Standing with Children Affected by HIV

Today is Unite for Children, Unite Against AIDS Day. Begun in 2005 by UNICEF, this global campaign shows others what HIV/ AIDS does to the innocent children born into the disease, and how to minimize and prevent that harm.

The World Health Organization states that “HIV/AIDS remains one of the world’s most significant public health challenges, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.” The latest report published in 2013 says that 35 million people are living with HIV around the world, and of those, approximately 3.2 million are kids.

Some of the children in our programs are living with HIV, either because their own status is positive or because one or both of their parents are HIV positive. Today, we unite with those children, and with our colleagues around the world, against HIV/AIDS.

A significant proportion of those we see living with HIV live in Kenya. Our health officers work hard to end the spread of HIV especially among mothers and children in this East African nation, where at least 200,000 children are currently living with HIV. The disease has orphaned another estimated 100,000 under the age of 17. (Source)

Abandoned Babies Center

Many of the children admitted into our Abandoned Babies and Children Center in Nairobi come from families ravaged by HIV, and many carry the virus in their own bodies.

We often take in very sick children abandoned at our doorstep or referred to us by the police. We provide medical care, protection, and proper nutrition and even the most hopelessly sick of these kids begin to grow.

One of the boys living in the ABC Center was abandoned by his family when he was around 9 years old because they learned he was HIV positive. Today he’s ten and thriving under the care of Feed the Children staff. He goes to school and plays soccer with his new friends. We hope one day to reunite him with his family.

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Livelihood Projects

Being HIV positive in Kenya carries a nearly-insurmountable stigma, especially for women and mothers who often can’t find jobs to support their families. When their parents can’t provide life’s basic necessities, children lose that trademark of childhood – dreams for the future. Their hope is devoured by hunger and the desperate struggle to find the next small meal. They can’t attend school without money to pay the school fees, nor can they get any medical attention when they get sick.

Feed the Children’s Livelihood projects in Kenya focus on equipping women who are living with HIV/AIDS with skills and income-earning activities. To date, we’re working with 15 groups of approximately 25 women each from different slums in Nairobi.

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In these groups, women learn and then teach each other valuable skills like making soap, working with tie-dye, crafting jewelry, and making purses. They sell their products to visitors in the Feed the Children office in Nairobi. We ship many of these items to our retail store in Oklahoma City. The ladies also have the option to sell the products on their own in tourist areas.

One of the women positively glowed as she talked about how her life has changed since she joined the group. “When we were trained, I liked the beadwork the best. When we sold the items, I was very happy to receive money, and I decided to invest in beadwork. Now I make bangles, Christmas cards, Easter cards, necklaces with different designs and so many beautiful things. With my acquired skills, I don’t have a problem at all getting food like I used to.”

When you support our international programs, including child sponsorship, you help sustain these Care Groups as they equip mothers to provide for their own children. Empowering women ensures that their children thrive.

This work is changing lives, both of children and their parents who are affected by HIV.

“Feed the Children has actually healed me . . . I was so down, hopeless and just didn’t know what to do with my life. I was hiding from the world because of my status. I really want to thank Feed the Children for the skills training that they imparted to me and other ladies in a similar situation.”

Unite with children against HIV/AIDS .

In our gift catalog, you can give care for one of our abandoned babies in Kenya for a year.

Influence for Good: Inside the Clinton Global Initiative

People ask me all the time about the well-known people I meet.

But the thing with me is I don’t really get awestruck about the famous anymore.

Maybe it is because I worked as a protocol officer while in graduate school during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, where I met heads of state, movie stars, and athletes over and over during the course of the Olympic Games.

Or maybe it’s because I believe that celebrities are human beings like the rest of us.

Or because my parents raised me to speak to nearly anybody in the kindest way I know how.

But, if I were still to get awestruck, I would have last week while attending the Clinton Global Initiative meeting in New York City.

Coming out of the steps of the Sheraton Times Square, I brushed shoulders with a who’s who of leaders in international development, business and politics—President Clinton, Madeleine Albright, President Obama, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Chelsea Clinton (a couple of days before her baby was born, I might add!), Katie Couric, heads of many foreign countries, countless CEOs of global corporations, news anchors galore… The list goes on and on.

It was wonderful to meet together with some of the most passionate and influential minds to discuss global change. I was honored to be Feed the Children’s delegate. And during the three days that I spent at the conference, it was good to be involved in the conversation with many of the world’s influencers.

I also heard what was on the minds of high-profile folks like these:Kevin Hagan at the Clinton Global Initiative

Hillary Clinton. She led sessions on education of women and girls saying to us: “We know when girls have equal access to quality education in both primary and secondary schools, cycles of poverty are broken, economies grow…”

Graca Machel (Nelson Mandela’s widow). She received the 2014 Clinton Global Citizen Award and shared with us about her passion saying: “Education should never fail because it gives a child a sense of normalcy.”

