizza!

In other communities, the mothers pitched in some money and with help from Feed the Children, made tamales, which are traditional to eat during Christmas. In a few communities we were accompanied by volunteers who dressed as clowns and helped organize games and do face-painting with the children. All in all we had a lot of fun and hope we helped these children enjoy a special day. More than 1,690 were benefited in our communities.

-Claire Mocha

 

EL SALVADOR

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When we think about celebrating Christmas, we think about what we can do for those we love: the hours spent shopping for gifts for loved ones; the extravagantly-prepared Christmas dinners we will share with our families. But it isn’t the same for people the world over. During these seasons, it is easy to forget that not everyone can take these comforts for granted the way we do. Some people around the world still live without access to reliable electricity and will spend Christmas in the dark. Too many parents are unable to afford a toy for their children.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

So this year in the community of La Lechera, Christmas came early, with people in El Salvador cooking for our 92 registered children on December 14th. These children were able to have a brighter Christmas with a nutritious meal and toys galore. Our field staff joined in the fun by participating in games such as three-legged race and pop-the-balloon.

Child Sponsorship Coordinator Meylin Quan was grateful for the chance to bring a little Christmas to these children on behalf of all of us: “I’m so happy because we were able to sprinkle some joy into these children’s lives.”

-Mayra Humphrey

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What will Christmas 2016 be like for these children? The answer is largely up to you. Consider sponsoring a child, or consider a gift from our catalog, or make a one-time gift to help alleviate our shortfall.

And Merry Christmas!

 

Should We Feed Americans First? Our Chief Operating Officer Responds

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.

TA & Diane Feeding CenterFeed 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.

Girls eating applesFeed 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!Eating Apple

4 Reasons Why I Am Excited To Be Working With Feed the Children

At Feed the Children, we are so thankful for the gifts of our loyal staff that has served with us for so many years and countless others who recently have decided to join us. They have heard about our passion for our mission and plans for even more innovative programing around the world and wanted to support us! We recently asked one of our new staff, Lindsey to share with why she’s excited about joining the Feed the Children team.

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In November, I joined Feed the Children as a part of the newly-created Artist Program based out of Nashville, Tennessee. In Nashville, I work alongside two other staff, Crystal Hutchinson and our vice president of Child Sponsorship and Media, Ben Greene. Here are 4 reasons why I am excited about my new position and Feed the Children.

1.     The opportunity to connect two worlds that I love.  I have spent the majority of my professional career in the retail book and publishing industries. During that time, I found great friends and mentors who get to use their words to influence people. I go to a lot of conferences. I read a lot of books. I hang out with a lot of bloggers. And so one of my favorite things about my job is that I get to partner with authors, speakers, and bloggers, and enlist them in the incredible work that Feed the Children is doing.

A kind big brother carries his little sister up the hill on his back.
Piggy-back ride up the hill courtesy of big brother

2.     The opportunity to be a part of organization that feeds over 350 thousand children around the world every day. One of the distinctives that I love about Feed the Children is that while we work on long-term sustainable development solutions, we begin by building relationships and fulfilling a critical and immediate need – feeding children. On a recent trip to Guatemala with Feed the Children, I got to visit two different feeding centers where we partner with mothers to provide nutritious meals for children in the community so that their brains and their bodies can develop properly.

3.     The opportunity to help those in need, not just across the world, but down the street. For the past several years, I have been a strong advocate for global development and orphan care.  During that time, I was able to travel and learn a lot about the complexities of poverty in Africa, in Asia and in Latin America. But truth be known, I have a lot to learn about poverty in my city, in my state, and across the United States. I have read the statistics. I know families that are struggling to make ends meet. I look forward to better understanding the complexities of poverty within the United States. 

4.     The opportunity to be a part of a “new day” at Feed the Children.  Change is afoot at Feed the Children. Kevin Hagan, our President and CEOrecently announced 4 new initiatives that are underway. The first is to revamp domestic programs to build self-sufficiency {two of my very favorite words}. The second is to renew emphasis on child sponsorship {this is a huge part of what the Artist Program team that I work on is responsible for}. The third is to launch a new Feed the Children brand {it’s coming this summer, and I cannot wait}. And the fourth is to focus on customer service. It is such a tremendous privilege to be a part of the organization during such a pivotal time.