Matt Damon. As co-founder of Water.org he compelled all of us with stats about the importance of clean drinking water. I left his session thinking all day about how more people around the world have access to a cell phone than they do to a clean water source.

In hearing these inspiring words, I began thinking about the role of influencers in the work of bringing hope to those who need it most around the world.

One of the greatest life lessons my family taught me from our Christian faith tradition is that “to whom much is given, much is required” (Luke 12:48).

This is why I believe that if I am given anything of value in this life, it is my responsibility to give back. Countless others, I know, share this sentiment.

It is our goal to offer people in positions of notoriety an opportunity to join in Feed the Children’s mission and to give back to society. We are not alone in our stance that no child should go to bed hungry, no matter where they live. We want to facilitate more champions in this great cause who desire to use their following for good.

As President Bill Clinton said in one of the breakout sessions: “We are creating a network of cooperators.” I’m thankful for the opportunity to attend the Clinton Global Initiative this year. I look forward to future events with these new colleagues and to joining forces with other leaders, famous or not, who want to defeat hunger.

It’s Who You Know: Poverty and (Lack of) Connections

“It’s who you know” — it’s conventional, nearly cliché advice for succeeding in the workplace and in life. Career counselors, speakers, and advice columnists all say it. Network, meet people, do favors and be helpful so you can ask for favors later. It works, both to get ahead and as a safety net when things go wrong.

When Americans think of being well connected, they think of things like job offers and big breaks — things that grease the wheels and make life in the middle class smoother.

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But when you delve into the causes and contributors to poverty, you discover that connections aren’t just a nice-to-have. Knowing the right people protects you from being bullied and taken advantage of by landlords, business people, and employers. It also makes justice more likely — knowing the right people helps encourage the police to listen to and address your complaints when you’re mistreated.

“But,” you may protest, “those of us with means don’t enjoy complete immunity from injustice. We’re still lied to, stolen from, and mistreated by employers.”

That’s true. But we have the resources to defend ourselves and connections to those who can help us. We can rally friends and even get the media’s attention if we need it.

For example, a few years ago, my family had an insurance company try shameful and deceitful tactics to avoid paying a claim. This dragged on for months until we finally threatened to go public. They paid because we had the connections to give that threat teeth. When a friend found herself the target of a frivolous lawsuit, her network quickly produced an attorney who got the lawsuit dismissed pro bono.

Poverty and Lack of Connections

People in poverty don’t have connections.

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It’s hard to say which comes first, the lack of connections, the injustice and abuse, or poverty. But people under the poverty line lack family and friends to turn to when something breaks, a boss treats them unfairly, or a landlord tries to cheat them out of money. It’s a cutthroat world where people don’t play by the rules because no one is there to make them.

The United Nations defines poverty like this: Poverty is “a human condition characterized by the sustained or chronic deprivation of the resources, capabilities, choices, security and power necessary for the enjoyment of an adequate standard of living and other civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights.”

Listen to their stories. You’ll see it — to live in poverty is to live on the edge of catastrophe with no safety net, no recourse, and no back-up plan.

Mala

House in Sri Lanka
House in Sri Lanka

Several years ago, I met Mala in Sri Lanka. She lives at the end of a deeply rutted dirt path a few miles from the nearest real road. She told us through an interpreter how she skipped meals for months to save the money to purchase a piece of land closer to the main road. Moving her family closer to the road would make it easier to get her kids to school, and she knew that was the only way for them to have a better life than she had. But the landowner took her money, and then sold the property to someone else. Mala went to the police, but the landowner paid them to ignore her report. He stole her hard-earned money, and she lost the land.

Mala had everything – the drive and determination, the discipline to save, the savvy to find a piece of property — except one critical ingredient: she didn’t know the right people.

But this doesn’t have to be the story.

One of the most important ways Feed the Children fights poverty is by becoming a connection to resources, safety nets, and justice when it’s needed.

Elena

We help women like Elena. She lives in Honduras with four children, Edwin, Miguel, Francisco, and Leiry. After she was diagnosed with severe osteoarthritis, her husband left her and their kids for another woman (he said she complained about bone pain too much!). He refused to send money for the kids, so with a debilitating illness and no recourse to demand child support, she had to send her kids out to work, trying to sell snacks at bus stops. Sometimes they went a week without food.

Today, Leiry is in the fifth grade and thriving
Today, Leiry is in the fifth grade and thriving

But thanks to generous donors who helped start Feed the Children’s feeding programs in Honduras, she was able to get help. Today, one of her sons is grown up, the two other sons are thriving at a residential school for boys, her daughter is finishing 5th grade, and Elena and her daughter receive food and dry rations in exchange for cooking at the local feeding center.

Anne

We also helped Anne, who lives in Kenya with two children, a son and a daughter. Anne’s husband lied to her about a previous marriage and his status as HIV positive. She found out that both she and her son also had HIV when the boy was admitted to the hospital and received a blood test. Fortunately, she learned how to care for herself during pregnancy so her daughter is HIV negative. At age 3, her son lost his sight and shortly after, her husband left her.

Anne and her daughter show the beaded cards Anne creates
Anne and her daughter show the beaded cards Anne creates

Anne went into hiding, ashamed of her HIV status and overwhelmed with her son’s special needs. Without food, without income, and very sick, Anne was desperate. A friend told her that Feed the Children was running a support group for people with HIV and was giving out food. Once she had regained her strength, they invited her to attend weekly meetings where they encouraged the attendees to start doing something that could make money. Anne learned how to make beadwork and today, she makes beautiful pieces that she sells to Feed the Children and to couriers who sell to tourists.

She told us, “At the time when I first met Feed the Children officials, I was so down, hopeless and just didn’t know what to do with my life. Remember, I was hiding from the world because of my status. I didn’t have food or money. I was desperate. Feed the Children gave us food, yes, but what I really want to thank Feed the Children for is the skills training that they imparted on me and other ladies too who were in a similar situation like mine. These business skills are the best. My children never lack food, and they are going to school. Do you know that my special child would never have gone to school?  Feed the Children has gotten me out of poverty. I don’t want my children to be like me. I only studied until sixth grade.”

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Feed the Children Connects People

When you support Feed the Children, you help connect people like Elena, Mala, and Anne to the resources they need to make a better life. They can’t do it on their own. When kids and their families meet Feed the Children, they finally have someone to turn to and the boost they need to build momentum towards self-sufficiency and away from dependence. We help parents find ways to support themselves so their kids can go to school instead of working. We help kids get the food they need to grow and learn. We help communities become strong enough to help each other so they don’t need us anymore.

You can support schools, livelihoods, and infrastructure like water and sanitation here.

P.S. Want to learn more? Many have documented how important justice is to eliminating poverty. This site by the World Bank discusses the need for justice work around the world, while this video discusses the problem of “one kind of justice for the rich and another for the poor” in the U.S.  Organizations like the Equal Justice Initiative work to make sure that U.S. law enforcement and justice system applies the legal concept of “innocent until proven guilty” consistently no matter a person’s race or socioeconomic status.


 

 

 

Just Two Goats: An International Women’s Day Success Story

Today is International Women’s Day. It’s a day that calls our attention to what it means to advance women’s rights in the workforce, politics, and society. Through our work around the world, we meet strong women every day that inspire us. Women are seeking not only to feed their children but also give these children a better life than they knew. But we also are painfully aware that many women, no matter how hard they work, can never get ahead without a little assistance from their brothers and sisters in other parts of the world. Here’s one such story:

Matilda and goat

Matilda Nyasulu is 32 years old and mother of three daughters. She hails from a village in the Rumphi district in Malawi. Matilda has been married twice to men who did not financially support her family. She is currently single and caring for her two elderly parents as well as her daughters.

Matilda is dependent on her farming and piece work (a type of employment in which a worker is paid a fixed piece rate for each unit produced or action performed regardless of time) to make ends meet for her children. Her parents are unable to work.

Four years ago, her situation was dire. Matilda said, “I really struggled to take care of my children and my parents. It was very difficult to find food and clothes for them. At one point, my oldest daughter did not go to school because I could not provide her with writing materials. It was also very difficult for me to find money to buy fertilizer as I was always experiencing food shortages.”

Matilda said she also finds it difficult to find money for transport to a nearest health center 20 kilometers (about 12 1/2 miles) away from her home.

In 2010, her children’s school, the Betere Community Based Child Care Centre (CBCC), identified Matilda’s as one of the households that could benefit from what they call the “Pass-On Goat Initiative.” Feed the Children gave her two female goats. After a few months, each of the goats birthed two goats. The project required that Matilda take two goats and pass them on to another family, which she did.

After some time, the goats multiplied to six. In 2012, Matilda sold one goat for around $75. With the money, she bought school uniforms, a pair of shoes, and writing materials for her two school-aged children. She used the remaining amount to pay the school fees for both children. Without the proceeds of the goat sale, her daughters would have lacked the clothes and supplies required to attend school.

“Selling the goat helped me to send my children to school,’’ she said.

Matilda in maize garden

In 2013, she slaughtered another goat and sold part of the meat for around $94 . Matilda kept part of it, to feed her children and family for a few days. She exchanged the remaining portion for fertilizer for her two acres of maize garden. She is also using goat droppings as manure in her maize garden.  This is a huge accomplishment and will assist her to feed her family on her own.

“This year I expect to harvest more maize than in the previous years, because for the first time I have applied enough fertilizer in my maize garden!’’ Matilda said.

Matilda is a strong mom. She is so glad to be independent, no longer burdened by the weight of supporting her children’s education. Furthermore, Matilda believes that the people in her community respect her because of the goats she is raising.

When we look at hunger and poverty around the world, it can look too big to solve. But stories like Matilda’s show us how simple it is when you focus on one family at a time. After all, her story transformed with just two goats!